A while ago, numerous facebook tags persuaded me to make a list of my 10 most influential reads. Though it was clear that this shouldn’t be a top ten of your ‘favourite’ books, I found that a solitary list without any background gave me little insight into the reading patterns of my friends and acquaintances. No one seemed to ask Why? Today I’d like to elaborate a little on my own list and explain in what way these works influenced me.
1) The Diary of John Polidori
This might seem like a strange first choice. However, anyone who studies the Gothic will understand why this one is so important. As Lord Byron’s personal physician,
Polidori travelled along with him on his many journeys. When Percy Bissche and Mary Shelley (back then still 2 eloping adolescents) came to visit Byron in Switzerland, Polidori even witnessed the creation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein during a midnight ghost story session. How cool is that??
2) The Kalevala
Kalevala is Finland’s grand epos, relating the genesis of the Finnish people. It was written down by Ellias Lönnrot who travelled through the country collecting stories from the oral memory of the people he met. What makes this mythology so special compared to f.e. the Scandinavian Edda is that these stories are even more estranging than the Norse apocalypse story of Ragnarök. The world was born from a couple of duck eggs that hatched on the earth mother’s knee. All that because she was impregnated by the wind. Oh, and weird Finnish names. They rock.
3) Anna Karenina, by Lev Tolstoy
Just the uttter despair of the protagonist makes you feel like you were hit by train after reading this novel. It was my first Russian classic, which seemed pretty revolutionary at the time. Also a great handbook to going mad and killing yourself to stick it to the world!
4) The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde
Although The Picture of Dorian Gray was my first Oscar Wilde, my first Wilde play stuck with me the most. As a high school senior, this particular branch of humor seemed so innovative (even if it was over a hundred years old). Those extremely quoteable one-liners just made me wish I had his wit.
5) The Raven and The Pit and the Pendulum, by Edgar Allan Poe
That rhythm … holy crap, that rhythm! You could dance to it. Well, maybe like a goa-type swaying or experimental choreo. Anyhoo, The Raven’s rhyme scheme and rhythm still gives me goosebumps. And how Poe’s narrative style supports the swaying of the pendulum in The Pit and the Pendulum: back and forth, getting closer and closer… I had to put the book down or I was going to scream.
6) The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
A must-read for anyone that calls themselves a feminist. This story narrates the entrapment of a woman who cannot make decisions about her own body because she is continuously overruled by male authorities. And it’s actually surprisingly subtle until you reach the story’s ending.
I read this novel when I was having a rough time, so it served as a distraction from my own worries. I am actually grateful for this book coming into my life. The combination of the realistic and theatrical events is somehow strangely soothing. I think it has something to do with the focalisation (should research this more). At times I wish I could read this book again for the first time.
8) Doctor Glas, by Hjalmar Söderberg
A novel by one of my favourite Swedish authors, read in the original. (No, I’m not Swedish but I am skilled enough in the language to read fiction.) It is written as the diary of a general physician in Sweden, when abortion was still illegal. The historical context and insane intertextuality make this a very interesting read for any literature, anthropoly and history student. Sort of a lighter version of Crime and Punishment.
9) The Derelict, by William Hope Hodgson
People who have read my post about William Hope Hodgson will already know why this one made my top ten. I love the masculine imagery, balancing images of male social communities and their intricate regulations with images of pure physical brawniness. Also a recommendation for people studying gender theory.
10) Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
A girl’s book you say? Irrelevant. Anyone adoring Jane Austen has clearly never read the Brontës. This novel explores the less obvious facets of love and passion. One of the few novels I read again immediately after finishing it. Hell, I even kept reading it while crossing the road. Come to think of it, this one might have proved I have an addiction.
So those are my current favourites my current list. They list will inevitably change within the next few months, but for now it’ll do.