Borough Birthday: The Books That Made Us

To celebrate our 6th birthday, The Borough Press team would like to tell you about the stories that made us fall in love with words, and have moulded us into the book-lovers that we are today.

Suzie, Publishing Director

‘One of the first books I remember loving was Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy World. Just looking at the cover makes me feel a bit misty! I’d like to say it’s where I learned about character and plotting, but probably I just liked chewing on its corners (much as I do now). Then my childhood took a turn for the macabre when our beloved uncle gave us an age-inappropriate book called The Dracula Scrapbook, triggering a lifelong vampire obsession which led me to Buffy, one of my true TV loves (never Twilight, though, I have standards). The first time I properly fell for a book I was reading at school was The Great Gatsby – such a teen-girl cliché, but I just swooned over its sentences. The edition pictured is the one I bought from a charity shop, the tie-in to the Redford and Farrow film.

At university, studying Spanish, I adored One Hundred Years of Solitude. Oddly, I now don’t love magic realism in general, possibly because none of it can measure up. When I started working in publishing, the first of the books I edited to sell a life-changing quantity was the wonderful The Other Hand by Chris Cleave, which will always have a very special place in my heart. And for my sixth book, because the next novel is always waiting: the one I’m currently reading, Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. It’s early days but I’m hooked.’

Ore, Editor

‘My parents joke now about how they were always trying to get me to read when I was younger and that I essentially refused to – but I remembered reading the Peter Rabbit series by Beatrix Potter (and demanding to watch the videos, of course, though I refuse to acknowledge the new remake) and loving them because they were short and sweet, and that’s pretty much the way I still like my novels today. In primary school I remember loving Wolf-Brother by Michelle Paver, and Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (an anomaly to the short and sweet novels preference) and the new and exciting worlds they transported me to.

Half-way through secondary school I was pretty much destroyed by Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, a book I read out of choice (it wasn’t on my syllabus, I was just very keen) and thought was horrifying but incredible. Since, there have been two utterly transformative reading experiences for me, both books by Nigerians that explore the incredible humour, deep cultural traditions and history of Nigeria: the absolute classic Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and the book I read in about two hours at university, the one that made its author my favourite of all time (so far), Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole. If you’re Nigerian and you haven’t read it, you should.’

Carla, Senior Commissioning Editor

A Wrinkle in Time was one of the first books that made me realise the power of the written word. Meg’s journey through the universe to save her father impacted me deeply, and I was enthralled by the scope of Madeleine L’Engle’s imagination. A theme was quickly noticeable when I fell in love with Tamora Pierce’s deeply brilliant series about Alanna, the girl who poses as a boy to win her knighthood. Even then, I was a sucker for a fierce, tough, unapologetic heroine! Speaking of, there are two such heroines in Fingersmith – and Sarah Water’s intensely atmospheric, minutely observed story still has the strongest and best twist I’ve ever read. It’s absolutely phenomenal. Twists abound in The Moonstone too, as do brilliant characters, humour and a cracking plot. For me, this is one of those books that gets better every time I read it!

Life After Life astounded me with its daring structure and ambitious storytelling. There’s such a vibrancy to Kate Atkinson’s writing and  I will always remember exactly where I was when I first read it. And finally, a book that I’ve just finished – The Starless Sea. This was a book that I wanted to climb into. And I’m honestly bereft that I can’t. The world(s) that Erin Morgenstern has imagined are stunningly beautiful and her storytelling is just luscious. I will be keeping an eye out for my painted door from now on…’

Ann, Publicity Director, Commissioning

My siblings and I loved rhyming books as kids – and we couldn’t get enough of Mr Magnolia by Quentin Blake, with his one boot, his old trumpet that goes root-toot, his sisters playing the flute, his frog and toad and newt. A silly rhyme with gorgeous illustrations – it’s an absolute classic. I couldn’t mention books that made me without Anne of Green Gables. Oh Anne! My kindred spirit: a verbose, imaginative, odd little child – so similar to me in all but spelling – something I will never get over. I reread those books in times of sadness and they ground me again. Being an absolute nerd, I’m throwing in Pilgrimage by Dorothy Richardson, a 13-volume semi-autobiographical ‘novel sequence’, told in stream-of-consciousness, often unpunctuated. I wrote my Master’s thesis on Richardson: she was a pioneer of the feminist novel, she lived her life in the fringes, and her work is set in liminal spaces. All these things interest me greatly. I read The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif around ten years ago. It is an expansive, cross-cultural, cross-temporal love story. I love losing myself in big novels like this, where a story – particularly a romantic one – plays out across generations. Soueif explores language – her characters speak English, Arabic and French – and culture, and imperialism. Love and politics – yes please.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, recommended to me by a friend, is the most beautiful book I have ever read. Told in clean, startling, profound prose, not a single word is out of place. John Ames is a pastor reaching the end of his life, writing his ‘begets’ in a letter to his young son. It is the story of a father’s love for his son, but it is also the story of America – of poverty, loss and despair. Ultimately, Gilead is a benediction, a blessing filled with hope. It’s a masterpiece.

My final choice – and back to siblings – is a poem by the New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield, written to mark the death of her brother in the First World War: To L.H.B. (1894 – 1915)

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