There were a few books in my life that I found life-changing, that gave me the feeling of having found a love I never knew I had been looking for, that I couldn’t un-read, that made me change my view of the world forever. For now, I’ll only span the bracket until about 16 years of age, otherwise the list would be very long.
I might be not 100 % cis-gender after all, I sometimes think, and from an early age on, I mostly identified with male characters in the books and stories I read. The females had little or no correlation to me whatsoever in the way they acted or felt. Of course this is also attached to the authors and how they shaped their characters. E. g., Eilonwy in Taran wasn’t bad, but Taran is simply better fleshed out – or Gwydion. So basically, I wanted to by Gwydion. (The real character of the mythological Gwydion is far more interesting still, I discovered with joy a little later on.) Then I read all of the “Die Drei Fragezeichen” series, I think, the German adaption of “Three Investigators.” All male, of course, and each persona had something lovable or attachable; if seen as different aspects of a personality or archetypes, they make a good team. Then I really liked – don’t laugh at me – books about mythology, encyclopedias, and archaeological travelling guides. I always liked connections and associations that ended me up in strange and new places, hopping along locations or along footnotes. As soon as I could read, I read everything I could get; and thankfully, my parents have a nice library. I learned Gothic letters reading old editions of Hauff’s and Andersen’s fairy tales, of which I remember the Snow Queen captured me the most.
I thought I would start a list of my favourite books; for now I will close the bracket at about 16, or it would be a long list indeed.
#1 Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
I can’t tell what drew me into it, or when I read it first. I must have been end of second grade or third grade, when reading wasn’t an effort any more. What captured me was the atypical main character, but altogether the special atmosphere of the book as well as the nuances and evolution of the characters. It made me feel that with the book, I really discovered my own secret garden, something wonderful and special.
Random favourite quote:
“Would you hate it if — if a boy looked at you?” Mary asked uncertainly.
He lay back on his cushion and paused thoughtfully.
“There’s one boy,” he said quite slowly, as if he were thinking over every word, “there’s one boy I believe I shouldn’t mind. It’s that boy who knows where the foxes live—Dickon.”
Only recently I learned that the book was full of Christian metaphors — I didn’t realize back then. (But who doesn’t love a good salvation-story.)
#2 Krabat, Ottfried Preußler
To the ones whose native language isn’t German, the book will most likely be unknown, which is a pity. Preußler wrote many very popular children’s books. “Krabat” is not quite one. On the surface, it’s a love story, but it’s more than just that. Again, the unique atmosphere, this time of the haunted mill, is what got me — and of course the marvelous way of Preußler’s to create unique characters. As in “The Secret Garden,” a strong component are the intense character relationships. To the ones interested, here’s a little more on the background of the story.
#3 Oscar Wilde & others, Teleny
Gosh, that was a relief. Before I had thought I was alone with my dirty mind … However, in seriousness. I lacked older siblings or friends. I was actually too young to read that book, according to its age restriction, when I read it first. I was 15 maybe, something — and the book is rated 18+ here. Even then, I noticed the flaws that are inherent in the pastiche work of course — like the almost artificial main plot tying together the episodes — and the underlying internalized morality of the time that sex is bad and a relationship based on it is doomed from the start. (Most of the sub-stories in the book end with the death of one of the participants.)
Apart from the obvious — the discovery of smut in its most explicit form — what got me was again that something was shown that usually is hidden. The way to write, the notion that it needn’t fade out when it got ‘interesting,’ fascinated me. The park where like-minded people find each other at night, the description of the brothel … It also fascinated me that whoever wrote the bits stayed true to themselves. The effect strongly reminds me now of how I felt when I got my eyes lasered. It was fantastic; I could see everything in marvelous detail. Then I went to the sauna, and missed the soft-blur-effect my limited eye sight gave me before.
Teleny does the same. The intense focus on detail — one could almost call it an obsession at times — isn’t limited to the beautiful bits — or to the horrific or revolting. The writers don’t care if they describe in detail the interior of a tasteful flat, or a brothel, an orgasm or a death. They never fade out. That makes it shift from almost splatter to horror, to love story, to p*rn. (For me, the effect was similarly intense to reading Clive Barker now.)
Random favourite quote:
#4 Edward Morgan Forster, Maurice
I read the novel right after I watched the movie, which came to cinemas and TV in about 1988 I guess in Germany, and it almost made me forget about the latter. The movie is well made, and has a great cast, but what it is lacking are the fantastic descriptive parts of Forster’s writing. Maurice, or Scudder, I really can’t decide who I attach more to, but I can state that still hardly a day passes for me without thinking of the book; whenever my boss misspells or forgets my name, and whenever I am telling others about something that’s really important to me, and they don’t recognize it.
Random favourite quotes:
I never talked about any of the books important to me with classmates of mine. I only talked about books with my best friend then who is incidentally my cousin.
All of the books have atypical main characters — atypical in relation to what my classmates were reading at the time. I never got the hang of the conventional “girl meets boy” plot or Blyton’s ‘Five Friends.” That it could be about something different, that the main characters could have real edges and flaws was something that filled me with huge relief and indescribable joy.
Oh, and I love language. To truly create a world out of words is something magical for me. Hodgson Burnett, Preußler, Forster, and Wilde & Friends achieve that. I lived in these books, and read them over and over. A unique use of language is vital for me; when I read a book, I really want to be drawn into a world, and a beautiful language is the equivalent of an elegant usher inviting me to let myself go, and to step in and take a ride. A wonderful way with words makes me overlook every weakness the plot might have — just as a wonderful singer can make me love a rather mediocre piece of music.