Monday, January 11, 2010


It was kind of fun responding to MAIL TODAY's "WHAT BOOK" question: Which five books have most influenced me? I was given 50 words of explanation per book. My response is HERE. Of course, five is just an arbitrary number! I would have preferred something like ten. Like I said, though, it was fun: this is not the same question as "Favourite Book" -- it's about which one's left a long footprint. I was surprised to remember Have Spacesuit Will Travel ...

IN CASE the whole article doesn't load at the site, here's the full text of what I sent them:

Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass – Lewis Carroll
Have Spacesuit Will Travel – Robert A. Heinlein
The Gormenghast Trilogy – Mervyn Peake
Gödel, Escher, Bach – Douglas R. Hofstadter
MYST – Robyn & Rand Miller

Each book marked a turning point in my understanding of reality; each one showed me different rules for managing the most weightless and outlandish of situations.

In Alice, which I read when I was six, the flowers talk and a caterpillar smokes a hookah. But Alice remains both rational and scrupulously polite. In Spacesuit, the ordinary becomes surreal: liquid spilled in zero-gravity turns into floating globules and the simple act of drinking coffee from a cup becomes an unlikely miracle. I read it when I was 12 and it undoubtedly shaped my life-long fascination with science as well as science-fiction.

I read Gormenghast in my early twenties. Physical reality in the book is conventional but the social dimension is utterly warped: we enter a castle as it celebrates the birth of its 700th Earl. The author was a brilliant illustrator, playwright and poet with an impish sense of humour. His trilogy is a wonderful reflection of all his talents.

In GEB, Hofstadter paints a picture of human intelligence using music, mathematics and art. His book is highly sophisticated, while never losing sight of his essential thesis: that at the heart of intelligence is a rogue thread of paradox and wit. As for MYST: yes, it's "just a game". But it became a type of electronic hallucination that I entered in late 1996 and never quite exited. I am forever clicking on white rabbits, looking through glass and finding cookies labelled "Eat Me": forever hopeful, curious and ready for a snack.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

interestingly - i recall alice in wonderland, geb and mervyn peake fondness from u when we met in the early daze. {real footprints huh? lady - u shud go metric!} gt

] gt