Five ‘significant’ reads in my life

hiroshimaJohn Hersey’s Hiroshima

This stands out because it marked my transition from the children’s section in our small but lovely local library to a shelf holding books which opened up my world in a heartbeat. In my memory, it held both fiction and non-fiction – knowing how libraries work, I’m doubting this now – and Hiroshima was the first I picked up. I hadn’t come across anything like this before – any non-fiction I had encountered had been quite obviously textbooks or encyclopedias. The six accounts of the aftermath of the dropping of the atomic bomb were so striking, so memorable. I’d later write essays on New Journalism as a form – but this is where my love of this genre began. There was no going back to the children’s section after this.

millGeorge Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss

Ok, so I’ll admit this straight away – I wanted to be Maggie Tulliver. This was the first ‘classic’ novel I had not just finished but had actually enjoyed. She was probably the first flawed-but-brilliant heroine I’d come across, and the novel opened my eyes to how ‘old’ books (I was young – I’m sorry) might still have something to say to me as a teenager in the early nineties.

owenWilfred Owen’s ‘Futility’.

Writing an essay for sixth form on this poem was a turning point for me. I’d already opted for Human Geography at university but, with months to go, I’d been set an essay by the wonderful Mrs Jones, an English teacher I wish I’d thanked before it was too late to do so. Mrs Jones had come in to teach us in our final year and she was the one who made me realise just how much I loved literature. I’d always been a reader but I’d never thought I was ‘good’ at it. The poem itself is so poignant – it’s got quite a different tone to most of his more anthologised texts – and it puts the specific battle into a much wider scale:

‘If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds—
Woke once the clays of a cold star.’

womens roomMarilyn French’s The Women’s Room

I came to this novel late on in my university studies and it felt like I’d recognised a familiar face as I read about Mira’s increasing awareness of the restrictions of her world. I wasn’t experiencing her life per se, but I was growing into my own ideas of feminism and this was a key read at a key time for me. I’m not sure how I’d feel about it now – but it led me to other feminist writers and I haven’t looked back.

o'farrellMaggie O’Farrell’s This Must Be the Place

Since my university days, I’ve read a lot of brilliant things and taught a lot of brilliant literature. In terms of ‘significant’ reads, though, I think I have to turn to the first novel I reviewed as a bookblogger. Reading for my own enjoyment or preparing a text for teaching to my students have always been very enjoyable – but reading with the idea of sharing my thoughts with the wider world is different. It requires the close reading I do for my classes and feels like a more heightened experience than when I have simply done it without any sense of a tangible outcome. I scribble in the margins (sorry/not sorry) and make notes in the back. It makes for a very satisfying read. I don’t review every book I read, but I do engage more fully with those I do. And I love it!

So, there they are – the reads which, one way or the other, have had an impact on my life to one degree (literally, in one case) or another. We’ve all got those books, those reads – I’d love to hear which books or which writers have had a significant impact on you.


4 thoughts on “Five ‘significant’ reads in my life

  1. I’m British. Half my degree was American Studies. A third of the Am St was literature. American novels and poetry, like imported American blues music, were hard to come by here in the Seventies. But if you had to read it for the course, it had to be available to buy and in the uni library. I gobbled it up. Pirzig, Ginsberg, Pound, Melville, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Richard Brautigan, Ishmail Reed. There were others too, but those perhaps spoke to me most strongly at the time. It was like being turned loose in a sweet shop. A lot of what we studied was only recently published, but in those days I didn’t pay much attention to the copyright page, so wasn’t aware of how fresh it all was (late seventies). I only realised later that almost all of it was written by men, but later (after uni and when US literature had got easier to obtain) I got onto Alice Walker, Maya Angelou etc.

    We ‘did’ film too, especially ‘the road movie’. I have, to this day, never quite got over the sheer pointlessness of ‘Zabriskie Point’.


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