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PRESERVE & PASS ON THE BOOK OF THE DINER!  IT IS THE WARNING FOR THE NEXT, WISER SPECIES OF THE GENUS HOMO TO NOT REPEAT OUR MISTAKES!

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https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/dec/02/books-younger-self-top-writers-recommend-lord-flies-catch-22

'If only I'd been warned!' - writers choose books to give to their younger selves


Julian Barnes, Margaret Drabble, Tessa Hadley, David Nicholls and others choose reading matter that would have been useful when young
Fairy godmother type handing a youngster a book in a fairy woodland setting
From me to me … reading matter selected with the benefit of hindsight. Illustration: Daniela Terrazzini

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Julian Barnes, Margaret Drabble, David Nicholls, William Boyd, Tessa Hadley, Aminatta Forna, John Banville, Maggie O'Farrell, Philip Hensher, Nicola Barker, Charlotte Mendelson, Julie Myerson, Blake Morrison

Saturday 2 December 2017 03.00 EST
Julian Barnes
Julian Barnes
Julian Barnes. Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images

I don’t regret any of the literary reading I missed out on in my youth. I rather enjoy the chronological hazard of not discovering Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Rye and Le Grand Meaulnes until my 40s (and I still haven’t read Le Petit Prince). Literary regret functions rather the other way round: I wish I hadn’t been given Conrad’s The Secret Sharer at the age of 11, which induced a decades-long resistance to him; and I wish I hadn’t read EM Forster before I was able to take his proper measure (though this makes his rediscovery a doubled pleasure).

So the books I would give to my younger self would all be non-fiction, aimed at undermining the automatic prejudices of a white postwar English suburbanite. Books about the true nature of war, empire and race; about the true nature of politics and economics, and how class, money and power are connected. Books that would have made me realise sooner how others – especially foreigners – don’t see us as we complacently see ourselves (I can still recall my bafflement when a Spanish friend told me Francis Drake was a pirate …). Also, books about the true nature of Nature. I was a blind townee for half my life before slowly discovering the countryside. So I would instruct my younger self to learn about soil, wind and water; trees, animals, plants and birds. And bees. That’s another thing: I’d also give my younger self some truthful books about sex.
Margaret Drabble
Daphne du Maurier The Parasites

Daphne du Maurier’s The Parasites is a book to read when young. I didn’t come across it until my 70s, on the recommendation of my novelist friend Andrea Newman, but I would have fallen in love with it when I was 15. It is a novel about three step-siblings of complicated parentage, growing up wildly in a crazy Bohemian theatrical family, inspired by Du Maurier’s own. The Delaneys are bad but talented children, indulged with champagne, chocolate eclairs and sucettes – a lovely, decadent word for lollipop, sucette, and hitherto unknown to me. They are dragged around Europe with their celebrated performing parents, staying in expensive hotels or French coastal resorts. What child from South Yorkshire would not long for this? It is Pamela Brown’s The Swish of the Curtain for the post-pubertal, a tale of dramatic longings with added sex, some of it of an ambiguous nature. The narrative mode is in itself intriguing, as the three siblings sometimes speak collectively, and it is never clear who is speaking or remembering what. Mature readers no doubt consider the Delaneys selfish and silly and amoral, and so they are, but they are captivating. I missed du Maurier entirely as a teenager, put off her possibly by some snobbish remark by my mother or my English teacher, and she cannot be said to be in the front rank: I’ve found other novels by her to be unreadable or kitsch. But this one is unexpected, and fun, and one of her own favourites.
David Nicholls
Franny and Zooey by Salinger

With the books we love, so much depends on timing. Between the ages of 16 and 22 I read a series of novels that still make up the best part of my all-time favourite list. Often, the books were read and read again in preparation for exams and though I was certainly not uncritical, I was zealously protective of the books I loved and perhaps a more generous and forgiving reader than I would be if I were coming to Hardy or Dickens, Orwell or Scott Fitzgerald for the first time in middle age.

I read Salinger’s Franny and Zooey in my late 20s, which I think was about 10 years too late. I loved the book and it remains a favourite, but it’s a novel that could have been custom-built for my 18-year-old self. The self-consciousness, the anguished debates about art and faith and literature, the earnestness and impatience and anxiety about the future, it’s all there. Franny and Zooey is one of the few books that I’ve returned to every year and while I still love it, the voice in my head grows a little more sceptical each time. Is the stuff about religion really so profound? Isn’t there something just a little bit whimsical, precious, self-satisfied about the Glass family? That famous ending still moves me, but is it just a little sentimental? And why are there so many goddam italics?

