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Holiday Book Bonanza ’09:
Elleke Boehmer

By Kirsty McHugh, OUP UK

It has become a holiday tradition on the OUPblog to ask our favorite people about their favourite books. empire writingThis year we asked authors to participate (OUP authors and non-OUP authors). For the next two weeks we will be posting their responses which reflect a wide variety of tastes and interests, in fiction, non-fiction and children’s books. Check back daily for new books to add to your 2010 reading lists. If that isn’t enough to keep you busy next year check out all the great books we have discovered during past holiday seasons: 2006, 2007, 2008 (US), and 2008 (UK).

Elleke Boehmer is Professor of World Literature at Wolfson College, Oxford and is internationally known for her research in postcolonial writing and theory, and the literature of empire. She has written or edited five books for OUP: Scouting for Boys, Empire Writing, Nelson Mandela: A Very Short Introduction, Empire, the National, and the Postcolonial, 1890-1920, and Colonial and Postcolonial Literature.

My favourite books keep changing their line-up, with new number ones jostling for attention in phases, depending on shifting interests and moods.

As far as my favourite children’s book is concerned however I will always come back to LM Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, 101 this year, which I must first have read aged about 11 and like so many bookish provincial girls the world over related to at once. As the tale of the parentless redhead who grows up with elderly Matthew and Marilla in Canada’s smallest province, Prince Edward Island, where the soil is as red as her hair, Anne is the ultimate ugly duckling girl’s story. What young teenage reader of that era, I wonder, would not have identified with harum-scarum Anne in her quest for family, friendship, poetry and love, in roughly that order, and who succeeds in that quest without losing her charm and her propensity for falling into ‘scrapes’? I certainly identified, with a vengeance, to the extent that, aged 17, I railroaded and cycled all the way from Toronto to PEI in order to see Anne’s island for myself.

My favourite book for adults at the present time is another story about a child, this time a boy, JM Coetzee’s Boyhood, the first in his ‘self-cannibalizing’ trilogy (to quote Zadie Smith) Scenes from Provincial Life. Boyhood presents as a fiction, in memoir form, as some of the scenes appear to emerge from phases in the writer’s life, and for this reason it currently obsesses me. It is an apparently linear description of childhood that constantly eludes, sidesteps and undermines the reader’s expectations of the child self being presented. This autumn, rereading Boyhood for what must be the fifteenth time, taking it sentence by sentence, I’m trying to get to grips with how the straightforward narrative of growing up can imperceptibly, within the warp and weft of the style itself, be made to seem so complicated.

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