My life in books

img_1833I’m hesitantly giving you a little peek into my soul. Today, as I’m sure you know by now (social media is awash with it) is World Book Day and I thought I’d take this opportunity to show you a few of my beloved books.

One of my happiest early childhood memories is being curled up in a chair for a whole day reading a Famous Five adventure. I can’t remember which one, but I do remember the solitary experience of losing myself in the book. That pleasure of transporting my mind to another place; of inhabiting the story; of imagining the scenery and what the characters looked like; of being totally unaware of life going on around me. That’s the power of a good book. These days, I usually read novels before I go to sleep. If it’s a particularly gripping book I’ll keep reading into the small hours. This is not a good idea but sometimes you can’t stop reading. I’m currently half way through ‘The Universe versus Alex Woods’ by Gavin Extence; it’s funny and charming.

img_1838-1The relationship you have with a book is incredibly personal – books have the power to shape you and to alter your view on life like nothing else. The photo above shows a fraction of the novels I love. These are the ones I could put my hands on quickly to photograph this morning. Jane Austen and Charles Dickens are high up on our shelves! If someone asked me to come up with a list of my top-10 novels I don’t think I could. Perhaps top-50… Perhaps. Compiling lists of books is contentious – almost everyone will have an opinion. My blogging friend Lynda has links to several great book lists on her blog today. She also compiled the brilliant reading list for Agnes which you can read here.

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Tools of my trade.

My career before children was in books: the last proper job I had was commissioning illustrated reference books for a leading publisher. It was demanding but creatively rewarding. Receiving an advance copy of a book that I’d brought into existence, hot off the presses, was such a thrill. But it could also be devastating if it had a mistake in it (no matter how many people are involved or how vigilant you are, it happens)! ‘The Perfect Puppy, how to raise a problem-free dog’ (above), is the first book I commissioned and it therefore has a special place in my heart. It has been many years since I worked full-time in publishing and my freelance work these days mostly involves proof-reading books before they go to be printed. I still love playing this remote, small part in a book’s life, though.

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Most of the books I proof-read are cookery books. Cake books, ice-cream books, party food books, lifestyle food books, restaurant food books, healthy food books… There are thousands and thousands of food books out there and I have quite a few on my shelves. These three are the ones I use in my kitchen more than any others though.

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Of course we also have a lot (and I mean a lot) of gardening books. These are the ones David and I refer to time and time again and we wouldn’t be without.

Are you reading a cracking book at the moment? Are there any food or gardening books you wouldn’t be without?

 

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43 thoughts on “My life in books

  1. I need to save this post for reference purposes! Your stack of favourites includes several of my own. The French Lieutenant’s Woman had remained one of my all-time favourites but it rarely appears on any lists of great books. Much as I admire Jeremy Irons (adopted Corkonian) and La Streep, they did this book no favours!
    Atonement nearly killed me, and Birdsong. An old flame gave me a gift of Miss Smilla so that has a little special place in my heart. I’ve read and loved several of Atwood’s books but not A Handmaid’s Tale. Is it very depressing? I believe it is being released on film this summer.
    I bought the RHS Herbs for Gourmet Gardeners for Hubby for Christmas; it’s a real gem but I failed to convince my Bookwitty editor that a review was worthwhile. Pity that. I’ll get around to doing it on the blog, I hope.
    I think I should invest in that A-Z.
    Some fine day, Sam, we will sit together and talk books. It will happen.
    Thank you for the link.
    Lynda.

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    1. It will happen one day.
      You’ve got to read A Handmaid’s Tale before you see the film! It’s shocking, gripping, gobsmacking rather than depressing. I first read it in my 20s and it affected me deeply. Her books are so believable. x

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  2. Books are very important to me too. I have often considered having a book blog but there are not enough hours in the day. Still it would be fun to be able to discuss the books on line.
    I generally have several books on the go at any one time. At the moment I am rereading ‘Mansfield Park’ for a book club. It is amazing how partisan and angry people become in their support of either​ Fanny Price or Mary Crawford. I am also reading ‘Bad Blood’ a fascinating memoir by Lorna Sage for another book club. Favourite gardening book? ‘The Startling Jungle’ by Stephen Lacey.

