Spiralling off this Facebook post…
choose ten books that have influenced you and then tag ten people… because it’s a challenge!
… I really began thinking about my relationship with novels.
As an English Lit student, I’m probably expected to have an all-encompassing grasp of the modern literature scene. In fact, my university course introduces me to most of the new reads I encounter; meanwhile, on my bookshelf, are the favourites from my studies, or more likely, the tomes that first appeared to me in childhood or adolescence.
Below, I’ve forced myself to pick only ten, and described firstly how I discovered them, and why I love them.
• Milan Kundera, ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’
Slavonic Studies university course. Four characters, two inter-relationships, and a dog which is the symbol of hope. For me, Kundera perfectly summarises the conflicting feelings of guilt and joy which characterise love. He christens this ‘lightness’ and ‘heaviness’. An intrinsic part of the text is attempting to work out which polar you function under. (I take things weightily.)
• Sylvia Plath, The Collected Poems
High school English class. Some may class Plath as obsessively morbid. Although she committed suicide, it is important to view her art as something separate from herself (as she wills the audience to in the poem ‘Words’). Plath made a huge impact on me at secondary school with her lyricism, self-examination and personal writings. For each exam I have to learn quotes by heart, yet Plath’s are the only ones which have remained with me indeterminably.
• Roald Dahl, ‘Matilda’
Childhood, the film before the book possibly? God knows which came first: Matilda-book or Matilda-film? Whichever one, I can attest that I was unhealthily obsessed with the screen version. The VHS span on repeat; I would sit transfixed by Mara Wilson, then glance at the remote control, begging it to budge. (It didn’t). For birthday or Christmas, my small hands tore open the massive, brick-like Roald Dahl trilogy: ‘The BFG’, ‘Matilda’ and ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’. It’s still in my bookshelf.
• William Shakespeare, ‘Othello’
High school English class. Whether it was an amazing teacher or the artistry of the text, this Shakespeare play has remained my favourite. Not primarily an examination of unrequited or unrealised love, Othello’s tragedy is his naivety; his destruction at the hands of a masterful manipulator. Rather character cutting, I was left in a state of perpetual mistrust of all those around me.
• Alasdair Gray, ‘Poor Things’
University English Literature course. Set in Glasgow, my adopted academic home, ‘Poor Things’ is a real illusion (yes, that’s the paradox) of a contemporary Frankenstein, a story that twists and lies irretrievably beyond comprehension. A postmodern retelling of Shelley’s novel, the epistolary narrative remains, however the location of Gray’s tale added a golden nostalgia for me, a proud Scottish reader. I now live in hope that I’ll bump into Alasdair and not collapse with literary admiration.
• Anne Frank, ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’
Childhood, a present from my grandmother. When I was analysing my bookshelf to choose my ten reads, I had forgotten about the effect this novel must have had on my own writing. The only non-fiction on this list, it should be a must-read for any adolescent female. Teaching me about the worth of a diary, the perils of puberty and the harshness of life, my only wish is that this narrative would have been allowed to continue.
• David Greig, ‘Dunsinane’
University English Literature course. Funny, challenging, paradoxical, inventive: these were my thoughts after simply reading Greig’s text. Two years later, I spotted an advert for the performance and immediately snapped up tickets. Literarily subverting, dark, lyrical, this text is politically relevant and personally questioning (see my actual review for a plot summary – click on the image below).
• Audrey Niffenegger, ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’
My own discovery. After reading ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ and writing my English personal study for High School on it, I decided to explore Niffenegger’s following offering. The history of two sets of twins, young and old, manipulating and innocent, American and English, made for a fascinating, unputdownable read, and what’s more, it’s a ghost story. (A nice one though, not scary, I don’t do those). In my opinion, this is a much easier and more feel-good read than TTW, plus it is FAR less cheesy.
• Frank Beddor, ‘The Looking Glass Wars’
Childhood, a pocket money purchase I shall never forget. Marketed as the alternative ‘Alice in Wonderland’, Beddor creates a parallel looking-glass world, adopting all Carroll’s concepts and redesigning them in a completely believable way. Can’t even explain it. Just read it, it’s far too brilliant for its own good.
• James Robertson, ‘And the Land Lay Still’
Shamefully stole this from a bunkhouse. A tome of Scottish time, national pride, personal histories, Glasgow, Edinburgh, mining towns, coastal escapes… Critics state that it’s the “first epic since Alasdair Gray’s ‘Lanark'” and the horological and historical span attests to this. Weaving personal and parliamentary, emotional and empirical, every Scot should read this. The text may have a distinct Nationalist flavour, but this should not deter the neutral. Appreciate the language, savour the scenes, soak up the speech of the Scots space that swirls through each sentence.
Thoughts? Go all Facebook-y if you like and try this yourself. I’m not usually a huge repost fan, but anything bookish…!