Today is World Book Day, and unless you have been indeed trapped in a cave, or a shed (something Room-esque) then you would know this fact.
This week I have been writing hard on my novel. I choose ‘writing’ rather than ‘working’ as writing a novel does not always feel like work and this is a subject that I am in an on-going battle with. One I proud to say I am now winning. It is always important, as a writer, to remember that writing is working. Sitting in front of a computer day by day, watching the word count mount up and my patience down is one of the hardest jobs I have ever done. But, it is my absolute favourite. It is the job I was supposed to do, the job I have been waiting my whole life to take on once I could finally wrap my head around the fact that it is a job.
Clementinum Library, Prague
Reading is an extremely important part of being a writer. Now this one is harder to justify – but there is justification – that lying on your back on a hammock for the day reading is also work. Stick with me. True, reading is a great pleasure and enjoyment, but it is also part of my job to read as much as I possibly can whilst churning out my own novel. In devouring every genre, everything that is considered great, good, not so good, and pants, I am continuing my literary journey and at the same time hoping that my own work in doing so might not be total drivel.
Drivel – like the many “Best books in the world” and “50 books you need to read” lists that you see in abundance – today especially. In literature, as with everything else in life, there are the greats and there are the not so greats, but there is so much in-between, and as with every other creative genre, comparison is not black and white. What surprises me is that the people who make these lists seem to want to speak for everyone – ‘this is what you should think of as a good book’. If they entitled such lists as “According to me” that would be fine, but they never do. Reading is subjective – and in creating these lists instead of assuming a position of authority on the subject they are in fact making themselves appear rather naive. When you study literature and these supposed ‘greats’ you do not compare one with another, but rather aspects – style, storyline, character. And you do so to enjoy discussion – not to say which was better. I promote discussion about books wholeheartedly. Reading the novel itself is just one part of the process, and in discussing it only then do you being to uncover what it was really about. We all read. And yet it is surprising that people spend more time discussing what they ate for dinner (along with countless instagram photos) more than they do the book they are reading. One of the reasons for this is that there are so many books out there – finding someone who has read or is reading the same book is often no easy task. That is why book clubs and online reading communities such as Goodreads are so great. And that is why I started my own book club ‘Cup Of Coffee Book Club‘ – simply to gather a little group of like-minded people who might fancy reading the same thing, and have a chat about it.
So in order to both commemorate World Book Day and to cease my witterings that have now become close to rantings, I am presenting five books that shaped my life. These are not my favourites necessarily, but each presented to me something that a book had not done before. Plainly said – they changed my life in some way.
Truman Capote – A Capote Reader
As someone who has read all of Capote’s work, it was this initial collection that hooked me. Capote’s short stories are remarkable, and were my first real introduction into the genre. I was so compelled by every aspect of them that I studied him throughout my degree and they have in turn influenced my own work greatly. Twisting the Southern Gothic with his influences as part of New York’s high society, Capote is the true master of character. He hooks you with their quirks and charm within a few of his resounding descriptions, and his characters really do live on well beyond the page. Not many people haven’t heard of Holly Golightly from his infamous Breakfast at Tiffanys, and this novella along with his essays and observations sit among his short stories in this remarkable collection. I devoured this book, and then I devoured in again, and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
Virginia Woolf – A Room Of One’s Own
This was the first and only book that I have read from cover to cover in a book shop. We were studying it in university at the time, and I set out to get my hands on a copy. I could only find it in a huge anthology, and began skimming the first few pages quickly before planning on finding another book store. Two hours later and I was still nestled on a bean bag in the centre of the busy book shop. Firstly this is an extended essay and if you have ever read any Virginia Woolf you will know she could write 300 beautifully crafted pages on paint drying (she wrote a short story entitled ‘The Mark On The Wall’ which is quite similar to the subject of paint drying) and present it to you in such a way that has you enthralled. The fact is, no one can be so politely articulate about something they want to scream from the rooftops as well as Woolf. This was the first feminist text that I had really ever read, and is as relevant today as it was in 1929. She created a philosophy on the creative spirit in general but specifically in a woman over the course of this essay, and is so powerful and intellectual it really leaves you slightly changed just in reading it. “Damn the patriarchy, find your own way and your own voice in life, seize the day, just DO something. How dare you waste the opportunities that so many others would have died to have.”
Sylvia Plath – The Bell Jar
When I read The Bell Jar I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what I was reading. Plath’s poetry has always struck me as dark and conflicted, despite being beautiful, and yet The Bell Jar seemed the opposite. It starts light, amusing, and is the tale of the everyday worries of a girl. Nothing dark – just boys, clothes, food. But what is astounding is how delicately this simple tale unravels over the course of the novel. You don’t notice a lot of the unraveling until it is too late and it has gone too far. You believe that, along with her mother and everyone else in society at the time, that she isn’t crazy – that it is circumstantial. And then you doubt yourself. What you are left with is exactly the message Plath seeks to give about the grey area that is the mind. It is semi-autobiographical, and both a feminist text and a novel about psychology. But the most astounding thing about Plath’s novel is that when you put it down you realise how dark it really was all along. And how conflicted. All just masked very well in a story about a girl.
George Orwell – Down and Out in Paris and London
Another semi-autobiographical novel, this book is a tale of a struggle, of travel, of a culinary adventure, and of poverty. It explores the underbellies of both cities, and the reader learns some very sobering Orwellian truths about society and what it really is to be poverty stricken. I found it fascinating and it has always stuck with me. As both a writer and a traveller it is interesting to discover the struggling story of one of the literary greats, and his journey to becoming the published creative talent he became. Whether it be the tale that influenced his writing, or if infact his writing influencing this tale, it is intriguing from both aspects and a book that I will return to again and again.
Audrey Niffenegger – The Time Traveler’s Wife
This book had me hooked. I often found myself unable to put a book down, but with this one I literally couldn’t. I read it over Christmas one year, and don’t remember much about the turkey or the family, but I remember everything of how I felt as I tore through this book. What really struck me then about this book, and strikes me even more so now as a writer, is how intelligently weaved the story is. It was the first book I had ever read that had the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it style that ran through its entirety – and it is 500 pages! As the reader you have to work hard and pay attention. And I felt completely in awe of the writer the whole way through, as to how well written and well imagined it was. If I can write something half the length that delivers the same passion and imagination that Niffenegger has then I will be very proud.
I hope you enjoyed this snapshot into my reading journey, and if nothing else I hope it has encouraged you to discuss literature in some way – and maybe even join a book club! Reading is a personal thing, and for that is a salvation – a form of meditation. However in discussing books we learn more and grow. And what better day to start than World Book Day when the world become one great book club.
What books have inspired you, or changed your life in some way?