Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Forty days: Pt 25 (I leave the house and buy some bad trousers)


I am in Pain Quotidien, which is practically my house, though. It's like a tiny outpost of Belgium in the middle of London, with less gratuitous daytime beer (why am I in Pain Quotidien? Who knows. I am always in Pain Quotidien and I was in the middle of a psychotic break in Cos trying on worse and worse shapeless garments so I thought I needed to break the cycle, I had already acquired a pair of trousers of very dubious merit in some kind of modern 'stretch' fabric. Brrrrr).


I am no longer in Pain Quotidien, having paid £4.73 for a green juice which made my mouth smell of sprouts. I am at my father's after going to Mrs Trefusis's magnificent literary salon with India Knight, poor picture follows:

... which was exceptionally cheery, with champagne and brilliant book chat and good advice for The Withering (this was India's provisional title for the book which became In Your Prime). The premise of the salon, which is called The Books That Built Me is six books that have influenced the invitee and shaped their writing life: India's were Dante's Inferno, Nancy Mitford's Pursuit of Love, Simenon L'Homme Qui Regardait Passer les Trains, Albert Cohen's Belle de Seigneur, Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and Barbara Pym (just all Barbara Pym, basically). Of course you can't help but try and think of your own, it's like a literary Desert Island Discs, but thankfully with a different remit and no sandy, desert island hardship. Ugh, how I hate sand. This is my thinking tonight, but it would be different tomorrow:

The Compleet Molesworth
Some representative PG Wodehouse, ideally involving a small but serviceable rubber bludgeon and/or Roderick Spode.
The Pursuit of Love
Daniel Deronda, purely for Gwendolen who, with her snake-like neck, is one of my favourite (anti?) heroines (I too have a snake-like neck and an iffy moral compass). Incidentally the author of this fantastic looking book on literary heroines was also there tonight (she nearly proposed to me, long story) and I am downloading it the instant I get home.
A Fred Vargas, I don't know which, they're all so good, maybe Pars Vite et Reviens Tard.
David Sedaris Me Talk Pretty One Day

So hard. I've already changed seven things and I want to put H is for Hawk in.

I have to finish this now as it is nearly midnight and it would be a shame to fail at this totally arbitrary and wrongly calculated forty days thing now. What six books have shaped and influenced you? Can you even bear to limit yourself to six, mutiply caveated?

23:59! MUST POST.


Lara K. said...

A real literary salon? Oh, that sounds so glamorous. Today I put overalls right over my son's pajamas and took him to the park, which feels like the thin end of the wedge; next I shall be appearing at the grocery store with curlers in my hair and sporting fuzzy slippers. This is how far I am removed from anything remotely glamorous these days.

I second your PG Wodehouse, particularly the Blandings Castle ones. Who knew someone could use the English language with such joy? I certainly didn't until I picked up one of his books, and I haven't looked back since.
Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night, because I read it when I was single and 30 and pining.
Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence.
Truman Capote, A Christmas Memory.
Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (please don't laugh), for Coleridge and Bach and the wonderful, absurd, heartbreaking bit about the Dodo.

Jess said...

That's sounds such a lovely evening.
I was given Daniel Deronda as a gift by a boy that I was trying to persuade myself I was in love with. At the time I was indulging in extreme over analysis of any conversation or txt. Hours and hours my best friend and I would spend going over the most boring message. So imagine an entire novel which he said was his favourite! Spiral of insanity alert.
My 6,8 or 100 would definitely include The Pursuit of Love, the scene at the end with the Bolter.
Wide Sargasso Sea/ Good morning midnight by Jean Rhys lots and lots of inner despair
The lover by Marguerite Duras. Also with the despair.
A Change of Climate by Hilary Mantel, this has some spot on descriptions of Norfolk where I grew up, my favourite being about the normality of sending a boy to school in hand knitted trousers. I was sent to school in a hand knitted skirt which I loved but was not in anyway normal.
The Birds fall down by Rebecca West one of those that gets better every time you read it.
Strangers at the fair/ the Grey Goose of Kilnevin by Patricia Lynch read to me by my father from his own childhood penguin paperbacks. This is without the J.K Rowling/Tolkien/Pratchett trinity. Oh god I almost left off Jilly Cooper. It's completely impossible.

Anonymous said...

