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Best-sellers and old favourites

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Nuala Nuala | 16:07 UK time, Thursday, 17 June 2010

Hi Jan,
It's always exciting to find out what other people's favourite books are and to see if you have any titles in common with them.


It's also interesting to learn about books you might never pick up in a bookshop until you hear they're someone you know's favourites. I fall into the latter camp with you because I haven't read any of the books you mentioned. Indeed, apart from The Forsyte Saga and How to Stop Worrying and Start Living', I hadn't even heard of your top books before. And here's me thinking I read quite a lot!

I think I have more in common with our commentator Mariay because The Secret Garden and To Kill a Mocking Bird are two key books for me from my childhood and teenage years.

When I was 7, every afternoon for about a week my school teacher would gather all of the primary 3 pupils around her desk to read us The Secret Garden. It's the first book I really remember, and though I can't for the life of me remember my teacher's name, I have incredibly vivid memories of hearing the tale of Mary and Colin and being completely captivated by their life in the rose garden.

To Kill a Mocking Bird was also a school book I remember with great fondness. I read it when I was about 16 and thought it was a brilliant read - opening my eyes to novels which tackled big subjects like prejudice, justice and revenge - as well as introducing me to the completely other world of the southern USA. It's 50 years since the book was first published and to commemorate that, here's a BBC article entitled Why is To Kill a Mocking bird so popular?

My most recent reading includes a couple of best-sellers and one complete unknown. I don't know if the Stieg Larsson 'Millennium Trilogy' has been a huge hit where you are but these three Swedish books have taken Britain by storm. I saw the film of the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, picked up the second book ,The Girl who Played with Fire , and just couldn't put it down. It was a real page-turner. It's a very violent book - not something I usually like - but somehow in this fast-paced thriller, it works.

The second best-seller I've read recently is The Road. A beautifully haunting book by Cormac McCarthy. It tells the tale of a father and son trying to survive after some kind of unnamed apocalyptic event. It's a very simple story but told in amazingly poetic language. It's gripping and incredibly moving. It's also been made into a film but I haven't seen it yet. Think it's unlikely I will because I have such strong images in my head about the characters and the landscape I don't think I want them disturbed by someone else's version.

My current book is one that I picked up in a second-hand shop. Lots of people here shop in charity shops, and Rosie from BBC Learning English is addicted to shopping in them. Here's Rosie on what she calls 'chazzering'

I was in a charity shop last week and I picked up a book called Tethered by Amy MacKinnon. Why? This is Amy's only book and I'd never heard of her. The title didn't sound too interesting. But the cover? Well, that was another thing entirely. Now I know we're not supposed to do that - judge a book by its cover - but the picture just really drew me in. And in this case judging the book by it's cover worked a treat for me. I only bought it a few days ago and am already nearly half-way through. It's the story of a woman who works in a funeral home and, though it's not quite clear yet, there's a ghostly feeling to the whole thing. I think either she's actually dead or some of the people she meets in the story are, or maybe the whole world Clara inhabits is the world of the dead. I'm not sure. But no matter, I'm completely riveted by it. Have a look at Amy's website (to find details of the languages this book has been translated into) and you can see the cover that hooked me too. Although the book I've got is the British version, it actually has the French cover (the one with the girl with the flowers scattered around her head).

Turning now to look at the language aspects of your most recent posting, I thought we'd do a bit of tense revision. In particular I'd like to concentrate on the past simple and the present perfect. And I thought we'd look at some vocabulary items too.

Past simple and present perfect
I'm sure you know the main difference between the past simple and the present perfect tense but I think it's worth highlighting a couple of rules here to remind ourselves how each tense works. The little bit I know about Russian (and from talking to some of my colleagues in the BBC Russian Service), I've gathered that the English tense system in general is difficult for a lot of Russians speakers, and the present perfect in particular is tricky because in Russian, you'd use a past tense to express what we use the present perfect for.

So to re-cap on a couple of rules.

