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"If only I had been told! - authors pick books they give to their younger selves | books
I' m more in danger of chronologically exploring Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Rye and Le Grand Meaulnes in my 40' (and I still haven't seen Le Petit Prince). Wish I hadn't gotten Conrad's The Secret Sharer at the tender of 11, which earned him a decade of opposition; and I wish I hadn't reread EM Forster before I could take his right action (although this makes his re-discovery a double joy).
The books I would give to my younger self would therefore all be non-fiction books that aim to undermine the automated preconceptions of a post-war British suburbanist. Literature on the real natures of warmongering, wealth and raciality; on the real natures of business and government; and how classes, wealth and might are united.
These books made me realize how others - especially aliens - didn't see us as we see ourselves (I remember my confusion when a Spaniard said Francis Drake was a pirate....). Also books about the real essence of the natural world. In this way I would teach my younger self to know something about the ground, winds and waters, as well as how to study the tree, animal, plant and bird life.
That' s another thing: I would also give my younger self some true-to-life books about sexuality. The Parasites by Daphne du Maurier is a novel that can be reread at a young age. It' a novel about three level brothers and sisters of complex descent who grow up wild in a mad Czech theatre couple, influenced by Du Maurier's own.
So much about the books we like, it all comes down to timings. From 16 to 22 years old I was reading a couple of books that still make up the best part of my favorite booklet. Often the books were reread and re-read in the run-up to examinations, and although I was certainly not without criticism, I was an avid protector of the books I liked and perhaps a more liberal and pardonable readers than I would be if I came to Hardy or Dickens, Orwell or Scott Fitzgerald for the first case in my midage.
I' ve been reading Salingers Franny and Zooey in my lat 20', which I think was about 10 years too later. but it' a novel that could have been tailor-made for my 18-year-old self. Self-confidence, the desperate debate about arts and beliefs and literature, the seriousness and eagerness and fear of the present and the new.
It is one of the few books I have come back to every year, and while I still like it, the voices in my mind get a little more skeptical every year. Are you sure this religious rubbish is that deep? Isn' there something strange, valuable, complacent about the Glasses?
It' s the rarest thing, a flawless one. Still I appreciate it and I don't think I've been reading anything since it influenced and inspire me so much, both as a readership and as a author. I would have put the notebook down when I was 18 and thought it was exactly what I felt.
and Updike' s Couples and I couldn't get enough of Sergeanne Golon's Anglique books. In all honesty, Ada was over me, but the notebook I would give to my youthful self would be another Nabokov - King, Queen, Knave. The thing about King, Queen, Knave that is brillant and why I know that it would have been a revelation for my younger self is that it shows how you can be very fun and very literary as well.
When I first thought about it, what I wanted to return to my younger self was something with a sense of caution. Elizabeth Bowen's novel Der Tod des Herzens, perhaps, whose young character, Portia, is touching, funny and perilous, stumbles into being, insists on the reality, all the delicate trade-offs that adults have made to get through, to confront them with themselves.
Anyway, I was reading the death of the soul in those times and loving it, and all I took away from it was a fervent idol with Portia, who wanted to survive now, not later: risk everything, throw herself on the adventures that went by. Some years ago, after I came to America, a girlfriend of mine suggested the author Annie Dillard.
Beginning with her first novel, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which appeared in 1974 at the age of 28 and won her a Pulitzer Award the following year. Dillard's novel is said to have been influenced by a young man who was reading about a blinding kid the writer first saw after the cataract was shed.
This is Dillard's description of her own strolls around a stream near her house in the Blue Ridge hills of Virginia. The Tinker Crèek is small, near a motorway from which the noise of transport and the casual sculpture bags float. But in Tinker Crèek Dillard finds uninhibited elegance and looks at the infinity through the little things of nature - a motte that emerges from her chrysalis, the blunt look of a wizen with which she closes her eye.
At Tinker Creek she also finds cruelty: the view of a frozen wolf being fed from the inside by a huge aquatic beetle, "his lips a moment of shock". My Tinker Creek was my backyard in London, where I was watching a young chestnut boy's throw grow up every year from my working area.
I' ve been watching them while I've been writing books, mainly about the ship. In Virginia, not far from Dillard, my Tinker Creek is a small piece of forest next to my home. Some books are changing your way of thinking and others are changing your view of the rest of the underworld.
However, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is different because it recalls the way she once saw the whole wide universe in its most pure, if by no means simple state. When I was middle-aged, her novel gave me this present back. If I had had pilgrims at Tinker Creek when I was 20, I might never have missed it.
As I was publishing my first volume towards the end of the Bronze Age, a friendly critic - PJ Kavanagh, I think it was - admitted that I had some talents, but it was evident that I had read the false folks. Together with Kleist's exalted essays "On the Puppet Theatre" and Hugo von Hofmannsthal's letter, this brief work altered my idea of writing.
Rameau's grandson - he is not even given a real name - is ironic, defamatory, full of hysteric self-hatred and terribly sage towards the dirty reality of a realm that rejects real artist for the benefit of pimps, deceivers and charlatans of all sorts. If I had seen it, however, and if I had, would I have got it?
It is a fierce, surprising journey through the many heads of pilots trapped on a Italian basis during WWII, but don't be fooled by it. There' s no better example than this one. I' m generally a big fan of books that show up when I want them to.
Tolstoy was too slow, but in my 30' I was very sensitive to him. A similar situation with Philip Roth, Elizabeth Taylor or Kingsley Amis, whom I didn't care much about in my youth, but who were simply ideal for my early years. Both the books I didn't read before were both things I had been hearing from reviewers - Thackeray's The history of Pendennis and Conrad's Chance.
Pendennis is actually a great pleasure, remorseful, fun and pardonful about the catastrophes of teenager. I' d like to have seen it when I was 20. I have always been in love with Conrad, and I have no clue why I let Conrad convince me that this exciting work of art was a minor work.
When I was almost 40 I didn't know everything about men and woman, cash and lies and (an delusion, but a powerful one) how to tell a tale. I will never again hear a discerning consent about the substandard books of a great author as it is.
This strange inequality, I think, is what drives me as a novelist. The younger me was so unhappy, a literal mess of self-hating jumper, OCD and despair: only my own precious moment could help me. but I know I was reading Simone de Beauvoir's The Prime of Life just in the right place in mine.
Being 19 years old, abroad, destitute, impoverished, driving, despairing to be a novelist, but without a true meaning for how I should do it. Sitting in a green area in the heart of Milan, I was reading this penguin issue (with the mysterious Matisse neckline on the front) until the lights were out and I could hardly see the page.
The Beauvoir's smart, mysterious and fantastic quiet appearance prevented solitude, famine, concern for the present - indeed, the feeling of optimism and deliverance she gave me was dizzying, uplifting. But would I ask a young man to still see it? I would have learnt from harassment, abuse and the violent battle for the top spot.
When Golding was writing the novel (a counter-talk to The Coral Island and The Swiss Family Robinson), he taught at a pure boys' college like I was at. Had I known what he was saying, I might have made more of my schooling instead of wasting all my quality of my quality of life trying not to get any noticable.
But when I was reading the novel in my later teenagers and reaching the part where Ralph cries for "the end of innocence" and "the dark of the human heart", I also felt like crying: if only I had been cautioned!