Stories: Life in Books

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  • Robyn Gallagher,

    You know, there are really two books that have defined my life.

    When I was five, my favourite book was "The Outsider" by Albert Camus. My mum used to read it to me before bed.

    Once I was staying with my gran and she had to ring mum to find out what was "the one where the funny man feels alienated and kills the Arab and is jailed for his lack of remorse".

    Lol, those were good times. When I have kids, I will make them read it.

    Then when I was 19 I was hitch-hiking around Europe. I was stuck at a train station in Brussels for a few hours, so I went into a bookshop and bought the paperback version of "The Very Hungry Caterpillar".

    By the time the train arrived, my world view had changed. How could I have been so blind? I was the leaf on which the egg sat, only there was no moonlight.

    Lol, those were good times. Oh, to be young again, etc.

    But as it is the new millennium and reading is now uncool, I try not to do it any more.

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1946 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    joining this conversation realllllly late, but it's good to see most of my old favourites while skimming posts.

    i think the book that really adjusted my mindset was james lovelock's ages of gaia(?). someone knicked my copy a few years ago, but it fundamentally changed the way i related to absolutely everything.

    it may have had something to do with my organic recreational habits at the time, but the book enabled me to see everything in a related sense.

    before reading gaia i saw the world in a siloed, compartmentalised way. but after? i started seeing chains of repercussions from all of my actions. i started to see how the actions of one person can change their social and physical environment if they committed themselves to 'being' the change they wanted to effect.

    of course, later i became older, more cynical, and generally skeptical that one individual can do anything worthwhile at all. i'm now convinced that climate change will screw you, me, and everyone else, and there's no way to stop it.

    was a nice ride while it lasted though. and i still recycle, consume as little as possible, and try to be good to people, just to be on the safe side.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2038 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    After Robyn's post, just treat the following as somehow being, well, ironic.

    Virginia Woolf is one of those superstars of literature that leaves me cold.

    She's not someone I'd read again but To the Lighthouse has nostalgia value.

    Similarly with Simone de Beauvoir although I achieved a long standing personal goal of reading Les Mandarins in the original over the Christmas period. (It's a strange book with various narrator-view-point cleverness which I think there's a point to but I'm not sure). She was my first introduction to politics and although I now disagree with much of here thinking she still lurks.

    How do you rate Kubrik's Lolita? I'm a great admirer of Kubrik and a few close friends think it’s the greatest movie of all time. I've been meaning to read Brian Boyd's biography of Nabokov - he’s a big fan of applying evolutionary psychology to the arts and was curious to know if he used it with Nabokov.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Robyn Gallagher,

    Speaking of Lolita:

    Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

    This is, I reckon, the most pleasurable opening paragraph of a novel to read aloud.

    Go on, take your tongue on the journey.

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1946 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Oh boy. I want to keep wading in but then it would be all about me. I admire your collective taste, folks.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3119 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    It's supposed to be about you, Stephen.

    Did you read a special book at a special time?


    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1444 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Books and drugs ...

    Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception, for obvious reasons.

    D.T. Suzuki's Introduction to Zen Buddhism: For a while, I always had it in my ex-army gasmask bag when I was tripping in London. I never got past the first few pages, but it felt nice having it there.

    Mezz Mezzrow's Really the Blues: The life's story of a trouble-prone 1920s white jazz player and chronic bullshitter who thought he was black. Perhaps the greatest marijuana book ever. Even more than ...

    Jack Margolis and Richard Clorfene's A Child's Garden of Grass: A daft but incredibly funny book.

    Joyce Johnson's Minor Characters: One of Kerouac's girlfriends has her say. I read it in a no-sleep night, on trains, and back at my folks' place, after a Wellington journalist gave me some of her diet pills. I felt very Beat.

    Plus The Tao of Physics and other pop-quantum-physics books that made perfect sense when I was high, and more Jung than is probably sensible.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22227 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    Books and drugs ...

    well, if you're going to do that.

    Jean Paul Satre, Nausea. Blew my mind.

    the aforementioned Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance. Made me realise that the pursuit of knowledge is like, a never-ending journey, man.

    A Thousand Plateus. I could only read small glimpses of it, but it added up to a really, really far out picture. but buried underground. because it's all rhizomatic, like.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2038 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    The problem is, Deborah, a lot of books have carved a notch on the bedposts of my easily-led mind, and I keep wanting to say yes! Me too! Uncle and the Moomins! Hoban! and so on. And a whole lot of "me too" would be too much.

    But returning to the topic itself: one series that has really stayed with me was Spike Milligan's war memoirs. I was in my late teens when I discovered the first one. ("Hitler: my part in his downfall", I think it was called). Very funny and sad at the same time. It was the first inkling I ever had that war was by and large not a noble enterprise, and those books have soured all accounts of modern military glory for me ever since. His account of how impossible it was to discuss what he had been through with anyone at home made me wonder about all our tough old guys who made it back.. (And of course relatively speaking he got off lightly and early, retiring to a jazz band behind the front lines).

