55 questions about reading

This is what internet people call a ‘meme’ and what I call an excuse to write self-indulgent drivel, but I venture to hope that it may pass the time (if not yours then at any rate mine). Thank you to Stuck in a Book where I found the template. If one follows the virtual paper trail, one can track down all sorts of interesting things about other people’s reading habits.

1. Favourite childhood book?
There are many, but The House at Pooh Corner and Quentin Blake’s Patrick were early favourites. Later on, Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr.

2. What are you reading right now?
The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett. I vowed to read five Carnegie Medal winners this year, of which this is the third.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?
None at present.

4. Bad book habit?
My buying rate far exceeds my reading rate, but I suspect that’s a common vice.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
Books: Eve Garnett – The Family from One End Street; Eric Linklater – The Wind on the Moon; John Updike – Rabbit Angstrom: a Tetralogy; Terence Rattigan – Plays One; Susan Tomes – Out of Silence; Lucy Beckett – Richard Wagner: Parsifal (Cambridge Opera Handbook); Thomas Mann – Erzählungen; Fiorenza; Dichtungen; Roger Scruton – Death-Devoted Heart; Ivor Keys – The Chamber Music of Brahms; H.C. Colles – Brahms Chamber Music; Christopher Headington – Peter Pears: a Biography
Scores: Bach – Goldberg Variations; Inventions, Sinfonias and Partitas; Brahms – the symphonies; various chamber works; piano duets by Franck, Inghelbrecht, Kurtág, Ravel, Schumann etc.; Robin Holloway – Sea-Surface Full of Clouds, Romanza; Ravel – piano works; Szymanowski – piano works; R.R. Terry – 200 folk carols; The Oxford Book of Carols

6. Do you have an e-reader?
No, nor am I likely to have one any time soon.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
One at a time.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
Not since starting the blog, but then it’s turned out not to be the book blog I had originally intended it to be. My reading habits, certainly my reading tastes, have changed beyond recognition – diversified, one might say – since I started using message boards in 2003.

9. Least favourite book you’ve read this year (so far)?
There are a handful to choose from, but I think Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator is an utter car crash of a book.

10. Favourite book you’ve read this year?
Though I’m not a habitual reader of plays, Rattigan’s The Browning Version and Montherlant’s La Ville dont le Prince est un Enfant stand out. Updike’s Rabbit, Run and Josef Škvorecký’s The Cowards are among the better novels I’ve read this year. And the books that have made me laugh most have been, perhaps unsurprisingly, by comedians – John Shuttleworth’s 500 Bus Stops and Tim Key’s Instructions, Guidelines, Tutelage, Suggestions, Other Suggestions and Examples etc.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
Not that often, I suppose, but it’s a pretty wide zone.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?
Fuzzy.

13. Can you read on the bus?
Yes, though I generally don’t, or at least not as much as I used to (but then I don’t catch the bus as often as I have in the past). I associate certain books with the bus: Portnoy’s Complaint and Of Mice and Men with buses to and from Bath during my gap year; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and various Jeeveses and Woosters with Cambridge buses in Autumn 2005.

14. Favourite place to read?
In my library corner.

15. What is your policy on book lending?
Very much in favour of it, but then it is my livelihood. In my personal life it depends on the book and the lendee, though I’m usually quite amenable. Certainly more so now than in the past.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?
No.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
Almost never.

18. Not even with text books?
A rather presumptuous question, given that its pertinence relies on my having answered no to the previous one. No, not even then. Though I must confess, for all that this may not be seemly for a librarian, that I love finding other people’s annotations in second-hand and even library books. In one of King’s College Library’s copies of Tender is the Night, next to the line “My son is corrupt. He was corrupt at Harrow, he was corrupt at King’s College, Cambridge”, a student has written “They all are!” It’s one of the joys of reading.

19. What is your favourite language to read in?
English for convenience, though my occasional attempts to branch out are gratifying when successful.

20. What makes you love a book?
It must move me.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
The above, allied to a knowledge of the person I am recommending it to.

22. Favourite genre?
I don’t often read what’s classed as genre fiction. Is humour a genre? But it might be argued that any book without humour is deficient. It’s an important part of life.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did)?
If I wished it, I would do it.

24. Favourite biography?
Stephen Fry’s Moab is my Washpot is streets ahead of any other biography I’ve read.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
I suppose there are a handful of books I’ve bought when I’ve felt in need of reassurance, but they have tended to be religious texts by e.g. Julian of Norwich, Augustine, St Anselm of Canterbury (none of which I can claim to have read – perhaps all the therapy I needed was retail therapy). I’d turn to the Book of Common Prayer before any self-help book, perhaps principally because of the reassurance of familiarity. Wodehouse also works well in this respect. Many years ago I bought a little book called Kama Sutra for One, which was most enlightening.

26. Favourite cookbook?
I started cooking for myself about three and a bit weeks ago, so it’s too early for me to have a fixed opinion. But my preferred choc chip cookie recipe is the one in the 1990 Snoopy Annual.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
Mark Watson’s new novel Eleven. It’s tempting fate to suggest it might change the way I live my life, but no other book I’ve read for a long time has had such an effect on me.

