The Time and Place Book Tag
I absolutely do not want to be at work today. I want to be home, watching Wimbledon. Today is a good day on Centre Court: Venus and Serena, Andy Murray, Roger Federer. Oh but how I wish I was not at work. Le sigh. I am at work though, and as such I shall try to cheer myself up by talking about books.
So. Last week Jen created The Time and Place Book Tag over on her YouTube channel.
You can watch her video and find out what it’s all about here and you should because Jen is awesome.
If you can’t do that til later, then that’s cool: in a nutshell, the tag is basically what it says – an excuse to talk about ten books that remind you of a time and/or a place. Because that’s totally a thing, right? We all have those books that remind us of this holiday or that break-up, being that age or friends with that person. Books that you only have to hear the title of to be transported back to a whole other time or place, even if that’s not necessarily a good thing. & because Jen tagged me, these are mine.
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was the last present my boyfriend bought for me before he passed away in 2005. He pre-ordered it from Amazon and I had no idea, it just turned up on release day, by which point he was really super sick and I remember opening it and him smiling at me and my heart feeling like it had been ripped right out of my chest. The book was released on July 16th and he died on the 30th so it was all pretty grim. I remember him sleeping on the sofa because we didn’t have a tv in our bedroom and he was too sick to move far, and me making a bed out of cushions and lying on the lounge floor. I read this book and watched him sleep and I swear to God, I’m not even being a dramatic fangirl when I say that Harry Potter saved my life. I would not have got through that summer if it weren’t for this book. I wouldn’t. I read it over and over, it was the only book I could face looking at for weeks and Helen and I spent so many hours trying to come up with Dumbledore’s not dead theories. I feel weird about it now, when I’m doing a re-read and get to HBP, I get a knot in my tummy. It’s a weird mixture of comfort and pain that I never quite know how to deal with. OH GOD I AM SO DISMAL I APOLOGISE.
I woke up one morning to a barrage – I’m not even exaggerating here, an actual barrage - of texts off Jen about Rosamund Lupton’s Sister. She was all I KNOW IT’S THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT JO BUT THIS BOOK. So I read it, because that’s what I do when Jen recs a book, I find it and I read it. I couldn’t put it down. I read it in one sitting. It’s always a book that makes me think of that – of waking up that morning and wondering what the hell had happened, I swear, I thought something had happened that was bad times because so many of the text messages. Ha.
You know when sometimes you discover a book that makes you forget how to breathe? That sucks the air from your lungs and leaves you gasping, hands curled into fists, wondering how life will ever be the same again? I read If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things when my boyfriend was drag racing one weekend in Stratford. 2012 I think. We had an old VW Camper back then, and I unfolded the bed and read this and ate skittles and was totally and completely blown away. It changed how I felt about pretty much everything and I didn't know what to do with myself because how could it be so good? I’ve been reading books like they were going out of fashion my whole life and I had no idea that it was possible to do something like this with just words. Every time I went back to the racetrack after that I’d think about this book.
if nobody speaks of remarkable things, how can they be called remarkable?
To Kill A Mockingbord. God, I love it. Is there anyone that didn’t study it in school? It feels like one of those books that’s going to be on the curriculum for all of time. Rightly so as well. I loved English at school, it was my subject, the one where I felt like I could really be myself, where it all made sense. Let's not talk about maths and science and all the nonsense. It was all about English, all of the time. We studied TKAM for GSCE, obvs, and that time spent reading it, discussing it, writing about it, was probably the highlight of my education. My English teacher was amazing. I loved her. I still have the copy I bought for school, with all my notes in the margins, all the key paragraphs underlined in HB pencil. I’ve read it so many many times since then, so very many you don't even know and every time there’s still a part of me that feels like that fifteen year old kid in an English Lit lesson; no other two words can make my chest tighten like hey Boo.
The Blind Assassin reminds me of the first time I lived alone, in 2001 I think, in this scummy bedsit over the top of a corner shop. God but it was awful. I only lived there a couple of months but it was long enough *shudder* I hated it, hated it. It was so horrible. It’s part of the reason I am so hung up on moviong somewhere amazing now I think: I swore I’d never live like that again. AWFUL. I read The Blind Assassin when I lived there, it was the first time probably that I read Margaret Atwood and thought but how do you even words. This book was a freaking revelation I swear to God. It’s so good. It’s my favourite of hers, still. Will always be I imagine because I can’t imagine anything else ever coming close.
