though it may positively REEK of hive mind, i'm throwing off my usual disdain for crowd-following & i'm elbowing my way to the front of the literary mosh pit that is world book day. i'll try not to break anyone's bifocals.
normally, i'd rebuke the advances of a day that has been sanctioned (even by UNESCO) for recognition. however, given that world book day isn't - so far as i can tell - yet another way to flog unwanted tat, i'll embrace it. books are important. you in the back: keep it down. you'll never learn as much from CoD or GTA as you will from BOOKS. try one. see if i'm wrong.
i owe my life to some old, bound papers with yellowed pages & crumpled corners (the best kind). they were - & are - my escape. without them, puberty would have crushed me to dust. secondary school would have seen me at the end of a rope. anyway, i'm not writing one now...so, i'll get on to my list. it's due time that i properly & publicly acknowledged some of the very best friends i've ever had. you, my tomes, have made me ponder & probe. you've made me cry & consider. you've made me recognise myself & not feel completely alienated from the rest of the human species. here's to ya!
(i'm not going to order them with numbers, as that would unfairly accord more value to one over another.)
la ballon rouge: albert lamorisse
this was a favourite picture book of mine when i was between the ages of three & five. what am i saying? i'm still mad keen on it. wish i had my original copy, but i do still own a french version. am i cheating by listing this? it's actually based on a featurette (court metrage) made by albert lamorisse about a lonely boy in the menilmontant neighbourhood of paris. he's named pascal & he befriends a seemingly sentient red balloon. if you're a big, whingeing baby & you can't be bothered to immerse yourself in the full bibliobimbo experience, watch the film here. i could read & watch it simultaneously every day until the end of my days. my francophilia? born with this book.
watership down: richard adams
it's a good job that my father wasn't always so great at discerning what might constitute prose that could prove too traumatic for a nine-year-old's brain. if he'd stopped to consider that nightmares of tyrannical rabbits & bellicose bunnies might result from his nightly recitations from richard adams's allegorical masterpiece, i'm convinced that i'd not be the empathetic creature that i am (or strive to be) today. still a bit grumpy, though, that mr adams wasn't & isn't a vegetarian (like the characters upon whom he so skilfully & lovingly bestowed immortality). life changer...
ps: if you like watership down but have never read plague dogs, do. it's completely underrated & too often forgotten when one speaks of richard adams.
to kill a mockingbird: harper lee
yeah, i know: every sensible kid with a modicum of intelligence & compassion fell in love with this book. i'm not looking for approbation here. it's the first 'adult' book that i can remember reading & what it told me about humans shocked me to my confused, prepubescent core. there was all that ugliness & beauty unraveled & revealed to us starkly, with hope. harper lee's story & its characters offered us choice. which road did you travel?
a clockwork orange: anthony burgess
dr seuss can neither be blamed nor credited for igniting my passion for language & linguistics. that dubious honour goes to one mr anthony burgess whose appendix to 'a clockwork orange' was the object of a fierce obsession that would consume me from the age of 14. it still hasn't entirely loosened its grip, either. to this day, i'm fascinated - &, oftentimes, equally irritated - by slang & even code (1337, y'all). nasdat led the way to verlan. can i call myself a polyglot if i know how to say 'get fucked' in 10 different languages? would the story have engrossed me to this degree if it hadn't been peppered with words that required their own glossary? well, yes. the title itself is both instructive & sublime.
frankenstein: mary wollstonecraft shelley
it took me far too long to get round to reading this wonder & i can still barely believe that such a magical thing exists. my first introduction to the story was the film 'young frankenstein'. as much as i adore madeline kahn, that's a tragic admission. every theatrical treatment of the novel fell short - even those that tried to give it the gravity & pathos that it merits. i'd been hoodwinked by the broad brush strokes of common interpretation & had just dismissed it as a bit of disposable gothic histrionics. only in my early 20s, when i began to investigate anarchism & feminism, did i afford this book its due reverence. it took her husband, percy, & her mum, mary, to open my eyes.
i love frankenstein for all the reasons that i've discussed previously in this blog post. it's a scathing condemnation of humanity & our need to play god, but it also gives us a glimpse into how we could be.
the second sex: simone de beauvoir
simone turned my world on its head & made me understand that i could reject any plans society might have for me & for all womankind in general. somehow, she's managed here to combine logic, reason & science with emotional appeals for social justice. her militance is elegant, eloquent & unwavering. her voice is unique. i admire emma goldman & adore mary wollstonecraft. the pankhursts were swell. even andrea dworkin made some invaluable contributions to the movement. but they weren't simone de beauvoir & they didn't write 'le deuxieme sexe'.
rameau's nephew: denis diderot
'candide' was, perhaps, my first introduction to sociopolitical satire & i struggled not to include it today. however, i wanted to shine a spotlight on diderot's less notorious tale. besides, diderot has a distinct advantage over voltaire in that he was more steadfast in his pursuit of egalitarianism & everything that he wrote illustrated that conviction. hard to believe, i know, given how roundly exalted francois-marie arouet is...
with 'rameau's nephew', denis diderot has invented a new way of presenting disparate ideas by placing the dramatic burden on just two characters. it's a bit like waiting for godot, but diderot got there about 200 years before beckett.
picture of dorian gray: oscar wilde
nobody writes like wilde. i'm sure that i don't need to say much about this one. it's the mother of all allegories & it will knock the wind from your lungs with its acute observations on human nature. who else can articulate such important themes in so seductive a tone, beautifully perfumed by truth? only wilde.
the morning of the magicians: louis pauwels & jacque bergier
metal, so much to answer for: my literacy being just one thing on the list. it was quebecois prog-thrash masters, voivod, who are responsible for this entry - &, as they do, this book defies description. published in 1960, it's an explosion of radical ideas: metaphysics, occultism, conspiracy. all are examined thoroughly, sometimes with a knowing wink & the author's tongues firmly entrenched in their cheeks. if you're at all into HP lovecraft, you'll probably want to read this at least once. read the original french text if you can. some of the wit is lost in translation. bonus point: gainsbourg namechecked pauwels in the song, 'initials BB'. what more could you possibly want?
if you can't get your hands on a copy, watch this musical ode by martin circus.
the bell jar: sylvia plath
at 15, i was unaware of sylvia's personal history & i'm glad of that. it meant that i didn't read the bell jar as an autobiography. instead, i relished it on its own merits. the writing style is fresh - unlike any other book i'd read up to then - & the way the words are stitched together means that only a sociopath could fail to feel the raw emotion coming from esther. only the coldest of hearts would not want to reach in & fish her out of her turbulent waters. for all that, this erudite roman a clef even succeeds in being terribly funny, as well.
bonjour tristesse: francoise sagan
the author's tender age isn't the only thing that makes this book a literary feat. sagan's tale manages to be the least creepy examination ever written about an electra complex. actually, i've just done it an unforgivable injustice. if you haven't yet read it, disregard my lazy soundbites. this is a rich, unrelenting story of jealousy, caprice & love that scrutinises human emotion. it makes us question ourselves & our priorities. how francoise managed to delve so deeply & to know so well when she penned this in her nineteenth year, i'll never know. it still confounds me. let it confound you, too.