Saturday, March 11, 2006

Are you a, Reader, I married him, kind of girl or a Reader, I died, kind of girl?

In 1994, when I was living in Kyneton, I decided that my writerly education had come to a standstill and that I should do something about this. At that time I was mainly a poet, so I wrote to the following letter to the poets I knew:

Dear Poet

I am trying to expand my reading and am writing to various people aksing if they'd send me a list of the ten books which have most influenced them.

I'd love to see your list if you'd care to respond.

The responses were generous, idiosyncratic and thought-provoking. Most people thanked me for initiating some soul-searching. Some women apologised for the lack of women writers on their lists. One or two men did the same. One poet asked for my list in return.

One of my poets, and I have looked for her letter but failed to find it in my filing system, said that one of the books which had influenced enormously was Jane Eyre. She made the comment that if Wuthering Heights had been on her list, her life might have been dramatically different.

I've been thinking about this ever since a student of mine did a book review in Writing for Young Adults, on the novel Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster. The love interest in that book would now be considered, at best, inappropriate, and at worst, an abuse of position and power. I loved that novel. I can remember the cover with it's long-legged shadow on the wall.

There should be some kind of literary women's life and love quizz:

1. When you think of Colette do you think of
a) her first marriage to a much older man
b) the Claudine stories
c) food
d) Which Collette - Toni Collette or Collette Mann?

Over to you, gentle Reader, what ten (or so) books (or poems) influenced/influence/sing to/resonate with your attitude to relationships?

Here's mine:
(from childhood)
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
(as a young woman)
Diane Wakoski's King of Spain poems
Pentimento, Lillian Hellman
The Journals of Anais Nin (not necessarily a good influence!)
The Quaker View of Sex and Marriage
(as a wife and mother - note that by this stage I wanted resonated with and sing to, rather than influenced)
Breathing Lessons, Anne Tyler
Anne Sexton - 'Eighteen Days Without You' and 'Little Girl, My String Bean, My Lovely Woman'
Kate Grenville's The Idea of Perfection - for hope
(as an artist)
Barbara Hanrahan's Michael and Me and the Sun - no better exploration of the tensions between the artist and the good girl. In this case, the good girl is Hanrahan, brought up in Adelaide in a predominantly female household, tugged between art school and teacher's college.
(most recently)
Molly Peacock, Paradise, Piece by Piece - this is an extraodinary memoir of an American poet, initially written to explain her decision not to have children, this book continues, in some ways, Hanrahan's chronicle. Peacock, however, places this within the context of an American disfunctional family battling alcoholism and matter-of-fact poverty. The love that Hanrahan was wrapped in (and sometimes suffocated by)is not present in Peacock's memoir. Peacock had to create her own loving family - and the book is an unflinching record of her successes and her failures.

I found Peacock's descriptions of her life as a teacher of English at Friends Seminary as, if not more, moving than her childhood and young adulthood stories. I love the way Peacock sought and found structure:
On these things I could depend: Every day I went to a place where there were ten minutes of benigh nothingness that might be construed as God. Every day I learned how to live from children who were not the flesh of my flesh. Eveyr day that less harm was done, somehow more good amassed. Every night i spoke on the phone with my lover whose wife had finally reappeared with divorce papers. Saturday night and sunday morning we had sex. Every weekend I wrote a sonnet, and now I had fifty-two of them, like a deck of fortune-telling cards, and with Tilla's encouragement I was sending them out to fancier literary magazines that I had dared before.
Molly Peacock, Paradise, Piece by Piece, Riverhead Books, New York, 1998, p. 191.

Over to you!


Bronwyn G said...

Oh wow Catherine.

Thanks for letting us into your heart and mind.

Oh this reminds me of the exercises we are given each week, or rather were.

Dad really likes Pomegrants and His Name in Fire. Me too.

UGotPWNED said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gregory Brett Hardy said...

Ah, Catherine, the list...Well, this will take some searching, won't it? I'm a fantasy writer (as you know) and as such many of these books are fantasy novels, but they have influenced me in two ways. 1) The scope of the story and 2) The world itself.

So here is my list of the top ten (mostly fantasy) books/series that have influenced ME.

10)Sara Douglass - The Axis Trilogy: The world was so realised and coherent that you could really picture yourself being there without the map at the start of the book. Also, Sara's style, quick and precise, is something that I was deeply influenced by, and I only bought these at the end of last year.

9) Serj Tanakian - Cool Gardens: This is poetry, Catherine, so you'll be happy. I bought this in March, as you are aware, and it really opened my eyes to the structural possibilities and word usage. That, and Serj is the lead singer of the best band in the world, System of a Down.

8) Raymond E Fiest - The Riftwar Saga: Raymond is a veritable deity of fantasy. No small wonder here. His ability to take not one, but TWO worlds is something that has influenced me so much that it helped bring Voice of the Rain to life. And, look at Thurisaz now! It wouldn't be there if Fiest and Tolkien had never been part of my life.

7) Thomas Harris - Silence of the Lambs: Arguablly the best of teh Hannibal series. This book showed me how to show emotion without actually being inside the characters head. It is also responsible for my dark outlook on life (I first read this at age nine.)

6) Micheal Chrichton - Jurassic Park: No other book has forced me to look at my work objectively like Chrichton's genetic science classic. As a consequence, Thurisaz has grown.

5) The Edda's: The ancient texts of the Norse peoples circa 1000 AD has been the strongest influence in the way I name the world. The Norse have also become critical to my fantasy novel and my new YA novel that I'm starting to work on.

4) Fiona McKintosh - Trinity: This fantasy trilogy is bloody fantastic, and showed me how to write dialogue in fantasy. My current dialogue style is largely thanks to McKintosh. The language that the character's use is so relaxed and un-formal that it really created more believeable characters.

3) Garth Nix - The Old Kingdom Trilogy: A YA fantasy series that kicked some serious ass. Along with Sara, these books showed me that Australian's are very capable of writing some of the best fantasy in the world. IF YOU HAVEN'T READ SABRIEL, LIREAL AND ABHORSEN YET, YOU BLOODY WELL SHOULD!

2) J.R.R Tolkien - The Lord Of The Rings: Is is possible to be a fantasy writer and not be influenced by this marvelous mind? While the story is long and winded and the dialgoue formal, the biggest influence I took from this was the world-building aspect. Such a large world!

1) Robin Hobb - The Farseer Trilogy: Any that know me even a little bit know that Hobb is my favourite, my idol. Everything here influences me every day I write: her characters, her world, her writing style, her humour...everything. I have never read a more complete series than this.

So there you go, Catherine. Gibah's top 10 influences. And now, just because I can: