Top Ten Tuesday: Reading Memories

Posted March 26, 2024 by Nicky in General / 4 Comments

Greetings all! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme didn’t speak to me, as I don’t watch a lot of movies at all. Instead, I’m going to talk about ten bookish memories. I remember a lot of events by the books I was reading at the time, and it’s interesting to think about all the times books have left an impression on me.

Cover of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien Cover of The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin Cover of American Gods by Neil Gaiman

  1. Five On A Treasure Island, by Enid Blyton. When I was a kid, I loved Enid Blyton’s books, and the Famous Five were among my favourites. I had a habit when I was a kid of reading in weird places: stairways were a common choice, and I remember sitting on my parents’ stairs reading. For each chapter I finished, I’d move down a step. Once I reached the bottom, it was probably time for lunch or a snack or something. I remember curling up by the front door during one of those days, probably watching out for Mum coming home, while eating slices of apple and cheese on crackers. I used to be quite happy doing that for hours.
  2. The Positronic Man, by Isaac Asimov. A lot of people have read the short story this was based on, ‘The Bicentennial Man’, but it was also made into a novel (I think with Robert Silverberg as a co-author, maybe). After I learned to read, I swiftly graduated to being able to read adult fiction, and this had my mum ferreting around the library looking for books she remembered that might be suitable. Asimov was a major component of that, in part because the library actually had a bunch of his books, and The Positronic Man was a huge hit with me. So much so that I read and reread it, and refused to return it to the library for ages. I have no idea how bad the fine was when I finally parted with it, but I’m still not sorry. My wife later bought me a copy (sometime before we were married, not sure exactly when), and I loved it again then… though I must admit I’ve no idea where my copy is now.
  3. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë. Another major habit of mine was finding small spaces to hide in and read. I had a bunk bed with a sofa underneath, which made it easy: if I hung a blanket down from the bed, I got a warm enclosed space underneath (with a reading light; thanks Dad!). I remember reading Jane Eyre for the first time there: I don’t think I finished it back then (I was probably a bit too young for it), but I felt quite the kinship with Jane hidden behind her curtains!
  4. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I’m not sure exactly when my grandparents turned their airing cupboard into a little shower room, but when they did, they created a little haven of a hiding place for me. I have no idea why I loved jamming myself in there (including in the shower cubicle) to read, but probably it mostly kept me out of my sister’s sight and thus out of her mind, making it an excellent spot to hide and read. I had my own copy of The Lord of the Rings, but I remember borrowing my grandmother’s for a reread when I stayed with them. Also, I remember an epic argument between myself and my grandmother about the BBC radio adaptation, which she had on cassette tape, one of which I temporarily mislaid. She was furious with me. I was furious with her for being so cross about a mistake I’d apologised for (and which turned out to have an easy answer that we should both have thought of: the tape was in the player). She was probably more in the right, though. Sorry, Grandma!
  5. The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula Le Guin. I don’t know whether my mum suggested my aunt buy me what was then a quartet (which is what I suspect is most likely), or if my aunt was unusually inspired in her choice of Christmas present for once. I read this one sitting on my grandparents’ stairs, which had gaps between each step, through which I would insert my legs and dangle them. The living room door was never closed, so I could hear the adults pretty close by, but their conversations didn’t interrupt my reading. Those first experiences of Earthsea were pretty magical.
  6. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. I read this one during the trip me and my mother took to look around Cambridge University and the University of East Anglia, to decide where I’d apply for university. One thing I remember about American Gods particularly is that I have very strong sense-memories of food around this book, and of sitting in a hotel room reading it. Because I am synaesthetic, I suspect the taste-memories have nothing to do with anything we ate. Anyway, I didn’t like Cambridge (at all). Sorry, Mum. I assume I’ve made it up to you by now with my achievements various.
  7. The Stand, by Stephen King. I was still living with my parents when I read this, and my then-girlfriend (now wife) nudged me to do so. I’d always felt a bit unsure about reading Stephen King — both because horror wasn’t my thing and because I was a terrible snob. The Stand enthralled me, though, and I kept putting off bedtime by half an hour, then another half an hour, then half an hour more… I later read a big chunk of his oeuvre, much of it sourced for me by my grandfather, whose idea of being supportive when I went to university was in large part helping me comb book sales and charity shops for plenty of reading material that fit my budget. Mysteriously, a lot of the time he paid for it anyway. Mostly, I think he was just thrilled that I’d chosen to go to university so nearby, and made any excuse to see a little more of me. I’m glad he did.
  8. Troublemaker, by Joseph Hansen. All of the Brandstetter books are potent reminders of my time at university. One of my housemates read them for her dissertation, and I remember I read quite a few of them all during a single day, during one of the 24 hour readathons. I keep meaning to do a reread, in part for nostalgia’s sake, and in part because I remember the books being good!
  9. Feed, by Mira Grant. When I had summers off from university, I often spent a chunk of time visiting my then-girlfriend (yes, the same one who is now my wife) in Belgium. One summer it was horribly hot, all the time, and I remember just lying on the (tiny, single) bed during the day being far too hot, with our rabbit jumping on me every so often, and wishing it would cool down. I remember giving Feed only two or three stars back then, but it stuck with me, and I’ve read it several times since. It’s one of those that grew on me, beyond all expectation.
  10. I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith. I never have written anything while sitting in a kitchen sink, but I Capture the Castle features in a bunch of memories. My last readthrough happened when my grandfather got ill, though, and after his cancer diagnosis (and his passing), it sat half-read on my bedside table for some months before I picked it up again, and found the familiar words comforting. I don’t know if I could read it again now, even though I can quote large sections from it still. Only the margin left to write on now. I love you, I love you, I love you.

