Like James Lishman, I’m also an English literature student; however, unlike him, I’ve hardly given my favourite books a second thought, much less considered which of them have “made me” the person I am today. I think there is a tendency with any favourites list to constantly preen out any embarrassing juvenilia; a book that you might have considered great ten years ago might now seem childish or un-literary, even un-cool. On the whole I have books I like, or did like, but no “favourites”, as such.
With that in mind I’ve tried to compile a list of books which I found interesting at a certain point in my life, and which possibly influenced my outlook on things. I recognise that I’ve focused more on the “me” part of “The Books That Made Me”, and that this will be more of a self-centred trip down memory lane than an interesting list of recommendations, but I’ll run with it.
Eric Hill – Spot. A lot of people seem to have books that they really remember as a child, but for me it’s a bit of a blur up until I was about six years old. Spot was one literary friend who still hangs around in my memory banks from those formative years.
R. L. Stine – The Goosebumps series. Particularly Night of the Living Dummy. Even Stine’s name sounds creepy, and for a change the television series (especially the theme music) only cemented the night terrors these books induced.
Roald Dahl – Pretty much anything, but especially The Twits and Matilda. Both are hilarious and have a great sense of the grotesque.
J. K. Rowling – The Harry Potter series. Do I really need to say anything else?
J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings. For a while I had this funny impression that all great authors had double or triple barrelled initials at the start of their pen names. I was a bit of a geeky kid (perhaps that’s too obvious already to point out), and it took me three months or so to read Tolkien’s masterpiece. I read The Hobbit beforehand, which obviously deserves an honourable mention, and I went on to The Silmarillion afterwards.
George Orwell – Nineteen Eighty-Four. In my adult opinion, probably my least favourite Orwell book. However, this turned me into a paranoid conspiracy theorist overnight, and cemented an anti-authoritarian attitude which had already begun to creep in, and which would lead on to the excesses of (soft) drugs, a lack of sex, and rock ’n’ roll.
Young adulthood (16 – 19):
Harold Pinter – The Room/The Birthday Party/The Homecoming. Not really a book, as such, but these plays were some of the first works which I really enjoyed sitting down and discussing, and they served a hard blow to my concrete notions of right and wrong.
Alan Moore – V for Vendetta/Watchmen. I know, I’m starting to cheat a lot now, but I can’t really choose between these two works. When I first started getting into comics I loved Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, I loved Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum (both Batman books), but it was Miller who really did it for me. He showed me that comics could be just as adult, and even more sophisticated, than straight literature.
J. D. Salinger – The Catcher in the Rye. If I had a gun to my head, and someone asked my favourite book, I’d say “why do you want to know that badly?” But if they persisted, I’d say probably Catcher in the Rye.
Ernest Hemingway – For Whom the Bell Tolls. I haven’t even finished this book, but I know it’s going to be a killer, and I chose it because it’s representative of the effect that Hemingway has had on me recently. Having only read him for the first time shortly before moving to Durham (The Old Man and the Sea), I’ve read his short stories voraciously ever since. I’m amazed by his style, and he might be my new favourite writer.
Chris Ware – Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. Chris Ware is a mastermind. Every time I look at his work, I actually get overwhelmed. So much work goes into every element of his stories that they look as if they have a team of writers and cartoonists working on them; like an episode of The Simpsons, with every frame put into print and every thought behind every joke written into the margins. Except, unlike The Simpsons, Ware’s work is melancholic, slightly bitter, and serious to the point of hilarity.
Grant Morrison – The Invisibles. The future.