Wednesday, September 03, 2014
My list of most influential books...
I think it might make my head explode and I just got this new haircut.
But I'm interested by the idea of what is an influential books as opposed to the books that I identify as the books that I think are 'the best.' Books by writers that made my head explode? From my late teen and 20s: Kafka, Beckett, bpNichol, Sir Thomas Mallory, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Calvino, Borges, James Tate, Stuart Ross, Dave McFadden, Ron Padgett, Mervyn Peake, John Cage, Tom King, Mark Strand, Chris Dewdney, Frank Davey, Maurice O’Sullivan, Gertrude Stein, (I know, no women…except Stein)
Borges wrote of his love for books which were clearly not what is usually considered 'first class.'
And what about books from my childhood: I read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings as a young teen. It was years before I looked at nature except through Tolkein’s eyes: some kind of pan-European syncretic pastoral/romantic/medieval filter of story, loss, nostalgia, beauty, wandering, poetry, music, mystery, and notions of grand narratives (metaphysical, social, emotional, cultural, linguistic.)
When I was twelve, I read Kafka’s The Castle. I remember how vivid it made trudging through the snow on the way back from school. But it wasn’t metaphysical or existential alienation, it was rather a warm feeling of being in a story, of being able to conceptualize an experience larger than me (that snow was metaphysical, ontological. Epistemological, even.) I walked through the music of Kafka’s language. I didn’t need to get into the Castle like K. I was happy wandering.
I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. A brilliant collage of references, parody, bathos, science, and metafiction. Remarkable savvy, timing, quick witted play with a variety of tones. The sense that, Quixote-like, a text could play against itself.
And Seamus Heaney and medieval writing. The palpable physicality of language. A kind of peat (I often smelled peat in fires as a child in Ireland.)The inspiration of language and a world that was profoundly other but yet whose texture, light, weight, heft, I could feel with my fingers or my mouth. Its rhythms in my body. I'd say this about the synagogue chanting, too.
In high school, Mark Strand did a reading and workshop in our class. That was another music. A lightness. Fables. Simple language made silver, lunar, parabalistic, yet witty. Then first year at York U., and bpNichol introduced me to what was possible. Writing could do what I knew experimental music could. And art. Compassion. Play. Graffiti on the fourth wall. Invention. Humour. Continual re-invention and exploration.
This is about all I can say about my ‘influential’ books without writing a 100 page essay on reading. Influential books: it’s like naming influential breaths. Sure, I can identify some, but…