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May 30th, 2009

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10:56 am - Ten formative reads
I have been thinking about formative books ('books which made me'), after posts by Martin and Niall and others on theirs. calapine also posted a meme some time ago, which was something like 'List 15 formative books - take no more than 15 minutes thinking about them'.

Here are 10 books of that kind. Thinking about this brought up a couple which were really important to me but I haven't really blogged about before.

The Tale of Samuel Whiskers by Beatrix Potter

Comet in Moominland by Tove Janssen

Hiawatha by Longfellow
I was pretty young - 8 perhaps - when I read this novel-length poem in very heavy trochaic tetrameter. I had no idea it was not the type of thing to read. I think almost any young kid would like it.

R is for Rocket by Ray Bradbury
I think it must have been 'R is for Rocket'. It was a short story collection which included 'The Golden Apples of the Sun' and 'A Sound of Thunder' - my dad owned it. I know Bradbury has his detractors but I thought this was really well written.

Red Shift by Alan Garner

More than Human by Theodore Sturgeon/ Watership Down by Richard Adams
To make this a list of 10 I have amalgamated these. I love books like this about bands of comrades.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The first 'literature' novel I read - to my surprise it was good

Fire in the Lake by Frances Fitzgerald.
This was an early account of the Vietnam war, first published in 1973 (I read it a year or so later). Some people think it is conservative/essentialist ('Asian people think like this...') while others think it is radical/loony lefty ('The Viet Cong were an effective force working from a coherent philosophy, not from evil'). It introduced me to Marxist theory, cadre politics, anti-imperialism, and east-asian philosophy. I don't know how it would stand up to a re-read.

The Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology. I think it was the 1959 edition.
A comprehensive overview of a wide range of mythologies from around the world. I just can't begin to judge how great an impact this had both on my imagination, and in making me feel that all religions are contingent. If my parents had had any idea they would have banned me from reading it. I think this was the single book which shaped my childish mind.

The Inheritors by William Golding.

ETA - Oh, I thought of another one, which very strongly influenced my imagination:
Chocky by John Wyndham.
A young boy has a resident alien telepathic intelligence inside his brain. I found that imagining I was describing the events of my life to an imaginary alien really livened up boring schooldays.

(10 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:May 30th, 2009 10:13 am (UTC)
I did a list of five of these yesterday (not on livejournal) and had Comet in Moominland as well.
[User Picture]
Date:May 30th, 2009 10:16 am (UTC)
A wonderful book, with a real sense of building menace. My kids love it too. What else was on your list?
[User Picture]
Date:May 30th, 2009 10:34 am (UTC)
(Deleted and reposted to fix formatting.)

Mm, moomins and apocalypses, how could it not be formative?

The list was in rough order of the age at which I first read them... takes me through to 16 or so, I have more trouble thinking of things that were formative after that.

Comet in Moominland
The Prisoner of Zenda (Anthony Hope)
The Man Who Was Thursday (G.K. Chesterton)
Love's Labour's Lost
Arcadia (Tom Stoppard)

All English men apart from the Moomins. I wonder whether that's partly because I've seen them as entries on other important-books lists and they've lodged in my brain as "ah yes, that would be on mine too". I might try to make an all-Australian list, or a list of books which I'm sure I haven't seen on anyone else's list.
[User Picture]
Date:May 30th, 2009 09:26 pm (UTC)
The Prisoner of Zenda (Anthony Hope)

Oh yes! I think my primary image for "passion" is still Rassendyll answering Sapt's question by crushing a red rose against his lips...
[User Picture]
Date:May 30th, 2009 04:12 pm (UTC)
I hadn't thought of Chocky in years! I remember reading it, and feeling haunted, though I don't actually remember it. My formative Bradbury was The Martian Chronicles.

As I think about my own most formative books, I realize very quickly that the list diverges quite a bit from "favorite" and "best" lists. And I'm wondering if "haunting" has some relationship to "formative."
[User Picture]
Date:May 30th, 2009 04:38 pm (UTC)
yes, it's not favourite books, but ones which gave me new ideas I think. I also notice how many of these were my father's books, or books he read to me, which is nice because we haven't always got on so well. But he's a real SF buff.
[User Picture]
Date:May 30th, 2009 06:21 pm (UTC)
(just a visitor coming over from dfordoom)
That made me smile as "Comet in Moominland" and "Wuthering Heights" were exactly the first two I thought of when I read "formative books" :)
[User Picture]
Date:May 30th, 2009 07:02 pm (UTC)
Ha, excellent. I think Wuthering Heights surprised me because it's a genre story in classic literature guise.
[User Picture]
Date:May 30th, 2009 10:15 pm (UTC)
that's funny, for me it was the other way round! I was a stuck-up 15 year old despising everything "below" Beckett and Sartre, and it took me years to understand that this trashy novel with the trashy cover Wuthering Heights was nothing to be ashamed of!
(today you'd need to pay me a lot to read Beckett or Sartre but to be honest I'm still having the occasional wet dream starring Heathcliff)
[User Picture]
Date:May 31st, 2009 09:15 am (UTC)
What a fab list. I'm going to do one.

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