Dying Embers out now

Dying Embers out now

Friday 30 November 2012

More books that shaped us

Here are some more books which have influenced me.
When I was 14, I had exhausted the supply of books to read from our local library, so I spread my wings to the main such institution in the nearby town. I remember browsing the shelves one summer's day, and coming across 1984 on the shelves. Of course I had heard of it, but my understanding was that it was a simple science fiction novel. Having enjoyed Indoctrinaire years before, I felt this might be similar. It was during the summer holidays, and I set myself up in the bay window of my bedroom one morning, expecting to read a chapter or so then go out on my bike, as was my habit. However it turned out that I couldn't stop reading; it became the first novel I couldn't put down (I think it took me a couple of days to finish.) It was also the first story which made me cry. I found the ending incredibly powerful, and I read it over and over, feeling somehow confronted. It still haunts me.

Enthused, I went back to the library and got a copy of Brave New World. This I found less accessible, but satisfying. It was the first book I really had to work hard to get through, and I was proud of myself once it was finished. I know a lot of subtlety within its pages was lost on me back then, but my appetite was whetted for fairly challenging books. (Is this the best book cover ever?)

Back to the library I went, and my eye was caught by The Trial (need I say who wrote it?) I must admit I had not heard of Kafka or his masterpiece. It was the typography and general look of the book which I found hard to resist (and in fact its title), and I had to read it. It held me spellbound from start to finish in a way that no other book has. I've read it many times, along with The Castle and America (I eventually bought the Penguin Collected Novels). It influenced me as a reader and also as a designer. I feel it is one of those rare books which gets better each time it is re-read. The film of the same name by Orson Welles is very much underrated, with superb imagery and atmospherics.

A still from The Trial (1962) showing Anthony Hopkins (below). Orson Welles himself played the cigar-chomping Advocate. Don't you just love black and white films?

At the end of those holidays, it was back to having to read prescribed books from school, and first up was Pride and Prejudice. Not my cup of tea at the time, and I tried to get by without actually reading it. I still have an essay I had to write about the book, covered with angry red ink from my teacher (I was generally a good pupil, at least in English). At the end it says: 'Are you sure you read the same book as the rest of the class? For the most part this is complete rubbish.' What a great comment!

I much preferred choosing my own novels to read ... More in another post.

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