A few of my favourite things

"Brown paper packages tied up with string"

“Brown paper packages tied up with string”

This post is dedicated to my friend, Jenny Rowbory. Jenny has been ill with severe ME for nine years today. If your impression of ME is that it is merely ‘chronic fatigue’ (ie feeling very tired for a long time), then you need to check out her website, where she describes her daily experience of crushing agony and extreme disability. The extent of her suffering is quite breathtaking, and in addition to this, her illness is trivialised and disbelieved by most of the medical profession in the UK. (This is part of the reason that I am stumbling my way through writing my memoir of having ME, because more people need to know what it is really like.)
Right now, my body is creaking and complaining, and I am battling with a very short ‘battery life’ on my brain function, and a lack of oxygen, severe muscle pain, dizziness, and tachycardia which comes and goes. But today I am glad that I am better than Jenny is, and that I am not bedbound, in constant pain, unable to speak or have people speak to me.
So, I am linking up with Jenny, sharing my favourite things (caveat: ie my favourite things that I happen to be able to remember, so they are mainly recent…) Please share some of your favourite things, too!

Favourite fiction

  • Les Miserables – Victor Hugo. This is probably my favourite book of all time. I ploughed through the two volumes, and even today I can recall some scenes and feel them intensely. I am also a huge fan of the musical, but this book really does deserve all the accolades.
  • Catcher in the Rye – J D Salinger. I read this when I was a teenager, and thought it the most perfect book ever. Even now, I’m not sure I totally understand it, but it moves me to tears. Perfectly captures that essence of being a teenager, and longing for more.
  • History of the world in 10 1/2 chapters – Julian Barnes. A series of ten (and a half) short stories exploring the nature of humanity’s cruelty in the quest for survival, and the meaning of life. I really like Julian Barnes’ thought-provoking writing.
  • Dream Of Scipio – Iain Pears. Three interlocking stories from different periods in history, looking at the sacrifices we make, either for the ‘greater good’ or for our loved ones. I went to a presentation by the author, where he said he had written the book to explore ‘what makes good men do terrible things.’ This is a wonderful meditation on this theme, and intelligently and grippingly told.
  • Suite Francaise – Irene Nemirovsky. An exquisitely told fictional account of what life was like for those in France in the Second World War. I love the way she paints the uglier side of human nature in such stark and beautiful ways.
  • To the Lighthouse / Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf. Virginia Woolf is a genius: I can’t think of anyone who can write quite so well as she, where you feel carried along in a tide of beautiful words, and swept into an emotion without knowing quite how you got there. To the Lighthouse always used to be my favourite, as it felt so hopeful to me, but as I have got older I’ve appreciated Mrs Dalloway more and more.
  • Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen. The ultimate comfort literature. I love her dry wit, and I’m a sucker for a good love story.
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Housseini. I liked this second book even better than The Kite Runner.
  • Saturday – Ian McEwan. It is a short book, but just very well done – on fear and terrorism, focusing on a day in the life of one person. It builds up excruciating and exquisite tension whilst waiting for the denouement.
  • Beloved – Toni Morrison. I read this just recently, but WOW. You can tell she used to be an editor, every single word in that book is meticulously chosen. A powerful, achingly beautiful book about racism in America in the nineteenth century.
  • (Hmm, I’m noticing a theme – I seem to like books that expose the uglier side of human nature. Not sure what that says about me…)

    Favourite children’s books

  • Burglar Bill. An endearing sort of thief.
  • Each Peach, Pear, Plum. I took this home on the bus after school when I was five, having got special permission to read it at home. And then I left it on the bus: the one and only time I have done such a thing. I wept and wailed. Great book, though. I loved the idea of all the fairy tale characters coming together and doing their own thing.
  • The Magic Faraway Tree books – Enid Blyton. I loved the idea that you could climb a tree and be in a different world. I pretty much read everything Enid Blyton read. I spent most of my childhood saying things like ‘Rather! That’s awfully kind of you. Let’s have an adventure, with lashings of ginger ale!’
  • Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis. (Naturally). As a child, I liked The Magician’s Nephew the best; as an adult, The Last Battle.
  • Harry Potter books – JK Rowling. (Obvs. Though they only came out when I was an adult, I reckon I would have loved them as a child. Any book that has a wild-haired, bossy and geeky girl as a heroine is good with me).
  • Anne of Green Gables – L M Montgomery. Oh my! She was such a great heroine, and I fell in love with Gilbert Blythe.
  • Little Women – L M Alcott. Always wanted to be Jo, always feared I was Meg.

