Archive for September, 2014

10 Literary Works That Have Influenced Me: Part Two

So I managed to get the first half of this list done yesterday and, as promised, I’ve decided to get the second half done as soon as possible. I’ve spent some time thinking about all these entries and I think I’ve managed to come up with the final draft. Also I think I got a few followers following my last post, if you’re reading this I’m very glad you liked it. It looks like literary content is more in demand than video game stuff, or maybe it was the easier-to-read formatting that caught eyes. Either way, I present the second half of the 10 literary works that have influenced me.

6 – Isaac Asimov, I, Robot

I tried to read I. Robot when I was quite young and I didn’t really grasp what was going on. I left the book alone for a couple of years and later came back to it. I was enthralled by the ideas contained within the novel, some of the best science fiction I have ever read. If you’ve only seen the film I endeavor to recommend the book heartily. The book is made up of multiple short stories whilst the film elongates one, although perhaps the most interesting, of these stories into a feature presentation of Will Smith jumping around and shooting at things. Perhaps the second worst use of science fiction intellectual property I have come across. Anyway, Asimov’s book deals with a fascinating ideal that has been explored by science fiction; the ideals and morals of artificial intelligence. I, Robot brings up fascinating implications of the development of AI, and the morals that surround humanity ‘playing God’. A collection of interesting stories combined with the raising of fascinating moral queries around the subject matter make this a great read in my eyes. Influential to me because it got me really interested in science fiction and its messages and the questions it raises have stayed with me for a long time. A lot of sci-fi writers owe a lot of Isaac Asimov and after reading this book I can understand why.

7 – Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials Trilogy

This is another series from my childhood and a memorable one at that. Unfortunately Pullman’s trilogy (Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass) tends to get somewhat drowned under the leviathan of children’s literature that is Harry Potter. Pullman’s fantasy world is fascinating and introduces many concepts over the trilogy. At it’s heart it is a coming-of-age romance tale spread over a race to save existence as we know it. It sounds simpler than it is, trust me. What most influenced me about this series (other than the detailed and unique world Pullman creates) is the interactions with religion. This is a theme that I have been continually interested in in literature and I really like the approach Pullman takes. There are a lot of themes running through the books that fit in well with spirituality and Christian religion, since then I’ve very much appreciated literature that deals with religion in a thoughtful manner, or just without straight out derision. Humour is fine, Good Omens (Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett) mocks Christianity and I think that book is amazing because it does it in a way that is not dismissive. On top of all this the series is well written, interesting and very unique. Definitely underrated children’s fiction.

8 – Terry Pratchett, Truckers

If you’ve been reading carefully you may have noticed I’ve mentioned Terry Pratchett twice already in this list, that may hint to you how much I enjoy Pratchett’s work. He has written an awful lot of books and I have read a lot of them. Truckers was, from what I remember, my introduction to Pratchett (it may have been The Carpet People). I think I read it for the first time at a young age because I struggled with anything in The Discworld, I’m gonna say that was because I struggled with the concept of a completely fantastical world and I needed familiar points of reference to be able to grasp the stories. Yes, I may have been that young. TruckersDiggers, and Wings are all neat little books with a basic story about some gnomes who are struggling in a world (our world) that is far too big for them. The books are fairly simplistic and, although far from without humour, is not as funny as his repeated parodies of fantasy literature found in nearly any of The Discworld books. This was influential to me because it opened a gateway into Pratchett through which I entered with aplomb. This humble little book and series got me hooked and I’ve never looked back.

9 – Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

The only play in this list and it deserves it’s play very much. I’m not the hugest fan of reading play scripts, obviously the medium is best experienced through a performance but this I loved this play before I even saw it in a theatre. This tragic story of a failed American dream is truly distressing and incredibly sad. The characters are all fantastic and the themes running through the play are well handled and interesting. Ideas of family life, father and son relationships and, most of all, the aforementioned American dream are all dealt with and explored to great effect. A frankly harrowing vision of the dangers of believing in the wealth brought by chasing the bright lights of America. Whilst the main theme is not too subtle, although I did study this play at school, the play is multifaceted thematically and is well worth a read through or, even better, seeing it performed live. There’s also a great film with Dustin Hoffman and John Malkovich if you’re that way inclined.

10 – Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Devils

This book influenced me very recently. I initially picked it up because it is a fictionalisation of what my BA in History dissertation was roughly about, Dostoyevsky was very much a commentator of the period and his outlet for his thoughts were his novels and so I thought I should read it. Whilst not terribly historically accurate, although broadly correct, the book drew me in like nothing has for a while. The detail poured into the novel is admirable and the style of story telling is something I have not come across too much. The story of a secret anarchistic society developing in Russia is very engaging, although I may have benefited from studying the context in great detail. This is influential to me because it has awoken an interest in the Russian literary classics and now I have another Dostoyevsky and some Tolstoy which require my attention. It’s a really great book but I would say to others to approach with caution because my enjoyment may have come partly through my very detailed understanding of the real historical event the story is based on.

Well, that’s all done. Thank you to anyone who read all that, it means a lot. Quickly, some honourable mentions that I loved reading but didn’t feel they influenced me in the same way the above texts did.

Honourable Mentions: Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita. William Shakespeare, Macbeth. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird. H. P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness. J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye. Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl series.

