‘Go out. You’ll get square eyes from all that reading,’ was a mantra I heard throughout my childhood mainly because my idea of having a great time wasn’t to cause trouble (ok, sometimes it was but only when it involved climbing trees and crawling through my wild meadow pretending I was a spy) or to play with Barbie dolls (that I didn’t own anyway) but to hide in a quiet corner with a book and disappear into fantastic worlds, make friends and embark on great adventures.
My books have always been my closest friends and they made me the person I am today.
The kind of person who will happily go home to read if she gets bored at a party. Or, at said party, hide in a corner with a copy of 1984.
The kind of person who would rather write her blog than go shopping.
And the person whose handbag weighs a tonne as there are at least two or three emergency books in there. Just in case Armageddon kicks in and I am stranded in a post-Apocalyptic world full of lizards running the show. I don’t mind as long as I have something to read.
All throughout my adult life my books have been my morning cigarettes and my nightcaps.
I am what I read.
It wasn’t an easy choice, the list could stretch into infinity and back, so here are those very important books that shaped my life:
- Emily Series by Lucy Maud Montgomery (Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs, Emily’s Quest) – Emily Starr was my closest friend when I was a child. A little girl brought up by her aunts dreaming about being a writer and one day achieving that dream. She was the one who made me believe that writing can be a way of life, a vocation that I could and should pursue. I used to go for long walks with my shaggy dog Gapcio and have long discussions with Emily, dreaming up new lives, plots and tribulations, drawing to myself an odd look here and there.
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – when I was about 11 I got measles. Nothing out of the ordinary but my case of that illness that makes one look like a red spotted leopard was fairly serious and was followed by a bout of bronchitis. Once I was out of the worst, the fever gone but still not allowed to get out of bed, I took to reading. By that time I had read my Mary Poppins series, Anne of Green Gables and the Emily series a few times so I decided to find a new paper friend. After a quick browse in my mum’s bookshelf and discarding Doctor Zhivago (my tired mind decided it looked too serious) and To Kill a Mockingbird (I was worried about the mockingbird being killed and as an animal lover and Dr Dolittle fanatic I couldn’t bear the thought of having to read that) I stumbled upon a hefty tome with a pretty lady on the cover – Anna Karenina. ‘This will do.’ I said to myself and a few days later I ended up with a skewed belief that every great love has to come to a tragic end. What is more, this is was the start of my lifelong love of Russian literature. I devoured Crime and Punishment while my fellow classmates were tearing out hairs and slashing their wrists with plastic spoons. Chekhov’s short stories have been my lifelong inspiration and if I was the queen of the world The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov would be a compulsory read for everyone.
- New and Collected Poems by W. Szymborska I wish I had a poet’s mind. Ah, to be able to see the world in metaphors, be sensitive to the musicality of words and tones. All I can do is assemble a haiku-like structure here and there but this doesn’t stop me from appreciating the slog and sweat that go into waxing lyrical about the world, universe, life and everything. And why do I admire Szymborska so much? Let me share Nothing Twice with you – the proof is in the poem:
Nothing can ever happen twice.
In consequence, the sorry fact is
that we arrive here improvised
and leave without the chance to practice.
Even if there is no one dumber,
if you’re the planet’s biggest dunce,
you can’t repeat the class in summer:
this course is only offered once.
No day copies yesterday,
no two nights will teach what bliss is
in precisely the same way,
with precisely the same kisses.
One day, perhaps some idle tongue
mentions your name by accident:
I feel as if a rose were flung
into the room, all hue and scent.
The next day, though you’re here with me,
I can’t help looking at the clock:
A rose? A rose? What could that be?
Is it a flower or a rock?
Why do we treat the fleeting day
with so much needless fear and sorrow?
It’s in its nature not to stay:
Today is always gone tomorrow.
With smiles and kisses, we prefer
to seek accord beneath our star,
although we’re different (we concur)
just as two drops of water are.
- Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by P. Hoeg – if there is one book I wish I had written it is this one. I have read it in Swedish (as close to Danish as I could get) and in English (the translation is great) and every time I was enthralled by the story, admiring Smilla’s strength, intellect and determination. I don’t want to say much about the plot because I don’t want to spoil anything but if you like snow, crime drama, a bit of science and a healthy dose of suspense give it a go.
- Quo Vadis by H. Sienkiewicz is a very important book for Polish people. Not only because its author has won a Nobel prize or because of its famous Hollywood adaption from 1951 featuring such icons as Deborah Kerr and Peter Ustinov. The reason why it is so close to our Slavic hearts is that through his vision of ancient Rome, Nero’s last days and the love story of Marcus Vinicius and Ligia Sienkiewicz tells a story of Poland, its people repressed and living in a country divided between its neighbours.
- What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami – in this little book Murakami discusses running, writing, aging, dealing with pain, endurance, the importance of self-discipline and routine. These mini essays will appeal to both budding writers and runners! And established writing runners and running writers.
- From H.Mankell’s Wallander series, The Fifth Woman – when I was writing my Master’s thesis this was the book I chose as a subject of my analysis of the Swedish postmodern crime novel. So much for the academic jargon. The novel tackles the difficult subjects of violence against women and quiet hatred. Pretty much what was covered in Stieg Larsson’s ‘Millenium’ series but better. I’m not a big fan of Stieg Larsson and his trilogy, mainly because I don’t think his writing is very good, even though the plots are thick and murky and if you are on the look for a good Scandinavian crime drama I would recommend the Wallander series. I have only read them in Swedish but I have heard the English translation is pretty good.
- The Crimson Petal and The White by Michel Faber – means a lot to me. Not only because it is another book I wish I had written but also because it was the very first book my friends and I read when we started our book club (that a year later has become more of a wine and food club, which is a different story!). A Dickensian-like story of a Victorian prostitute Sugar, so seductive and intricate that it keeps you asking for more and more.
And apart from my faithful tomes…
On my Desert Island there would always be an infinite supply of pens and paper.
My luxury of choice would be a comfy bed with a cosy duvet and pillows – reading before bed and lazing about with a book in hand in the morning are some of life’s great pleasures.
If I were to pick just one book out of my selection that would have to be there with me, as a source of infinite inspiration, it would be Anna Karenina.
If there is anything I would love for Peanut to inherit from me it is my passion for words, spoken and written.
The signs are there.
Mr Fox and Postman Bear books are well chewed on.
Happy reading everyone.