The OF Blog: The Books of My life

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Books of My life

It is funny how thoughts can haunt and how you can swear that you have done this before, only to fail to find a record of this.  In light of an interesting meme that started with Justin Landon of Staffer's Musings and which has seen participation from Aidan Moher and Rob Bedford (as well as a possible coincidental post, minus any real thought behind it, at another locale), I found myself thinking of a book I read in 2004, Chilean writer Alberto Fuguet's Las Películas de mi Vida (The Movies of My Life in English translation).  I could have sworn that I said something somewhere (maybe I posted it on wotmania years before its 2009 shutdown) about this fine book or that I had at some time written a post that was based on that book's structure.  But it seems that I have not.

So with that in mind, I am going to write a few short entries of books read at important times in my life (or in one case, I'll refer to a review recently published) that have influenced me as a person/reader:

E.B. White, Charlotte's Web (1980)

In 1980, I was nearing the end of my kindergarten year.  I had already learned how to read a little bit, mostly self-taught, according to my mother.  What I really recall was the cartoon made from this book and how I laughed at Templeton the Rat's witty remarks, before crying at Charlotte's death.  I soon got hold of a copy of the book, and its illustrations and words, designed perhaps for a reader a few years' older than myself, occupied my time as I tried to puzzle out meanings.  Although I think there were a few children's books that I may have read before then, this was the first I could recall.

Crockett Johnson, Harold and the Purple Crayon (1981)

Harold and the Purple Crayon was perhaps the earliest fantasy that I read.  I recall first reading it late my 1st grade year (or was it the beginning of 2nd grade?  I know it had to have been 1981.) and losing my self in thoughts of taking a crayon (not necessarily purple) and drawing my way around to new vistas, discovering things along the way.  Although doubtless my parents would rather that I had not done so with the crayons at home, there are still times where I find myself wanting to get out a crayon and just scribble for a while, hoping to discover something new.

Alan Bullock, Hitler (1990)

This was the book that set me along the path to becoming a cultural/religious history of Weimar/Nazi Germany MA grad.  Although in time I came to disagree with most of Bullock's conclusions, over 50 years later, it is still a classic in the field.

Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms (1992)

I enrolled in Honors Western Civilization my freshman year at the University of Tennessee.  This book opened my eyes to what was possible in the field.  Although I recall not getting a great score on my paper on this book, Ginzburg's work has stuck with me for 20 years now.  It was the gateway to my later encounters with Natalie Zemon Davis' works and Robert Darnton's The Great Cat Massacre.  I don't think I would have studied cultural history if it weren't for this book.

Stendhal, The Red and the Black (1995)

For reasons not quite known to me still, this novel, which I read at the beginning of my senior year, is what got me interested more in the possibilities of literature in history than anything else (strange, since two years before, I read and enjoyed Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front for the second half of Honors Western Civilization).

Herman Melville, Moby Dick (Cliffnotes in 1991; full read in 1997)

If it weren't for a conversation that I had with my Cultural History of the French Revolution professor my last semester of grad school, I don't think I would have dared read what has become for me one of the most brilliant books of the past two centuries.  My HS Honors Senior English teacher made it a chore to endure; I ended up reading some condensed notes and not the actual book.  But in talking with my professor about certain literary works, he said that I had to read Moby Dick, keeping in mind that the whaling is a minor part of the story.  I did and he was right.  That was probably one of the turning points in my life as a reader.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince (2000)

It would take ages to tell the full backstory of this story.  At first, it was simply a thought-provoking story that touched upon love and the loss of innocence, but then it became something much more important to me when I met someone who also saw something deeper within the work.  Although I don't think as much about a particular Rose as I once did, I do see a kinship with the fennec.

Gabriel García Márquez, Cien años de soledad (2004)

This was the first novel I finished reading in Spanish.  One day, I'll write a formal review of it, but each time I re-read it, the more layers I unearth.  It is a beautiful, moving work that exists as a concrete metaphor as much as it does as a dream.

There are other books that I could have listed, but those would have merely been redundancies of meaning compared to the ones read first.  Although this may leave some of you dissatisfied and wanting to know more about the connections between certain books and myself, perhaps instead you'll reflect upon the books that you liked as well?

Feel free to share any of those meaningful works in the comments.

1 comment:

Hélène said...

"5 most influential books in my life" ?
1) Tales and legends about Greek mythology : it opened the world of myths for the child I was.
2) Salammbô by Flaubert : I wasn't thirteen yet when I read it and discovered the existence of passionate love with it. I also realized that books had some interesting things to tell about people and life.
3 & 4)Year after that, City by Simak and Lord of the rings by Tolkien opened the door to SFF.
5)Myth and tragedy in ancient Greece by J-P Vernant : here we are, myths aren't only stories to be told but to be analyzed, studied, understood.
These aren't books to carry to the desert island but books which changed something in me. Common point : they opened my mind to new "worlds".

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