I read Breakfast at Tiffany’s when I was in high school. It’s the book that instantly came to mind actually, when Jen tagged me in this, because it’s a book that instantly makes me think about my fourteen year old self, how I saw myself and how this book made me feel. I was a bit lost and a bit afraid of pretty much everything and a bit desperate to find my place when I was a teenager (I am totally not Team Teenage Years, at all. Being a teenager was a great big pile of elasticated granny pants) and I totally fell for Holly Golightly and her devil may care attitude. She was fashionable and confident and ultra cool: she would never be caged by convention in the way that I totally felt like I was, she’d never be judged for not being pretty or trendy or popular enough. Holly Golightly had zero fucks to give. She’d never waste time and tears on what other people thought of her and when everything felt like it was going to shit, I pretended I was just like Holly Golightly, Travelling. I was a little bit like ‘when I grow up I want to be…’ which, well it’s a bit crackers isn’t it, given that she had no job and was actually pretty damn lonely and probably as lost as I was – it’s interesting actually, how differently I perceive the whole book when I read it now. Never love a wild thing. I still love that quote.
I found Richard Siken by way of the internet back in 2012, like you do, (HOW DID WE EVER BEFORE THE INTERNETS THOUGH) and got my hands on a copy of his poetry collection Crush as soon as I possibly could. I read it in bed, I think Ian must’ve been away because I was very definitely on my own. I had a cup of hot milk that went cold, forgotten about on the beside table because this book engulfed me entirely. (It went so cold it had that gross out milk skin and I was very nearly sick in my mouth.) It’s the kind of book that crawls under your skin, makes it’s self comfortable and stays there, the kind of book that hit me like a suckerpunch, right in the chest. It gave me goosebumps and it broke my heart and it moved me in a way that even now I can’t quite put into words. I kept a copy of it by my bed for a year, for a while I even carried it around in my bag because weirdly I couldn’t stand to be parted from it. It ruined me, this book, and it ruined my hot milk too.
Little Women means Christmas in a way that nothing else does. It’s more Christmas to me than my Christmas tree even. I’ve read it every Christmas since I was 8. That’s 24 years good gracious I am old. I read it for the first time on Christmas Eve, curled up on our settee. The house was all trimmed up and my Mum was playing her new Cliff Richard Christmas album – and how mental that I remember that still – and there was this amazing new book, blue and hard-backed and lovely with this character called Josephine who loved to read and write and that was it. I was sold. I’ve read it every Christmas since. Not always on Christmas Eve, as I’ve gotten older it usually coincides with trimming up, but still every damn year. I’ll still be reading it when I’m 80. Just watch me.
Between Shades of Gray was a book I read in Cornwall in the summer of 2011. The Ex-Boyfriend and I had rented out this little beach hut-esque holiday cottage for a fortnight and it was a glorious time of sunshine and cider and coastal paths and lots of cheese. I always eat so much cheese on holiday. So much cheese and so much cider. I started read this book on the beach at St Ives and felt my heart splinter. I was in bed when I finished it, I remember turning to him and saying ‘oh, I think I’m sad’ and then just sobbing. He wondered what the hell was even happening. We could have had a caucus race I cried that much. A SEA OF TEARS.
Have you read Jonathan Livingstone Seagull? If the answer is no, then you should. You totally should. I first read it in 2002. I say I read it; it was actually read to me. It was one of my boyfriend’s favourite books; he was a bit of a Richard Bach fanboy truth be told and when he found out I’d never even heard of the guy he looked at me in horror, dug his copy of this book out of his bedside drawer and threw it at me. Then, ‘actually’ he said, ‘this is the kind of book that needs to be read aloud’ and he did. It was winter and we lived in this tiny old cottage and the cold seemed to seep through the gaps in the brick; it never felt warm even with the heating on full. I was still so young and I thought that those days would stretch on into forever. We curled up in bed, I wore his t-shirt and his socks and I rested my head on his chest so I could feel the rumble of his voice as he spoke and he played with my hair. We read two chapters a night and it was one of my most favourite things. That was a side of him that not many people got to see, this soft and affectionate guy that would play with my hair and read to me in bed, that would kiss me hello every time he walked in the house and sing George Benson songs to me in the car. It’s one of those memories that I treasure now he’s not here any more and this book always reminds me that he was so much more than the ‘don’t give a damn’ façade that he presented to the world, that I was one of the few that he let see him with his guard down. It’s a book that sums up for me all that he was, and all that he wanted to be, and it’s a book that will always be cold-nosed whiskey kisses and the rolling timbre of his voice and the feeling of belonging.
So tell me: what are the books that always take you to that particular time and place?