This was inspired by this article by the constantly inspiring and wonderfully provocative Gabino Iglesias: https://litreactor.com/columns/10-books-that-feel-like-exes, I have decided to write about 10 books that are important to me, and well, kind of messed me up.
- The Vampire Lestat, Anne Rice
Wearing my grey and blue school uniform, I raced after high school to a bookshop in the central city of Christchurch to buy this book new. This was in my Sting ‘Nothing Like the Sun’ phase, when I insisted on being stylishly unshaven, a habit that I have carried through to the present day. Although now, peppered with grey, my face seems more unkempt than anything else.
When I got home, I started reading the real adventures of Lestat (not the dreadful lies spread by his beloved companion in the first book). After being forced to communicate with my mortal parents to consume dinner, I returned to the vampire world and remained there until I had completed the book when the first rays of sunlight tore into my eyes.
- Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift
Sure there’s the adventures in Lilliput and pissing on fires, but this is only a small part of the novel. There’s a lot of humorous hatred of humanity and of human stupidity too. It’s like a very amusing science-fiction/fantasy version of Robinson Crusoe mixed with cutting social criticism.
- Siddhartha, Herman Hesse
Despite its excessive conflation of Eastern religions, this is a beautiful short novella about enlightenment, heavily influenced by psychoanalysis. It is so visual that it is perfectly possible to after reading it several times to replay it in your head, memorising the whole thing, and I did this one evening, around the same time as when I lay on my bedroom floor in my sleeping clothing and meditated myself into a heart rate so slow I was very cold and the blood left me, so much that my parents thought I was as white ‘as a ghost’.
- Scaramouche, Raphael Sabatini
Comedy, acting, acrobatics and swordplay, but revenge, sweet revenge with a capital Zorro. While there’s a fair bit of racism in some of his other novels about pirates, this one was beautiful, particularly for the opening line: ‘He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.’
- Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
One of the first science-fiction novels, with a story that appears to have been heavily influenced by the tabula rasa theory of psychology and Milton’s Prometheus, Frankenstein is also by turns a horror novel, a thriller and a tragedy. Byron, Percy, Mary and some of the other Romantics were writing horror stories at that time, but Mary’s was one of the most successful.
- The Complete Works of Byron/ The Complete Works of Shelley
Two works that for teenage boys are not conducive to natural communication with female humans, but instead make put women up on pedestals, write sickly love poetry, or longingly cite their praises, all the while cursing god and praising the creative force of Satan.
- Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
I would probably have not got into this book so much except due to a visiting scholar to my university’s Russian department who read and praised the opening of the book very highly, and who read that section aloud, luxuriating in the sounds. There are a lot of French phrases in the book that I didn’t understand, but it is wonderful, for the poetry and humour of it. If you want to hear the book being read, please listen to the spectacular audiobook with Jeremy Irons at HH. I think without ‘Lolita’, we would not have the amusing and disturbing characters/monsters such as Hannibal Lecter, and the stalker Joe in Caroline Kepne’s ‘You’. It’s a thriller, a tragedy, a comedy, a travelogue, a work of detective fiction, a critique of materialism, the narrator commenting in an often pretentious and amusing way on a whole range of topics.
- Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut
I like this book so much, and the prose style of Vonnegut in it, that I have read it several times. Also, when I got the opportunity to go to Germany, I immediately put Dresden into my travel plans. Such a beautiful place, with nearly all new buildings compared to the cities in other parts of Germany, and we know the reason (it had the absolute shit bombed out of it by Allied forces, even though it wasn’t a priority military target, and the war was ending). Plus, ‘so it goes’ is one of the best quotes ever.
- Hannibal, Thomas Harris
The others were wonderful too. But this one focused on Hannibal Lecter, the gentleman of refined tastes himself. I guess giving him an enemy nastier than himself makes him somewhat of a hero in this, but we know he is not an individual we should make a point of coming close to, lest we offend him. He remains a dangerous, but charismatic individual.
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman
Some books get you to relive your own past history, make tears flow while you dream of events in childhood. This was one of those books for me. Of course, the story wasn’t like my childhood, with its beaches and woods. It just brought all of my past back, and helped me to relive it.
Of course, there are actually a lot more books that messed me up into the person I am. These are just a few. Given room to roam and ramble, I might add ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’ by Mark Twain, Diana Wynne-Jones’ ‘The Homeward Bounders’, Homer’s works, and Adam Nevill’s ‘No One Gets Out Alive’, along with many others.
Well, that’s it for now. Tune in for more adventures.