I have long been a fan of Alice’s blog ofBooks, and have been particularly intrigued by her idea of making a list of books she must read before she reaches thirty. Perhaps this has been close to my heart, as I turned thirty at the end of last year… So, in the spirit of New Year’s Resolutions, I thought you might like to hear a little about her project, and perhaps find the inspiration to make your own list of books to read before thirty, forty, or even by the end of 2014.
Alice – my recommendation for your list, other than Moon Tiger, which I’m thrilled you read last year, is something by Penelope Fitzgerald. It’s so tough to choose a favourite, but perhaps I’ll settle on The Beginning of Spring. I think she’s a genius, easily one of the best writers of the last century, and I hope you find her work as funny, unnerving, perfectly observed and inspiring as I do.
Over to Alice…
When Emily got in touch and asked if I would like to write something about my endeavour Books Before 30 – a list of books I’ve made to read before I reach the end of my twenties – my initial feeling was excitement, and then as I came down from the ceiling, I thought, ‘how far have I got with that?’ My progress isn’t exactly extensive.
Reading has become such a feature in my life, a second education. Books Before 30 was designed to be my way of delving into the fiction and non-fiction to which I was failing to expose myself.
I never used to be a great reader. As a child my father read me fiction, approved by my mother: C.S. Lewis, Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl. I was the earnest listener, absorbing tales that would provide my sisters and me with inspiration for the playtime adventures that kept us occupied through afternoons and weekends. At school, I was a shy child, and it was assumed my reading was underdeveloped. It meant I spent a lot of time reading about Peter and Jane. If there is anything to kill a love of literature it is Peter and Jane.
By and by, as I became too old for bedtime tales and graduated to my own bedroom, reading fell off the list of childhood pursuits. There were video games, music and the internet to discover, and I was breaking out of the shell of my Christian upbringing. Reading just didn’t feel so important.
Now, I often wish I had studied English Literature for A-Level, but in the typical style of someone who is suddenly allowed to be different without judgement, I chose almost all my subjects based on what was (almost) never available to me at school; History, Philosophy and Film Studies. Literature didn’t reappear in my life until University, when I chose to veer in the direction of fiction and history during my degree in Cultural and Historical Studies. This reintroduced me to the Classics; Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, She, and Heart of Darkness. It also threw at me the wonders of modern fiction; books by Chinua Achebe, Seamus Dean and Deirdre Madden. You would think that would be the push I needed, but in actual fact it took a love of blogging and a GoodReads challenge to really ignite a passion for reading.
During my first year of blogging in 2012, I began to realise how much literature I had missed, especially the classics. I’d managed to arrive at a few on my own via University, BBC adaptations, and a push in the right direction from my sister, but I felt left behind. So I set myself a goal: I asked people to suggest books that I should read before I turned 30, which at the time was just over four years away. I also added some ideas of my own. They don’t have to be classics or challenging books – I’ve got Twilight on there – they just need to be books I feel I ought to have read in order to learn, expand my vocabulary, or just to have a better grounding for moaning about them!
If I hadn’t had this particular journey with reading, I would probably never have created Books Before 30. The idea isn’t my own; Simon, of Savidge Reads – a fabulous book blogger – is the creator of sorts. Back in 2012 he started discussing 40 Before 40 – where he’d list and read a selection of books he felt he should read before he reaches the end of his 30s. (Earlier this year he listed them all.) Essentially I’ve stolen Simon’s idea, modified it and am hoping that he doesn’t mind!
Since beginning this challenge I have worked my way through books I never thought I would love, such as Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, whose protagonist’s anxiety vibrated so intensely that I could feel it. And some I never thought I would dislike, such as Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, which I read craving the maturity of Anne from Persuasion.
Without Books Before 30 I wouldn’t have felt a plethora of emotions or seen the world in different lights. I would never have read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and decided that I preferred Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë that bit more:
I’ve no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn’t have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.
Often I’ve thought of myself as a state; a country or, at the very least, a city. It used to seem to me that the different ways I felt sometimes about ideas, courses of action and so on were like the differing political moods that countries go through. It has always seemed to me that people vote in a new government not because they actually agree with their politics but just because they want a change. Somehow they think that things will be better under the new lot. Well, people are stupid, but it all seems to have more to do with mood, caprice and atmosphere than carefully thought-out arguments. I can feel the same sort of thing going on in my head. Sometimes the thoughts and feelings I had didn’t really agree with each other, so I decided I must be lots of different people inside my brain.
I would have never been able to compare Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell to current politics:
He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.
I would never have read Hemingway, or Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford, the best piece of fiction I have ever encountered. Not all of these were on my Books Before 30 list, but without that list, without the push to change my reading habits and to discover new works I never would have reached for them.
I’ve got two more years until I hit 30 when this challenge will end. If you have any books you could recommend for me, I would be incredibly grateful! Or perhaps you’d like to join me in my challenge, in which case I’d love to know how you get on.