Picking up the ‘100 books to maketh a man’ debate ( how many and which books maketh a woman? ) I see @thereaderorg has kicked off a list for women with Middlemarch – of course, of course. Completely agree but surely that comes in (in a reading life chronological order) at about number 90?
So I am thinking, what would be my 100 books? And can I do them in order?
For a woman of my age it’s got to start with Heidi – but I wonder does anyone read that book any more? It’s got some lovely stuff in it.
My friend, and massive supporter of The Reader Organisation, author Frank Cottrell Boyce, tells a great story about meeting a woman in the Sarajevo war zone who had spent her early years in a loveless Romanian orphanage and was now working as a rescuer of orphans in the war… How had she learned to care about people, Frank asked. Heidi, she explained, she had had a copy! And thus she had had a story which made her feel that there was love in the world, that you might be loved. Can it be that simple? I think it can. Human beings are made of stories – that’s what we are. (Try Heid at http://www.fullbooks.com/Heidi1.html)
I don’t remember how old I was when I first read it but maybe in a Ladybird type version when I was 8? Later I had a bigger version of it, more text, fewer pictures. I loved it because I had a loving close relationship with my own grandfather, and because Heidi was a girl, and I was a post-war kid, born just after rationing, so it was great to read about all the food in the book – all that creamy milk and those lovely fresh white rolls. Heidi was younger than me – I thought of her as almost a baby – and I identified also with Clara ( her older friend) and with Aunt Dete ( not easy to love). But maybe what fed me wasn’t identifying, so much as simply feeling – sorry to be corny – the power of love.
But I also learned there was an inner life, and a way of talking about, of writing about feelings. I learned that that inner self could be badly damaged – Heidi’s unhappy sleepwalking was truly disturbing – and that ordinary, kind, good love could heal that damage. For an eight year old whose parents were about to divorce, and whose life was about to descend into a long sad chaos caused by badly broken adults… Heidi was a good piece of kit to have in a girl’s kitbag.