    When I learned even later that Milligan was a manic-depressive arsehole who managed to hurt most of the people who ever loved him, but couldn't help it, it made me think even more.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3119 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    And on the poetry front: when I was in my second year at university, on impulse I bought an anthology of poetry in English that had been remaindered from some course the year before. With a couple of friends I used to smoke with at the Wailing Bongo we formed the beer and poetry club which met one afternoon a week at the Hillcrest and recited verse while becoming steadily drunker. Malcom got the girl, I didn't, but the poetry stayed where the lust had faded. And in that anthology Curnow and the Baxter and Tuwhare held up well against Tennyson and Browning...

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3119 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    More books and drugs and books on drugs.

    One thing that bugs me are books about drugs that contain dramatic descriptions of their effects ('take your best orgasm and multiply it by a million . . .') that prompt me to protest 'but it's nothing like that!'

    A lot of modern drug books - Trainspotting, Million Little Pieces, Contortionists Handbook - seem to have been written by people who don't have the faintest idea what they're writing about (although in the case of Trainspotting it's still beautifully written).

    Well William S Burroughs knew . . .

    Morphine hits the backs of the legs first, then the back of the neck, a spreading wave of relaxation slackening the muscles away from the bones so that you seem to float without outlines, like lying in warm salt water. As this relaxing wave spread through my tissues, I experienced a strong feeling of fear. I had the feeling that some horrible image was just beyong the field of vision, moving, as I turned my head, so that I never quite saw it. I felt nauseous; I lay down and closed my eyes. A series of pictures passed, like watching a movie: A huge neon-lighted cocktail bar that got larger and larger until streets, traffic, and street repairs were included in it; a waitress carrying a skull on a tray; stars in the clear sky. The physical impact of the fear of death; the shutting off of breath; the stopping of blood.

    So did the freaks who wrote the Illuminatus Trilogy

    My nomination for best druggy dialogue goes to Phillip K Dicks 'A Scanner Darkly.'

    "Well, see, you take a huge block of hash and carve it in the shape of a man. Then you hollow out a section and put a wind-up motor like a clockworks in it, and a little cassette tape, and you stand in line with it, and then just before it goes through customs you wind up the key and it walks up to the customs man, who says to it, 'Do you have anything to declare?' and the block of hash says, 'No, I don't,' and keeps on walking. Until it runs down on the other side of the border."
    "You could put a solar-type battery in it instead of a spring and it could keep walking for years. Forever."
    "What's the use of that? It'd finally reach either the Pacific or the Atlantic. In fact, it'd walk off the edge of the Earth, like--"
    "Imagine an Eskimo village, and a six-foot-high block of hash worth about--how much would that be worth?"
    "About a billion dollars."
    "More. Two billion."
    "These Eskimos are chewing hides and carving bone spears, and this block of hash worth two billion dollars comes walking through the snow saying over and over, 'No, I don't.'"
    "They'd wonder what it meant by that."
    "They'd be puzzled forever. There'd be legends."
    "Can you imagine telling your grandkids, 'I saw with my own eyes the six-foot-high block of hash appear out of the blinding fog and walk past, that way, worth two billion do!lars, saying, "No, I don't." 'His grandchildren would have him committed."
    "No, see, legends build. After a few centuries they'd be saying, 'In my forefathers' time one day a ninety-foot-high block of extremely good quality Afghanistan hash worth eight trillion dollars came at us dripping fire and screaming, "Die, Eskimo dogs!" and we fought and fought with it, using our spears, and finally killed it.'
    "The kids wouldn't believe that either."
    "Kids never believe anything any more."

    And you'd be hard pressed to find better contemporary drug literature than Alan Moores 'Promethea'. (Let's see Hollywood turn that into a bad movie.)

    I was amused to see reviewers clucking over how bleak and violent Cormac McCarthys latest book 'The Road' was. They've forgotten about 'Blood Meridian', which is another of my favourite books even if I don't have the faintest idea what it's about. Here's his description of a Comanche attack:

    A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, frogged and braided cavalry jackets … and all the horsemen’s faces gaudy and grotesque with daubings like a company of mounted clowns, death hilarious, all howling in a barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • Tony Kennedy,

    We have had the novels and the poetry, I would like to raise a glass to the humble comic ...from "The Dandy" (Desperate Dan started me off on a life long love affair with the meat pie) to "Viz", from the "Tiger", where Roy Race of the Rovers proved definitively that you could have a 40 year football career at the highest level to "Love and Rockets" and loads more in between.

    btw, for Melchester Rovers fans everywhere ....

