Ten-ish books that stayed with me…

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.

Alan Lee's version of Minas Tirith.

Alan Lee’s version of Minas Tirith.

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

6 thoughts on “Ten-ish books that stayed with me…

  1. I think being well read has little to do with how many pages you read or how many books you’ve gone through. In my opinion, it is about how much you have digested through reading or by how much you’ve learned. There are plenty of people I would call well read who don’t read a lot, because each book (despite how few they get through or how slowly they read) shows them something new and something that they develop from.

    I would say that I’ve read say… Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, even though I listened to it on audiobook. I learned from it, enjoyed it and retained its message. But I didn’t physically pick up the book and read line from line.

    It’s an interesting question. I really think you can be well-read just by taking on a books meaning, even if you haven’t read the book itself. For a start, what is the definition of well-read? Is it simply the habit of reading a lot? Or reading with purpose? Or reading only classics?

    • Hello and welcome! And yes I think you’re onto something there. Once upon a time you weren’t considered well read unless you memorised your particular sacred text/s (and some cultures still believe this) so it is not about numbers. As for Hitchhiker’s you could watch, read and listen to every version and get something new because they are all different. One of my favourite quotes/stories is about how Joseph Campbell handed out his reading list for his class at the start of the semester and the entire class groaned as it was very long. And he laughed and said it wasn’t for the semester, it was for the rest of their lives. At least that’s my version of the story:)

      • Have you ever read The Name of the Rose? It really hits the nail on the head about your point above with reciting texts. Since education has become more accessible, there has been a huge shift in the way that people have read and what reading means for each individual person. It is no longer about spouting lines but about understanding the full package of the book and its implied or stated meaning.
        That’s a lovely story about the list, I would have loved to have seen it. I find that there aren’t many lists that have a nice balance between classics, fictions, ya etc. It’s all classics and while that’s great, there needs to be a mix once in a while!

  2. Of your list, it’s Hitchhikers Guide that sticks with me. I saw the tv series long before reading the ‘trilogy’. Something about Douglas Adams writing really resonated with me and the news of his death upset me more than any other creator. For most I hear the news and immediately think about something else. DNA’s passing profoundly moved me. I fought back tears at the thought that I would not be able to enjoy any new creative works from him.

    Sorry, not really an answer to your question, but for some reason it prompted my reaction.

    Hi! BTW, coffee in the city sometime?

    • Agreed. I miss his ‘voice’ interpreting the world. Every time a stupid pay point thingamy speaks to me in a supermarket I can’t help but think the Sirius Cybernetics group is responsible. And coffee in the new year, sounds good.

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