e_moon60 (e_moon60) wrote,

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Books Read in One Year of High School

Of historical interest only, and only maybe.   One of the universities I applied to wanted a list of books I'd read in the past year,  both assigned in school and outside of school (other than textbooks used in class, of course.)  I found that list, while looking for something else.   In one year, I read a whole boatload of books (listed 60, and I'd also read all the Reader's Digest Condensed Books for that year, as I'd been doing from about age 10.)

Assigned by my incredibly good senior English teacher, Mrs. Robinson: Durant's The Story of Philosophy, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Richardson's Pamela, Hamilton's Mythology, Dante The Divine Comedy, Milton Paradise Lost, Beowulf, Fielding's Joseph Andrews, Camus' Caligula, The Plague, and The Just Assassins, and Hamlet.

On my own: Lawrence Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet, four novels by Elizabeth Goudge, three by Somerset Maughm, two by Josephine Tey, two by Winston Churchill, Les Miserables, science fiction by Asimov and Norton, some history and biography (Horry's The Life of General Francis Marion, Vernadsky's History of Russia, Eva Curie's biography of her mother), some science and technology, now very outdated, and various other things I can't easily categorize--some nature stuff, some anthropology I guess it would be, some humor.  I was also reading, but didn't put on the list, James Bond thrillers.  I probably left out some mysteries, too.  I did mention the magazines, some that my mother subscribed to and some that we got second-hand from friends of hers.  Most of these were news/business things: Time,  U.S. News and World Report, Business Week, Fortune, but also Scientific American, National Geographic, and Redbook.  I'd been given a subscription to Seventeen for my seventeenth birthday, but found it...boring.   No fantasy--I didn't meet the great fantasy writers until college.   I did read poetry, including Shakespeare's sonnets, but most of the poetry was in anthologies, not separate books, so I didn't list it.

The point is...I read a lot, and I read a lot beyond the genre I'd later end up writing.   I read nonfiction and fiction, in quantity, in a range of fields and styles and eras.  I had been reading at the rate of 50+ books a year for at least eight years by then.   Reading a lot early on built up the skills and the sheer speed to be able to gulp down that many books outside of class and still make good grades.   (And I watched little TV--no cable then--no internet--no cellphones.)   Reading that many books, by so many different authors, also exposed me to a variety of writing styles, and let me absorb, over the years I did it, many technical solutions that I'd later use without knowing that's what I was doing.  

Did I understand everything I read?  No.   It didn't matter.  The point, in the long run, was not understanding everything right then, but developing the kind of intuitive grasp of story and language that later--now--underlies what I write.   Those years of reading fast and furious, reading everything that grabbed my attention, ignoring the boundaries of genre and subject matter, following every interest, every momentary enthusiasm until it wore out--that's the bedrock under the imaginative soil that itself lies under the forest and prairie and steppe that shows on the surface. 

I'd forgotten about this list until I found it.  I can't remember the contents of every book (Perilous Journey by Sublette and Kroll is a great title, but what was it about?  Memory's failed.)  But I remember very well the intellectual hunger, the mind that demanded content, content, content, the great fun of following a trail from one book to another, from one author to another, the satisfaction of learning, and beginning to accumulate enough "stuff" to see how, for instance, Goudge and Maughm and Bowen connected--not by their will, but by being who they were, when they were, and how all of them connected to Fielding and Richardson and Milton and...so on.  I wasn't a natural critic-type--I did not enjoy taking books apart in English class, though I learned to do it--what I wanted was to absorb them, toss them into the mental soup kettle and keep stirring.   This is, I'm convinced, a natural writer's way of taking in other people's work.

This list is also one example of why, when people want to know what writers influenced me, I'm at a loss.  In this one year there were over fifty...the year before, another fifty-plus (overlapping somewhat but not entirely).  By the time I was out of high school,  I had read books by hundreds of writers, including most of those then considered important in 20th century US and English writing and many who weren't.    Did Dauphne du Maurier influence me more than Maughm?   What about Hemingway and Steinbeck?    Most people now have never heard of Elizabeth Goudge but I know she influenced me--I just can't think how.    Everything I read went into the mental kettle...everything influenced me one way or another, but I didn't stop to think about it.  

Tags: the writing life

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