10 Most Influential Books – Part 1

This is a bit of a departure from my usual sort of post, but it seemed like such a pleasant thing to do that I thought I would ring the changes.   I was tagged by Emma over at A Wordless Blogger  to take part in writing about the 10 Most Influential Books in your life, which was started by Leah at The Perks of Being a Bookworm.  Having never been tagged before I found myself ridiculously excited at the prospect.  It also seemed like a good fit, as I think it’s a positive thing to look at books that have shaped you; hence it’s in keeping with the ethos of this blog, which is to write (mostly) positive things.  It’s also inadvertently become the ethos of this blog to never use one word where ten will do, so I’m splitting this challenge into 2 posts. So here we go: The first 5 of 10 books that have influenced me, as I thought of them today.  I’m sure if I wrote this post tomorrow I’d come up with a different 10, but onwards we go!

Middlemarch – George Eliot

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(Image: http://earlywomenmasters.net/dickinson/a_garden_tis/imaginings/slides/middlemarch_eliot.html)

I’ve blogged about this before – badly.  Middlemarch is my favourite novel ever (it’s the one I’m holding in my gravatar image) and as result I find it nigh on impossible to discuss, because I can’t get any distance.  I just adore it, and to me it has everything – love, death, humour, tragedy.  Eliot captures life by looking at a small Victorian town and its inhabitants.  It can be an intimidating read: a massive Victorian tome, but if it speaks to you, you’ll love it.  Don’t just take my word for it, Rebecca Mead’s The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot documents her changing relationship with the novel throughout her life, how it offers different things to readers at different times.  Which reminds me, it’s about time I re-read it….

“the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs”

Small Island – Andrea Levy

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(Image from: http://100books.co.uk/andrea-levy-discusses-her-novel-small-island-for-bbcs-world-book-club)

I’ve blogged about this novel before, too.  It changed the way I view my world, so it has to be on this list.  I grew up in London, decades after the Windrush generation had arrived.   I knew there had been a massive wave of immigration to the UK after World War II.  I knew that the UK had begged these workers to come, and then crapped all over them from a great height.  I grew up in a multi-cultural city that I loved, and went to school with kids whose parents and grandparents came from all over the world.  As the Windrush generation ages, I cared for some of them in my capacity as a healthcare professional.  I thought I had a fairly good understanding of what happened, but Small Island made me feel it like never before.  To leave your family and friends and come to a cold grey country which has promised you a grand welcome and instead treats you appallingly because of the colour of your skin.  To live in this country all these years and for it never to feel like home.  The Windrush generation are dying – talk to them now, hear their stories while you still can.  And read Small Island for a better understanding of why and how Britain is as it is today.

 “You wan’ know what your white skin make you man?  It make you white.  That is all, man.  White.  No better, no worse than me – just white.”

 Complete Works of Shakespeare

Shakespeare-Othello-16x9-1

(Image from (http://www.sky.com/tv/show/othello)

OK, so I’m cheating.  This is 39 plays (or so, debate continues), sonnet sequences, longer poems, and so on.  But he’s the love of my life, you can’t expect me to be objective about the love of my life, surely?  I survived the terrible teaching methods that cause most people to despise Shakespeare, and he’s been alongside me ever since.  If I could only have one book for the rest of my life, this is the one.  It’s all I need.  Here is Prospero’s speech from Act 4 Scene 1 of The Tempest, which many interpret as Shakespeare’s farewell to the stage.  Read it and weep, people:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

The Weir – Conor McPherson

This play was revived recently in the West End, but the tyranny of finals meant I couldn’t go.

I was so disappointed not to see it again, as it’s no exaggeration to say this play changed my life.  Until I saw The Weir, I liked theatre, but I didn’t love it.  So many people love theatre that I knew I was missing something, but I didn’t know what or how to get it.  The Weir gave it to me.  It was magical.  It held me suspended, as great drama does, in that space that the audience occupy when you’re trying to remember to breathe.  It showed me how intimate and enchanting theatre can be.  And once my eyes were opened, there was no going back.  Being in the audience of a theatre is one of my favourite places in the world.  I’m hoping to do postgraduate study from September, looking at dramatic literature and the theatre.  I’ve forgotten to breathe many times in the theatre since that night, but it was The Weir that started it all.

“He took two big slices off a fresh loaf and buttered them carefully, spreading it all around. I’ll never forget it. And then he sliced some cheese and cooked ham and an onion out of a jar, and put it all on a plate and sliced it down the middle. And, just someone doing this for me. And putting it down in front of me. ‘Get that down you, now,’ he said. […] And I took this sandwich up and I could hardly swallow it, because of the lump in my throat. But I ate it all down because someone I didn’t know had done this for me. Such a small thing. But a huge thing.” 

