Monday, 26 January 2009

Come on into the library....

I spent some time this weekend going through cardboard boxes full of books, in preparation for our move abroad. (This was no mean feat, as Littleboy 2 now has an appalling case of chicken pox, and clung to me like a limpet 24/7, crying MUMMY every time I so much as went to the loo. He looks like a plague child, covered in suppurating sores, and I can barely leave the house in case people start dawbing crosses on our front door).

I have a heck of a lot of books, and it occurred to me as I sorted through them, my bookshelves really represent a little potted history of my life. So here it is. Nappy Valley - a life in literature....

The precocious reader
I was voracious reader from the time I could open a book (although I don't know what happened to all those childhood favourites - and I quite fancy revisting all my Laura Ingalls Wilder and Anne of Green Gables stories now). As a teenager, I read constantly, devouring anything from Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jane Austen to 80s bonkbusters like Riders or the dreadful Flowers in the Attic. Then, when I was 17, my library suddenly multiplied. I entered and won a short story competition in 'Just 17' magazine and the prize was £150 worth of Penguin Books. My mother sensibly directed me towards decent literature, rather then letting me buy up the entire oeuvre of Jackie Collins. And so it was that I owned a respectable collection of Dickens, DH Lawrence and Evelyn Waugh even before I became an English Literature undergraduate.

The drama queen
At school I fancied myself as a bit of thesp, taking A Level Theatre Studies and dreaming of auditioning for RADA. (Clearly, it never happened. If it had, I would be standing up there receiving awards instead of Kate Winslet instead of pushing a pram around Nappy Valley. Wouldn't I?). So here we have the collections of plays; from Arthur Miller to Ibsen and Strindberg (yes, I was a SERIOUS actress) to John Osborne and Noel Coward. So what happened to this adolescent passion? Well, let's just say that on arrival at University, I was so put off by a bunch of luvvy drama students doing 'impro, darling' at an audition that I never considered acting again..

The slacker student
At University, I acquired another sackload of books; Arden Shakespeares, with notes frantically scribbled in margins, reams of poetry from Chaucer to Byron to Wordsworth to Baudelaire; French novels and drama (part of my degree course was French Lit); and 20th century literature like Ulysses (the only book I ever managed to write an essay on without having read). I wrote my dissertation on Margaret Atwood, so have her entire works, all bursting with post-it note annotation. But by the end of my degree, I was English Litt-ed out. I didn't want to pick up another classic for years. I threw myself into journalism with relief, realising that academia was not for me. Thereafter follows a shameful collection. No, I am not talking about the fact that I own the entire works of Jilly Cooper (which actually I won't apologise for - she's brilliant); it's the forestful of books with pink covers and illustrations of women in stilettos that I regret....

The Chicklit years
Yes these were the chicklit years - a genre which I find deeply frustrating. Occasionally you will happen upon a chick-lit gem (Bridget Jones' diary, which arguably inspired the whole movement, is one of these) but most of it is utter dross, and so forgettable that I've quite often re-read one and not realised until half way through that I've read it before. I spend my entire time thinking, "I'm sure I could write something much better than this," but - even more deeply frustrating - I haven't actually managed to. But I kept buying the stuff in the hope that I would stumble upon the holy grail of light, fluffy, but ultimately satisfying romantic fiction.

Nappy brain
After Littleboy 1 was born, I don't think I read a book for about six months. Well, apart from pregnancy and baby manuals - What to expect when you're expecting, The Rough Guide to Pregnancy, The Baby Whisperer (I refused to go near Gina Ford). The Doctor accused me of having what, on holidays abroad, we used to call 'guide book overload'. This is when you have several different guidebooks, all telling you completely different things. You spend your time agonising over the options; what restaurant to eat at, whether or not to bother with a particular place, and whether to do the walk to the beach that the Rough Guide says is marvellous, because you know from previous experience that it will be dreadful (there's a reason no-one else is there). Having too many baby books is a bit like this; I would forever be quoting 'BUT THE BOOK SAYS...' at The Doctor, as I tore my hair out with worry over something like burping.

Renaissance Woman?
Just prior to the birth of Littleboy 2, I had a window of relative peace and started reading again, and, with the help of the local library, began to enjoy contemporary literature. So my bookshelves from this brief period feature writers such as Jonathan Coe, Rose Tremain, Ian McEwan and assorted Booker winners. But this time was all too brief...

