This was originally a facebook post, but due to its length and for its posterity I thought I’d throw it on here. :)
This is an insanely long ramble about books, but the people who don’t care will read none of it and the people who do will read all of it. So I have no need to apologise for it.
The ever-wonderful Frankie Enticknap said I should do a list of 10 books that educated/improved/whatevered me in the name of spreading a love for books. I couldn’t possibly turn down that offer. I feel like this list is going to focus primarily on books that have educated me in terms of writing itself, since those are the ones that have had the most profound effect on me. So, in no particular order:
1) FANTASTIC MR FOX — ROALD DAHL: So Dahl was a really big part of my childhood. I think he was probably the first author that I really clung to, what with his penchant for messing about with language and creating amazing characters, especially in combination with Quentin Blake’s illustration. Fantastic Mr Fox stands out for me because I read it over and over again as a child, and it has a brilliant mix of pathos and humour: the plot is in league with Wile E. Coyote in a sense, as the farmers focus all of their efforts on a single cunning fox. Although I never understand why the secret underground society of foxes and moles and rabbits so happily dined on chickens…
2) MORT — TERRY PRATCHETT: You can do that with books, huh? I was introduced to Pratchett at a fairly early age — about six or seven, far younger than perhaps I should have been — and he’s been a huge influence on me. I chose Mort for this list simply because it was the first one I read. This was what made me love wit and satire.
3) THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY — DOUGLAS ADAMS: You can do THAT with books? Really? Is he in jail? He’s dead? Oh.
Hitchhiker’s is interminably silly yet also skeweringly clever. He takes convention, rearranges the letters and gets MOUSEDOLPHINVOGON. Absolutely a must-read. The trilogy is kinda long, but it flies by. I read this at the same time as Pratchett despite it being significantly longer.
4) VANITY FAIR — WILLIAM THACKERAY: I mean, it’s Vanity Fair. That’s usually enough for most people. But it gets on this list mainily because it redeemed Victorian literature for me. I’ve always found Dickens a bit turgid at points, but Vanity Fair is keen in its satire and genuinely hilarious.
5) TORTILLA FLAT — JOHN STEINBECK
6) THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT — JOHN STEINBECK
7) THE GRAPES OF WRATH — JOHN STEINBECK
Guess who my favourite author is. I’m not sure I’m even allowed to have several books by the same author on this list, but Steinbeck has been such a huge part of my life that I had to include all three. In summary, these books have been the grounding for the wild fantasy of Pratchett and Adams, ruthless in their realism and dark in their themes. Steinbeck is an author but also a poet: efficient, concise, yet evocative. He impresses me most, however, with his endings — they’re oddly satisfying in the sense that there is no real conclusion, but such a lack of conclusion perfectly mirrors real life. READ STEINBECK AGH YOU MUST!
8) THE BELL JAR — SYLVIA PLATH
9) THE CATCHER IN THE RYE — J.D. SALINGER
No, Plath wasn’t Salinger in drag I swear. I’ve grouped these two together not because they’re by the same other, but because they hit the beautiful and ideal mid-point of the spectrum I’ve hinted at. If Pratchett and Adams are wildly fantastical, and Steinbeck is starkly realistic, then Plath and Salinger combine the two. You won’t believe me if you haven’t read it, but The Bell Jar is a surprisingly funny book. Both of these books are riddled with dark humour, which renders a true-to-life environment while creating highly engaging characters. Plus these two are fairly short so you’d zoom through them AND YOU REALLY SHOULD
10) MRS DALLOWAY — VIRGINIA WOOLF: We’re at 10 already? Serves me right for including three Steinbecks. But anyway — I haven’t even finished Mrs Dalloway and it’s already pushed its way on to this list, narrowly beating out ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and Orwell’s ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’. The reason that Woolf triumphs, however, is her syntax. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It’s like that clichéd image of trying to catch a bar of soap in the shower. It’s like a living thing. It’s like you’ve just jumped out of a window with James Bond but on the way down you’re having a discussion about the economic situation of Albania. It’s so rich and condensed and wonderful and I’m going to be studying it this year I think. YES must read more Woolf