Saturday, 5 March 2011

Books Books Books

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

It's World Book Day. Happy World Book Day. Hurrah for the miraculous paper things which, with only a few black marks on a white page, can transport us through time and space. When you think about it like that, which I do, it's quite miraculous.

I am not going to do an essay on the wonder and glory of the book. It's Saturday. It's been a long week. I'm going to do a list instead, because everyone loves a list. Then you can all write in and tell me: you're mad, I tell you, mad.

My favourite all-time classics:

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. The flowers. The Royal car gliding down Bond Street. The sense of lost chance. The haunting shadow of the war dead.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. Spain. Handsome bullfighters. Wounded men hiding their scars behind laconic badinage. The coolest heroine in Lady Brett Ashley: amoral, brittle, damaged, and so damn stylish no one else comes close.

Persuasion by Jane Austen. The yearning. The yearning. Dashing naval fellows, silly girls, Bath in full fig. The amazing feat of taking an entirely good protagonist, and making her fascinating.

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald. The shirts, the sound, the impossible castles in the air. The orchestra playing yellow music; the list of party guests. The quiet narrator suddenly growing defiant: 'you're better than the whole damn lot of them.'.

My favourite comfort reads:

Don't Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford. Almost entirely because of Northey, possibly her most marvellous and most overlooked creation, whose locutions I adopt in my own life. I actually say goody gum trees, and each to each, and do admit.

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie. No dodgy vicars or village life, but slightly unexpected high romance. I used to dream of the man in the brown suit.

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer. High-perch phaetons. Men in tight britches. A liberated heroine, years ahead of her time, setting the staid matrons of the 19th century by their ears.

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy. An American in Paris. Love, parties, left bank loucheness, dialogue as sharp as a razor.

Books I should love, but do not:

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. I know he is the writer's writer. I know he is a genius. But oh if I hear one more thing about Lo Lo Lo light of my loins I shall throw a heavy object.

Run, Rabbit, Run by John Updike. Great American novel, blah blah blah. That bloody Rabbit can run right off, as far as I am concerned.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I know it is in the Canon. I know it is one of the great Russian novels. I love the Russians: I adore Turgenev and Tolstoy and Chekhov. But this was like sticking pins in my eyes.

Books I refuse to read, because I value my brain:

The Da Vinci Bollocks by Dan Brown.

Anything by Jordan.

Those stupid vampire books.

Books that made me very excited when I was in my teens:

L'Etranger by Albert Camus. The Existentialists. Yeah, yeah, yeah. A whole new French world opened up before my eyes. I wore black and went moody and listened to a lot of Leonard Cohen, just to compound the effect.

All the Martin Millar books, most especially Lux the Poet. Actually I was twenty when this came out, but I still count it in my youthful influences. It was so funny and subversive and not like anything I had ever read.

The Violins of St Jacques by Patrick Leigh Fermor. The only novel he ever wrote. It was like a prose poem. I read it over and over, amazed by the beauty.

The Wasteland by TS Eliot. The outrageous beauty; the evocative, tugging stanzas. I did not understand a word of it, mostly because I had not studied classics, and still don't, much. But every time I read it, I get shivers up my spine. I used to wander through the cloisters, in my university college, muttering under my breath: And I, Tiresias have foresuffered all, enacted on this same divan or bed…

The History of England by Lord Macaulay. I fell helplessly in love with Macaulay when I was nineteen. I wrote long essays on him in green ink, which made my tutor laugh. (I did not know at that stage that green was the colour chosen by the nuttiest correspondents to the newspapers.) I once wrote: Macaulay was no shrinking violet when it came to giving his opinion. My old friend Matthew still rings me up and laughs about Lord M not being a shrinking violet.

My favourite childhood books:

The Flambards Trilogy by KM Peyton. Horses, war, love, class and hunting. I could not get enough.

The My Friend Flicka Trilogy by Mary O'Hara. More horses, this time out in the wide spaces of Wyoming. These books once saved my life, when I was sent on a French exchange, and my schoolgirl French could not keep up with the rapid speech of the family I was staying with. They had no English at all, and I felt very alone. I used to hide in the music room, with dusty sun coming through the shutters, reading of the brumbies galloping over the wild prairies.

The Narnia books by CS Lewis. Magic worlds beyond a wardrobe; Mr Tumnus; daring children; a really, really groovy lion. Loved them.

That's enough lists. Now for some pictures.

