Top Ten Tuesday – Bookish Memories

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Another Top Ten Tuesday list, organised by That Artsy Reader Girl – this week’s topic is Bookish Memories. I really enjoyed compiling this one and travelling down the memory lane!

1. Anonymous comments in library books
I used to borrow library books on a regular basis, and occasionally I’d see hand-written commentary or notes by the previous readers. The most memorable one was a laconic review at the end of a sci-fi novella about a planetary disaster that kills off almost all of the characters. It said, Alas I wasn’t moved. Harsh!

2. The Wizard of Oz, Soviet style
One of my favourite book series as a child was the Magic Land series by the Russian author Alexander Volkov, which started with a 1939 re-telling of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The Wizard of the Emerald City, as it was known, spawned five sequels written entirely by Volkov himself, and though the last book was only so-so overall they made for a pretty damn great series that mercifully didn’t lean too hard into Soviet-style propaganda and ideology. They owed a lot of their success to the wonderful illustrations by Leonid Vladimirsky – I loved them so much I begged my friend to lend me her books just so that I could look at the pictures.

3. 100 Operas
I didn’t get to see an opera until my 30s, but one of my favourite books growing up was 100 Operas, a sort of a guide book with descriptions and plot summaries of the world’s most famous operas. I just loved the over-the-top melodrama and heightened emotions of it all.

4. The first book I read in English in Australia – Magician by Raymond E. Feist
I’m not really sure why I picked this door stopper of a fantasy novel as my first read, especially when I had to pause and check the dictionary every couple of minutes to look up an unfamiliar word. But eventually I made it through and went on to read more of Feist’s Midkemia novels, which still have a sentimental value to me despite their lack of originality and Feist’s clunky prose.

5. You make me sick!
I’m one of the people who find it almost impossible to form mental images in their minds; as a rule I don’t visualise anything at all when I’m reading, so graphic descriptions of violence don’t affect me much. The only couple of times I was made almost physically ill by a book was Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, infamously full of violent graphic passages that overall didn’t bother me save for one nauseating scene. The other one was Stephen King’s novella Apt Pupil, and a scene involving a Nazi war criminal and a cat (don’t ask).

6. Reading through the night
When I was I a teenager I once stayed up all night in the kitchen, re-reading The Children of Captain Grant by Jules Verne from cover to cover, because I couldn’t sleep after watching a horror movie and needed some escape.

7. Loveliest reading experience while travelling
The fondest reading memory from my travels is a nice peaceful morning in India, while staying at a former mansion converted into a guesthouse. I curled up with a book in the upstairs library, on comfy cushions near the bay window on the second floor, and enjoyed the solitude and people-watching on the street below.

8. Meeting the author
When I was in Egypt on an organised trip, we met Fathi Malim, a shy and quiet man who wrote a book about his home, the Siwa Oasis, documenting the unique aspects of the Siwan culture: marriage, death, folklore, medicine and so on. We were told that Fathi’s book was controversial and got him into trouble with his community, who felt that he revealed too much about the Siwan way of life to the outsiders. This was back in 2004; I wonder how much Fathi’s home has changed since then. I still have a signed copy of the book on my shelf.

9. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – favourite classic novel that I couldn’t stand in high school
Our Russian Literature teacher was a fantastic teacher who did her best to stimulate and challenge her class, but unfortunately she still had to adhere to the established curriculum, which seemed to be deliberately designed to make students loathe classic Russian literature for the rest of their days. When I re-visited authors like Dostoevsky, Turgenev and Tolstoy outside the class and all those tedious essays we were forced to write, I enjoyed them a hell lot more. Out of all the formerly hated classics, Tolstoy’s sprawling, intimidating but actually highly readable historical novel is easily my favourite. I re-read it at least three of four times since, both in Russian and in English, and some of its scenes, passages and expressions are forever imprinted in my brain.

10. The Road by Cormac McCarthy – the last book that affected me deeply
I was in a daze for at least a few days after I finished McCarthy’s harrowing post-apocalyptic 2006 novel about a father and son making their way through the nightmarish landscape with almost all life destroyed. I especially remember going to a supermarket and staring at the abundance of food we all take for granted through a completely altered lens. I’d definitely chalk it up under “great novel that I don’t think I could bear to read again”.

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