I like taking writing inspiration from prompts. This challenge is to write a list addressing what I like or what I’ve learned. I think this list, of books which have stayed with me over many years, covers both.
- ‘Jane Eyre’, Charlotte Bronte
This book was one of the first adult novels I read as a child. Jane’s independent spirit and attraction to the inner person and ideas rather than possessions and glamour struck a chord within me.
- ‘Dracula’, Bram Stoker
As a teenager, the concept of vampires seemed attractive, and despite my better judgement, films or books with a vampire as a character do still attract my attention. However, I haven’t come across anything I would rank above the original novel.
- ‘The White Hotel’, D. M. Thomas
This was a set text for a creative writing course I completed. It’s difficult to put into words how powerfully written this novel is, and the way poetry, metaphor and first hand accounts retell the same story, revealing more in each telling. I won’t write about the plot for those who haven’t read it. I can only urge everyone to read this marvelous book. For me, it changed the possibilities for my own writing.
- ‘Atonement’, Ian McEwan
The impact of our actions on those in our lives, the possibility of what might have happened and what did happen are explored deftly in this novel and it took some time for me to disengage from the strongly formed characters.
- ’84 Charring Cross Road’, Helene Hanff
A simple telling of two people exchanging letters about books in the midst of World War II is much more than this. Humanity, compassion, friendship, family and the love of books – the texture, the cut of the page, the typeface, the story. A beautiful read.
- ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, Margaret Atwood
I’m not a science fiction fan, and tend to avoid novels dealing with an imagined future. However, Atwood’s novel is so embedded in our world with just a few changes, and such dramatic impacts on a woman who has no choice but to adapt. Compelling read with ‘what if’s’ that stay in the mind.
- ‘1984’, George Orwell
Another set text. This time for a politics class where we examined language. We also discussed the fact that every incident in the novel (ostensibly happening in the future) was based on incidents that Orwell had witnessed or researched from various countries involved in World War II. So it is both real and imagined. In this novel, the use of language is what stays with me.
- ‘Akhenaten’ Dorothy Porter
I could have selected a number of Porter’s verse novels to include in this list, but ‘Akhenaten’ is the one I love most. I was fortunate to see Dorothy Porter read a number of times, including poems from this book. Her voice and her expressions as she reads are in my mind when I re-read the poetry. She is sadly missed.
- Unreliable Truth- on Memoir and Memory’, Maureen Murdoch
One of a number of texts I read while completing my Masters degree, this book explores the concept of emotional truth. At the same time I was reading a series of short essays on memoir edited by William Zinsner called ‘Inventing the Truth’. Together, these books made me realise that even if we want to write exactly what happened to us, it is a fiction. We can’t write every single thing from every single second so we edit. How we recall events is always going to be different from how other people recall them. All we can tell is our own truth in our own way.
- ‘A Room of One’s Own’, Virginia Woolf
I debated between this book and any number of other feminist books which have left an imprint on me. I chose this one because Woolf also writes novels and essays. She is a keen observer, including reflections about writing. Also, before we can create anything, we need the space and the time to do so, and it is such a fundamental principle.
Reviewing this list, I see that I have omitted some of my favourite writers, so it could have been two or three times longer. Perhaps part two will eventuate soon.
Which books have left a lasting impression on you? Leave me a comment and tell me. I’m interested to know what has touched you.