The Ten Book Challenge

Is it a bit like the ice-water challenge?  Well – in a way; but also in a way, not.


For the “ten books” you don’t throw them around, you just list them.  But unlike the ice-water, it can’t just be any old ice water – I mean books.  You have to list ten books that have ‘been with you through life’.  And that’s a really interesting category.  It so quickly morphs into ‘ten books that have changed me’.  And then nominate ten friends to do the same.  Here’s the form in which I saw this challenge:

10 books that have followed me around, not great works of literature, don’t think too long or hard just write them down and tag me and 10 friends.

My first thought was: do I have ten friends?  Or, more precisely, ten friends who both read lots of books and use facebook?  These tend to be mutually-exclusive categories, at least amongst my friends and relations.  (Hi, Mum!!)  Then I tried to think of the names of some books.  (Not many came to mind.)  Immediately, too, I see ways in which the challenge is open to interpretation.  Through life’? How literally do we interpret that?  Can a book I first read five years ago seriously be included?  Even if I’ve read it a lot ??  Is a Dictionary a book?  What about a book you used to read often, but more recently you have really only thought about quite often?  As a teacher I know a range of often-recommended books – books I suggest that people might like to read.

Now I realise that I am already overthinking  the whole thing.

Luckily, the friend who put this on her facebook page included her own ‘list of ten’:

1. Eliot’s Middlemarch – I reread it annually for many years
2. A-Z of London – on my 3rd copy, wish I’d saved the others as it had marks and notes about meetings and places I’d been
3. Winnie the Pooh – it’s humour and simple wisdom has amused and enriched communication between me and my brothers and me and my sons
4. Jenkins Convergence – we used the word first in the journal title, so it has definitely followed us
5. History of English Language – began a love affair really
6. Score and libretto of Tristan and Isolde – another love affair, and the enjoyment of reading and listening
7. Shakespeare’s King Lear – which I studied the same time as my mother, yea, across the parental divide
8. Anything Eric Gill did for Golden Cockerell Press – the aesthetic of simplicity is something to aspire to
9. Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy – I’d never met one who used words like scalpels with such a clear mind
10. Wildlife photographer of the year book – got a few now – art and natural world

I love the way she has annotated her list.

She didn’t tag me – but perversely, I set off to write mine down anyway.  I am forced to conclude that I have been reading far too many different books.  Spreading my attention too thinly to play this game well.

1.  Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker – loved Hoban’s playful use of English ever since I first read it.

2.  my 2-volume Oxford English Dictionary – still the go-to source for etymologies; first book I bought with my first teaching cheque.  I love to see it on the shelf.

3.  Maurice Sendak, Higglety,Pigglety, Pop; or: There Must be More to Life  – wonderful illustrations and a little book that tells so much about life and performance.

4. Gwen Bailey, The Perfect Puppy – yes, folks, it’s a how-to book about dogs.  Unashamedly listed here because it’s soooo useful and wise and humane.

5.  Tove Jansson, Finn Family Moomintroll – inclusive, tolerant, exemplary.  And witty.  I’ve known this book since I was a teenager, and my mother was enjoying it, even though it looks like a kids’ book.

6. The Margaret Fulton Cookbook – has really accompanied me through life – given to me when I was about twenty; gnawed by my dog about seven years ago; now held together with string.  In regular use now for 45 years and still a key point of reference.

7. Doris Lessing The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 – another book about being human and being humane.

8.  But I want Hoban’s The Mouse and His Child as well – so wise.

9.  There are some books that linger in your mind: the opening of a particular version of ‘The Gingerbread Man floats through my mind surprisingly often. The trees around their small house were tall and green and full of birds.

10.  That’s it – in the number ten slot there are just far too many.  Do we go for sentiment, wisdom or humour?  For Blyton, Drabble or Pratchett?  Which one of all those le Carrés?  All those informative and clever Franzens and Rushdies?
Nope: hilarity wins.  At number 10: Edmund Crispin, The Moving Toyshop.  It can cheer unfailingly: just the thought of that book makes me smile, and reminds me of all the other books that have stood by me over the years.


Next you have to think up the names of ten friends.  (You know who you are.  I am thinking your names, but I’m not going to write you down here.)


There’s the last way in which this differs from the ice-water challenge, of course.  It’s not painful at all.  In fact, thinking about your long-beloved books is downright pleasurable.

7 Responses to “The Ten Book Challenge”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Don’t think I’d be up to this! But if I were, I couldn’t possibly leave out The Quangle Wangle’s Hat.

  2. valkyrie1 Says:

    I’ve tried three times, different ways, to post my answer, and WordPress just says “This comment could not be posted”. So this is a test.

  3. valkyrie1 Says:

    Ten books that have followed me around, 1-3
    (Yes, I have cheated extensively, and done my own overthinking.)

