We are what we read?

Published by: mike on 11th Jul 2018 | View all blogs by mike



   It is often said that we are what we eat. I wonder if it is possible to say, ‘we are what we write.’  We are what we read?   Is this a possibility?  I recently read a biography of E.S.Nesbit and an aunt who wrote about children had a very similar personality. 

     Like Nesbit she had an ability to recall her childhood in great detail. She had an empathy with children and was a great favourite of those in her street, for whom she wrote impromptu verse.  A bohemian trait occasionally emerged - I suppose the child that was within her.  She appreciated the English countryside and read profusely.  Even her politics were similar to those of Nesbit who had been a Fabian and married Herbert Bland. The aunt had been a great supporter of the Welfare State and was of a liberal, left persuasion.  She had humour too.

   I wonder if these personality traits apply to writers of children’s fiction?  Perhaps only to novels of a certain type?   The England of my aunt has vanished in a puff of smoke but her book culture is still with us.


   On the Saturday I wandered around London to no apparent purpose, though I had noticed a lecture to be given by Howard Jacobson at the Southbank.  At the time I was reading one of his novels - ‘ Shylock is my Name’.  The lecture was in the morning.   I did attend.  I returned for a talk given by Hilary Mantel in the afternoon.  Both events were free and will be broadcast on Radio 3 later in the year.

    Early in the morning I had queued for the theatre and got a restricted view seat for an evening production.  (less than the cost of a couple of pints of beer and a packet of crisps)

      (London streets around the West End were crowded but this was not due to football.  Gay Pride was being celebrated.  My return train was much delayed due to some Gay Priders having a violent row during which one of them pulled the communication chord.  It was while waiting for the replacement train at about eleven o’clock, that I spoke to a couple, and asked who won the football match!)

     Both talks were connected with the Booker Prize.  Jacobson lamented the decline in sales of the literary novel though Hilary Mantel’s discussion of ‘Bring up the Bodies’ was well attended and she had quite a young audience.

     Jacobson’s opinion on the demand of literary agents for ‘page turners’ was solicited.  Jacobson imploded. 

      In my bag was a copy of ‘The Labours of Hercules’ by Agatha Christie which I had been reading on the train.  I am reading Jacobson’s ‘Shylock is my Name’ at home. I can enjoy both novels but Jacobson does require a knowledge of English Literature. Does Agatha Christie  require a knowledge of the life of Hercules?

    Had I confessed to reading a ‘page turner’ would a steward have escorted me from the building?   I am now reading ‘Five Children and It;’ a biography of Walsingham and a new Camra guide to South East pub walks. 

    I am what I read?



  • Sandra
    by Sandra 10 days ago
    I smiled at your mention of ‘Five Children and It,’ Mike, because I'd remembered it - small. blue and silver-titled on the spine - from primary school. Remembered trying time and time again to read it and finding the amulet got in the way.
    As for reading making us what we are, I'm certain only that they allow us to try on other personalities to see whether or not they fit well enough to 'take'.
    I'm certain now the same still happens, but along with trying to sort what we have become. Or find a way out of it.
  • Mat
    by Mat 10 days ago
    Hi Mike,

    Definitely your suffragette aunt has a lot to answer for. Who exactly wasted the family fortune on gin & port, & which one of your bastards hawked/sold the entire family estate in Yorkshire in 1920? These are my words to my wife during our gin/port session-debates - btw

    Yes, like you, she is more of a rower, euch.

    As to your original question, and the 'illness.' I am mainly afflicted with purchase of Oxbridge historian-type titles at Christmastime - such as -

    'The English'/'England Peoples'/'Britischer Insider' - 'The English and Watching Their History' - and such. So, you are literally/literarily [sp] correct on the point.

    Those are my most hated books. Hook, line and sinker, chump, me, marketed to - the tribe of chump. Books by historians compiling all the easy-reader stuff everybody knows already from college. Fat blimps like me read the crap AGAIN and AGAIN and then flush, when not reading my Telegraph/order of service/Maldive holiday FO guidance. Meanwhile, historians watch the cash roll in, BEEVOIR YOU. Worse than EL James or Mantel. Death to the Tories obviously..

    Experimental post
  • Newbie
    by Newbie 9 days ago
    Are we what we read? I've no idea, but some of it must rub off I suppose, if only for a the time it takes to pick up another book and get lost in it. I loved Enid Blyton stories when I was a child, Anna Sewell's Black Beauty was a constant re-read as I loved horses. I'm reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantell and am engrossed in the brevity of detail but the richness of the story. Looking forward to reading Bring Up the Bodies next. I have several books on the go, but have put them to one side to finish WH.

    Mike you live an interesting life and see such a variety of people in their everyday lives.
  • mike
    by mike 9 days ago
    Dear Mat,
    The Walsingham book fits into your category, i've now read it and have progressed to a William Boyd novel and 'The Treasure Seekers.
    Dear Newbie,
    Hilary Mantel did not give much away. The discussion was about 'Bring up the Bodies' so I won't do a spoiler but she did suggest who wielded the power in Tudor times. Women because only women could produce heirs! Walsingham seems rather like Thomas Cromwell. In a way, he had the same job, only he worked for Henry V111's daughter, Elizabeth. He was as bigoted as Moore and had no objection to torturing Catholics.
  • Mat
    by Mat 9 days ago
    Hi Mike,

    sorry for my last post, I think I was 'excited'- being off work an' all.

    A Good Man In Africa was so much fun, & I read so many of his, and then became disillusioned and raged about my dislike of Boyd - round about - I can't remember - maybe it was his 'Woman In The Resistance' era?

    I would like some advice tho' - regarding two books that I've purchased for my nourishment. :)

    1. Tristram Shandy - I was very excited to find this in the 2nd hand shop - and the first line was wonderful, but then I became lost - on the FIRST PAGE. I'm uncertain whether I have the brains to 'get through it...'

    2. Same goes for a Nabokov I found called Pale Fire. The intro says 'this may well be an unreadable novel...' - a 200 page poem written in 'voice,' - heavy going.

    3. I bought Tom Brown's Schooldays also, but think I've read it. I really need a book, some olden days author to have a 'pash' on. Oh, John Masefield - I like him, seafaring...


  • Newbie
    by Newbie 8 days ago
    Thanks for that, Mike, I'm not surprised to hear who wielded the power. I found I didn't like Thomas Cromwell in the tv adaptation but am enjoying the dry humour of his personality in the book.
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