15 London Books in 15 Minutes

Kate’s Book Blog offered a challenge I thought fun:

Rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.

I’ve adapted the meme to London, rather than Kate’s Toronto.

  1. Iain Sinclair – London Orbital
  2. Iain Sinclair – Lights Out for the Territory
  3. Peter Ackroyd – London: The Biography
  4. Patrick Hamilton – Hangover Square
  5. Martin Amis – London Fields
  6. Zadie Smith – White Teeth
  7. Robert Louis Stevenson – Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  8. Julian Barnes – Metroland
  9. Ian McEwan – Saturday
  10. Charles Dickens – Oliver Twist
  11. Will Self – Gray Area
  12. Neil Gaiman – Neverwhere
  13. Jules Verne – Around the World in Eighty Days
  14. Arthur Conan Doyle – The Adventures of Conan Doyle
  15. William Gibson – Pattern Recognition

Is it cheating to include two Iain Sinclair books? It would have been easy to fill half the list with Sinclair’s books. My edition of Lights Out for the Territory, with the enigmatic photography of Marc Atkins, is somewhat reminiscent of Sebald.

15 in 15

Via Anecdotal Evidence, I enjoyed a 15 minute indulgence in a tweaked literary parlour game: “name the fifteen books that have most influenced your thinking, that you have found yourself referring to most often in reflection, speech, and writing.” No apologies for for an odd mix:

  1. Gustave Flaubert – Madame Bovary
  2. Gustave Flaubert – Sentimental Education
  3. Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Crime and Punishment
  4. Harold Bloom – The Western Canon
  5. Richard Powers – The Time of Our Singing
  6. Jean-Paul Sartre – Nausea
  7. Alberto Manguel – The Library at Night
  8. Søren Kierkegaard – Either/Or
  9. Marcel Proust – In Search of Lost Time
  10. Fyodor Dostoyevsky – The Idiot
  11. Christopher Alexander – A Pattern Language
  12. Roger Deakin – Wildwood
  13. Alan Flusser – Dressing The Man
  14. Julian Barnes –  Nothing to Be Frightened Of
  15. J. P. Donleavy – The Ginger Man

These are the first that came to mind. Sixteenth would have been Mark Helprin’s A Soldier of the Great War. Where is Philip Roth, William Gibson, Robert Heinlein? Of course, ten years ago the list would be different, as it will ten years hence. On reflection I am bemused that Nabokov and Beckett did not make the cut. In a couple more weeks, Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain may prove an omission.

My Reading Years

My insatiable appetite for reading was borne from scarcity. Growing up in the Far East, the local bookshop thrived off the sale of potboilers: Arthur Hailey, Wilbur Smith, Ed McBain. Thirty years ago, the latter two writers formed a significant part of my early reading consumption.

During my years of formal education, my taste evolved into science fiction, particularly Robert Heinlein and Kurt Vonnegut. William Gibson and Neal Stephenson followed. Discovering Dostoyvsky and Kafka in my late teens changed my literary landscape. Crime and Punishment and The Metamorphosis were jump leads that accelerated my reading. Throughout my twenties I read omnivorously, with an insistence to finish every book I started: Proust, Nietzsche, Sartre, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Chekhov, Balzac, Maupassant.

Entering my thirties, bruised after a disastrous first marriage, I motored at a more sedate pace. Enthusiasms during this period are a source of blushes today: Nick Hornby, Iain Banks and John Updike. Eventually I drifted away from reading fiction, partly as a consequence of a heavy Masters reading list. Instead I read economics, history, travel, biographies and architecture.

Today, having crossed decisively into my forties, my taste for reading fiction is revived. My inclination though is resolved to read better, to spend time only on what is, or might be, worthwhile. I drift easily from essays, diaries, biographies back to fiction. I reread little, putting this off for another time. My hunger for the unread is intense. As I read I create myself.