There’s a lovely thread going about the blogosphere where people are talking about the books that most influenced them. I started writing this when it first began, got embarrassed because there was so much fiction, but decided at last to post it. So here’s mine:
This was the first book in my whole English degree that I loved. When Rachel Manchester first read the “I’m a leper, Wobble, Wobble, Wobble” aloud in my Irish studies class, I laughed until I cried. I’d read stream-of-consciousness novels before, but I’d never really taken to them. But Paddy, it was written the way a child thinks and a child talks. It was heartbreaking and beautiful, and it reminded me how much I love words. Just the sound of them.
Will Swanton wrote a beautiful piece about the 2003 Cricket World Cup. It was a lovely bit of sports journalism, the contrasting the reality of the experiences of people in South Africa with the “drama” of the tournament. It both loved and respected the sport, yet put it in its proper place. “They do not care about the world cup in Soweto”, it began.
As for influential, I didn’t get much more influential than this: not long after reading it, I gave up my teaching scholarship (which left me in severe debt), changed my major, and set my course to becoming a sports journalist, with the view to on day write like Swanton. I managed the first part, for a while, til I moved on to something else. Maybe one day soon I’ll get to the second.
The Last Silk Dress
by Ann Rinaldi
The summer before 8th Grade, not long after we’d moved to Vancouver, Washington, one of the few friends I’d managed to make before the summer break, an 8th grader named Selina in whose gym class I had been mistakingly placed, gave me this book for my birthday. I didn’t read it for a while, but when I finally did… wow.
Rinaldi writes historical fiction for teenage girls. The Last Silk Dress was the story of a girl, Susan Dobson Chilmark, who in Richmond during the Civil War, coming to realise the corruption of the South through her own family dramas. It was a little bit raunchy, a lot romantic, and it made the era just LIVE in my imagination. It was the start of an enduring love of American History, which was later enhanced and enriched in my 8th Grade Block class, with The Greatest Teacher Who Ever Lived, Chris Sink. If I was entirely, truly honest, this list would be 3/4ths Ann Rinaldi books.
I eventually took a history major (Sports History, so Swanton and Rinaldi both had a part in that one), and now am studying US Studies. On my recent trip to DC, I went to Richmond, and all I could think of was Susan.
Anne of the Island
by L. M. Montgomery
I can’t really measure the influence the Anne books, particularly Anne of the Island, have had on me, except to say that they feel like part of me. I get sad if I don’t read them at least once a year. I feel like Anne and Diana and Philippa and Stella and Priscilla are my friends- that I’ve grown up with them. And every year, as I get a bit older, some other part of Montgomery’s wisdom rings true. On the last read (of Anne of Green Gables), it was:
“There’s such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I’m such a troublesome person. If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn’t be half so interesting.”
This was the book that taught me to cook -with some help from my Grandmother. I cooked my way through it- and groaned at all the “recipes” that weren’t real recipes. Given my love, love, love of all things kitchen-y, it was influential to say the least.
Well, duh. This cannot not be on the list. My struggle to understand it, and figure out what it means and what that means for me is, undoubtedly, the literary relationship of my life. And it’s a complicated one at that.
Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes
I know it’s probably odd to have two cookbooks on my list, but this one has been such a joy, because it’s inspired me to try new things in the kitchen, and it’s been a source of both social and culinary pleasure. Plus, before I baked with this book, I thought cakes were kind of plain- Chocolate, Vanilla, Mud maybe- and that all the fun was in the decoration. Sky High taught me the cake itself could be a delicate, intricate flavour, and finding the perfect combination of cake and topping could be an adventure.
That, and the Chocolate Peanut Butter cake is ALWAYS a hit.
Pride and Prejudice
Like many romantic, history-minded young girls, I read and loved Pride and Prejudice. I first saw the BBC program when it was first on in 1995, and used my birthday money that year to buy the book. Oh, how I loved it! My first ever Halloween, after we moved to the US, I dressed up as Elizabeth Bennet. But I think what made it so influential to me was reading it again in the last semester of my English degree and realising how much I just didn’t understand it when I’d first read it, how I missed the humour and the mirth and the joy. And the irony.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma
I’ve only been reading, really reading, non fiction for a little while, so while there are lots of books that I’ll undoubtedly be influenced by in the future, I’ve not really have enough time to think on their ideas yet, and really see the way they change me. Pollan is the one exception. Ok, ok, I know Pollan is about as cliche for a 20-something, city-dwelling liberal as you can get, but the simple fact remains that he did actually influence the way I live and the way I think. Prior to reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, farm policy was not something I had the slightest awareness of- and now I work for an Agricultural Research organisation. The two were not unrelated. And even though my own attempts to transform my eating habits have been mixed, Pollan made me aware of the decisions I was making every time I ate something.
Non-book that deserves a mention:
“Goodbye to All That: Why Obama Matters”
Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic magazine, December 2007
Back in November 2007, when I first read this, I was working at the Sydney Swans and was experiencing mild- or perhaps not-so-mild- intellectual frustration. I just wanted to talk to people about interesting things and be exposed to new ideas. I was willing to learn about anything- ANYTHING- as long as it was something.
So I turned to the internet. I’d been an Obama fan since pretty early on- I have a funny story about it that is difficult to share without my sounding odd, so I will leave it untold- and when I found Sullivan’s article on Obama, I was intrigued. I started reading his blog. I started reading other blogs. The intellectual stimulation I so craved was there and was found in abundance in American politics. So began an obsession that continues, and has led to all kinds of opportunities and experiences, a congressional internship, a Masters degree, and new and dear friends I can hardly imagine my life without.
Who know what would have happened if I’d stumbled onto an article about immigration reform in Great Britain or Asian volcanos instead…