Take the cos trousers back. no good can come of them. unless they are that kind of Teflon fabric that repels anything you spill on them, in which case - handy. the salon sounds splendid ... no such sophistication here - just homework, dust and legos on the floor ready to snare the unwary ... books: love in a cold climate/pursuit of love (can't choose), also Decline and Fall (Waugh), David Copperfield, A Country Child by Alison Uttley (very restful and lovely), A Period Piece by Gwen Raverat (very funny and with best illustrations ever, by the author), and Wolf Hall. Also like Lara's suggestion of Dorothy Sayers.

Anonymous said...

What fun! Here are mine:

Iris Murdoch: The Book and the Brotherhood (I share Charlotte Mendelson's love of Iris Murdoch, and TBatB is Murdoch's best, I think)
Nora Ephron: Heartburn (self-explanatory)
Jane Smiley: The Age of Grief (as they keep saying in cooking blogs: "So good.")
Ursula LeGuin: Tehanu (I click on "Ich möchte dieses Buch auf dem Kindle lesen" almost daily - not that it's done any good so far)
Anne Tyler: Ladder of Years (lovely! Anne Tyler should get a whole lot more RESPECT.)
Margaret Drabble: The Realms of Gold (This totally built me - I read it at an impressionable age.)

If I'm allowed a seventh: Wallace Stegner: Crossing to Safety. (Best dinner party ever.)

samantha.deane said...


Am STILL sulking about missing out last night (stupid failed surgery! Stupid anaesthetic hangover!! Even more stupid only 4 Ladurée macarons to console me!!!)

As for books:
- Something Winnie the Pooh-ey by AA Milne. Back before our every transaction was fraught with tension and frustration, my father used to read these to me. And I adored them all. I absolutely refuse, point-blank, to engage with any Disneyfication of Pooh - EH Sheppard's drawings are the only way he should look.
- A Town Like Alice by Nevile Shute. My comfort blanket book that I still re-read, probably yearly, 25-odd years since I first read it. Beautiful, spare prose with a devastating line in metaphor.
- Boule de Suif, et Autres Contes de la Guerre by Guy de Maupsassant. Doing my French A-Level, introduced to the perfection of Maupassant's short stories by my tutor.
- If I was being totally honest, I'd probably have to introduce something like Princess Daisy by Judith Krantz, which got passed round my convent school class with the corners turned down on pages where the rude bits were. Learned more than my mother was ever prepared to tell me, that's for sure.
- Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte. To my eternal shame I only just (last two months) put right the wrong of never paying attention to this in my teenage years. Adored it.
- Little Grey Rabbit at the North Pole by Alison Uttley. Obsessed with bunny rabbits as a child, I read all this series but this is the one that sticks with me, mostly due to an illustration that lead to an obsession with the Northern Lights.

Sally said...

Ummm, to be completely truthful, the following (very low brow I'm afraid)

The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

When I was a little older:
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Any dialogue by Terry Pratchett in his earlier books
and my favourite book of all time, by the sublime author Hilary Mantel - Beyond Black

Anonymous said...

Let's start with the adult list:
* A suitable boy by Vikram Seth
* Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
* Gösta Berlings Saga by Selma Lagerlöf
* Purge by Sofi Oksanen
* Let the right one in by John Ajvide Lindqvist
* The King Bows and Kills by Herta Müller.

And then over to the children book list, which has probably on the whole been more influential than the adult one:
* Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson
* The 35th of May by Erich Kästner
* Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
* Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
* Pirate book by Lennart Hellsing (doesn't exist in English I think)
* The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren


Ivywindow said...

6 is impossible, and my list is impossibly childish, but these are the books I loved from for ever.

1) The Hobbit.
2) Pride & Prejudice.
3) To Kill a Mockingbird.
4) A Jeeves & Wooster. I love Jeeves. He is the perfect man. Still, in my 40s.
5) A Hat Full of Sky. This describes home to me better than anything I have ever read. It is almost as if it is written with the Downs, and even though I read it in my 30s and it is written for 11 year olds I just loved it. But then, I love Terry Prachett's twisted mirror on the world.

The first 5 were easy, because 6 was going to be so hard. Do I pick The French Kitchen by Joanne Harris, as the first cookbook I cooked loads out of, and still go back to? Or a Diane Henry, because they are all wonderful reads as well as good recipes? Maya Angelous's autobiographies were some of the most powerful books I read as a late teen. Marple? Poirot? Jane Eyre? Lord of the Flies, which I read for A Level, hated the first 8 chapters, LOVED the last 4? David Sedaris and eoin Colker are contenders too, however, today, I *think* 6 is;

6)Chin Up Girls; A book of women's obituaries from the Daily Telegraph, of all places. Wonderful book, full of inspiring women.

