Marleen Kennedy: My Life in Books

Article published on June 2, 2013.

I really like the idea of sharing my life in books with others in this way, although I already know that some of the questions below are going to be next to impossible to answer. And before I start on those answers I have to mention that I won’t exactly be sharing my whole life. Since I grew up in Holland I didn’t start reading English books until I was into my teens. It doesn’t make sense to share Dutch authors and books (especially if they were never translated) with people who have never heard of them, so where appropriate I will change the wording of these questions a little bit. For example: “Which was the first ‘grown-up’ book you remember reading” will for me read as “Which was the first English ‘grown-up’ book you remember reading?”

Have you always loved books? Were you encouraged to read from an early age?

I have loved books for as long as I can remember and if photos and stories are to be believed, even longer than that. There are tons of pictures of me as a toddler, sitting on a lap and being read to. One photo I specifically remember (but don’t own) features a cloth-book about dogs, being read to me by my mother. There are also pictures of me raiding my parent’s bookcase; emptying the shelves and pretending to read the books. Cute for sure, but rather frustrating for my parents since they would have to re-shelve all the books, in the right order of course.

My brother and I were always encouraged to read. Every excuse available was used to bring us to a bookshop to pick out a few more books. No birthday or Christmas was complete unless there was at least one reading present. Report cards from school – good, bad or indifferent -, the start of any holidays, all were reasons to buy more books. In Holland there are two events dedicated to books every year. There’s the “Book Week” as well as the “Childrens’ Book Week.” In theory my brother and I were allowed to pick a few books during the children’s event while the general week was my parents’ opportunity. In practice it just meant that us kids were allowed to get new books on both occasions.

Which was the first ‘grown-up’ book you remember reading? How did it affect you?

The first ‘grown-up’ book I read in English was A Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie. I think I must have been about 15 at the time and we were on a family holiday in Norway. When I ran out of reading material long before our trip was over my parents allowed me to buy and try this book to see if I would be able to manage it. And I was; I loved the mystery and was very proud of myself for being able to read an adult title in a foreign language long before that was expected of me in school.

Choose five favourite books and tell us how they have impacted on you.

The following selection, like the one made for question 4, is rather arbitrary. If you were to ask me the same questions next week I might well come up with different answers.

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: a deeply moving book about WWII that I loved despite the fact that I vowed years ago to never read a book about that period again.
  • The Mists of Avalon by Marion Bradley Zimmer: the story of King Arthur from the perspective of the women. Very well written and a book I tend to go back to every few years.
  • Es Waren Ihrer Sechs (Six of Them) by Alfred Neumann: a fictionalized account of the 1943 White Rose protest against Hitler and Nazism, and the subsequent arrest, trial, and execution of the six organizers, written by Neumann based on little more than hearsay accounts published in Time magazine. I read this book about the “White Rose” movement in Germany during WW II for my German exam about 30 years ago and it made an everlasting impression on me. (I realize this is not an English book, despite what I wrote above, but this book made such an impression on me that I couldn’t leave it off my list. Besides, there is an English translation of this title and the book was written while the author lived in America).
  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: the best fantasy story ever.
  • Anne Frank’s Diary; just amazing.

Choose five favourite authors and your favourite book by each.

  • Maeve Binchy because of the talented way in which she was able to capture and describe characters. After finishing any of her books I would always feel as if I knew the characters personally and sad to have to leave them. Light a Penny Candle is not necessarily my favourite book by her – I’d be hard pressed to pick just one – but it is the title that started my life long love affair with her novels.
  • Michael Connelly because he writes the most amazing thriller-mysteries, well plotted and featuring realistic and fascinating characters. My favourite title by him is probably “The Poet.
  • Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, my go to author whenever I need a comfort read or find myself in a reading-slum. Her stories flow, her characters sparkle and she always manages to evoke emotions in me. I really can’t pick one favourite title by her so I’d have to say that my favourite books by her are the Eve Dallas “In Death” mysteries.
  • David Eddings and especially his series called “The Belgariad” because of the wonderful, fairytale like, story with characters that I came to love.
  • Tiffany Reisz, although so far she has only published three full-length novels. Her books are hard to define; they’re definitely erotic but strictly speaking not erotica. Her Original Sinners series is clever, provocative and addictive. It’s hard to choose my favourite from the three titles out at the moment so I’ll mention the first in the series: The Siren.

Do you read more fiction or non-fiction?

I read almost exclusively fiction. And, when I do read non-fiction, it tends to be reading and/or writing related. Reading is a form of escapism for me rather than a way of acquiring information and there is no better way to escape the real world than by diving into a good, fictional, story.

Where do you find out about the books you want to read?

I am very fortunate in that I work in a library. Not only do I have first choice when new books come into my branch, I also receive lots of information on upcoming releases as part of my work. I also get information from the LibraryThing list provided by Nudge and the emails I receive from them of course. NetGalley is an other valuable source of information about upcoming books as are all the publishers, blogs, readers and authors I follow on Facebook and Twitter. If anything I’ve got too much information about new books coming my way. After all, you know what they say: “so many books, so little time”.

What was the last book you read, what are you currently reading, and what’s next?

The last book I read was No Way Back by Matthew Klein, a dark and intriguing thriller in which nothing and nobody is what they appear to be. Currently I’m reading an erotic romance called Forbidden Fires by Jodie Griffin. I think my next book may be The Twelfth Department by William Ryan. This is the third book in a mystery series set in Stalinist Russia and I’m really looking forward to it.


Joy, by Jonathan Lee


Tan Twan Eng on The Garden of Evening Mists

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