Stories: Life in Books

  • Russell Brown,

    This month, it's the magic of the printed page, and the moments it can make. Did you read a special book at a special time? A book that changed everything? A book on a journey? The right book at the right time? Or one that turned out wrong? Stories, please …

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 19116 posts Report Reply

284 Responses

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  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    Did you read a special book at a special time? A book that changed everything?

    Atlas Shrugged when I was fifteen. I instantly concluded that I was a superman, albeit a superman with low grades, weight problems, acne and an inability to cook my own food or wash my own clothes. This phase lasted until university and made me distinctly unpopular with my teachers - since they were employed at a state school I was always patiently explaining to them that they were socialist sub-human parasites. I told my class-mates the same thing. I did not have a girlfriend.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 902 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    Peter Rabbit narrowly escapes death in Mr. MacGregor's garden, and escapes only by shedding the trappings of anthropomorphism.
    Tom Kitten is rolled in pastry and narrowly escapes being baked alive by the vile rat Samuel Whiskers.
    Pigling Bland is sent to slaughter by his own mother and is saved by his superior intellect.
    Squirrel Nutkin is violently relieved of his tale as punishment for disrupting a bizarre religious ceremony.

    Beatrix Potter didn't pull any punches. By comparison, Ayn Rand's a wuss.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3631 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    I was always patiently explaining to them that they were socialist sub-human parasites. I told my class-mates the same thing. I did not have a girlfriend.

    I'm moved by your story. But at least you got over it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 19116 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    Beatrix Potter didn't pull any punches. By comparison, Ayn Rand's a wuss.

    I don't remember where I read this, but it was a 'Kafka writes Potter' parody and began:

    'Someone must have been telling lies about Peter Rabbit . . .'

    Maybe Beatrix Potter would have had more political impact if she'd thrown in a couple of 300 page rants on the virtues of selfishness.

    I'm moved by your story. But at least you got over it.

    Isn't it ironic that most frequent response to Ayn Rands objectivism is pity . . .

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 902 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    Richard Dawkins - The Selfish Gene

    Literally, the world made a lot more sense after that.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    Different books infuencial for different times of life:

    Lucky Luke
    Safari Adventure

    (Adrian Mole phase)
    Anything by Dostoevsky
    ditto Graham Green (who bores me now)
    The Female Eunuch (for similar reasons to Mr. Mole. )
    Tintin

    Things Fall Apart
    Cry the Beloved Country
    A Suitable Boy

    The Three Musketeers (any Dumas will do really)

    Most stuff by R.L. Stephenson is timeless.

    Action packed pulp fiction - fills in for not watching TV.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1620 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    The Female Eunuch (for similar reasons to Mr. Mole. )

    Heh. Me too. I got a bit out of it too, even if I do regard Germaine Greer as basically crazy now.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 19116 posts Report Reply

  • Joanna,

    When I read The House of Leaves (which of those of you who are not familiar with it, involves a house with a mysterious room that appears in it) I was living in a big old villa with a large open trapdoor in the ceiling of the bathroom. Up late one night reading it because I was too scared to sleep, I spent a serious amount of time contemplating peeing into a bottle because I was too scared to go to the bathroom for fear that the house would eat me. I was 24. The book was hidden in my sock drawer after that and only read during daylight hours. For months after that, I would suffer from a creeping sense of unease that there was always something right behind me that would move away every time I turned my head around. The same thing happened to a lesser degree when I read Lunar Park. This is why I normally stick with reading rockstar bios.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 729 posts Report Reply

  • Ray Gilbert,

    Norman Mailer - The Executioner's Song. I must have read it half a dozen times now (and it's a pretty weighty tome), but never seem to bore of it. It's the best biography for getting in someone's head I've come across by far.

    I wonder what Gary Gilmore would have done differently if he realised just what sort of a genie was being unleashed when he demanded his own execution. I suspect he wouldn't have done much different at all.

    Since Nov 2006 • 81 posts Report Reply

  • andrew llewellyn,

    " THE Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said `Bother!' and `O blow!' and also `Hang spring-cleaning!' and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. "

    One mole's struggle to take it easy.

