Thursday, May 19, 2005

In which I WILL NOT SHUT UP. Sorry.

(Today's post will be entirely conducted in an appalling mock-Swedish accent. If you don't know how that might sound chances are you never will because a) you can't hear me because I am writing not speaking and b) I'm not convinced that such an accent even exists.)

In my profile I wrote that my favourite books were The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie. I don't know if you've read either of them, or if you're REALLY lucky, both of them, but you should.
Stop reading my bullshit and go and find these books and then love me for the rest of your Adams/Rushdie enhanced life.

The reasons I love these books so much is that I have this strange reaction when I am reading a book. I don't know if this is just me that this happens to, or whether everybody experiences the same and, duh, I'm so THICK how could I not know that was normal, but..
So if I'm halfway through a book and I'm walking around trying to attempt some kind of normal
'existence', and all the while my whole consciousness has adopted the narrative style of the book I'm reading at the time.
The book in question will be lounging in my bag, winking seductively at me in a brazen manner, tantalizing me with the notion that I could just stop, sit down in the street and indulge wantonly in some hardcore book-reading action.
My brain on the other hand? Has sucked in the narrative style of the (I must say, rather sluttish) piece of literature and is claiming it as its own.
Examples, you say? (Oh you didn't? You said shut the fuck up and give us more quizzes? Tough. You're getting examples.)

Er.. right so I have this guilty passion for bad crime thrillers. Preferably complete with rebellious but brilliant police detectives and hauntingly evil sociopathic murderers. And also, inevitably, depressingly predictable storylines. When I've been sucked into one of those I cannot help but walk around feeling VERY suspicious of things. I develop a habit of catching things out of the corner of my eye that I feel are familiar but can't quite place, and feel certain that they will become relevant as other things unfold. I also watch people intently, quietly believing to myself that I, and only I, can tell that they are certainly off home to slice and dice and wreak havoc in the suburbs somewhere, as if I might be some sort of brilliant but unruly cop. Furthermore I become HIGHLY distrusting of anyone who looks like they might be thinking in italics, because EVERYONE knows that this is what evil sociopaths do.

(Or do they?)

So that is one example. Another is that when I was doing my English Literature degree I opted to write an essay on Labyrinths, by Jorge Luis Borges. The title gives you some indication of the nature of the book. To say it's a little bit slippery would be a similar understatement to saying, for example, that fitting an entire herd of buffalo in your pocket would be a wee bit tricky. Throughout the collection of stories you do get the unmistakable impression that Borges himself is crouching somewhere just out of sight, sniggering to himself with glee as you attempt to wrap your mind around his baffling prose. Anyway, my point is that when I was spending my days focussed on Labyrinths I was a bit of a gibbering mess, as my brain simply couldn't cope with seeing everything through his carefully constructed room of mirrors. Think he had the last laugh with that one.

I love the books I love because of the way they make me see my world. Douglas Adams is a genius. His wit and comic timing is rivalled only possibly by PG Wodehouse, but I still prefer Adams. Everything, to him, is funny. He himself points out how different the world is when you look at it from just three feet to the left. Just genius.
In Haroun and the Sea of Stories the world is a beautiful, magical place that is limited only by the boundaries of imagination. Anything you can imagine exists in this book, and I think the whole thing is about the power of the human imagination and its never-ending capacity for stretching and illuminating everything that we see as 'normal'. They are both incredibly well constructed, the type of book that is startlingly simple to read and absorb but only because it so so finely and elaborately woven.

I am writing all this bollocks because sometimes I feel like I have too much of a propensity to view the world in a comic, colourless and even humourless way. The only things that can drag me away from this is the notion that there exists somewhere a whole ocean that is made up of every story that has ever existed, or will ever exist, or that the human beings came to Earth through a freak accident involving thousands of marketing executives, hairdressers and telephone santitizers, who had been expelled from their home planet.
This my not make any sense to you if you haven't read these books, but please. Trust me on this. Even if you're not like me and don't go around stealing narrative styles and trussing them up in your own consciousness, both of these books will change your view of the world, and help you live a little easier in it.

Tell me. Are there any books that you love and think I should read?

71 Comments:

Anonymous Paul said...

I'm reading Labyrinths at the moment. It's amazing. And difficult. And brilliant. Just as you think it's revealed itself, it tricks you again. Every story makes you question the value you are used to giving everything, including that of the book itself: as one of his characters states, 'There is no intellectual exercise which is not, in the end, useless'.

