Category Archives: Lists

Things I do when I should be doing something else


It’s been one of those weekends–delightfully holiday-filled, but somehow, despite the extra time off, not particularly productive–as the lack of postings from me will attest (and yes, I do know it’s Wednesday; it was a very long long-weekend). I don’t know about you, but I find that whenever I have a whole whack of time where I can get a bunch of things done (usually things I’ve been putting off for just such an occasion)…I do anything but. It’s at such times that my tendency to reread things comes very much to the fore.

The whole concept of rereading things is a fairly contentious point amongst book people: I have a few good friends who cannot stand to reread a book and find it quite bizarre that I do so; conversely, there are people such as myself, who reread things regularly and have been known to read the same book, cover-to-cover, again and again over a period of anywhere from 9 months to 10 years. I also tend to dip into books I know very well, in a habit I refer to as “magazine reading”: whereby I enjoy a snippet of the book, but don’t actually commit to properly reading it through again; this is something I do especially frequently when I’m between books, or, as I was this weekend, trying to avoid doing other things. I do believe in the value of rereading, however, and you can expect to see a post (or perhaps “polemic” would be more appropriate) about that in the near future.
At this point, I feel I must make a confession. Despite our earlier comments about numbered lists and the way they’re reductive and limiting and frustrating (all of which is true), one of us at least still has a disturbing fondness for them, and will, by her own admittance, read even the most pathetic and ridiculous articles if they have a number in the title (eg. “10 things you didn’t know about Disney ™”). *Hint: it’s not Freda*

As a result of that, and as a pleasing cap on my seriously lax long weekend, I bring you,

Seven Books I Re-Read Instead of Doing Something Productive*

1. Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett. Because reading Pratchett is always a good idea (and so is rereading).

2. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. I find this book endlessly entertaining and extremely inspiring; all of you who wish to live tidier, fuller lives, or who wish to delight in some of the finest English satire ever written, need to read this book several times.

3.. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King. Another extremely formative book for me, I have never ceased to enjoy reading part or all of this brilliant “novel of suspense.”

4. The Truth by Terry Pratchett. See above.

5. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. See what I did there? It’s not just Pratchett this time!

6. The Sirens Sang of Murder by Sarah Caudwell. Who knew it was possible to make tax law entertaining? Author of some of the finest, smartest, and wittiest, mysteries to ever grace the literary scene, Caudwell gets bonus points for leaving her readers guessing even after the murder  is solved: no one, to this day, can tell you whether her detective, Historian Hilary Tamar, is a woman or a man. Read her books. They’re amazing.

7. P.G. Wodehouse, anything. It’s like sinking into a hot bubble bath, or biting into a perfectly buttered piece of toast–as Stephen Fry has said of Wodehouse’s magnificent prose, “You don’t analyse such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendour.

*For the record: I believe that reading is extremely productive, and that all these books are excellent. Just in case you hadn’t already gathered that.



Filed under Lists

This is not a list post (part II)

Our last list (or non-list) focused on books for those who enjoy lots of pictures with their text, who are frequently found to be between the ages of very very small and about 8 or 9 (however, these age descriptions are pretty loose: we both enjoy lots of pictures with our text, and are both significantly outside that age bracket). In this post, we’re going to take a crack at some of our favourite novels. We say “some,” as naturally there’s no way we could ever make a complete list of our favourites (as I doubt anyone could–how would such a list be finished during one’s lifetime?), and even the titles we’ve compiled thus far are far too numerous to fit into one post–but it’s a starting place.

As before, we shall begin at the beginning, with some of the glorious novels we enjoyed as children:

  • Here Comes Charlie Moon – Shirley Hughes. We know, we know–Shirley Hughes again. But can you really blame us? What could be better than a seaside mystery, with sweets, disguises, eccentrics, a perilous waxworks, and a hall of mirrors; never precious or cloying, this is a glorious adventure story that bears endless rereading.
  • The Little White Horse – Elizabeth Goudge. A shimmering wonder of a tale, it sparkles like moonlight on the sea, and glows as brightly as a hearth fire.
  • The Princess and the Goblin – George McDonald. Immerse yourself in the the world of courageous Irene, stalwart Curdie, and Irene’s mysterious and beautiful many times great grandmother.
  • The Secret of Platform 13 – Eva Ibbotson. Ever wonder where J.K. got the inspiration for her magical doorway? Look no further.
  • Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome. The book that launched a thousand log rafts…not to mention at least one summer of sleeping in the backyard every night. No childhood should be without it and its splendid companions.
  • Half Magic – Edward Eager. What would you do if you found a magic coin…but it only granted half wishes?
  • Pippi Longstocking – Astrid Lindgren. Naturally.
  • Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter – Astrid Lindgren. Ronia’s strength, courage and wisdom were an inspiration to both my daughters. A perfect book to read outside (if you happen to live near a forested glade or magic wood, so much the better). ~F
  • Jennifer Murdley’s Toad, by Bruce Coville. An unexpected treasure that has stayed with me to this day. ~M
  • Nicobobinus – Terry Jones. Land of dragons, pirate monks, and a boy who can do anything (just ask his friend Rosie)…Nicobobinus is a childhood treasure.
  • The Saga of Erik the Viking – Terry Jones. With little or nothing in common with the film of the same name, this book (and the one above) was a read-aloud staple in our house for years; an excellent introduction to Viking and Norse lore, it makes the mythical seem possible. ~F
  • And while we’re on the subject of melding history and magic…The House of Arden, by the inimitable E. Nesbit, does this to perfection. Elfrida and Edred Arden meet a magical Mouldiwarp, who takes them on a fantastic adventure through English history. ~F
  • The Phantom Tollbooth – Norton Juster. My sister and I went through the tollbooth countless times during our childhood, and on every journey discovered something new and magical about the fantastical world of language and mathematics. (who knew math could be hilarious?) ~M
  • The Van Gogh Cafe – Cynthia Rylant. A perfect gem of a book, I still carry a copy in my bag, for those days when I need a little gentle wisdom, or to be reminded of the beauty and wonder in the everyday. ~M

To be continued…again (and again, and again.)


Filed under Lists

This is not a list post (part I)


When we started this post, we had planned to write a list of 20 books that we considered the most influential in our lives; but the more we tried, the more we were troubled by our approach: for one thing, our decision to select twenty was incredibly arbitrary; for another, Freda, especially, hates “top 20” lists, because you always end up having to cut something good or important in order to make things fit. Thinking about it, we realised that this is really a problem we’ve both had for years: all too often, you end up being forced to cut something valuable in order to make things fit a certain, standardised, frame.

(Disclaimer: we’ve both worked as editors, so we also know the importance of a clean cut when necessary.)

So with that said, here is the first part of our list (unnumbered) of books that have meant something to one or both of us, and that, for one reason or another, we recommend to as many people as possible. Further lists will appear as we go.

In the beginning was…

  • Shirley Hughes. Because no childhood should be without the guiding spirits of Alfie and Annie Rose, or the marvellous adventures of the children from Trotter street.
  • Miss Rumphius – Barbara Cooney.
  • Night Cars – Teddy Jam.
  • Big Red Barn – Margaret Wise Brown.
  • Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep – Eleanor Farjeon.
  • The Dragon in the Rocks – Marie Day.
  • The Mousehole Cat – Antonia Barber.
  • Catkin – Antonia Barber. Because no one understands the mythical, mystical magic of cats like Barber does.
  • Owl Moon – Jane Yolen.
  • Anything and everything by the magnificent Janet and Allan Ahlberg, but especially Burglar Bill, whose cheery “I’ll have that!” is, to this day, a watchword in our home.
  • Jillian Jiggs – Phoebe Gilman.
  • Ox-Cart Man – Donald Hall.
  • The Tomten – Astrid Lindgren. A beautiful gift to young children, and to those who once were young children.
  • Graham Oakley. In addition to his brilliant Church Mice series, which was a staple of my childhood, Oakley also penned (and illustrated) the fabulous Foxbury Force. ~M
  • Fred – Posy Simmons.
  • Jill Barklem. Every Brambly Hedge book she ever wrote.
  • Doctor de Soto – William Steig.
  • Burnie’s Hill – Erik Blegvad.
  • Working – Helen Oxenbury. Simple as can be, I can still remember the picture of a baby covered in spinach (it struck quite a chord with our family). ~M

To be continued…(of course.)

1 Comment

Filed under Lists