The Books That Made Me Me – Zan

Today I am delighted to bring you lovely reader Zan’s take on The Books That Made Me Me.  I love how with each one of these series we get to learn a little more about our readers…it’s a sneak peek into their lives, their minds and their histories.  And…HOW have we got this far in the series without a mention of Are You There God?

Zan’s collection is diverse, both in subject matter and chronology.  The love is tangible.  It’s a hell of a list.  All links are to the AOW Book Store.  Over to you, Zan, and thank you:   

I come from a reading family. Books are what we do. My Dad has wall-to-wall book shelves in his study, boxes of books all around the house and probably is Amazon’s best customer.  One of my life ambitions is to have a house big enough to have a library. Should this not pan out as planned, my back-up plan is convert the study into a library. I’m not easily deterred.  For now I have to be happy with two rather overflowing book shelves in the living room, affectionately known as ‘Zan’s Library’ (if you’re ever in the area, feel free to come borrow a book or two).

I will literally read anything, any genre, old/new, books/magazines/the side of milk cartons…. It’s an ingrained habit and probably quite an annoying one at times.  It also made it really difficult to pick just a few books for BTMMM as there’s so many I could rave about.  But I had a go anyway.

Mr Tickle – Roger Hargreaves

This is one of the earliest books I remember.   I loved the Mr Men books, truly truly loved them.  There is in existence a picture of me on my 6th birthday, waiting to blow out the candles on my birthday cake.  The cake is a Mr Men cake. Then you notice the table cloth is a Mr Men table cloth. And the paper cups are Mr Men paper cups (you get the idea …).  I think ‘obsession’ may have been putting it mildly.  Mr Tickle was my favourite book because he was a little bit naughty, using his long tickling arms to steal biscuits and tickle people.  About 7-8 years ago some friends bought me the box set of all the original Mr Men books as a birthday present so I got to read them all over again and they’re still brilliant children’s books.

The Secret Island – Enid Blyton

I know Enid Blyton has made a few appearances on BTMMM already. And all those books (The Magic Faraway Tree, Mallory Towers) are ones that I read many times and loved. But the one that always stood out for me was The Secret Island. The basic premise of the story (four children with no parents run away to a secret island and make a self-sufficient life for themselves while fighting a few baddies) was particularly appealing to me a child and totally fed my imagination. It also made for some probably quite shoddy attempts at making my own house under a tree or two!

Children’s Encyclopaedia

I think I was about 7 or 8 years old when I was given a children’s encyclopaedia by an aunt as a birthday present. And it was a total revelation – now I didn’t just know the things I learnt at school or saw on TV, I knew other things! Great things! Like every British monarch since William the Conqueror or all the planets in the solar system (Pluto is still a planet, I refuse to believe otherwise). I literally soaked up the information. I bored people TO DEATH with my new-found knowledge. And it kick started something in me to know more, much more. I started accompanying my Dad on his Saturday morning trips to the library to learn more. I would take out the maximum 6 books allowed, have read them all by Tuesday and then wait eagerly until the next Saturday when I could go back and get more books. And I haven’t stopped reading since.


Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret – Judy Blume

I imagine a lot of women spent their teenage years buried in Judy Blume books. She just knew, knew the how hard, how painful, how awkward it all was. How horrible it was when no one at school spoke to you for some unknown reason or you were teased for weeks about something silly and small.  How some days you really wished you didn’t have to go to school or see anyone ever again.  This was the first Judy Blume book I read and it spoke to me in a way nothing else did. I felt like someone understood and made me feel that bit better about the awkwardness of my teenage self.

Life isn’t all ha ha hee hee – Meera Syal

There are so many novels that document the British Asian experience, from many different angles and this is my favourite.   While growing up I had the classic struggle between ‘what my friends were doing’ and ‘what was expected of me’ but on the whole I was lucky to have such relaxed parents.  I was at university when I read this book and it really struck a chord.  I was, in comparison to some friends, more free than I ever imagined. Friends who had to lie to their parents with frightening regularity and were juggling a continents worth of expectations as well as their degrees.   This book managed to address these issues and more with flair, humour and felt very real.

