Times and Places: Landmark books

Some books always remind you of a certain place or a specific time in your life; a particular person, or a particular cake. The books I keep on my bookshelf are the ones that I’ll either re-read, or mean something to me, like little emotional or memory time capsules. Over on her youtube channel Jen Campbell made a tag discussing just this very thing, which I have now shamelessly stolen. These are the books that first came to mind when thinking about this, so I’m sure there are many more I could have chosen. They’re not favourites, but something else, something like landmarks in the road.

burglar billBurglar Bill

We moved a bit when I was younger, and I went to three different primary schools. I went to one of those twice, when we briefly moved back to our old house when we got back to England before moving on. The first time around, when I was very small, I had a teacher who played guitar and nearly always relented when we asked for Burglar Bill or Funny Bones yet again instead of something new. Burglar Bill is sitting cross-legged on the carpet, spinning on an icy playground in the winter, and daisy chains in the summer.

faraway treeThe Faraway Tree

Around the same time, in the same house, I read a lot of Enid Blyton. In a random act of synesthesia The Faraway Tree tastes and smells like victoria sponge, even though, as a child of the 80s/90s, I would have been more likely to be eating lemon curd sandwiches. I shared a bunk bed with my younger brother, and we’d stay up late while I told ‘shadow show stories’ from my top bunk using the light squeaking through the doorway. We don’t talk often now as we just have very different interests and personalities, but at the time he was my best friend. Even though he never read it, he feels as tied to The Faraway Tree as I am.


When I was 9/10, my parents started running a pub and restaurant, which we lived above. There weren’t a lot of books around at home as neither of my parents were big readers – just the odd Stephen King, John Grisham and Clive Cussler. But, as managing that sort of business is completely exhausting and pretty much 24/7, we kids were given a lot of free reign (my younger sister had also appeared by this point). Ten years old is probably too young for Misery, but I loved it. I re-read the part where she chops his foot off over and over again because it freaked me out so much. I never want to re-read it as it could never be as potent, or as terrifying, as it was to my young self. It was around the same time that I read The Client by John Grisham and decided absolutely that I would become a lawyer to Fight Injustice (I didn’t), and Jane Eyre, which remains one of my favourites. It was also around that time that I was having a really terrible time at my last primary school and was in desperate need of an escape. Perhaps these things aren’t just about what’s lying around. Afterall, I never picked up any Cussler.

the beachThe Beach

I hadn’t seen the film, but for some reason my friend Alice and I listened to the soundtrack all summer. I read the book voraciously, trying to map each song to parts of the story (I later watched the film and found out I was wrong on nearly every count). The Beach is being 15, before things got difficult, summer all year long, heat, Alice, and running around in trees. Nothing special happened, but, more than any other book, this is the one I always think of when tying books to places.

catch 22Catch 22

I always prefer longer and more difficult books when I go away, just because you tend have more uninterrupted time to read which suits them better. I did a bit of travelling at undergrad and one summer planned a trip to Sri Lanka with my then boyfriend. We ended up going about 6 months after the tsunami. It was a strange trip, not least because my boyfriend had been cheating on me and we broke up two weeks before but still went anyway (1/10 do not recommend). I got to touch and be close to real live elephants for the first time. I spoke to people who had been clinging for their lives to wreckage and trees to survive the waves. I saw an infrastructure which in many places had not even begun to be cleared and repaired. I spoke to people who had the houses they rebuilt torn down because it was too close to the beach under new regulations but had nowhere else to go, so were rebuilding again. I drank Sri Lankan spirits and ate curry for breakfast. I extended my heartbreak. I have no regrets about going.

harry potter 1Harry Potter

I was in the second year of my doctorate, and had just started reading more regularly again (probably to avoid the increased work load). I’d somehow managed to avoid them as they were coming out, but I’m so glad I didn’t have to wait between books. I was in bed with the flu and extreme insomnia and decided I may as well read those Harry Potter books.  So I read them all.  In a week.  Flu, insomnia delirium and intensive Potter sort of, a little bit, made me believe that I was in fact a wizard.  When I started to feel better I took some laundry downstairs and dropped a sock.  Instinctively, I slowly reached for my wand to retrieve it…

What’s interesting to me is that there are no books that spring immediately to mind for some really important times and people. I didn’t read very much as a teenager, and didn’t become a Reader again until my early twenties, so maybe those people and places are tied to other things like music and films. I think it’s too soon to know what books will remind me of the past few years, especially as I read so much more now. I look forward to finding out.

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3 Responses to Times and Places: Landmark books

  1. Pingback: August reads 2015 | mischief and miscellany

  2. Jo says:

    2 of those are landmark books for me too and ironically we mentioned them both in book group today! The faraway tree takes me back to my early memories of using my local library independently when I was at primary school. It was a tiny single room library with drafty gappy wooden floors which had years of wear, dust and polish on them and tall wooden book shelves of similar state. It felt like a magical place and part of the reason I love the smell of old books. The magic faraway tree felt like a magical escape from tricky family stuff and ended up in a lifelong coping strategy of reading to escape. Harry Potter helped me through my doctorate, my dad’s terminal cancer, losing my brother in law, and losing my dad 2 days before my viva. My now husband had to hide the order of the phoenix in the loft so that I could have it as soon as my write up was complete. Once I started reading one I couldn’t put it down even though I was always distraught when I finished them so quickly and wished I’d took my time and savoured them! I ridiculously have never heard anyone say they too have certain books that are fixed to a time in their life, a place, a person…I guess it is obvious that I would be one of many who do this. I do it with songs/albums too, and smells but I have heard this talked of by many others. Thanks for sharing, I think sort of thing is fascinating. I also sometimes link music to books usually based on what I’m listening to around that the time I’m reading a book xxx

    • D says:

      I suspect those two are landmark books for a lot of people! Thanks so much for sharing where they fit with you. I find this stuff endlessly interesting too – which ones stick and why, and what I’m going to be looking back on in 10 years!

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