Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - laid down the blueprint for road trips (at least in my imagination:-) and is the only book where I can quote the opening paragraph ...
We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like 'I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive...'; And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: 'Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?'
The other book is the great irish novel - At Swim Two Birds - way ahead of its time. In hindsight Flann O' Brien and Hunter S Thompson were kindred spirits.
Hmm I'll see your At Swim Two Birds and raise you The Third Policeman, so I will.
When I was an adolescent I once read Jane Eyre five times in row. I still read it every now and then. What a book! I also loved the Anne of Green Gables series. I wanted to marry Gilbert badly.
In my early twenties The Third Eye by Lopsang Rampa, I was also into Kahlil Gibrain too. Some strange spiritual/mystical phase I was wandering through.
Winnie the Pooh.
Pride and Prejudice.
raise you The Third Policeman, so I will
not to mention molecules and bicycles ... The "Mollycule Theory", the theory that people's personalities become mixed up with those of bicycles through the pounding of man and machine while pedaling down bumpy Irish country roads ("a process of prolonged carnal intercussion").
and of course "A pint of plain is your only man"
A sardonic laugh escapes us as we bow, cruel and cynical hounds that we are. It is a terrible laugh, the laugh of lost men. Do you get the smell of porter?
When I was a teenager I stole my mum's 1963 edition of Sex and the Single Girl, complete with her maiden name written on the inside page.
I thought it might be a rude book (after all, it had SEX in the title), but it turned out to be surprisingly informative.
Famously, author Helen Gurley Brown went on to be appointed editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine (turning it into what is is today), but, really, if you have Sex and the Single Girl, you don't need a single issue of Cosmo.
Historically, it was pretty much the first book that took the modern, single employed girl (i.e. woman) seriously. That while having a fellow was kind of fun, it was also just as much fun being unattached, and fun having - gasp - casual sex.
The book is pretty much a how-to on standard girly topics - fellows, sexiness, food, decorating, make-up - but doing it within that magical era between the uptight '50s and the liberation that was to come in the later '60s.
It probably wouldn't have passed for feminist in the '70s, but looking back at it now, it is almost a blueprint for the modern woman of today.
I've read it so many times I practically know bits off by heart. I can't say I've followed all the advice or that it's worked for me - in fact, maybe the biggest influence has been Brown's cheerful writing style - but I'm sure the book has been a positive influence on my life in many ways.
And remember, girls, if you're having an affair with a married man, he'll never leave his wife, but ultimately you have the upper hand.
Human Remains by Denis Welch - most people don't know that he ever wrote a novel, most people just think he's a writer for the Listener. I know he's a very talented novelist, and I think that this may have been the first and maybe only NZ novel I ever read that evoked the primeval quality that I love so much about this place I call my heart home. And it's a great, great yarn too. Very affecting.
In general I read a lot of books, and I speed read so I don't often remember what books I've read unless someone mentions a title or an author, but some of my very favourite books of all time have to be the Harry Potter ones, quite simply because I don't read books twice, just as I don't watch films twice, and I read all the books at least 4 to 5 times each. Not lifechanging, but really delightful books. And she's a very, very good writer. You have to be, to write childrens' fiction, I think.
[Mr Ramsay, stumbling along a passage one dark morning, stretched his arms out, but Mrs Ramsay having died rather suddenly the night before, his arms, though stretched out, remained empty.]
It was very mischievous of Woolf to drop such a bombshell in parentheses.
Having left Henderson for 1st year uni at Victoria, my first flatting experience was in Raroa Rd with a music major, a psychology major, and a Christian. To a 17 year old these women of 20 seemed the height of intellectual sophistication and physical attraction. While I tempted them one after the other unsuccessfully with the dulcet tones of Hendrix they plied me rather more successfully with a range of literature which included Virginia Woolf.
The Time Passes passage of To the Lighthouse still haunts me.
Pride and Prejudice
Yes. Yes! Yes!!
I guess what I'm saying is that War and Peace isn't so special.
No. No! No!!
It's a fabulous book. I'll grant you that his philosophy of history of boring, and even turgid, not to say just plain wrong, but there's only 50 or so pages of it in my edition. And given that my edition is 1443 pages long, that's a remarkably high content to dross ratio.
The character portraits are detailed - I feel as though I know many of them, as real people. Even if I don't know the person, I know the type. The scenes are fabulously described - young Rostov's return to Moscow recreates exactly the sense of anticipation and reality that so many of us feel. And as for capturing a sense of time and place and essence... Natasha's dance is one of the great episodes in literature.
