If you watch Youtube, then you may have come across The BE A GOOD HUMAN Book Tag, which was initiated by Jen Campbell. As I’ve said before, I believe that reading can lead to self-improvement, but I was probably thinking more in terms of intellectual improvement, than character building.
I actually find it really difficult to remember the books I’ve read, not least because I no longer own the books I originally collected, and so it’s impossible to look back through them and have my memory sparked.
When I was eighteen I was left a couple of thousand pounds by my paternal grandmother. I spent a few hundred on a holiday in Berlin and the rest on records and books. I went mad on buying D H Lawrence in particular, because I liked the covers (they look very dated now!). My favourite was Sons and Lovers, but I don’t recall much about it, apart from the evocative description of the night market.
Anyway, this was the basis for my first book collection, which eventually numbered in the many hundreds by the time got rid of them during a bout of severe post-natal depression. I have no idea why I did it. I simply put an ad on Freecycle and a man came and took them all away. I was possibly clearing the decks in case I decided to ‘catch the bus’, or, as my illness made it impossible to read, I may have thought that I didn’t need them any more (depression doesn’t seem temporary when you’re in the depths of it).
Now, my collection is on its second incarnation, and I buy dozens of books every month, in the hope that I can rebuild it. Only my tastes have changed and literature has moved on (D H Lawrence is definitely out of fashion at the moment) so my regenerated library looks very different indeed.
In terms of making me a better human being, I think that the following have improved me in some way (and boy, do I need improving):
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I have a tendency to moan – I’m cold, I’m tired, I’m hungry, I had a crap day at work, and so on. This puts it all in perspective. I’ve never been incarcerated in a Soviet labour camp and I’m never likely to be, ergo my life is bloody brilliant!
Stuart: A Life Backwards, Alexander Masters. This book made me cry. I don’t cry all that much, because I’m a hard bastard. Everyone should read about Stuart, because he was a real person – I defy you not to love him, even though he couldn’t stop fucking his life up. For me, the central friendship between two seemingly ill-matched people, is the most important element of the book and it has taught me a lot. Reminder to self – must buy a copy, as I’ve lent it to someone and won’t get it back.
The Road, Cormac McCarthy. This book is a harrowing, bleak, post-apocalyptic tale, but the relationship between father and son is beautiful. He repeatedly tells his son that they are “the good guys” and they’re “carrying the fire”, which is what you have to keep doing in difficult circumstances – try to hold onto what is good about yourself and other people. On a personal level, it spoke to me deeply about trust; my lack of it and why it’s important. Sometimes you just have to be brave.