strange_complex: (Tonino reading)
Very neatly, [livejournal.com profile] wig tagged me for this meme on LJ, and TAFKAK tagged me for it on Facebook on the same day last week. So I shall answer it in both places, but obviously LJ lends itself better to nice formatting and having space to make some actual comments about the books. I have taken the concept of the books 'staying with me' seriously, and thus listed ones which both meant a lot to me at the time of original discovery and to which I have returned regularly since. They are listed (as best as I could remember) in the order in which I first encountered them.

L. Frank Baum (1900), The Wizard of Oz
This stands for the whole series, of course. I was certainly quite obsessed with them by the age of six, and indeed a picture of me reading one of them to my friends on that birthday can be seen here. The 1939 film was important too, of course, and I'm pretty sure I had seen it by that age, but there were more of the books, with far more wonderful characters and adventures than the film could deliver. Dad used to read the books to me as bedtime stories, I used to read and re-read them myself, and of course there was a great deal of dressing up, playing at being characters from the books and so on with the very friends shown in the picture, and especially [livejournal.com profile] hollyione. A lifetime love of fantastical stories was to follow...

Alison Uttley (1939), A Traveller in Time
Did loads of other people read this as children? I don't hear it mentioned very often as a children's classic, but it was another big favourite of my childhood, and has literally stayed with me in the sense that I still have my copy of it. I haven't done that for many of my childhood books - though the Oz series are another exception. Doubtless one of the attractions all along was the fact that the main character, a young girl from the 20th century, is called Penelope. But also, time travel! While staying in a Tudor manor house, she repeatedly finds herself slipping back to its early days, and interacting with characters from the reign of Elizabeth I. Clearly at the roots of my love of both fantastical time travel stories, and the real-life dialogue between present and past.

Bram Stoker (1897), Dracula
Ha, I hardly need to explain this one right now, do I? See my dracula tag, passim, for details. First read, as far as I can tell, in early 1986, when I was nine years old, on the back of having seen the Hammer film the previous autumn. Left me with a love of all things Gothic, which has waxed and waned but never really left me ever since. As the wise [livejournal.com profile] inbetween_girl once said, you never really stop being a Goth. At best, you're in recovery. Or perhaps lapsed, would be another way of putting it.

Diana Wynne Jones (1977), Charmed Life
Initially read via a copy from the school library aged 9 or 10, this came back and 'haunted' me with memories of a book of matches, a castle and a strange magical man in my early 20s. By then, the internet was advanced enough to have forums where I could ask what the title of the book I was remembering might be, and to deliver an answer within a few hours. So I bought a copy, swiftly followed by copies of the other Chrestomanci books, and then copies of multiple other DWJ books (see my diana wynne jones tag for details). As an adult, I can see that the real appeal of DWJ's writing lies in the combination of her light yet original prose style, imaginative vision and sharp understanding of human interactions, but as a child I'm pretty sure it was all about the unrecognised magical powers and multiple interconnected magical worlds. As per the Oz books, I really love that stuff.

Gene Wright (1986), Horrorshows: the A-Z of Horror in Film, TV, Radio and Theatre
In 2010, Mark Gatiss presented a documentary series called A History of Horror, during which he held up a book about horror films which he had owned since childhood, and explained how it was his personal Horror Bible, which had opened up to him the wonderful world of the genre. From the reaction on Twitter, it instantly became clear that everyone who had grown up loving horror films before the emergence of the internet had also owned such a book, and this is mine. I bought it at a book fair in about 1987 or 1988, devoured it greedily, and have been faithfully ticking off every film in it which I have seen ever since. Of course, the internet has long rendered such books obsolete, and insofar as this one was ever comprehensive at the time of original purchase, it certainly isn't now. So it is utterly meaningless to tick off all the films in it, as though somehow the end goal is to tick off every single film in the book - at which time, I don't know, a fanfare will sound and a man in a rhinestone suit will pop out to tell me I've won a prize, or something? But I still add a tick each time I see a new film from within its pages anyway, because heck I have been doing so for 25 years, and I'm not going to stop now. Besides, it's not like I care about horror films made after 1986 anyway (I struggle to care about those made after 1976, TBH), so it doesn't matter to me that it is enormously out of date.

