I’m going off on a tangent today, in response to a prompt from Strange Salmagundi, who got it from The Wounded Healer, who in turn got it from Sub Soare, to write about 10 books that have changed my life.
I don’t read much fiction, so there is only one novel in my list, but I do read an enormous amount of non-fiction, especially the kind that teaches me something useful. Surprisingly, selecting just 10 books from a lifetime of reading was very easy. Every book on my list has had a major effect on my life and helped to make me into the person that I am today. So here they are, in the order that they entered my life:
1) The Complete Book of Needlework, published by Ward Lock & Co Ltd.
This book was compiled by members of The Embroiderers Guild and covers most forms of needlework (the word “complete” in the title is overly-generous) plus things like lace making that I don’t class as needlework at all since no needles are required to make bobbin lace. I got it when I was 7 years old. It was, and still is, one of my most-prized possessions and set me off on a lifetime of crafting. And, yes, I do make lace.
2) The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.
Tom Sawyer arrived the next year. The book fascinated me so much that I read it many, many times, it was my absolute favourite story. It was also the first book I read that wasn’t a fairy tale, or an animal story, or about British people, and it introduced me to the idea that other people’s lives could be very different from my own. Writing this list inspired me to read it again, for the first time in decades, and I’m enjoying it just as much now as I did at the start.
3) The Young Specialist Looks At Butterflies by Georg Warnecke.
I doubt if a book like this would be published nowadays because it encouraged youngsters to catch and kill butterflies to display in a collection. It was written long before conservation became a thing, before people realised that extinctions could result from human activity. But it inspired in me a love of butterflies that later turned into a more general love of the natural world.
4) Foulsham’s Complete Guide To Gardening.
My copy has no date on it and no authors listed. I bought it in my late teens and loved that it told me exactly what jobs should be done in the garden in each week of the year. Yup, it turned me into a gardener.
5) Biochemistry by Albert L Lehninger.
I enjoyed biology at school, and was good at chemistry, so studying biochemistry at university seemed like a good idea. But it’s not a school subject, so there was a lot of finger-crossing and hoping that I’d chosen wisely. (My father swore that I’d chosen my course by sticking a pin in a list of subjects, but he was wrong.) This book was the main text for my undergraduate studies, it confirmed that I’d made the right choice, and it helped me to get 3 degrees. So now, when I want to look fancy and impress people, I can put a bunch of letters after my name: BSc, MSc, PhD. And I became a biochemist.
6) The Frugal Cook Book: A Portfolio For Good, Bad Or Rotten Times, published by Global Village Crafts.
I bought this 48-page booklet when I started my first graduate job, 170 miles from home, and had to begin cooking for myself. I’d been brought up to think that a “proper” meal must include meat and 2 veg, and macaroni cheese was just about acceptable at a push. This book proved that meat-free food is both yummy and cheap (the cheap part was key at the time).
7) The 35mm Handbook by Michael Freeman.
I’d been given a 35mm camera but had no idea how to use it, then I got this book. It got me started on photography, but I never practised much because film was expensive, getting it developed was expensive, and I was back at university studying for my master’s degree so I had no spare cash. Digital cameras didn’t exist at this point. I really should read this book again, it has lots to say about photographic techniques that apply to all types of cameras.
8) The Hay Fever Handbook by Roger Newman Turner.
I was in my 30s when I discovered this book, having had really bad hay fever every summer since the age of 5. I’m amazed that I passed any exams at school, because they fell right in the peak hay fever season. Every. Single. Year. I took antihistamines but they didn’t really work. I was miserable every summer. I didn’t expect this book to be any good, but read it anyway. It was full of quack treatments that weren’t even worth trying, but there was one idea that was interesting, feasible, and appealed to the biochemist in me. So I tried it. And it worked. A simple food supplement changed my life forever.
9) Say No To Arthritis by Patrick Holford.
I read this book when I noticed joint pains in one foot about 7 years ago. It was mildly interesting but I didn’t pay that much attention to it. Earlier this year I noticed arthritis starting in my hands (a total disaster for a craft fanatic like me) and read the book again. Wow, I missed such a lot the first time! Osteoarthritis isn’t inevitable, it can be reversed if it hasn’t gone too far, and it’s largely diet-related. Given my success with book 8, I totally changed my diet. It’s already making a difference.
10) How To Make Money Using Etsy: A Guide To The Online Marketplace For Crafts And Handmade Products by Timothy Adam.
To be honest, this is a terrible book. There’s far too much in it about people achieving success, and not enough about setting up the perfect Etsy shop. However, it got me started and transformed my life. No, I don’t sell much stuff on Etsy, my sales are better elsewhere. But Etsy is full of creative people just like me, so I don’t have to explain why I spend hours making stuff, and that I *need* to make things. Folks on Etsy totally get it, they understand the creative urge and that I can’t “just stop making stuff”. (Yes, my aunt really said that.) And, through joining several Etsy teams, I’ve made friends with creatives all over the world.
So there you have it. I’m a creative, with an interest in gardening and nature, and the mind of a scientist. Make of that what you will.