Ten Books

There’s this thing going around on Facebook where people are asking people to list 10 books that have stayed with them. It’s my kind of thing and I’ve enjoyed reading the lists.

I thought I would have a go at it myself. 

As an aside, it felt a little revealing that I didn’t get tagged by anybody to do the list. I’m a pretty overtly ‘booky’ person, after all. 

I think it confirmed for me the way I have always chosen to play social media. I’m there and I'm happy to be involved but I’m not part of any particular collective or cohort. I'm just a free agent, floating around. The thought seems to please me and confound me in equal measure.

Yes… Ten Books.

Ten? There could be fifty, couldn’t there? There’s been so many books down through the years. What I did, I sat down and thought about it for a little while (not too hard) and wrote down ten books as they came into my head. The result is not terribly high-brow or intellectual. I could have chucked in a couple of works of literature or well-thought-of tomes to raise my image a bit but why bother? It’s not like I’m trying to impress my cohort or anything (steady, Ken). Most of the books seem to come from my very early teens, where strong impressions were obviously made.

Also, because it’s my blog, I get to editorialise a little on my choices. In a  number of instances, I’ve written stuff about these books already and, where that’s the case, I’ve thrown in a link to that piece.

The Dice Man - Luke Rhinehart:  I was only a lad and far too young to be reading this. It’s stayed with my because of my perception of it as being uncomfortably ‘adult’ and marked the commencement of a reading and movie-going teen-hood which was always old beyond its years. (more)

Watership Down – Richard Adams: It gripped me and wouldn’t let go. Then it made me cry at the end. Forget the film, which is an honourable failure. This may well be my favourite book. (more)

Jaws – Peter Benchley: Ah, ‘Jaws’. I read it long before I ever heard a whisper of a movie and it may have been the first book I was anxious to get my hands on. I was eleven and my older brother had first dibs on it. Like the Dice Man, it was more ‘Adult’ than I should have been dealing with at that age. But no harm done. (more)

If Only They Could Talk by James Herriot: I think I was initially drawn to these books by the nice Norman Thelwell cartoons on the covers. I stayed for the warm simplicity of the stories within and, as one book cover put it, the ability of the author to tell a story against himself. I do that quite a bit myself.

From Russia With Love – Ian Fleming: I found a battered copy of this in the cupboard and loved how it had stills from the film on the back cover. I was reading Bond before I ever saw him on screen and so I remain drawn to the earthier misogynistic character who lives within Fleming’s pages.

Papillon – Henri Charrière: Again, I was eleven when I read this. I loved the heft of it and the way it had been written in copybooks. The time taken in reading it was like prison time and the concept of hiding your valuables up your ass was one that was hardly going to go away quickly.

The Kenneth Williams Diaries: I keep going back to these and I find it hard to pin down why. The book seems to capture a real life within its pages like nothing else I’ve ever read. The person in there is awkward infuriating and completely inconsistent but full of good deeds and hateful recriminations. 

Deliverance – James Dickey: A rare occasion where I saw the film before reading the book. The novel has all the violence and adventure one would expect but there’s something more too. There’s a musing of what it might be to be a man.

The Karla Trilogy – John Le Carre: I just found these to be an enormously satisfying read. The first one ‘Tinker Tailor…’ exists in many forms on TV and film and I find them all engaging and find new things in them every time they come on.

A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving: I love John Irving and I think this is my favourite of his. Owen is a great character and I think he haunts quite a few readers as well as me.

There you go. If you weren’t tagged you can consider yourself tagged now but only if you want to be.


Jim Murdoch said...

I responded on Facebook just for the hell of it and so people could see I’m still alive. Here were my ten: Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966 by Richard Brautigan, A Time of Changes by Robert Silverberg, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, Knots by R.D. Laing, The Body Artist by Don DeLillo, Puckoon by Spike Milligan, Naïve. Super by Erland Loe. Of course, I added, the list will probably change tomorrow.

Looking at it what’s interesting is that although I read a helluva lot more now that I used to—I expect to read more books this year that I did in the first twenty-odd years of my life (not counting kids’ books and comics)—like you the majority of the books on this list are ones I read in my teens or early twenties; I wonder what that says? I didn’t read a lot back then—it embarrasses the hell out of me—but I did read memorable books and I still have most of them in a cupboard because they’re a bit too tatty to display but I can’t bear to part with them.

Of course as soon as you post a list like this you start to see the things you missed. Like Nineteen Eighty-Four and it’s impossible not to mention Beckett but if I’m being honest his plays have always affected me more than his prose. Notable—and I see the same goes for you—there are no women on my list. This bothers me. I’ve been trying to make amends this year and’ve been reading a lot more women authors but none of them made the cut. Probably because it’s not been long enough for me to know which books’ll stick with me. I suspect Hygiene and the Assassin by Amélie Nothomb might since it’s written almost entirely in dialogue and I have a real fondness for books in dialogue. But I still much preferred You & Me by Padgett Powell and Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggers. And I plan to read Deception by Philip Roth before the year’s out too.

From your list I’ve read Jaws, Watership Down and all John le Carré’s ‘Smiley’ novels so that includes the three you mention. Most of the rest I know from TV and film adaptations; although I haven’t seen Simon Birch Carrie read the book and told me about it in some detail so I feel like I’ve read it. My first wife was very good that way. She was a voracious reader and every day or two I’d come home and she’d tell me about another book she’d read which is perhaps why I come across as better read than I really am and know more about Erma Bombeck than a man my age should.

A part of me is curious to read The Kenneth Williams Diaries but I shy away because—and this is an odd thing for any writer to say—I don’t think I’d like the feeling of voyeurism that would go with the reading of them. Glad Larkin had the wit to have all his burned. I’ve never read anyone’s published diaries. Carrie did by me the first two volumes of Beckett’s letters but I think of them more as reference books than books to sit and read from beginning to end but maybe I will one day.

Marc Paterson said...

I have to do this now :)

This is straight off the top of my head, live as it were.

1. Fight Club
2. Survivor ( same author)
3. 1984
4. Popcorn (Ben Elton)
5. Pet Semetary
6. Trainspotting
7. Better Than Life ( Rob Grant and Doug Naylor)
8. The Well of Lost Plots (Jasper Fforde) This led me onto the rest of his books. Love that guy.
9. Fluke (James Herbert)
10. Lullaby. (Chuck Palahniuk again)

Marc Paterson said...

Look at my list I can also admit shame that there are no women. If anyone it would be Sylvia Plath but I confess I have only recently read her books.Had I read them some time ago she would probably be in there.

Catherine @ Sharp Words said...

Watership Down was going to be the next one on my list but then I realised I already had my 10. Oh well.