Daily snowdrops:

5th March 1

5th March 12-1

And crocuses:

5th March 3

5th March 12


5th March 2

Fallen trunk:

5th March 10


5th March 7


5th March 8


5th March 11


5th March 5

5th March 6

The dog of the Older Niece and The Man in the Hat, who is staying while her humans are away:

5th March 14

Today's hill:

5th March 9

Just listening to Michael Morpurgo on the radio. He said: 'Life is full of stories, and I love telling them.' It's a perfect thing to say.


  1. Dear Tania, I love your list of favourite classics. I need to investigate your favourite comfort reads. I have Don't Tell Alfred but haven't got round to reading it yet. I must! And The Dud Avocado (what a curious title for a book) sounds marvellous as does The Man in the Brown Suit. I'm off to buy them.

    How have I not read The Flambards Trilogy? I vaguely remember it on television, it sounds like something I'd love. I must have been too busy reading Follyfoot/Narnia/Enid Blyton. I had horses from age six to sixteen and spent every available moment with them.

    I couldn't agree more about Crime and Punishment I managed about four pages before I lost the will to live. I don't see the point of battling on with a book if you don't enjoy it xx

  2. Christina - how lovely to think of you trying some of these books. Even though Flambards is for children, I think it might stand up now, esp if you know horses. I generally rather disapprove of grown-ups reading children's books, but that trilogy was so interesting and sophisticated. Long to know yr verdict. And SO glad I am not alone in Crime and Punishment. :)

  3. Oh dear, don't disapprove of me too much please Tania. I love children's and YA (much as I dislike that classification) books and have bookcases full of them. The Flambards books are right at the front of the horsey shelves. Such wonderful books.

    I was given a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera as part of World Book Night - v. thrilled to be part of it!

  4. I spent years in the back of my closet fumbling around looking for a link to some magical wonderland thanks to C.S. Lewis!
    Even now, so many decades later, whenever I see an "interesting" armoire that thought still (fleetingly) crosses my mind.

    We had to read Crime and Punishment for 12th grade honors English in secondary school. I never knew there were so many names for an individual Russian person! I dragged myself through the first 200 pages, read the very end and, of course, the exam was on the middle chunk! (Thanks to compulsive note taking, I squeaked by with a passing grade. Put me off Russian authors for good!)

  5. Oh, I do love a list. I don't want to tell you you're completely mad, but I am very sorry that you don't like Updike. On the other hand I am utterly as one with you about KM Peyton's and Mary O'Hara's books.

    Comfort reads for me have to include MM Kaye as well as Gone with the Wind. (I wouldn't stop at The Grand Sophy, either, I'd have to include These Old Shades and/or Devil's Cub.) And - no Trollope at ALL? No EH Young?

    But thank you for yet another great post, dear Tania, and love to the dogs.

  6. I love a list too. The Guardian ran an article yesterday where they were asking authors about books they give and are most pleased to have received, and in it Terry Pratchett said something that made me smile ' our house books are neither furnishings nor badges of learning; they are debris. Officially we have two libraries, which are defined as places where you store your old books while the new ones pile up beside the bed.' Oh for the space to have two libraries, but with a husband who speed reads his way through pretty much anything, the rest is very familiar!

    I adore Flambards BTW, I even have the DVD of the TV series :)

  7. To this day, Wyoming = Magic because of My Friend Flicka. I would add DH Lawrence to the list of writers loved when young and a salute to Jack Kerouac - I so wanted to be part of the beat generation. Agree about Crime and Punishment -TURGID- and remember irritating translations such as "puppy" and "noodle" which totally detracted from the book.

    I came across a wonderful quote from PL Travers, author of Mary Poppins,

    "I never know why Mary Poppins is thought of as a children's book. I don't think there are such things. There are simply books and some of them children read."

    Loved your lists.


  8. oh Flambards! My heart skipped a beat...must find them.

  9. Alex - I could NEVER disapprove of you. It's only my own silly personal tic.

    Pat - so glad I am not the only one.

    Lillyanne - Yes, YES, MM Kaye. I adore all the Death in Zanzibar books; terribly dated, yet still wonderful. My flu favourites.

    Sarah - love that Pratchett line.

    Sue - yes, I do remember shaking with excitement the first time I read On The Road. Still have a big soft spot for Kerouac.

    Miss W - So glad you share the Flambards passion. Even the thought of Christina and Will and Dick makes me smile.

  10. Aged about twelve, I used to love the horsey books by the Pullein-Thompson sisters. Very good reads, and merit always triumphed - satisfying for a child.


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