Listen with Mother..
Since the birth of Littleboy 2, serious reading has been nigh on impossible. I spend most of the week finishing the weekend papers in the snatched ten minutes before going to sleep. Yes, I know I could be reading instead of blogging, but if I do sit down to read a book with the children, they'll snatch it out of my hands within minutes and clamber all over me, and if I'm not careful they'll rip it to shreds. Once they've gone to bed, I'm too shattered to do much but eat and watch TV.

So, the books you're most likely to see me with these days are The Gruffalo's Child, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Tiger That Came to Tea. Or occasionally I'll revisit the chicklit years and binge on a bit of so-called Mummy Lit (The Secret Life of a Slummy Mummy was good, but rather like chick lit, much of it is sloppily written froth).

So come on, I'd like to know what people are reading now. What authors get you going? What novel haven't you been able to put down recently? And more importantly, if you are a parent, how do you find time to read?

27 comments:

Urs said...

Buy yourself an iPhone, download some kiddie games, hand it over to the boys (in the sure knowledge that they will quality test it to destruction) and you will have minutes of peace in which to improve your mind via the medium of reading. Well it works for me...

The Dotterel said...

Oh, last novel read? Probably 'Gerontius' by James Hamilton-Paterson, and that had been on my shelf for years. I usually manage a decreasing number of entries from Roger Deakins diaries before my eyes won't stay open any longer.

Mud in the City said...

LOVE reading - although I have to say my A Level course work comparing Dicken's Great Expectations with Jilly Cooper's Polo might not have been a highlight!

As for books - satisfying romance try:
A Town Like Alice (Neville Shute) or Ali & Nino (Kurban Said)

or for some rolicking adventures, how about The Eastern Approaches by Fitzroy McLean or The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk?

A Confused Take That Fan said...

Nappy, I love your list. It is so similar to my reading habits. I started to discover my love of reading through Sweet Valley High books, which I could get through ina day, I also loved What Katy Did and a book called Caitlin, and anything set in boarding schools. Judy Blume. Are You There God? It's Me Margaret - which was fab, as it went through periods and divorcing parents at the same time I was, and Tiger Eyes, with it's sex scene, which I thought was amazing. Very tame now tough! My favourite book which I read over and over again was Louisa M Alcotts Little Women. How I wanted to be Jo in that book. I have to admit I LOVED Flowers in the Attic as a teenager, along with Stephen King, Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath - in my angsty days,Stevie Smiths Poetry, The Color Purple, To Kill A Mockingbird etc etc. Uni I was into The Wasp Factory, Irvine Welsh, The Beach,any modern druggy violent stuff. Lovely Bones. On holidays I always read Jilly Cooper. I love her too. How on earth does she write all these charachters and story lines? Pure escapism. I also love Mary Wesley - Camomile Lawn etc. The HOuse Of Mirth, Isabelle Allende's House of Spirits. I hated Bridget Jones when I first read it. I was 22, had just moved to London and I didn't get it. I read it about 8 years later and was like Yes, Yes, Yes! Also read loads of chic lit, purely because it's easy reading. It's like a soap. You can kind of work out what is going to happen after three pages. I also have thought, surely I could churn something like this out. But I think it's harder than it reads. Now I have books piling up by my bed that I am desperate to read, The Kite Flyer, Atonement, We Need To Talk About Kevin, I could go on. I just am too tired. I spend my bedtimes reading the broadsheets and mags that come with it, as I never get to read them on a Sunday. Anyway, I have gone on too much. Love your post! Feels very familiar! Except I did Chaucer and just was too much for my little blonde head...

Nota Bene said...

What a brilliant way of remembering your life history! I've always read extensively, but rarely bother to note the author or the book title. An eccentricty on my part. I've been struggling to read the one that's vaguely called a History of Ukrainian Tractors for about a year now...and recently put down A thousand suns...from the same author as Kite Flyer...and I recently read a brilliant book by the same author as Pans Labyrinth. Oh now I feel stupid and wish I paid a bit more attention! I've been addicted to Ian McEwan for as long as I can remember...

Audrey said...