The Hogfather – Terry Pratchett

I have a lot of the Discworld novels but this is my favourite – it takes something very familiar and turns it completely on its head.  I love the Discworld novels as they’re quite geeky but unashamedly funny.  Proper, sniggering, laugh out loud funny.  They drew me in and I learnt that fantasy and sci-fi books don’t need to be grand, unintelligible and overblown. They can be like this – brilliantly funny and a total joy to read.

The Time-Travellers Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

I read this book at least once a year – it’s ‘that book’ for me. For me it succeeds where many books fail, it takes a love story and puts it into the most trying, unbelievable circumstances but triumphs at it. This is the book that taught me that love isn’t meant to be easy, but even when difficult it’s something to treasure. It gave me hope and I cried like a baby the first time I read it. And I’m not ashamed to admit I still cry a little every time I re-read it.

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

I read this in the space of 24 hours. I was off work recovering from a horrible flu and decided to catch up on some reading.  I couldn’t put it down, I just kept reading and reading.  It’s an amazing story – it made me angry, made me shocked and made me upset. It really brought home how brutal life can be and the endurance of friendships – after I was finished all I wanted to do was call all my female relatives and friends and tell them how much I love and value them. 


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


  1. Carly
    Posted April 26, 2012 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    A Thousand Splendid Suns is my favourite book ever. I wasn’t expecting to like it, but gave it a whirl after my sister reccomended it.

    Great list Zan and I totally share your love for Judy Blume! I keep meaning to re-read one to see what my ‘adult’ self makes of them!


  2. Posted April 26, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Awesome list Zan! Especially loving the Mr Men!! TTW and ATSS are the 2 books that have made me cry to the extent I can no longer see the words on the page.

  3. Posted April 26, 2012 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Also, you’ve reminded me how much I loved my kids encyclopedia too! Totally buying my young cousin one next Christmas now.

  4. Posted April 26, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    I absolutely love the last line of this post. Books that are well written, with a good story duelling our imagination & then make us take an action in our real life are the best.

  5. Posted April 26, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Yay Zan!! Brilliant list, I was obsessed with Judy Blume (and Betsy Byers, anyone remember her??) because she seemed to be inside my head, feeling all the things I was feeling. I was having a row with my husband and one of my best friends at World Book Night on Monday! I don’t get it at all, although having watched his Alzheimers doc he seems like such a sweet, brilliant man. I think you either love Discworld or it sails over your head! I adored ATSS too, yet to read The Time Travellers Wife…


    • Posted April 26, 2012 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      Argh, clearly am talking about Terry Pratchett… Don’t comment on phone when trying to do twenty other things simultaneously….

      • Zan
        Posted April 26, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

        haha…I knew exactly what you meant anyway ;) I think you’re right about the Discworld novels, they’re a bit like Marmite that way. In all honesty I read a few of the books before I really ‘got it’ and The Hogfather was the book that did it for me. After that I went back and read some of the earlier ones with far more of an appreciation for the series.

        • Posted April 26, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

          I read TP when I was younger and did NOT enjoy it at all, completely wrote him off as an author I just didn’t ‘get’. Then I met Gareth, who owns ALL the Terry Pratchett novels, ever. After a reasonable amount of ‘heated debate’, I was persuaded to try again, and I have to say I love them now. I zoomed through the Discworld series, in fact my only criticism is that they’re too easy to speed through, I read them all in about 2 hours each!

          K x

  6. Mahj
    Posted April 26, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Yippeee, its my big sister!
    All of the above books I read also, thanks to Zan (except for Terry Pratchett). And they are all ruddy brilliant. A Thousand Splendid Suns is the one I’ll always remember the most. If you haven’t read it already, please please do.


    • Steff
      Posted April 26, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      I’ve got A Thousand Splendid Suns on my list but somehow never quite make it to reading it…

      • Zan
        Posted April 26, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        Do it! You won’t regret it, it’s an amazing book.

