The Liebster Award

The charming and hugely talented Andrew Blackman tagged me for this meme:

1. What’s your favourite memory?

It was early one morning and I was lying reading in bed, about five months pregnant. The phone rang and it was one of my mentors from the university. He’d rung to tell me the results were out and I’d come top of the Mphil group that year. I’d taken a big risk returning to college for graduate work, and I’d loved it: it had felt so easy and right and natural. Now here was an unexpected but wonderful reward. I didn’t leap about or scream or rush off to celebrate; I simply felt enveloped by this deep, peaceful serenity. I’ve never experienced anything like it since.

2. Why do you blog?

I began blogging when I was off long-term sick from college with chronic fatigue. I was used to talking about books from one end of the day to another and I really missed it. But then I began to enjoy writing in a more unconstrained style, and suddenly here was this wonderful community of people whom I was getting to know better each day. For all these reasons, I love it still and I couldn’t give it up.

3. What’s your most unrealistic ambition?

I’ve always found it hard to watch people suffer, which has led to a career of attempting to fix them and their problems. In the past few years it has dawned on me that people are essentially unfixable. Or at least, they have to do it all by themselves. No amount of help and support from me will ever change another human being by as much as an atom, unless they are absolutely determined to make a difference to their own lives. In fact, personal change is extremely hard to accomplish at all, even with good will and tenacity. I would have loved to make everybody I’ve come into contact with that little bit happier and wiser, but I rather think it was too much to hope for.

4. What makes you angry?

I really hate the way internet forums promote pathologically vicious and unkind attacks on people and ideas. It’s scary, the level of hatred and malice that people will bring forth under cover of anonymity, and defend as the right to ‘to have an opinion’. Derren Brown, who performs some very interesting psychological experiments on television set up a mock game show, in which a studio audience decided what would happen to some hapless individual whose evening out was being transmitted to them via webcam. Repeatedly, Brown offered the audience the choice of making a nice thing or an unpleasant thing happen to him. In fact it was the audience on trial, as every single time, they chose the unpleasant thing and took delight in the stooge’s suffering, right up to the point where he was run over by a car. Derren Brown was pointing out how easily the mob mentality takes hold of a crowd, how they egg each other on and ratchet up the suffering. It’s the sort of thing I think we ought to be horrified by, (and Derren Brown made the point brilliantly) not encourage as acceptable and ordinary behaviour.

5. What’s your biggest regret?

I will always be sorry not to have had another child. But it just was never an option, and I’ve been extremely lucky with the one I do have. It’s his 18th birthday today. *wipes away a happy tear*

6. Why do you like reading?

How long have you got?

7. Write a mini school report for the human race. What grade would you give us, and what suggestions for improvement?

In technology, continues to forge ahead, but has an unfortunate tendency to treat the humanities with disdain. Shows surprising strength and resilience in a crisis, but can be lacking sympathy and understanding when it comes to ordinary day-to-day woes. Still, alas, a tendency to lash out with violence when thwarted, rather than stop, think, and use words to resolve issues. Overly concerned with the superficial and the short-term, in a way that belies the genuine intelligence and wisdom that teachers know are readily available. Resistant to change when it comes to long-term flaws and failings. C+

Now I’m supposed to create 7 questions and tag 7 people.

1. What do you think of literary prizes? Good idea or bad?

2. If you could write any sort of book, what would you write?

3. Describe your ideal home library/study.

4. Name two new authors whose work you think will last the test of time, and explain your choices.

5. Which books do you hope to get for Christmas?

6.  What’s the last book you did not finish and why?

7. Would you accept 20 books that were absolutely perfect for you and dependably brilliant reads, if they were also the last 20 books you could ever acquire?

And tagging, hmmm, let’s try to find people who are newish about here: Desperate Reader, Bellezza, Helen, Nooks & Crannies, Miss Darcy, Mrs Carmichael and Karen. And anyone else who feels like it!

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28 thoughts on “The Liebster Award