Tolstoy has an incredible ability to get inside the minds of his characters. He is able to describe the internal life of an adolescent girl, and the internal life of an adult man. He is able to distinguish a spiritual and thinking woman from someone who yearns and dreams after she knows not what, and the intellectual man from the imaginative and sensitve man from the sound and true hearted (even if intellectually ordinary) man.
I think that one of the things I most enjoy about it is that I often identify with the characters; aspects of both Natasha and Princess Maria feel like parts of me - I recognise them, and they make me think about myself. It's a very reflective book, and one that rewards rereading, many times. And War and Peace has little of the misogyny that is evident in the depictions of the female characters in Anna Karenina, where the women are either fallen (Anna), or worn out (Dolly), or childlike (Kitty).
I get caught up in the story, and it's only after having read it (again) that I have time and mental space to think about the people and the events.
It really is one of the best novels in English, ever. If you have not read War and Peace, I urge you to do so, now!
It's worth looking for an edition that has a table of all the Russian names - very confusing otherwise - or one that has anglicised the naming conventions. I have the Penguin Classics edition, translated by Rosemay Edmonds (I think, because one of my children has helpfully torn the title page) in which she uses first name and family name, rather than using the Russian diminutives and patronymics.
If Hitler had bothered to read War and Peace, he would surely have realised the folly of invading Russia.
If Hitler had bothered to read War and Peace, he would surely have realised the folly of invading Russia.
I don't really blame Hitler for that. The Soviets had just had their asses kicked by the tiny Finnish militia and Stalin had recently executed his entire officer corps (about 100,000 men) for no apparent reason. It must have looked like a slam dunk. Besides, he needed the oil.
You'll have to forgive my hyperbole Deborah - War and Peace is pretty amazing - it's just frustrating to wade through 1000+ pages to find the story has no end except for a diatribe about the individuals relation to history.
You might enjoy Orlando Figes book on Russian culture. It's called 'Natasha's Dance'.
The Time Passes passage of To the Lighthouse still haunts me.
Virginia Woolf is one of those superstars of literature that leaves me cold. Henry James is another ('why use one word when fifty will do?')
I was thinking about this thread on my way home - another of my favorite writers is Jorge Luis Borges - you can read his classic story 'The Library of Babel' here.
If you enjoy that then 'Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius' is here
Suprising ommission: Enid Blyton - A group of friends have a dilemna, solve a mystery, all the while eating well and often then returning home for bed sounds a hell of a lot like modern Wellington living to me (just substitute Soames Island for Kirrin Island).
I finally read Tom Brown's School days a month or two back and here was I thinking it would be just another private boarding school romp when in fact it is really a "how to raise a good solid gentlemen who will one day sit in the Commons and represent his constituents justly in a Whiggish way yet firmly centered in the timeless nature of the English countryside".
Well, I'll put in a plug for the ancient Roman authors: Livy, Suetonius, Caesar, Appian, and the like. They are extraordinary stylists, recorders of incredible human dramas and remarkable myths, while being masterful apologists and propoagandists.
Read Livy, and see how he attributes the first plebian consulship to the jealously between two sisters. Read Suetonious, who has to be the most salacious gossip ever born, willing to repeat any smear, no matter how unbelievable, as long as it's juicy. Try Caesar, who manages to dress up a major defeat strategic defeat against the Germans as a victory, and pass off their subsequent punitive expediation against the Romans as all just a horrible mistake.
And as for Appian! My god, the story of the proscriptions of the second Triumverate is one of the most astonishing pieces of western literature. He tells the most extraordinary *real* tales of murder and survival, on a whim, with the betryal or loyalty of loved ones, or on the most unlikely chances. Here are a few stories with an escape. The failures and deaths are too tragic to repeat.
"Apuelius and Arruntius pretended to be centurions and equipped their slaves as soldiers. First they burst through the gates like centurions in pursuit of other people. Then ... they separated, releasing chained slaves and collecting runaways, untile the strength of each man's group was sufficient to ... resemble an army. They proceeded towards the coast, where they encamped on either side of a ridge, observing each other with great apprenhension ... each thought the other was a military force sent against themselves, and they closed and fought, until eventually they realised the truth and threw aside their weapons. "
"Another man was hidden in a tomb by a freedman, but could not endure the spookiness of the place and was moved to a miserable lodging. When a soldier cam to share the lodging , his fear was again too much for him. He abaondoned his cowardice .. had his head shaven, and conducted a school in Rome itself until the amnesty."
