100 Bookpeeps is a project that represents my contribution to the Scottish Book Trust’s Bookfellas project.
When I first heard about this project I pondered how I’d choose ‘the’ book to share my experience of. Since then I’ve read a few books including an introspective text called Happy (Derren Brown), a factual text called How Long is Now? (New Scientist) and a science fiction text called The End of the World Running Club (Adrian Walker). I guess it wasn’t a surprise then when a friend of my wife gave me a loan of my chosen book, Elephants on Acid.
For those wondering ‘What if…?’, there’s probably a scientist that’s done so already. I read about Frankenstein and reanimating corpses, the Pepsi Challenge and fooling the senses, the invincibility of cockroaches in a post-apocalyptic world and of course how animals respond to psycho active drugs.
Ultimately, I chose this book because I loved the idea that someone that doesn’t really know me still knows me well enough to recommend a book that I’d probably be interested in reading. In a world of next-day delivery of online purchases, I believe a counter-revolution is in order where we remind ourselves of the joy of reading something that was loved by someone before you did.
Finally, deciding on the book that is having the greatest impact on me at present: Lesley Jackson’s, Ercol Furniture in the Making. As children, our house was full of Ercol which, as an adult, I ultimately, committed to a huge garden pyre.
Bewilderingly, a few months ago, I suddenly discovered its charm and I’m now engaged in learning all there is to know and filling my house with the stuff. This must mean something?
David Sedaris makes me laugh. Huge, gasping, uncontrollable laughter came out of me at regular intervals while I was reading this book for the first time 15 years ago. It was embarrassing when it happened in public. I spent the better part of a transatlantic flight receiving side-eye from all the passengers around me. No matter. The laughs were worth all the side-eye in the world and then some.
Pretty much all his other books have had similar effects on me, too. They are fabulous to read, and possibly even more fabulous to listen to as audiobooks read by Sedaris himself. And no Christmas season is complete without a reading of his tales of his stint as Crumpet the Elf.
Every page had something on it that held me spellbound – whether it was the fairy falling flat on her face, the gargling bear or the kite-flying alligator. Words were not so much defined as put to use and relished. This book taught me to love words and the stories they told.
Much later, as a teenager, I graduated on to reading the Oxford English Dictionary in bed – and I wondered why I didn’t have a boyfriend!
When I had my own children I shared The Cat in the Hat Dictionary with them – they enjoyed it, but it did not have the impact it had had on me in the late 1960s when I considered it the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
Sadly Anne had a catastrophic health episode on 14 October this year from which she never recovered. She died on the 24th.
Between the 14th and the 24th, she lay in a hospital bed, largely in tranquillity and peace, while her family and friends came to say their last goodbyes.
My brother John sat with her the most. He read Neil Gaiman’s Stardust to her. He missed out the naughty bit with the fairy, still couldn’t bring himself to swear in front of his mum, and whether she could hear anything is debatable. But I’ll never forget the endeavour, and I like to think she enjoyed this being her last book.
I’m really fascinated with the stories behind stories, so it didn’t take much to convince me to read Hidden Figures – a book about the women behind the Space Race. Getting the chance to learn the personal stories of the black women who fought against Jim Crow laws and a country that underestimated (and, frankly, continues to underestimate) them to help bring men from Earth to the moon was a dream come true. It adds a depth I didn’t know was missing to my favourite part of recent history.
I’ve read heaps of novels and been inspired, but this week I’m being inspired by women who worked to achieve other people’s dreams and had to wait 50 years to be recognised for their work.