Complete Cookery Course – Delia Smith

Delia is not my favourite cookery writer.  She’s not even close.  Her stuff is not inspirational, or even particularly interesting.  But her Complete Cookery Course is a bible for a secular foodie like me.  It’s got all the basic recipes, and it’s still the one I go to if I want to remember the right proportions for Yorkshire pudding, or pancakes.  I still use her Christmas Cake recipe (with a few tweaks) every year.  For the basics, she’s reliable.  There are no gimmicks: you know where you are with Delia.  I love cooking, and a lot of my “first goes” were from this book when I was growing up.  Here she is telling you how to make an all-in-one sponge cake.  This is why we need Delia (although I’d use butter, never margarine):

Part 2 of my 10 Most Influential Books to follow soon!

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19 thoughts on “10 Most Influential Books – Part 1

  1. Interesting. I’ve never heard of Small Island before, but it sounds like it could explain some puzzling things to people from outside the country. One of my parents’ friends is a 90-year-old Polish man who has lived in London most of his life. We think of him as English, and notice that he still thinks of himself as Polish.

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  2. I went to see ‘The Weir’ when I was in London back in March- I got a really cheap ticket up in the gods and was looking down at the stage from a great height, and my hearing isn’t as good as it once was and I really struggled to hear what was being said, particularly the female actress. had to read up the bits I missed afterwards! Won’t make that mistake again…

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  3. I always wondered what the book was in your gravatar, the mystery is revealed! I may or may not have found myself squinting at it and turning my computer in an attempt to read the spine several times.

    Some really interesting choices here, I’m curious about Middlemarch because although I’ve heard of it I don’t know anything about it. I might have to look into that one! Small Island sounds fascinating too, although I think I will be steering clear of the Shakespeare. 😉

    I’m looking forward to part two!

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    • I’ve never been mysterious before, and now I’ve ruined It! But I’m glad to have limited the risk to your computer 🙂

      Small Island is very readable, if you don’t fancy ploughing through Middlemarch anytime soon, although of course I highly recommend them both!

      Are you sure I can’t tempt you to some Shakespeare? Maybe just a little sonnet or two? 😉 Just kidding – I know he can be a nightmare!

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      • Hahaa, my computer will be eternally grateful!

        Noooooo way. I’ve never gotten on with that guy, Romeo and Juliet scarred by teen self for life. I really wish I could like his work, it almost makes me feel like a failure of a bookworm!

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  4. I love this post! Interesting choice of books that have certainly piqued my interest (haven’t read any of them aside from the odd Shakespeare play). I do own a copy of Middlemarch but the size does put me off somewhat….

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    • It can be like that with massive books can’t it? I can see The Luminaries from out the corner of my eye, I moved it to the top of my TBR pile but I’m still trying to make a start!

      I actually originally started Middlemarch precisely because it was huge – I was revising for exams, and thought if I started a big book I wouldn’t get caught up in it & have to finish it until after exams. Let’s just say that plan was deeply, deeply flawed…

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  5. YES! So pleased that you’ve got Billy Shakes in there! I haven’t read all his plays, and I keep putting off tackling some of his histories… But I’m a sucker for his sonnets. Have you got a favourite play/sonnet? I shamefully haven’t read Middlemarch and it’s desperately on my TBR. Maybe one day I’ll get round to it!

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    • I always change my mind about favourites, but Twelfth Night/The Tempest/King John are definitely up there – I like my comedy with a dose of darkness! The sonnets – I really like the ones about aging, I think they’re just beautiful. Do you have any favourites?

      Middlemarch is fantastic, but it can feel like a big commitment when you’re gazing at your TBR, because of its length. When i read it I whizzed through it though, as I loved it so much 🙂 If you get round to it, I hope you love it!

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      • I admit I rather like his comedies! As You Like It is amongst my favourites! I’m a sucker for his love sonnets. Sonnet 148 is my favourite, ‘O me! What eyes hath love put in my head’.

        I’ll let you know if and when I get round to reading it! I’m trying to tackle more of the classics this summer actually, so maybe I’ll pick it up. 🙂

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  6. I love the theatre but it can be really difficult when you sense that parts of the audience aren’t as into it and break the spell.

    My favourite Delia story is the one about a little cookware business that was going under after many years. One programme she waved around a small frying pan or similar and said ‘This is the best I’ve found for this type of dish’ and the company was literally turned around overnight. I believe that, to this day, if she recommends an ingredient it flies off the supermarket shelves.

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