  7. Steff
    Posted April 26, 2012 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Mr Men – pure win! Also, love Terry Pratchet – fabulous series. Nice list Zan!

    I’m realising that my youth spent re-reading The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and the BFG over and over may have been mis-spent somewhat. I’m going to download some of these kids books and lock me and my iPad away in a big comfy chair for a day and devour them so I can share in the love! With the weather today I’m quite gutted I’m at work and not in said comfy chair right now…

  8. Posted April 26, 2012 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Yes! BTMMM days are the BEST days :-D

    And HOW have we got this far into BTMMM without Judy Blume coming up?! Loved me a bit of Judy. And the Secret Island! Yes! And did you read the Adventurous Four?

    Really excited to see the Children’s Encyclopedia on a list, such a good choice. I used to love my Children’s Encyclopedia Brittanica, possibly more than is normal for a 12 year old kid.

    Finally, ATSS has been on my To-Read list forever, I have just bumped it to top of the pile and will read it when I finish what I’m reading now.

    K x

    • Zan
      Posted April 26, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      I think I did read the Adventurous Four. In fact I’m pretty sure I read all the Enid Blyton books ever…! I was not a child that did things by halves ;) (see Mr Men obsession!)

  9. Bella
    Posted April 26, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    All I can say is Blubber…. I heart Judy Blume.

    Amazing list of books – TP is a very recent one on my list!Thanks Zan xxx

  10. Posted April 26, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Can I make a confession in the safe, caring place of AOW? I’ve never read Judy Blume! However, I did read a ton of books by Paula Danziger, who I now suspect was the poor man’s Judy Blume. Maybe my local library didn’t have them.
    A Thousand Splendid Suns is excellent, as is his first book The Kite Runner. I might make an attempt with a Terry Pratchett now, never really appealed to me before. Love this series for flagging up books I wouldn’t normally pick up!

    • Posted April 26, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Paula Danziger was AMAZING…pivotal in my teens!…particular highlights…Can You Sue Your Parents For Malpractice and The Cat Ate My Gymsuit.

    • Posted April 26, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      I loved Paula Danziger!!!!


      • Posted April 26, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        Makes me feel better now! Might just read Judy Blume now, surely she’s still relevant when I have a week left of my 20′s??!

      • Mahj
        Posted April 26, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

        Oh. My. Holy. Book. God. PAULA DANZIGER!!! How could I forget her?!


        • Posted April 26, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

          Paula Danziger was amazing! I had totally forgotten she existed! I might go and re-read all her books now.

          K x

  11. Gemma R
    Posted April 26, 2012 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Oh Zan, you have made my day. And the rest of you too who loved your children’s encyclopedia. I wasn’t so odd after all. My friends think my childhood love/thirst for non-fiction and knowledge in general is so funny that the best man even mentioned it in his speech! Now I know there are others out there.
    And Linsey, I read Judy Bloom and Paula Danziger and loved them both. Oh, this is making me want to go find some in a charity shop and read them all again!

    • Zan
      Posted April 26, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      Not odd at all! I fully blame my childhood love of facts for helping me out in many a pub quiz as an adult ;)

      • Gemma R
        Posted April 26, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

        That’s exactly how they all know I read them in the first place – the pub quiz – “how on earth do you know that?!” question.

  12. Zan
    Posted April 26, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for all the comments – is great seeing what everything thinks of my book choices! Am v pleased at all the Encyclopedia and Mr Men love :D

  13. Katie
    Posted April 26, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Aww. I loved reading this post, especially as I’ve read five of the books. Children’s Encyclopedia was my bed time reading. And I thought I was the only geek…! All such brilliant choices.

    I also read Under a Thousand Splendid Suns in a day, I just couldn’t put it down, and bawled my eyes out. It is an absolute must, as is The Time Travellers Wife.


  14. Posted April 26, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant BTMMM. I have so much love for Judy Blume and still have copies of Are you there God, Deenie, and Forever. A few of my friends got to meet her when they were children and I am amazingly jealous.

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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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