Without further ado, then, here are my choices for the Seven Deadly Bookish Sins.
What is the most expensive book you own? Which is the least expensive?
Right, I can tell you the most expensive book I used to own: a hardback reprint of a classic Victorian study on alchemy and hermetic philosophy, which I bought from a secondhand bookshop for £6.00 in the 70s when I thought I might find it interesting.
Well, as time went on I discovered that I wasn’t as interested in the occult as I fondly imagined, though it was many years before I sold it on for little more than twice what I’d paid for it.
Now, it’s not really a good indication of its true value as far as inflation goes, but I put six pounds into a calculator and came up with a rather mind-boggling sum. I don’t think I’d ever now pay that amount for a book, however worthy.
The least expensive? Easy-peasy: books beyond measure which I’ve been given free, gratis, as a present or as an offload. The last one was a Paddy Doyle, Charlie Savage, which I won for Reading Ireland Month from Cathy of 746books.com, which is on my 20 Books of Summer list — an event also run by Cathy!
What book or books have you shamelessly devoured many times?
That’s easy-peasy too: The Lord of the Rings which I suspect would be on many of my contemporaries’ lists. I first read this in 1968 in the one-volume edition, and have read it about once every decade, which means it’s well overdue its fifth read now. Of course, it goes without saying that each reread is like coming across it for the first time.
What attributes do you find most attractive in your characters?
Generosity, whether in time, effort or emotions. Most protagonists in kids literature exhibit this sooner or later, which is why I enjoy many titles in this genre. Let me give you some examples that immediately strike me (all of them girls, as it happens, but female protagonists are often more giving emotionally in fiction, as they tend to be in real life).
Dido Twite, in Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles, is the archetypal resourceful child called on to be courageous and imaginative in this literature whilst also showing compassion to those in need. (Likewise her little sister, Is.) Another such child whose heart is in the right place is Lyra Belacqua, one of the leads in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books, cheeky, irreverent and determined to do what’s just.
Last in this trio is Tiffany Aching, the young witch in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series who grows in age through five books but seems to have already gained a preternaturally mature attitude as the series starts. And she too is kind, a kind of magical district nurse in at least one of the novels. I’m looking forward to the final two novels in the series.
Please note, I’m lusting after the characters’ attributes, ones that I admire very much in non-fictional individuals, not after the characters themselves!
What books would you most like to receive as a gift?
This is a difficult question because my tastes and preferences can change from day to day. While I love being gifted with books — so much more satisfying than socks or bath salts, say — it’s rare that I get precisely the one I was lusting for at the time without already having dropped heavy hints!
Much better to receive a book voucher, just as I prefer to offer another adult a voucher for their particular tastes — for a spa day, a department store purchase or a meal, for instance. This way one can choose whatever is on a current wish list; in my case it could be a hardback, a paperback set or an out-of-print publication, a genre or non-fiction title, by a favourite author or a new-to-me writer.
What book or books do you bring up when you want to sound like an intellectual reader?
In my opinion this is one of the basest of the vices, especially with a leading question like this to consider — and anyway remembering that pride comes before a fall!
I may have tried this when I was younger and inexperienced, hoping to impress, but I’ve learnt the hard way that this approach amounts to a fool’s errand because it can not only seriously underestimate the audience’s intellectual capabilities but also raise lasting hostilities.
Best to discuss bookish matters as equals or colleagues on a similar learning curve. Alternatively posit the semiotic undercurrents in Enid Blyton’s Noddy books with reference to Lacan’s psychoanalytical theories.
What book or series have you neglected out of sheer laziness?
I shall have to go back to my schooldays to reply to this. The correct answer is everything. I don’t recall completing any book, set text, text book, novel. Laziness or a grasshopper mind? Perversity or an aspect of being on the autistic spectrum? Lack of intellectual rigour or simply daydreaming?
Oddly enough, since we had to read plays out aloud in class, I vividly remember numerous dramas by Shakespeare, Webster (The Duchess of Malfi particularly), Shaw (Arms and the Man) and Ibsen (Peer Gynt and Hedda Gabler). But Thomas Hardy, Chaucer, some Dickens — all passed me by. And French literature — Leconte de Lisle, Baudelaire etc — absolument rien. (Yet I must have retained something because I passed French A level before leaving school.)
Poetry collections were different. In common with many of my contemporaries, the postwar baby boomers, I had to learn chunks of pieces by the old warhorses — Thomas Gray, Wordsworth, Coleridge and so on — so that thumbing through my ancient copy of The Oxford Book of English Verse is very much like meeting old friends.
As for now, I occasionally put aside — temporarily, you understand — works I find slow going. Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh is one outstanding novel from about ten years ago; more recently, Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley sits accusingly on my bedside table while I amble through Claire Harman’s biography of the writer.
What author do you have a love/hate relationship with?
Neil Gaiman, Bookforager’s choice for this category, might be mine too. He can be poetic genius one moment, banale the next, go from pathos to bathos in the blink of an eye, hold you rapt in the palm of his hand and then gratuitously poke you in the eye with a description of some casual sex. No doubt there may be others but I’ve gone into a daydream and lost interest…
Anyway, hard to remain angry with any one writer — if I did I simply wouldn’t read them again!
Like Bookforager I shan’t be tagging anybody, but if you fancy a go at this little exercise I’d very much look forward to reading it!
I’m usually publishing a review about this time but I’m in the middle of a couple of weighty tomes at the moment, reviews for which may not be ready for a little while yet. I shall however soon be away for a few days, somewhere relatively WiFi-free (rather than with free WiFi) so may get round to finishing one if not both.