 

10 Literary Works That Have Influenced Me: Part One

This is something I saw crop up a bit on my facebook and I decided to give it a go. I didn’t really want to clog up my facebook with a lengthy post about literature and I certainly didn’t want to just name 10 pieces without providing at least some explanation for each of them. I’m not the best read person in the world so this list won’t be very ground breaking but I’ll try and explain each one of my entries. The following then are the 10 literary works which I feel have influenced me greatly, they are listed in no particular order. Judging on the length of this after I wrote the first 5, I’ve decided to break this up into two parts, this is the first one.

1 – George Orwell, 1984

I think this novel sometimes attracts criticism for being regarded as ‘entry level’ by dedicated intellectuals and book readers. The book has perhaps moved further into the forefront of popular culture since the media began drawing increasing comparisons between  the themes and ideas of the novel and everyday modern life. The idea of the ‘Nanny State’ is something that, in a way, Orwell has prophesied in this book. Whilst ‘Orwellian’ seems to be used increasingly in the lexicon of public discourse these days, it is very important to remember that 1984 is fictional and also portrays a complete extreme. I do feel that anyone seriously claiming the coming of a ‘Big Brother’-like society is perhaps reacting a little rashly. Nevertheless, the relevance of Orwell’s work perhaps only proves its brilliance. I adore this book, it is probably one of my firm favourites. 1984 is a truly disturbing painting of a dystopian future and one that seems all too real. I’ve always found it strange that the main character seems to be one of the few people that sees through the lies of ‘Big Brother’ and yet he is so incredibly identifiable to the reader. This book is genuinely unnerving as it demonstrates how a regime can completely dominate its subjects so totally and completely. I have no doubt this one would make many lists, it has firmly secured a place on mine. (P.S. I love Animal Farm as well, but two Orwell books on this list would be too much)

2 – Brian Jacques, The Redwall Series

For a lot of people my age, I think that Harry Potter may have been the first series they were truly dedicated too. Whilst in my youth I did immensely enjoy Harry Potter my first literary love was another children’s series. The world of the Redwall series is lovingly crafted by Jacques (who, I was devastated to find out, died in 2011) about a wide variety of talking animals. The central point of the book is Redwall Abbey after which the series is named. The Abbey is inhabited by religious mice who regularly fend off all kinds of attacks and challenges with the help of a fairly regular cast of friends. Whilst the whole series spans generations and generations of fictional animals, there are numerous constants which means each book can be enjoyed independently. Now that I am much older, I can see that the stories are largely formulaic, the writing is simplistic (although the series is for children) and the morals of the characters are entirely black or white. This doesn’t stop my nostalgic memories though, the whole series encompasses 22 books (one released posthumously) and I have read 18 of them, missing only the latest 4. I don’t think any single series of books has influenced me more.

3- J.R.R. Tolkein, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Again, I imagine this would make many lists although that by no means lessens its presence here. I was encourage to read this trilogy at a very young age by my father, I would estimate around 10 or 11 years old. I think at that time I found it too heavy going, which is not exactly surprising. I seem to remember I returned to the books at 13 and loved them. I always loved The Hobbit and that is why I was encouraged to pursue this trilogy. I think at the time Lord of the Rings felt like an adult reading project to me, so despite the challenge presented by their length and cumbersome detail I persevered and ended up being truly encapsulated by the world Tolkein had created. I don’t think any more needs to be said about this series, and indeed I think that all that could be said already has been.

4 – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series

This was perhaps my first foray into Science-Fiction, a genre I am now reasonably well acquainted with. Adams’ oddball series starts with the titular first novel about Earth being destroyed and a unassuming everyman protagonist seeing and experiencing the vast expanse of the life-filled universe for the first time, in complete and utter bewilderment. The reliable supporting casts of aliens and robots only accentuate the humour and general oddity of the books.  The series is wickedly funny and employs a certain kind of British humour that Adams’ clearly excels in. Despite the jokes, the series manages to deal with some broad concepts such as the meaning of existence and the presence of a higher power, which it does so with quips and clever sarcasm. Whilst the series does meander quite a lot towards the end, it’s worth reading all the entries to get some closure. I think that Douglas Adams, along with Terry Pratchett, introduced to me the idea that literature could be funny, well written and tell a compelling narrative. Don’t watch the film though, it’s awful.

5 – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby is another book that is often held on a pedestal, but that is not why I found it influential to me. I studied the Great Gatsby for my A-Levels several years ago and I hated it. I think partly it was due to my dissatisfaction with the teacher. For a variety of reasons, my whole class had to resit the exam because of unsatisfactory results, which meant more studying Gatbsy. Over the course of the revision (with a much better teacher) I began to feel very differently. I feel like Gatsby comes alive with some critical anaylsis. The novel seems much better when considering Fitzgerald’s motivation, the historical content and some of the symbolism he uses. I think it was this instance with Gatsby that made me really understand the importance of critical literary thinking. On top of all this, Gatbsy is a book with a great plot with many layers of literary techniques. The narrative is tragic and expertly crafted. Undoubtedly a great piece of literature, given further meaning to me by my experiences with the text.

I think this list is going to have to be split into two parts, since this is already very lengthy. Expect part 2 soon!