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    1. There are barely enough hours in the day for one blog, let alone two 🙂 I’ve not read that gardening book – I’ll check it out. Thanks!

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  3. Books are a huge part of life here too. L was off sick yesterday and he read all day long. No sign of a computer or tv anywhere! I’ve just finished the watchmaker of filigree street. If you haven’t read it give it a whirl. It’s a superb book, in my top ten. I also love Hilary Mantel and am part way through a place of greater safety. I loved your description of being part of a book’s life. Great post, Sam xx

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    1. Thanks, CT. Always good to have a recommendation and I’ve not read The Watchmaker of F St so I’ll look it out. Thanks. I really enjoyed Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies.

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  4. Such fun to peek at your bookshelves. I’ve currently just finished the 5th in Knausgaard’s My Struggle series, and so I turned to a mystery novel for a change/lightening of pace — one of my blogreader’s suggested Peter May’s The Black House, and I’m very grateful — it’s well-written, evokes setting (Isle of Lewis) compellingly, and the story keeps me turning pages and quite content to be inside out of the rain.

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  5. I have read quite a few of the fiction books on your piles and liked most. I find Donna Tart a bit tedious, I have read a few but none with great enthusiasm. I love the sight of well thumbed cookery books, always a good sign. I am just finishing a gripping crime set in Glasgow by Caro Ramsay, an author I like. We did our Diploma in Forensic Medical Science together and I recognise most of the characters, some of them former colleagues. No doubt I am biased. I have just finished ‘About Grace’ by Anthony Doerr. Another book that will stay with my, beautiful prose, heartbreaking story. Thanks for sharing your love of books, Sam. x

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    1. About Grace is fab, isn’t it? I love A Doerr’s books. I’ve not come across Caro Ramsay so I’ll check her out. How funny you can recognise some of the characters – are you in there?!

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  6. I too read before going to sleep which can result in rather surreal plot lines if I drift off but carry the narrative into a dream. I sometimes come to a few moment later with no notion I’ve been snoozing and get half way down the page before thinking, “hang on, what happened to the French speaking dog with a hotline to the Kremlin and sordid secret involving Lorraine Kelly”. I’ve had to give up hardbacks after nearly breaking my nose with a copy of Simon Sharma’s a History of England.

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  7. What a lovely post, and lovely, lovely, lovely books. Nice to see some that I have and love too. Stacks of books on the shelf here as well, I always need more bookshelves. I’ve been thinking about doing a proofreading course, maybe I could pick your brains sometime? I loved Lynda’s post too, spent some time looking through her links. It’s always good to see what other people like and what’s recommended. CJ xx

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  8. My earliest memory of reading is being off school sick one day and reading an Enid Blyton cover to cover. Today one entire wall of our sitting room is covered in books, fiction and non fiction. These days the books may be downloaded but they are still an incredibly important part of my life.

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  9. I bought The Perfect Puppy for my daughter when she got her dog though I’m not sure how well she read it as he was far from perfect.
    I’m fairly ruthless about passing on novels once I’ve read them and use the library every month as it’s wonderful walking out with a stack of books on all manner of subjects. It’s easy to see my favourite cookery books on the shelf as they’re the ones missing their spines.

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    1. Ha ha! I hope she didn’t follow the book if he didn’t turn out perfectly 🙂 The book has been revised and updated since and is still in print, over 20 years on so I hope it works! Gwen Bailey, the author, has such a passion for making sure dogs don’t end up in rescue centres.

