Professor Lisa Jardine and Annie Watkins of Queen Mary College interviewed 500 men, many of whom had some professional connection with literature, about the novels that had changed their lives. The most frequently named book was Albert Camus's The Outsider, followed by JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five.
I've read all three of those and was deeply affected by them all, in my teens. Which is Jardine's point of analysis: "The men's list was all angst and Orwell. Sort of puberty reading."
On the other hand, I have never (I have to confess) read Jane Eyre, which was women's clear favourite in a poll a year ago. But I would put Margaret Atwood up there on my list of favourite authors, as do the women polled.
Actually, I hate all these 'what's your favourite?' polls - I can never think of a single film, song or book which could do justice to all the movie-going, listening and reading I've done in my life. And books and singers who were highly influential then can be embarrassing to admit to now - isn't that the point of being an adolescent and then maturing? Actually (again), it doesn't even have to be a case of maturing, just of changing tastes and interests. I mean, to love exactly the same book to exactly the same extent now as I did 30 years ago would indicate some kind of emotional limitation, it seems to me.
However, that's not what these men or women were asked - they were asked to name a watershed novel, one which had sustained or inspired them through a key moment in their life.
Um, I'm sure there must have been one or two of those, but nothing springs to mind.
I can think of a few books which greatly influenced me, most of them read as a teenager - among them were Bob Dylan, a biography I came across haphazardly which sent me to listen to Dylan's music, which I fell in love with; 'The Interpretation of Dreams' and "The Psychopathology of Everyday Life' by Sigmund Freud and A Very Easy Death by Simone de Beauvoir. None of those is a novel.
I'm not someone who likes to re-read novels, so it's not as if I'm going to use something I've already read to sustain me through a crisis...
Oh, just thought of a novel which did grip me in a very personal way - Monkey Grip by Helen Garner. Why? Because that very year I was living in a large group household (Sydney not Melbourne), riding my bike and in a relationship with an addict. So I identified. Which is hard to own up to, as Garner and that novel have been so criticised (by me, too.) But you had to be there.
More thoughts here.