      • 1. What do you think of literary prizes? Good idea or bad?
        Good idea. Even getting on the longlist must be heartening for a writer. One of my favourite authors, JM Coetzee, twice won the Booker Prize, for The Life and Times of Michael K, and then for Disgrace (which was also a Best of the Booker), so they must be a good idea. I note that Stephen Kelman (see below) said in an interview that, if he won the Booker he would be ecstatic, but “if the legacy of the book [Pigeon English] is that more kids pick up a book than might do otherwise then I’ll be very proud. That will mean more to me than any prize.”
        2. If you could write any sort of book, what would you write?
        A book where you walk past your younger self on the street with a flash of recognition but do not stop. Then you meet yourself again and you stop, and tell your younger self that you are him, and that you have some advice for the future. Then later, as an old man, you meet both of your younger selves on the street and tell the eldest one to leave the youngest alone.
        3. Describe your ideal home library/study.
        Quite big with cork boards lining the walls to allow the storyboarding of novels using bits of paper, drawings and photos. A bit like a war room. Comfortable chair. Clean desk just with pen and notepad. No computer (can I have an assistant to type up my writing?). Music playing softly. Great view of the quiet countryside I grew up in.
        4. Name two new authors whose work you think will last the test of time, and explain your choices.
        The hardest question. I can only think of one. Stephen Kelman, author of Pigeon English (shortlisted Booker 2011). Only one novel so far, but mixed hilarity and fear into a bittersweet elegy, so I would tip him for the future. He must be a good author if he can write convincingly from the viewpoint of a child.
        5. Which books do you hope to get for Christmas?
        Swithering, and/or The Wrecking Light, poetry collections by Robin Robertson. I read one of his marvellous poems in the LRB – Dionysus and The Maiden. Heady stuff, words ringing like bells – a metaphysical masterclass. And funnily enough I’d been writing a story about Diana the Huntress while on holiday in France.
        6. What’s the last book you did not finish and why?
        I have tried many times to read The Adventures of Augie March, but I just can’t get into it. It’s just not a welcoming book. It’s big, dense and like a jumbo jet on take-off, it needs a very long run up to get going. With respects to Saul Bellow, I plead being a philistine. And also apologies to Yann Martel (The Life of Pi) and Ian McEwan (Atonement) – all deliberately designed not for me to read. I think I might be missing a gene for some important neurones.
        7. Would you accept 20 books that were absolutely perfect for you and dependably brilliant reads, if they were also the last 20 books you could ever acquire?
        Most definitely. At my present reading rate of one or two books a year, that’s 10 years worth and my eyesight will be gone by then (just kidding). I do read a lot and constantly with subscriptions to London Review of Books (every two weeks) and Nature (every week, the famous scientific journal, not a naturist’s mag, but now that’s got me thinking), so I have my feet firmly in both cultures. Slowly reading Madame Bovary at night (a greatly enjoyable book, it breathes its settings and people) but I seem addicted to staying up to date with the periodicals. Bit of a book worm really, tunneling through a varied diet of paper.

  1. Oh these were fun to read. I agree with you completely about #4, it is truly astonishing how cruel people can be when they think there will be no repercussions or when egged on by a group. I am so glad I don’t have to answer your seven questions. The final one would throw me into a fit of indecision and despair from which I might never emerge ;) And a very happy birthday to your son! I can’t believe he is 18. I remember when he was 13, 14 and now he is all grown up. He’s not even my kid and it makes me feel old.

    • I KNOW! I keep telling everyone I was a child bride! And I can’t believe how swiftly this last decade has passed. Very glad to have you on side for no 4 and as for the last of the questions I created, heh, heh. I thought it was a bit of a poser! :)

  2. That’s a lovely memory, I could almost see how the stars were aligned so perfectly to create this one wonderful moment.
    That experiment on TV sounds a bit like the wave. Give the opportunity it’s uncanny how perfectly “nice and normal” people act out their sadistic side.
    Thanks for sharing these.

    • Caroline, thank you. It’s somehow become my model of achievement – the feeling of calm, not euphoria. And I do agree about the sadistic side of otherwise pleasant people – when we had riots in London a while back, there was much surprise voiced that professional people joined in alongside the more usual thugs and hooligans, but it’s not really surprising at all.

  3. If there is one good thing hat came out of your chronic fatigue it is that you started blogging–so thank you for that! I agree that people can be really nasty (and unnecessarily so) when they are not showing their real persona–hiding behind their computer screen. So sad that people can fall into that trap so easily, it’s amazing how quickly we forget how something like that (our game schow example) would make us feel if we were in the hotspot. That last question of yours is a doozy–would you at least be able to reread them for as long as you like?

    • Danielle, as for the last question, yes, infinite rereading completely permitted. But it is a tricky one, I agree! What people think is okay to do behind a cloak of anonymity never fails to astound me (do they not mind looking like an awful person?). And I’m so glad I began blogging and made friends like you!

  4. I enjoyed reading your answers to Andrew’s questions. Mine are on his site, in the comment section.
    The TV show reminds me of the Milgram experiment about obedience to authority.

    • Yes, it IS very like the Milgram experiment, which was equally alarming in its results. It surprises me that we don’t hear more about these sorts of tests, but I suppose self-righteous shock and horror is more satisfying whenever something bad happens.

  5. Oh what a lovely memory, Litlove! And a belated happy birthday to your son!

    I find myself agreeing with all your observations, especially #3 – no matter how very much I want to help a loved one ultimately the choice to do something or not is theirs.

