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The Kennel Kernel

10 Books that have stayed with you or affected you? Part 1

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This is one of those FB things, but asked by a friend of mine & I couldnít resist it for a couple of reasons- I love this sort of literary thing, not in the least that there are of course some books that knowing people have given to you which entirely hit the spot, & then there are those, given by more knowing people, that donít quite at that time, but do a little later. Those time-bombs prob resonate the best. Which takes to my second reason which is that 2 days ago I was having a conversation with some of my oldest & dearest friends, who live in America these days, about books for their 7 year old. And there are also readers of that age within my own extended family. How opportune this little exercise was then!

This is some danger of this turning out into a review/rant, mostly because I spent 20 years at the end of the quality book retailing business mostly as a buyer because thatís where the fun/edge is to be found. FYI I seem to have some specialist areas, most relevant here as a Childrenís Specialist. Here I should really tell the complete truth & say that I rather more mentored other people to become such specialists-itís about the only component of management I got right & enjoyed. Point is that I have something of an affinity for the development of younger readers. The childrens section is, trade speaking & certainly before Harry Potter, regarded as something of a leper zone. To my mind itís prob the most vital part of the business, because, with my commercial hat on, Ďcatch Ďem young you have them forever.í The other singularity is because everyone was a child once, they all think they can buy for it. Tish & utter tosh-like everything you are presented as a buyer there is an awful lot of rubbish. Childrens specialists are a rare breed, IME somewhere between creative & insanity. Bit like us all then, but a bit more especially so. If you think about it, childrens is not just about fiction, but learning, history, science etc. In essence itís a bookshop within a bookshop, but esp subject to the strong wind of fashion/vogues/policy & crazes. In short you need to know a bit about everything, be highly attuned to what the local & not so local (public) schools are up to & be rather switched on. Iíd say that without this rare breed we wouldnít be having this discussion. On another note I should mention that Iím something of a magpie mind & when I have the energy, tiringly curious. In the days I was trade there were no such things as bag searches for the staff & the like-instead the rather enlightened policy was for people who obviously loved books but you paid fuck all, it was a cheap idea to allow them to use the book shop as their own personal lending library. Hell-we got overtime paid in books, at staff discount AND at time & half. Little wonder that I have compared spending a tour of duty in a bookshop as akin to a good Swiss finishing school. It fills in the gaps in your education, &, in the quality end, that mostly comes from your customers. Stories & suggestions flow both ways, which brings us around full circle:

So here goes roughly chronological. I have of course cheated. Ten? You have to joking..

If I was being twee about being 3 years old Iíd have Richard Scaryís Busy Busy World. But Iím not-I found my old copy being read by my nephew & itís as relevant, bright, supremely targeted at the age group & as funny as it ever was. So that goes into Ďformative.í Getting this right is crucial, obv.

Of the picture flats my own ones would have been Harry the Dirty Dog & anything with those wonderful Edward Ardizzone illustrations, but theyíre not going in. Iíll just mention The Velveteen Rabbit & Badgerís Parting Gifts as once read never ever forgotten but they canít go in either as I only came across those when I was trade

When I visit my mumís & retire to bed, I always reach up to the bookshelves above my head which largely contain my old things. Amongst them is a wooden shelf of the individual Beatrix Potter stories & a hardback, but now missing its jacket & front piece of Winne the Pooh. I reach for these many times-not in the least if you know the back-story of Beatrix & can see the wise playfulness in Milne. So they can go in, if youíll allow me as a pair, because they are to my mind & we need to save space. The standouts should really be that rascal Peter Bunny & his cousin Benjamin, but my fav is The Tailor of Gloucester with Tale of a Fierce Bad Rabbit getting blown away Samuel Jackson stylie, the animosity & final almighty scrap between the Mr Tod the fox & Tommy Brock the badger & the helpful toad Mr Jackson being handed acorn cups of honey-dew through Mrs Tittlemouseís window during her mouse party stick permanently in the memory. Tiddly, widdly, widdly.

Honourable mention time-boxed sets. You know itís special when you have a boxed set. I had several, inc an excellent Leon Garfield collection. But the high point from another was a thin little book called Bottersnikes & Gumbles. Itís hard to write a really funny book for children, or it was pre-Dahl. This just hit it-itís an Australian title & features squishable clever creatures (Gumbles) & nasty, irritable bully spikey ones called Bottersnikes, whose main attribute is that their ears glow red & burn when they are angry. Which quite often. If you recall the somewhat loose translations of Brer Rabbit & his many run ins with Brer Fox & the others youíll get the idea. Unalloyed pleasure. Here is not quite chronologically accurate, but itís neat. Nigel Molesworth is as acerbically funny today as he was then. This is a fabulous example getting so much more from a childrenís book when rereading it as an adult. There is a complete edition available in Penguin Modern Classics.

To illustrate what I mean by ticking time bombs that I didnít get at the time. The Wind in the Willows. A troubled affair & the piper at the gates of dawn chapter is surely one of the most tragic of all time. Iím mentioning this now because I didnít really like it all, but it hits me these days. Thereís scope here for another discussion about Childrenís books youíve reread or read as an adult.

