Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Books Q & A

Helen over at Using My Loaf tagged me in a book post the other day, which excited me greatly because there's nothing I love more than banging on about books.  It's why I became an English teacher after all.

So, the rules:
1. Post these rules
2. Post a photo of your favourite book cover
3. Answer the questions below
4. Tag a few people to pass the Q&A on to: I'm tagging Laura and Sarah.

What are you reading right now?
I have the most awful habit of starting books (particularly non-fiction) and then failing to finish them, so my bedside table is always stacked with partly-read books.  Piled on there at the moment are Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered by E.F. Schumacher, Rat Girl by Kristin Hersh, and Lonely Planet Colorado. 
Do you have any idea what you’ll read when you’re done with that?
The new Patrick Gale hardback, which has just arrived from my long reservation list at the local library.  He's a wonderful and much under-rated author.

My favourite book cover - the Folio Society edition of I Capture The Castle.

What 5 books have you always wanted to read but haven’t got round to?
I have an extensive collection - 63 at the last count - of books waiting to be read.  Of those, the ones that have languished the longest are:
1. Wuthering Heights, although it's not so much always wanted to read as tried to read, hated and gave up.
2. Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood.
3. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.  I loved the first 50 pages but never read any further.  Curse of the non-fiction book again.
4. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  I promised my friend Caroline that I'd read it if she read Judy Blume's teen classic Forever (surely the reason the name Ralph is so out of fashion?).  She kept up her part of the deal, I'm still trying to get round to mine.
5. Not exactly 'always', but I've been carting Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union round for weeks without starting it.
What magazines do you have in your bathroom/lounge right now?
Oh Comely, Bust, Bitch, last Saturday's Guardian Guide.
What’s the worst book you’ve ever read?
I read and enjoy a lot of 'bad' books - trashy American crime fiction is a real favourite -but if I truly dislike a book I tend not to finish it.  One exception: Disgrace by Michael Coetzee.  Read it from cover to cover then threw it across the room because I hated it so much.
What book seems really popular but you actually hated?
See above.  It won the Booker for heaven's sake, but it's such self-indulgent, middle-aged, middle-class, white male moaning.
What’s the one book you always recommend to just about everyone?
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.  I love this book SO much, and it inspired in me a new love of history and fascination with the Tudor era.
What are your 3 favourite poems?
I love teaching WW1 poetry, especially Wifred Owen's Anthem For Doomed Youth (I always recite the first lines of this -"What passing bells for those who die as cattle..." - during the silence on November 11th) and Dulce Et Decorum Est.  Also Shakespeare's Sonnet 29 (especially as sung by Rufus Wainwright), and John Donne's The Good Morrow
Where do you usually get your books?
Charity shops mostly, but also secondhand bookshops, Waterstones, and independent booksellers.  I'm trying really hard not to buy from Amazon, but it's not always easy.
Where do you usually read your books?
Where don't I read books?!  In bed, on the train, in waiting rooms, in the pub.  But mostly in one of my two reading spots at home: my comfy chair by the fire in the winter, and my sofa in the book-lined but draughty front room in summer.
When you were little, did you have any particular reading habits?
In the school holidays, I'd have to visit the local library every other day, because the six books we were allowed to take out would last me about 40 hours before I needed new ones.  I had fairly shocking taste in books though: lots of Nancy Drew mysteries and Enid Blyton.
What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn’t put it down?
The Hunger Games (the first one) a few summers ago.  I started reading at 8pm and finished at 4am because it was impossible not to finish it in one sitting.  Sadly the latter two in the trilogy never lived up to the promise of the first one (especially the final instalmant, Mockingjay.  What a disappointment!).
Have you ever “faked” reading a book?
All the time during my degree.  I sat my finals on 'The Literature Of The Fin De Siecle' having only read Mrs Dalloway, The Importance Of Being Earnest, half of De Profundis and one Katherine Mansfield short story.  Blagged it and managed to pass.  I actually really liked those writers, I was just a twat at the time.
Have you ever bought a book just because you liked the cover?
What was your favourite book when you were a child?
After refusing to read it for years (I've never liked having books recommended to me, especially by my mother for some reason, and her repeated insistence of a book's brilliance is a guarantee that I will never read it), when I was about 9 I watched the first episode of the TV adaptation of Anne Of Green Gables and plunged headlong into the series, devouring the books in one weekend. 
What book changed your life?
Probably Generation X by Douglas Coupland.  Or if not changed, then affirmed the life I had chosen to live in my early twenties.  I still harbour a desire to step out of the rat race and go and live in Palm Springs, a la hero Andy.
What is your favourite passage from a book?
Chunks of Shakespeare that I've memorised because I teach it every year aside, I really can't think of anything.
Who are your top five favourite authors?
There are very few authors who never write a duff word, but I've loved everything by Neil Gaiman, Armistead Maupin, Poppy Z Brite, Christopher Brookmyre and Sarah Waters.
What book has no one heard about but should read?
My answer to this is actually the same as Helen's: What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn.  Moving, funny and brilliant.
What are your favourite books by a first-time author?
The previously-mentioned but utterly amazing Generation X by Douglas Coupland, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Lost Souls by Poppy Z Brite, The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood, Prep by Curtis Sittenfield.
What 3 books are you an “evangelist” for?
Gosh, just 3?  There are a ton of books I evangelise for at school.  As far as I'm concerned, making teenagers read books I love is one of the few perks of the job.  Two I recommend all the time are Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce and The Shell House by Linda Newberry.  Framed is the funniest book I've ever read, it has me howling no matter how many times I go back to it.  If it doesn't make you laugh out loud you are most likely clinically dead.  And The Shell House is a lovely, tender story set partly during WW1 and partly in contemporary times, and deals with sexuality, faith and loss.
Out of school I recommend Interpreter Of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri a lot, often buying copies to give away.  It's Pulitzer-winning short story collection, and although short stories aren't usually my thing, Lahiri's are so beautifully constructed and narratively strong.  Her second collection, Unaccustomed Earth, is amazing too. 
What is your favourite classic book?
Persuasion by Jane Austen, a wonderful story of love lost and found.  I'm an incurable romantic and the final scenes with the letter make me sob with joy.  Some women may want to find their Darcy, but I'm all about Captain Wentworth.
5 other notable mentions?
1. The Great Gatsby is my favourite American classic.
2. For YA fiction which is 2o years out of date but still delightful, Paula Danziger's novels.
3. Stephen Chbosky's The Perks Of Being A Wallflower.
4. Any of Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie series.  Another instance of my mum telling me how brilliant something was and me refusing to read them.  When I eventually picked one up, I finished it in one sitting, howling with laughter all the while.
5. Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy.


  1. I loved reading this as I love hearing what people have to say about books, plus I am nosey!

    Def going to have to check out some of the books you mentioned.

    Thanks for doing this, as I know it was a bit of a lengthy one to write!

  2. I loved reading this. I love poking my nose into other people's reading habits. I love Neil Gaiman very much. Have you read his short story The Price. It makes me bawl everytime.

    1. Is it in Smoke & Mirrors? If so I have read it but can't remember it... will have to go and take another look.

    2. It is indeed. It's such a beautiful story.

  3. Me? Yay! I'll do this at the weekend.

    I always recommend What Was Lost, too, so I guess three of us have heard of it! I love her other book, The News Where You Are, too.