Sunday, April 09, 2006

Life-Changing Reads

My colleague EJ over at the Olive Reader, where we blog about bookish matters, recently linked to this piece in The Guardian about influential novels.

The piece leads with this:
The novel that means most to men is about indifference, alienation and lack of emotional responses. That which means most to women is about deeply held feelings, a struggle to overcome circumstances and passion, research by the University of London has found.
This might seem a bit obvious to those who know the genders, but it becomes even more so when it's revealed that the poll asked respondents -- many of them at least tangentially involved with literature on a professional level -- to name "novels that had changed their lives." It seems clear to me that this would bias the results toward books read at an impressionable age. I still love a lot of books upon reading them, but I'd say the bar for "changing my life" has been raised considerably since I was 22 or so.

Lisa Jardine, one of the project's leaders, said, "The men's list was all angst and Orwell. Sort of puberty reading." Orwell can be summed up as puberty reading? Jeez. That's a bit tough, no? (Granted, they're talking about 1984 in particular, I think, but seeing Orwell dismissed alongside the entire category of "angst" smarted a little.)

The point is made that the men's list is full of male writers, while the females interviewed mentioned Jane Austen, George Eliot, and other great women writers. Again, the idea is that these books affected respondents at a young age, so of course men chose books of alienation (Catch 22) and rage against the machine (Slaughterhouse Five) and heartache (High Fidelity), because many young male readers are heartbroken, alienated dudes who are impotently raging against various machines, real and imagined.

Anyone care to share their most life-changing reads? The few that come to mind for me: Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut, The Risk Pool by Richard Russo, and The Brothers K by David James Duncan, all of which, at the time I read them, not only moved me but gave me the inkling that writing fiction might be something I wanted to do. It's an inkling I'm still trying to shake, mostly by not doing anything about it.

Then there's this paragraph in the Guardian piece, as if I needed more reason to doubt the necessity or wisdom of my participation in the publishing industry:
"On the whole, men between the ages of 20 and 50 do not read fiction. This should have some impact on the book trade. There was a moment when car manufacturers realised that it was women who bought the family car, and the whole industry changed. We need fiction publishers -- many of whom are women -- to go through the same kind of recognition," Prof Jardine said.



Blogger Dezmond said...

True dat. (The last paragraph). When I read nowadays, it is all nonfiction or philosophy, no stories.

4:01 PM  
Anonymous Dread P said...

Well - you know me - in no particular order

The Hotel New Hampshire
A Prayer for Owen Meany
Ender's Game - I know but it is still greatness
The True Believer
As She Climbed Across The Table

4:39 PM  
Anonymous DP said...

I agree with Desmond - I hardly read fiction anymore - mostly history or porn or historic porn

4:41 PM  
Blogger SoW said...

Waterland - Graham Swift
Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh

8:09 PM  
Blogger MAW said...

Slaughterhouse Five - Vonnegut
On the Road - Kerouac
Catcher in the Rye - Salinger

...guess I'm a man in a former life.

9:20 PM  

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