I’ve been busy recently and this has meant that I haven’t finished that many books and those that I have finished I haven’t felt particularly motivated to write about. However, I did read the rather wonderful The Weight of Numbers by Simon Ings and have just started Dead Water, his new novel which seems similarly excellent so far. Anyway, normal service will be resumed shortly with a post on that. I’m doing today’s post really just to take the pressure off myself.
Anyway, this is a wee post about how my reading developed over the years (yes, one of those; feel free to skip). It’s probably skewed a little towards stuff that I read over and over when I was a child, but that’s partly because I’d struggle to list a small number of things that I’ve read in the last 10 years or so, regardless of genre.
The Twits – Roald Dahl
I’d imagine that a lot of children grew up reading Roald Dahl. I certainly have plenty of good memories of reading his stuff over and over again. Almost everything was pitch perfect, though I think that The Twits sticks in my memory the most. Like I say, I’m sure this doesn’t particularly set me apart, but given that I have happy memories of reading this and George’s Marvellous Medicine as a five year old, I think that it’s fair to say that his place in my affections is well deserved. Just a shame that, by some accounts, he was a complete bastard. Still; he gave the kids what they wanted.
A couple of years back, I was given Matthew Fitt’s Scots translation of The Twits, The Eejits. This, of all Dahl’s books, lends itself particularly well to a Scots translation, I think. Writing this further reminds me that I also have a SF book, in Scots, by Matthew Fitt on the TBR, But ‘n’ Ben A-Go-Go.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass – Lewis Carroll
This is another early reading memory for me. I read Alice first around the time I was getting into Roald Dahl’s fiction. I think that if I were to attempt a top 10 (or whatever) this would have to be in it. While I loved Roald Dahl when I was a child, I’ve no particular desire to revisit that stuff now. Alice, however, rewards frequent re-reading. Carroll’s creation casts a huge shadow of literary and filmed culture. If you’ve never read it, why not? It really is deserving of classic status. For work that draws on it, I’ve most recently enjoyed Bryan Talbot’s excellent Alice in Sunderland. Which I got signed recently. He’s a lovely man – he drew all of us a character from the book in the stuff he signed along with the inscription.
Red Shift – Alan Garner
Actually, it was a bit of a toss up between this and The Moon of Gomrath. I read all of Garner’s kids books 20-odd years ago and, despite not revisiting them until Weirdstone was reprinted in a 50th anniversary edition last year, their influence on my reading has been immense. Much like Alice, though they are aimed at kids, I was able to enjoy Weirdstone as an adult. Over the next few months, I will try and revisit more of his work.
There were, naturally, plenty of other books that I read as a boy which had in their own small way an influence over my reading. Some I’ve just forgotten, others there are other reasons for me not really counting them in this. For example, I read – and enjoyed – the Narnia books. But, given that I thought that the Aslan/Jesus thing was just a bit heavy-handed when I was ten, I hate to think how that would sit with me now. Anyway… forwards!
Of Time and Stars – Arthur C. Clarke
This is a short story collection from Clarke’s. It contains several well-regarded stories by him, including The Nine Billion Names of God and The Sentinel, which grew to become 2001: A Space Odyssey. If I’m honest, this isn’t the best anthology that I’ve read and, though I still enjoy some of Clarke’s stuff, I’ve moved on quite a bit. This is important for me because my Dad had (probably still has) a beat up paperback copy of this that I read many times. It was this that first introduced me to SF for adults and, thus holds a special place in my heart. Similarly, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was an early in to SF for me and I’ll brook no criticism of it! None!
Crash – J.G. Ballard
This is odd in this list. I actually hated it and it put me off Ballard for a good number of years. I had read Empire of the Sun and thoroughly enjoyed it when I was around 11 or 12. Hungry for more, I sought out some more Ballard. Unfortunately the first one that I picked out from the library was Crash. I should have probably realised that I would be better advised going elsewhere in Ballard’s oeuvre when I picked up the book as the edition that Cumbernauld Library had at the time was this one:
None too subtle, eh? With hindsight, I think it’s clear that I wasn’t really ready for this at the time. It’s only really been in the past few years that I’ve been revisiting (and thoroughly enjoying Ballard).
Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
In truth, my enthusiasm for this book has waned somewhat. Not to say that it doesn’t contain interesting ideas, of which I am sure you are aware. This deserves a place here simply because between the ages of around 13/14 and 24/25, I read it at least once a year. Not so much now; but it has certainly earned a place in my heart.
The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick
Self-explanatory, really. I had read some of his work before, but it was this that confirmed me as a proper Dick-head. I sometimes feel that the whole ‘Dick couldn’t write for toffee’ thing is a little overstated (though some of it is laughable), my love of his work has led me to forgiving some appalling prose.
Nausea – Jean-Paul Satre
While studying, I had let my fiction reading slip a little. After graduation, I got back into it again. I had been reading a few classic literary works in my teens and had decided to pick that thread up. There was plenty that I loved and continue to hold in high regard but for some reason, this sticks out for me. An existential classic, but I remember it more as coming from a time when I was rediscovering reading for pleasure.
The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
Like Alice, this would be for me a definite inclusion in any ‘my favourite books’ list. A satire on the Soviet Union, Satan visits 1930s Moscow. This is untouchable and a must for any fan of literature. Bulgakov wrote more in his lifetime, but this towers above everything else. This, in truth, has no other significance for me other than it is fucking awesome.
Altered Carbon – Richard Morgan
This isn’t my favourite SF book (or, indeed, my favourite Richard Morgan novel – that would be Black Man). Much as Nausea got me back into reading fiction in general, it was this that started me back on SF. Having stopped reading fiction for a few years, I’d drifted away from the SF scene a little and lost track of what was going on. This reignited my passion and I haven’t looked back since.
So, there it is. An entirely unnecessary insight into formative reading. Normal service to be resumed soon.