Saturday, 5 March 2011

Staying on the right side of sane: a reading list

When Karen of Blueberry Park wrote a post 'Next to my bed' about her pile of bedside reading books I took a look at my own bedside table and decided to play along. My books told a very particular story about the latter stages of my pregnancy. You see, for all that I am (ahem) a terribly sane and well-balanced person most of the time, the last few weeks of my pregnancy with the baby sister really got to me. I got to the point where I really didn't want to be on the school run chatting and being all bright and breezy, I just wanted to hole up in my bedroom with a huge pile of comfort reading.

So what books did I turn to in my hour of need, to switch off, immerse myself in someone else's world, and try to forget about the whens/whats/ifs of my due date, but a great big stack of all my favourite children's literature. I never got around to posting (same old story!) but now that it's world book night, I thought I'd join in the fun and post some of my chosen reading for those moments when you're feeling ever so slightly unhinged and need to lose yourself in a book.

Alan Garner books

First up, Alan Garner: The Owl Service, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath and Elidor (Elidor is absent from the image as I was making someone else read that at the time, I'm like that with favourite books, a total evangelist). I truly love these books and must have read them a hundred times over as a child. I'm Welsh (in case I hadn't mentioned it ;)) as well as being a medievalist by training and these books appealed to both those parts of me even as a child. The sparsness of Alan Garner's prose in the Owl Service (a re-reading of the Blodeuwedd story) really drew me in, and the idea of fantasy otherworlds lying side by side with our own had me hook line and sinker in Elidor. Re-reading The Weirdstone and The Moon of Gomrath as an adult, I was instantly transported back to my childhood, torn between reading on greedily and not wanting to finish the book too quickly! These are books I will make my children read.

I can't move on either without mentioning The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O'Shea, also on forced loan (to my mother and she will enjoy it). An epic journey undertaken by 10 year old Pidge and his fiery 5 year old sister Brigit peopled with the characters and landscapes of Irish mythology, it's the quirkiness and humour of this one that grabbed me. Swapping sweets, wolves dressed in people's clothing, the whole concept of a watch frog, it's a total masterpiece. I still can't come across the lines depicting the first attempt to ensnare Pidge without a smile and a feeling of utter contentment:
'This Road is the Winner of the Safest road in Ireland Competition. This road is so safe that a boy can cycle down it with his eyes shut'.
I adore this book; all children should read it.

The Northern Lights Trilogy

Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials triology are books that I discovered as an adult, working in Waterstone's bookshop (what a great job - I bought so many books during those few years!). I used to work mainly in the children's section, and read these having seen so many older children buy them. The Oxford aspect is a real pull as I had the most wonderful three years there as a student, and it makes them feel instantly familiar. I've read these books at least 10 times each and still find myself avidly turning the pages. Lyra's character is so utterly compelling and her Oxford is so vivid, I was a total convert from the first chapter where we saw the Master poison the Tokay!

Harry Potters

I'm ending this post with Harry Potter, not because they're my favourite books of all those in this post but because they're where I ended up. And I say 'ended up', but should rather say 'read in rotation'. You see, I started my 'staying on the right side of sane' reading list a couple of weeks before the big due date just thinking 'one more book and I'll probably have the baby'. The days, then weeks dragged on (the little miss was 10 days late, but after a false alarm a fortnight before my due date, this seemed like forever) and I grew steadily more antsy and fidgety and fed up and tearful. So while the other books got me through the early days (I read each several times over), by the time I'd got to the overdue stage all I could cope with was Harry Potter. What mashed potato is to food , Harry potter is to books - total comfort reading (and lest anyone think I'm damning with faint praise, I'll remind you I've already shared my love of potatoes on this blog, starchy perfection!).

I read them all, one after the other, then again, and again, in order, out of order, starting the next as I put the last one down, starting the same one I'd just finished again. Honestly, I don't even want to think about how many times I read each of them in that final week. It was a lot, and you probably wouldn't believe me. This makes me sound even more crazy than I was, but it was all I could think of doing. I was reading The Order of the Phoenix the night I gave birth to my daughter. I remember at 8.30, with these huge contractions, reading through the pain. When, at 11.30pm, I had to put the book down as I couldn't actually face reading it any longer, that was when I knew I had to go to the hospital!

Thank you, Harry Potter, you really kept me going.

Books really are the best kind of escapism. I sort of wish I wasn't such a devourer of them as I'm always so sad when I've finished, but the books I love most I am incapable of rationing.

Read these books, read them all.


  1. Ok then, that'll be me getting some Alan Garner in for myself...

    I also have the audio books of Pullman, and I used to listen while I sewed. They are so brilliantly done I think you would love them. Warning though - ended up sobbing with my head on the sewing table when Lee Scoresby died.

  2. thanks for the great list! Dark Materials has been on my list for aaaggeeeesss, now- I'm finally going to read it! Thanks for reminding me!

  3. Jo - Saints & Pinners19 March 2011 at 23:09

    If you like sparse, then I wholly recommend anything by Tove Jansson - just beautiful, real, and wise. Her books for adults are published by Sort Of books - they have published some truly gorgeous Moomin books too.

  4. I love your recommended reads, mainly as I share some of them as favourites too which makes me think I would love the ones I haven't read yet (Alan Garner). If you like those have you read the Dark is Rising series? Really good Welsh connection there too, I have a soft spot for Wales as I lived in Swansea for a year when I first came to the UK. The thing I find quite sad about reading is that I devour books and then feel quite sad that I will never have the joy of reading that book again for the first time. There's nothing like reading a book that rocks your world for the first time. Happy page turning.


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