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Adam Roberts is the author of a growing number of science fiction novels, short stories, essays and other writings. This site contains not just his blog, but everything you could ever want to know about everything Adam has ever published. And more...

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Ten books

By Adam Roberts | September 8, 2014
Categories: Chitchat

This meme was circulating on Facebook, and I succumbed: ten books that have 'stayed with me', or had a particularly shaping influence upon me. I'm copying my answers across to here too. The strange thing was, almost as soon as I posted this list to FB I felt (as I noted in the comments, there) 'more than a little nervous, actually. Posting this feels -- weirdly exposing. Like I've given away the key to my soul. Perhaps I should delete it.' Of course, this unease was a sort of optical illusion. Nobody else cares enough about my choice of books for said choice to leave me, in any way, vulnerable. That was the feeling, though. Odd, no?

So! 10 books that had a properly shaping influence upon me. Since this is about forming me and my taste the list is going to skew adolescent, and accordingly more than a little gauche. Nothing to be ashamed of, that, in and of itself; although it's a bit worrying how male my key texts all used to be. Anyway: here we go.

1. Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are. One of my holy books.

2. Tintin. I'd tag the whole of Hergé's output if I were allowed (and who's to say I'm not allowed? You? YOU'RE not the boss of me.) But if I'm not allowed, I'd settle for the two moon mission books. I havered between choosing this and choosing the two Lewis Carroll Alice books, which, in some sense, occupy a similar picture/text place in my imagination's storeroom.

3. The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings. One novel, you know.

4. Tennyson's 1832 Poems -- this began with falling deeply for 'Mariana', mediated through a profound reaction to Millais painting of the same name; but it lead quickly through into all his other early lyrics. The Lotos Eaters! Ah, The Lotos Eaters.

5. Macbeth. [MACBETH? Argh! Hot-potato-orchestra-stalls-Puck-will-make-amends. *tweaks nose*] This was my O-level Shakespeare; the tomorrow-and-tomorrow speech still has the power to lift the tiny hairs at the back of my neck. Not my favourite Shakespeare any more, but the most shaping and influential of his plays on my *coughs* development.

6. Robert Graves The White Goddess.

7. Nabokov, Pnin. "Lolita" is probably a better novel, and Pale Fire certainly a cleverer one, but Pnin is the most moving, as well as the funniest. It also contained some of Nabokov's best prose. It's also short. I read my Dad's old penguin copy. If I weren't allowed Pnin I'd choose "Signs and Symbols", my single favourite ever short story.

8. Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London. I was a suburban middle-class kid, and material deprivation was a purely notional matter in my life. This book made poverty real to me, imaginatively, and changed the way I saw the world. I could fold Nineteen Eighty-Four in here, too.

9. Dickens. I'm tempted to mention either Little Dorrit or Our Mutual Friend, as they are now my two favourite Dickenses. Dickensseses. But the fact is, it was reading Dombey and Son, and more particularly the chapters detailing little Paul's decline and death, that first took the top of my head off. I remember reading it mouth open at the sheer skill of the writing.

10. Roald Dahl, "A Piece of Cake". This is a tricky one, really: I read Dahl's kid's writing, of course; everyone read it when I was growing up. It was almost compulsory. And there was a TV series made of his adult 'tales of the unexpected' short stories, which was also pretty popular. But this one short story was in a different category: a brief, autobiographical piece about him flying a Gloster Gladiator over the desert, crashing it and waking up in hospital with his burns all bandaged. I remember reading it as an early teenager, for no real reason, just because I chanced upon the paperback. It had the most profound effect upon me. I'm not sure I could diagnose why, or how: it's not a twist-in-the-tale piece, or a sample of his grotesque monstrous inventiveness. Indeed, it's rather oblique. Nor was I particularly interested in world war 2, or the RAF, or flying or anything like that. But the plain fact is: before I read it I had no ambitions to be a writer (I wanted, in point of fact, to make animated cartoons). Then I read it. And after I had read it I wanted to be a writer. Simple as that. Perhaps it had to do with its obliqueness, or its queer reticent potency: it struck me very forceably at a very deep level and I couldn't see how it had done so. At any rate, something vast shifted about inside me as with the motion of great waters, and I wanted to be a writer. Which is, now, what I am.

No science fiction? I know! And I read SF obsessively as a teenager (as I still do). Le Guin would be the eleventh title: The Dispossessed most likely. Though I also loved Earthsea.

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2 Comments to-date;

2 Responses to “Ten books”

  1. Oliver Says:
    October 6th, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    In what way are the Tintin moon books not SF?

  2. Adam Roberts Says:
    October 6th, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    Oliver: of course you're right. The two moon books are very straightforwardly SF (I'd also claim Tintin in Tibet and Flight 714 for genre). Otherwise I suppose Hergé is not exactly sciencefictional.

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