Bitching Brew

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I want to know... your literary crushes.

I've finally found the time and the temperament to write this post. A couple of weeks back, I read an article on Slate.com called "My First Literary Crush". Essentially, two dozen writers and 'great thinkers' (tongue-in-cheek, surely?!) answered the question "What's the most influential book you read in college?". And I gave thanks - it wasn't universally pretentious! Just kidding. I've read and relished many pretentious books.

So, I'm going to pose a similar challenge to all of you.

Tell me about a book that influenced you; preferably (but not necessarily) in your college years. I'm setting your 18th birthday as an arbitrary cut-off. I don't want to hear about books that stunned you as a child or teenager - regardless of how good they might be. I want to know about a book that blew your mature, adult mind the first time you read it. We all have at least one. So leave a comment! Tell me the book, a little about it, and give a little story if you want about what it meant to you. Maybe it was the first time you read your favourite author - who really did become your literary crush!

I'll start the ball rolling.

I could pick any of half a dozen books, but I'm going to go with Jack Kerouac's On the Road. It was the end of my second year in college, and my brain had been numbed by interminable tracts of philosophy. Sure, some of them had blown my mind - and changed my world-view - but none of them had truly excited me.

Reading On the Road wasn't just a breath of fresh air; it was a giddy sugar-rush of euphoria. The jazzy rhythms of the prose and the sheer thrill of the story stirred my soul. It inspired me to travel, to broaden my then-narrow horizons, to drink up every experience I came across. OK, I was moving in that direction anyway, but this novel lit the afterburners. It set in my mind the desire to explore the US - not to relive the book, but to live my own adventure, to know myself and the world through travel, not via books (!) and TV or the vicarious experiences of others.

A couple of months later, I stayed on alone after a weekend with friends in Paris. Nothing major: I only stayed a few extra days (surviving on wired money), but it was the first time I'd been alone in a foreign land. The independence, the self-reliance, the freedom was dazzling and terrifying. Ever since those days, I've lusted after that freedom. So, in the summer just gone, I finally went on my own little adventure across America. And there, immersed in the deliriously epic milieu that is America, I finally grasped 'the ragged and ecstatic joy of pure being'.

But this post isn't about me - it's about you and your books. Comment away! Especially those of you who've never commented before! :)

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7 Comments:

  • My college years were more about film than books. One that does spring straight to mind is "Interview with the Vampire" by Anne Rice. I know vampires are old hat these days and Anne Rice has become a bit of a cliche but back then it was quite different from any other horror books I'd read before.

    I found the book in the 2nd hand book shop across the road from Tara Street station in Dublin where I spent many a happy hour.

    By Anonymous Claire, at Wed Nov 30, 11:53:00 p.m.  

  • Well, i'm still in college in fact i'm on my 3rd year in UST. I love reading and had lots of favorite books but if there's a book that really moved me.. it would be 'The Alchemist' by Paulo Coelho. I got lots of insights and wisdom from it. It is the only book that i finished on one reading.. I really lost track of the time, I didn't eat my dinner coz i don't want to put the book down..

    The book was recommended to me by a friend.

    By Blogger sara, at Mon Dec 05, 12:12:00 p.m.  

  • Claire - maybe vampires are old-hat, but I feel they still have that ambiguous coolness, for want of a better phrase! Oddly, I think it's their humanity that fascinates. That and the general kinkiness, of course... Is that bookshop still there? I don't recall seeing one. Too many of the independent bookshops have disappeared. :(

    Sara - indeed, The Alchemist is pretty popular! I used to sell plenty of copies, in several languages, when I worked in a foreign-language bookshop. And, em, finishing it in one reading is pretty impressive! I haven't read many books in one go. The Great Gatsby is the only one that springs to mind.

    Right, thanks to both of you for the suggestions - I'll put both on my little list!

    By Blogger Martin, at Thu Dec 08, 10:41:00 p.m.  

  • I don't remember when I read these, but I've read them both numerous times:

    The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

    By Anonymous Lynn, at Fri Dec 09, 07:25:00 p.m.  

  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being is one of my favourite books! Now that I know you've got good taste, I'll add the Pirsig book to my list. Cheers Lynn!

    By Blogger Martin, at Tue Dec 20, 05:47:00 p.m.  

  • I really loved "Against Nature" (in translation) by J.-K. Huysmans, also, "Marius the Epicurean" by Walter Pater. Both erudite works, yet smoothly put together; in fact, Pater worked with formal meter in his prose.

    By Blogger dpineapple, at Thu Dec 22, 08:49:00 p.m.  

  • I'd never heard of either of those books. Late 19th-century - an excellent time for literature. They look very interesting; I'll definitely add them to my Amazon wish list. Thanks Pineapple! :)

    By Blogger Martin, at Tue Dec 27, 03:41:00 p.m.  

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