Sunday, 7 September 2014

I Choose Ten Books

It's funny how we are rarely asked to choose twelve of something, or fourteen, or even sixteen,  We are thoroughly decimal in the way we ask questions about our influences.

I've been asked twice recently about which ten books have most influenced me.  My first answer was a list.  I've been more expansive this time.

Some books inspire me to write.  An example of this is Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, which I was reading when I wrote my sequence of poems, 'The Gathering'.  The priest in Gilead, the narrator, reminds me of my father, a priest, even though I've never had the insight into his mind which Robinson's novel gave me.

There are books which have filled me with longing for a different life. Growing up in London, The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder made me want to be part of a pioneering family, travelling in a covered wagon with a father who built houses in woods, on prairies, by lakes, and protected his family from bears; with a mother who would boil up precious maple syrup tapped from trees in the forest, and then show her children how to make candy patterns with it in the snow, before they ate it - a rare, sweet treat.

There was the Reader's Digest book - Scenic Wonders of Australia -  given to me for a birthday (10th?).  I still haven't been there, but in my mind I see the pictures: the red rock, the scale, the aridity, the muscular kangaroos (nothing like Kanga), the expanse of salt lakes in the west, where apparently I have lots of sheep farming cousins.

There are books which have made me laugh, and which date me beyond the understanding of my sons - The Young Visiters - Daisy Ashford, 1066 and All That - Sellar and Yeatman.

There is Quarantine, by Jim Crace, which made me start to think that a man he calls Jesus was a man, and that, whoever this man was, to be a man: a pissing, sweating, starving, hallucinating man in the Judean desert is a more glorious and incredible thing than to be a demi-god, a god, a goddess.

There are books in which every word is placed like a finger on my spine, on my mind, on my breast - books which are utterly beautiful psychologically, emotionally, physically, like Fugitive Pieces, by Anne Michaels, and (I think, but it may be too soon to say) On Poetry, by Glyn Maxwell.

There are books which are clear as cool water like Tove Jansson's The Summer Book.

There are books about the agonies and resolutions of love - A Grief Observed - CS Lewis, Birthday Letters - Ted Hughes, Elegies - Douglas Dunn, Mansfield Park - Jane Austen, Far from the Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy, Middlemarch, George Eliot ... and Brahms' Intermezzi played by Glenn Gould.  Is this also a book?  I think it might be.

No comments:

Post a Comment