To shed a little more light on my character (no pun intended) I thought I’d make a post pertaining to my near-obsessive fascination with literature. The following is a list of writers that I have had the luxury of experiencing in the novice of my reading career. Their works have impacted me more than any other outside force I can think of; it’s to the point that I’ve decided to devote my life to attempt what these men have succeeded at, becoming an author. I’ve also not ordered any of these, for I feel that would be an insult to give a ranking to artists whose greatness is so varied and independent.
George Orwell – Books I’ve read: Nineteen Eighty-Four, Animal Farm, Down and Out in Paris and London.
Despite his intensely political heart, Orwell’s ultimate strength lies in his humanity. The poignancy he has, to capture life’s experiences, both depressing and uplifting, is something I’ve always admired. Yet, this skill of his is integrated into the aforesaid political commentaries, and it makes for a brilliant contrast. Orwell over any writer has taught me the most about government / social orders, how the constructs of our society determine our ability for emotion, something like that. For example: A book like Nineteen Eighty-Four has such an oppressive and despondent world that its protagonist suffers through a personal crisis because he sees different; he yearns to feel and love. And Orwell demonstrates this crisis that Winston Smith goes on in a way that is universally relatable; this is my main point. Orwell penetrates past the monotony of social discussion into the depths of human feeling, experiences we’ve all thought but could never aptly express.
Aldous Huxley – Books I’ve read: Brave New World, Island, The Doors of Perception, After Many A Summer Dies The Swan.
If there was any writer I applaud for his own personal growth, it is Huxley. Throughout his career the man has taken on new styles and ideas, incorporated them into his writing, and by the end of it produced works that are way above the heads of an average man. It has also made for a kaleidoscope of literature between his fifty-so years of writing. He began with bitter satires, criticizing the aristocracy he was borne from (Antic Hay, Those Barren Leaves) to finishing with novels of a highly mature, not to mention linguistic, caliber, incorporating themes that are as transcendent and innovative as any. (The Genius and the Goddess, Island) Of any writer I can think of Huxley has the most optimistic message, since the course of his own life is so optimistic. His themes are also more or less hopeful, championing individuality, a devotion to mysticism, experimentation with hallucinogenic drugs. Huxley became fascinated with the potential of the human mind, and with his writing he’s almost given us a blueprint of sorts for how we might attain that potential.
Herman Melville – Books I’ve read: Moby Dick, Typee.
If there is any writer I’d label as a genius, it is Melville. I’m primarily citing Moby Dick as a justification here, since I found Typee an overall lackluster read. Yet Moby Dick – oh Moby Dick, how the relationship between you and I is such a romantic one, just as Melville would have wanted. It was in the summertime that I read it, and amidst those sunny days of lethargy and not a care in the world I stepped aboard the literal voyage of Moby Dick and sailed along its pages. I find it so interesting with that book how there were times (many of them) when I wasn’t enjoying it at all, or could barely understand it, yet I pushed on none the less, until the very end. And once that end did arrived, I was completely bowled over; I’d argue that I’ve never felt as fulfilled after reading a book as I did with Moby Dick. There is something purely genius within it, in all the ways it meanders and deviates, in its dense language, in the mythic proportions - there is genius to it just like there is genius in Herman Melville, and I worship him.
J G Ballard – Books I’ve read: Crash, High-Rise.
Ballard, for those that know not, was a writer from the late 60s onward, with his “masterpieces” trickling out in the 70s and 80s. More than anything has Ballard taught me of the grotesque possibilities for literature, and how it is in that grotesqueness that life itself is perhaps most aptly captured. The two novels of his I’ve read are good examples: Crash centers around a group of people in LA who have developed sexual fetishes towards car crashes. They enjoy masturbating while driving recklessly on the highway and (brace yourselves) having sex in the multiple crash wounds that they accumulated. High-Rise details a high-rise apartment gone wrong, wherein its inhabitants resort to tribal warfare, cannibalism and all-out savagery as the story progresses. The inciting factor is when certain utilities in the high-rise disengage, which leads to a complete break-down in humanity. Neither are very pretty tales; Ballard has a fascination with taking modern environments, spinning them on their axis, and creating these fables to expose the grotesque underbellies. The writing is almost hypnotic in the amount of detail, the lack of dialogue; it penetrates to a depth I am as disgusted with as I am engrossed.
Joseph Conrad – Books I’ve read: Heart of Darkness.
Though it is Conrad, the mighty Conrad, that I find the most disturbing writer I’ve ever encountered. Yet I’ve only read one of his books, and it is a tiny one, the measly Heart of Darkness. Though to speak of that book: It may be wee in size, yet its themes and passages still haunt me to this day. Whenever I am in a situation I find disturbing, whether socially or otherwise, I think back to Conrad, and the truths he exposed in that novella, the “horror” he wrote of, that is imbedded in every human mind and interaction. I feel almost frightened to read his other works, since I’ve heard they are even more extensive and intense. Though, to digress, there is an optimistic side I found in reading Heart of Darkness – I remember taking a break from it, and going for a walk outside. The mellow August sun was setting, and I saw how very beautiful everything looked. I then realized how in reading about something truly ghastly, it makes me realize how happy my own life is, how thankful I should be. Though it was likely not his intent, Conrad has given me that realization about life among many, many others.
Honorable mentions: Cormac McCarthy, Anthony Burgess, Lewis Carroll, William Burroughs, Steven King, William Gibson.