Yet another list thing is going around and I’ll do my bit by listing 10-ish books that have stayed with me in some way, but only because I should be thesising or something. So here goes:
1) Little Match Girl. First story I ever read by myself. It was in the school library.
2) Wind in the Willows. Chapters stay with me rather than the entire book. Parts of this are the nearest thing to a poetic sense of the numinous as any writer has ever aspired to in a novel. And I won’t hear otherwise.
3) Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. Theology, history, writing and publishing. Conspiracy theories. Italian and South American politics, secret societies, academia, a murder mystery and psychoanalysis, narrated through a detached post modern reflexivity all wrapped into one very self-indulgent romp you need an arts degree to get through. Also was on the reading list for my arts degree. It remains my go to re-read.
4) Lord of the Rings. I’ve heard the arguments about the depiction of women, and about the archaic language. I know all of that. But still. Lord of the Rings and in fact all of them, including the Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales made high school bearable.
5) Nicole Krauss’ The History of Love. Unputdownable and apparently now a bit hard to find but worth it if you do. A book about books, authorship and love. In some ways tonally reminiscent of the Shadow of the Wind, which suddenly is also on this list. How did that happen?
6) China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station. More phantasmagorical than fantasy, fuelled by a certain predilection for the style of a Psychedelic Poe in an alternate world peopled with the half-familiar and utterly Other. It took me a year to read, but it’s haunted me ever since.
7) Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. I’d heard the radio plays (on repeat) before I read the book/s. For all the flaws its influence is with me still.
8) Poppy by Drusilla Modjeska. Modjeska’s novel is a revelation – if ever you want to interrogate what you write as you write it, this is the template.
9) Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Took two attempts to read this. First time I didn’t think it was in English and didn’t get past the first few pages. The second time I realised it wasn’t in English, but it still made sense. Honourable mention to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.
10) To the Wild Sky by Ivan Southall and the sequel A City out of Sight, but Ash Road is good too. High tension and lives at stake stuff. If you want to write for young adults you could do a lot worse than imitate Southall. While I’m at it the golden age of Australian young adult authors rocked, what with The Nargun and the Stars by Patricia Wrightson and the works of Colin Thiele and Victor Kelleher. From the UK The Owl Service by Alan Garner left an impression as did short stories by US writer Robert Silverberg, but I can’t recall the titles. So I need a separate list for young adult/youth literature.
This is my question: can you be considered well read if you know the stories but haven’t read the books? How many of those lists of 100 books you must read have you looked at and gone, yeah, I know the story because of the mime/film/play/puppet show/animation/TV series/musical/interpretative dance/ etc? Before high rates of literacy people knew stories. That was the bit that mattered. Do we need to read Dickens to know Oliver Twist? Is a film of a musical version of a gigantic novel adequate to know Les Miserables?