This is only slightly better than the war there would be if I could only read one author for the rest of my life.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read past the first line and I'm already wiping tears of laughter at your Red Alert Red Alert...
What a joy your blog is, honestly! :)

Mrs Ford said...

Irresistible but almost impossible game! I would follow you in including "some representative PG Wodehouse", and then add "Decline and Fall" by Evelyn Waugh, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" by Anita Loos, "Diary of a Provincial Lady" by E.M. Delafield, "French Country Cooking" by Elizabeth David and "Middlemarch" by George Eliot. I am now trying to resist the temptation to spend today re-reading them all.

Patience_Crabstick said...

What an interesting evening! I loved Pursuit of Love too. I haven't read Daniel Deronda, but I have seen the BBC movie with Romola Garai. I will have to read it.
I can't come up with a complete list right now, but I know I would include Excellent Women and Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym; The Adrian Mole Diaries by Sue Townsend; Jane Eyre; My Family and other Animals by Gerald Durrell.

vivien y said...

Revelatory blog comments here! Imagine that anyone else in the whole world has read and remembers and loves The Grey Goose of Kilnevin ... and The Country Child.
The Realms of Gold also on my list, Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers, Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge and Dear Enemy by Jean Webster

Waffle said...

Sally - GAAAAAAH I was desperately trying to find a space for Beyond Black which is one of my favourite books of all time.

So many excellent, excellent choices here and also stuff I haven't read and am noting down.

Ellie said...

Adult list (I'm assuming these are what form your worldview in some fashion, and not just books that I really love):
Any Blandings Wodehouse featuring Galahad Threepwood prominently
Mason and Dixon by Thomas Pynchon
Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
Moo by Jane Smiley (silly, and Age of Grief is far, far better as a formative book, but we are who we are)
Birds of America by Laurie Moore
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

My formative childhood books stand out as vague things whose titles I can't remember-- the whole series of novels about various Plantagenets which traced them through their youth and then the person you just read about as a teen is the dad of a new teen in the next book-- mindblowing! Can't remember the titles. The one about some kids who find a whole hidden community living 100 years in the past at a lake somewhere, etc.

Lara K., Dirk Gently is my favorite Adams too!

mountainear said...

6 books which score highly on the comfort-o-meter (no point in asking me to read something erudite or improving when I can have wallow in the following:
Far from the Madding Crowd - saw the film at an influential age (Terence Stamp, swoon) but discovered the book to be better.
Cannery Row - lighter than most of Steinbeck's social pieces and with the beautiful poem Black Marigolds at the end.
I Capture the Castle. Goes without saying.
Captain Corelli's Mandolin - which introduced me to the music of Hummel and his Mandolin Concerto in particular.
Molesworth. Brilliant.
Good Things - Jane Grigson; for humble earthy ingredients given due respect.

Unknown said...

I wish I could come to every BTBM, I read Mrs Trefusis' blog, and all her guests so far have been brilliant.
I have made such a list before, though like yours, it is hardly set in stone. I'd include Nancy Mitford, too, and I Capture the Castle and Cold Comfort Farm. I do like David Sedaris, too. Nora Ephron, of course.
I'd also choose Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and The White and, whisper it, Gone with the Wind (I believe it is frowned upon nowadays). When I was much younger, I read a lot of Latin American authors: Marquez, Allende, etc. Going much further back, to my childhood, I owe my anglophilia and the love of English language to AA Milne as well as Francis Hodgson-Burnett. I also adored Scandinavian children authors, such as Tove Janssen.

Unknown said...

I love A Walk in The Woods too. I re read it at least once a year and it never fails to cheer me up and make me laugh :)

Unknown said...

Gone-Away Lake? I loved that book and was lucky enough to own (Scholastic Book Club?) and reread it often as a child :)
I think a sequel was written which I've never read- popping over to Amazon now :)

Taxmom said...

I love Daniel Deronda and was just thinking about it the other day. "Lush was a rather large cigar" (quoting from memory here) is a line I keep spouting when the situation arises, and then have to explain to whomever is listening.

My books:
Henry James: Portrait of a Lady
Stephen McCauley: The Easy Way Out
Brideshead Revisited
LOTR (Sorry. Whenever my husband or I are going through some particularly stressful time, you can find one of us in bed re-reading Lord of the Rings)
That's the short list. I second Nancy Mitford, Bill Bryson, Lucky Jim, and the Moomins, all mentioned by previous posters.

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