At 18, I don’t think any of this would have crossed my mind. It would have been that rare thing, a perfect book. I still treasure it and I don’t think I’ve read anything since that has affected me and inspired me as much, both as a reader and a writer. Now I love it for its comedy – Salinger’s dialogue is wonderful – for its mocking fondness and as a portrait of a troubled, loving family. But at 18, I would have put the book down and thought that is exactly how I feel.
William Boyd
Nabokov King, Queen, Knave

I was an avid and undiscriminating reader in my teens: I’d move on to Jane Austen after Ed McBain or Nevil Shute. I remember being bowled over by Catch-22 and Updike’s Couples and I couldn’t get enough of Sergeanne Golon’s Angelique books. I gave a paper on Scott Fitzgerald for the school literary society and was asked to vet Nabokov’s Ada to see if it was fit for the library’s open shelves. To be honest, Ada was beyond me, then, but the book I’d give to my teenage self would be another Nabokov – King, Queen, Knave.

King, Queen, Knave was originally published in Russian in 1928, only appearing in English 40 years later in 1968, translated by Dmitri Nabokov – with help from his dad. It’s a classic love triangle: boorish young Franz is seduced by bored Martha, the wife of his smug boss and cousin, Dreyer. The lovers conspire to kill the cuckold but it all goes terribly wrong and Martha dies. The plot is irrelevant. What is brilliant about King, Queen, Knave and why I know it would have been revelatory to my younger self is that it demonstrates how you can be, at the same time, both very funny and very literary. Nabokov’s dark, dark comedy (also a wonderful portrait of Berlin before the Nazis arrived) is exceptionally well written with immaculate precision of language. I don’t think Nabokov ever wrote a funnier novel – perhaps Pale Fire runs it close – but the way its world and its denizens are rendered through language is as magisterial and assured as Lolita and Pnin.
Tessa Hadley
Tessa Hadley
Tessa Hadley. Photograph: Colin McPherson/Corbis via Getty Images

What I wanted to send back to my younger self, when I first thought about it, was something with a message of restraint. Be cautious, don’t be in too much of a hurry, everything takes time, wait … Elizabeth Bowen’s novel The Death of the Heart, maybe, whose teenage protagonist, Portia, is poignant, comical and dangerous, blundering into life, insisting on the truth, upsetting all the fragile compromises the grown-ups have made in order to get by, confronting them with themselves. Hold back, Portia. Wait and see.

But that’s ridiculous. As if any teenager would listen to that warning. I read The Death of the Heart in those days anyway, and loved it, and all I took away from it was a passionate identification with Portia, who wanted to live now, not later: risking everything, throwing herself at whatever adventure was passing.

So I might as well send back some book with an appetite for life to match those teenage years. I’ll send myself the poems of Walt Whitman, with their hurrying energy and ambitious vision. I think I’d have found “Reconciliation” consoling then as I do now. “Word over all, beautiful as the sky, / Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost, / That the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly softly wash again, and ever again, this soil’d world.”
Aminatta Forna
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Dillard

A few years ago, after I had moved to America, a friend recommended to me the writer Annie Dillard. I began with her first book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, published in 1974 when she was 28 and which won her a Pulitzer prize the following year. I was 10 that year – preoccupied with my immediate world, the gecko on my bedroom wall, the small stream at the bottom of the hill, the ant lion as it lay hidden in the sand awaiting the unsuspecting ant. I also thought of God and the universe, and whether the one existed and where the end of the other might be found.

Dillard’s book is said to have been inspired by a blind child the author had read about, who saw for the first time after cataracts had been removed. Dillard describes her own walks around a creek near her home in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia. Tinker Creek is small, close to a highway, from which floats the sound of traffic and the occasional plastic bag. Yet in Tinker Creek Dillard finds unrestrained beauty and contemplates the infinite through the minutiae of the natural world – a moth emerging from its cocoon, the unblinking gaze of a weasel with whom she locks eyes. In Tinker Creek she also finds cruelty: the sight of a frog being eaten alive from inside by a giant water bug, “his mouth a gash of terror”. Why God allows cruelty is a question she meditates on throughout.
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In London, my Tinker Creek was my back garden, where, from my study window, I watched each year’s litter of fox cubs come of age. I watched them while I wrote books, mainly about war. Here in Virginia, not so far from where Dillard lives, my Tinker Creek is a small area of woodland next to my house.

There are books that change the way you think, and books that change the way you see the world. But Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is different for being one that reminds the reader of the way she once saw the world, in its purest, though by no means simplest, form. In my middle age her book returned that gift to me. Perhaps if I had been given Pilgrim at Tinker Creek when I was 20, I should never have lost sight of it.
John Banville
Rameau’s Nephew by Denis Diderot
Rameau’s Nephew by Denis Diderot

When I published my first book, around the close of the Bronze Age, a kindly reviewer – PJ Kavanagh, I think it was – conceded that I had some talent, but added that it was obvious I had been reading the wrong people. He was correct, of course, since I had spent my adolescence wallowing in the post-Romantic excesses of the likes of Dylan Thomas and Lawrence Durrell. It was only when I came across an enthusiastic mention of it in an essay by Lionel Trilling that I was led to one of the most bracingly subversive texts in European literature, Rameau’s Nephew, written in the 1760s by Denis Diderot.

