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Thursday, April 06, 2006


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I haven't read any of the male favourites, and I have read Jane Eyre - maybe I'm more feminine than I thought. I agree with you, it's tough to think of one book, out of the many, to pick as having the biggest influence.

And novels don't "sustain my life" that much any way. The book I can still remember reading and being affected by as a teenager was the biography of Marie Curie - I really wanted to be her, even with all the tragedy in her life (I think it was also the first time I had read a convincing and moving description of raw grief as well).

I do have a few favourite novels that are close to junk that I will read in bed when I'm too tired to think, but need something comforting, but I don't think that's the same question!

I can think of books that affected me very deeply at different points in my life, but the books I re-read most often are the literary equivalent of comfort foods: deeply pleasurable to me but often not worthy of the implications behind these sorts of polls. The books I re-read every year are mostly the usual suspects: a certain fantasy trilogy, Jane Austen, Miss Manners' various etiquette guides, because they always make me laugh.

I'm not sure I could point to a life-changing book in my teens, either. That was a long time ago, in the history of my reading life. I do think, on looking back, that's it's intriguing that most of the "deep, serious" books presented to teenagers at my high school -- Camus, Sartre, Salinger -- were authors I've come to understand as extremely male. There's probably a lot to be said about the ways in which literary teenagers are pushed in certain directions by the male-male-MALE accounts of alienation they are asked to read. Or were asked to read, at least.

I used to read Jane Eyre every time I had the flu when I was a student. It is a fab sickbed read. I seem also to remember feminist lit crit articles that claimed Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights provided the two basic narrative structures that are used in pop romance fiction. Anyway, Jane Eyre worked for me!

But the book I tend to name as my favourite is Anna Karenin, which I read when I was 22, just after completing my English Hons degree. I read it at a time when I was properly able to appreciate and wallow in the author's achievement and that kind of cemented it as an all-time favourite for me...so perhaps youth is an important predicator of favourite book-dom.

I think Camus is a very adolescent choice also. I'm sick of people saying that _The Outsider_ is their favourite book. And it is usually men, from memory.

P.S. It's interesting what you say about Monkey Grip. I thought it was a really ho-hum book until I had to teach it, and saw how cleverly structured and written it was -- tho at a superficial glance, it looks to have been thrown together from her diary.

I've found tho that it's generally people 5-10 years older than me who've said it was 'just like their lives.' I look at MG and can only faintly identify with it. Whatever radical utopic euphoria was going on in shared household land, it had paled by the time my friends and I got there in the late 80s/early 90s.

Because I don't tend to re-read, I haven't re-read Monkey Grip in all these years. So what I say about it is based on memory of its impact on me at that time - the quality of her descriptions of the love she felt for her junkie lover really moved me. But even though I identified, my life was nowhere near identical in very important ways - I was in Sydney not Melbourne (it's a very Melbourne book); my lover was a woman, not a man, and my milieu and household were much less straight; I was much younger and didn't have a child.
I think some of the 'shared household utopia' was based on the newness of the concept and the cheap availability of large houses - I lived in a house with seven bedrooms. But it was far from utopian in practice, of course.

"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."
That's a very good point, particularly these days where "best-of" lists and classifications are so popular.

Jennifer, is that biography by Marie Curie's daughter? That book is astonishing for its honest portrayal of tragedy and grief... moved me a lot.

Yes, it was the one by her daughter - I'll have to reread it now that someone else has validated my teenage memories.

On that women's list, I've only read Pride and Prejudice...mostly to see what all the fuss was about. I found it very entertaining but I don't know I would list it as a favorite book. I've read about eight off the other list. I don't think I could choose any favorite book, movie or music either. Music is probably the more likely to have the effect on me...which surprises me to think about for some reason. When I am asked such questions, I keep thinking it would be hard to write a top ten of favorites. So many different factors affect me and just my mood alone will change what appeals to me.

And yes, you are right about what you found influential when younger being less so (or not at all) now. I don't really find myself too embarrassed about music, books and movies I liked as a teenager. I will admit some of it just doesn't stand up today. But I don't regret having enjoyed it as a teen or young adult.

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