No, I’m not a fan of Jane Austen. But I’ll tell you what does inspire me…..

Posted: June 4, 2013 in Uncategorized
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It has been my great privilege to tutor a couple groups of first year teaching students at UniSA this semester.  The course requires that students continuously read a range of children’s literature and each week we spend part of our time together sharing our reading.  Today, as I walked around the room my eyes fell upon a paperback copy of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.  I happened to make the comment, “You know, I’ve never actually managed to read anything by Jane Austen.”  Quite a few jaws dropped at the table.  Apparently they were surprised to find someone that they believed to be “well read” had not taken the time to read anything by the great and mighty Austen.   I went on to explain that a number of times I had actually downloaded e-versions of her books (for free I might add), but each time I had failed to identify with her characters or narrative voice so I left them alone.

Clearly Jane Austen doesn’t inspire me much (although I have been known to watch a few of her film adaptations….not that I could avoid them if I tried).  At any rate I left the tutorial wondering what books have inspired me firstly as a person and secondly as a writer.  I have read quite a few books in the last 37 years.  Most of them I don’t remember anymore, some of them I remember somewhat (don’t ask me what they were called or who wrote them), and a select few have stayed in my heart and they will remain forever on my bookshelf (I’d lock them away in a gem encrusted box if I could afford it).

I’ll start with those books that flat out inspired me.  In other words, those that helped to shape me into the woman I am today.  I’ll try to do them in the order that I read them.

  1. Laura Ingalls Wilder           Little House on the Prairie (the whole series)
  2. Louisa May Alcott              Little Women
  3. Charlotte Bronte                 Jane Eyre

I read most of these before the age of twelve.  No doubt it was the strong female voice that spoke to me.  I liked the idea of a strong and courageous woman taking on nature (Laura Ingalls), of a young woman overcoming the limitations of society to succeed as a writer in a man’s world (Josephine March) and the notion that seriousness and intelligence can be captivating (Jane Eyre).

Moving into adolescence my interests moved into the realm of social commentary and science fiction.

  1. William Golding                        Lord of the Flies
  2. John Wyndham                        The Day of the Triffids (I also liked his The Crysalids)
  3. George Orwell                            Nineteen Eighty Four (Animal Farm was also noteworthy)
  4. Aldous Huxley                          Brave New World
  5. Homer                                           The Odyssey
  6. Thomas Hardy                           Tess of the D’Urbervilles
  7. Arthur Miller                              Death of a Salesman

Hardy tends to stand out like a sore thumb on this list.  Frankly I don’t think he belongs here but I was 16 when I discovered him so here he is.  Perhaps I was nostalgic for the stories of my late childhood.   At any rate I remain a huge fan of Thomas Hardy’s work and have more recently relished “Jude the Obscure, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Far from the Madding Crowd and a short story The Withered Arm.  It surprises me how many people seem surprised when I tell them of my love for Hardy, “Don’t you think he’s a bit depressing?”  Sure, I don’t see a lot of joy in his work but he manages to balances this with a great deal of compassion.  In short, I’ve always found him to be a faithful companion when I needed a good cry.

I managed to read a bit a university (although not as much as I should have or indeed was supposed to).  From these

My copy is falling apart.  It is thumbed and underlined but always with love.

My copy is falling apart. It is thumbed and underlined but always with love.

days there are a few good standouts.

  1. Kurt Vonnegut                         Slaughterhouse 5
  2. Buchi Emecheta                      The Joys of Motherhood
  3. Brian Friel                                 Translations
  4. Geraldine Brooks                   The Year of Wonders
  5. Tracy Chevalier                     The Girl with a Pearl Earring

The real standout here is Emecheta’s book.  I fell in love with yet another tragic tale (the title is ironic), and it was between her and Friel that I came to a deeper understanding of the far reaching implications of post-colonialism.

On the topic of favourites I don’t have one, although Hardy and Emecheta are probably competing for the title.   What is clear is that the majority of these books share in common the idea that people (especially the small ones) matter an awful lot.   Arthur Miller’s character Linda perhaps explains it better than I do in Death of a Salesman (Act 1) :

I don’t say he’s a great man. Willie Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.

It is this idea that I hope I convey though my writing.  As for what inspires me as a writer, well that is a whole other topic for another day.

Is there a certain book that has helped shaped you and the person that you have become?  Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas with me here.  I’d love to hear what you think.

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