This short work, along with Kleist’s sublime essay “On the Marionette Theatre” and Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s “Letter to Lord Chandos”, changed entirely my notions of how and what to write. Rameau’s nephew – he is not even granted a proper name – is ironical, vituperative, seething with hysterical self-loathing, and horribly wise to the sordid realities of a world that dismisses true artists in favour of panders, imposters, and mountebanks of all kinds.

Diderot, a leader among the encyclopédistes, was a splendid human being, brilliant, funny and unfailingly wise. If I could reach back and press a copy of Rameau’s Nephew into the hands of my 12-year-old self, what a lot of silliness I would have been saved. But would I have read it, and if I had, would I have understood it? Shaw was right: youth is wasted on the young.
Maggie O’Farrell
Catch 22

I wish someone had pressed Catch-22 into my perhaps 16-year-old hands. I could have done with immersing myself in Joseph’s Heller’s bracing, astringent prose. The book is a wild, startling ride through the multiple minds of airmen stuck on a base in Italy in the second world war, but don’t be deceived by the anarchy. Heller knows exactly what he is doing: this is wildness of a highly conscious, deeply cerebral kind. The novel unfolds in a non-chronological, apparently chaotic stream, with a plethora of desperate, war-crazed characters; in Heller’s hands, however, it all builds to a perfectly controlled, precisely timed apotheosis. Don’t all teenagers need a lesson in the art of chanelling chaos? There is no better example than this book.
Philip Hensher
Thackeray’s The History of Pendennis
Thackeray’s The History of Pendennis

I’m generally a great believer in books turning up when they’re supposed to. I was late to Tolstoy, but in my 30s I was very receptive to him. Similarly with Philip Roth, Elizabeth Taylor or Kingsley Amis, who I wasn’t much bothered about when young, but who were just perfect for my early middle age. The two books I regret not reading earlier were both things that I’d heard from critics weren’t worth troubling with – Thackeray’s The History of Pendennis and Conrad’s Chance. Actually, Pendennis is a perfect joy, rueful, funny and forgiving about the disasters of youth. I would have loved to have read it when I was 20. It would have put me right very quickly. And I always loved Conrad, and have no idea why I let Conrad scholars persuade me that this thrilling masterpiece was an inferior work. I didn’t read it until I was nearly 40, and immediately saw that it knew everything about men and women, money and lying, and (an illusion, but a strong one) how to tell a story. It would have saved me a lot of trouble. As it is, I will never listen to a critical consensus about a great writer’s inferior books again.
Nicola Barker
Divine Mercy in My Soul, by Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska
Divine Mercy in My Soul, by Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska

When I was a girl and my parents asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up my answer was invariably “a go-go dancer …” (it was the 1970s) “… and a nun”. I didn’t see anything remotely at odds in having these dual aspirations. As an adult, very little has changed. I am, by nature, expressive and repressive in equal measure – uninhibited but deeply disciplined. I think this weird disparity is what fuels who I am as a writer.

I have always been fascinated by outsiders, and for me, saints are apotheoses of outsiderdom. Not ancient saints – Augustine, Francis – but modern ones such as Padre Pio, and the child visionaries of Fátima, Kibeho and Medjugorje. Having been deeply religious as a child (The Cross and the Switchblade was revelatory for me), in my 20s I lost my faith. These were strange years. My discipline and indiscipline became tangled and embedded. I turned dark. And I suffered. But my suffering felt hollow and meaningless.

Saints are broadly considered to be “good people”, but this definition barely scratches the surface of what they are and do. Sainthood is suffering. It is self-negation: pain with purpose. The saint I love best is Faustina, “God’s Secretary”; uneducated, Polish, she died in obscurity in 1938. Her extensive diaries Divine Mercy in My Soul redefined my perception of both suffering and ecstasy. The diaries are truly bizarre and gorgeously restrained. Sane yet demented. They speak so directly to my paradoxical self. I dearly wish I had found them earlier.
Charlotte Mendelson

My younger self was so unfortunate, a bookish muddle of self-hating jumpers, OCD and despair: only time could help me. If a teenage girl voluntarily reads One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, I Capture the Castle can only do so much. But a big old pile of the best in current YA, plus Naomi Alderman’s The Power, and Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls might offer a little hope, and Villette. Always, Villette.
Julie Myerson
The Prime of Life, Simone de Beauvoir
The Prime of Life, Simone de Beauvoir

