1) The worst reading experience that you have ever had?
It will take a lot to beat some of the books we had to read at school. I Am David and The Silver Sword stand out for their “I don’t care and will it never end” nature. Women In Love was a rare one I gave up on; characters, I know you can’t understand why people are staring at you when you are walking around dressed like that, but honestly, it isn’t because they are desperately parochial. You would attract attention in modern San Francisco. A.S.Byatt’s Babel Tower was also a notable low, particularly the bit when Frederica is being chased by her axe-wielding husband.
2) The best reading experience you have ever had?
I don’t know. I have had some very pleasant holidays involving lots of reading in the sun. But sitting on my suitcase (in the sun) for an hour at Peterborough station waiting to change trains and reading the start of Gaudy Night for the first time was pretty good.
3) Which book has affected or influenced you the most so far?
The Lord of the Rings probably had a good bit to do with my taking an English degree, BBC Wildlife magazine with my interest in Scandinavia. Julian May’s Pliocene Exiles saga was an influence in my teens – not always for good. It really needed the counter-influence of Gaudy Night, which I didn’t read until I was 27.
4) Have you ever read a book that you got really scared of?
Quite a few. Dracula didn’t scare me when reading, but did after. World War Z, even skimmed in Waterstones, was a definite mistake. A book of children’s horror stories has left me with assorted terrors 20 years later (unlike the adult horror stories I was also reading at the time).
5) What do you use as a bookmark?
I’ve got a small number of bookmarks which I use when I remember or find them. One is a LoTR film tie-in, with a picture of Arwen and a little gold ring attached to it. Most of the time though I probably just remember what page I’m on.
6) When do you usually read? At home, work, while cooking, in the morning, noon, afternoon, before you go to bed...?
If we’re just talking about reading, rather than reading for pleasure, I spend most of the day reading and writing various things, much of which is not particularly interesting. As a result, I read less in my free time these days than when I had more free time and spent less of my un-free time reading about the latest regulations on X. My bus journey is happily in a straight line and not-smelly, so I have half-an-hour committed to reading twice a day. I always read in bed at the end of the day, and in the bath. And on the lavatory, obviously. Everyone does, but no-one says it despite the piles of books on the bathroom floor.
7) Do you remember the first book that you read?.
No. Not if you mean “proper book”. I remember the picture books my parents read to me before I went to school, one of them still completely off by heart. I loved Each Peach Pear Plum, The Maggie B, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Carrie Hebble’s Garden, What-a-mess in Autumn (about a puppy), the Paddington book in which he goes to a gym. There is a magnificent photo of me as a baby, just old enough to sit up and sitting on me father’s knee with a slightly stern look appearing to be reading Cuthbert and Bimbo to him. I also remember the first book of the reading scheme (not hard, it was called “Look”). I refused to learn to read before I went to school, because school was where one learnt to read. That I actually could read seems to have escaped my notice. Of course, as soon as I got there I was livid that children at the local playgroup had been given the school flashcards before the summer and arrived with a perceived advantage.
8) Which do you prefer - paperback or hardcover?
No cut for this one, because I am asking for something.
9) What are you currently reading? What page are you on?
The Far Side of the World, Patrick O’Brian. I’m on about page 75, I think. They are not yet on the far side of the world. I am reading through the O’Brians relatively slowly – I don’t want to have finished them all. I’ve just started reading the Bible (KJV, natch) – I have read chunks of it before for various literature-associated reasons, but have been meaning to go all the way through. I’ve just got to Jacob and Esau. It strikes me that reading Genesis is a bit like reading a David Eddings saga. All those names of people and places chucked in for verisimilitude*, and an awful lot of events repeating themselves. By the fourth time some random rich bloke turned up with his sister, Abimelech was probably issuing memos “Fred and Jane have just turned up. They say that they are brother and sister, but in fact they are husband and wife, so don’t anybody get any ideas”. It also makes me curious about a culture in which a man might think that people would murder him in order to steal his wife, but would somehow think his unmarried sister completely off-limits. I didn’t know that Sarah was Abraham’s half-sister. Still, I suppose Leviticus hadn’t been written yet. Though Wikipedia tells me that this might have something to do with adoption of daughters-in-law. All of which brings me to ask if anyone can recommend a good “companion/annotations to the Bible” book that gives some decent information on the various books, their development and transmission, language, history, culture etc. I’ve got a Revised Standard Version to refer to when I want to check that slime is in fact bitumen, but it doesn’t tell me much about the history of ship-building, and when three-deckers were invented.
*As distinct from the Tolkienian quality of someone like Nimrod, who seems to be the Genesis Queen Beruthiel.
10) Do you ever leave "a mark" (deliberate and/or not deliberate) in your books? For example, write in them, underline quotes, coffeemarks or food crumbs and etc.
I do fold down corners, and have been known to underline bits and annotate academic lit. There is a circle of hell reserved for people who mark library books.
11) Does the title, amount of pages and the cover affect you when you are considering a specific book?
Considering to read or buy? Length of books definitely affects me when I am considering what to take off my shelves – do I want to start something chunky, or am I going out for the day tomorrow and want something thin to read on the train that will fit in my bag. Title and cover certainly affect me if I am browsing. I once bought a book (The Healer) because it had a great cover. It turned out to be dire. A friend had exactly the same experience with it.
12) Do you ever browse through [to the last pages in order find out the ending?]
I skip ahead a lot. I am weak that way. It doens't spoil my enjoyment - I get extra pleasure out of the anticipation, as long as I haven't done it too much. If really necessary in a particular book (i.e. detective novels) I try not to,
13) Has knowing the ending of a book (example, through spoilers or a movie) ever made you decide whether you will read the book or not?
No. If it did, I’d read far fewer books.
14) Is there a book that you have read more than five times?
Lots. Starting with Each Peach Pear Plum
15) Have you ever been in an accident where the book was the cause? (for example, almost getting hit by a car when reading while walking, or having stacks of books falling on you from a bookshelf...)
I don’t remember, though I have dropped a book in the bath.
16) Do you sell/give away your books or do you keep them, even though you don't like one of them?
On occasion. The criteria is “Is this book so bad or so dull that however long I live I shall never want to look at it again?” If so, it goes.
17) Do you have some kind of book system, where you write down what you are reading, have bought, will read, will buy and etc?
For the past couple of years I have kept a list of books read start-to-finish. I also have a notebook in which I write down interesting titles/reviews I come across, for future reference.