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 223 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    Beano is Best, Tony.

    The problem is, Deborah, a lot of books have carved a notch on the bedposts of my easily-led mind, and I keep wanting to say yes!

    Yes. I think I spent far too long in the previously mentioned Adrian Mole phase of life. Lasted well into my 20s. I sometimes look at those books and wonder how the hell I had the energy to read the buggers. Other than that revisionist Camus, I never "got" the existentialists, thank God.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1645 posts Report Reply

  • Tony Kennedy,

    Other than that revisionist Camus, I never "got" the existentialists, thank God

    when it came to existentialism the Fat Slags were more my thing Don, god never had a look in.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 223 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    The image that popped into my mind was TK sandwiched between FS bosoms.

    Oh, is that the time...

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1645 posts Report Reply

  • Tony Kennedy,

    night night Don, its way past your bedtime so no bedtime stories for you ;-)

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 223 posts Report Reply

  • merc,

    And in that anthology Curnow and the Baxter and Tuwhare held up well against Tennyson and Browning...

    Hell yeah. But for love, Pablo Neruda, 20 Poems Of Love,

    I no longer love her, that's certain, but how I loved her. My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

    Another's. She will be another's. Like my kisses before. Her voice. Her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

    I no longer love her, that's certain, but maybe I love her. Love is short, and oblivion so long.

    ~ from "Saddest Poem" by Pablo Neruda

    Since Dec 2006 • 2471 posts Report Reply

  • andrew llewellyn,

    Anything by Kurt Vonnegut, but I might state a preference for Mother Night, which is the serious version of the events recounted in Slaughterhouse 5 (minus the porn star & the aliens).

    And if you kiwis haven't yet read William Brandt's The Book of the Film of the Story of my Life, or Nigel Cox's Tarzan Presley - then run out & get them now.

    Since Nov 2006 • 2075 posts Report Reply

  • Robyn Gallagher,

    With a couple of friends I used to smoke with at the Wailing Bongo

    The Wailing Bongo! OMG! Did you ever call it the Wailing Bong? I did.

    OK, back to the books.

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1946 posts Report Reply

  • Richard Llewellyn,

    And on the 'difficult to do well non-fiction' front, some of the best sports books I've read ....

    Mud in your Eye - Chris Laidlaw, written at a time when All Blacks spoke, if at all, in monosyllabic terms, here was a book that opened the lid on rugby in NZ, from the point of view of a brilliant, if slightly dotty, non-conformist

    Fever Pitch - enough said

    All Played Out - Pete Davies following the English footy team and Gazza on their doomed 1990 World Cup bid - personally resonant because I was lucky enough to be there

    Dark Trade: Lost in Boxing - Donald Macrae is an excellent South African journalist who always finds the sad reality underneath the sporting hype - almost a boxing version of the superb Hoop Dreams

    Only a Game?: Diary of a Professional Footballer by Eamonn Dunphy, a brilliant and sardonic look at life as a pro footballer

    Mt Albert • Since Nov 2006 • 399 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Books on drugs: The Whole Earth Catalogue: an invaluable resource. There's lots more in it, but not as interesting to a late 70s adolescent.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2054 posts Report Reply

  • Beatrix,


    Carrie Fisher. I love Carrie Fisher. To the point that when I joined an all-women book group without realizing just what that meant, I told them all she was my favourite author. Cue: scorn. Postcards from the Edge is great.

    Also: Anna Karenina, The Wasp Factory, Franny and Zooey...

    Oh and from the childhood section- The Secret Garden, Little Women and Tom Sawyer. Awesome.

    London • Since Nov 2006 • 15 posts Report Reply

  • hamishm,

    Fever pitch is good, I love the bit with the marzipan mice that turn into a pre-match ritual.
    Incidentally Salman Rushdie wrote a great essay about being a fan in a book called Crossing the Line, sadly it was of Tottenham but there you go.
    Which reminds me that the initial pages of Midnights Children
    are stunningly good. Like fireworks.The rest is not so invigorating but good all the same.

    Since Nov 2006 • 357 posts Report Reply

  • Riddley Walker,

    I keep wanting to say yes! Me too!

    yes me too me too.

    i have also enjoyed and been changed somehow by lots of

    1. 'crap' books because they can still be quite illustrative - i mean Mills and Boon (1 or 2 should be enough)can actually be really interesting for understanding some social malaise; Commando comics for their extreme kiddy propaganda
    2. reference books on anything i knew nothing about and generally still no nothing about but am now more aware of how little i know about them

    AKL • Since Feb 2007 • 890 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    "My Tao - Tao Te ching of Lao Tse" - my mother gave me a copy, translated by Peter Land, and illustrated by Allan Gale. Closest I get to religion ('Candide' aside); no drugs invovled.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1115 posts Report Reply

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