It was Jo’s idea a couple of years ago, and now it’s become an annual event – celebrate the first six months of the reading year by putting six books into each of six categories.

Not quite as easy as it looks. I’ve tweaked the categories to suit my reading style, and because I wanted to push disappointments to one site and simply celebrate some of the books I’ve read and the books I’ve discovered.

Here are my six sixes:


Six books illuminated by wonderful voices from the twentieth century

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield
The English Air by D E Stevenson
The Castle on the Hill by Elizabeth Goodge
Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter


Six books from the present that took me to the past

The Visitors by Rebecca Maskell
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey
Turning the Stones by Debra Daley
The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric
Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray


Six books from the past that pulled me back there

Wired Love by Ella Cheever Thayer
Esther Waters by George Moore
Griffith Gaunt by Charles Reade
Nine Pounds of Luggage by Maud Parrish
The Count of Monte Christo by Alexandre Dumas
Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope


Six books that introduced me to interesting new authors

Wake by Anna Hope
Still She Wished for Company by Margaret Irwin
The Lie of You: I Will Have What is Mine by Jane Lythell
Mr Perrin and Mr Traill by Hugh Walpole
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
None-Go-By by Mrs Alfred Sidgwick


Six successful second meeting with authors

The Auction Sale by C H B Kitchin
The Twelfth Hour by Ada Leverson
A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon
Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
Mrs Westerby Changes Course by Elizabeth Cadell
Her by Harriet Lane


Six used books added to my shelves

The Heroes of Clone by Margaret Kennedy
The Serial Garden by Joan Aiken
Portrait of a Village by Francis Brett Young
The West End Front by Matthew Sweet
The Stag at Bay by Rachel Ferguson
Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Boorman


Do think about putting your own sixes – it’s a great way of perusing your reading, and I’d love to read more lists.

A Card from Angela Carter by Susannah Clapp

Angela Carter is another author I formed a lasting relationship with after a first meeting in the library.

It was the library in my home town, not too long after I advanced from the children’s shelves, up the steps, past the huge machines that scanned outgoing books, and into the main body of the library.

I spotted a book named ‘The Magic Toyshop’ on a paperback carousel. What was such a thing doing on the shelves for grown-ups? And why did it have a dark green cover, that looked like a classic, but not the sort of classic I had ever seen before?

I picked the book up, and my life as a reader changed forever.

I had discovered Angela Carter – and I had discovered Virago Modern Classics!

The book was extraordinary, full to bursting point with rich prose and extraordinary ideas, and it was like nothing else i had ever read before.

I found that Angela Carter had written an extraordinary range of novels and short stories. That she had edited wonderful anthologies. That she had written analysis and criticism too. I didn’t love everything, but many of her books would be in contention if I were to ever pack for a desert island.

Nights at the Circus. The Bloody Chamber. Love. The Magic Toyshop. Wise Children.

When she died – at just fifty-one in 1992 – I think it was the first time I mourned the loss of an author, and of so many wonderful things she might have written if only she had been granted just a little more time.

Her literary executor did a wonderful job of pulling her story stories, her dramatic works and her other writings into collections, and publishers have done a grand job keeping most – if not all – of her work in print.

But it wasn’t until I caught a glimpse of ‘A Card from Angela Carter’ in a catalogue that I realised that there had been no biographical work.

I was thrilled that there was something at last. And that it had been written by Susannah Clapp, a close friend of Angela Carter, and her literary executor.

But I must confess that when the book arrived I was rather disappointed. It was very beautiful – and beautiful in exactly the right way for its subject – but it was very small, it was rather thin, and many of those pages were filled by reproductions of those cards that Angela Carter sent.

It didn’t seem enough.

And I must confess that the book disappeared into a handbag for quite some time. I mistook it for a spare notebook and so it took up residence in a bag I rarely use.

I’m trying not to feel too bad about it though, because I suspect that Angela Carter wasn’t the sort of woman who removed all of the contents from her bag and put them in their proper places when she arrived home either.

Last week the book resurfaced and I carried on reading it. And once I had come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t the book I thought it was going to be I decided that I liked it for what it actually was: a personal memoir of a writer and a friend.

The book is structured around a series of postcards that Susannah Clapp, a previous editor of the London Review of Books, received throughout her friendship with Angela Carter.

The postcards themselves say little, but they give the author an opening so that she can step into different points in the past. And then she can recall incidents and conversations; remember her friend’s family and domestic lives; relate views about critics, writing, feminism, politics, publishing …

I couldn’t help but love Angela Carter all the more when I read that she told her literary executor that she could do absolutely anything with her work – even a ballet on ice – to support her boys – her husband and the son who was given to them late in life – except that she could not allow Michael Winner to use it.

This isn’t the kind of book that offers chronologies, or bibliographies, or critical analysis. That will have to wait for the biography, which I believe is on its way.

It offers something far more precious: a picture of a woman who was a friend and writer, that is intimate without ever being intrusive.

And it reminded me why, twenty years ago, I found it hard to believe that an author who had been so very alive was dead.