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?