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The Kennel Kernel

10 Books that have stayed with you or affected you? Part 2

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Iíve my own memory about the Hobbit. Read to us as a class by the strict Mrs Chiverton during balmy spreading chestnut tree summer afternoons. Bilbo & his barrels. Might be committing a cardinal crime but LOR, whilst enjoyed & I do get the frequently made comment about it not being long enough, never really blew my frock up. The Hobbit on the other hand is charming, and whilst obv a happy memory maker its still not going in as it doesnít fulfil either specification.

James Herriot. Again purloined from the adult book shelves. You all know them & those are subliminally & much delayed, prob behind what it is that I do now. But again, a door into a much wider world-the past. No magic rings, dragons or blue automatics.

Watership Down. Plague Dogs etc. More anthromorphology but with death, cruelty & sadness. Growing up. Again we can see the genus of where I am today there.

Ray Bradbury Small Assassin & Other Stories. Another picked off the adult bookshelves where I lived. Valley of the Dolls looked boring. This wasnít. Deeply macabre, really unsettling but obv within a fictional arena. Wrote one of my best essays after this one-got Ďetherealí mark for my Ďnoise is aliveí attempt. Thank you Ray-my really 1st step into a much larger less binary world. Still one of the most disturbing collections I know. HR Geiger-this must have been your source.

Iím just going to admit my fondness for short stories in general. Holmes, Saki. Bradbury, Chekov (yes, really) I love it all. Itís such a tricksy format to pull off. And whilst Iím nailing my colours to my mast. I might have Jeffrey Archer here too, because the bugger can pull it off. Well, right at the back.

Seeing as weíre now hitting that certain age that boys arrive at, an honourable mention should go to generic Hedge Porn., but in particular one featuring a raven haired beauty sporting a uniquely 1970s hue of green knickers on a log fence. Hormonally important!

Magnum Agency Book of Reportage Photography. Or something like that. A huge tall book which I found in the school library whilst skiving off rugby. I lost hours in that & there is no question that was a pivotal moment for me. The most practical was The 35mm Handbook because I cut my teeth on film, but without that wet afternoon..

Pru Leith Dinner Parties. It was like this. Mum had remarried & sort of fucked off around the world in 3 month stints for a year. Iíd just come back from Uni, freezers full of stuff, head full of Balti from Brum. After a while yet another curry doesnít quite suit. So, off again to the parental bookshelves & what do we find? Something a budding cook might have a go at. So this is where my digression from Indian started. Proper chilled rolled butter kievs secured with cocktail sticks, tarragon chicken etc. Well you gotta start somewhere & this one opened doors in my mind. Provided a drive & a curiosity. Iím sure Ms Leith wakes up all tingly in a morning now Iíve said this, but Iím still very grateful. It would have been finer if perhaps Iíd picked out the Elizabeth David or the Beck, Bertholle & Child that were sitting next to it, but I didnít have much time. Those all came later anyhow.

Skipping on. In everyoneís bookshop adventure there are sections you really have much affinity. So it is that noobs end up with creative crafts, alternative health & transport. Getting closer to the big swinging whatever of fiction you have to spend an apprentice in Science Fictions & Fantasy. That is if you can prise the geeky RPG dwarf away from it. Anyhow, I ended up with it seeing as no-one else was interested. Broadswords, bodybuilders, more bloody orcs, huge rambling series, everyone is a wanna be Tolkien. Along came some ex GPO pressman, called Terry Pratchett, who was just starting on what would turn out to be a massive sequence of books which initially took the piss out of the entire genre, academia & later, everything else. It was a bit 5th form, but anyone who wasnít taking it seriously was alright by me. I reread these for comfort, ease & a giggle. Iím also going to mention a chap called William Gibson who also shook the entire section up with a short series that sprang cyber punk onto the world. Iím very grateful for these 2 shaking up the entire genre & making it interesting.