1. We use the past simple for actions that are completed and which happened in the past.
We create the past simple by adding 'd' or 'ed' to the base form of regular verbs (walk - walked, live - lived). But there are also a lot of irregular verbs too (come - came, buy - bought, cut - cut).

Some key words that flag up a past tense include:

10 days ago
in the past
last week/month/year

For example:
He worked in a hotel in the past (but he works in a shop now).

They got married six years ago.

2. One of the uses of the present perfect is to talk about something which began in the past but which continues up to and including the present.

We create the present perfect with has or have and the third part (or past participle) of the verb (he has walked, they have drunk, we have swum)

Some key words that flag up the present perfect include:
all my life

For example:
He's worked in that shop for ten years.

We've been married since 2004.

So, your next homework task is to decide which of the options in brackets is the correct one. Most of the sentences come from your last posting. I hope you don't mind that I've edited some of them a little bit so we can concentrate on the grammar rather than on vocabulary or spelling here.
1. All through my life books (were / have been) my best friends.

2. While I was at school I (had been reading / read / have read) a lot.

3. When I was young, every time I (started / have started) a new piece of writing, I (was / have been absorbed).

4. (I've read / I read) all Remarque's books.

5. When I was a teenager, (I've re-read / I read) the 'Three Comrades'.

6. Honestly, I (had been thinking / have been thinking) about my own business.

7. (I learned / I've learned) from it how to present myself.

8. As you can see, (I've always been / I always was) interested in books.

9. After reading his novels, I (started / have started) to write my own short stories.

10. Dale Carnegie's book (was / has been) exactly the right book at the right time.

Here are a few vocab items from your blog that I thought you'd be interested in looking at.
Rather than saying
1. My mom is guilty of it.

We'd say:

It's all my mom's fault.


My mom's to blame.

When we use guilty it tends to be like this:

My mom feels guilty about it.

2. Rather than:

During all my life ...

it's more natural to say:

Throughout my life ...


All my life...

3. A rich young man ... who despises a high-society.

High society (two words, no hyphen) means rich people, or people from higher social classes. For example, She belongs to high society and spends her time on yachts and going to parties.

High-society (one word, hyphenated) is an adjective we use to describe people or things. For example, a high-society party or a high-society wedding.

So your original sentence could be improved like this:

A rich young man ... who despises high society.


A rich young man ... who despises the high-society life style.

4. I still couldn't understand the character

is an improvement on:

I still couldn't find out the character.

5. You could improve:

When I'd risen in my work

by saying:

When I'd been promoted at work


When I'd risen to a higher grade/ post in my work

That's all for now. I'm sure I'm not the only one reading you blogs who'd love to read some of your short stories too. What language do you write in and have you been published at all? I'm sure your stories are very lyrical and beautifully written. Best of luck with them.

All the best,


I fall into the latter camp - I belong to the second (of two) groups presented
I can't for the life of me - It's very difficult or impossible for me to
vivid memories - clear memories
captivated - extremely interested, excited or charmed
read - usually read is a verb but here when it is being used as noun, it means something you read, like a book
tackled - dealt with, addressed
prejudice - treating someone differently because of their race, religion, sexuality, etc.
revenge - punishment given to someone because of the harm that they have done to someone else
commemorate - celebrate and remember
couldn't put it down - (of a book) that's so good you don't want to do anything else but read it
a real page-turner - (of a book) that's very engrossing or interesting
apocalyptic - showing or describing the complete destruction and end of the world, or extremely bad future events
a second-hand shop - a shop which sells things that aren't new, things that people have previously worn or used
a funeral home - a business that prepares dead bodies to be buried or burned
riveted - not be able to stop looking at something (or here, reading something) because it is so interesting or frightening
hooked - enjoying something so much that you aren't able to stop having, watching, doing (or here, reading) it


  • Comment number 1.

    Hi dear Naula , It 's my second comment . my frist comment unlucky suddnely disapeard :0 . Thank you for sharing your favortie books . I specailly likes Tethered , Although hope not to be too frightening ! Like you I prefer to read novels than watching their movies although most people prefer movie !


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