"Appius was resting in a farmhouse, and when the soldiers burst in a slave put on Appius' clothers, ly down in bed as though he were the master, and voluntarily died in place of his master, who stood by like a slave attendant".
"Lentulus was unhappy that his wife ... wanted to share his exile ... [and] run the same risks as himself. So he slipped away secretly to Sicily where he was accepted as a military commander by Pompeius. She imitated him and escaped with two slaves ... travelled rough and cheaply, until... she reached Messana ... She discovered the commanding officers' tent, where she found Lentulus not like a senior officer, but unkempt, on a little pallet-bed, and existing in a wretched way because of his longing for his wife."
I don't really blame Hitler for [the mistake of invading Russia]. The Soviets had just had their asses kicked by the tiny Finnish militia and Stalin had recently executed his entire officer corps (about 100,000 men) for no apparent reason. It must have looked like a slam dunk. Besides, he needed the oil.
He just forgot minor details like extended supply lines and Napolean's nemesis, the Russian winter.
The description of the retreat of Napolean's army in War and Peace is remarkable, even for an "I'm not really interested in war stories" girlie like me.
Phew, thanks Russell for a nice post topic.
Sendak sure did some great stuff.
The first novel to have a big impact on me was Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - though now even Gareth Morgan's done that trip it nolonger holds quite the same mystique.
Then I remember being quite moved by Kundera and Ishiguro as a
callow youth, and um Hoban (you too eh Chris?). Fowles' The Magus, Crowley and Castaneda's crazy crazy exciting stuff.
And Frame's The Carpathians (I never understood why that wasn't better received).
And there was a time when everyone had to read and live The Diceman, then I read American Psycho and decided books weren't always the best life guides after all.
But my all time favs would have to be John Bath's Giles Goatboy, and Joris-Karl Huysman's Against Nature,
they're the best books I've never heard of since.
Danyl, and others, night be interested in this from chronicler of Russian lowlife and former Otago Uni Lecturer John Dolan in 'eXile' magazine. You can follow the links to his reviews of the books (My Friend Leonard, Sept '05: "James Frey is a liar. A bad one. And hugely successful.")
I fingered Frey as a no-talent fraud back in an eXile review in May 2003, and followed up with a review of his second novel saying outright that he was inventing the story, that he was just a beer-soaked fratboy with no drug creds.
More for me...
I've wondered if Winnie the Pooh (or on TV, the muppets) have influenced me deeply or if I would have come out like this anyway.
As a child, Maurice Gee, the Halfmen of O, Under the Mountain. Fantasy can be right in your own back yard.
As a teenager, as well as the backs of those cornflakes packets, Ken Keyes The Hundredth Monkey, and John Christopher's The Lotus Caves. The Catcher in the Rye for proving that whiny self-obsessed teenagers are really irritating.
At uni, Pride and Prejudice - some books really are all they're cracked up to be. And Robinson Crusoe, for finally teaching me that my mother was right - life really is too short to read books that crashingly awful.
As an adult, Anais Nin, for showing me I wasn't as screwed up as I thought i was. The Secret History because it made me feel like someone had been looking over my shoulder at uni. Mil Millington for making me laugh on the worst days, and making me feel like someone had been looking over my shoulder at work.
I read exile regularly for about 4-5 years, funny, disturbing and occassionally sickening all in one. I had a surreal moment one day when I was reading it in a Otago computer lab (Burns Cal) and I saw Dolan walk past the door (IIRC his office was in the same building). His columns were so angry that I was always a little too afraid of talking to him, for fear of ending up as a cruel aside in his column.
Speaking of Listener writers/novelists, I thoroughly enjoyed a book by Keith Stewart I found a few years back in a 50c bin at a second-hand book shop in Sydney.
From memory it was called After Heat, and it was a cool cross-generation story about identifying yourself as a young kiwi abroad, with a bit of wine terrorism thrown in (as you do).
Also have to thank my older brother for introducing me to the many delights of Modesty Blaise (and her side-kick Willie Garvin) at a very impressionable age.
Sendak is terrific at his best. There's a delightful video animation of most of his picture-books with songs and lovely bluesy music by Carol King. I'm not such a fan of Russell Hoban's adult novels (sorry Riddley- good but not great) but his children's books are near perfect. The Francis books and "How Tom beat Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsmen" are classics. And the funniest children's books ever written by a Methodist minister have to be the "Uncle" series. For journalistic slime, Stephen Cook has nothing on Hitmouse.
