Wednesday, 28 July 2010

A Ladybird Book Changed My Life

"Books can be dangerous.  The best ones should be labeled: 'This could change your life.'"  - Helen Exley

Did a book you read when you were young ever send you in an unlikely direction?

When I was about seven or eight I had amongst my Ladybird books a couple of slim volumes from their 'Travel Adventure' series. I think the central premise was a businessman father who took his children on some of his business trips. 

I don't know why it attracted me so much, but there was one picture in 'Flight Six - The Holy Land' that stuck in mind so strongly I can still see it. The travellers visited a kibbutz and the picture was of pretty young women wearing dirndl skirts and picking oranges. The sun shone and everybody was smiling. My imagination was seized.

So when, years later, I finally escaped from A High Street Bank, where else was I going to head? It probably would never have happened if I hadn't read the book. I wouldn't have known what a kibbutz was and it would have sounded much dodgier (this was 1990 - just before Saddam Hussein started lobbing missiles at Israel to retaliate for the first Desert Storm) if I hadn't had this mental image of sun, oranges and, yes, dirndl skirts.

I think this photo of me must have been taken at more or less the same spot as the illustration on the cover. It's the southern end of the Sea of Galilee with Jordan in the distance. No dirndl skirt or sheep, but you have to admit they're pretty whacky shorts. 

It certainly was an adventure - the rest of my which, I'll save for another time.

What books have changed your life?

"How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book." - Harold Bloom


  1. Heidi.

    She got to sleep on a hay mattress under a eiderdown quilt in a barn loft in Switzerland. I knew then that I was destined to go to Europe, nay, to live in Europe because there was nothing quite so wonderful where I came from. Oh, and the cows!!!! And the bowl of milk at breakfast!!

  2. 'There is a Happy Land' - Keith Waterhouse. It didn't exactly change my life but, it did reconnect me with the possibility of writing about life through the eyes of child, with the minimum of sentimentality.

  3. The Bhagavad Gita, at about age eighteen, surprised me because so many basic truths were ones I'd already worked out for myself, unknowingly. It made me feel I had a ha'p'orth of sense tucked away somewhere inside...

  4. Deborah! Heidi was my favourite book - possibly a little later. But it didn't much inspire me to go there because all she ate was bread and cheese. Now I am fond of bread and cheese but there are limits...hang on a minute though, which were the first foreign countries I visited whenI finall yescaped from these shores at 18? - Austria and Switzerland!

    Martin - Not familiar with it, That happy land - it's not Switzerland is it?

    Jinksy - I haven't read this one either... were you disappointed at already knowing the basic truths and not getting new ones?

  5. Not at all BB - there were enough new ones in there, too, to keep me going for years!

  6. When I was in high school, I tried really hard to be an intellectual, and this included trying to listen to Shostakovich. I was so thrilled when I actually liked the first movement of his 7th Symphony, only to find out much later it's considered a "lesser work." I tried and tried to get beyond that first movement, but to no avail.

    Until, that is, I read William T. Vollman's Europe Central (I know, it's thick, but it has really, really short chapters). I will never know exactly why, but after reading that novel, in which Shostakovich is a central character, I went back to the music and sort of "got" it. While my appreciation of Shostakovich has branched out to other works, I have to confess that I still like listening to the 7th's first movement (well, the cognoscenti seem to be coming round on that, anyway).