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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Books that Personally Matter

Recently, I stayed up several nights trying to tackle Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. It snuck into my dreams, my thoughts and my Facebook statuses (stati?).  And now that I am done with this book, I keep thinking of others that kept me awake.
Early childhood – Grimm brothers’ fairy tales. I knew them by heart. I read them and re-read them a million times. Also Astrid Lindgren’s Karlson, my first book in Russian. Since then, Russian is my favorite reading language.
Teenage period – definitely Dumas. Read Queen Margot in two days. Could not eat, sleep or play with peers. Stayed in a hammock in my summer house and read until my eyes were sore and dry. That summer I read about 10 Dumas books found in my house, and then proceeded to consume The Count of Monte Cristo once a month.  Everytime I finished a new book, I’d go back go back to re-read The Count. I could literally quote the dialogues between Dantes and Faria in the prison.  I’ve never had such a book fever, as I had in that summer, when I was 13-14. I read more books that vacation than I’ve read in six consequent years.
College years – lots of jewels, I was more picky about the reading material, hence my Nobel list, but what made a lasting impression is probably Dostoevski’s Idiot and Nabokov’s Lolita. Lolita was the book we had to read in my modern literature class; once I got a hold of it, I read it all day long, I remember sitting in a biology class and reading, sitting on a bus and reading, walking in a street and reading and finishing it in one day.
Recent years – among many that I loved, I have to name Dune by Frank Herbert. Not because it is the greatest book I’ve read, but because it is about a desert planet and I was reading it as we were driving through New Mexico desert and every time characters would get thirsty, I’d look up, see the view from my car window and swallow a bottle of water, shrinking with thirst. I peed a lot during that trip...
 Two months ago I had a similar experience: I was reading Life of Pi while sitting in a boat, and well, Pi spends most of the book on the boat! I felt such empathy for him!
And Finally, Murakami’s Kafka on the Beach redefined a novel for me, redefined culture, globalization, identity, love, Freud, mythology and good writing. I was nanny at that time and I took the poor kid for a walk, put him in a stroller and pushed him around for 5 hours, while I had that book sitting on the top of the stroller, swallowing every word. The kid didn’t mind, he liked outdoors.
So, if I had to name books that shaped my world, I’d probably name those, though few of them fall into my favorite style of writing (I like monumental, long novels, like Thomas Mann’s work. Ayn Rand was just my sort of book). But all of them mattered more than anything else at that moment and all of them had to be read or the world would end.  Those are my books that personally matter. What are yours?


  1. Word of advice, don't read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand- you'll be so disappointed. Books that shaped my world view...well, you know them all since our friendship is sealed in literature. : )

  2. Personally to me, '1984' is the book which pretty much formed my vision. And the fact that I was reading it well... in 1984 - when I was 14 years old had even more influence. For reading that book that time one could easy end up in prison.

  3. I can tell that back in 1984 in Soviet Union (where your truly lived) reality was not quite different comparing what was described in the book...

    Current generation in post-soviet countries really has problem to get some grasp and understanding what communism was in the practical implementation.

  4. the thing is i haven't discovered 1984 - i knew it was great before i read it. ppl told me. and also, i really appreciate it, but it is not personal to me at all. i think it is much more important for ppl who actually lived the book plot in real life :-)

  5. Since this is an interesting conversation, I love Dead Souls because of how it characterizes in such an absurd way the devaluation of human life. In more modern times, I fell in love with a horror book called.....hold on....okay the title escapes me but it's about killer rain. It made me paranoid of all rain now, I can't ever walk in the rain without first rubbing it between my fingers just to make sure that it's not sticky.

  6. "The Illuminatus! Trilogy" by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" by Julian Jaynes. "Civilization and its Discontents" by Freud. "The Communist Manifesto" by Marx and Engels.

    These are books that expanded my mind in ways I never thought it could stretch.

    1. how bad is that i have not read any of yours?
      but really the communist manifesto?