Books you should read... Have you ever read The Leopard, by Giuseppe Tomassi de Lampedusa? It's a wonderfully evocative story following the fall of a Sicilian noble family after Garibaldi. It's so rich and faded and redolent of dilapidated opulence that you could not just touch it but smell it, like a red velvet curtain spotted with dust and fraying at the corners with a lingering hint of lost perfumes. I'll lend it to you next time I see you.

4:26 pm

 
Blogger Leah said...

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. And its sequel, Tandia.

There are many others, but whenever I'm asked for recommendations, my mind becomes a complete blank. Sorry!

5:05 pm

 
Blogger Doug said...

I think you should try "The Man in the Maze" by Robert Silverberg (and this has nothing to do with the fact that you said Labyrinth's in your post).

6:21 pm

 
Anonymous eve said...

I'm fascinated by the idea of "telephone santitizers". (I'm supposed to be studying for tomorrow's evil exam so I'm easily waylaid and fascinated.)

ANYWHO I heart Dave Eggers and his fab books. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is aptly titled.. I also love crime novels. My gran shares her extensive collection of gruesome murder mysteries with me (no really).

10:50 pm

 
Anonymous pea said...

Everything is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran Foer

It's just so good; I'm dying to read is latest, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

11:16 pm

 
Anonymous Euan said...

Ah - I get book personality disease with every book I read - I can't help but absorb book personality.

The worst case was when I was reading No Logo. 1984 wasn't much fun either (but great book).

But the best was probably when I was read Lewis Carroll. Poems and stories and riddles and everything. It makes me think ridiculous things, which is fun.

It's cliché but anything by Roald Dahl is absolutely fantastic. I could read his books over and over. And of course, I've already read Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and the entire Hitchhikers Guide.

I recommend Lewis Caroll, he's fun. And also try Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome. It's delighfully whimsical and silly and it made me realise that people in the "olden days" had a sense of humour too. And it'll make you want to drift dreamily down the Thames. Mmmmmm...

2:37 am

 
Blogger Bug said...

Ok, I'm giving you generic, easy-to-read-but-fun books:

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown - I know everyone in the world has read it, but it really does suck you in

My Fake Wedding by Mina Ford - I used to bus to work and I made the mistake of taking this book on the bus with me. Note: do not read in public because you WILL laugh and people WILL think you're crazy. Very crass but very, very funny

Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer (or Jenny) Crusie - I admit I got sucked into the not-terribly-cerebral-but-totally-addictive chick lit thing and Jennifer Crusie's the best chick lit author I've read. Her stories are pretty much bodice-rippers on steroids but they're great: crime, small towns and lots and LOTS of sex. Great fun

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Anonymous eve said...

Thank you, Pea - i was trying to think of Jonathan Safran Foer's book, but could only remember a quote: "First I will describe my eyes, and then I will begin the story. My eyes are blue and resplendant. Now I will begin the story".
Excellent.
And Jennifer Crusie - best chick lit evah.
By the by, the sequel to Three Men in a Boat is called Three Men on the Bummel. heh. (yeah. I'm four.)

6:54 am

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have so many books that I just adore, and read and re-read, but I can only come up with one book at the moment - A Million Little Peices - I think by James Frey?. Such a good read, well written and haunting. I had to stop reading it on the tube, not because I was laughing, but because I was crying!

2:43 pm

 
Anonymous Jenny said...

I do this too, get so sucked up in a book that I feel either depressed or happy depending on what is going on in the novel. I also tend to cry buckets either way, sad or happy tears.

Only if the book is great of course. I don't cry for tripe.

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Blogger Doug said...

The first book I think I cried reading was "Where the Red Fern Grows" way back in elementary school.

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Blogger loz said...

His Dark Materials trilogy (Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass) by Philip Pullman is amazing. I tried to summarize what it's kinda about/keywords, but kept deleting/editing it so much I gave up. It's definitely in my top ten. Along with Sophie's Choice - William Styron, which is devastating and Nymphomation - Jeff Noon.

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Anonymous val said...

Hi! I am 'merican, as you say...and a southerner. With that said, I will suggest two very good books written by southern writers: To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) and The Sound and the Fury (his name has honsestly slipped my mind..and I don't feel like looking it up or anything. Anyway, AS SOON as I post this, I will remember!)

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Anonymous Dan said...

The Bible. Full of sex, drugs and rock and roll. But seriously, Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland. Starts by introducing a dead American Football player who is watching two old friends as a ghost and one of them falls into a coma. A great start to a great book.

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