Douglas Adams (1979), The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
First read c. age 11, and read at least another 8 times since. I know this because I have kept a tally of how many times I read it in the front of the book - classic geekish behaviour, of course. Once again, it's basically all about travel to wondrous other worlds, but this time instead of being magical (Oz, Chrestomanci), historical (A Traveller in Time), or supernatural (Dracula, everything else in Horrorshows), they are in space! It's not actually like I discovered adventures in space for the first time from Hitchhiker's, because of course I was also watching Doctor Who on a regular basis in parallel with all of this reading material, with which of course Hitchhiker's is intimately linked. But yeah - given everything else which has already appeared on this list, it is no big surprise that I loved Hitchhiker's.

C. Suetonius Tranquillus (c. AD 120), The Twelve Caesars
And now my list radically changes tack, because having established that I love stories about the fantastical, the rest of it is made up of books which mark key stages in the emergence of my academic interest in the ancient world. I am not, of course, unaware that this in itself also basically boils down to yet another interest in a wondrous other world, albeit one which actually existed in this case. Really, the mode of engagement is very similar - we have little snippets of information about the Roman world (texts, objects, places), just as we have little snippets of information about fictional fantasy worlds (texts, screen portrayals, merchandise), but there is also so much we don't know, and are at liberty to extrapolate from what we do. Plus the similar-yet-different qualities and the opportunity to compare and contrast can let us think about our own world in ways that just don't open up if we only think about it directly. And so I found a way to apply the thought-patterns and approaches I'd been developing from early childhood to something which grown-ups thought was admirable and serious, and which it was possible to acquire prestige and eventually even money through studying. As for Suetonius himself, he is here because he was one of the earliest ancient authors I really came to feel familiar with and fond of, mainly during A-level Ancient History. Tacitus may well be clever and sharp, but there is always a judgemental, sanctimonious undertone with him that I don't very much like. The things which interest Suetonius, by contrast, make him seem so utterly human - but there are also all sorts of clever structures and allusions to discover in his text on close reading, which together make him incredibly rewarding. I once literally hugged my Penguin copy of Suetonius to my chest as a sort of talisman when feeling alone, upset and in need of comfort. I can't really imagine anyone doing that with Tacitus.

J.B. Ward-Perkins (1991), Roman Imperial Architecture
One of the first books I bought about ancient material culture (as opposed to texts), in the context of a module on Roman architecture which I did in (I think) my second year as an undergraduate at Bristol. While strictly about buildings rather than cities, it nonetheless includes a lot of material about how those buildings fitted into the urban landscapes where they were located - unsurprisingly, since Ward-Perkins himself was really interested in cities first and architecture second, and wrote one of the earliest English-language books on the subject. So it is to this book which my interest in Roman urbanism can really be traced, and I still turn to it occasionally when I need to get to grips with a new (to me) city.

Christopher Hibbert (1987), Rome: the biography of a city
This one is from my third year at Bristol, and the best undergraduate module I ever did - Responses to Rome with Catharine Edwards and Duncan Kennedy, which was all about post-Classical responses to ancient Rome from the medieval period to the present day. I sat in those classes falling in love with Rome, and then went home to pore through this book and the wonders within. I still return to it in order to refresh my memory of medieval myths about the city's ancient past, Grand Tourism or fascist appropriations, all of which I have needed to do in the past few years.

Greg Woolf (1998), Becoming Roman: The Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul
And finally, the book which I consulted most frequently while writing my PhD thesis. It had utterly redefined thinking about the relationship between Rome the state and its provincial populations, killing off tired old paradigms of 'beneficial imperialism' (think: What have the Romans ever done for us?) for good, so would have been important no matter what province I had used to look at the relationship between Roman ideas about the urban periphery and the reality on the ground in a provincial setting. But since I had chosen Gaul as my own main case-study anyway, it was gold-dust. Fifteen years later, it remains at the forefront of scholarly thinking on the topic, and thus still features regularly on my module reading lists, amongst my recommendations to research students, and indeed in the bibliographies of my own published works.