I suspect you find books when you need to find them, but I do know that I read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Prime of Life at the exact right point in mine. I was 19 years old, abroad, penniless, adrift, desperate to be a writer but with no real sense of how I should go about it. I sat in a park in the middle of Milan and read this book (Penguin edition with the enigmatic blue Matisse cut-out on the front) until the light had gone and I could barely see the page. De Beauvoir’s intelligent, enigmatic and fantastically calm presence staved off loneliness, hunger, worry about the future – in fact the sense of confidence and liberation it gave me was giddying, sublime. Would I still urge a young person to read it? Well, searching everywhere for my treasured old copy just now, I finally found it in my daughter’s bedroom. Which felt pleasing.
Blake Morrison

I wish I’d given my 10-year-old self William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. It would have prepared me for the following year, when I moved from a tiny village primary school (18 pupils) to a single-sex grammar school with 500 boys. I’d have learned about bullying, violence and the brutal competition to be top dog. I’d have seen how pranks and dares can get dangerously out of hand. And I’d have understood that some poor mug will always be picked on because of his accent or shyness or because (like Piggy in the novel) he’s fat and wears specs.
William Golding’s Lord of the Flies
William Golding’s Lord of the Flies

Golding knew what he was talking about: at the time he wrote the novel (a riposte to The Coral Island and The Swiss Family Robinson), he was teaching at an all-boys school not unlike the one I attended. If I’d known what he was talking about, I might have made more of school instead of spending all my time there trying not to be noticed. It wasn’t such a bad place; I did OK. Still, when I read the novel in my late teens, and reached the part where Ralph weeps for “the end of innocence” and “the darkness of man’s heart”, I felt like weeping, too: if only I’d been warned!
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PRESERVE & PASS ON THE BOOK OF THE DINER!  IT IS THE WARNING FOR THE NEXT, WISER SPECIES OF THE GENUS HOMO TO NOT REPEAT OUR MISTAKES!

RE

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/dec/02/books-younger-self-top-writers-recommend-lord-flies-catch-22

'If only I'd been warned!' - writers choose books to give to their younger selves


Julian Barnes, Margaret Drabble, Tessa Hadley, David Nicholls and others choose reading matter that would have been useful when young
Fairy godmother type handing a youngster a book in a fairy woodland setting
From me to me … reading matter selected with the benefit of hindsight. Illustration: Daniela Terrazzini

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Julian Barnes, Margaret Drabble, David Nicholls, William Boyd, Tessa Hadley, Aminatta Forna, John Banville, Maggie O'Farrell, Philip Hensher, Nicola Barker, Charlotte Mendelson, Julie Myerson, Blake Morrison

Saturday 2 December 2017 03.00 EST
Julian Barnes
Julian Barnes
Julian Barnes. Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images

I don’t regret any of the literary reading I missed out on in my youth. I rather enjoy the chronological hazard of not discovering Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Rye and Le Grand Meaulnes until my 40s (and I still haven’t read Le Petit Prince). Literary regret functions rather the other way round: I wish I hadn’t been given Conrad’s The Secret Sharer at the age of 11, which induced a decades-long resistance to him; and I wish I hadn’t read EM Forster before I was able to take his proper measure (though this makes his rediscovery a doubled pleasure).

So the books I would give to my younger self would all be non-fiction, aimed at undermining the automatic prejudices of a white postwar English suburbanite. Books about the true nature of war, empire and race; about the true nature of politics and economics, and how class, money and power are connected. Books that would have made me realise sooner how others – especially foreigners – don’t see us as we complacently see ourselves (I can still recall my bafflement when a Spanish friend told me Francis Drake was a pirate …). Also, books about the true nature of Nature. I was a blind townee for half my life before slowly discovering the countryside. So I would instruct my younger self to learn about soil, wind and water; trees, animals, plants and birds. And bees. That’s another thing: I’d also give my younger self some truthful books about sex.
Margaret Drabble
Daphne du Maurier The Parasites

Daphne du Maurier’s The Parasites is a book to read when young. I didn’t come across it until my 70s, on the recommendation of my novelist friend Andrea Newman, but I would have fallen in love with it when I was 15. It is a novel about three step-siblings of complicated parentage, growing up wildly in a crazy Bohemian theatrical family, inspired by Du Maurier’s own. The Delaneys are bad but talented children, indulged with champagne, chocolate eclairs and sucettes – a lovely, decadent word for lollipop, sucette, and hitherto unknown to me. They are dragged around Europe with their celebrated performing parents, staying in expensive hotels or French coastal resorts. What child from South Yorkshire would not long for this? It is Pamela Brown’s The Swish of the Curtain for the post-pubertal, a tale of dramatic longings with added sex, some of it of an ambiguous nature. The narrative mode is in itself intriguing, as the three siblings sometimes speak collectively, and it is never clear who is speaking or remembering what. Mature readers no doubt consider the Delaneys selfish and silly and amoral, and so they are, but they are captivating. I missed du Maurier entirely as a teenager, put off her possibly by some snobbish remark by my mother or my English teacher, and she cannot be said to be in the front rank: I’ve found other novels by her to be unreadable or kitsch. But this one is unexpected, and fun, and one of her own favourites.
David Nicholls
Franny and Zooey by Salinger

