Friday, 13 March 2009

Coffee spoon anyone?

Eliot's Prufrock measured out his life in coffee spoons. I think I could measure mine out in music, paintings, people or literature. Juliet of Crafty Green Poet suggested that I chart the twenty-five pieces of literature which have really influenced me in my life. It has taken some doing but has been a real walk down memory lane. It would be interesting to do the same thing with people who have influenced me - so shall try that another time.
If we are sensible we do not go into old-age (whenever that is) without continuing to learn, question and try to grow old disgracefully (and I am wearing a purple jumper as I write, in deference to Jenny Joseph's poem!) I certainly intend to continue in that mould, so will not guarantee that the pieces I choose will not change in the years to come. But then, they are not written in stone, are they? So here they are:-

I can't remember learning to read and, apart from my Dad's poetry books, I don't remember anything but library books around the house. I don't think we had the money to buy books, but my Mother was an ardent library-goer.## We took a daily newspaper and there was always a world atlas lying around. So that is where my reading began.
The first book I actually owned was called "Claudius the Bee". It was bought for me by my brother and I treasured it for many years. It was a fictionalised account of life in the hive. So that shall be number one.
Number Two would be my much older sister's Film Annuals. She married when I was very small and as soon as I could read she passed these one to me. It was from them that I learned about the old silent film stars - Jean Harlow, Nova Pilbeam, Rudolph Valentino - I can still see the photographs of them in my mind's eye.
My father's poetry books would be at Number Three. He belonged to that age when you learned poetry off by heart at school and I grew up on a diet of "The Wreck of the Hesperus", "The Battle of Blenheim", "The Jackdaw of Rheims" and "Gray's Elegy."
4. My infant school teacher, Miss Smith, was an ardent Walter de la Mare fan. I think the first poem I ever learned was "Someone came a knocking at my wee small door."
5. At Lincoln Girls' High School I became mad about Shakespeare's plays - I can still recite large chunks off by heart - Hamlet's soliloquys, Macbeth's speeches.
6. Mrs Gaskell's "Cranford" was another favourite - and the recent TV adaptation brought the memories of it flooding back.
7. When I was a teenager, foreign travel for people like me was just a dream - but I was mad keen to get abroad. I travelled vicariously - first of all with Maurice le Toumelin in "Kurun around the world" - he sailed round the world in a ketch. I read that book a hundred times, desperate to feel some of the excitement.
8. When I moved into an urban environment after marriage I was desperate to keep my links with the countryside I loved, so I read Flora Thompson's "Lark Rise to Candleford" - I still have the copy I bought then and I still dip into it from time to time.
9. I became a keen gardener and my bible was always Vita Sackville-West's "Garden Diary".
10. I am a big believer in reading to children, even when they can read for themselves. I love to listen to books being read aloud even now. The first book I remember reading to my son was Dr. Seuss's "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back." - lovely rhyming sentences.
11. Ladybird Books were a good stand-by - his favourite (and mine) was "Lazy Little Piggly Wriggly" - I can still recite chunks and I bet he can too (Dominic - finish this verse - Lazy Little Piggly Wriggly, always stayed in bed to snore/after Mother Pig had called him?.......)
12. And then of course there was the sheer excitement (which we still both share) of the Arthur Ransome books.
13. My College and University days brought with them an inspirational English lecturer, Dave Harper, who introduced me to so much good literature. The poetry of RS Thomas was a revelation to me - and still is. At the moment my favourite poem of his is "Arrival" but no doubt it will change on my next reading.
14. The novels of F Scott Fitzgerald were another of his passions which I picked up - particularly "The Great Gatsby".
15. The metaphysical poets - in particular John Donne.
16. I did my final thesis on the plays of Edward Albee - these seem a bit old hat now - but golly I did a lot of work on them at the time, and they are still firmly ingrained in my memory.
17. Many years ago a friend bought me a copy of Shakespeare's sonnets, all written out in beautiful calligraphy - the joy of reading them and at the same time admiring the exquisite writing has made them a firm favourite still.
18. I can't remember when I discovered Evelyn Waugh's novels - but I love them still - and "Brideshead Revisited" is still my joint-favourite novel.
19. My other joint-favourite is EM Forster's "A Passage to India" - the enjoyment of that was enhanced by reading an essay by him on how he came to write it.
20. Many years ago TV did an adaptation of C.P. Snow's "Strangers and Brothers" - as a result of watching that I bought the novels, and although they are a little dated now, I still enjoy reading them.
21. I have never lost my love of travel books - although I am lucky enough to have been able to travel fairly widely over the years I still enjoy the vicarious pleasure to be had from Gavin Young's "Slow Boat to China" and Paul Theroux's "The Great Railway Bazaar" - and that all-time favourite Wilfred Thesiger's "Arabian Sands" about the empty quarter, which has fairly recently been reissued and sings just as much as it did the first time.
22 and 23 - My love of poetry, started by my Dad a long time ago, means that I could list twenty poets I love - but I will choose just two - Edward Thomas and Edwin Morgan (Heron - one of the most evocative nature poems I have ever read).
24 and 25. My love of the countryside means that my last - but by no means least - two must be nature books. I fully recommend the books of Ronald Blythe - he has such a wealth of knowledge on natural history/literature and is a past master at linking the two together. John Lister-Kaye (in particular "Nature's Child") also catches my imagination when he writes so beautifully about the wildlife he loves.

