Monday, 25 November 2013

When you can't get a book out of your head...

As a bit of fun, I had a look at this link to the 2003 BBC Big Read survey, where over three quarters of a million votes were received from the British public to find the nation's best-loved novel of all time. It's ten years out of date, sure - and there are many more novels that could feature if you redid the survey tomorrow - but I was surprised at scoring only 39 out of 100, in spite of being a well-recognised bookworm.

It made me think about some of the books which had the biggest impact and stayed with me in my life.

I first read King of the Copper Mountains by Paul Beigel when I was at junior school. It seemed a hefty tome - I must've read it two or three times. It's a story of stories, beautifully illustrated throughout and it stayed in my head for many, many years. Just a couple of years ago, I rediscovered it - one of the children I was helping with their reading had a new version, complete with illustrations. I think I actually snatched it out of his hands in my eagerness to check that it really was the book I remembered...and the same day, I ordered a copy. It was a much shorter book than I remembered, but the magic in the pages was still there...

I got into horror when I was a teenager - James Herbert's The Rats frightened me silly. I can't remember much about the story, except that it made my stomach clench every time the rats attacked...and that the sequel was even worse. There's one scene I remember, set in the underground in London - but I really wish I could forget it. (I read Terry Pratchett's Amazing Maurice novel as an adult; the rat king made all the memories and fear come flooding back...)

I wasn't into horror very long.

In the sixth form, I found a book with my name on it - literally! Katherine, by Anya Seton. The only reason I picked it up was because my spelling of Katherine was somewhat unusual among my peers (I knew lots of girls with the same name, but they were always spelt with a 'K' and an 'a' or a 'C' and and 'e'...not a 'K' and an 'e'.) Fortunately, I loved the story as well.

Discworld - I didn't discover Discworld novels until I was married. I don't think there's a bad one among them. Nuff said.

And the last one that stays with me is Peepo, by the Ahlbergs. 'Here's a little baby, one, two, three...' If I read that book once, I read it a million times to my children. It has lovely detailed pictures, beautiful rhythm, and always made me feel like I was singing the words rather than reading them. We had to buy it as a board version because the paperback got so tatty.

I'm sure there are others I could have picked, but these are the ones that jumped out at me this morning.

Is there a novel you read that impacted on you? Why? Drop it in the comments - you never know, it might be one we've shared.


  1. Just done it myself - 49 but many (Roald D especially) as a parent ... Ones that have made the greatest impact - too many to count and for different reasons. For example Stuart McBride's 'Flesh House' because it was the first of that ilk I'd read, though far from my favourite of his. Cormac McCarthy, Andrew Greig, ... but one of the most impactful, at the time was Gone with the Wind - IO was surprised how much influence it had on my writing. Top of the list, undoubtedly, Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond series.

    1. Saw Stuart McBride at York the other year - think I'd like to read something by him, even if it sounds like it might be gory! I found Gone with the Wind hard going, yet fascinating for the historical detail.

    2. 'Birthdays for the dead' is desperately sad, Gloomy, nasty, menacing and immensely powerful, but it is a stand-alone one and, in my opinion, one of his best.