A Idea Bubbling Away

What remains of fiction read in our most formative years? An atmosphere, certain sentences, some nuances of character, memories anchored in the place and time a book was read. A quarter of a century after reading a story I still retain not-quite images, not-quite sensations, but definite specific memories. A woman sitting on a thistle in order to fix a memory; a teenager-who would become a junkie-coming to Swiss Cottage to meet his sister; a man hidden underground while spies search overground for his traces, each memory almost as real as if they had happened beyond the pages of a book.

I read differently in those days, before the internet, when I relied on browsing and serendipity to lead me from one book to the next. When I read something that made the world feel charged, made me see, hear, sense the world around me in new ways, I read and reread, often reading a book three or four times in a row, and again after a few month’s break.

Those books, which wouldn’t fill much more than a typical shelf make me curious. Some of them are almost certainly poorly written, many riddled with cliché, some maybe ideologically unsound, but what would it be like to return to them now, to re-explore those early encounters?

Would it be awful, inadvisable to put together a short reading list? It would be primarily a list of male writers, curated not to allow an imbalance of science fiction. There would perhaps be some William Gibson, a Patricia Highsmith, maybe Kingsley Amis, Trevanian, Winston Graham, Iain M. Banks, Kem Nunn, maybe a Neal Stephenson, almost certainly a Richard Allen or two, perhaps Anne Tyler, Paul Theroux, J. P. Donleavy, Douglas Coupland or Nicholson Baker and Margaret Atwood. (There is also a very long list of those I know I couldn’t stomach again.) This is probably a rotten idea. I hope it goes away.

Fallen Literary Heroes

Prabuddha Dasgupta: Longing

A roll of fallen literary heroes: John Updike, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Iain Banks, further back to Robert Heinlein and Paul Theroux, now, perhaps, joined by Haruki Murakami. Writers whose work once replied to inner urgent whispers, now induce a gelid indifference. Is it that the stream of human events, deaths, loves, sadnesses, journeys, alters our literary needs so that once cherished books cease to offer cathartic release? Or is our literary sensitivity attuned by a higher nutrient diet, purged by Samuel Beckett, J. M. Coetzee and Virginia Woolf? Who are your fallen literary heroes?

The World is a Book

A few days ago I asked, “What are your favourite literary travel books?” Thank you for your suggestions, added to mine below to compile a quintessential shelf of travel literature:

  1. Flaubert in Egypt: A Sensibility on Tour – Gustave Flaubert
  2. Rings of Saturn – W. G. Sebald
  3. Travels with Herodotus – Ryszard Kapuściński
  4. The Air-Conditioned NightmareHenry Miller
  5. Songlines – Bruce Chatwin
  6. The Motorcycle Diaries – Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara
  7. On the RoadJack Kerouac
  8. In Patagonia – Bruce Chatwin
  9. Pictures from Italy Charles Dickens
  10. Collected Travel Writings: The Continent and Great Britain and America – Henry James
  11. The Roads to Sata – Alan Booth
  12. The Way of the WorldNicolas Bouvier
  13. Into the Heart of BorneoRedmond O’Hanlon
  14. A Time of GiftsPatrick Leigh Fermor
  15. Hokkaido Highway Blues – Will Ferguson
  16. Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It – Geoff Dyer
  17. Falling off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World – Pico Iyer
  18. Riding the Iron Rooster – Paul Theroux
  19. To Noto: Or London to Sicily in a Ford – Duncan Fallowell
  20. Angry White Pyjamas – Robert Twigger
  21. Arabian SandsWilfred Thesiger
  22. This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland – Gretel Ehrlich
I’ve added the new suggestions to my wish list and anticipate reading them with genuine pleasure.