With the books we love, so much depends on timing. Between the ages of 16 and 22 I read a series of novels that still make up the best part of my all-time favourite list. Often, the books were read and read again in preparation for exams and though I was certainly not uncritical, I was zealously protective of the books I loved and perhaps a more generous and forgiving reader than I would be if I were coming to Hardy or Dickens, Orwell or Scott Fitzgerald for the first time in middle age.

I read Salinger’s Franny and Zooey in my late 20s, which I think was about 10 years too late. I loved the book and it remains a favourite, but it’s a novel that could have been custom-built for my 18-year-old self. The self-consciousness, the anguished debates about art and faith and literature, the earnestness and impatience and anxiety about the future, it’s all there. Franny and Zooey is one of the few books that I’ve returned to every year and while I still love it, the voice in my head grows a little more sceptical each time. Is the stuff about religion really so profound? Isn’t there something just a little bit whimsical, precious, self-satisfied about the Glass family? That famous ending still moves me, but is it just a little sentimental? And why are there so many goddam italics?

At 18, I don’t think any of this would have crossed my mind. It would have been that rare thing, a perfect book. I still treasure it and I don’t think I’ve read anything since that has affected me and inspired me as much, both as a reader and a writer. Now I love it for its comedy – Salinger’s dialogue is wonderful – for its mocking fondness and as a portrait of a troubled, loving family. But at 18, I would have put the book down and thought that is exactly how I feel.
William Boyd
Nabokov King, Queen, Knave

I was an avid and undiscriminating reader in my teens: I’d move on to Jane Austen after Ed McBain or Nevil Shute. I remember being bowled over by Catch-22 and Updike’s Couples and I couldn’t get enough of Sergeanne Golon’s Angelique books. I gave a paper on Scott Fitzgerald for the school literary society and was asked to vet Nabokov’s Ada to see if it was fit for the library’s open shelves. To be honest, Ada was beyond me, then, but the book I’d give to my teenage self would be another Nabokov – King, Queen, Knave.

King, Queen, Knave was originally published in Russian in 1928, only appearing in English 40 years later in 1968, translated by Dmitri Nabokov – with help from his dad. It’s a classic love triangle: boorish young Franz is seduced by bored Martha, the wife of his smug boss and cousin, Dreyer. The lovers conspire to kill the cuckold but it all goes terribly wrong and Martha dies. The plot is irrelevant. What is brilliant about King, Queen, Knave and why I know it would have been revelatory to my younger self is that it demonstrates how you can be, at the same time, both very funny and very literary. Nabokov’s dark, dark comedy (also a wonderful portrait of Berlin before the Nazis arrived) is exceptionally well written with immaculate precision of language. I don’t think Nabokov ever wrote a funnier novel – perhaps Pale Fire runs it close – but the way its world and its denizens are rendered through language is as magisterial and assured as Lolita and Pnin.
Tessa Hadley
Tessa Hadley
Tessa Hadley. Photograph: Colin McPherson/Corbis via Getty Images

What I wanted to send back to my younger self, when I first thought about it, was something with a message of restraint. Be cautious, don’t be in too much of a hurry, everything takes time, wait … Elizabeth Bowen’s novel The Death of the Heart, maybe, whose teenage protagonist, Portia, is poignant, comical and dangerous, blundering into life, insisting on the truth, upsetting all the fragile compromises the grown-ups have made in order to get by, confronting them with themselves. Hold back, Portia. Wait and see.

But that’s ridiculous. As if any teenager would listen to that warning. I read The Death of the Heart in those days anyway, and loved it, and all I took away from it was a passionate identification with Portia, who wanted to live now, not later: risking everything, throwing herself at whatever adventure was passing.

So I might as well send back some book with an appetite for life to match those teenage years. I’ll send myself the poems of Walt Whitman, with their hurrying energy and ambitious vision. I think I’d have found “Reconciliation” consoling then as I do now. “Word over all, beautiful as the sky, / Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost, / That the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly softly wash again, and ever again, this soil’d world.”
Aminatta Forna
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Dillard

A few years ago, after I had moved to America, a friend recommended to me the writer Annie Dillard. I began with her first book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, published in 1974 when she was 28 and which won her a Pulitzer prize the following year. I was 10 that year – preoccupied with my immediate world, the gecko on my bedroom wall, the small stream at the bottom of the hill, the ant lion as it lay hidden in the sand awaiting the unsuspecting ant. I also thought of God and the universe, and whether the one existed and where the end of the other might be found.

