Ten Books

I’m not a ‘repost and tag’ sort of person on Facebook. I dislike being arbitrarily tagged in things which are not directly relevant or useful, and have a bit of a weird relationship with Facebook anyway. I tried, last year, not to have Facebook at all, but it turns out that these days, if you don’t use it you can pretty much say goodbye to knowing about events.

One thing that I have taken an interest in recently is the ‘ten books which influenced you’ post which is doing the rounds. I’ve adored reading for as long as I can remember, and was reading well before I first went to primary school. It led me into whole new worlds, and they were my worlds because for all the words can describe a thing, your imagination of it is unique. It’s one reason why I, and probably countless other people, often find films of well loved books rather disappointing. I must have read thousands upon thousands of books in my life, so it’s difficult to remember all of them, let alone pick ten which I consider have influenced me. Every single book I read influences me to some extent, and there are so many ways in which they can do so.

1. The Weirdstone of Brisingamen – Alan Garner

My mother bought me the set of these books for a camping holiday in Devon one summer, and as I recall, I got through the majority of this first book before we even arrived at the campsite. I think it was one of my first introductions to the fictional fantasy world, where magic and wonder can happen to anybody, however ordinary. 

2. The Whitby Witches – Robin Jarvis

I read this series to death. Seriously. I was reasonably familiar with Whitby anyway, even at the age I first read the book, and I loved being able to picture where the events were taking place. It played a part in sparking my love of the seaside town my whole life, fixed in later years with the Dracula connection and Whitby Goth Weekend. 

3. Black Beauty – Anna Sewell

I was very into horses for a long time as a kid, although I never rode other than on holiday. But I lapped up horse stories of any and all kinds, and Black Beauty was, and remains, one of my favourite books of all time. Naturally at eight or nine, most of the underlying themes were more or less lost on me, but to this day one line in particular resonates.

Only ignorance! only ignorance! how can you talk about only ignorance? Don’t you know that it is the worst thing in the world, next to wickedness? — and which does the most mischief heaven only knows. If people can say, `Oh! I did not know, I did not mean any harm,’ they think it is all right.

4. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

I have a bit of a ‘thing’ about all things Wonderland. I can’t really remember when it started, but it must have been pre-eleven because I remember reciting one of the poems at a youth club event in the village, something I stopped being involved with by the time I went on to high school. I’ve re-read it probably about a hundred times since then. A major point of change in my opinion as I’ve grown older is that I used to find Alice quite a likeable character, whereas now I see her as a bit of a belligerent little shit. Which in the case of the story, I don’t see as necessarily a bad thing.

5. Rose Madder – Stephen King

I first read this as a teenager, maybe 14 or 15, when I was into a lot of King, Herbert and Koontz. I remember at the beginning of the book not really understanding why a woman would stay with a violent man. I’d never do that, I thought. I could never be that woman. I thought I knew it all at that age, thought I had life pretty sussed out. The arrogance of youth.   

6. Go Ask Alice – ‘Anonymous’/Beatrice Sparks

I’m not sure how old I was when I read this, but I’m guessing around 16. I think I was still in high school, or had not long since left and I recall it being a lot to take in at that age, particularly for a slightly troubled teen. I’d be interested to re-read it now. 

7. Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk

Honestly, I’ve watched the film now so many times that the nuances of difference between book and dramatisation have gotten too mixed up in my mind to pick apart at this point. One of the troubles of books made into films, although a rare case in which I enjoyed both.

8. True Things About Me – Deborah Kay Davies

This book really messed with my head. It deals with a multitude of themes, from obsession to emotional and physical abuse, and the viewpoint takes you straight into the narrator’s head in a disturbing way. I’d like to re-read this, I’ve only actually read it the once, but I remember how deeply disturbed it left me feeling and I’m not totally sure I want to go there again. It’s on this list because of how very much that one read affected me. It goes towards how I feel about art in general; it should be affecting, it should make you think. 

9. Fiddleback – J.M Morris

Another one which deals with some uneasy themes, and pulled me in a very dark direction, psychologically speaking. When I first read this, I started it on the evening and it creeped me out so much that I couldn’t leave it unfinished and hope to sleep. I sacrificed quite a lot of sleep to finish it the same night. I’ve read it again since, and appreciated it hugely on repeat, although obviously nothing came close to the first time round.

10. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

I was hesitant to place this here, given the subject matter. But it’s a novel I’ve read very recently, and since I started writing again myself, and what struck me most of all about it is how cleverly it is written. It takes some serious skill in that respect to write a character who is so evil, so desperately unlikeable, and who performs the most unspeakable of acts, and present him as, if not a particularly likeable man, at least as someone more pathetic than evil. On a secondary level, the fact that Nabokov’s mother tongue is not the language in which he wrote this makes it doubly impressive, and one of several novels I have read over the past year which has influenced me to return with determination to my language course. 

Interestingly, whilst I started out having trouble listing even ten books which I felt really belonged here, for each of those that I have included I now feel that I could list a further three or more as ‘sub-lists’ for each one. Books which one way or another, and perhaps only to me, are related to each one. I’m not going to do that, since it would likely start a chain reaction and we’d be here all month, but as an exercise that was originally just a time wasting little meme on Facebook, I’ve ended up finding it rather enjoyable and thought provoking to write. 

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