Through the Decades: Books and Authors that Shaped Me

I recently saw this blog post about ‘Reading through the Decades‘ and was tempted to take part, even though that might disclose the *big* mystery which is my age!

Childhood:

I couldn’t get enough of fairy tales and stories (from all countries: I remember my parents reading 1001 Nights, folktales from Russia, China and Romania, the Greek myths, as well as the usual Grimm, Andersen and Perrault). I went to an English school for a while and my favourite teachers were the ones who would read out loud to us while we did arts and crafts (which I NEVER excelled in), so that I could get lost in the world of Paddington Bear, Olga da Polga, The Wind in the Willows. Luckily, I was always surrounded by international friends, so I grew up with the Moomins, Asterix and Obelix in multiple translations as well as the original, Christiane Nöstlinger (who very sadly died just a few weeks ago), Räuber Hotzenplotz (I had great fun playing him with a drawn-on moustache and beard in a school play), Pippi Longstocking, Emil and the Detectives, White Fang and the Chalet school.

My parents say that at the age of 2-3, I would happily examine the dictionary for hours, so they could nip outside for a quick emergency shop. Although ‘examine’ is perhaps not quite the word for my reading exploits back then.

Teens:

In stark contrast to my happy, diverse and very liberal childhood, I hit a wall when I moved back to Romania during the Communist period. My reading was suddenly censored. I tried to sign up for the British Council library, the French cultural institute, the Goethe Institut, to keep up my languages and love of literature, but my visits there were very carefully monitored, so for a long time I had to rely on other people taking books out for me. (It was OK to go to the Schiller Institut, which was the GDR version of the Goethe). But of course teenagers relish challenges, so this made books (particularly foreign language books) even more precious to me.

I even believed I detected a physical similarity between myself and Anne Sexton…

This was the decade of poetry. With typical adolescent dramatics, I dressed in black as soon as I got out of my school uniform and moodily recited French poetry in particular (Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Verlaine). I WAS Sylvia Plath (at least on those days when I wasn’t Anne Sexton or Colette or Virginia Woolf or Marina Tsvetaeva, all women who inspired me with their poetry and their lifestyles). I also fell in love with Romanian poetry (Octavian Goga, Tudor Arghezi, George Bacovia and Lucian Blaga) and the romantic, lyrical and often quite funny writing of Ionel Teodoreanu’s trilogy of nostalgic novels about life in the Romanian countryside before Communism La Medeleni. 

Twenties:

This was a busy decade. At university I succumbed to the philosophy and lit crit craze and liberally sprinkled my essays and discussions with references to Derrida, Lacan, Chomsky, Julia Kristeva, Emil Cioran, Eliade… basically, anything that was as far removed from dialectical materialism as possible. I also discovered the joys of Japanese literature and quickly developed a passion for Dazai Osamu, Yosano Akiko and Akutagawa which has never left me since. In our small Japanese group of students, there were two camps: the Kawabata fans and the Mishima fans. I have to admit I was (perhaps the only one?) in the latter camp, although I became a much more critical reader later on.

I also discovered social anthropology in this decade and the works of Levi-Strauss, Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, Max Weber became as exciting to me as any novels. I came to it just on the cusp of the criticism of the paternalistic attitudes, the role of the anthropologist as an observer and the biases that they bring into the field or how their very presence affects the communities which they claim to observe in a non-interfering way.

Thirties:

You might argue that I was exhausted after all of my studies or too tired after having children, but I have no qualms at all about shifting almost entirely to crime fiction in my 30s. I had always read some crime (obvious contenders like Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, Simenon), but now I devoured all of the crime fiction I could find at my local library. I particularly enjoyed books which really captured the atmosphere of a city or country, like Michael Dibdin’s Zen series set in Italy, Ian Rankin’s Rebus of Edinburgh, Martin Beck’s Sweden, Barbara Nadel’s Istanbul, Fred Vargas bringing historical touches to contemporary France, Jakob Arjouni’s beneath-the-surface of boring old Frankfurt, Qiu Xialong’s Shanghai stuck between the past and the present. But I never turned down any of the regional or cosy crime writers either: Veronica Stallwood’s Oxford, for example, or M. C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin.