Dillard’s book is said to have been inspired by a blind child the author had read about, who saw for the first time after cataracts had been removed. Dillard describes her own walks around a creek near her home in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia. Tinker Creek is small, close to a highway, from which floats the sound of traffic and the occasional plastic bag. Yet in Tinker Creek Dillard finds unrestrained beauty and contemplates the infinite through the minutiae of the natural world – a moth emerging from its cocoon, the unblinking gaze of a weasel with whom she locks eyes. In Tinker Creek she also finds cruelty: the sight of a frog being eaten alive from inside by a giant water bug, “his mouth a gash of terror”. Why God allows cruelty is a question she meditates on throughout.
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In London, my Tinker Creek was my back garden, where, from my study window, I watched each year’s litter of fox cubs come of age. I watched them while I wrote books, mainly about war. Here in Virginia, not so far from where Dillard lives, my Tinker Creek is a small area of woodland next to my house.

There are books that change the way you think, and books that change the way you see the world. But Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is different for being one that reminds the reader of the way she once saw the world, in its purest, though by no means simplest, form. In my middle age her book returned that gift to me. Perhaps if I had been given Pilgrim at Tinker Creek when I was 20, I should never have lost sight of it.
John Banville
Rameau’s Nephew by Denis Diderot
Rameau’s Nephew by Denis Diderot

When I published my first book, around the close of the Bronze Age, a kindly reviewer – PJ Kavanagh, I think it was – conceded that I had some talent, but added that it was obvious I had been reading the wrong people. He was correct, of course, since I had spent my adolescence wallowing in the post-Romantic excesses of the likes of Dylan Thomas and Lawrence Durrell. It was only when I came across an enthusiastic mention of it in an essay by Lionel Trilling that I was led to one of the most bracingly subversive texts in European literature, Rameau’s Nephew, written in the 1760s by Denis Diderot.

This short work, along with Kleist’s sublime essay “On the Marionette Theatre” and Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s “Letter to Lord Chandos”, changed entirely my notions of how and what to write. Rameau’s nephew – he is not even granted a proper name – is ironical, vituperative, seething with hysterical self-loathing, and horribly wise to the sordid realities of a world that dismisses true artists in favour of panders, imposters, and mountebanks of all kinds.

Diderot, a leader among the encyclopédistes, was a splendid human being, brilliant, funny and unfailingly wise. If I could reach back and press a copy of Rameau’s Nephew into the hands of my 12-year-old self, what a lot of silliness I would have been saved. But would I have read it, and if I had, would I have understood it? Shaw was right: youth is wasted on the young.
Maggie O’Farrell
Catch 22

I wish someone had pressed Catch-22 into my perhaps 16-year-old hands. I could have done with immersing myself in Joseph’s Heller’s bracing, astringent prose. The book is a wild, startling ride through the multiple minds of airmen stuck on a base in Italy in the second world war, but don’t be deceived by the anarchy. Heller knows exactly what he is doing: this is wildness of a highly conscious, deeply cerebral kind. The novel unfolds in a non-chronological, apparently chaotic stream, with a plethora of desperate, war-crazed characters; in Heller’s hands, however, it all builds to a perfectly controlled, precisely timed apotheosis. Don’t all teenagers need a lesson in the art of chanelling chaos? There is no better example than this book.
Philip Hensher
Thackeray’s The History of Pendennis
Thackeray’s The History of Pendennis

I’m generally a great believer in books turning up when they’re supposed to. I was late to Tolstoy, but in my 30s I was very receptive to him. Similarly with Philip Roth, Elizabeth Taylor or Kingsley Amis, who I wasn’t much bothered about when young, but who were just perfect for my early middle age. The two books I regret not reading earlier were both things that I’d heard from critics weren’t worth troubling with – Thackeray’s The History of Pendennis and Conrad’s Chance. Actually, Pendennis is a perfect joy, rueful, funny and forgiving about the disasters of youth. I would have loved to have read it when I was 20. It would have put me right very quickly. And I always loved Conrad, and have no idea why I let Conrad scholars persuade me that this thrilling masterpiece was an inferior work. I didn’t read it until I was nearly 40, and immediately saw that it knew everything about men and women, money and lying, and (an illusion, but a strong one) how to tell a story. It would have saved me a lot of trouble. As it is, I will never listen to a critical consensus about a great writer’s inferior books again.
Nicola Barker
Divine Mercy in My Soul, by Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska
Divine Mercy in My Soul, by Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska

When I was a girl and my parents asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up my answer was invariably “a go-go dancer …” (it was the 1970s) “… and a nun”. I didn’t see anything remotely at odds in having these dual aspirations. As an adult, very little has changed. I am, by nature, expressive and repressive in equal measure – uninhibited but deeply disciplined. I think this weird disparity is what fuels who I am as a writer.