Carbonel/Narnia/Green Smoke. These for me go hand in hand because theyí;re all concerned with magic & I read them at the same time. Carbonel is a cat & itís a great romp & a read. I could also have had Dodie Smiths (her of 101 Dalmations) The Starlight Barking as well. The Lion, Witch & the Wardrobe well who couldnít be transfixed by a secret wardrobe & thatís just the start?! Easily the best & far more sophisticated book. Arguments reign over which books starts Narnia. This one-it was published 1st & besides, whilst the Magicianís Nephew tells of exactly how the lamppost arrived, itís good for children to go back in time. I still think it was a fabulous idea & the animal characters were so strong. However Green Smoke is a super collection of stories about a girl called Susan whose on her hols in Cornwall & comes across a grumpy, but friendly & hungry dragon in a cave. They strike up a friendship & in return for elevenses the dragon tells stories about King Arthur, Camelot, Merlin, the whole 9 yards & more. This reminds me of my own holidays by sea & searching for my own dragon. No matter that the dragon lived in Cornwall & we holidayed in Devon but itís Susan & the iced bun story telling R Dragon thatís stayed with me because it took me into another world of mythology. And magic. Canít ever have too much magic. Seeing as this has expanded into a blog entry Iím going to mention the wonderful Alan Garner. Magic, wizards, all very Tolkein but done well. His most famous was his 1st book, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen which is very good, but my personal favourite was my initial introduction which was the sequel, The Moon of Gomrath.

Rufus the New Forest Pony. WTF?? Ah, wait. My grandparents lived in the New Forest & itís there that I learnt to ride. So my Grandfather gave me this one weekend & it must have seemed like a dead cert. But me being the selfish & single minded wee sod wanted another visit to Kirrin Island with the Famous Five & I was somewhat disappointed & prob let it show. Later, because there wasnít anything else, I opened it & whilst I canít recall any detail it was a delightful story in familiar settings. I was somewhat ashamed of myself & to this day it lives on my brotherís bookshelves-I can see exactly where it is in my minds eye right now. The reason I have left it there is that I get to see it every time I visit & it reminds me of my grandfather & the important lesson of not prejudging/assuming/being an ungrateful little bastard. A nostalgic dose of shame in hardback.

Roald Dahl. Think I fell into a cavity here. Certainly recall watching Tales of the Unexpected on the star trek Beam me up Scottie slider controls on the Grundig TV at my grandparents. But my earliest recollection was reading my broís copy of James & The Giant Peach & thinking you lucky fuck not only have you a book named after you (because you see my broís name was of course Ďpeachesí..) but itís also rather clever. But odd. These days Dahl I adore. Iíve often compared Harry Potter to a cocktail of Enid Blytonís Mallory Towers, Tolkien & Dahlís delicious dark inventive mind. Amazing, if intolerant man. I canít quite split between The BFG & Matilda as my childrenís favs & little red riding hood with her pistol in her underwear is just sublime. Uncle Oswald is of course the adult choice.

Wrinkle in Time-this one crops up because itís another of those delayed ones. A very clever ethereal story about time travel, tesseracts, strong women & power. Almost certainly steered me in a science direction. This is as close to a Ďclassicí as I get. Not that I didnít read Box of Delights/Midnight Garden, The Waterbabies, Dr Doolittle, Nesbit (& I loved the grumpy Psammead) & all the rest of them because I did. Oscar Wildes The Little Prince, which is a puffin classic was my fav of them all.

Milly Molly Mandy Stories/ Hahaha-had you going there. ButÖin the 5thform at prep (equiv to year whothefuckknowswhatyearnow-say 9 years old) Iíd run out of boys stuff. Needs must so we had that, 5th Form at Mallory Towers from Enid B (more about that later) & who knows what else. Fortunately I discovered 221B Baker Street in an unattractive old looking hardback but along that route, Fatty, Koko the parrot & the adventurous fur paved a path. This journey accounts for my fondness for junky, but not stupid, crime novels. Thank you Dr Conan Doyle for giving us Sherlock Homes, Dr Watson, Moriarty, the Baker Street Irregulars, Irene Adler etc. This is my all time goto comfort read-I have the entire collection & would prob be my specialist subject on Mastermind. Later I came across Raffles & Bunny, Poirot, Father Brown (of whom Iím very fond) but the indisputable top trumps sleuth has to be Holmes.

Adventure Series Willard Price. Transported away to foreign lands, volcanoes, poor Omo getting plugged by a villain bullet in the South Seas (read that how you like-seeing as how he was expendable thatís prob exactly where it landed). However for Ďstay & affectí theyíre not getting nominated. What will be going in is The Diamonds of Death by Wallace Jackson. ? you say. Me too-Iíd run out of Ďkidsí stuff at my grandparents house & was looking through their shelves. A squat black unjacketed hardback of that title spoke to me so I took it to bed. WOW. Green diamond playing cards, undercover police with blue miniature automatic pistols, car chases in Wolseys. Claret all over the shop. Oh YES-if this is what grownup books are like I want some more No matter it was set way in the past, whilst that weekend we were all looking at Bondís clever gadgets for the new film From Russia with Love in the Radio Times.. Cf junky crime fixation.

pt 2 to follow:

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