Tinker Tailor, Soldier Spy. Reread this annually. About due it now. Why? Because itís deliciously deviously clever & if I understand it I feel clever too. Actually that isnít quite it. Smiley has to try & put it together from reduced set of not always trustworthy facts, but heís clever enough it weigh that factor in. It appeals greatly to the failed scientist in me As does Instance of the Fingerpost, which my more successful counterparts tell me thatís as an accurate picture of academic research as there is, Same counterparts have now fucked off from this & are now making excellent progress & no incidendatally dosh in pharmas. Minor risk of being relocated to Pennsylvania of industrial regions of Belgium, but there you go. I could interchange this with LeCarreís The Perfect Spy, because itís so memorable & again, clever but itís the intricacy of TTSS & besides, that was my 1st.

Midnightís Children. This one arrived together with some other very fashionable books. Seeing as I was studying electronics I read it in bits, finished it & decided that I preferred the other books in the parcel. Then I reread it a couple of years later when I had more time & could do it properly. Wow-I had no idea that fiction could be so powerful. I actually have a hardback copy of it these days. Not everyone likes Rushdie at all. Perhaps itís the rambling, but that for me seems to capture part of the tradition of oral story telling, which I like.

Jilly Cooper. No Iím serious this time-she saved me from suicide. One night at my then GFís flat I had this most appalling dental pain, & that was just the start. I spend the entire night awake, reading this fat JC book. If it hadnít held my attention I would have pob thrown myself out of the window, mostly because one of my back teeth decide to die on me. Recent dental issues have been like a picnic on a slightly overcast day in comparison. No idea what the book was, but Jilly Copper has my forever thanks for my not taking a dive. Iíve been a lot more open minded about books aimed pretty much at women ever since, which is just as well as I wouldnít have come across the likes of Marion Keyes

If weíre allowed to continue skipping slightly beyond adolescence (ahem) then I have 2 more:

Philip Pullman Northern Lights Trilogy. I make fuck all apology for this rather late addition mainly because Iím annoyed at myself for not spotting it sooner. I did read some of the 1st book at the shop, but stalled when something came up. Fortunately I returned to it, but not until someone else had done the spot. Itís one of the finest bodies of work in young adult/adult Iíve seen in many a year. Rich, deep, sophisticated & utterly thought provoking. I talked about Midnightís Children being powerful, but these are slow burners into white hot. The intercission reveal in the 1st one had me in pieces & it still does-poor gyptian Tony & his Ďratterí. They are NOT for children. You need a run at it to give it the time it needs to develop but itís well worth the effort. These will stay with me forever & again, an annual revisit. Itís not for everyone-Pullman seems to polarize people.

Michael Herrís Despatches Another part of the bookshop finishing school effect-Iíd been given the History section, which included Modern War. These are despatches from the front line during Vietnam & a completely viscerally terrifying account. Shut me up for an entire week that one. Of course there are several, arguably better, others but again-this was introduction.

On a final note of all the titles Iíve mentioned itís the Rushdie & Pullman that I wish I could have been capable of writing. If pressed Iíd take Pullmanís Northern Lights mostly because they speak to me so loudly. Thereís a conversation about human memory between an artificial intelligence & a character called Case in one of Gibsonís books. Case is temporarily in an artificial world that the computer has created from his own memories & states that this cannot possibly be because the detail is so clear & that no-one has a memory that good. The AI responds that ĎEverybody does, but not many of you can access it. Artists can, mostly, if theyíre any good.í And that I reckon applies to writers: if theyíre any good.

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  1. Count Steer's Avatar
    Oddly enuff we're in the process of buying Folio Society versions of books that fit you category. ie Replacing all those well-loved, well-thumbed paperbacks that we've loved over the years. Just re-read 'The Dark is Rising' series by Susan Cooper and am in the middle of 'The Owl Service' by Alan Garner and would like the rest of his books in hardback.

    Have the Tolkein set to read along with 'All Quiet on the Western Front', The Narnia set, Midnight Folk and Box of Delights.

    Would like the Molesworth books, anything by Ursula Leguin and many many more. I'll browse the shelves and make a proper list.

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