I have always been fascinated by outsiders, and for me, saints are apotheoses of outsiderdom. Not ancient saints – Augustine, Francis – but modern ones such as Padre Pio, and the child visionaries of Fátima, Kibeho and Medjugorje. Having been deeply religious as a child (The Cross and the Switchblade was revelatory for me), in my 20s I lost my faith. These were strange years. My discipline and indiscipline became tangled and embedded. I turned dark. And I suffered. But my suffering felt hollow and meaningless.

Saints are broadly considered to be “good people”, but this definition barely scratches the surface of what they are and do. Sainthood is suffering. It is self-negation: pain with purpose. The saint I love best is Faustina, “God’s Secretary”; uneducated, Polish, she died in obscurity in 1938. Her extensive diaries Divine Mercy in My Soul redefined my perception of both suffering and ecstasy. The diaries are truly bizarre and gorgeously restrained. Sane yet demented. They speak so directly to my paradoxical self. I dearly wish I had found them earlier.
Charlotte Mendelson

My younger self was so unfortunate, a bookish muddle of self-hating jumpers, OCD and despair: only time could help me. If a teenage girl voluntarily reads One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, I Capture the Castle can only do so much. But a big old pile of the best in current YA, plus Naomi Alderman’s The Power, and Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls might offer a little hope, and Villette. Always, Villette.
Julie Myerson
The Prime of Life, Simone de Beauvoir
The Prime of Life, Simone de Beauvoir

I suspect you find books when you need to find them, but I do know that I read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Prime of Life at the exact right point in mine. I was 19 years old, abroad, penniless, adrift, desperate to be a writer but with no real sense of how I should go about it. I sat in a park in the middle of Milan and read this book (Penguin edition with the enigmatic blue Matisse cut-out on the front) until the light had gone and I could barely see the page. De Beauvoir’s intelligent, enigmatic and fantastically calm presence staved off loneliness, hunger, worry about the future – in fact the sense of confidence and liberation it gave me was giddying, sublime. Would I still urge a young person to read it? Well, searching everywhere for my treasured old copy just now, I finally found it in my daughter’s bedroom. Which felt pleasing.
Blake Morrison

I wish I’d given my 10-year-old self William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. It would have prepared me for the following year, when I moved from a tiny village primary school (18 pupils) to a single-sex grammar school with 500 boys. I’d have learned about bullying, violence and the brutal competition to be top dog. I’d have seen how pranks and dares can get dangerously out of hand. And I’d have understood that some poor mug will always be picked on because of his accent or shyness or because (like Piggy in the novel) he’s fat and wears specs.
William Golding’s Lord of the Flies
William Golding’s Lord of the Flies

Golding knew what he was talking about: at the time he wrote the novel (a riposte to The Coral Island and The Swiss Family Robinson), he was teaching at an all-boys school not unlike the one I attended. If I’d known what he was talking about, I might have made more of school instead of spending all my time there trying not to be noticed. It wasn’t such a bad place; I did OK. Still, when I read the novel in my late teens, and reached the part where Ralph weeps for “the end of innocence” and “the darkness of man’s heart”, I felt like weeping, too: if only I’d been warned!

The Book of the Diner is well worth preserving. I only wish it had reached a broader audience when it might have mattered more. That is a testament to the blindness of our culture. If there is a future to look back from, one difficult question historians will have to ask is how we let this happen, when so many saw it coming. This site has certainly aggregated enough information and critical thinking to prove that.

I woke up and looked at this over coffee in my pre-dawn kitchen....it made me think of many books, most of them this author (obviously a female) didn't mention. I tried to think of a book I'd send myself as a young man. I couldn't think of a single one....but the Book of the Diner might have been a good choice.

Not that I didn't know the world was in trouble when I was young, because the handwriting was already on the wall. It is the timing I was wrong on......I never thought back then that we'd be here on the precipice already. Back then, to me, I figured we'd limp along for a few hundred more years, at least.

I read or was at at least aware of the important works of collapse of the time, like Silent Spring, and I was exposed to ideas, like the Tragedy of the Commons. If I knew then what I know now, maybe I'd have been more of an activist.

But this article is interesting. I ran across a review of Pilgrim At Tinker Creek when I was about 17 or so. In the Last Whole Earth Catalog, which was my primer as an autodidact. I've bought that book multiple times in my life..I probably have a copy somewhere....I still haven't finished it. Maybe because I grew up rural, and the journey of a woman's self-discovery after moving to the country didn't seem that earth-shattering to someone who was quite familiar with that lifestyle, and looking to leave it far behind.

