I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I just haven’t been reading enough. It is one of my goals for the year, but in amongst everything else it just seems to keep slipping. I find myself really struggling to get into anything new.
Which led me to pondering the question of which books have really touched my life. Perhaps if I can understand the things I’ve loved in the past, it will help me better choose what I want to read now. Once I started thinking about, it was tougher than I thought it was going to be. After all, how do you define such an impact? In the end, everything I selected met the following criteria: I have read them multiple times; they led to me doing something new or different and when I think about them, I instinctively feel they are comforting and familiar.
Only one on the list is non-fiction, so I’ll start with that.
David Allen, Getting Things Done
Perhaps this is the book that has had a direct impact on my daily life more than any other. I read it at least twice a year. I fall off the waggon about as often. But since I first read it, I have been able to organise my life and achieve way more than I would have otherwise. It allows my brain to feel less frantic in the work world, which is a gift in itself. Mind like water is still the goal.
Aiden Chambers, Dance On My Grave
I remember getting this book from the library when I was about thirteen or fourteen, venturing into the teen section. I didn’t really spend much time in the teen section as I moved straight to adult fiction fairly quickly. Yet this book about crazy, unpredictable, teenage love and the lengths it will make you go to when you lose it, opened my eyes. It also gave me the defining moment of what I wanted to have done after my own death, because I thought how useful:
“popped into the burning fiery furnace and reduced to manageable proportions, to whit: five ozs of fine grey ash, suitable for the making of egg timers”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Perfect writing, and memories of eating mint matchmakers at Christmas while reading story after story. I still do it most years. I’ve always been a little bit in love with the Holmes of the books, rather than the caricature of TV and film (Jeremy Brett excluded, obviously).
C.S Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia
I am forever grateful to my parents for buying me the complete Chronicles of Narnia as a box set.
Mainly I’m grateful because I read The Magician’s Nephew first rather than The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, so the magical wardrobe made entire sense to me. I’ve been getting annoyed with people who haven’t ever since. It was probably this that gave me my first love of fantasy and the concept that reading could make you escape into another world. Probably still couldn’t read the scene where Aslan is killed without crying, either.
Anne Rice, Interview With A Vampire
A quick jump into much darker elements of fantasy. My Dad had a copy of this on the bookcase and it was probably the first of many things I read when I was too young. There were pretty strict controls over age appropriate TV in my house growing up, but books were (mostly) fair game. If anything, this book taught me the importance of voice; the narration throughout this book feels so authentic, you feel like you are there.
Barbara Vine, A Fatal Inversion
Interestingly, I think I watched the TV series of this before the book. Certainly whenever I read it, I picture the actors, even though they don’t really resemble the descriptions in the book. That being said, I have honestly lost count of the times I have read this. There is no doubt it influenced my dreams for impossibly long, hot summers and aspirations of freedom. Not murder though.
Michael Connelly, The Poet
Finally, this book was a gift for my 21st birthday. By then I was neck deep in an English degree and books had been sucked of all joy. I really didn’t enjoy reading at all. I couldn’t just read any more, I had to analyse. It was a bloody awful time. Then my Mom & Dad got me this book (have you got the sense yet of how big a thing reading was in my house growing up?) and it had nothing at all to do with anything that could be related to a course. It was a modern thriller and a way back into enjoying crime. I read it in more or less one sitting. It made me remember why I loved reading for reading’s sake, not just to pass an exam. It also got me back into enjoying crime fiction and mystery after a time away.
So, I’ve just taken that trip down memory lane and I’m not sure if it helps or not. It certainly doesn’t narrow things down to author or genre. I suppose I’m just looking for characters I can engage with, voices that are authentic and plots that I can’t predict. I’ve also realised I’m in much the same slump as I was back at university. I spend so much time editing these days (both work and personal) that I feel like I’m just seeing the words, never the story itself. It’s probably going to take a really good book to shock my brain out of that state again.
I just hope I find it soon.
Anyway, I can obviously recommend all of the books above if you haven’t read them already. If you have anything that you think can break through the ice in my brain, then leave a rec in the comments and I’ll gratefully take a look.