I know how you feel! I used to read constantly but then again I could choose when I wanted to read into the night. Then I had babies and it became a choice between reading and sleeping and sleeping won everytime. Also, something seemed to happen to my brain where I felt like I just couldn't concentrate for very long on a novel. But, I assure you, it gets better and now I read like I used to and I even manage to read sometimes during the day when the kids are around. My recommendations are: I loved the film "No country for old men" and on the back of that got into a big Cormac McCarthy phase. I wouldn' necessarily recommend everything I've read of his this year to you because you won't have the time to committ to getting into a book if it doesn't grab you but I would get "The Road" which was so gripping, I couldn't put it down. Also, one of my all time favourites is "The Poinsonwood Bible" which I managed to get through when my middle daughter was a baby THAT's how good it is.

Keep me posted on how you get on.

Bush Mummy said...

Ah Nappy, the floodgates of nostalgia are well and truly open. You and I must be about the same age as I have read most of the trashy ones you mention - sadly not so many of the classics.. I think I discovered boys and fags too young.

I have, however, joined a book club in my attempt to kick start my brain and, to be honest, have a night out once a month. It is fantastic and going brilliantly and I can't recommend it enough as a way of meeting new friends - a possible strategy for your impending move to pastures new perhaps?

Our book this month is a Woman in White by Wilkie Collins which I have to say I am struggling with. But I too am an avid reader and would rather read than watch rubbish reality tv. Recent good reads have been The Road Home - Rose Tremain and the Boy in the Striped PJ's. Both excellent.

BM x

Provincial Lady said...

Lovely! Next best thing to rediscovering a favourite book I think is nosing through someone else's, real or virtual, and discovering similar tastes, or new books. I'm just rereading Georgette Heyer's wonderful regency books - now that is perfectly written fluff!

Potty Mummy said...

Your reading list sounds very like mine NVG - why am I not more surprised? And did ANYONE actually read Ulysses before writing their essay on it?

(Oh yes, and also, I'm always thinking 'I could do better' about chick-lit novels too. Funny how I just never seem to get that first sentence written though...)

Iota said...

How about "The Faith Club'? It's in short chunks, so if you read just one and then fall asleep, you don't have to start at the beginning of the chapter again the next day.

Anything by Alexander McCall Smith is fantastic, and not too demanding.

I joined a book club, and then you HAVE to read the book, so it makes you. That is how I find time to read.

Expat mum said...

I've just finished (in less than two days) "Wishful Drinking" by Carrie Fisher. I do think she's a wonderful writer, and it was light relief from the more academic stuff ("Read like a Writer" by Francis Prose) I've been reading.

As for the move, if you're not paying for it then ship all your books over, but if it's on your wallet, then check what you can buy here. You'd be surprised. If you have any really old stuff, or particularly English stuff (I have a collection of John Wyndham and lots of Joyce Grenfell) you might not be able to buy it here. One thing I would recommend is plowing through some American classics. The first one I read here was The Scarlet Letter and it took my breath away.

Jaywalker said...

The more mental I am, the more I read. I should be concerned about stakhanite book consumption (2+ a week) in last 12 months..

What was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn. I thrust this on everyone I know. She is a funny and affecting and wonderful writer.

I was told there would be cake - Sloan Crosley. A great essayist in the David Sedaris mould. Terribly, blackly funny.

Darkmans - Nicola Barker. Weird and tangled and funny and odd. Made me think of Hilary Mantel's Beyond Black (have you read? also wonderful).

The clothes on their back - Linda Grant. Very evocative of corners of London I know well, and cleverly, affectingly written.

Have you ever read Anne Enright's Making Babies? It's fantastic. She is a wonderful writer. It's a memoir of her first year or so with her daughter.

The Behaviour of Moths - Poppy Adams. Creepy and clever and full of moth factoids, which is obviously a bonus for me.

Ali Smith - Girl meets Boy. Ali Smith is aces. A really original voice. The Accidental is rather wonderful too.

I will stop before I fill your entire comments box. Email me if you like these and want more!

Jaywalker said...

Ps - don't think I didn't spot the Storymakers reference. Byron Wordsworth remains my #1 childrens tv crush...

nappy valley girl said...

Urs - good tip! They already quality test my mobile to destruction. Can you organise me a freebie through your high level Apple contacts?

The Dottorel - I have several books on the shelf I still haven't read - but somehow they are the titles I just can't face....worthy stuff like Trollope...

Mud - comparing Jilly Cooper with Dickens? Genius. Reminds me of my Cambridge interview where I admitted to having read Jeffrey Archer and said blockbusters would be worth studying comparatively. Needless to say, I didn't get in....

