There's a meme going round on Facebook at the moment where people list the ten books that have "stuck with them" - not necessarily their favourite books, or the ones they think are best written, but the ones that stuck in their heads and changed the way they saw the world.
So here's my list. I refuse to whittle it down to just ten though.
Seven Sticky Books from my Childhood:
- The Hobbit, by J R R Tolkien - A primer in the concept that "friends don't always stick together, and good guys don't always survive." Anyone who describes this book as lighthearted fun for kids just hasn't read to the end.
- The Silver Chair by C S Lewis - Out of all the Narnia books, this was my favourite. The landscapes seemed very real to me, and I liked the ballsy female lead Jill. It was also about this point that I realised that I just didn't like Aslan.
- The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper - second book of the series of the same name, this novel was written when Cooper was living in America, out of an intense nostalgia for the England she'd left behind. As well as a tale of Ancient Dark Forces and a magical child coming into his power, it is also an extraordinary mystical/mythical evocation of the British (middle-class) Christmas.
- The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner - Another fantasy series rooted in the British landcape. Garner's books were the direct inspiration behind my novel Wildwood.
- The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K LeGuin - the middle book of the Earthsea trilogy (as it was then), this is almost - but not quite - a romance. The direct inspiration behind my novel Divine Torment.
- Bless the Beasts and Children by Glendon Swarthout - a rather brutal American tale of outcast teenage boys who make it their mission to save a bunch of buffalo from the cull. I think this was pivotal in solidifying my pro-animal-rights attitude.
- Slave of the Huns by Geza Gardonyi - sounds like a romance title , but is actually a historical with an Unrequited Lurv plot-driver. Fantastic scenes of battle, including prep and ghastly aftermath.
Six from my Teenaged Years:
- The Lord of the Rings, by J R R Tolkien - of course. I actually started the first volume when I was 10, but it kept me company throughout my teens.
- Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake - this fantasy novel is the nearest thing to something "literary" on this list. What I learned from it was the importance of world-building.
- The Ghost Stories of M R James - read in an upstairs alcove in my local library, one at a time ... looking repeatedly over my shoulder in terror. This book made me start writing supernatural horror stories. See the MRJ in my story Cold Hands, Warm Heart.
- At the Mountains of Madness by H P Lovecraft - read at 18, the start of a literary love-affair that has lasted all my life. Above all others, the Lovecraftian fantasy worldview has an ability to infect real life with a sense of pleasurable awe and dread and paranoia.
- Till We Have Faces by C S Lewis - A re-telling of the Cupid and Psyche myth in harsh bronze-age terms. Totally unlike anything else he wrote, with a fabulous female narrator, it influenced my own writing enormously - you can see it clearly in my story The Red Thread.
- The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter - oh my goodness, how much of my work depends on my seventeen-year-old-self's discovery of this incredible, lyrical collection of fairy stories?! See it very obviously in ... Gold, On Snow.
Five that stuck with me as an Adult:
- Avalon Nights by Sophie Danson - This is the book that started me writing erotica!
- Voice of the Fire by Alan Moore - one of the very few writers I read for the joy of his prose, regardless of the subject matter. This linked-story collection spanning only a few square miles but thousands of years (most of them pretty grim) is just haunting. The "mosaic novel" is a structure I adopted for Red Grow the Roses.
- Angels of Darkness by Gav Thorpe - This is a left-fielder. It's actually a Warhammer 40,000 novel tie-in, and I have zero interest in that sub-genre. I only picked the book up to have something to read in the loo before going to bed. By 2 a.m, as I finished the last lines, I was almost physically shaken. I have no idea whether it would stand re-reading in the cold light of day; all I know is that in the middle of the night the bleak conclusion hit me like a ton of bricks. I want to write an ending that powerful! Just, not for a romance...!
- Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis - a fantasy time-travel tale about the Black Death. I wept buckets.
- Into Thin Air by John Krakauer - yes, I know it's not fiction. The true account of a particularly lethal week on Everest. I'm not a mountaineer and I have no desire to be one. But this book is about human nature at the absolute edge of survival. Extreme tenacity, courage, stupidity, selfishness, altruism, individuality, self-sacrifice - all the moral questions are here. Jaw-dropping.
So yeah, nothing "literary" or Grown Up. And many a bit on the dark side.
I'm fine with that :-)