Monday, 13 January 2014

10 books that have stayed with me

I follow a tumblr site called bookporn. This week they have been asking for people to send in ten books that have stayed with them. Off the top of my head, I typed out ten names. If I had to think about it or go through my Goodreads listing I might have a different ten books.
So this is them and this is why… which, I think, is the more interesting question.
10 books that have stayed with me:
1.      A winter’s tale - Mark Helprin.
I have never fallen in love with a book before. I can’t even say what it was that made me buy this one; I think it was the cover with the flying horse? I read it aloud to my then boyfriend and he loved it, too. The story of an older Irish burglar and the girl he met who sleeps out on the roof in the snow. It is utterly beautiful and I must find the time to read it again, soon. Especially before the movie is released and the images I have in my head are replaced by Guillermo Del Toro images. Hopefully that is not a bad thing. Cross fingers.
He has cast Colin Farrell as the older burglar, Peter Lake and Russell Crowe as the leader of the gang the Short Tails, Pearly Soames, his enemy. A story of someone who loves so completely that he stops time for her. The trailer makes me cry. I am so hopeful.
2.      Testament of youth - Vera Brittain
The story of a young woman’s life during the First World War. Coming up to its centenary I suppose. I was maybe seventeen when I read it? I cried, I took up calligraphy and wrote out passages in bad script and I mourned with her for her lost loves and the tragedy of the lost generation of English youth. ‘The flower of British youth lying dead in the trenches’ … I think that was Wilfred Owen?
Unsurprisingly, it is also considered a feminist classic.
3.      American gods - Neil Gaiman
Impossible to describe. What if the gods got their power and their existence from the strength of your belief in them? You move to live in a New World and you bring your old gods with you. How do they survive? What conflicts do they have? The kind of book that one person ONLY read for an entire year and still found things in it that he hadn’t seen before. The kind of book that you could read again and always find something new.
4.      Twilight - Stephenie Meyer
Gah! These books. A world in which the metaphors she uses for love with the Native American boy are the air, the sun but for with the vampire boy? She uses drug metaphors - my own brand of heroin… no prizes for guessing which one she chooses…
She somehow wrote an interesting cast of side characters with great back stories and forgot to do the same for her main characters. I write fanfic to fix them; they are  awful but influential as I now write for myself. I have to give them that.
5.      The fountainhead - Ayn Rand
I feel as if I should apologise for this one and in a way, not. A man who would never sell out; never give away a single part of his principles for any reason… a man who chooses elegance and simplicity over decoration? I like him. I do. Ayn Rand’s philosophy of the virtue of selfishness… I think I even had a copy of it at one time.
Did it help that Howard Roark was played by Gary Cooper in the movie? Absolutely.
6.      The secret garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
My old hardback copy of this one is battered and worn. I sobbed as I read it aloud to my children. I adore this story. The spoiled, horrible brat who comes to a large, heartless home and somehow manages to find her own heart and her uncle’s is a beautiful tale. And she discovers the therapeutic value of gardening. It’s all good.
7.      The magus - John Fowles
His first novel, I believe and an old one 1966. One of those books that you need to read again in order to understand it properly. I do think the Godgame might have been a better title. Nicholas Urfe spends a long time in the company of an eccentric Greek millionaire before discovering that all his psychological games, his paradoxical views on life, his mysterious persona, and his eccentric masques has less to do with  the millionaire and more to do with Nicholas.
A wonderful glimpse of how writing can make it all seem real. The games, the masques, the artifice… I believed it as a reader. It is a powerful lesson to learn.
8.      Tunc - Lawrence Durrell
I am hard pressed to choose a favourite Lawrence Durrell. It took me a long time to realise that this wonderful creature was the annoying eccentric elder brother of the cuddly Gerald Durrell with the books ‘My family and other animals’. He is an expat brat who ended up living in Corfu (with waters "like the heartbeat of the world itself") in 1939 and following the Bohemain life.
I imagine that Alexandria is just like the city he write and clearly adored; the city of his dreams. I fear to go there because it would just disappoint me. A man who was ruled out of the Nobel Prize for literature because of his “monomaniacal preoccupation with erotic complications.” Needless to say, I like that.
Tunc, again, had passages that I wrote out in calligraphy, they spoke to me so well.
9.      The amber spyglass - Philip Pullman (the whole His Dark Materials trilogy, really.)
What is it with me and sobbing? I read this to my children and again, could hardly get the words out I was so moved. These are NOT just children’s books; they really are not. They deal with such powerful things and I guess that is the magic of writing what are perceived to be books for children; you can get away with it.
This is the story of a small girl who goes to the end of the Earth and even kills God to keep a promise to her friend. The first love. And a knife so sharp that it can cut a passage into other worlds.
10.    Inkheart - Cornelia Funke
Another wonderful series of children’s books. Here, special people have a skill; when they read aloud, the characters come out of the book and into the real world. Just imagine it?
The problem is that someone else has to go into the book world, for balance. Meggie’s father Mo, when reading to her, sees her mother get sucked into the book and the bad guys who came out don’t want to go back, so they destroy all the editions of the book to stop Mo trying to read her out again.
That works until Mo and Meggie find the author… Another darker than you think it will be children’s book. But the concept that authors literally made other worlds with their words stuck with me.