    Favourite Teen books: 

  • The chocolate war – Robert Cormier. Fairly depressing account of bullying in school, brilliantly done.
  • I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith. This probably isn’t a children’s or teen book, actually, but I read it when I was about ten. This portrait of an eccentric family kinda irritated me when I read it as a child, but it has stayed with me and resonated with me for years beyond. It is a book I would read and re-read.
  • The Janice Project – I read this on a Christian camp, as it was a gently Christian book, and loved it for the love story and tale of transformation from shy geek to slightly-less-geeky.
    Favourite poets (classic)

  • Silvia Plath. Her writing is dark and delicious.
  • Emily Dickinson. Hers is as airy and pale blue as Silvia’s is dark.
  • John Keats. Ode to a Nightingale is just about as perfect as you can get:
    “…O for a beaker full of the warm South,
    Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
    With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
    And purple-stained mouth;
    That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
    And with thee fade away into the forest dim…”
  • T S Eliot. Didn’t understand him a jot, but loved every word.
  • Seamus Heaney. SO good. RIP, Seamus.
  • Shakespeare – both his sonnets and his plays. Come on, how better to portray MacBeth’s murderous guilt than with these words:
    “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood /
    Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather /
    The multitudinous seas incarnadine, /
    Making the green one red.”
    Sheer genius.
  • Alfred Lord Tennyson, though I confess that is pretty much entirely for his poem, The Lady of Shalott, which I fell in love with at an early age (because of Anne of Green Gables, naturally).
  • Wilfred Owen. My favourite of the war poets.

    Favourite poets (contemporary)

  • J K Rowbory. I reviewed her book here. If you haven’t got a copy of her book, you should buy it immediately. (My Amazon Affiliate link). She is uncommonly gifted, and these published poems are powerful and beautiful.
  • Malcolm Guite – I really love his Christian sonnets.
  • John Blase. He has a whimsical way with words.
  • Amber Haines. Read her love songs – she walks the line between poetry and prose with such art.
  • Beth Morey, Alison Luna, Sarah Murray – these are friends from Story Sessions who usually writes prose but their poetry is astonishing.
  • (There are no doubt others that I have forgotten…)

    Favourite musicals: 

  • Les Miserables – for me, this stands in a category of its own. It is at the very pinnacle of what musicals can, and should be.
  • Fiddler on the Roof – I loved Topol’s version.
  • West Side Story – I love the dance in this.
  • Camelot – I can’t get through this without gushing tears. Sometimes I stop it halfway through before the poignant ending because it’s just too beautifully sad. (That makes it sound like it’s like Schindler’s List or something, which it totally isn’t. Just the downfall of a hero, very well told.) I loved the film with Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave.
  • Joseph and His Technicolor Dreamcoat – I love pretty much all of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s songs, and this is a very witty screenplay too. I sang the part of narrator in an amateur production once, and it was so much fun.
  • The Sound of Music – I mean, haven’t you already got the lyrics of ‘my favourite things’ going through your head right now?
    Favourite films:


  • Dead Poets Society – this shaped my teenage years. Carpe Diem, folks.
  • Amadeus – this little-known film about Mozart is amazing.
  • Fight Club – love this anarchic film.
  • The Shawshank Redemption – everyone’s seen this, surely?
  • Star Wars and Lord of the Rings trilogies. Epic.
  • The Usual Suspects. Keeps you guessing, and magnificent acting.
  • American Beauty. Acting is incredible, portrays the emptiness behind the American dream so artfully.
  • Memento – loved the way this plays with form.
  • Life is Beautiful – so sad, so triumphant.
  • Magnolia – I love the themes of redemption here, and Tom Cruise is a revelation in this.
  • Amelie – charmante.
  • Pan’s Labyrinth – so very dark, but so very true.
  • King of California – a charming story, and superb performances from Michael Douglas and Evan Rachel Wood.
  • Paper Moon – a black and white film about a con artist and a girl who may or may not be his daughter.

    Favourite actors (male): Kevin Spacey, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Morgan Freeman, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Harrison Ford, Sean Penn, Joseph Fiennes, Benicio Del Toro, Hugh Grant, Daniel Craig, Hugh Laurie, Clive Owen.

    Favourite actors (female): Julia Roberts, Samantha Morton, Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave, Evan Rachel Wood, Cate Blanchett, Halle Berry, Sandra Bullock, Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, Naomi Watts, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Helena Bonham Carter, Julianne Moore.

    Miscellaneous favourite things: handwritten letters, sunsets, the smell of petrol, baklava, popcorn, singing descants to Christmas carols, irises and roses, waterfalls, learning other languages, Mozart concertos, long-distance running, watching Wimbledon, opera.

    That’s about it for now! Why not check out Jenny’s favourite things, or follow her on Twitter (@stroopwaffle) and say hi? She can’t always write back, but she appreciates it when people get in contact.

    Over to you:

  • What are a few of your favourite things?

    12 Responses to A few of my favourite things

    1. Donna C 12th January, 2014 at 2:24 am #

      I am more than a little late, but had to say that I loved Burgler Bill too! I had 4 younger brothers, so as you can imagine I read it many, many times. I haven’t come across it since I have had my own children, unfortunately 🙁 Thank you for reminding me of a lovely memory!

