Inspired by this article in today’s Observer on the pleasures of rereading, here are a few of my forever friends of the book world, and why. The list isn’t exhaustive, just the one’s that come to mind.
Swallows & Amazons by Arthur Ransome
This is the ultimate comfort read for me. It was the first proper novel that I read on my own. I can still remember the disappointment that my Mum had when she came up to read it to me to discover that I had gone on and read more chapters on my own. It has a timeless quality to it. I forget that even though they are camping with homemade tents and drinking grog and eating corn beef sandwiches that this is a book set in early half of the twentieth century. I once had an idea that I would attempt an adaptation of the book where I would attempt to cunningly forget that it is historical setting and set the story, untouched, in the here and now. When I read it again now, I am taken back in my mind to my bedroom as it was when I first read it.
Missee Lee by Arthur Ransome
One of the later Swallows and Amazons books, this one is pure escapism. The story is the story that the children make up when they are rained in from their normal lakeside exploits. It illustrates the imagination of the child and where dreams and dream-stories can take you. This story also carries a soundtrack with it. Whenever I hear Handel’s Trumpet Concerto no. 10 in G minor (Maurice Andre) I am transported to the world that was put into my mind when reading this book. I can listen to the music and think of the book, and read the book and hear the music.
Fire & Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones
I’ve written before about this book and its importance to me. I’ve forgotten how many times I’ve read it but every time I get something new from it, and that, to me is why its so special. Again, I remember the time in my life when I was first told about the book, and it was my first introduction to the work of Diana Wynne Jones (nothing like going for the best, first). I’m not sure if I encountered the same feelings of originality, and the way that magic and fantasy are blended with real life (that has gone on to inspire my own writing) until years later – maybe 20 years? – and I read Jones’ other book, Deep Secret. Utterly, perfectly, brilliant on every level.
The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper
I first read this epic sequence in the course of one summer holiday, devouring page after page covered in suntan lotion and sheltering in the shade of the umbrella on the beach in southern Italy. I loved it, the whole story. Now, when I reread it, and particularly with the (first) second story, and title piece, The Dark Is Rising I think of the dark, of the winter, the cold, and woodcut drawings on thick, homemade paper. It’s a book that has affected how I look at weather. A particular kind of day in late December or early January and it’s Dark Is Rising weather.
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner
My introducton to Alan Garner, another woodcut and real book kind of story. This is a story that is the weather. It invites the dark and the cold evenings; the snuggling by an open fire, and the reveling in words. And like with Swallows and Amazons I find it a timeless story. Yes, old, pre-decimilised money is mentioned, but it doesn’t matter, you somehow read past that, reading it as a story of the now and not of the then. Marvelous.