My dislike for Facebook is at times mitigated by the posts from some of my favorite people. While I will avoid vacation and children photos like the plague – what is it with wanting to showcase an unrealistic and totally skewed (better) version of our lives? – I will stop for the informative, the provocative and the occasional dog video.
Our friend Eddie C entered my life through sofabrother, at a time when we all lived in London in utter penury. If at all possible, Eddie and sofa brother were even poorer than us, yet I have fond memories of fun Sunday afternoons together, drinking Pimm’s Cups and chomping on Sainsbury’s meringues. Of the foursome, Eddie is the only one still living in London and I haven’t seen him in twenty years, something that will be remedied in a couple of months when I will visit. He is definitely the man about town and, through his friendship on Facebook, I get to see glimpses of the London he sees.
Recently Eddie tagged Sue and I in a post in which he challenged us to list the Ten Books That Stayed with Us. Like most people, I find the orderly appeal of lists irritatingly irresistible.
First, I looked at the challenge as an opportunity to dust off that education my parents generously payed for but that would have been cheating. A book that stays with you is not something lost in the obscurity of our university annals but one that comes to mind immediately. So I quickly jotted down the titles of the first 10 books that popped into my mind and only later did I go back and asked myself why they came to the surface. These are not necessarily books that changed my life – but can a book even do that? I think books can change our perspective on life and these particular ones stayed with me for a multitude of reasons: because they did change my way of thinking or because they were just really really good stories.
- War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy. My desert island book. In its “five million” pages it contains the whole of the human condition. Rereading it every decade or so, since my first reading at 16 when I skipped all the war sections, also gives me an insight into how my perspective on life has changed.
- The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. sofagirl convinced me to read it and I was so glad I did. It might not be as inventive and all-encompassing as “Cloud Atlas” but the story is more lyrical, deeply affecting and downright wonderful. Through this book, which also offers an in-depth exploration of the Japanese culture before it opened up to Western influences, I became a David Mitchell convert, and can’t wait for the new book, The Bone Clock, out in September.
- The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis. Still a young effort and not his best, if compared to his later production, but I read it while steeped in the classics of English literature and it opened my eyes to a new breed of living and breathing contemporary English literature. Been a fan of Mr. Amis ever since. I also have a fondness for this book because it was part of my thesis, and Mr. Amis was very kind in answering my letter and inviting me to his house to discuss it.
- Orlando by Virginia Woolf. Not one of her masterpieces but I read it when I was still a teen and it was my first eye opener as to how different sexualities can be expressed. I would like to think I would have never grown up fearful or suspicious of different sexual orientations but this is the first book that really made me think about the subject.
- A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. I do love long books when the story is as good as this one. My formal introduction to Indian contemporary fiction and that fatalistic quality that is its trademark.
- Ada by Nabokov. English was not Nabokov’s first language and that someone could not only master a second language to such a degree but then be so bold to use it in such unexpected ways gave me the confidence to experiment with words, to place them in unexpected contexts. My notes in the margins of its dog-eared pages also remind me I was smart once – or maybe just pretentious.
- A man by Oriana Fallaci. Italian journalist and novelist Oriana Fallaci was fearless, opinionated, talented and utterly unapologetic. A good role model to have when you are growing up. This particular book is a fictionalized account of her love affair with Greek revolutionary Alekos Panagoulis, whom she contends was murdered by the Greek junta. Later in life, she came to be mostly known for her criticism of Islam – while I didn’t always agree with her opinions, I loved her courage to tell it like she saw it, letting the chips fall where they may.
- Middlemarch by George Eliot. It cemented my love affair with England. In fact, all there is to know about England is in those pages.
- The Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn. English language at its most languid (and, to some, probably its most irritating too), while dealing with the chilling subject matter of child abuse that the author experienced first hand.
- Love in the Times of Cholera by G.G. Marquez. The best love story. EVER.