Wow! The lovely Florence at Miss Darcy’s Library has kindly nominated me for Liebster Award. According to Florence, “the word comes from the German, meaning “dearest” or “beloved” and is granted by fellow bloggers to new blogs with fewer than 200 followers and deserving of recognition and encouragement.” Apparently, you answer the questions set, and then set some of your own – what fun! So here are my answers:

What is your favourite reading spot?

To be honest, I don’t think I have one. I’m a bit of an obsessive reader, really, so as long as I have something reasonably comfy to sit on I can read anywhere (and nowadays of course my glasses are essential!) Curled up on a cosy sofa is nice, or in bed propped up with lots of pillows – winter is a particularly lovely season for reading!

What do you think of movie adaptations of famous books? Do they enhance or hinder your appreciation of the book?

I’m afraid I hate them! Reading to me is an all-encompassing thing. When I read and love a book, it paints strong images in my head which stay with me. The response I have is personal, it’s mine and I find I’m very resistant to other people’s interpretations. Also, a film can never have the depth of a book – they’re two completely different art forms and a great work of literature will be truncated and lessened by being filmed. I wouldn’t watch “Mrs. Dalloway” because it was the first Virginia Woolf book I read and I fell in love with it (and her!) Any film of this amazing book would diminish it. When I was much younger I watched the film of “The Great Gatsby” with Robert Redford and I did enjoy it very much. When I read the book afterwards I was initially disappointed as it was different to the glossy beauty of the movie. However, returning to it later I can see how much more depth was in the novel and how much better it is than the film. So I think movies certainly do hinder rather than enhance!

Has a book ever made you want to travel to a particular place?

I can think of a couple of books that have such a strong sense of place that they’ve drawn me to wish I could visit. Colette’s “Break of Day” brings the south of France alive in an earthy, vital way – I’ve often longed for a time machine to travel back in time to the Cote d’Azur before tourism and billionaire’s yachts ruined it. Dorothy L. Sayers’ “Gaudy Night” is possibly my favourite of her Lord Peter Wimsey novels and her portrayal of Oxford University had me longing to dash off to the sheltered cloisters of higher education and stalk around the old corridors in a gown. I can still pick up that book and get lost in it instantly. And although I never attended university, I was lucky enough to have a friend who attended Oxford and spent a weekend staying in a little room at the top of a windy old staircase in an ancient tower – magical!

I have a huge passion for Russia and its literature and it’s difficult to pick one book that really started this off as I’ve read so many. Oddly enough, it may have been the film adaptation of “Doctor Zhivago” that was the genesis of this love, but again the book is so much more than the movie!

What is your reaction when someone you know dislikes a book you are especially fond of? Have you ever quarrelled over a book?

I’m a lot more tolerant now than I was in my younger years! In my twenties I tended to be very evangelical about a book if I loved it. A case in point is the first time I read “The Plague” by Albert Camus – I was entranced, and thought it was one of the best things I’d ever read, so I fired off a series of postcards to everyone I knew (this was in pre-Internet days!) demanding that they read it. I was very disappointed if any of them didn’t think it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I have had a few minor quarrels with friends and family in my time over books but nowadays I think I have a more live-and-let-live approach – I accept that a reader’s response to a work is always going to be a personal one and that we won’t all like the same thing. It’s disappointing if someone can’t see that your favourite writer’s book is a work of genius but not worth falling out about.

Do you like knowing all about an author before you start reading their work or do you think biographical details aren’t necessary to understand and appreciate a book?

That’s a tricky one! In theory, a book should stand on its own and I do try to read a new book/author without going into the biography first. But sometimes it’s hard to avoid – for example, I’ve come to writers like Michael Arlen and Beverley Nichols through reading about them in the book “Bright Young People” and so it’s inevitable that my reading of their work will be informed by the biog. And with Elizabeth Taylor, who I’ve read this year for the first time, I found that reading Nicola Beauman’s book on her halfway through the year did change the way I approached her, and in a positive way. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing as there is often an autobiographical impulse in what novelists write about! And often knowing what kind of life the author led, the kind of circles they moved in, their beliefs etc does help you to come to terms with a work. Having said that, I don’t think this carries through to something like Golden Age crime fiction (of which I’m particularly fond) as I don’t visualise Agatha Christie or Dorothy L. Sayers going out and committing murders!

In your opinion, what makes an excellent book review?

Other book bloggers mainly! I’ve come to realise over the last year or so that I really have no patience with pompous media reviewers who are more concerned with their own ego than actually giving the reader some idea of whether they want to read a book or not. I need to know a little bit about the plot, a little bit about the themes, maybe a little bit about the author and what the blogger thought. There needs to be some personal response to the book, whether positive or negative, perhaps some quotes to give you a sense of the prose you will be reading. And enthusiasm helps! There are several bloggers whose opinion I’ve really come to trust and if they say a book is good I usually like it too. A perfect example of this was Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book’s Review of “Guard Your Daughters” – sales of the book on Amazon soared and he was right about the book – it’s excellent and unjustly neglected. That’s one of the joys of reading book blogs – finding these unearthed treasures which are being rescued from oblivion.

And just for fun: Mr Darcy or Mr Rochester?

On balance Mr. Rochester – I like all that intensity!


Thanks to Florence for the nomination! I would like to suggest Emily at The Matilda Project, a wonderful blog devoted to real bookshops; and Erica and her colleagues at Reading 1900-1950 who are reviewing lost books from the Sheffield Hallam University collection and have already pointed me at some new books/authors. My questions are:

Do you think that eBooks and mechanical devices are killing tree books?

Bestsellers – a good thing or a bad thing?

Do you have a favourite lost classic or a book you would recommend to everyone?

New or secondhand – does it matter?

Are you the kind of reader who will struggle through a book to the end no matter what?

Can you describe your ideal bookshop?

And for fun: have you every had a crush on a book character?