In 2007, I wrote a blog post about five books that were meaningful to me. Some have changed. Some remain the same. I want to have a re-run because I like making lists and analysing myself. That's honesty for you.
1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. Persuasion, by Jane Austen
3. The short stories of Katherine Mansfield
4. The short stories of Roald Dahl
5. The Ordinary Princess, by M. M. Kaye
The funny thing is, things have changed.
Some things remain the same. Jane Austen retains her position at the head. I just can't decide which particular book I'm going to honour, and I'm not sure if I need to. I love her. I can't explain why. The closest I can come is an explanation which I have used before. Here it is again. When I read Jane Austen's novels, I feel like I can sense her, the narrator, sitting just behind the text and enjoying what she is writing. It's as if she is living on in her writing. I never get the same feeling with other authors. Her perspective is so unique. I love that at first glance her novels seem like just another rom-com, but in fact they are so much more. She shows so much more restraint than any other author I have read. She had no pretensions. She was just interested in people, and she wrote about them. I am absolutely sure that she herself was as charming and interesting as her heroines.
A small anecdote: When I was exploring the National Portrait Gallery in London, I bumped into the tiny miniature of her, almost by accident, I almost burst into tears. The fact that the only existing picture of her was this tiny little miniature, surrounded by all this grandeur, these kings and leaders and their pride, seemed to sum up everything I love about her. Does anyone understand what I'm going on about here or is this completely oblique?
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë, is connected in some ways with the reasons I love Jane Austen. CB herself did not think much of Austen's work, but in a century of male authors writing about either frail little women who need a hero or villainous temptresses, I love the strong women they wrote about. Jane Eyre is one of the most wonderful characters of literature, for me.
Animal Farm, by George Orwell, is another book that is meaningful for me now. I thought about this when I wrote a blog post a while ago on retracing my steps - and I've realised that reading Animal Farm in fifth form English at school was a huge turning point for me, even if I didn't realise it at the time. It was where I was first intrigued by the bizarre, depressing history of Communism in Russia. It turns out I was lucky to get my first glimpse through Orwell's perceptive eyes, as so much has been said about the Soviet Union which is horrifically tainted - and the fact that is an allegory of sorts, and not even a perfect one, possibly helped.
Winter of Fire, by Sherryl Jordan, makes the list now. This is a YA novel by a Kiwi author which we were told to read in school when I was 12, because the author was coming to visit. It turned out to be a fantastic book, and I met my first real live author. I managed to impress her, somehow, with my hand-raising-and-question-asking technique, and when my teacher told her later that I wanted to be an author when I grew up, she wrote me a little card encouraging me to follow this dream. I've always been grateful to her for this, and it had a huge impact on me. So her book has a special place in my heart.
I will always love C. S. Lewis' Narnia Chronicles.
And, finally, The Ordinary Princess, by M. M. Kaye, still makes the cut. I have tried to introduce my nieces to this book, because at this stage they are still buying into the Disney perfect-happy-ever-after, you-must-be-beautiful-and-enjoy-cleaning princess stories. So far, I have only received agitated questions: "But when are they going to get married?!" I persevere regardless.
It's not that the other books are no longer meaningful to me. They don't live in my consciousness in quite the same way, though.