Cover of Troublemaker by Joseph Hansen Cover of Feed by Mira Grant Cover of I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Writing this I came up with a bunch of others — like reading Dorothy L. Sayers’ Whose Body during a holiday, in what must’ve been my second or third year of university: I was doing a course on crime fiction, so Mum promptly loaded me up with the classics. She later used either the Peter Wimsey radioplays or an audiobook read by Ian Carmichael (who played Peter in the radioplays and one of the TV adaptations) to calm me down from an epic panic attack as I woke up from an operation. I have no idea which one she played to me, I just remember the tone of Ian Carmichael’s voice…

But ten and a bonus are quite enough. Despite my departure from the theme, I hope folks find my effort this week interesting! Do you have any strong memories around books?

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4 responses to “Top Ten Tuesday: Reading Memories

  1. Oh, I love this prompt and your stories. I have some fairly distinct if relatively recent book memories, most of them from when I worked in film. Reading Mark Forsyth’s “The Etymologicon” in the hatchback of my car on a rainy day on set (I was gate guard), or Helen Scales’s “Spirals in Time”and Juliet Eilperin’s “Demon Fish” sitting on the tarmac of a parking lot, telling people they couldn’t park in any of that vast space because our trucks would be arriving. Eventually.
    I spent last February curled up in a broken armchair devouring Cat Sebastian and KJ Charles books repeatedly (I had a case of cabin fever and seasonal depression while alone in the house in deep winter for 3 months).
    Spending a sleepless night many years ago, motionless on the couch as a read a friend’s manuscript, printed in 10pt on A4, what would be a 900 page epic if it ever made it to print. It never has and I had to return the manuscript, so now passages and scenes from it haunt me at odd moments, like the ghost of a fever dream.

  2. I love Enid Blyton, although I have read the other series by her about two twins, I don’t know what the English title is for this as I have read them in Dutch. I remember reading them until late in the evening when I heard my mom coming up the stairs I would turn off the light and pretend to be asleep. When she would go downstairs again I would turn on the light and continue reading. I might borrow your idea in the future if the prompt of the week does not work for me. I think this is such a sweet trip down memory bookish lane!

  3. A lot of great books here, but the unexpected one for me was also Feed by Mira Grant. I felt only lukewarm about the book initially, but it stuck with me and I reread it relatively recently and found I really like it.

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