    The 7 questions you have tagged me with are going to be interesting to think about. Thanks for tagging! :) I do have some major life changes occurring in the next few weeks so things are going to be pretty hectic for the next month or so. I’ll be thinking about the answers and then blog about them as and when I get the time.

    And I am so glad that you blog – Not only do I have so much fun reading your blog but also end up learning so much!

  6. Some bloggers wear their heart on their sleeves more than others. I do like these memes that reveal the person behind the blog. Your answers, I think, reflect the compassion and thoughtfulness we read in your posts.

    Thank you so much for tagging me on your seven questions. I’m working on the answers now.

    • Karen, I rather like book bloggers in that they talk mostly about books but occasionally reveal glimpses of their lives. I find that rather delightful and intriguing! Thank you for your lovely comments about my answers, that’s really kind of you and I’m looking forward to seeing your responses very much indeed!

  7. Hey, thanks for answering my questions (and for the lovely description at the top there!). I loved reading your answers, particularly the school report for humanity. It seems we have a very similar world-view. Also what is it with those internet forums? The comments on newspaper articles and political blogs are horrific sometimes (though thankfully those on book blogs are almost always respectful). Yet always, after I’ve read an article on the Guardian or wherever, I feel compelled to read the comments – why is that? It always makes me feel like changing that mark from C+ to F. Anonymity does scary things to many of us, and it makes me angry too.

    • Oh I so know what you mean about the Guardian! I think they have the worst, most obnoxious commenters of anywhere and it just depresses me to realise that people actually think this way, with the most unsympathetic, self-righteous and hostile parts of their minds. And that’s putting it quite nicely! I do think we have very similar world views, which is interesting, given what we both choose to do.

  8. How honored I am that you tagged me; I’m so glad to have acquired your friendship this year.

    I am endlessly fascinated in your posts, Victoria. You constantly say something that has me nodding my head, or wishing that I could call you up on the phone so we could converse longer about the subject you’re addressing in your post. I have a few responses to the wonderful glimpses you gave us into your life.

    a.) How I enjoyed reading about your favorite memory; how elusive those moments are, but how lovely that yours was not contingent upon someone else.

    b.) My most unrealistic ambition mimics yours; always I want to help people, to love them, to ‘fix’ what ails them, to protect them. And now I realize how basically futile I am. I bring a smile, I say prayers, I uphold joy. But, that’s all I can really do. It’s sad to be so limited in this world.

    c.) Your ‘angry’ response reminds me of a study I learned about in college while getting my psychology degree. There were people on one side of a board who thought that they were inducing a real live shock to those on the other, when in fact they only heard screams. The part that was so very horrible is that those ‘inflicting’ the shock did not cease when they were told they had to continue. Now, that addresses society’s adherence to authority, but today I think that the world’s sense of ‘fun’ has become so very twisted. It isn’t anything that I consider fun if someone is being wounded. (See point above, right?)

    Oh, that we could get away from being overly concerned with the superficial, and dwell on the essential, which practically brings up a whole new subject to post about.

    Off to try to answer your questions, xo Meredith (Bellezza to most ;)

    • Dear Bellezza/Meredith (such a lovely and unusual name!) What a lovely comment, thank you! The great thing about the internet is meeting friends you might never have found otherwise – the downside is the geographical distance! I couldn’t agree more that life in the so-called civilised world would be infinitely better if it weren’t so obsessed with surface appearances. I am all for depth wherever possible! And yes, I completely agree that the experiment you mention is very similar indeed to the television programme, and equally alarming. I really dislike the way that being cruel is considered to be funny – have we really not moved on from knitting alongside the guillotine? Ah well, at least here in our blogs we can praise ethics and compassion and all those other wonderful qualities that provide all the good side of humanity!

  9. Pingback: The Liebster Award | Miss Darcy's Library

  10. Your memory is just beautiful; how generous of you to share it with us!

    And thank you for tagging me! Like Bellezza (Meredith!) I am honoured. I have never been tagged before; I’m thrilled.

    • Dear Helen, thank you for your kind comments! I’m delighted to be the first to tag you, although it was only ever a matter of time. :) Looking forward very much indeed to reading your replies!

  11. Pingback: Seven things | kiss a cloud

  12. I was very interested in comments on the Derren Brown “experiment” but I wonder if the audience were reacting according to their real, or even manipulated feelings.

    The cruelty that goes with a lot of internet forums etc has been there right from the start – people used to be flamed and now are trolled. Surely this is such an empty activity that even the cruellest must get fed up with it.

  13. Pingback: The Liebster Award | Nooks & Crannies – 'cus they're perfect for a book lover

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