My next selection on my favourite books list is called A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guinn. I first read this when I was about fourteen and I was just blown away by it. Like many of Le Guinn’s books, they can be read by children but they are also equally appreciated by adults. The themes she explores are quite dark and quite serious but there no reason why a children’s book has to be all sweetness and light. It’s about a young man who becomes a wizard and in the course of his learning he comes face to face with a demon. At first he tries to run away from it but he soon realises that it will follow him where ever he goes. At the end he knows that the only way he can defeat the demon is to turn and face it because the demon is actually the shadow side of himself.
This story was written years before Harry Potter came along and to my mind, the Earthsea trilogy beats Harry Potter hands down but that’s only my opinion. Also I believe that great children’s books should always be cherished because they tend to be the books that get us interested in reading in the first place.
The next book I have chosen is called Charlotte’s Web by E.B.White. I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I first read it but it was the first book that made me cry. I wept buckets at the end when Charlotte the spider dies and I hate spiders! But this little book is so moving and so lovely; it’s just a simple story of a runty pig who gets saved by the farmer’s daughter and then gets so well fed and fat that they decide to sell him to be slaughtered but when his farmyard friends hear about this they decide to help out. It is his best friend Charlotte the Spider who saves him by weaving wonderful messages into her web. I just love this book although is does have a sad ending it is still a beautiful and uplifting book.
The next choice in my list of favourite books is The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E.Lawrence. In many ways it is the ultimate travel book because it reads more like a travel book than a story of a military campaign. His descriptions of the Arabs and their lives are extraordinarily vivid and he draws you into their world in such a detailed and intimate way. I skipped over the gruesome and nasty parts a bit but reading this I get the feeling that Lawrence may have left the desert but the desert never left him.
This is a travel log, a boy’s own adventure story, a military campaign book, a dark thriller, an inspirational story and a tragedy all rolled into one.
The next book I’ve picked that influenced me greatly is Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe (not to be confused with the author Tom Wolfe who wrote Bonfire of the Vanities and is a load of rubbish!) Look Homeward Angel is the story of one American family growing up and apart at the turn of the century. It is one of those big sprawling novels where the whole family is bonkers but all in their own individual way. It is hard to pinpoint what I loved about it so much but I know I loved it because I felt incredibly sad when I finished reading it and I just wanted to start reading it all over again straightaway. It’s one of those books where putting it down becomes a wrench. He’s particularly good on the intimate details of family life and the ebb and flow of human relationships. A wonderful book!
The next book I’ve chosen is The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck. It’s the story of the Joad’s familys’ migration to California and all the trouble they find when they get there but in between that story there is also a running theme of people in poverty and distress and how they behave. When I put it like that it sounds really boring but it’s actually incredibly moving and I personally prefer those bits to the story of the Joad family. He writes in what I call ‘big’ language, using an epic sweep and grand emotions with a huge setting but he still creates intimacy. It’s an immensely political book and it’s obvious that Steinbeck is left wing but he manages not to preach, merely to convey. The story of a bunch of obvious underdogs going through a hell on earth in the heart of sunny California is a tremendously powerful rebuke on those who don’t know and don’t care about other people’s suffering, and shows the darkness that lies at the heart of The American Dream.
Okay, the second book I picked out is called The Death of The Heart by Elizabeth Bowen. The plot is simply about a sixteen year old girl who falls in love for the first time and it all goes badly but in the process she loses her childhood innocence and begins the process of becoming an adult woman. Obviously it’s about how we get changed by cynicism etc as we get older but it is so beautifully told; the quality of language makes it read more like a prose poem. It just flows so wonderfully that if I had to encapsulate it in one word I would say it is exquisite.
Okay, after thinking about it for two days I’ve come up with a list of the books that have influenced me the most. The list is not meant to be exhaustive which means I could be adding to it in the future and I’ve decided not to put the books in any sort of order as in best to worst or anything like that because I believe they’re all significant.
My first choice is Pride and Prejudice; I can’t remember when I first read this but it is probably the one I have re-read the most. Whenever I’m truly fed up or feeling low simply reading a few pages of this lifts my spirits. It is one of the most perfectly written books ever and it has everything you could want from a great novel; fabulous characters, perfect setting, intricate plot, comedy, tragedy and best of all, a happy ending. What’s not to like?