The 10 Books which made the most impact on me

A friend of mine, Carol, (aka The Naked Novelist) via my bestman Stuart, passed on a challenge this week: to list the 10 books that have had the most impact on my life. So that’s impact, not my favourite 10.

Here’s my stab at it…

1. ‘Here We Go’ – the Janet and John book I learnt to read with: “Look, Janet, look!”

janet and john here we go book
2. ‘Ulysses’, James Joyce – it’s about everything, and very resonant if you’re a Jew married to an Irish woman “Yes, yes, yes!”

First edition (I'd love one of these)

First edition (I’d love one of these)

3. ‘Paradise Lost’ Books 1 & 2, John Milton ed. John Broadbent – the poetry’s pretty damn good but the footnotes were a revelation – it helped me realise school subjects are artificial divisions and everything’s connected to everything else. “Of man’s disobedience and the fruit of that forbidden tree…”

 'Paradise Lost' Books 1 & 2, John Milton ed. John Broadbent book
4. ‘Asterix in Britain’ – I loved the notion of an invasion succeeding because one side stopped for tea at a set time every afternoon (5 o’clock)

Asterix Chez les Bretagnes

Asterix Chez les Bretagnes

Time for Tea (a fatal weakness)

Time for Tea (a fatal weakness)

5. ‘The Dinosaur Strain’, Mark Brown – got me into the subject of Creative Thinking, led to me making a computer game (MindGym) and ultimately to writing my own book about Creativity, ‘When Sparks Fly’ (5/8 finished, interviewed Jamie Oliver for it today)

the only picture I can find as it's almost extinct

the only picture I can find as it’s almost extinct

6. ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Shakey – emblematic of the year I had an inspiring teacher (English teacher of course – Mr Fitch RIP MA Cantab) who got me really reading

romeo and juliet shakespeare arden edition
7. ‘The Riddle of the Sands’, Erskine Childers – made me realise what a burden material possessions can be in the scene where the protagonist can’t get his trunk into the sailing boat and has to dump all his shit on the quay

'The Riddle of the Sands', Erskine Childers penguin book
8. ‘The Complete Plays of Joe Orton’ – bought it for a 6th form project, turned me on to satire and the Sixties

'The Complete Plays of Joe Orton'  book
9. ‘Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide’ – pored over this fat tome when I first got really into movies as a teenager

'Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide' 1979
10. ‘On the Road’, Jack Kerouac – led me to Allen Ginsberg who in turn inspired ‘When Sparks Fly’ (see above) and is the subject of the first chapter, With a Little Help from My Friend

On the Road by Jack Kerouac


jack Kerouac-On-The-Road book novelIf it’s not too Neknominate, please do share your Top Impact 10 below (or a link to it)…

12 comments so far

  1. theluckhabit on

    In an idle moment I thought I would add mine. Not been ‘challenged’ by anyone though. We cross over on one.

    1. To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee. The first ‘real’ adult book I read. Aged 11/12. I still remember reading it for the first time and how I felt.

    2. Chips Channon Diairies. Not a pleasant man and good diarists often aren’t but this sparked my interest in political diaries which has continued.

    3. Generation X. Douglas Coupland. A book that makes me laugh every time I read it. It was my route into understanding ‘geekworld’.

    4. London: A biography. Peter Ackroyd. The greatest book on the greatest city.

    5. The Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack. I got given my first one in 1976 and have collected them all since though my collection now goes back much further. The greatest ‘game’ (as opposed to ‘sport’).

    6. The Penguin Guide to Jazz. Cook and Morton. When the first one came out in 1990 it opened a new and wonderful musical world for me. Though a very expensive one.

    7. The Dinosaur Strain. Mark Brown. My career ‘bible’ and the prime influence on my professional calling. Why didn’t he follow it up?

    8. The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar and six more. Roald Dahl. The first proper book I read and I remember how pleased I was to complete it. A book can look daunting – all those pages of text – when you are young (I was about 10 and the book had just come out) but finishing your first one makes the seemingly impossible, possible. Perhaps the fact that it featured short stories helped.

    9. Down and Out in Paris and London. George Orwell. A world did exist beyond boys’ boarding schools.

    10. A Short History of Nearly Everything. Bill Bryson. Pre-history has become a recent love, one that I suspect I will develop as I get older and this was the start point.

  2. ArkAngel on

    Good list, could have guessed quite a few at this juncture. We are probably the only people in the world who would have Dinosaur Strain in their top ten.

    You particularly make me want to read London: A Biography (which already sits on my shelves).

    Mockingbird is a sore point with me as Enfant Terrible No.1 lost my 70s copy with the yellow cover on a plane trip – the first and last book I’ve lent him.

  3. catalanbrian on

    Am fascinated by Dinosaur Strain, as it is not a book that I have come across, so I may have to purchase a copy. I will give some thought to my list, which I will put up in the next few days. I can fully understand your ire at the loss of a book as a result of lending it to someone.

    I have had two major occasions of lending and losing books. The first was my first edition copy of Midnight’s Children. The second was a little book titled The Cricket Match, by Hugh de Sellincourt which, when I wanted to replace the lost copy, had gone out of print. Fortunately some years later it was reprinted. I now never lend books.