I think it's a matter of temerament, but I also don't get Tolstoy. Invading Russia seems easy compared to wading through War and Peace. For me, Dostoyevski's the man (my Dad says he's writing for adolescents, and grown-ups like Tolstoy. Hrm) Brothers Karamazov is terrific, ditto Crime and Punishment and The Idiot.
Similarly, I can't stomach Joyce, but love Beckett. Not the plays, on the whole- although the best of Beckett is the Faber "Collected Shorter Works" - bite-sized dramas with bite- for a range of media (radio, tv, & film, as well as stage). But the novels are great too. For the truely masochistic, there's the infamous trilogy, ending with "the unnamable", widely known as "the unreadable"- you can go thirty pages without so much as a full-stop, let alone a para indent!
Borges and Gabriel Garcia Marquez are both terrific in very different ways; Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow ranks with Catch-22 as a couple of the best things to come out of America at war.... and and- must stop! But Maurice Gee- even though some of his books are too dark for me- has to rate a mention.
Bro' I read the final Blaise & Garvin episode that you gave me at Christmas & passed it on to Brian L when he visited.
Truly awful stuff, but fantastic all the same. I always wanted to be able to throw knives like Willie.
Very sad, like losing old friends.
Did I also bequeath you all the Simon Templar books?
BTW - I believe it was our dad who started me on all those.
And from the ridiculous to the sublime - I was deeply moved by Bernard Malamud's The Assistant - I still have the copy I bought for Eng 101.
Speaking of Bernard Malamud, I really loved The Natural. Far better than the vaseline tinged film version with Redford. Excellent book.
In fact I loved all those 50's driven novels that used a sport or hobby as a device to look at human (usually male) frailty, the excellent Walter Tevis books spring to mind, The Hustler, and the Colour of Money.
Don't have the Simon Templar books anymore, in fact don't have many books from that time (not even the Doctor Who collection, sob) .......
The "William" books by Richmal Crompton influenced me as a child, even upto adolescence and it is still nice to read them. I had a chance to re-read some "Uncle' books and wished that I hadn't, should have left the memories alone
Then Maurice Gee, Witi Ihimaera and Maurice Shadbolt got me into the home product. Elizabeth Knoxed my socks off with "The Vintners Luck"
Most recently it has been that man Hoban and in particular "Riddley Walker" which have inspired me. Riddley is like a book long cryptic crossword and yet a good story as well.
Couldn't finish without a mention of the good Doctor Asimov who got me into the Science fiction stuff with the first 3 "Foundation" books.
"Don't have the Simon Templar books anymore, in fact don't have many books from that time (not even the Doctor Who collection, sob.."
Did you read the E E "Doc" Smith Lensmen books about age-old galactic warfare, genetic tampering & weapons races?
Or more to the point, did you trade them all at the local bookshop when I left home?
There seemed to be about 40 of them, none of them worth the paper they were printed on, except strangely gripping.
I loved the Vintner's Luck. And the Plumb Trilogy.
And earlier... the (first 3) Foundation books - not to mention the Asimov robot stories & pretty much everything Arthur C Clarke & Robert Heinlein churned out... never did re-read Starship Troopers though, because the film didn't seem to bear any resemblance to my memory of the book...
And of course, at the age of 13, the Lord of the Rings entranced me.
And recently, I found a very soft spot for Audrey Niffeneger's The Time Traveller's Wife.
Gosh, theres just so many that could come to mind ....
Fever Pitch - Nick Hornby, best book ever on the highs and lows of being an obsessed fan
Into Thin Air - a gripping cautionary tale about commerce at the roof of the world - the death of Rob Hall is incredibly moving.
Bob Needs Slack - an introduction to the Church of the Sub-Genius - I didn't realise you were allowed to parody religion until this (and of course the Life of Brian)
The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks, strong wild celtic stuff with a twist - stuck with me for ages
The teenage fodder of sci-fi (Heinlein, Asimov, PK Dick) and fantasy (Thomas Covenant, Tolkein etc).
The books that made you want to go out on the road, Kerouac, Hunter Thompson, Bruce Chatwin etc
The classics, Greene, Harper Lee, F Scott Fitzgerald, Marquez, Vonnegot, Pynchon, etc
The pulp, O'Donnell, Connelly, Frank Miller, Richard Price, Mosley, etc
I guess thats the beauty of the printed word - somewhere out there is the perfect book for every occasion.
A bit like food really. While its good to eat gourmet as often as you can, sometimes you just feel like fish and chips.