My attention was drawn to a post which that wonderful literary gourmet Helen at She Reads Novels put up in June. In it she highlighted an I-Spy challenge that had been doing the rounds of the blogosphere and which rather appealed to me too. She limited her choice to historical titles, however, while I shall be looking at the whole gamut of my shelves, non-fiction as well as fiction. Here’s the challenge:
Find a book that contains (either on the cover or in the title) an example for each category. You must have a separate book for all 20, get as creative as you want . . .
Thus it was that I set out to
waste spend a few precious moments minutes wildly carefully honing my choices for your possible delight. In a couple of cases I really did have problems fitting title to category, so I certainly had to exercise my spindly creative muscles…
See what you think.
To avoid mental indigestion I’ve separated the list of twenty categories into two halves. As it happens, most of these are titles I’ve yet to read, or have started but didn’t finish, or first read so long ago I’ve forgotten most of the content.
1. Food: James Branch Cabell’s The Cream of the Jest (1917) is the first one I exercised creativity over. From a fading bookmark I see I got as far as the end of the first chapter of this convolutes parody-cum-fantasy.
2. Transport: Ursula Le Guin’s Changing Planes (2002): another creative choice, as the title is a pun on airport waiting rooms as well as that shift into a different mental state we do during the interminable wait for the departure announcement. A less faded bookmark shows I got three-quarters through this before being distracted.
3. Weapon: Rosemary Sutcliff’s Swords at Sunset (1963) I actually read in the early seventies; this historical novel was the best of several I remember from that era, especially as the author made Arthur a credible Dark Age figure instead of a pseudo-medieval monarch.
4. Animal: in Christopher McGowan’s The Dragon Seekers (2001) the animals in question are dinosaurs, this being a historical overview of Victorian fossil hunters.
5. Number: Diana Wynne Jones’ unusual take on fairy lore, Power of Three (1973).
6. Something you read: the intention behind this category is to look out for titles featuring not just books but also newspapers, documents, maybe even electronic mail; I went for Henry James’ The Aspern Papers (reviewed here).
7. Body of water: Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) was reviewed here.
8. Product of fire: E Nesbit’s The Phoenix and the Carpet (1904) was reviewed here. (The phoenix is of course born from the ashes of its predecessor.)
9. Royalty: I’m not much into royalty but I do have Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess (1905) sitting coyly on my shelves.
10. Architecture: based around a fantastic castle, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast (1950), the second of the renowned trilogy (if we discount the posthumous title completed by his wife from Peake’s notes) follows on from Titus Groan; my background notes for the latter are here, though I don’t think I ever got round to a review.
I suppose I could have followed the easy route here and just gone to non-fiction titles for categories like architecture, royalty, food and so on, but it seems as though that would go against the spirit of the exercise. Anyway, it’s so much more fun to see how far I could stretch a connection, as you can see.
11. Clothing: Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus (1836) is that author’s satire on fashion, clothing and the humans that wear them; another book I got part way through but hadn’t the maturity to really appreciate.
12. Family member: no, not the author but the key word in the title is why I chose Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue (1990).
13. Time of day: I quail at the intensity of the author, but am still looking forward to Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus (1984).
14. Music: the late Oliver Sach’s Musicophilia (2008) is one of a handful of books on music and the brain that I own, all fascinating but all so far waiting for me to take the plunge instead of paddling in the shallows.
15. Paranormal being: Ambrose Bierce’s The Enlarged Devil’s Dictionary (1967) is so enjoyable to dip into, particularly when one is searching for a really impish definition of a seemingly innocuous word.
16. Occupation: before Richard Dawkins’ notoriety as a so-called fundamentalist atheist he was a noted populariser of science, as in The Blind Watchmaker (1986). I’ve read Unweaving the Rainbow and The God Delusion, but even though I’ve only skimmed The Selfish Gene I sort of know what to expect from this title — insights from diverse viewpoints and disciplines.
17. Season: right now I’m rationing Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book (2003) to a chapter or two at a time so as to eke out its absolute delights.
18. Colour: another instance of me being creative, Philip Pullman’s The Ruby in the Smoke (1985) is a fine homage to Victorian penny dreadfuls, with a really admirable leading protagonist.
19. Celestial body: Eva Ibbotson’s The Star of Kazan (2004) fits this category perfectly.
20. Something that grows: I can’t believe I still haven’t read Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree (2015) or any of her other titles; very remiss of me.
There, that wasn’t too bad, was it? Is this an exercise that appeals to you too? And if you’ve read any of the books I haven’t yet tackled, which one would you recommend I try sooner rather than later?