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My Life in Books

March 16, 2011

This article was originally published on Libri Populus – a website which I will now frequently be contributing to.

Taking inspiration from Anne Robinson’s latest BBC television show ‘My life in Books’ I have looked back on my own life to see which books have made a difference to me.

Early Childhood Years : The Twits by Roald Dahl

This has to be the greatest book ever written for children. The story follows Mr and Mrs Twit – the two vilest people you will ever meet. Mr Twit hasn’t washed his beard in years and if you look closely you will find bits of cornflakes and stilton cheese and as for Mrs Twit – well she is an ugly old lady with a glass eye. They are cruel to each other, to animals, and to children, that is until the Muggle-Wump monkeys and the Roly-Poly bird get their revenge! The Twits was first published in 1979 and it has been said that the whole idea for the novel was inspired by Dahl’s hatred for beards at the time. What makes this novel so fantastic is the simple fact that kids love to be disgusted and Dahl will have your toes curling at the very thought of this revolting couple.

I read it countless times and still have my original copy – a little battered and stained with that familiar musky old book smell, but best of all it even has a message written on the inside cover from my grandparents ‘Happy Xmas 1994’. I will treasure it always.

Walt Disney Pictures are in the process of creating a film adaptation, with a screenplay written by John Cleese. It is scheduled for release in 2012

Early Teenage Years : Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien & Man and Boy by Tony Parsons

It was impossible for me to limit my early teenage years to just one book as I feel these two books represent coming to terms with a very hard time in my life, and also escapism from these hard times. I couldn’t have got through these years without either one.

I read Man and Boy by Tony Parsons around the age of twelve just after my parents had divorced. This book meant everything to me at the time – it helped me through the hard times and showed me how to laugh again. It follows Harry Silver, who after a one night stand loses everything that was important in his life – his wife, son and his career. Harry must come to terms with being a single parent and getting his life back on track. This story was very much inspired by Parsons’ own life of being a single parent, and I would recommend it to anyone who is or has gone through similar circumstances. I know it helped me more than I would ever have expected it to.

I remember going to the cinema to see the first film adaptation The Fellowship of the Ring, directed by Peter Jackson in 2001. I was thirteen at the time and what I remember most is going to see it with my Dad and sharing this whole other world with him. I fell in love with Tolkien’s world and quickly ventured out for the books. It took me a few months to read but I could not put it down. It changed everything I thought I liked about literature and was my first introduction to the Fantasy genre. Unfortunately, I’ve never read any other fantasy book since that has even compared to Lord of the Rings. It also saddens me that by the time the last film of the trilogy – The Return of the King – was released in 2003, I was fifteen and it was simply not ‘cool’ to go the cinema with my Dad.

Later Teenage Years : The Odyssey by Homer

I read The Odyssey when I was around seventeen years old. I was asked to do a piece of creative writing for my English Literature class but to draw inspiration from another novel. I chose The Odyssey because I have always had a love of the Ancient Greeks and their culture. What I didn’t realise at the time is that this would be a defining moment in my life. I adapted the story into a modern-day piece set at the Swindon train station, where a traveller is compelled to enter a bar by three women – also known as the Sirens in The Odyssey – who I turned into famous characters from history. My tutor at the time was so enthusiastic about this piece and encouraged me as much as she could that I knew I had to write something great – and I did. Not only did I get a top grade, but this story had awakened something in me – this need to write and tell good stories. This was the moment I decided I wanted to be a writer, and I took a leap of faith and enrolled in a degree in Creative Writing and English Literature. I’ve never looked back. By following Odysseus’s journey back from the war of Troy, I began a journey of my very own.

University Years : How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer

During my studies of Creative Writing at university I had to write a lot of short stories. My problem was that I had never really read any good short stories before and I don’t think I really understood the point in them at that time. That was until I came across How to Breathe Underwater, a collection of short stories written by debut author Julie Orringer. I don’t think this book has ever been particularly well known – it was something I just stumbled across on the internet. I absolutely fell in love with Orringer’s writing and each story was gripping and profound in the way every short story should be. My favourite has to be The Isabel Fish which is about a girl who takes up scuba diving lessons after being the sole survivor of a drowning accident. It is incredibly moving and clever in ways that I couldn’t even describe. In my opinion, short stories sometimes have a reputation for being very dull with not much happening. Orringer rectifies this and her collection will always be my favourite.

Present Time : The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I’m now in my mid-twenties and I have read countless books – some have been eye-opening, others have been inspiring – but only one book has ever made me cry, and that is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. In my opinion, it has to be one of the greatest books ever written in modern literature. Set in Nazi Germany and narrated by Death itself, it follows a young girl’s relationship with her foster parents, her friendship with a local boy and the concealment of a Jewish fist-fighter in her home during World War II. Zusak’s writing is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It is definitely unusual and from what I’ve seen – not to everyone’s taste. But you must read it to the end. I have had people tell me they have no idea what to read next as nothing could possibly top The Book Thief. I have no answers for them yet as I am still trying to find something to better it!

Like I said, this is the only book that has ever truly made me cry and that is due to Zusak’s masterful storytelling ability, and the intriguing characters he has created.

If anyone has read The Book Thief I would encourage you to purchase a copy of his other lesser known novel, I Am the Messenger, which is almost equally as good, but entirely different.

What all of these books say about me is probably that I love great characters – from The Twits, to Frodo Baggins, to Odysseus. I love a good adventure story and something that transports me to a whole other world. For me, there is no better form of escapism than a good book. From looking back on my life I can see that books have made more of an impact in my life than I had ever imagined.


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