I'm not tagging anyone, because pretty much everyone in the world has done this meme already by now - but feel free to take this post as a prompt to do it yourself if you haven't and want to.

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strange_complex: (Barbara Susan planning)
As an adult I'm pretty good at waiting, because I know how nice it is to have a lovely big pile of presents to open on Christmas day. That said, nowadays I often know what is in half of them anyway, because we tend to share present suggestions and requests around within the family in order to ensure that we're all buying things that the recipients will want. The only presents I really have to exercise self-control over are ones given to me by friends, students or colleagues, which are a) a genuine mystery and b) often presented to me quite a few days before Christmas itself.

Like most kids, though, I often peeked as a child. I seem to have known from quite an early age that birthday and Christmas presents were always stashed in the cupboards above the (fitted) wardrobes in my parents' bedroom, and would regularly take advantage of any opportunities which arose to climb up on a wooden stool and find out what I could expect on the day itself.

Most of the time, that didn't really cause any problems. I managed to keep my secret knowledge to myself, and it wasn't usually a problem to look suitably surprised and pleased when I got the gifts themselves, because I was a child and all gifts were exciting anyway, whether I knew what they were in advance or not. But I guess over the years I learned that a genuine surprise was more fun for me.

One year, though, I did get myself into trouble for it. Not by being found out in a straightforward way, but because I gave the game away myself while basically trying to do my Mum an emotional favour. I already knew that she was 'Santa', so when I found what were obviously destined to be our stocking presents one year a week or so before Christmas, I decided to write a letter to Santa asking for exactly those same things. In my childish mind, this was intended to be lovely for my Mum, as it would reveal to her that she had managed to buy exactly what we really wanted, and she would feel a glow of warm satisfaction. And I'm pretty sure I did throw in a few random other items in an attempt to make my letter look 'realistic'.

But it obviously didn't convince, because she sussed what I had been up to straight away. I don't remember being told off hugely for it - perhaps she realised that my intentions were generous, even if they were based on me looking in places where I knew I wasn't supposed to look. But I did feel pretty ashamed of myself afterwards, and I think I pretty much figured out for myself after that that I really shouldn't look in the top of the wardrobe any more.

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strange_complex: (Me as a child)
I'm pretty sure I'll never be more excited about a Christmas present than I was in the year (1985, I think) that my sister and I jointly received a My Little Pony Dream Castle from our paternal grandparents. This was at the height of the My Little Pony craze in the UK, and Dream Castle was the ultimate, top-of-the-range, much-coveted playset. Though we could buy individual ponies ourselves after a few weeks of patient saving up, Dream Castle was well beyond our wildest pocket-money dreams - so of course we had pined after it for weeks and could barely contain ourselves at the thought of actually owning it. And as our collection at that time was fairly small, consisting of perhaps 3-4 ponies each, receiving this huge exciting playset that was every MLP-loving little girl's fondest dream really did make a huge difference to the number of little characters we had to play with and the environments we could put them in.


It is of course symptomatic of what an expensive playset it was that even as a Christmas present it had to be shared between the two of us rather than given to either of us individually. I can report to our credit, though, that even though I was only 9 years old and my sister only 4, we did actually share it between us very fairly and politely, taking a week at a time to alternately 'own' the pony Majesty who came with it and her little pet dragon Spike. As an adult I suppose I could say that part of the reason I still remember that gift so fondly is that its shared nature symbolised what was really best of all about our My Little Pony play - that it made for a very successful bridge between two sisters who were quite far apart in age on a childhood scale, allowing us to come together in imaginative story-making and role-play, building cardboard houses, making clothes etc. But honestly as a child it was just all about owning the magic, and perhaps also having the prestige amongst our peers which came from having what was widely recognised as the coolest MLP playset on the market. If we had to share with each other in order to get that, then that was just a price worth paying.