CTTF - we obviously have similar tastes! Loved What Katy Did, Little Women and Judy Blume. Went through a real Mary Wesley phase when about 16. Never got into Irvine Welsh, but loved The Beach (until Leonardo di Caprio in the film ruined it for me). You should certainly read Atonement and Kite Runner - but be warned, We Need To Talk About Kevin should come with a health warning. It starts out interesting, but the latter half is just too unremittingly grim.....

NB - Think you mean a Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, and you should persevere with that one, it's actually very good. Ian McEwan is a good addiction to confess to.....

Audrey - Will definitely try Cormac McCarthy. Have read The Poisonwood Bible and was pretty gripped, too.

BM - a good point about book clubs. It might be a great way of meeting people in the States (although I've heard that you have to take along freshly baked cookies and stuff out there, and I am useless at baking...). I also loved The Road Home. Haven't read Boy in Striped PJs but will try it.

Provincial Lady - I read a lot of Georgette Heyer when I was about 15. Her and Victoria Holt/Jean Plaidy - fabulous romantic fiction....

PM - believe it or not, several people on my degree course thought Ulysses was their favourite book on the course! (or maybe they just said that...). I simply hated it. I think chick lit must be harder than it seems....otherwise we'd both be bestselling authors by now, wouldn't we?

Iota - yes, book clubs starting to sound like the way forward...I have read a fair bit of Alexander McCall Smith, and agree it's not too demanding, so easy to pick up when you have a squirming child on your lap! Don't know The Faith Club - will investigate.

Expat Mum - I'm leaving most of the books, as we're only going for two years, and I figure I can get stuff out there or join a library (if they are any good in US?) And yes, perhaps I should be investigating American Literature. (I've just finished Bill Bryson's The Lost Continent - does that count? :-) )

Jaywalker - aha, I am not surprised that you are a great reader. Thanks so much for the very helpful list. I haven't read any of those except Ali Smith's The Accidental, so will add them to the list of titles I intend to find in the library tomorrow. And top marks for being the first to spot the Cbeebies reference! (although I thought Makka Pakka was your favourite - has he been usurped by Byron Wordsworth?)

that girl? said...

I currently have a few books on the go which is something I always said I wouldn't do! Wife In The North by Judith O'Reily (found via blogging!), Fashion Babylon by Imogen Edwards Jones, A Year In High Heels by Camilla Morton (very pick up and put downable) and The Yummy Mummy's Ultimate Family Survival Guide by Liz Fraser which I havent got very far with. Am waiting to get my teeth into the two Obama books but seeing as I have these to finish and Other Half got there first I will have to wait for a much needed intake of proper literature!
As for finding the time, well I guess its a bit easier as I only have the one kiddie plus we have said that we will have a "read a book" night sometimes during the week.
p.s. I loved the Baby Whisperer and detested Gina Ford's book too!

Kit said...

I have to confess I've been so busy reading your blog today that my book has been ignored. Seven years ago I was living in SOuth West London, with much the same round of parks as you, and a 3 1/2 year old plus a 1 1/2 year old, so I feel like I am revisitng my life then - now we are on a small farm outside Cape Town - same conversations and dilemmas about schools - not so many parks.

I also have Jilly Cooper well ensconced on my shelves from my youth - I recommend Katie Fforde for reading while brain challenged after a day with the kids. And Georgette Heyer is my ultimate escapist read if things are bad.

I couldn't read anything too challenging when they were the age yours are, but it does get better - not that I've reread Anna Karenina recently but I really loved Nicholas Evans' Smoke Jumper, which is about as traumatic as I can take. I do get to read more now they are older, but any time I sit on the sofa with a book in daylight hours, I have to negotiate heavily for time with my book, before being dragooned into reading fairy books to the girls. Luckily tmy oldest is a bookworm who can read voraciously to himself.

Tara@Sticky Fingers said...

I am such a huge book worm (I'm that nerdy person who hates lending books out incase the spine gets cracked and it's 'tainted' - I know I know!)
But I love books. I have them all over the house and yes I have read them - everything from the original Red Dwarf books to Brave New world, To Kill a Mockingbird and A Spot of Bother.

But of course having children put paid to all that and books I used to read in a couple of days sit at my bedside for months!

i am currently reading a 'how to set up a business online' book because I am so desperate not to go back to work after taking redundancy I'll do anything to keep this life.
Those pesky children, stopped me from reading but by gum I'll do anything to stay that little bit longer with them every day!

Mom/Mum said...

firstly, I've tagged you over at my place,
but secondly and more importantly - oh my gosh - you're reading list could be my reading list!

