The Books That Made Me Me – Joan Hunter Dunn

Joan Hunter Dunn, or rather Rachel, who blogs at Flowers and Stripes, knows literature. Her blog is a joy to anyone who has ever appreciated the beauty of the written word and is testament to the power it has to transform.

I knew the books that made Rachel who she is today would not disappoint. What I didn’t expect was the sheer variety of literature we have here before us today. I particularly love that Rachel specifically asked me to post the specific book covers corresponding to the editions she originally read (where we could find them). “Covers are important to the memory“, she said. I couldn’t agree more.
I hope this inspires you as it did me. (And I have particular affection for the last book…no prizes for guessing why!)

I give you Rachel:

Mister God, This Is Anna by Fynn
First read as a very young teenager. This is the book that helped me realise that having a faith, believing in God, was not just due to my parents’ faith but that I had an active place in deciding this. I learnt that it would be a journey, that there wouldn’t always be answers, that it would (and should) show in my words and actions. Through this book I began to understand that faith was wide and high and varied and my faith wasn’t the only faith out there in this amazing world we live in.

A Room with a View by E.M. Foster
For some Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle is their coming of age, teenage day dream book. For us (that’s Twin and me), it was this. I think the film came first. Oh how we lusted after Rupert Graves as Freddie, wanted cornflowers scattered in our hair, to have love and adventure. It also introduced me to the joy of sharing a favourite story with someone and the fun of being able to quote and re-quote together, almost like joining a secret club.
Possession by A.S. Byatt
University years were not my years of coming of age, that came after, call me a late bloomer. Gap year number two working on a French campsite. I read this novel to only to discover part of it was set in the exact part of Brittany I was living in. It’s a novel that introduced me to the wonders of reading and how it can so randomly fit into what’s happening in the rest of one’s life. It’s also here as the book I read when I first started the adult journey to become the Rachel I am today.

He Wishes for the Clothes of Heaven by WB Yeats

Poetry. There had to be poetry. It could have been ‘I like this poem’,
an anthology I devoured as a child, so much that the spine fell apart. But this is about the books that made me me and so I’ve chosen WB Yeats He Wishes for the Clothes of Heaven. A beautiful poem but also a metaphor for how to treat others, and be treated.

‘I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.’

Real Fast Food by Nigel Slater

I bought this when I first moved to London. Friends were coming to supper. I wanted to move on from student food. The first recipe was a success. I gained confidence. Cooking for friends and family became, and remains, a real pleasure. Cook books are like novels. To read and then reread. A place to escape to, a feast for the senses, imagining what the meal will taste like, what conversation and laughter will be had. A good cookbook, like a good novel, is well loved and the stains tell a story too.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

There had been boyfriends before. They had been fleeting. Warmth and I went for our first date in the middle of January. At the end of that evening, as he walked me to my tube station, we started talking about reading. Warmth liked reading. We had to have a second date now to talk more about books. We spoke about Anna Karenina. He’d just read it. I said I hadn’t but wanted to, ever since discussing it with my grandmother. On the 14th February a parcel arrived. Anna Karenina. My heart melted.

Categories: Books, Books That Made Me Me
7 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted August 11, 2011 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Hurray for books! I have had Anna Karenina on my shelf for about three years… I've enjoyed some of The Other Big Russians (Dostoevsky, Nabokov, Chekhov) enormously so I have no idea what scares me about Tolstoy. Size probably, you could kill a small rat with that book.

    Thanks for sharing Rachel, you've inspired me to finally get round to reading A Room With A View!


  2. Posted August 11, 2011 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    I am also ashamed to say that despite living in Russia for over two years, and having Anna Karenina on my book shelf for over a year, I've not yet read it. I tried really hard with War and Peace, but I'm still only half way through, and I think that's put me off. But no more. Anna Karenina, watch out – I am coming to read you.

    I also love that you have a cookbook in here Rachel – it reminds me that we love books not just because of the story that they tell in the text, but in the stories of our lives that they become part of.


  3. Posted August 11, 2011 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Anna Karenina is the greatest love story of all time. Fact. Despite Tolstoy novels looking like doorstops, and therefore intimidating, he is very easy to read. AK reads with pace, intrigue, passion and an unrivalled glimpse into history. And er…it sounds like my name. You should all read it, now.

    Also…Rachel…I am glad I'm not the only one who wanted to be seduced in a field of blooms overlooking Florence. I actually went to Fiesole when I was 19 to see what it was like. It was breathtaking. I didn't get seduced, though.

  4. Posted August 11, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Firstly thank you so much AOW for asking me to post this. I so enjoyed thinking about what to choose.
    Clare & Penny you would read AK if the man you've just started dating and REALLY like sends it to you. It would still be on my 'to be read' pile if he hadn't!
    Oh Penny do read A Room With a View then post about it please.
    Clare ditto with AK.
    Anna I had to really edit myRoom with a View thoughts. You were about to get memories of doing the exact same thing as you with Twin when we were about that age and how visiting Florence again with Warmth last autumn was fantastic but he just didn't, and wasn't going, to 'get' re quoting from the book.

  5. Posted August 11, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Where would we be without books. There are some great ones here – I too loved A Room With a View and can remember the sense of adventure it awakened in me. And I'll never forget going to Florence aged 18 with my first love and properly experiencing love for the first time. I can remember having a bit of a girl crush on Helena B-C too and wanting to be just like her.

    I also LOVE that Yeats poem. My sister read it at our wedding and I never tire of reading it – it has almost become the blueprint for our marriage – never forgetting how much we have invested in each other emotionally and that, although stronger together, and as much we align our hopes and dreams, our own sense of self and all we hold dear are equally as important. Oops, I think a little tear may have just escaped ;)

    And shamefully I too have never read Anna Karenina, which is now winging its way to the top of my reading list.

    Also very pleased to see Nigel Slater on there. The Kitchen Diaries (and cookbooks in general) is my go to book when I'm feeling down or have been working too hard and need to feel secure and grounded.

    Any Other Book club anyone? xx

  6. Anonymous
    Posted August 11, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    I not only have read Anna Karenina, I started dating a guy based on the fact I saw War and Peace on his bedside table during a party.

    Oh, 22 you were so fun.

  7. Posted August 11, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    The last paragraph brought a tear to my otherwise dry eyes. Thank you for sharing these x

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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