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strange_complex: (Rick's Cafe)
Read mainly while in Vienna.

This would be the third Hardy novel I've read in my life: the other two being Tess of the D'Urbervilles for A-level, and Jude the Obscure when I first moved to Oxford. The trajectory of the title character is much the same in all three cases: they make a foolish mistake in early life, appear to bounce back from it, enjoy a period of happiness and / or prosperity, find to their cost that their early mistake is not so inescapable as they thought, and finally die in ignominy and despair. This is, of course, a classic tragic plot as the ancient Greeks would have recognised it: much the same happens, for example, to Sophocles' Oedipus.

Some people find this sort of stuff depressing, but personally I love it. If there's one thing tragedies certainly have it is Romance. Like a crumbling ancient ruin, they speak eloquently of the vanity of human endeavour and the transience of life and worldly success: and the lapsed Goth in me can't get enough of that. Hardy's tragedies, though, have a lot more to them than forehead-stapling. I remember being struck when we read Tess at school by how cleverly he wove symbols and metaphors out of the landscapes which his characters move around: and this was very much true again here. His well-defined secondary characters, observations of human nature and rich vocabulary only add to the pleasure.

Around the time I started reading this book, I found out that CiarĂ¡n Hinds had starred as the eponymous Mayor (Michael Henchard) in a 2003 TV adaptation of the story - I think because I also saw Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day around the same time, and was browsing through his IMDb page in the wake of that. I haven't seen the adaptation, but just knowing that made me see the character of Henchard with his features all the time I was reading - and in my brain at least, he put in an excellent performance!

So, just as watching Brideshead has made me all the more determined to read the book, reading this has inspired me to hunt down the TV series. It's all good.

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strange_complex: (Cities condor in flight)
The three stories below are the first fruits of my new Lovefilm subscription. Apparently realising I'd been immersed in the Pertwee era anyway of late, they started me off with Beneath the Surface boxed set: two Pertwee stories and a Davison one, all about the related races of the Silurians and the Sea Devils.

Third Doctor: The Silurians )

In summary: a good story, with plenty of interesting ideas and characterisation. But Liz Shaw is something of a disappointment, as is the portrayal of women generally, and matters would be greatly improved by inserting a little humour and personal warmth into the relationship between Liz and the Doctor.

Third Doctor: The Sea Devils )

Overall: much on a par with The Silurians, but for me I think the insertion of the Master, the lighter dialogue and the warmer companion make this one slightly preferable - even if we've lost a small degree of poignancy in the process.

Fifth Doctor: Warriors of the Deep )

Final analysis: a pretty poor showing next to the previous two stories, but Five acquits himself well, I'm intrigued by Turlough, and I'm pleased to have finally pinned down some more floating scraps of childhood memories.

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strange_complex: (Apollo Belvedere)
Onto season 18, now. I think I'll try to write up the stories in this one at a time as I go along - otherwise it just becomes too daunting if I let a back-log build up and have to write three at once.

Fourth Doctor: The Leisure Hive )

Long thoughts on the beginning of the JNT era )

And back to the specifics of The Leisure Hive )

strange_complex: (Tonino reading)
One of the things that happened when I moved into my lovely proper new house here in Leeds is that I finally took possession of all the accumulated gubbins which I had left behind with my parents when I first moved out at the age of 18. Mainly, this meant the books of my childhood and my teens - with which I am now at leisure to get nostalgically re-acquainted.

The Oz books were, in no uncertain terms, the central axis of my childhood. In fact, see this picture of me reading to my little friends on my sixth birthday? )
Well, that's an Oz book I'm reading to them - The Land of Oz, I think, judging from the colour of the spine. I had all fourteen of the original L. Frank Baum series, in lovely bright paperback covers as published by Del Rey, and read them religiously and repeatedly from the ages of approximately four to seven years old. (I had a random hardback copy of Lucky Bucky in Oz, too, but even as a child, I sneered at it and looked down upon it for not being a 'proper' Oz book). Dorothy, the Wizard, Ozma and all their little friends were fiercely real to me, and I was quite, quite convinced that the magical Land of Oz existed, if only one knew how to get there.