28. Favourite reading snack?
I sometimes read when I am eating (cereal boxes were a childhood favourite); I never eat when I am reading.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
I’m not sure this has ever happened, as I rarely if ever read books on the basis of hype. And I try to approach books without preconceptions as a disappointment avoidance strategy.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
I don’t read reviews or criticism much. Most of the time I suspect I’m with the balance of opinion. There are certain highly thought of writers I haven’t really clicked with yet, but that’s not likely to indicate any shortcoming on their part. Virginia Woolf, Richard Ford and Cormac McCarthy come to mind. I’ll keep trying.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
It’s an occasional compulsion.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose?
I can just about manage French and German. They’ve both lapsed since my teens, but I try to read the occasional book to stave off the day when I forget everything.

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
Bleak House, on account of its size. I’d never read such a long book before. Finding that it wasn’t as hard as I’d feared meant I could tackle stuff like Don Quixote and Anna Karenina without feeling too scared.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
Not nervous exactly, but I’m a bit daunted by Joyce and Proust. One day I will bite the bullet.

35. Favourite poet?
Probably Larkin. Otherwise, the usual suspects. Auden, MacNeice, Eliot, some Betjeman, Tennyson and Hardy. Shakespeare, Spenser and the metaphysicals.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
Not as many as at present. Having access to multiple libraries has affected my borrowing. When I was a boy the limit was four.

37. How often have you returned books to the library unread?
Quite often.

38. Favourite fictional character?
There are many. Sergeant George in Bleak House (in fact, any one of many characters in Dickens). Charles Pooter. Can I say Winnie-the-Pooh? I do admire his stoicism. Ted Burgess in The Go-Between. In fact, as a rule, anyone played in a film by Alan Bates.

39. Favourite fictional villain?
Depends on what I’m in the mood for. Valmont, Woland, Mrs Proudie. I suppose I like my villains to be enigmatic.

40. Books you’re most likely to bring on holiday?
No hard and fast rule about this. Anything from near the top of the TBR. Probably not Proust.

41. The longest you’ve gone without reading?
I can’t swear to it, but I think between the ages of about 11 and 13 I didn’t really read anything apart from what was prescribed by school. I believe this is quite a common experience.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
I rarely abandon books now, but I gave up on Starter for Ten after about 100 pages. Odd, thinking about it, as it’s exactly the kind of book I would normally love, and I sat through the film without suffering too much agony, but I seem to recall not caring about anyone in it.

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
Noise. Television. The lure of the net.

44. Favourite film adaptation of a novel?
In terms of great novel and great film, I think David Lean’s Great Expectations is very hard to beat. And it’s not a film, but the Andrew Davies BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice never fails to cheer me. Mr Darcy… *swoon*

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
Not that I would ever so much as entertain the thought of considering the notion of thinking about the idea of putting myself in the position of watching one of them, but what Disney has done to Pooh is presumably a travesty. I don’t intend to let ignorance impede my sense of outrage.

46. The most money you’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
I did spend a large amount of money on poetry books shortly after my 21st birthday, some might say unwisely. I’m not sure I’ve used them a great deal, but it’s nice to know they’re there.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
Not before reading; sometimes before buying.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book halfway through?
Boredom, stroke, second half of book missing, narrative taken over by Richard Littlejohn.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
Up to a point. It’s useful knowing where to find any one of them. But I haven’t the shelf space to be meticulous.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
I only give a book away if there’s someone I particularly want to have it or if I’m certain I will never read it again.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
Only things I’m not interested in reading. Otherwise all book avoidance is solely motivated by time constraints.

52. Name a book that made you angry.
The Bible. But I think I’m over it now.

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
Complicated, this. I expected to like The Catcher in the Rye before I first read it, and didn’t. The second time I thought I might like it, but still didn’t. Something made me try a third time without a great deal of hope, and I loved it. I had grown up a bit.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
Carol Mavor’s Reading Boyishly. Looked fascinating, but turned out to be enormously frustrating and annoying. I persisted for about 400 pages and then gave up.

55. Favourite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
I don’t feel guilty about reading anything. As far as pleasure’s concerned, it might be any number of things. At the moment, Trollope. Framley Parsonage is next up.

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4 Responses to “55 questions about reading”

  1. Pete Says:

    I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel guilty about reading this instead of a book. Perhaps I’ll finish the book tomorrow.

    (Similar intuitions about pooh, by the way.)

  2. Gareth Says:

    It was certainly not my intention to make anyone feel guilty. Well, not my only one.

    I didn’t start reading properly (i.e. constantly) until I got a job. Most of my reading has been crammed into the last four years or so. Structure and routine mean there are various points through the day when I can (and do) read, and so with one thing and another I end up getting through a lot. I don’t read much at the weekend – only if I’ve got a book I want to finish so I can start a new one on Monday. So don’t despair. You have your whole life ahead of you.

  3. blakeajax Says:

    A few years late, but – your answer to 48 made me laugh a lot. Patrick was a particular childhood favourite of mine, too, and Marianne Dreams is great.

    • Gareth Says:

      Thank you — gratifying to find something I’d forgotten having written is still worth reading. I was given Quentin Blake’s new book for Christmas, which looks very good. Catherine Storr’s father, I discovered quite belatedly, was an important guy in the history of King’s College Library. More on that later, I’m sure.

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