My Life In Twelve Books

Screen Shot 2013-02-12 at 12.25.57 Last week, a colleague of mine asked if I would participate in a Pinterview (a Pinterest interview. Don’t judge.) called ‘My Life In Books.’ The idea was that I would submit images of the covers of twelve books that had been important to me at different stages of my life, in chronological order, with a short description of why each one had made such an impact at that time.

Try it. How long does it take you to reduce your literary soul down to a handful of JPEGs? I initially found the exercise excruciating, but soon realized that I was making two big mistakes. First, I was trying to squeeze in my all-time favourite books, when what was really needed were ones that affected me strongly at a certain time of my life, but which may be much less relevant or beloved now. Secondly, I was, inevitably, worrying about what other people might think. Was the proportion of cerebral classics to trash just high enough to suggest the perfect cocktail of rigorous intellect and fun-loving unpretentiousness? If I left out Dickens or Woolf or Franzen or Mitchell, would the Thor Of Writing render me incapable of typing a decent sentence ever again? Did I have enough women? Did I have enough racial diversity? Did, in short, my bibliophilic biography suggest that I was a big fat middle-class British cliché?

Well, yes, it did. But it also stirred up some wonderful memories and has proven to be a brilliant talking point with fellow clichés of all backgrounds and tastes. I’ve outlined my twelve below, but I’d love to hear about yours. Post them in the comments or add a post to the Nudge Facebook page. It’s the perfect opportunity to get to know the Nudge community better. Just try to be honest, and please, don’t judge.

1988: The Beano 

So it isn’t exactly a book, but my early love of the Beano sparked a devotion to comics and graphic novels that holds firm today. From Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris’s Ex Machina series about a New York mayor with superpowers to Shaun Tan’s lyrical story for all generations The Red Tree, I still experience unparalleled energy and emotion from comics. Also, I had the best pair of Dennis the Menace bell-bottomed jeans.

1991: The Owl Service by Alan Garner 

As an introverted country tomboy I was an obsessive bookworm and an expert in hedgerows, ditches and streams.  Garner's weird mythic magic burrowed deep into my brain and stayed there, and I find his influence shining through as I write my first novel now.

1995: Riders by Jilly Cooper 

I used to read my sister’s Jilly Coopers on the school bus, hidden inside virtuous dustjackets so that my mother wouldn’t confiscate them.  Rupert Campbell-Black lived in an 80s glamour-world I could only dream of, and dream, wetly, I did. Cooper remains the original and best romance queen.

1997: The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock by TS Eliot

Oh, those opening lines… Chaucer and Eliot are my favourite London poets. Their ghosts are with me beside the murky Thames, in the self-conscious chatter of the Soho members' clubs and in the grimy Hackney back streets alike. Eliot reminds me of my tall, wonderful clock-repairing grandfather: musical, bleak, funny, obsessed with time. I read an extract from Four Quartets at his memorial service.

2000: His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman 

Pullman’s breathtakingly subtle and ambitious trilogy contains one of those stories that always seems to have been waiting to be told, and outlines a beautiful humanist philosophy that never fails to make me appreciate the world anew. Incidentally, my daemon is a falcon with green eyes called Lysander.

2001: Beowulf by Seamus Heaney 

My university specialisms were Middle English, Arthurian Myth and Shakespeare: ideal preparation for modern life. The audiobook of Heaney reading his translation guarantees goosebumps every time. Hasped and hooped and hirpling, indeed.

2003: The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett 

My mum read these sixteenth-century historical epics in her early 20s and passed her foxed paperbacks on to me. Dunnett's research is mind-blowing research, her dialogue knife-sharp, and Francis Lymond is the best blond in fiction.

2005: Pattern Recognition by William Gibson 

In my twenties, I suddenly realized that I had miraculously become part of a generation where my geekdom was a positive thing. It’s difficult to choose between Neil Gaiman, Neal Stephenson and Gibson in terms of my influences at the time, but Gibson simply blows my mind with his urgency, his energy and his exuberant ideas. Although I do now fear I may be turning into Bigend.

2009: The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox 

In 2009 I was invited onto BBC Radio 4, as a guest on A Good Read alongside Michael Mansfield QC. I chose this dark, sensual tale of a fallen angel in nineteenth century Burgundy which seemed to leave both Mansfield and the deeply lovely Sue McGregor utterly baffled, but I was so delighted to be in the mothership, and talking books to boot, I didn’t care.

2011: Incognito by David Eagleman

I'm intrigued by neuroscience and started exploring several authors concerned with positive and cognitive psychology at this time. Eagleman not only thinks big but writes beautifully. His collection of short stories Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives is a cult gem, too.

2012: Waterlog by Roger Deakin 

Living in Hackney, I miss proper nature with a visceral ache. Deakin’s part-travelogue, part-memoir, part-nature essay is an incredible love song to the disappearing wonders of wild Britain. I must read more non-fiction.

2013: Mog by Judith Kerr 

I've now come full circle with my two year old niece Esme, revisiting the books I loved as a child. Mog perfectly expresses feline disgust for the human race in general, and babies in particular. Judith Kerr’s books have more than stood the test of time.

This feature originally appeared on Bookdiva.