So there it is - a long post for me. Not particularly high-brow - but it represents a lifetime's love or reading.
## My mother died in 1972 - if she were doing this list, two books would dominate, and although they would never be on my list - seeing her reading them time and time again had a profound influence of my learning that reading was a joy. Those two books were Lady Eleanor Smith's "Red Wagon." and Baroness Orczy's "The Scarlet Pimpernel."


jinksy said...

I am in awe of a brain that remembers authors and titles! I've devoured many, many books, but rarely do those two pieces of information remain. The words I've read end up like your collage made from all those beautiful fabrics; they create their own pictures as my mind creates things that are the sum of all the parts that have fashioned me over the years.

Derrick said...

Hello Weaver,

Like Jinksy, I admire your ability to make a list of this kind. Although I like books now, they did not feature as possessions or library loans in our house when I was young.There is a great deal I still have to discover!

willow said...

Wonderful list, Ms. Weaver! I also had a teacher named Smith, Mrs. Smith, who encouraged my love of poetry.

Leilani Lee said...

I too grew up in a "let's go to the library" household because they didn't have money to buy books. What an amazing list. I just recently picked up a small volume of poetry on the "remainder" table at the big book store -- my favorite collection of the dead poets vanished in one of our many moves. Some of these authors are familiar, some are not. But if you like them, I must try to find them. Must go to library forthwith!

Dave King said...

Lovely post, lots of places where I could intone "Amen". Your father must be of my generation, for I, too, was of the learning poetry by heart time. I, too travelled vicariously. Good to hear someone speaking up for travel books as works of literature.

Poet in Residence said...

What a memory! The first book I remember reading was a Rupert the Bear Annual, then I graduated via Biggles, Sherlock Holmes, Treasure Island etc. I think the first poem that impressed was The Traveller "Is there anybody said the traveller knocking on the moonlit door and his horse champed the grasses of the forest's ferny floor..." or something like that. But all this is lost in a long ago fog. I can't remember my dad reading anything except newspapers and large manuals with technical drawings that had to do with old cars to bits. Mum's idea of reading was Peoples Friend, Womans Own and knitting patterns.
I agree with you about The Great Gatsby. It's a super book. I have a copy somewhere. Must be due for another read.
The only poem I know by Donne is:
John Donne
Ann Donne
- - Undone.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Excellent list, fascinating to read, thanks for sharing. Particularly interested in your recommendation of John Lister Kaye as i have one of his books which i'll read pretty soon.

Reading everyone else's lists makes me remember books that I left off my list.

Like Poet in Residence, Rupert the Bear annuals probably play a large part in my early reading memories,....

Jenn Jilks said...

You know, Weaver, my favourite book as a child was one about being 'chosen', or adopted! As an adoptee it really made me feel blessed.

The oral story, of the day my parents brought me home from foster care, was one that I can retell, however!

Excellent list. Now that I am retired, my life is so much nicer to be able to read what I want, and write for fun and enjoyment, when I want.

