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10 Books that stayed with me

Posted in Things We Love

G. G. Marquez murales
A G.G. Marquez murales in Aracataca, Colombia

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

    Martin Amis
    Martin Amis, still London-based, young and trendy
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

    Penguin paperback Nabokov
    Way back when Penguins were still the cheapest paperbacks around
  6. 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.

    Oriana Fallaci
    Oriana Fallaci at two different stages of her life
  7. 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.
  8. Middlemarch by George Eliot. It cemented my love affair with England. In fact, all there is to know about England is in those pages.
  9. 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.
  10. Love in the Times of Cholera by G.G. Marquez. The best love story. EVER.

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15 Comments

  1. oops, there’s no edit button, bugger. Meant Amis as Martin”s not related to SIr Hardy Amies, now, is he? 🙂

    August 29, 2014
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  2. Oh, I love these posts too. So thrilling that you interviewed Martin Amies. He was a bit of a dude, wasn’t he? I saw him read here a year ago and even though he’s getting on a bit, he still has the swagger. A novelist with a swagger is a funny thing, I think, in this day and age, but I liked it 🙂

    August 29, 2014
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    • Absolute swagger! He was in his early 30s at the time, had just moved to a brand new house in Ladbroke Grove – barely furnished – and was very charming. Probably a bit full of himself, as he still is, but I don’t mind that if it comes with a fierce intelligence. If you have never read his autobiography, Experience, run to get it or download it. There is a lot about his relationship with his father – illuminating and honest and touching. I loved it.

      August 29, 2014
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    • Oh Jackie – she fancied him. Miserable bugger that he is. Thank God she found me and I was able to save her from herself.

      August 31, 2014
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    • Oh Jackie – she fancied him. Miserable bugger that he is. Thank God she found me and I was able to save her.

      August 31, 2014
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      • I have a feeling me and her would have fought over the same dicky men in our yoof 🙂

        September 1, 2014
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        • A very good thing Sue and I never fancied the same men. Not only did it keep us on the right side of friendship but it also pointed out patterns. I tend to like miserable buggers (with a swagger)

          September 1, 2014
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  3. Have you read 100 Years of Solitude by Marquez? I liked Love in the Time of Cholera and thought I’d look for it.

    August 29, 2014
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    • Hi Jennifer, I have read most of Marquez’s work and 100 years was the first one. The book that made him famous and probably won him the Nobel. It is wonderful. Even more imbued with magic realism than Cholera. If you liked Cholera I think you would enjoy 100 years as well. Let me know if you ever read it.

      August 29, 2014
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  4. Great Post! Thank you for adding a few books to my reading list. Any suggestions for a twenty year old trying to find herself and her way through life?

    August 29, 2014
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    • My dear Expresso, had to think about this one a bit. When I was your age, trying to find myself and all along pretending I already had, I enjoyed sweeping novels that depicted the human condition, so that I would get out of my head and realize the world was not just about me and my woes. Les Miserable by Victor Hugo comes to mind (no cheating and heading to a theatre for the musical version!). I also loved Milan Kundera and The Unbearable Lightness of Being because reminding ourselves to speak our truth and staying true to our ideals is a valuable thing. Over the years I read my share of self help books and never kept one. When in pain, or in doubt, I reach for poetry. Such a shame poetry is so overlooked. At 20, I was in love with Baudelaire and Paul Valery. I skimmed over their drug addiction and lost myself in verses that rang true at the time. Now I veer towards more hermetic choices. What I am trying to say is that finding what you are going through written on the page is the greatest gift of literature – we are not alone. Above all, my personal advice is to go out and live. Be proud of your mistakes and always speak your truth, at least to yourself. Only by living, and stumbling and being unafraid will you find out who you really are. You just wrote about pushing back and confronting being uncomfortable. It’s just that. It can be an exhilarating ride if you let. So have fun. And never regret anything.

      August 29, 2014
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      • Thank you so much for your insight! I really do think that I (and most people my age) live in our heads too much. We go about our lives with the constant need to be recognized, rewarded and appreciated. I definitely find myself dwelling over my ‘worries’ and ‘problems’ more than I would care to admit. So, thank you your wonderful insight. I am truly excited to give Les Miserables (fighting the urge to watch the beautiful musical) and The Unbearable Lightness of Being a read, along with poetry. I hope I am able to find the needed wisdom within these pages and become comfortable with being uncomfortable somewhere down the line! 🙂

        August 29, 2014
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  5. thanks for sharing! It’s posts like these that KEEP me on facebook…and cat videos. 🙂 i’m cringing most of the time i’m on there, but when i think of all the beautiful art and lovely posts i would have missed if it wasn’t for facebook, i can’t let it go. i haven’t read many books in my life but i love books (and art) more than most tangible things on this earth. i read your list and got sad to think i never read any of those books (i won’t get into my excuses), and i (shamefully) couldn’t even come up with a list of 10 that stayed with me…. because i have probably not read more than 30 or 40. Let’s see.. without thinking too hard, i can only think of The Painted Bird, Native Son, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Savages, Eyes of the Dragon, Lord of the Flies… and that’s about all i can think of right now. and half of those i was forced to read. 🙂 This post makes me want to go get in bed and read for 3 weeks straight! Anyway, thanks Camparigirl, i love your list! Yay books!

    August 28, 2014
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    • Maybe it’s the “forced” part that turned you off book? Once you find a book you can really lose yourself in, I know you will feel differently. And I agree with you – I love art and both the internet and FB have afforded me the possibily to discover works I would have never found otherwise. PS Your reading list is not bad at all…

      August 29, 2014
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