  4. catalanbrian on

    Well here’s my list. One crossover with each of you.

    1. Things Fall Apart. Chinua Achebe. Opened my mind to the wealth of literature that emanates from Africa. A very simple story which deals with colonialism and the forcing of one culture upon another.

    2. The Spanish Civil War. Anthony Beevor. The book (now revised and republished as The Battle For Spain) that gave rise to my interest in Spain and its 20th Century history and which indirectly lead to me moving to live in Catalunya

    3. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A marvellous tale of one family through a number of generations. Quite an extraordinary blend of the real and the unreal.

    4. Silent Spring. Rachel Carson. The book that woke me up to environmental issues and which has been an important reminder of just how careless we have been with our world.

    5. On The Road. Jack Kerouac. I was, back in my teenage years, fascinated with the beat writers and their lives, as they seemed to speak directly to me. I envied all the ‘bad’ things they did and I loved the idea of Kerouac typing this book on one continuous scroll.

    6. The Rest Is Noise. Alex Ross. The great and perhaps the best work on 20th century music.

    7. The Old Man And The Sea. Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway is an extraordinary writer and whilst I am not really sure that I think that he is a great writer of novels this one novella is enough to swing the balance in his favour.

    8. To Kill A Mockingbird. Harper Lee. An important novel that deals with important, and at the time, rarely discussed, issues.

    9. Diaries. Alan Clarke. A loathsome man but a stupendous and wonderfully indiscreet diarist. These diaries of Clarke’s pointed the way to further pleasure from other diarists.

    10. The Affluent Society. J.K. Galbraith. A book that is just as relevant now as it was on publication some 50 years ago. All politicians should be made to read this book before they are allowed anywhere near government.

    • ArkAngel on

      Fascinating list, CatalanBrian, much in common with Doug’s tastes. I particularly fancy the Galbraith to see if he can explain to me how this whole global economic thing fits together.

  5. […] Took a long hike across the city with a Columbian student along tree-lined streets of two-storey European-style buildings through the extensive area known as Palermo. Reminded me of similar streets in Toronto, Tel Aviv and Paris. We talked drums, jazz, politics – thoroughly enjoyable wander. One highlight was a beautiful bookshop of high wooden shelves with a tranquil cafe secreted at the back – where I would definitely hang out if I lived here. The only book in English I saw was by Jamie Oliver. […]

  6. […] Took a long hike across the city with a Columbian student along tree-lined streets of two-storey European-style buildings through the extensive area known as Palermo. Reminded me of similar streets in Toronto, Tel Aviv and Paris. We talked drums, jazz, politics – thoroughly enjoyable wander. One highlight was a beautiful bookshop of high wooden shelves with a tranquil cafe secreted at the back – where I would definitely hang out if I lived here. The only book in English I saw was by Jamie Oliver. […]

  7. theluckhabit on

    @catalanbrian. The Dinosaur Strain was a written by an old colleague and friend of Adam and mine. Although it is aimed at the ‘success in business’ market there is a lot more to it than that. A different way of looking at things and a great spark for creative thought. I am not sure it would be your thing. I have a copy or three knocking about or it is available as a free download from Mark’s website. I notice you went for Clark’s diaries. Your sentiments were the same as mine about political diaries in general but my trigger was really Chips. I look forward to 2018 when the really salacious stuff comes out. The Duke of Edinburgh can’t be looking forward to it. I have a 1963 issue ‘Reader’s Club’ issue of Silent Spring. Wonderful book.

    @arkangel. I have my yellow 1970’s copy in the roof with the stamp of my school library in it. Never returned! I thought Ulysses would get the No1 slot? Must have been close. The Ackroyd is a marvel but it was very close between this and The London Encyclopedia. By the way there is a book I think you will like: Louis Heren: Growing Up Poor In London. He was a Jewish boy growing in the East End early last century among the dockers and he went on to become Deputy Editor of The Times and its Foreign Correspondent. Some lovely writing about his formative experiences. I was watching one of those marvellous Rank ‘Look at Life’ films the other day and to my amazement he popped up in one of them talking about the decline of the docks sometime around 1970.

    @both. Don’t know if either of you are reading the Kynaston series of books about post-war UK. I am on book five and I will stick my neck and say he is the finest social historian I have read. Highly recommended but start at the beginning ‘Austerity Britain’. A bit confusing about the numbering. If you buy paperback book 1 it is actually books 1 and 2 as they appeared in hardbook and book 2 is actually book 3 and 4 as they appeared in hardback. He is planning to go up to 1979.

  8. ArkAngel on

    @theluckhabit There’s no significance to the order – I just started with the book I learnt to read from at number 1, the rest just as I thought of them. Kynaston I will follow up, sounds really interesting.

    • catalanbrian on

      I echo that, ArkAngel. My list has no significance to the order either, other than that the way the books are listed is the way that they came into my head.

  9. mateo on

    Henry Roth, the novelist known for his masterpiece “Call It Sleep,” an exact, unsparing portrait of the lives of poor Jewish immigrants in New York City in the early decades of this century.

  10. ArkAngel on

    Not a book I’ve heard about, Mateo – will definitely follow up

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