      • Tanya 16th January, 2014 at 10:34 am #

        Never too late! Always nice to hear from you. And I’m glad you loved Burglar Bill too! I’ve never found anyone else who’s heard of it!

    2. Rebecka 2nd December, 2013 at 11:38 pm #

      I can’t remember any books or films I like at the moment, but here are some other favourite things of mine: Earl Grey tea, the colour burgundy, raspberries, blueberries, acting, fresh air, hugs, laughter, fruit salad, Much Ado about Nothing, snow, candlelight, singing when no one can hear me, clean sheets, really good stories, words, languages, popcorn, going to the cinema alone, painting (walls, not pictures), hats, studying (especially languages), skiing, and walking around cities without knowing where I’m going.

      • Tanya 3rd December, 2013 at 10:11 am #

        I love this little collection of miscellany! I love raspberries and blueberries too – I love it when summer comes and those fruits are in abundance.
        Oh – and candlelight! and snow! Yes! And languages – I also love hearing and learning other languages (though I do so at a decidedly lower level than you.)
        (I love singing when EVERYONE can hear me!!)
        Thanks so much for commenting.

    3. Liz Eph 2nd December, 2013 at 10:39 am #

      little acts of kindness or thoughtfulness

      • Tanya 3rd December, 2013 at 9:59 am #

        YES. It’s the little things that can end up meaning most.

    4. Deborah 2nd December, 2013 at 9:47 am #

      Thanks for this Tanya! Indeed I have ‘favourite things’ running through my mind ‘…raindrops on roses…’

      For me:
      Sunsets, smell of good coffee, a hug and/or a smile from someone who loves me, equally a wink from someone indicating they understand something I do, a hot bubble bath, having my hair played with, a bit of pampering, a girlie night in, baking, then watching as people enjoy my baking, cross stitch, music, long walks, the beach (in all seasons) – feeling the wind against my face and tasting the mix of salt and sand, writing, discovering something new I love, adventures, ear grey, carot cake, sleep laughing…

      I dare not start on films/ books/ musicals/ poetry/ people I admire, I may be here all day! But thank you for encouraging me to think about all the pleasures in life I experience every day. One thing which keeps me going on a ‘poorly day’ is taking time to read your blog and indulge myself in some of the above; sleep, listening to music (not too loudly), early grey…

      • Tanya 3rd December, 2013 at 9:58 am #

        Ha! I’m glad I’m not the only one with the song running through my mind!

        Smell of coffee – mmmm, yes. I totally love eating people’s baking, so we should team up! 🙂
        Feeling the wind against my face – YES! I love this, too.
        I’m really glad that my blog is one of your favourite things – hurray!

        thanks so much for this – I really liked reading them.

        • Deborah 3rd December, 2013 at 10:17 am #

          Yes we should totally team up! 🙂
          Starting to think about what I love got me thinking last night in a worship session at college about writing a letter to God about how wonderful, amazing He is. I mean we sing songs on a Sunday/during the week but how often do we sit and think about the words we would like to use to describe God? How often do we think about what we like and enjoy about Him and all He has given us?
          It has also re-aligned my thoughts, again yesterday at college we had a baptism for one of the babies in our community and I realised, despite the pain and hardships we all face while here what an amazing blessing it is to be part of a community of Christians, wherever we are.
          Sorry, tangent….xxx

          • Tanya 11th December, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

            I love the suggestion of writing a letter to God! Great idea!

    5. Mark Allman 1st December, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

      Wow…. Nice list Tanya and thank you for sharing.
      Some of my favorite fiction would be anything written by James Rollins, I just read To Kill a Mockingbird and thought it was awesome. The fiction books I love seem to have characters that are flaws and at time tortured souls. I think I identify with those characters. One science fiction series I read had characters like that and I still think about it frequently. It is the Star of the Guardians series by Margeret Weis; The Lost King; The King’s Test, and King’s Sacrifice. I loved Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder when I was a small boy. My favorite movies have been all the Science fiction movies of Star Trek and Star Wars. Some favorite things would be like you letters, family stories, pizza, working out, football, reading, star filled nights, campfires, science fiction shows( I just became a fan of Dr Who… don’t know why I never watched this before) tomato sandwiches, music that makes me feel.

      • Tanya 3rd December, 2013 at 9:56 am #

        Flaws and tortured souls – I do like the sound of that! To Kill A Mockingbird is a brilliant book – I also loved that. I can totally see why you would love Laura Ingalls Wilder – that seems very ‘you’ – I always associate you with wide spaces and American land.

        I love the variety of your favourite things – especially star-filled nights. They are magical. Thanks, Mark – I really enjoyed reading this!

    Leave a Reply

    Please send me my free ebook and updates