Facebook posts will forever make their rounds and we’ll all get tagged at some point. And as it was I was tagged in one to name the 10 books that have influenced the most or are that important to me. For a long time I have evaded that question, always with the answer ‘oh I couldn’t, there are so many!’ never really sure why I’d ever need specific books to define my life by and why people did that.
With that flashing in my News-feed and the Robin Hobb / George RR Martin talk all those weeks ago when they were discussing their own influences, I finally stopped and understood. I have avoided it because it would force me to choose on a conscious level. But unconsciously? it took seconds and I knew instinctively what books and authors that had truly hit home. There are plenty that made me sit up; plenty that I could talk about for hours but there are some that are the defining moments that helped form who I am.
First on my list has to be Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. An unusual one as a first choice I hear you say, but it was the first book I remember discovering on my own. I don’t even remember how I discovered it except I must have been around eight reading it. It wasn’t even a new copy either, as it was my dads. Getting a small child to carefully turn pages is difficult but I did so with reverence. My memories of reading Kidnapped are the first memories I have of being transported into a world outside my own, opening a thousand possibilities. It was like opening a treasure chest of wonder.
2. The Hobbit – Tolkien. Given to me as a present at the age of 12, its the first real long novel I sat down and stuck with. As a result I read Lord of The Rings long before the films made it cool. My first introduction to magic and elves, I now own 3 times as many fantasy genre books than I do of classics… Plus The Hobbit has sentimental attachments; it was one of the last gifts I had given to me by my Granddad before he passed away. It opened the door to a genre that fed my imagination and allowed me the opportunities I needed to escape reality.
3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – C S Lewis. I was actually introduced to this via the BBC TV series before the books (I have the VHS somewhere…) but that made little difference, as the book followed soon after. That book, in its incredible world and Lewis’ ability to use language, can teach a child so much. People go on about the religious element but it is more the human element that all the characters display that opens so much understanding.
4. Tom Jones – Henry Fielding, 5. Evelina – Frances Burney and 6. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman – Laurence Sterne.
Most will look at me silly at this point as all these books were on the reading list for an English course at uni. BUT – and its a pretty big but – restoration era literature is as funny now as it was a requisite moral and social commentary then. After all, what child doesn’t crease laughing and ask a dozen questions about Robinson Crusoe or Gulliver’s Travels after reading them? Both are restoration era stories…. Tristram Shandy is just one long procrastination that has you falling over pages in confusion and re-reading pages to see if you can re-track where you’ve lost the story-line, but you’ll never find it and the narrator is laughing at you because he knows you won’t. They helped make light of a year that could have been a hell of a lot worse. Not only that; Fielding, Sterne, Burney, Samuel Richardson and Daniel Defoe are just some of the writers from that time that are the true parents of the literary form we now know as the novel.
7. All the Brambley Hedge books – Jill Barklem. Delving into that cute, tiny, incredible little world had me as a 3 year old and on-wards completely engrossed. The imagery was exquisite the stories simple but adorable and engaging.
8. Animal Ark series (author pseudonym Lucy Daniels) not particularly well written but what 10 year old who wants to be a Vet cares?! I never had the chance to own a pet as a child; living on a main road with parents in full time jobs, it was easier not to have one.
9. The Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams. It stirs the magic of childhood deep down. For a child to read about toys coming alive is just enchanting and special, it has the true capacity to feed the imagination, just like it did mine. So many times did I have tea parties with them all arranged carefully around the table and thinking they were all alive.
10. Assassin’s Apprentice – Robin Hobb (and all following Farseer books) The entire collection of Farseer books are something I could never live without. As I grew through my teenage years I read as Fitz grow from a child into a man. A constant companion it had the largest impact; I knew I could trust in those pages. And even now, every time I read them each page feels like I am reading it for the first time.
That list could never be definitive, it was a close one whether A Song of Ice and Fire made it to the list, the same with A Wheel of Time and A Fault in our Stars but if I am going on what gave the greatest influence, especially early on, then it is those 10 that make that top list. For making me think, opening up my world to even more possibilities, for rescuing me in the darkest moments and for simply wanting to make me read more; without them I doubt I would have read the others.
Oh I read Enid Blyton, Beatrix Potter, Kenneth Grahame and loved them and they also opened up my world to incredible possibilities and made me want to read more but I spent my childhood reading books like nothing else existed.