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Old 30th Jun 2004, 11:57   #1
Wavid
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Default How did you start? And where have you ended up?

Things are a little quiet so I thought I might come up with a question to ask everyone.

Which book or author turned you on to reading 'seriously'? Or put another way - let's have some reading biographies...

I for one read the usual teenage stuff: Hitchhiker, Terry Pratchett, Adrian Mole plus numberable pretty cack sci fi books from the library. Then, when I started 6th form, so I'd be about 16, I read Nineteen Eighty Four and Crime and Punishment in quick succession. And that was that. In the next two years I burned my way through as much as possible, reading almost at random: the cheap Penguin Classics mostly, but also new fiction which I picked up from the shelf in WH Smith just because I recognised the name - I remember Ballard's Rushing to Paradise being one of these.

After I went to Uni, though, things calmed down and I settled into the comfort of the books I knew I liked: decent crime stuff; comic writing by Wodehouse, Waugh, Sharpe and more recently Jonathon Coe; and the occasional bit of heavyweight 'literary fiction'. I get more consistent enjoyment out of reading now, but I do miss the thrill of the random-reading days of my late teens.

It's rather similar to my interests in music. When I 'discovered' music when I was 15 it was all about songs, largely for (lack of) finance reasons. Tapes from Q/Select/The NME. Songs taped from John Peel and the Evening Session. Buying cheap singles that were being sold off cheap, despite not having a clue about the band who made them. I got some real crap, but some gems too, most of which have now sadly been lost. Nowadays I just buy the albums for the few acts I like (Mostly American singer songwriter stuff: Ryan Adams, Jesse Malin, Wilco) and like the books, it means I'm never disapointed but I'm never shocked either.
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Old 30th Jun 2004, 12:33   #2
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I was born in the era in which relatives gave one "worthy" books. Since there was no TV, I learned to read early. My mother read various books to me and taught me the alphabet (my father was in the war, and she didn't get out much), so I learned to read at about four. I read Oliver Twist, The Bible (yes, I did! Go figure), Little Women (I hated it even then), The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and other turgid (for a 4-8 year old) stuff.

At age 8, I discovered Arthur Ransome - another worthy gift from a headmaster of our acquaintance, read them all in quick succession, then Hornblower, Biggles (what ho, Algy!), and then, at about age 10, I discovered the world of Science Fiction - A C Clarke's Prelude to Space or something, (I'd always thought it was "A Fall of Moondust" until I checked just a moment ago - but that was published in 1961) and another craze was born. Somewhere along this line, I'd exhausted my mother's huge collection of detective novels, and my father's historical and travel books. I was, and am, a voracious reader. That brings us up to 1951.

If I may characterise my current reading habits it's:
o High quality S-F (there's a handful of authors that I favour)
o Modern novels (but I'm choosy - I won't stick with anything like Umberto Eco)
o Seafaring novels (Ahhh Arthur Ransome) - Patrick O'Brian, C S Forester and many more
o Detective and Spy fiction (choosy here, too)

So it's clear my reading habits were established by age 10, with the exception of Modern Novels.
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Old 30th Jun 2004, 13:44   #3
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I read early (aged 4) and voraciously, and when I was eight or nine I was already an obsessive reader - lots of Willard Price, Hardy Boys, Enid Blyton etc. I’d take my limit of four books out from the library and have read one by the time I got home. Aged 11+ would save my pocket money for months until the summer holidays when I would blitz the bookshops (and 2nd hand bookshops) in the Lake District with about £30 - £50 (which bought you a lot of books back then). Aged 11+ I was keen on sci-fi of varying kinds (Dr. Who and Tom Swift, H2G2, Heinlein, Bradbury, Wyndham) but also enjoyed a good dose of Anne McCaffrey dragon fantasy, and Agatha Christie and ineffably stupid Jilly Cooper. I discovered Anne Rice and Aidan Chambers. I have outgrown the one, and still adore the latter.

Aged 15+ I was reading more classic texts – Victorian and some C20th (1984, Brave New World, Animal Farm), and I got hooked on Somerset Maugham, a swathe of mediocre to wonderful Richard III/WarsofRoses fiction, and early Ian McEwan and lots of Richard Brautigan and Russell Hoban. It was a Picador phase.

I studied English at university – more C19th novels, C20th plays, but little money to buy anything. Only discovered ‘contemporary’ fiction in the last ten years (Captain Corelli, and Birdsong etc…) and I feel as if I'm still just beginning to explore it - especially when there are many good recommendations here on Palimpsest. I am also trying to read and re-read the classics 'properly'. I no longer buy any sci-fi or fantasy or horror (unless there’s an unusual take on vampires in it) and buy mostly a variety of serious contemporary fiction – McEwan, Atwood, etc; I was wooed back into children’s fiction (a long-standing addiction) by Harry Potter and Philip Pullman (when they were first published) and now I’ll read/buy any amount of children’s/young adults fiction by dependable and innovative authors (plus a few who don’t make the grade :wink: ).

