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
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
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 while you still can.
“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
(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!