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She's got the book - shadows of echoes of memories of songs — LiveJournal
She's got the book
Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow: we all die.

Today is World Book Day. (Thank goodness it's not World Web Accessibility Day: "The results of our Happy Endings survey is [sic] published on World Book Day", says the aforelinked website, but they don't warn you that said results are only available as a large Word doc...) The BBC provides a readable summary, while the Guardian's 'culture vulture' blog pretends that the question of what makes a 'happy' or 'sad' ending wasn't crashingly obvious to anybody who'd ever read a book.

Meanwhile, librarians vote Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird to the top of the "books to read before you die" hit parade, with the Bible and Lord of the Rings following in second and third places. The before-you-die meme irks me, as my internal jury is still out on whether the great Senior Tutor in the sky will be writing reports on us at the end of our threescore-and-ten, and I suspect that if they will be, then the question of whether I finished everything on the reading list is not going to be the main criterion for deciding whether I pass or fail. (And after you die, it's too dark to read.) However, if I were forced to compile this list, then I'd say that at least one of those three (though I'm not sure which one) was a sensible candidate for inclusion. I've read them all, incidentally, though I probably skimmed some bits of Numbers, Leviticus, and the Treebeard bits.

But griping about the entirely predictable responses ("A happy ending is the preferred choice of people all ages, genders and regions"; "the nation's favourite happy ending is the one that they saw most recently at the cinema starring Keira Knightley") to the necessarily bland questions is merely second-order tedium, as is trotting out the time-honoured retort that "if it gets them reading then it's got to be a good thing". The question of whether these lists "mean" anything might be worth asking, but it's a veritable quagmire of sophomore solipsism.

Often, the first response to a list one disagrees with is to make one's own list -- a list containing all the things that obviously should have been on the original list. This approach is not without its merits, as it reveals far more about the list-maker's cognitive processes than the likely explanations for the original objection ("that's nowhere near as good as this", "that doesn't count"). Unfortunately, lists beget lists, and lists beget lists, and eventually we all know an awful lot about the contents of our own heads and not a lot else. In this spirit, I've made my own list of twelve books (not necessarily the top twelve) which I first read while still in full-time education and which I believe significantly changed the way I think. You can't argue with that, now, can you?

* Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot
* Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, The School at the Chalet
* Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveller
* T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land
* Alan Garner, Red Shift
* Herman Hesse, Demian
* Philip Larkin, The Whitsun Weddings
* Pauline Reage, The Story of O
* Christopher Ricks, Beckett's Dying Words
* Shakespeare, Hamlet
* Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
* Diana Wynne Jones, Fire and Hemlock

Can we please assume, for the purposes of argument (and in the interests of saving everybody's time), that having read this list, you all answered the following poll for each book:

[ ] I have read it
[ ] I have not read it
[ ] I liked it
[ ] I did not like it
[ ] It significantly changed the way I think
[ ] It did not significantly change the way I think
[ ] A book killed my sister, you insensitive clod

and that all possible combinations of response were represented? Thanks.

Having got that out of the way, I'm hoping that some of you people can come up with more interesting angles of discussion: the floor (or the comments page) is yours.
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addedentry From: addedentry Date: March 2nd, 2006 05:12 pm (UTC) (Link)


Your spoiler warning reminds me of this Choose Your Own Adventure book.
rysmiel From: rysmiel Date: March 2nd, 2006 05:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
If you're going to say "book so-and-so changed the way I think", to my mind the obvious next question to ask is "how ?" In which case many of mine are books that change the way I think about books, but if you want to discount the various different versions of "Oh, so it's possible to do $thing_X in fiction, I must bear that in mind" or "Well, that didn't work, but I wonder if you could take this element of it and this element of it and do this with them instead", I'm not sure I can come up with that many examples. [ Discarding also for the sake of argument the ones where the change was from "I do not know about this" to "I now have enough information to think sensibly about this", which is a content issue rather than a modes of thought issue. ]

I would nominater for me, in rough chronological order, Luke Rhinehart's
The Dice Man [ a bad book in a number of ways, but very good for the specific purpose of getting a neurotic early teen not so much to think outside the box as to think of how arbitrary boxes are ], Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men and Star Maker [ theological perspectives ], Samuel Delany's Triton [ models for sexuality that approach a capacity to handle real-world complexity ], Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities and Cities and the Wealth of Nations [ perspectives on how people self-organise in large numbers, how cities work or don't and how cities shape the surrounding economies that actually make sense descriptively and offer prescriptions that visibly work; also one of the few really solid pieces of political thinking not still mired in nineteenth-century thought ], and Stafford Beer's Designing Freedom and Platform for Change [ the science of the politics of complexity; plus, you have to love a speculative economics/political text where the last chapter is "and then we tried it with a real country and this is what happened" ].

So how did those particular books significantly change the way you think ?
hairyears From: hairyears Date: March 2nd, 2006 05:48 pm (UTC) (Link)

LJ: Broadening your horizons...

Now that's interesting: a 'lifetime' top 10 reading list that I haven't read at all, with the exception of Hamlet, which I've skimmed and largely forgotten.

For any reason or no good reason, which one should I read first?

marnameow From: marnameow Date: March 2nd, 2006 05:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
I can't think of even one book that's changed the way I think in any great manner. Maybe I'm doing it wrong? Although, I have read thousands of the creatures and I am certain that 'reading books' has had as much influence on my head as pretty much anything else.
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