I’ve had a weekend thinking about books since reading about the writing heroes of Wendy at Very Bored in Catalunya. What struck me as interesting about Wendy’s post and the comments it inspired, was how important childhood books were to everyone, far more memorable to us now than the novels we may have read last month.
The first books to make an impression on me were the Miffy series by Dick Bruna. I recall reading about this gorgeous little bunny in my infant school. I must have read them spectacularly well one day as I was sent to the Headmistress who honoured me with three gold stars and, best of all, I could choose a huge, glassy, boiled sweet she kept in a large jar on her desk. I still remember my little fingers wiggling in the jar to find a red one. I do wonder now at the wisdom of offering five year olds cavity-inducing choking hazards full of e-numbers.
Next on my list is Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White, about the little pig, Wilbur, and his talented friend, the spider, Charlotte. My parents were surprised I enjoyed this book as I was never an animal-lover and always shrieked when I saw a spider. I remember coming down the stairs into the kitchen where my mum and dad were sitting, trying to tell them through big gulping sobs that Charlotte had died (oops sorry, spoiler!). I’d like to be able to tell you that my arachnophobia was cured and from then on I was able to scoop up the little creatures. No, still can’t stand the buggers.
I soaked up the Malory Towers books by Enid Blyton, enraptured by the delights of midnight feasts in the dorm and curious about the dashing names of the girls: Darrell and Alicia seemed a world away from Julie and Nicola which were common names in my school at the time.
Exams came along and thankfully the challenge of getting into the heart of a novel, dissecting it and finding quotes to drop into essays didn’t spoil literature for me. On the contrary it helped me understand it more and certain books are now etched on my brain and heart. Shakespeare’s King Lear, DH Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, are all instantly familiar to me now, though Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent always left me cold.
Authors who have inspired me as an adult? EM Forster, Anita Shreve, Joanne Harris, Mary Wesley, Christopher Brookmyre, Yann Martel (Life of Pi) are a few that spring to mind.
However my love of travel writing must surely stem from an appreciation of the talents of Bill Bryson and particularly his book, Neither Here Nor There. I adore his self-deprecating style, mooching around Europe finding delight in the people and situations around him. No stuffy eulogies about churches and museums; just quirky observations of his fellow travellers and the indigenous population of the countries he shuffles through, despairing at town councils, architects and planners along the way.
When we are on holiday and sight-seeing or just generally ambling about, I think to myself, “What would Bill say about this?” and that usually keeps me on the right track.
Which authors have left their mark on you? Any particular childhood favourites?