I was recently asked to list ten book that had had an influence on my life. It’s not as easy as you might think, in fact rather than simply being able to dash off a list each one I chose needed to be balanced against another book, another memory, another situation or point in my life. For each one you discard another three or four could easily take its place.
The final ten are therefore not finite and may not necessarily signify every stage of my life in which a book has featured or even the most important; but they are a representation and compiling the list itself was an exercise in discovering how important literature and reading is in my life and no doubt in many other lives as well.
So here is my list, in no particular order, with a brief explanation as to why it made the final ten.
Here are the classics, the books I studied at school for my English A Level, but also the ones that I continue to read today
1. Aeneid – Virgil
The legendary epic poem telling the story of Aeneas as he travels from Troy to Rome. It appealed to my sense of adventure and love of history, myths and legends.
2. Selected Poetry of William Blake (and John Keats)
Blake’s poetry and artwork really entered my soul and spoke volumes to me, in particular his Songs of Innocence and Experience, but I had to cheat with the addition of John Keats as his was the first poetry that I wanted to memorise.
3. Anthony and Cleopatra/Macbeth – William Shakespeare
These two Shakespeare plays have become for me just two examples of how words, when beautifully written and composed can be understood by any age. A project to study, create and produce a filmed version of Macbeth using the original language with a bunch of 9 year olds proved that.
First reading books certainly can claim an influence on your life. I could so easily have include the Janet and John books which were my first readers; and the memorable time of being on holiday as a five-year old, sharing the same story with a young fellow vacationer – ‘Look, John, look. See tha’ boats’.
Still it is children’s books that appeal to adults as well that remain timeless.
4. Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
The world of Mole, Ratty, Badger and the irascible Toad spoke of an idyllic vision of the countryside, punctuated by ill-tempered weasels and the disastrous adventures of an annoying amphibian. This descriptive way of writing was only equalled later by Laurie Lee’s ‘Cider with Rosie’,
5. The Blue Balloon – Mick Inkpen
The well-worn copy of this book is testament to just how loved it was by my children. At two and half, my daughter Lizzie could ‘read’ it from cover to cover; every word perfect, every nuance expressed. It was a sharing book and just one of the reasons that I ordered a new copy so that it may be shared with future generations as well
My thirst for knowledge was slaked by the two sets of encyclopedias we owned. One was a series of volumes printed sometime in the early part of the 20th century – the other set from the 50’s. However, both were put to full use, prior to the invention of Encarta and the internet.
Their use nowadays is somewhat limited, but where else could you find Jade, Jam and Jaguars all on the same page!
My studies have provided me with enough reading material to keep me busy for many a year to come. Whole new bookshelves have had to be created to hold it all, but the basis for it all is found in just one book – The Bible and in particular my 7th choice
7. The Four Gospels
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have become essential authors as I follow my vocation, but many years ago they also inspired me to help form my character and outlook on life.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
8. Making God Possible – Alan Billings
Theology books don’t often make me excited, but it was whilst I was exploring what my vocation might be that I read this book. I suspect is it a bit of specialist, niche book, but it made me want to say – ‘Yes, that’s it, that’s what it’s all about.’
9. The Strength to Love – Martin Luther King Jr
Combine the history and struggle of black, African slaves and 20th century segregation with the teachings of a non-violent pastor and you get insights into a world which I can only imagine and yet have a huge amount of empathy with. These were the subjects of my thoughts about justice and equality as I grew up. MLK’s writings are world-famous, and yet they still speak into so many situations that we still face today
10. The Be-Ro Cookbook
My final book is actually the 3rd edition of the book I have owned. Despite its dubious sexist cover photos; its dog-eared and bespattered pages tell the story of several decades of cooking favourite recipes. It is also a fact that in spite of those decades, I still need to refer to it each time when making scones for the exact quantities. Why is that I wonder?
So that is the ten that made the list – no mention of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Geoffrey Chaucer, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thomas Hardy, Harper Lee, Homer…..
Or the many others that fill my bookcase…
Why not have a go yourself and see what your list might contain?