I have been living in London alone for the past few weeks. On a strange, urgent whim I decided to pursue a modelling opportunity with an agency here, although I think mostly I wanted to indulge a sense of being lost and feeling totally insignificant in a foreign city. This morning I rolled over with a skull full of mud and a heavy heart so I decided that it was probably appropriate to write something halfway cheerful and utterly inconsequential. Here is a semi-comprehensive list of the most important books I have ever read. They are not necessarily the most impressive pieces of literature ever written but they are the books that mean the most to me and have tangibly altered my personality and perspective in ways that I am eternally grateful for.
Although, they have apparently had no discernible impact on my tendency to end sentences with prepositions.
Essentially, this is my definitive list of reading recommendations thus far.
On the Move, A Life by Oliver Sacks
I admit that it is probably rather strange to include Oliver Sacks on a reading list with no priority assigned to the books that made his name internationally recognisable and revolutionised the flavour of medical literature. I stand by this decision on the basis that all Oliver Sacks books are essential reading as far as I am concerned and you can Google these titles at your own leisure.
The day that Oliver Sacks died, I cried by myself in a Woolworths. Reading this book felt rather like pawing through letters left behind by a wonderful friend and I was devastated when it had to end. He was a gay, Jewish, motorcycle-riding, weight-lifting, globe-trotting, writing doctor and this autobiography is perfect to the very end. I cried again when I finished it.
How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
Caitlin Moran replied to one of my tweets once and it was the greatest day of my life. I read this book as I was leaving high school and just barely beginning to comprehend a whole world bursting with a cornucopia of delightful sexist inequalities. This book placated my anger, equipped me with the academic understanding to stand up to injustice, and made me laugh a bloody lot. Caitlin Moran is very, very important and I still think about this book at least once a week.
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Reading this book was a completely formative experience for me. Not only did I learn that narratives could be propelled so beautifully by dredging up the most hideous skerricks of humanity, I also learned that there are books in this world that can make even me, a desensitised wretch, think "Oh gosh well this is all going a bit far." If you couldn't tell already, this book has heavily influenced the way I write.
Perfume by Patrick Suskind
You must read this book, if only to understand how remarkably perfect the last few sentences are.
Middlesex by Jefferey Eugenides
I've loved Eugenides devotedly ever since I read the Virgin Suicides at fourteen (because what other literature would a highly emotional fourteen year-old enjoy, really?) Middlesex is far and away his greatest novel, it's a Homerian epic following the journey of a disrupted gene and it is absolutely my favourite book of all time.
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
“Who what am I? My answer: I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’ve gone which would not have happened if I had not come. Nor am I particularly exceptional in this matter; each ‘I’, every one of the now-six-hundred-million-plus of us, contains a similar multitude. I repeat for the last time: to understand me, you’ll have to swallow the world.”
Every time I even think of this book, I am filled with the heady despondence that I will never produce anything nearly as wonderful.
The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
I love Jon Ronson so much that it is wholly embarassing. To some extent, I would love to be Jon Ronson but I also imagine that assuming some sort of protégée role could be sufficient. This is the first Jon Ronson book that I ever read and it is an incredibly satisfying blend of popular science and macabre stories about killers. It is next to impossible, upon finishing this book, not to set about diagnosing everybody awful that you have ever encountered in your life with some degree of psychopathy.
The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker
Okay, okay, I haven't quite finished it yet. It is an incredibly large book that simply can not be carried places and tips the weight of check-on luggage in an ugly direction. This being said, it is an eye-opening read about the history of human violence and an account for how we live in the most peaceful era our world has ever witnessed.
You would also not be amiss reading any other title by Pinker, he is in possession of one of those brains that reminds you how little you know and how utterly unremarkable the thoughts that you produce truly are. This is important from time to time.
Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse
Because sometimes you just need one of those really big, heaving, nauseous cries about the world. This is a beautiful and desolate book.
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
“I too love everything that flows: rivers, sewers, lava, semen, blood, bile, words, sentences. I love the amniotic fluid when it spills out of the bag. I love the kidney with it’s painful gall-stones, it’s gravel and what-not; I love the urine that pours out scalding and the clap that runs endlessly; I love the words of hysterics and the sentences that flow on like dysentery and mirror all the sick images of the soul...”
Henry Miller was a philosophical degenerate before Bukowski could even spit. This is a book about life, in the most desperate and masculine and depraved ways.
Leviathan by Hobbes
Okay, I admit it, I just wanted to say that I've actually read this book. I sat down one summer and read this fucking enormous, stupidly complex book. It has benefitted me once or twice in conversation but basically I just want people to know.