I’ve been tagged!
How could this happen, I just run a blog which three people visit — in blogosphere terms, I’m the equivalent of a hermit! Perhaps because of this, Dan tagged me. Also, he knows I’ve only ever read four books in my life, the spoony bard.
Just you wait, Dan, soon this will turn into one of those real blogs, the ones with the multiple chatboards and weather widgets for Botswana and pictures of random furry animals to indicate moods such as ‘obfuscated’ and ‘shiny purple’.
On to the tag meme, which, if you haven’t put two and two together by now, involves books (I’m going to try and stay away from comics as much as I can — that deserves a separate tag meme, methinks).
1. One book that changed your life: Somewhere around the turn of the century I was very depressed indeed, and utterly bored. If I wasn’t much of a reader to begin with, then at that point in time the circumstances had worked themselves in such a way that it had been years since I’d read any book, even if there were stacks of them laying around the house.
I’m not sure why I picked up Alex Garland’s The Beach when my brother brought it home from his college library, but from that moment I was suddenly pulled head first into it, and only put it down a day and a half-later when I finished it. There was a certain immediacy to the language, an immersiveness that unfortunately is still elusive to most writers. There are scores of books that paint pretty pictures and which I consider great books, but very few inject themselves into your body and soul for the duration of their pages so that you aren’t sitting in your bedroom, you’re running through a marijuana crop on some long-lost island in Asia, tanned and sweating with a ghost for a guide.
The Beach may not be a particularly great plot (straight out of an eighties B/TV movie), it may have already antiquated mid-1990s cultural references (is anyone but my generation going to understand — truly understand — the Tekken 2 Devil Kazuya passage?), but that little pile of pressed dead trees is nothing short of a teleportation device.
2. One book you have read more than once: The Magic Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton (prounced by most Indians as, of course, “Nnid BlITton”). Growing up, I never warmed to the other big Enid Blyton series like The Famous Five (who always seemed a bit, well, irritating). I barely read any books at all, and so all of my strange cultural input was relegated to late eighties DC comic books, blurry B-movies on video, Hardy Boys (Not only was Nancy Drew always on vacation thereby killing the verisimilitude, but there was also no hot teen sex. oh well.), and of course the unusual abundance of tween-targeted SF cartoons like Transformers, Centurions, Thundercats and Dungeons and Dragons that we had growing up in the 1980s (today’s cartoons are… blech, except maybe Megas XLR which has a quirky charm).
I had already devoured much of this stuff several times, I knew each and every way the mythic formulas worked and for some reason no library or shop I can recall had a copy of The Lord of the Rings around.
So, The Magic Faraway Tree was my introduction to fantasy in literature, and I think its influence is readily evident in my writing today. Ask me to come up with a movie and I’m sure to reach for the nearest plot involving an epic adventure quest along the lines of Star Wars (i.e. a tale that follows the typical mythic hero story such as Lord of The Rings or most of its High Fantasy bretheren that youngsters read), but if you ask me to write a novel, then I am going to write a strange tale featuring not-quite heroic, not-so serious protagonist in an ever-changing setting with no clearly defined villain or end to a quest. Pretty much every Savant story follows this template, and the journey from the Faraway Tree’s endless variety of realms at its summit, to Savant’s infinite dimensions, is not a far trip at all.
I probably read each of the books separately at least once, and then have read the omnibus version I picked up many, many times. Even so, it has been a while, close to eight years, in fact, since I last read it, so I probably should do that again.
3. One book you would want on a desert island: How to Survive on a Desert Island for Less Than a Coconut a Day. No, seriously, I’m a real sucker for those 50s and 60s pocket handbooks that try to teach you everything and anything accompanied by helpful line drawings. Today’s “Dummies” books seem a bit tame compared to those bizarre tomes. I have in my possession pocket books on both (Operation) Theatre Techniques and (Stage) Theatre Techniques, for instance. I love the stuff, and one of my secret ambitions is to have a small book brand that does crazy help books like that. So, yes, How to Survive on a Desert Island for Less Than a Coconut a Day.
4. One book that made you laugh: The entire Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams didn’t just make me laugh, it forged new veins of humour in my soul. If Faraway Tree was my introduction to fantasy literature, then ‘The Guide’ was my introduction to all-out humour writing. That it somehow managed to inject a perfectly good science fiction plot into the proceedings only made me love it more.
Of the entire five part trilogy, I love the fourth book, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, because it retained the humour and strangeness of the series while being mostly set on Earth (the ‘inverted house’ still makes my spine tingle). You know that bit in the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie when Elizabeth Swann says, “There will come a time when you’ll have the chance to do the right thing.”, and Jack Sparrow replies, “I love those moments. I love to wave at them as they pass by.” — Can’t confirm this, but it’s probably inspired by a Douglas Adams quote that goes, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”, which he apparently said around the time he was locked up in a hotel room with an editor and forced to finish that book.
5. One book that made you cry: Hmm. Can’t recall any book that made me actually, physically cry, but I suppose that in a weird way reading the end of Mostly Harmless made me go, “Why, Douglas? What’s wrong?” and feel very sad.
6. One book you wish had been written: One more Hitchhikers’ Guide book.
7. One book you wish had never had been written: Don’t really have strong enough feelings about any book that I don’t like, but if I had to wipe one, I’d do the whole series of Ashok Banker’s Ramayana novelisation. I’ve picked these books up many times at the bookstore, looked through them and read a random passage or two and they’re… bad. Bad. If you ever spot one of these, I suggest you do the same and tell me your reaction, because if you somehow think that the prose of these books can be considered anything close to coherent language, then please tell me how, and how many narcotic substances were involved. Needless to say, I’m not looking forward to his nine part Mahabharata.
8. One book you are currently reading: The Conspiracy, by John Hersey. It’s about the so called ‘Pisonian Conspiracy’ to assassinate Emperor Nero, but told entirely through pilfered letters and secret notes between Nero’s head of security/royal household administrator and the secret police. Once in a while he fires off a letter or three to various other arms of the royal machine to request, for instance, a hundred swans to be tehered to an ornate raft for a party, and other elaborate schemes. If you liked HBO’s ROME, then this should be right up your alley. I don’t care much for Roman politics, but this is just so well written (like ROME) that I’m enjoying it thoroughly.
9. One book you have been meaning to read: Always wanted to read one of the big two Indian epics (the Ramayana and the Mahabharata) but in Sanskrit or whatever oldest language they survive in. Ramanand Sagar television serials with their campy, over-the-top style just don’t do it for me, and as stated above, neither does Ashok Banker. I have a lot to read, all the biggies, so add things like Lord of the Rings, Foundation etc. to the list. Also, Alan Moore has written a novel, I think.
10. Now tag five people: Considering that the three or so people who visit this blog have already been tagged, and that everyone else who I’d like to see answer these questions do not have blogs, I’m just going to leave this open. If you read this and have a blog, you’re tagged. Leave a link in the comments if you do your own, I’d love to read it, whoever you are.