I joined a book club over here and that has opened my eyes to some American novels i never would have thought about reading. we've just finished John Grogan's The Longest Trip Home and am about to start Feb's book which is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.
I started to read properly again when 2nd little one was born as i found a good way of balancing my books whilst nursing him, plus by then i think i was sick of reading parenting books and baby mags!
I am a Jodi Picoult addict and will read her books until dawn breaks. Hubs totally loses me when am in the middle of one of her books, and the kids get totally ignored!
The boys were recently sent Aliens Love Underpants from a Uk friend. I love getting popular books from England as you'll see when you come that American kids stories are sometimes written so different, I sqwark at the grammer!

nappy valley girl said...

That Girl - ah, I've been meaning to read Wife in the North, you've reminded me to buy a copy...will be interesting to see how another blogger has turned her musings into a readable book, something I've always thought would be difficult. Having said that, I did enjoy Petite Anglaise, despite not having read her blog before picking up the book.

Kit - Thanks! so glad that you enjoyed reading about your old haunts. I'm looking forward to the day when the boys will be able to read voraciously themselves, although I keep being told that little boys don't read as much as girls....

Tara - Not surprised to hear you're a book worm either. And good luck with the online business, I'm sure you can do it as you seem like an enthusiastic and enterprising person!

Mom/Mum - thanks for the tagging. Yes, the more I think about it the more I think I will have to join a book club in the States. For the kids, try Stick Man, the new book by the Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson. My boys love it and so do all the kids I've come across who have it...

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Interesting reading your list. Like it a lot.
What am I reading now?
Re-reading Morse books, Just William, Biography of Morecambe & Wise, Lindsay Davis "Falco" books. Will read just about anything as long as they don't give me bad dreams!
Good luck with the move. (I'd missed that one...sounds exciting!) There are so many fab American writers...you'll have your work cut out once you've got some time to read. You'll get there one day. Take heart! :)

mothership said...

I find time to read books by staying up late into the night and then feeling grumpy and remorseful the next day. I actually cannot sleep without looking at a book first.
I laughed out loud at the 80's Jilly Cooper references - I remember reading Riders during my A level History of Art exam. Ten gold sovereigns to the first person who correctly guesses my grade for that one!
However, now I am reading;
"Child 44" by Tom Rob Smith - a very clever murder mystery set in the former Soviet Union (well researched)
"Hot, Flat and Crowded" by Thomas Friedman - nonfiction about why we need a green revolution, very interesting and cleverly written
"Moral Disorder" Margaret Atwood.
She is my favourite author and I am practically wetting myself waiting for her new book out sometime this year. I plan to run to the bookshop, hire a babysitter and read it from cover to cover until it's finished and then spend some time oscillating between awe and despair at her talent versus mine.

A Modern Mother said...

What a great post.

I loved your comments about chick lit and forgetting you had read a book until half way through.

I stopped reading for about three years while I recovered from having three babies in thress years.

Now I can't stop.

nappy valley girl said...

Hadriana - thanks for wishing me luck. Your list sounds very eclectic, and quite fun...

Mothership - aha, another Margaret Atwood devotee. Which one is your favourite, I wonder? Mine would either have to be Cat's Eye or The Blind Assasin.

A Modern Mother - it's perfectly true about the chick lit, and it's happend more than once!

david mcmahon said...

Good luck with the move. We moved halfway round the world - and took Every Single Book with us.

Believe me, that was a LOT of books!

Like you, I was a voracious reader as a kid!

Sandi McBride said...

I too have boxes and boxes of books (yes, still have my hardback copy of The Boxcar Children that I read when in second grade) and can't make myself turn one loose. I dream of a room with walls of bookshelves to display them all...I reread Laura Ingalls Wilder books to my children and loved them even more then. I now read them and Nancy Drew to my granddaughter...and you're right, our tastes change as we get older, usually an improvement over what came before...sometimes, not so much...I recently picked up a Harlequin Romance Novel and enjoyed every salacious second of the hour it took me to read it...there's no accounting for taste! Congratulations on Post of the day...you earned it!
Sandi

The Egel Nest said...

I categorize my life according to my musical phases...so I can relate! :)

Found you through David's Blog! :)

Bradley
The Egel Nest

Mwa said...

I have had such a similar book history! Including the pause after studying literature. Very funny. Details I shall leave for my next installments. ;-)