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.

Influential Books

List time: books that influenced me. Influence is defined as either life-changing or transformative in reading patterns (which equates to the same thing). These are roughly in time order. Later I may explain what changed as a consequence. Here’s the list:

  • Wyss’s Swiss Family Robinson
  • Dicken’s Great Expectations
  • Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice
  • Kem Nunn’s Tapping the Source
  • Winston Graham’s Angell, Pearl and Little God
  • Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London
  • Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment
  • Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums
  • J. P. Donleavy’s The Destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman
  • Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land
  • Bruce Sterling’s Artificial Kid
  • Sartre’s Nausea and Being and Nothingness
  • Kierkegaard’s Either/Or
  • Proust’s Rememberance of Things Past
  • Roger Deakin’s Wildwood
  • Alberto Manguel’s The Library at Night
  • Mann’s The Magic Mountain
  • Woolf’s The Lighthouse
  • Joyce’s Ulysses
  • Josipovici’s Whatever Happened to Modernism?

Seven Random Things

At the wonderfully named Dada doesn’t catch flies, one of my favourite bloggers has challenged me to share seven things things about myself. I normally shy away from such invitations but reluctantly accept the proposition, perhaps it will be therapeutic.

  1. A highly nomadic childhood and commuting long distance to various boarding schools meant accruing a lot of air miles. At eleven years of age I became the youngest recipient of the Cathay Pacific 100,000 miles flown certificate.
  2. Near my boarding school was a communist bookshop. Every Saturday for at least two years I stole a book, the first being Mao’s Little Red Book. Sometimes I fool myself that the owner knew and let me get away with my crimes. I still feel guilty. Sorry.
  3. The first author that inspired me to read his complete oeuvre was Robert Heinlein, followed closely by J. P. Donleavy.
  4. Inspired by J. P. Donleavy’s tales of his home country, I spent three months in Ireland, hitching north to south and east to west.
  5. For reasons I can no longer recall, as a teenager I was drawn to the Middle East. Setting out with three hundred pounds, I spent nine months hitching through Spain, to Morocco, and then through Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, then to Cyprus and Greece. The current turmoil has resuscitated my fascination for the region.
  6. After returning from this supposed ‘gap year’, for all sorts of reasons that made complete sense at the time, I did not go back to university. I have regretted this at leisure. It is the source of my autodidacticism.
  7. My talisman book, that I have read so many times that, in a sense, I am always reading it, or thinking it, is Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea.

Discovering Buechner’s Godric

A delightful post about Frederick Buechner’s novel, Godric, has introduced me to a writer I did not know and a book I think I will enjoy. Its period accords with Beowulf and the Anglo-Saxon poetry (The Wanderer and The Seafarer) that I have been enjoying so much this year.

The fragment that Christy (A Shelf of One’s Own) quotes of the narrator, “puddling my way home like a drowned man from dark Wear with my ballocks shriveled to beansize in their sack,” reminds me a lot of an author I once read compulsively, J. P. Donleavy. Sadly, Donleavy is little read today.