I read plenty of books about the horrors of war. All Quiet On The Western Front, In the Company of Eagles, Catch-22, MASH. Slaughterhouse Five.

Looking back, I remember the sequential journey through literature. Huckleberry Finn was the first real literary work I read...because it was in my mother's little bookshelf. I must have been about eight. That was a life changer.

In that bookcase was also Alfred Binet's A Method of Measuring Intelligence in Young Children (many of the books in her bookcase were given to her by a friend who was a teacher, and I'm certain Mom never read that one. I did) Those are the two I remember from her books. She mostly read romance novels...but she got me a library card before I could read, which was an important and lasting gift. She also was the person who gifted me with the knowledge that books can be your friends, and that reading is a great pleasure. I never knew my father to read a book for pleasure, although he was comfortable with blueprints and technical journals.

Some friends from our church loaned me the whole set of those childrens' classics like Swiss Family Robinison, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, Little Women, Little Men, and maybe twenty more...they came from Reader's Digest or some publisher like that, bound two in a volume, back to back. I went through those at age nine or so.

My school library in Junior High and High School (same campus, same library) was exceptionally good, and even had great magazines. Another stroke of luck.

I read very widely, everything from Fred Gipson (Recollection Creek)  and Wilson Rawls (Where the Red Fern Grows)....I now own signed firsts of those, btw....to Lord of the Rings, to Captain Blood, to The Gulag Archipelago, to The Dharma Bums. Scott Fitzgerald, check.

College.....Stranger in a Strange Land, from the bookshelf in the first house I shared with room mates. Plus a great stack of underground comics left behind by someone who had just graduated and moved out of the house. Thank you. I don't remember your name.

Then Hunter and Tom Robbins. I remember the name of the girl who turned me on to those, and her body. She was older and really hot, but  I never got to have sex with her. I will keep her name private. I haven't seen her in more than 40 years.

In my old age I savor Hemingway, and I'm saving Billy Brammer's The Gay Place for some future idyll, maybe when I'm retired. I didn't discover Bukowski until I was in my fifties. Or the beat poet Kenneth Rexroth.

My friends, the books, seem to have come to me just at the right time. Other than the Book of the Diner, I wouldn't send anything back in time.



« Last Edit: December 05, 2017, 09:29:56 AM by Eddie »
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

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Book of the Diner Cover Design Contest
« Reply #137 on: December 05, 2017, 09:23:05 AM »
The Book of the Diner is well worth preserving. I only wish it had reached a broader audience when it might have mattered more. That is a testament to the blindness of our culture. If there is a future to look back from, one difficult question historians will have to ask is how we let this happen, when so many saw it coming. This site has certainly aggregated enough information and critical thinking to prove that.

Quote of the Year!  :icon_sunny:

I hope to be discovered posthumously.  Lots of writers have had many more readers after they were dead than while alive.  Homer, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dickens have all had many more readers after they bought their tickets to the Great Beyond.

The Book of the Diner will also contain stories and articles from other Native Diners and Admins and probably will come in 2 or 3 Volumes.  The Books can have different covers or the same cover with different sub-titles like Doomstead Diner Musings on the Collapse of Industrial Civilization: Economics & Politics.

I like the work of this Custom Bookbinder

 

I'll probably only have one set bound this way, it's expensive!  Then I'll have several sets done with more conventional binding.  The set that goes into the ground won't be bound, that is getting vaccuum sealed in plastic.  Finally, it will also be on DVD-R which you can copy and send to friends.  I'll also have it up in Cloud Storage on the web.

Ideas for cover art are :hi: !  You have time, editing work on this is going to take a while.  Hopefully I will stay above ground long enough to finish, if not Surly will have to finish the job on his own, unless Eddie volunteers to help in that task.

It does fascinate me how small the Doom Community has remained over these years, although it has grown a bit recently.  I'm not sure anything written in recent years would have changed the outcomes here even if you could send it back in time.  The dream of ever-continuing Technological Progress is simply too seductive.  The goodies and toys produced by technology also too much fun.  If you went back to 1960 with all the evidence you have today including all the videos and scientific reports and gave the population the choice:

1-  You can scale back and live as subsistence farmers with strict rules on brith control and have a sustainable planet

or

2-  You can live fast and die young, burning the fossil fuel legacy and turning the planet into a waste dump for your children

I suspect most of the population would have picked Door #2.

In any event, The Book of the Diner isn't written for people of the past.  It is for Alien Archaeologists or a New Species of the Genus Homo that will follow this one.  Homo Dinerus.

RE
SAVE AS MANY AS YOU CAN

 

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