    Since Nov 2006 • 2075 posts Report Reply

  • Marcus Neiman,

    Penguin's collection of Bruce Jesson's essays - To Build a Nation.

    I am too young to have appreciated him first time round - I was so glad in reading that book to have found that NZ had produced a truly erudite, accessible, stylish writer on NZ political economy.

    And from the left, Matt McCarten is a poor substitute.

    Sydney • Since Feb 2007 • 107 posts Report Reply

  • TroyHoward,

    Fortunately/Unfortunately working in the publishing biz leaves me with waaay to many books to list....so I'll keep it brief.

    Top 5 - in no particular order:

    Any Calvin and Hobbes. I have Bill Watterson's genius lying around the house, readily available for reminding me about the pretentiousness of art, why tv sucks, why childhood is so precious and why imaginary friends rock.

    Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk. The only book that convinces you that going out and getting punched in the face is a good thing.

    The Stand and The Talisman - Stephen King. The first "grown up" books I read when I was in 4th form.

    Catch 22 - Joseph Heller. Yosarian, Milo, these guys should have statues made of them. We need more books like this - It's one i think GW Bush should read.

    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - A book I understand more now that I've spent time in a place like Pirsig did.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 78 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Any Calvin and Hobbes. I have Bill Watterson's genius lying around the house, readily available for reminding me about the pretentiousness of art, why tv sucks, why childhood is so precious and why imaginary friends rock.

    I think Calvin and Hobbes provides all the answers that any parent needs. Or if not all the answers, at least something to read and go 'ah yes, my child did that'.

    Plus Bill Watterson had a wonderful attitude to his art, cartoons, life, and the commercialisation of his work. He fought for years and years to prevent Calvin and Hobbes being 'disney-ised' on every product that would sell, and won, which is very unusual for a cartoonist, who typically sign over every right to their work when they get syndicated.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6227 posts Report Reply

  • TroyHoward,

    My kid just turned three. "Character Building" now gets mentioned a lot.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 78 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Everything illustrated by Maurice Sendak which I read as a child -- Max in the Night Kitchen, Where the Wild Things Are, the Nutshell Library -- has infected my speech patterns, and given me a lasting love of illustration and whimsy.

    As an adult, Russell Hoban's books, particularly Kleinzeit and Pilgermann, have always grabbed me. Reality, death, futility, human vanity, fun, all in a neat little package.

    But the one that really, practically changed my life the Larousse Gastronomique my parents had. They had all the classic cookbooks (Julia Child, Craig Claiborne, ...) and I've been a foodie ever since.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2977 posts Report Reply

  • andrew llewellyn,

    I love Calvin & Hobbes.

    Since Nov 2006 • 2075 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    As part of my Theatre course we were set Keith Johnstone's 'Impro'. Not exactly a manual but a inspiring and influential discussion of improvisation for the theatre and general spontaneity. At least, I must have been inspired because shortly after reading I decided to come up with an idea for a play by starting a sentence "I'm going to write a play about..." and then finishing it. It worked.

    Fergus Henderson's enthusiasm in 'Nose to Tail Eating' has turned me assertively in favour of offal (and sundry other non-steak bits) - despite my not having gotten to try many of them.

    I don't recall having been troubled by existential angst since I read 'Candide'. Oh, the hilarity.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1096 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Oh, how could I forget that geek sacred text: Hofstadter's "Goedel Escher Bach -- an eternal golder braid"?

    Turned me on to computer science in a big way. Definitely life changing.

    And I've been a hard-nosed skeptic ever since I read Martin Gardner's "Fads and Fallacies".

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2977 posts Report Reply

  • Ben Austin,

    Asterix & Obelix - My primer and reward for learning to read as a small child. Also sparked a strong interest in Roman history, although I'm not sure if Asterix would approve, but I've made my peace with his proto Gaullist propanda long since.

    The Tyrannicide Brief: The Man who sent Charles I to the Scaffold - Made me finally come out as a republican, to slightly misuse a phrase.

