Tens of books

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There is a current trend on social media, mostly Facebook, that challenges people to come up with a list of ten books that have somehow influenced, stuck and hold a special place with them. A friend of mine, Hazel, included me in it, but as I am not usually willing to adhere to ‘chains’, I decided to update the lonely, dusty blog instead.

To actually force myself to provide something meatier, however, I’ve tried to track down the origin of the books too, and therefore to whom I am grateful for the suggestion or gift. So thank you, various people who enabled my reading. It paid off, a bit.

In no particular order:

The Giver (1993), by Lois Lowry. Given to me by my mum, part of a postal reading subscription. Fairly simple, heavily criticised, still to the point (and I am dreading the film adaptation). What if we all were the same, and the price was that we forget our past, for better or worse? And what if you and you alone were forced to remember for everyone?

Blankets (2003), by Craig Thompson. Part of an Italian series that came with a newspaper, introducing to graphic novels from around the world; this version was by Elena Fattoretto (2004). Growing up in a not-officially-Catholic-but-who-are-we-kidding country, the book screamed at me with Craig’s struggle with his belief, relationship to his family, and absolutely stunning artwork. The first book that I remember making me cry.

Comme un Roman (1992), by Daniel Pennac. First read in Yasmina Melaouah’s (1993) Italian translation. A gift from my dad, after I stole most of his Pennac books. A non-fictional essay by a reader for readers about reading, and the source of the excellent Rights of the Reader (also the title of Sarah Adams’ translation), made into a poster by Quentin Blake.

A Monster Calls (2011), by Patrick Ness and Jim Kay, based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd. Suggested by BJ Epstein, my academic supervisor, for a reading group. I fell in love with it, I cried, I was terrified of going to sleep, I found my displaced anger in the boy and the monster, and felt ashamed of it all, and loved it even more.

The Incredible Hulk #377 (1991), by Peter David, Dale Keown, Bob McLeod, Glynis Oliver. No idea where I first read this one, but I’ve been searching a copy as far as I can remember, and finally obtained one this year. How to control and convert multiple angry, out-of-control personalities into one complete (green) being.

Baol. Una tranquilla notte di regime (1990), by Stefano Benni. Probably also a gift from my dad, as I also stole all his Benni books. One of the most surreal, caustic, irreverent, profane, political works by Benni, and a really short read that has yet to make it into English. But it travels with me whenever I move house, and I have been compared to the main character by some of my friends in the past. For yet unexplained reasons.

Hyperion (1989), by Dan Simmons. Recommended by an Italian writer friend, who specifically asked me not to read the translation. I devoured this one and its three sequels over a summer, and I was brought back into sci-fi literature, reminded of what it can really do with notions of genre, canon and technology. And the horror of the Shrike.

L’Allegria (1931), by Giuseppe Ungaretti. Cultural baggage, Ungaretti permeates Italian literary education. One of my favourite collections of Italian poetry, and the first venture into literary translation as part of my undergraduate dissertation. War poetry, but not quite. Hermetic poetry, but not quite. Resonant poetry – quite.

Written on the Body (1993), by Jeanette Winterson. My first purchase in English that was not via my mum or aunt. I cried on the plane back to Italy during a school trip reading it. Poetry based on medical language, my introduction to queer literature and a tagline that still makes me shiver: why is the measure of love loss?

W;t (1995), by Margaret Edson. Part of a module about teachers and teaching I took at the University of Leeds, by Denis Flannery. A one-act play dealing with words, language, poetry, literature, life, death and punctuation, as Professor Vivian Bearing deals with ovarian cancer and the joys of healthcare and John Donne. Emma Thompson’s TV movie rendition is devastating, too.

Honourable mentions: Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Mike Carey, Peter Gross et al’s Lucifer and The Unwritten, Deborah Levy’s Things I don’t want to know, Fabio Moon and Gabriel Bà’s Daytripper, Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses.

Now, what does this tell me? I wasn’t exposed to or sought out enough diversity (gender, ethnicity, you name it) growing up, and much of what I did read then did not make as big an impact as what I was immersed in during my university years. I have been addressing the issue, especially of recent with the ReadWomen2014 and WomenInTranslation initiatives, and several translations I read of some of the books above were indeed by women. I am part of the Readers Circle in Norwich, which seeks out the best new books available over the course of a year, and pushes us beyond our comfort reading zones. I am translating a series of poems by Italian women poets for The Norwich Radical, to bring more of their writing into English, and research the field more myself. I am following Malorie Blackman’s work on diversity in YA, and wholeheartedly support it.

But those are the ten books so far. Any further recommendations, as always, are more than welcome.

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