My Adolescence In Books

These books were first read at various times between 2001-2006. I have frequently re-read them. With the exception of the Book, these are the books that have had the greatest influence on me during (what I suppose could be called, in the light of my limited experience,) my formative years. There were many others, but these were the ones that had such a hold on my imagination that when I look back, I can almost see the marks. I experienced the thrill of discovery when I found myself reflected in many of these, and I suppose the simple affirmation that comes from finding a form of yourself in something else has been a force that has shaped me too.


The Water-Method Man by John Irving is genius-level hilarious, and excellent even when it’s not outright hilarious. I actually only discovered how funny it was when I was older. I think the bulk of the humor went over my head when I first read it, but I was touched by the characters. Cuthbert Bennett says, ‘I don’t know what I started with. I just said, “I’m living like I want to,” and that was a start. Later I became a Photographer, but I still think of myself more as just a Living Man…’ In many ways, that ‘Living Man’ became an early model for me. What did it mean to be Living Man? I think the question was always at the back of my mind in some kind of shape. I think it still is, even after I’ve realized that the question was meant to stay there.

The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus isn’t fiction. Its subject is philosophical, and it’s beautifully written (although I have to say that it was impenetrable at first reading). There are optimists, pessimists, pessimists who are optimists deep down, and everything over, under and in between. Where I am was at least half decided when I read this.

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron eventually became my EE text in 2008. My use of language was very much influenced by Styron’s. I’ve been exposed to a lot more styles over the years, but this was the first major influence I was old enough to be aware of. In terms of the writing, I was struck, even during my first reading, by how extraordinarily conscious Styron was (or seemed to be, because I hesitate to be sure,) of everything in the novel. I suppose this defined what I thought was one of the things a novel would ideally be.

The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie was where I came across the phrase ‘the primacy of happiness’. It was when I first considered the idea, although I suppose that might be overstating how conscious I was of it, inasmuch as it was a little bit of a stretch of my vocabulary at the time. It was one of many glittering phrases Rushdie throws around, and I suppose the manner in which so many things caught the light and sparkled was something of a stark contrast to what I’d read up to that point.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien is the first book on this list that I remember reading, and, because it’s a paperback, it’s in pretty bad shape. I bought the HarperCollins film tie-in edition in the November of 2001 and immediately started reading it outside the store at Parkway Parade. The MPH there was replaced by Borders some time ago.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli was one book I used to be able to read with much less self-consciousness than I could do now. The emotional message is clear, but it would be difficult to articulate it, although it involves star-stuff, individuality, (lots of) love and the interconnectedness of the universe. I remember reading it almost as seriously as The Myth of Sisyphus. What does it mean to have ‘no ego’? Later, when ideas like that came up in Hesse’s Siddhartha, it was somewhat amusing.

The Sum Of All Fears by Tom Clancy was the first of many Jack Ryan novels I read. I suppose that underneath the technological jargon and geopolitics, Good and Evil were clear-cut. Perhaps Jack Ryan’s philosophical doubts and moral dilemmas were just never very convincing, but that didn’t stop him from becoming something of a hero model right up there with Luke Skywalker.

Up On Cloud Nine by Anne Fine

Why You Act The Way You Do by Tim LaHaye is non-fiction.

A History of Amnesia by Alfian Sa’at is Poetry.

City of Rain by Alvin Pang is Poetry.

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  1. 31 March 2010 at 1:30 am

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