“I don’t understand how anyone can survive this place if they haven’t read Le Carre” was one of the more ridiculous things I said at university. (Well, one of the more ridiculous things I said about books. Let’s keep that bar within manageable reach.) I wrote a while ago about how we use books to make sense of our lives, and on rereading that piece, I wondered which books all of you can’t imagine not having read at school, or at university. Not necessarily the books which defined your relationship to your subject, or the ones which taught you the most, but which books kept you going and shaped your emotional world? Here are a couple of mine, from that earlier post:
I’d been carrying around a copy of Robert Harris’ Enigma for about a fortnight during a particularly stressful time before I realized that maybe there was a reason I found that story consoling. Brilliant young mind, with mixed-up love life, spends his days staring at a jumble of incomprehensible codes on a page, whilst the history of the world depends on his understanding them? Sheer coincidence. The same goes for John Le Carré’s Smiley novels: we appreciated them as masterly accounts of Britain’s post-war decline and moral compromise. In no sense did we sense a parallel between our own colleges and the dusty labyrinths of Le Carré’s “Circus”, nor did that give us any kind of thrill as we made our own treks through old books and papers. I must stress that at no point did we give nicknames to other students based on the suspects in Tinker Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
To which, thinking about it, I should probably add:
Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers
Not Harry Potter, by Not J.K. Rowling
That Stack of School Stories We Kept on the Kitchen Table, (edited by Laura, Jem, Odette and Libby)
The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
So what were yours? When you look back at your time at school or university, what are the books you can’t imagine not having read, because they seem so much part of the person doing the remembering? And why?