This all got a bit longer than is really polite to leave uncut )

strange_complex: (TARDIS)
I'm rather behind with my Who write-ups, for fairly obvious reasons. I've been needing to watch quite a lot of Who recently, but haven't felt entirely up to writing about it, so that I currently have a back-log of five watched-but-unwritten stories, and have started on a sixth. I'm now starting on the catching-up process before it gets too completely ridiculous.

Fourth Doctor: Nightmare of Eden )

Meanwhile, the real reason why I had watched Nightmare to Eden was because I suspected that its monsters, the Mandrels, had scared me witless as a child. Even after seeing it, though, I wasn't quite 100% sure, so I took the opportunity to check with my Dad last weekend, and I've now realised that it wasn't true. I reminded Dad about the whole story - how he used to scare me by pretending to be a particular Who monster, and about the Madam Tussaud's exhibition where I'd refused to go past one. But I very carefully didn't say anything about my own theories - just let him say what he remembered about it. He confirmed that I must have been about three or four at the time, but said that the monster in question had had horns, and that he used to pretend to be it by waggling his fingers over his head, while lurching towards me. The lurching matched the Mandrels, but the horns didn't; and he also went on to say that he thought the monsters might have been called Trilithons.

Revisiting those childhood monsters )

So, The Horns of Nimon goes to the top of my to-watch list. But ideally not before I've written up a few more of the stories I've already watched.

Classic Who

Monday, 7 January 2008 19:06
strange_complex: (TARDIS)
Doctor Who has always been a part of my life. I suppose I must have started watching it because my Dad did - or, I wonder now that I know Who fans with children, did he start watching it seriously partly because he had a little kid to enjoy it with? Anyway, my memories of it stretch back at least to the age of three (more on this later), and I've kept up an active interest in it ever since.

Semi-fandom )

Put simply (and with a little help from Wikipedia), this is generally the level of difference between me and a serious fan:
Serious fan: It may be a controversial opinion, but I really think The Talons of Weng-Chiang is one of the high points of the Tom Baker era. I just love all the Sherlock Holmes references in it!
Me: [slight pause] Er - is that the one with the giant rat in the sewer?
Over the last year, though, my fandom for New Who has increased to such a pitch (thanks to the overall excellent series 3) that I've decided it's about time I ploughed back into the archives. Time Crash probably played a pretty big role there, actually. If New Who was going to reference Old Who so explicitly, then I decided it was about time I enhanced my appreciation of both by rediscovering the original - and maybe just a little bit of my lost childhood along the way.

Fifth Doctor: Caves of Androzani )

Fifth Doctor: Castrovalva )

Childhood memories )

Fourth Doctor: Robot )

A journey has definitely begun here, and I'm looking forward to pursuing it further. I don't think I'll ever try to be a completist, because I know that would involve sitting through an awful lot of dross. But Operation Classic Who is go! ...at least until New Who begins again in the spring. :-)

strange_complex: (Me as a child)
It's funny how your behaviour changes with your environment. I have Spider Solitaire on my own computer at home, but never play it, thinking it dull and boring. When I'm at my parents' house, though (as now), I hardly seem capable of going to bed without first playing, and winning (playing alone will not do) a game of it. It is just part of my bedtime ritual in the room where I sleep when I'm here.

And it leads me off on strange trains of thought like this:

When I was young, and playing games of Sevens Patience (now more usually Americanised to 'Solitaire') on the carpet, I very quickly developed marked value judgements about the various suits in the pack. These were based mainly on the division between red and black, but even within each colour, one of the suits appeared to me to be distinctly superior to the other. One colour I related to, and thought strong, good and worthy of victory. The other, I saw as alien, weak, unreliable and generally best avoided.

The pictures on the cards did help to forge these judgements, as did a knowledge of things like Alice in Wonderland and the nursery rhyme about the Jack of Hearts. So it's likely that more than the 50% of the population whom probability alone would suggest might share them actually do. But let's see, shall we?

[Poll #885480]

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