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  10. Great post, Sam, I agree that good books are what make a lot of us tick. Our house is crammed full of all manner of books, they almost like are a (dusty) map of our lives. Jessica’s comment is interesting, I always think that there’s something special about the weight and feel of a favourite book in your hands that you don’t experience reading a book on screen.

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  11. Imagine a life without books? How do people do it? Books have been a constant companion and illuminating presence in my life since I was about 7 or 8. My two greatest pleasures as a child were to read and wander around in the woods (reading outside was best of all). I imagine working in publishing involves a lot of tedium, interspersed with the thrills. Do you miss it?
    I’ve read seven of the books in your opening stack. Loved them all, except for “The Secret History,” which I thought needed a good editing! Oddly, I just read “The Handmaid’s Tale” for the first time last month. Chilling that it is even more of a cautionary tale now than when it was written. Read away.

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    1. I do miss working as part of a team creating something – I’m a very remote, small part of the process now and everyone I used to work with has moved on. Funnily enough, the proof reading bit can be tedious (depending on the book) but the rest of the process isn’t. There’s a lot that goes on before a book gets the green light – having ideas, researching the market, finding authors, refining the concept, doing the sums, selling the idea to the bigwigs. That’s before you get the copy to edit, and that involves liaising with authors, etc. It was hard work and stressful at times, but fun.
      I think Margaret Atwood’s novels are pretty timeless. She’s on point about many things. Have you read Oryx and Crake – that’s scarily believable too.

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  12. What a great post! My husband and I are both book lovers, so you can imagine how crammed our cottage is with books after being married for 37 years. I am now enjoying sharing my love of books with my grandchildren. I’m very tempted to order a copy of Lucy’s Food. 🙂

    Also, I wanted to let you know I just told a friend with a teenage daughter about Agnes, and she was very impressed when she had a look at your site!

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    1. Lucy’s Food is a super book. I am biased because I worked on it 🙂 but it’s great for easy family food (and dinner parties too).
      Thanks so much for your mention of Agnes – that’s great to hear. x

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  13. Yes, I couldn’t possibly list 10 or even 20 favourite books! The first book I recall reading as a child was a library copy of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe which my parents had to replace because the pages dropped out from so much rereading – I still have this original, neatly stuck together by my Mum. Favourite authors are still Jane Austen and Mrs Gaskell and with a good book I will still sit and read it till is finished to the exclusion of anything else if possible! Still prefer a tangible book but am now enjoying Ebooks for long train journeys

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  14. Oh Sam, what a great post! I had to smile because my warmest memories of reading as a child involve Famous Five, and lying on my tummy on the lounge carpet in front of the gas fire, devouring chapter after chapter. In your first photo I would definitely agree with most of those as all-time favourites, adding Toni Morrison’s Beloved (possibly the best book I have ever read) The Name of the Rose, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Sea The Sea, Possession, The Bell Jar…I could go on. Oh I must dust some of them off and re-read them! Thank you for the inspiration. x

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  15. Yes, totally with you on this. I read voraciously as a child, and a young adult, and probably only slowed down when I had children. Books are extremely important to me, I still love reading, and hope to do more when the boys are older. I now enjoy audiobooks too, as I can sew or knit whilst listening. If I could learn to knit whilst reading, I would be in 7th heaven (though if Emily Bronte could make bread whilst reading, surely I could learn to knit!) x

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  16. Some of tiose books are in my collection too! It must be wonderful having a job working in books. I would have difficulty choosing my favourites there are too many! Sarah x

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  17. I’m 63 now and I just found some second hand “famous five” books to reread, how I loved them, also the secret seven! Shipping news was great. I used to read almost a book every day. “Book Thief” is the one that moved me lately. Love this thread and your list, inspires me to go through the hundreds I have stored all over the place.

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  18. Great blog post! I am a book lover, spending my free time reading as many books as I can. I haven’t tried reading gardening books though, I’m more of a romance book lover. One day I will read gardening books though. check it out my blog if you enjoy stories, rants and more!

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