Friday 3 October 2014

The Honest List: Books that Made a Great Impression

Have you ever been tagged in that Facebook post about the books that made the greatest impression on you? It's the one where a person writes a list of their chosen books, tags you, and then you have to write yours.

Well I confess I've been very rude. Despite being tagged by several lovely people, I have never once obliged. Instead I've scanned over their lists, felt slightly insecure and then ignored them. 

Is it me, or does everyone's list tend to sound like the GCSE or A Level English syllabus? You know, a bit, dare I say it, worthy?

A typical list looks a bit like this:

Anna Karenina
Of Mice and Men
Jane Eyre
The Great Gatsby
Wuthering Heights
Sense and Sensibility
Great Expectations
The Lord of the Flies

I just can't help wondering, did they really leave the greatest impression? Or are they just the books people think should have left the greatest impression?

I'm not saying they aren't excellent works of literature, but for me, they just weren't life changing.  

On that note, I have decided to finally compile my own list. The following are the books that really made an impression, and in most cases I can prove why:

1. MALORY TOWERS  - Enid Blyton

Enid Blyton was the author responsible for getting me excited about reading. I read Famous Five and then Mallory Towers so hungrily.  

The other day I walked into a book shop and was really shocked to find three shelves packed with her books. These books were first published in the 1940s! I'm a reading helper in a local school and I just can't imagine my 9 year old kids reading lines like, "Don't be so jolly inquisitive!" and "Hilda, you never wrote to me in the hols you mean pig!"

Proof it made a great impression: Okay, I don't have concrete proof. But I did just get really excited and nostalgic when I saw this old cover.

2. The REDWALL Series - Brian Jacques   

This was an epic fantasy series set in a world of talking animals. The first book was published in 1986, How I remember it, it was like Lord of the Rings, where the hobbits were field mice, the good men were badgers and the Orcs were rats.
Proof it made a great impression: It inspired me to write my own version, which was the first complete novel I ever wrote. You can compare beginnings to verify its influence on me:

Redwall: The first mice had built the Abbey of red sandstone quarried from the pits many miles away in the north east.

Dandelion Abbey (my book - aged 11): Dandelion Abbey stood strong and steady on her neat rows of reddish stone. It had two iron gates, beautifully designed by Maiya Goodfound, an ancient mouse who had died a long time ago.


These were the first books I remember buying on my own. They were really American and all the guys were either called Jake or Jason, and there was always some bitchy girl who got murdered. These books weren't approved of in my school, which made buying them all the more exciting.

Proof it made a great impression: Seeing the old book covers again took me straight back in time. I had to do extra maths after school one evening, and on my way, I remember stopping at WHSmith to choose a book. 

The point horror series also inspired me to write my own version called: Evil Eyes. This is an excerpt from that book with original spelling- aged 12: 

"Hallo Nancy"
"Don't try scare me, man, I'm tougher than you think I'm not gona go to my grave by a weed like you,' Nancy said, her tone was confident.
"Huh, same hear, how do you think I killed Joanna? And Miss James? And Janat?"
"You did not kill Joanna. Megan did."
"Huh, she did not. I did it through Megan."

They say good books feed good writing... so we know what went wrong here!  

4. GOOD NIGHT MR TOM -  Michelle Magorian

While in my local primary school, I noticed a teacher holding a copy of this book. My first reaction was to feel sorry for the kids that had to read it. It was the first book that really broke my heart.   

But then I argued with myself that it's a great thing to be moved like that. And it wasn't all sad. Mr Tom was my hero. He was such a warm, wonderful character.

Proof it made a great impression: I named my pet gerbil Mr Tom.

5. STARTER FOR TEN - David Nicholls

This is quite possibly the only book I've ever read more than once. I think I've read it five times. I think it's hilarious. 

This is the beginning of one of my favourite sections:

"At 2,360 yards, or 2.158 kilometres, Southend pier is officially the longest pier in the world. This is probably a bit too long, to be honest, especially when you're carrying a lot of lager. We've got twelve large scans of Skol, sweet-and-sour pork balls, special-fried rice and a portion of chips with curry sauce - flavours from around the world... 

(...) Tone's also had to lug his ghetto-blaster which is the size of a small wardrobe and, it's fair to say, will probably never blast a ghetto, unless you count Shoeburyness..." 

Proof it made a great impression: Just ask me to lend you my copy...

(N.B. Oddly enough, I didn't really like One Day, by the same author. But I'm hoping I'll love Nicholl's new book Us.)

Thank you for reading that self-indulgent list. Now over to you! What books really, really made a great impression?


Joshua Francis said...

I did my own version of this recently, I am rather proud that most of mine wouldn't be on the GCSE curriculum.

Emily Benet said...

I've checked out your list Joshua! Quite a few I haven't read, but love the ones I have!

Helen Barbour said...

I'm with you in not having a 'worthy' list and I shared your love of Enid Blyton. My parents nagged me to read something else - anything else - so eventually I plucked one of their books from a bookshelf and dived in. Turned out it was rather saucy (they claimed a friend had lent it to them) and it was quickly taken off me. Funnily enough, they didn't mind me going back to Enid Blyton after that... Did you read the 'Katie' books? Loved them, too.

Emily Benet said...

That's so funny @HelenBarbour! Anyway, what's wrong with Enid Blyton? In a literacy workshop for kids that I did they said every type of reading counted - whether it's magazine, top trumps or quiz questions! I can't remember the Katie books... off to google now. Thanks for reading! :)

Helen Barbour said...

Whoops, I misspelt Katie - should be Katy. The Katy books were What Katy Did, What Katy Did at School and What Katy Did Next. Check out Just reading that makes me want to read them again - perhaps I liked them because she was tall and awkward and (in the beginning) impatient and cross...just like me at that age (and now, some would say...)