No matter how much you read or write, there are always some stories you wish you had thought to tell first, or metaphors you wished you’d come up with. Below are a list of the top five books I wish I had written.
1. Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban
“Walker is my name
and I am the same.
Walking my riddels
where ever theyve took me
and walking them now
on this paper the same.”
In Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban tells the tale of post-apocalyptic England through the mangled and re-written voice of its inhabitants, specifically the titular protagonist Riddley. In his search for knowledge, Riddley dissolves the myths which have sprung-up in this post-nuclear dystopia and uncovers the secret of mankind’s downfall.
I studied this book as part of a third-year English Lit half-unit on the Male Bildungsroman. I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I turned the first page, and it’s safe to say that this completely blew me away. This book is a revelation. Hoban imagines a world without history so convincingly that the novel is compelling from the first sentence and I really found that I could not put this down until I had worked it out. From the post-apocalyptic dialect to the somehow-familiar myths and rules of the new society, I was challenged throughout and as a result of my perseverance I was rewarded with a totally original and haunting world. I’ve never come across anything so foreign, yet uncanny, and if there is one book you must take on trust, it’s this one. I won’t tell you anything more as it really ought to be a surprise, but please read Riddley Walker! (And then come back and talk to me about it.)
2. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
“Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo…”
Portrait of the Artist tells the story of Stephan Dedalus’ (of Ulysses fame) youth – from birth to his teenage years. Joyce reflects almost exactly Dedalus’ thoughts, even in his personal dialect as a baby, and the book is a rollercoaster of scenes and internal monologue that I’m sure you only truly understand once you’ve finished.
I remember reading this when I was at secondary school, and after the first chapter I remember being amazed at the audacity Joyce displayed in writing something which plainly made no sense at a first reading. Since then, I’ve wanted to write something this confident. I’m not there yet, so this is still on the list of wishful thinking.
3. A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin
“Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.”
George R. R. Martin’s undeniably ambitious saga begins with A Game of Thrones, in which the fictional land of Westeros and its difficult and dangerous politics is introduced. Beginning at the end of a multiple-year ‘Summer’, the saga charts the stories of a number of characters; all of whom, it emerges, have claims to the Iron Throne.
I’m currently only on Book Two, A Clash of Kings, but so far I’m jealous. Martin’s books are immensely long, and immensely detailed. At the end of Book One I was so engaged I had to keep reading, and now I’m reading on I’m amazed at the ease with which Martin introduces new characters. And here lies my envy: every character is complex. There are no real stereotypes, and everyone changes their mind or experiences a genuine conflict of interests at some point. This really keeps a reader on their toes. That and Martin’s lack of fear when it comes to killing off his darlings: there are points at which you know where this book should go – if only it were another book. With A Song of Ice and Fire, you can never be sure what will happen…
4. House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski
“This is not for you.”
Danielewski’s House of Leaves is a beautiful, ambitious hypertext that teaches you what ‘hypertext’ really means. A potentially fictional, tortured protagonist uncovers and reassembles the work of a potentially fictional blind man, who is reviewing a film that cannot be found created by a filmaker who seems not to exist. The book covers the lives of all three main characters, looping and twisting through their lives while all the time exposing the real protagonist, the House. It is the setting of the film, the academic focus of the essay, and it too may not even be real.
This book is filled with metaphor, clues, and contradictions to keep you on your toes and occasionally scare you half to death. I loved it. It can be read in a number of ways, it’s visually appealing, and it is guaranteed to get you thinking. I only wish I had the brain power to contemplate writing something of this scale.
5. Rapture, Carol Ann Duffy
Rapture is a collection of love poems charting an affair from the first brilliant shock of attraction to the final resignation and complacency that comes with time. As ever, Duffy’s writing is bright, vivid and unique, and the poems range from odes of love to short and snappy declarations that stick in your mind. A particular favourite of mine is Syntax, and I really could read it aloud again and again.
The reason I wish I had written it: Duffy manages to capture these fleeting moments in a manner that makes them almost understandable. Whenever I write poetry I want to do the same; to make something undefinable real for just the length of that page. It’s a real skill, and I firmly believe there’s beauty to her writing.
So, that’s enough of me waxing lyrical!
What are your top five? Which books do you just wish you’d written?