P.S. Like PIR, my Brit grandma sent me Rupert the Bear - whom I adored!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Jinksy - I love that idea of a collage of books you have read - I think the same is probably true of most of my reading too - I only remember the exceptional.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Derrick - in our young days (!!) I don't think books were so readily available and often there just was not the money to buy them.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Willow - a good teacher makes an impression that never goes away - being an ex-teacher myself I hope I made a few impressions.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Leilani Lee - libraries are still important, I think - they are a good place for trying out new authors - if we don't like what we are reading there then we don't buy the book!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Dave - no-one could doubt that the Wilfred Thesiger book is literature - it is mind-blowing.
I am sure some travel books are not particularly well-written but then that is also true of a lot of novels! Thanks for the comments.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Gwillym - I had forgotten Rupert - he would have been on my list otherwise. Do you think anyone ever read the text? We only ever read the rhyming couplets which were wonderful because they were often so understated. My favourite of all time was Mrs Bear pegging out the washing on a Monday morningn(all Persil-white and blowing merrily) while Rupert goes over in a hot air balloon. The caption reads:
"I do declare, says Mrs. Bear
if that's not Rupert flying up there!"

The Weaver of Grass said...

PS Love your Donne poem but not sure I believe you in that I feel you must know SOME Donne - a poet of your calibre would surely be attracted to a man who had his shroud pinned on the wall for years where he could contemplate it. Nobody uses metaphor better than he. (shroud included)

The Weaver of Grass said...

Juliet - thanks for the comment.
Hope you enjoy the John Lister Kaye - I think his Nature's Child is his best book, particularly the chapter on Stormy Petrels. Let me know how you get on reading it.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Jenn - your heartening story just shows the power that books have - thanks for sharing it.

Dominic Rivron said...

"...For he always snored before", I think.

Poet in Residence said...

Of course you are very astute as always. Yes, I did have a Donne phase. It was, if I remember, about that time I became interested in the mysterious brass square with strange coded verse or inspcription by John Dee in Clitheroe Church, just through door on wall at left (or was). I always thought it was a secret message to the whereabouts of some secret treasure or knowledge. But of course I couldn't decipher it. Have a look next time you're over that way. See if it's still there and if you can make any sense of it. Perhaps one of your Weaverer, if I can call them that, can throw some light on the matter?

Teresa said...

A wonderful post that spurs me to remember my own literary favorites... and to consider reading some of books you list that I somehow missed!

Coastcard said...

How lovely to have not just the list of books but a commentary on them. I wonder how long it took you to think them all out!

Heather said...

Your list wakens my memory. I read The Scarlet Pimpernel in my teens and loved it along with the Rogue Herries series by Hugh Walpole. Much later I discovered Brideshead Revisited. I always have a book 'on the go', but like Jinksy can't remember the authors or titles. I nearly always asked for a book for Christmas as a child as they were so precious then.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for that Gwillym - I shall ask From the Field Book (Carol) to have a look in Clitheroe church - she lives somewhere over that side in Red Rose Country (do I need a passport to get over from White Rose?)

The Weaver of Grass said...

To everyone who responded to this blog -keeeeeeeep reading!

Phoenix said...

As I read your post, I was mesmerized by the way you lay it all down. Some day, I would like to do similar exercises, capture in words those things in my life that have influenced it most... literature, thoughts and people..

Woman in a Window said...

And here I am not being able to read what I read last year. I wish I had started a log and kept it all these years. Those books seem lost somehow. I love that you remember.

Rachel Fox said...

It was a fun and interesting exercise to do, wasn't it? I almost wish we could give each other web lectures on all our much to learn!

Mistlethrush said...

Hi WEaver,

I haven't actually been in the church at Clitheroe but I assume the one Poet-in Residence refers to is St Mary Magdelene Church?

A Google search may (or may not) help solve the question. The following paragraph was copied from the web page detailed below:

"One of the most rare possessions of the Church is a brass, engraved with the horoscope of Dr. John Webster, famous in the local witch-hunt days."

Copied from:

Poet in Residence said...

Hi Mistlethrush, I couldn't say if this horoscope is the thing I'm thinking of or not. As I remember it, and it's quite a while since I was in Clitheroe ( a lovely town with a speciality sausage shop), I was walking on a street up a slight incline, the Castle behind me, Pendle Hill on the right, and came to a church on on my left. I entered the door and then saw a plaque on a wall nearby. As I remember (once again memory is not to be 100% depended on) it was a square brass thing screwed to the wall and was about 8" sqaure. I had the impression it was made by Dr John Dee who was interested in many occult things including alchemy.

Janice Thomson said...

What a wonderful and varied list Weaver! I have enjoyed many that you mention - in particular Shakespeare's sonnets and The Great Gadsby and John Donne as well of course. Interesting how we change over the years and yet still go back to the old favorites.

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