I almost never read - spy novels/thrillers/crime/political novels
- fluffy modern novels/romances (inc. most 'historical' novels, apart from O'Brian)
- sci-fi/fantasy/horror
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Old 30th Jun 2004, 13:48   #4
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My progress is similar to Wavid's. My parents encouraged me educationally and I think I learned to read at a quite early age - before I went to school anyway - but neither of my parents read for pleasure and there were virtually no novels in the house.

In my early and mid teens I only really read Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. I got into Pratchett quite early, with the third Discworld novel Equal Rites, which would have been in 1987 or thereabouts, and read everything he wrote between then and Lords & Ladies in ?1992 - the twelfth in the series, which will give some idea of how he was churning them out then - when I finally realised he was treading the same boards over and over.

But by then I had had my first taste of mod lit, or lit fic. One day in about August 1990, at the age of 17, for reasons which are no longer known to me, I bought the paperback of John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, which had just come out. I think it was something to do with the armadillo on the cover, or the quote on the front by (I think) Stephen King (none of whose books I've read, but I liked the quote), which I can still remember: "Vintage Irving ... Simultaneously horrifying and absurdly funny." I absolutely loved it - which amazed me when I re-read it a year or two ago, because it's pretty slow going for the first couple of hundred pages - and eventually read everything of his. I remember sneaking glimpses at the brick-like paperback of The Cider House Rules during an A-level physics class, which must have been within that following year. The second literary novel I bought was Julian Barnes's A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters, mainly I think because it was also just out, and because of the limited selection in our local shopping-centre-based newsagent/bookshop. A schoolfriend introduced me to Iain Banks via Walking on Glass, and I went on to get through quite a lot of what now seems like fairly challenging literary fiction for someone who really didn't read much before: Salman Rushdie, Umberto Eco etc.

And that has set the pattern for my subsequent years. It's mostly what's generically termed literary fiction for me now. I occasionally veer into the genres to see if I'm missing anything but nothing I've samped - Thomas Harris, Michael Crichton, Barbara Vine - has persuaded me that I am. Plus a strong diet of Jeanette Winterson and Martin Amis (though it was only with Money in 1995, the fourth novel of his I'd read, that I really came to love him) has bred in me an absolute intolerance of anything badly written on a sentence-by-sentence basis, irrespective of how good the story is. A list of my recent reads (yes I do keep one, though it keeps getting lost or deleted and having to start again) confirms this reliance on the big and not-so-big literary names, which is as restrictive perhaps as a reading life based only on crime or historical romances. But I like it - and I still like Douglas Adams. But not Terry Pratchett.

Incidentally it's interesting to see how many people read the classics as children or youths. Perhaps my late start is to blame then for the fact that I am still woefully under-read in anything pre-20th century (other than school texts). I could probably name the whole lot now: Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, Moby Dick, Gulliver's Travels, Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights and ... er, that's it I think. All but the first of which were within the last couple of years.
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Old 30th Jun 2004, 13:52   #5
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Look, there, John - you've come out of the 'age closet' now. :D
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Old 30th Jun 2004, 13:54   #6
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Yeah, no longer can my curmudgeonly ways breed the belief that I am fortysomething...
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Old 30th Jun 2004, 13:57   #7
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I really wish I had done English Lit. at uni - despite my thrashing through a few of the classics during A-levels, I don't really feel terribly confident about my understanding of them. I just think spending 3 years reading books having the motivation to really get under the skin of them sets you up rather nicely for a lifetime's quality reading after that.
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Old 30th Jun 2004, 14:01   #8
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I remember it as if it were yesterday, old Mr Baines (our next-door-but-one neighbour), leaning over his fence and telling me that the first 'proper' book he'd ever read as a kid was Treasure Island, quoting "I remember him as if it were yesterday, as he came plodding to the inn door...".

I must have been about 7 or 8 I think and it was the first time that grasped the concept that some books just do that to a person. Since then it's been a fairly voracious devouring of the printed wotsit.

Treasure Island (because I went back and opened it up that afternoon) shifted me on to adventure stories naturally. It was 1972! I was a little boy! If I wasn't reading I'd be watching Larry 'Buster' Crabbe in Flash Gordon or trying to understand the Flashing Blade, or running off and having some sort of adventures of my own. Kids did that in those days.

So, anyway. Like gil I blasted my way through Ransome and Capt. W. E. Johns and - - The Famous Five. Soon after that I moved into those Target TV tie-in books, novelisations of Dr Who episodes. Don't laugh. Oh, and as Col says, the Hal and Roger Adventure series by Willard Price. They were great.

But I read all the time, still do, although I've stopped reading half a dozen books simultaneously (if you see what I mean).

School sorts you out and probably just as well because my choices had degenerated somewhat and, if I'm honest, it was probably just as well that O-levels made me look at Dickens, and Frankenstein and Harper Lee and - for the first time - some poetry.

I was lucky enough to do the old 'S' level in English Lit which expanded horizons even further and threw more Dickens, Hardy and all that crowd at me.