    London • Since Nov 2006 • 897 posts Report Reply

  • merc,

    The Bible, The Book of Job.
    God makes a pact with the Devil to test this guy Job's faith in Him. Job toughs it out and God makes him really, really wealthy. After a while God thinks it may be a better idea to be human...

    Since Dec 2006 • 2471 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    Oh, how could I forget that geek sacred text: Hofstadter's "Goedel Escher Bach -- an eternal golder braid"?

    It's a good 'un.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1096 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Bell,

    As an adult, Russell Hoban's books, particularly Kleinzeit and Pilgermann, have always grabbed me. Reality, death, futility, human vanity, fun, all in a neat little package.

    It really makes my day to read Russell Hoban's name mentioned here - as it does when I read it anywhere - and so early in the discussion. Yes, I'm biased, for many reasons, but Riddley Walker really did change my life in so many ways. I was introduced to it by these guys, in the days when they were still called Freur.

    Pilgermann is my favourite novel by anyone and, as I write this, I have a framed photo of Russ looking down on me at my desk in my study.

    Stephen, I raise a figurative glass to you.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 47 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    Thoughts on other books . . .

    Lolita by Vladamir Nabakov. I first read this when I was about sixteen. My motives were pornographic and I was soundly disappointed. I only read the first third and then furtively flipped through the rest.
    Some time in my early twenties I watched the Kubrick adaptation and this led me back to the book. My second reading convinced me that it's probably the greatest novel ever written - I still think this is true. It's certainly much more accessible than Ulysses and it's significantly shorter and racier than Anna Karenina. Pale Fire is also worth reading if you like your books playful and opaque.

    Franny and Zooey: After he wrote 'Catcher in the Rye' and before he disappeared up his own asshole with stuff like 'Seymour: An Introduction' Jerry Salinger wrote a bunch of wonderful novellas and short stories. 'Franny and Zooey' is the best but 'For Esme with Love and Squalor' and 'Raise High the Roofbeam Carpenters' are also really good.

    Cosmic Trigger by Robert Anton Wilson. You can read the introduction here

    War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy: I read the first two thirds of this book at least half a dozen times but just couldn't make it to the end. I completed it last year only to discover that the ending is rubbish. Tolstoy just abandons all of his characters and rants about history and time for several hundred pages. I guess what I'm saying is that War and Peace isn't so special.

    Damascus Gate by Robert Stone. I read this when I was backpacking around the Middle East and thought this was simply one of the best books ever. I gave it to a couple of the stoners I was backpacking with and they loved it too.
    But no one else I've recommended it to has been impressed. Maybe the subject matter - a rabble of stoners hanging around the Middle East, mostly in Jerusalem - was context specific.

    The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. Neil has already mentioned it but it's one of the few books that is still capable of changing your life - or at least the way you think - after your 25th birthday. (The back of a cereal packet can be capable of 'blowing your mind' and changing your life when you're seventeen.)

    The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Isn't terribly profound or serious but she is an amazing writer. And she made it seem cool to be an introverted classics student at exactly the same time I was an introverted classics student which counts for a lot in my book.

    'A Million Little Pieces' by James Frey. I knew he was a fraud and a liar and a talentless dick long before the Smoking Gun website exposed him and I've got the amazon.com review to prove it.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 902 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    I forgot "Lord Jim" by Conrad which was mentioned in disdain here a while back. A must read for every namby pamby do-gooder liberal whith delusions of glory.

    I love that book.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1620 posts Report Reply

  • Anne M,

    When I was 14, my father, in reponse to my oft professed desire to be a vet gave me the James Herriot books, "All Creatures Great and Small" etc. I decided that a) being a vet involved being out at 2 am on a wet hillside with your arm up a cow's bum and b) this wasn't my idea of a good time.

    I probably wouldn't have got in to vet anyway, but it certainly changed my career planning.

    I also remember at about the same age reading Colette's "Claudine at School" and deciding to change my personality, but I don't think that worked, so it probably doesn't count.

    Since Nov 2006 • 101 posts Report Reply

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