Of late I have become an obsessive listener to Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4. Clever, famous (not necessarily the same thing) and interesting people are interviewed and asked to choose eight records they would like to have with them on a desert island. I wanted to get to know some of my readers a little better, so thought it would be fun to feature readers and their favourite reads. This spawned the rather natty, although probably not originally named "Reader's Reads".
If you would like to be featured, please contact me via the email button (bottom left of the main page) and I'll email out the bits and pieces to you.
Each reader has a comfy seat, anywhere in the world, real or imaginary, a beverage and snack of their choice and a bookcase which will only hold eight books.
Today's reader is the Richard Wood, former colleague and long term pal. Richard's photo fits in with the whole desert island theme, don't you think?
- The one which kickstarted your reading habit
I struggled with this as I can’t remember a time when I didn’t read, so I asked my big sister. She tells me that it’s The Wind in the Willows. My Uncle gave me a hardback version with the illustrations by E.H.Shepard one Christmas when I was about seven. I read and re-read this book all through my childhood and it’s left me with a love of messing about in boats and a lingering fear of weasels.
- The one which changed your view of the world: Bury my Heart at Wounded knee by Dee Brown
This book is a history of the white man’s dealings with the native Americans. Works its way through all the tribes and outlines the treachery and arrogance that the Native Americans suffered at the hands of the “civilised” world. By the end of the book most of the tribes had been effectively wiped out and those that were still alive had their lifestyle destroyed because it wasn’t convenient to the white man. I read this when I was at university and was probably the first time that I realised that my civilisation had some very negative effects on some peoples and perhaps our influence on the world isn’t all good. The next book I read was “A distant Mirror” by Barbara W. Tuchman, another sizable tome which is history of 14th century France. A century where the population of France dropped by nearly two thirds. I don’t advise this because one of those books is a bit depressing, reading both one after the other made me listen to the Smiths and wonder if it was all worthwhile.
- The one you go back to again and again - Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
I didn’t really get this book until the second or third time that I read it. I think that there’s a first 30 page problem in which, when you first start reading, you’ve got no idea what’s going on and are inclined to think that it gibberish. Please keep going, you get there eventually. Set in the 2nd world war in an American bomber squadron, the plot cuts backwards and forwards through time making references to incidents that you only understand much later in the book. But the thing that brings me back again and again is the crazy logic that infuses the whole story. Catch 22 (and I don’t think this is ruining the story for anyone who hasn’t read the book) is that if you are mad then you are not allowed to fight, but if you ask to stop fighting on the basis that you are mad then you are clearly not mad as only a mad man would want to fight, and as the authorities want you to fight they won’t notice if you are behaving as if you are mad. The whole book continues in this vein. I think it’s a total classic and I hope I haven’t put anyone off.
- The one you comfort read: Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
I came to this book with some trepidation as my parents both love Jane Austen, so it was hallowed turf. I enjoyed it the first time round – it’s full of sparkling wit and wonderful characters. I’ll admit that what has deepened the love was living in France before internet television and only having a few tapes, one of which was the BBC Colin Firth/ Jennifer Ehle version, which we watched many times. As it was so close to the original text, reading it is like settling down with an old, much loved friend. You know what they are going to say, but you enjoy it anyway. We have many family jokes based on quotes from P&P. I do have a thing about Jennifer Ehle too, so my Jane looks just like her – I leave Colin Firth to the wife.
- The one which you had an unexpected response to: If this were a man by Primo Levi
I could have put almost anything by Primo Levi here. He was an Italian Jewish Chemist who spent some of the 2nd world war fighting for the Italian partisans before being captured and transported to Auschwitz with 650 Italian Jews, he was one of 20 who survived. He worked in IG Farben’s Buna Werke laboratory producing synthetic rubber so avoided hard labour outside. Then caught scarlet fever and was put in the camp hospital just before the SS cleared the camp before it was liberated by the Red Army, so he avoided the death march that killed so many of the other inhabitants. The book is grim, it deals with an almost un-imaginable subject, but what I didn’t expect is the humanity of Primo Levi himself, it wasn’t that he forgave the Germans (he didn’t - he later denied this suggestion) but I felt that he seemed to be searching for understanding. In other books he tries to understand why people would act like they did – what would make a Jew do the German’s dirty work for them? He makes no judgements but presents the evidence and asks the questions.
- The one you wish you had time to read
I commute by train – all the time in the world!!
Perhaps I’ll try something chunky and intellectual and impress my fellow commuters – The Illiad by Homer or The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx (or maybe I’ll just read cheap thrillers)…
- The one with sentimental value: Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
This was one of my mother’s favourite books, a novel by Dickens, so it’s got the Thames, fog, characters with incredible names (Niccodemus Boffin, Lizzie Hexam, Silas Wegg, Bradley Headstone etc.), corpses, plot twists & turns and Dickens’s wonderful language. But most of all, for me, as my mother lent it to me, then we talked about it, it represents the start of a great pleasure I picked up from my mother of reading a book, giving it to someone else, then talking about it. I’m always amazed by how differently two people can see the same text, and what different things they take from it and get great satisfaction when someone else gets pleasure from something that pleased me.
- The last one you read: East of the Mountains by David Guterson
This is a beautiful, bitter sweet book. It is written from the perspective of a retired doctor who has recently discovered that he has colon cancer. He carries the mental scars from fighting in the war and the recent death of his wife. He decides to go on one last hunting trip with his two dogs across the mountains of Washington State to the orchard areas where he was born and grew up. It is clear that he intends to have “an accident” during the trip and shoot himself with his father’s shotgun.
The book has wistful quality, he remembers incidents during his childhood and the war, one of which leads him to decide to become a doctor. But it also evokes his love of the country and I felt transported into the landscape and felt that I had spent time there with the doctor. There’s a continual contrast between images of life and death throughout this beautiful book. I’ve read “Snow Falling on Cedars” which I also loved and I will slowly work my way through his other novels – not too fast as I don’t want to use them up too quickly. You mustn’t waste a good author!!
My beverage of choice is: A cup of tea (of course)
My snack of choice is: A muffin with butter and marmite (or a hot cross bun)
My comfy chair is located: By a log fire somewhere on holiday