December 5, 2008

books that kicked your ass

Well, I know I promised an alluring story of public humiliation at the Winnipeg Writers Festival, but though I had the story 99.9% written out, I realized it was still a little too near (both in time, and to the febrile cockles of my too-sensitive-heart) to share. I promise to post it sooner or later, though -- maybe the next time I'm lucky enough to participate in a festival.

Instead, I've been thinking about books that kicked my ass, and by that, I mean books that rattled me to the core, that shook me up and down and left the imprint of their teeth all over. Books that changed the way I thought about books and what could be in them.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. We read this in Grade Eleven at an exhilarating pace. Is there anyone who can ever come close to Dickens? The astounded joy I derived from this book has never yet been matched --- to the point that instead of devouring his entire oeuvre, I've been strictly pacing myself.

Fall On Your Knees by Anne-Marie MacDonald. This book was being passed around in high school, and somehow came into my hands through a friend. I have the vividest memories of staying up late at night to finish it, and crying and crying deliciously at 4 a.m.. It was so tragic and wonderful, and the character of Frances, in particular, stayed with me for a long time.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. I read this book in third-year university and became promptly convinced it was the greatest novel ever written. And apart from Dickens, I'm still at least half-convinced it might be true. Unlike the other three books listed here, I've never re-read this one, though I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe I'm just not ready for another ass-kicking yet.

Atonement by Ian MacEwan. I think I first read this in 2004, and loved it, especially the first section with Briony as a child. I immediately went and read as much MacEwan as I could get my hands on. Amsterdam is the one that won the Booker, but I think most people agree that this is by far the superior novel.

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