Now, as I've mentioned elsewhere, I temper the classics with long stretches adrift in crime novels (I'm putting a Review thing together on one author at the moment), decent thrillers, comedies and then a few artsy-farsty bits when I'm in the mood.

The Book Group has been great in pushing me towards stuff I'd never otherwise look at (Jhumpa Lahiri, for instance), but I'll always be a Classics kinda guy at heart.
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Old 30th Jun 2004, 14:04   #9
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Well, studying English at college may set you up or turn you off completely but at least you didn't need an excuse to read and try to get to the heart of an author or a period of literature. I didn't read half as much as I should have and because I was joint hons. with Latin, I missed out on the courses on C20th fiction that I would have probably enjoyed most.

I didn't include in my 'reading history' JD Salinger, who arrived c. aged 15 (as every 'Catcher in the Rye' should) and once I got into the self-reflective narcissism of the Glass novels, he never really left.

Oh, and I never read funny books (not intentionally funny ones, anyway).
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Old 30th Jun 2004, 16:47   #10
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I must say, I feel like something must have gone wrong over the years, because I started out as a fairly promising reader, I think. It must have happened while I was at University being "properly educated"...meaning that all the useful things like reading, writing, spelling, multiplication and long division in one's head are replaced by more important matters like discovering who can talk the longest in a philosophy discussion before getting confused (or, more likely, bored). And don't even get me started on the uselessness of a "business education."

In any case, the first book that made a real impression on me was The Hobbit, I'm afraid. A babysitter gave me a copy when I was maybe seven years old. I immediately read The Lord of the Rings after that, despite being warned that it was "too mature" for me, and I loved it, too. I loved the whole series so much that I read it once each year for several years after that on my summer holidays. Whatever criticisms people might have of Tolkien, I've figured out what about him appealed to me, a few years ago: he tells a good story, and he tells it well. Just on the story's merits as a story. That, admittedly, made it a bit unfashionable as serious literature, perhaps, but that's the sort of thing that has appealed to me since.

After that, I spent probably my next ten years reading voraciously; perhaps unfortunately, most of it was Fantasy, which generally meant that I would reach the end of a Trilogy and then would rate how closely each one had imitated Tolkien. I'll confess that I enjoyed Brooks's Shannara series in my mid-teens, even if it was nearly a direct rip-off. One of my all-time favourites--and not a direct Tolkien rip-off, if my memory serves me correctly--was the series by David Eddings, perhaps called The Belgariad, or something similar. I think he turned out two related 5-book series, then started something else...which was a direct rip-off of his first concept. I seem to remember reading some Piers Anthony--Xanth was ok, but he wrote one series that was more serious, and I enjoyed it better. Can't remember anything but the covers of the books, unfortunately. Something about various women representing Fates or Elements personified or something.

I can remember liking one piece of work from Fred Saberhagen extremely well, but it was before his popular and not-great series about the Swords. Empire of the East, I think. When I reached University, and before I had stopped reading entirely to pursue other interests, I stumbled upon Roger Zelazny's Nine Princes in Amber, and I found it quite good, even though it was perhaps more Sci-Fi than Fantasy, and I had never been interested in Sci-Fi. I also stumbled upon Michael Moorcock's Elric series, which I enjoyed for his dark, anti-heroic hero. At the end, you could never be quite sure how you felt about the hero usually getting what he wanted.

So, as you can see--back when I did a lot of reading, it was mostly Fantasy. Some of it might be revealed to be crap, if I were to go back and read it again now; I think I probably leaned toward the better side of the genre, though.

Since then, I've found myself with other interests (back when I had any free time) or no free time, but recently I've been trying to fill the gaping holes in my education. Somehow, I was never prodded to read most of the Classics during my alleged education; I realised, to my horror several weeks ago, that I hadn't even read many of the Classics that I fancied myself to enjoy. The specific episode--which I related to Amner--was suddenly realising that I considered myself an avid Dickens fan...BUT SOMEHOW HAD NEVER READ ANY OF HIS WORK!!! How is that even possible? I've read a few short stories, particularly in a Christmas collection I have...but none of the novels. Pathetic. I must have become a fan by watching film adaptations and assuming I'd enjoy the writing.

So, I've lumped the general category of "The Classics" on to The List of Things I Really Should Read, along with all of those seminal Epics from various civilisations around the world (have only struck Beowulf off a list including things such as The Epic of Gilgamesh,Song of Roland, The Ramayana,etc.), and I partly hang around here because I'm hoping someone will be able to push me in some directions I've never considered.

I'll also mention that, probably like most of you, I collect books. My love of Tolkien has led me to collecting older children's stories--falling back upon that "telling a good story well" thing--and I'd say that MacDonald's The Prncess and the Goblin might be my all-time favourite. Also got into collecting Historical Expeditionary stuff--for some reason I find the Polar Expeditions fascinating, and I've tracked down some real gems.

I think I've probably written more than enough about this, now. Thank you and good night.
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