    1954: Blinky Bill (Dorothy Wall) was the first book I read by myself. I probably have more memories of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie (May Gibbs), because of the terrifying Banksia Men.
    What was read to me were Little Golden Books. The Twelve Dancing Princesses made an impression – all those shoes!
    I had a great source of suitable and unsuitable reading matter at my Aunty Joan’s place, where and I particularly enjoyed The Just So Stories (“I don’t know, I’ve never kippled!”). Reading Peyton Place (Grace Metalious) at 10 wasn’t such a good idea.

    1962: Emily’s Quest (L M Montgomery), last book in the Emily trilogy. It’s about a young woman becoming a writer in a former British colony in the early part of the 20th century, and I wanted to _be_ Emily.
    My mother owned a copy. When I went looking for the first two books, Emily of New Moon and Emily Climbs, they were out of print but they came back into print in the 1980s. I much preferred them to the Anne books – less domestic, I think.

    1969: The Second Sex (Simone de Beauvoir). I read this by accident when I was being an au pair to a family with an extensive library. It shocked and distressed me more than anything I’d ever seen (including the death-by-helicopter scene in Catch-22, which caused me to put the book down for six weeks) but it also made a great deal of sense.

    [4-6 follow]

  4. valkyrie1 Says:

    Ten books, 4-6

    1970: The Group (Mary McCarthy) was a revelation. My mother carried on as if my generation were the first to like the idea of sex. She found us disgusting. Mary McCarthy demonstrated that the same battles were being fought back in the 1930s, when my mother was a teenager. If I’d read the classics, or unbowdlerised versions of ancient myths and legends, I might have realised sooner that there’s nothing new under the sun!
    In 1979 I had another epiphany: Bobbin Up (Dorothy Hewett) described Sydney communists standing on their verandahs watching the sputnik in 1956 (as we did) and saying to each other, “The workers put that up there” (as we didn’t: “The Russians are coming!” was more like it). Seeing things in a new light, sharing other lives – I love reading!

    1970: The Margaret Fulton Cookbook is the recipe book I always turn to, too. The covers have separated from the pages (they’re still on the shelf near the pages, though) and it has a couple of bookmarks: one for vichysoisse and one for bœuf en croûte. (I also regularly consult Mrs Beaton, leafing past the giver’s inscription, “An investment rather than a gift” – it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of what I’m not missing.)

    1974-1975: Howard’s End (E M Forster) was the first book I read after H was born – a wonderful book (the film is also one of my favourites) given to me by my landlady in London. I was glad to find I could still read, although considerably more slowly than before – a bit like now.

    [7-10 follow]

  5. valkyrie1 Says:

    Ten books, 7-10

    1978: The Millstone by Margaret Drabble, the third book Jill recommended to me. Although the story was far more maternal than I ever was, I loved Drabble’s clarity and perceptiveness, and went on to read the lot. The Waterfall was my favourite for a long time because of its depiction of mad passion.
    The first book Jill recommended to me was The Bell (Iris Murdoch) in 1970; the second was Middlemarch, in 1975. What can I say? I’ll read anything Jill recommends!

    1980s: Lucky Jim: generally I throw Kingsley Amis books across the room in disgust, but this one I love – the idea of pulling faces on one side of one’s face, for example, so the person you’re pulling them about can’t see them. I first read Lucky Jim on a train. I was in a carriage full of people travelling together and handing each other plates of savoury snacks. I sat there expecting to be arrested at any moment because I couldn’t stop laughing out loud. Tears of mirth were running down my face. The people offered me their snacks. 🙂

    1990: Possession by A S Byatt is the book I reread whenever I accidentally run out of things to read. When it came out, I was incensed that it wasn’t a continuation of the series that began with The Virgin in the Garden, but I soon realised my mistake. I love the resonance of her writing and I love this book – and everything else she’s written apart from Ragnarok, which was simply too grim for me.

    ca 2012: Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections: it turned up in the library so I thought I’d see what all the fuss was about. I didn’t expect to like it: a book by a man (so female characters would be either ornamental or demonic) and an American man at that (so it would be slapdash and littered with brand names). I was utterly wrong. I thought it was amazing, and possibly the Great American Novel, and I want to read everything he’s written.

  6. albertine Says:

    I don’t know what’s up with WordPress. Anyway, the test worked and so did the subsequent three lovely posts. I really like your list – with its Australian children’s books so central. I too wanted to include the Just So Stories – we all identified with: ‘I am the cat that walks by itself and all places are alike to me’ in both its determination and its sorrow, while knowing that the lickspittle cosy dog had the happier life. I think Kipling taught us a lot about rhythmic prose, as well as about storytelling.
    Isn’t it funny that a whole generation of women learnt sopistication (as we thought) from the same cookery book? I have some other favourites, too, from back in the day. Might have to make them into a blog. (If this epistle doesn’t post I will so grunged!)
    Your list reminded me too, of The Women’s Room, which gave us many years of noticing who strings the beans, and who cleans the toilet.

    I hope you are all OK and doing well through the winter. No doubt now very close to spring where you are.

    • valkyrie1 Says:

      Thank you for the challenge. At first I couldn’t think of any books; now I’m thinking of more and more! The Catcher in the Rye was another one.

      Spring has definitely sprung here, and we are fine.



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