Forties:

The decade when I rediscovered writing, as well as reading far more widely, reviewing and blogging. I’ve returned to poetry, I still keep up with crime fiction, I still enjoy books set in the whole wide world, opening me up to new cultures, ideas and ways of being. You can discover many of the new authors I got to appreciate in the past few years by looking back at my blog, for example: Jean-Claude Izzo, Pascal Garnier, Romain Gary, to mention just the French (well, I did spend quite a large chunk of time in France). I’ve discovered far too many new crime fiction authors to mention in one post, and I’ve also stretched my wings to take in more world literature (beyond my comfort zone of Europe and Japan).

I would love to hear about your own bookish journey through the decades, either in the comments below or perhaps on your own blog. It’s funny how you start to see certain patterns emerging…

 

 

23 thoughts on “Through the Decades: Books and Authors that Shaped Me”

  1. A couple from childhood in common, Winnie the Pooh and The Chalet School. I also loved Baba Yaga, Alison Uttley, Penelope Lively.

  2. Lovely post, Marina. It’s interesting how our preferences change over the years depending on age, circumstances, life experiences etc. Like you, I grew up with the Moomins and Pippi Longstocking. Oh, and Enid Blyton of course – she was a staple in our household.

  3. What an interesting way to chart the course of your growth, Marina Sofia! And I love it that your reading has taken you vicariously all over the world. It’s interesting, too, isn’t it, how our interests and tastes change as the circumstances of our lives do. It really is Our reading paths really do show us our lives, I think.

  4. We share so many books. I studied Cultural Anthropology, Philosophy and Literature, so we even have an overlap there. Btw, I too loved Mishima in my teens. Not so keen on him anymore now.
    I might have read more modernist and Gothic books in my teens and early twenties though.

    1. Isn’t that lovely, to hear of the common interests? No, Gothic novels were never really my thing (although I loved Edgar Allan Poe and Wuthering Heights and The Woman in White, if those count). As for modernist, depends on which ones you mean and how far you go. I kipped over into surrealism for quite a while (and of course had a post-modernist phase).

      1. I was thinking of Poe in particular, but Alonso Lovecraft, Wuthering Heights definitely, ghost stories in general. Modernism, Joyce, Proust, Woolf, lesser known ones too. Surrealism, sure. I returned late to the novel, and so late to post-modernism, meaning late twenties, early thirties. I think there’s definitely a huge overlap. My reading might just be, has always been a tad more diverse as I also read fantasy and sci-fi.

        1. Ah, then I liked gothics and modernists too. Oh, and Kafka – what a Kafka fan I was, and I forgot to mention him. And Woolf so, so much! But yes, fantasy and sci-fi not so much, although I seem to like a lot of films that are classified as sci-fi.

  5. Oooh very interesting! I can certainly empathise with your teens, although I would add in Dorothy Parker. I’m tempted by this I confess, though I don’t know if I could define each decade clearly enough to make it work…

    1. I’d love to hear your selection! And yes, things do blend and blur, have porous borders. As soon as people start mentioning a particular writer, I realise I forgot them. Yes, I was a very keen Dorothy Parker fan as well – and still think she is seriously underrated!

  6. I will at some point give my reading life a sum-up here, but right now about to finish my NY Times and nap so I can write an article on migrant separation crisis here. You have the most varied reading life of anyone I know.
    A friend who can read in six languages is the only other person I know who reads so many European and South American books.
    It’s impressive and daunting. It’s frustrating that sometimes you mention books I can’t get here in translation or at all. Also, your reading range is very wide. It seems as you can are willing to read everything — quite a gift.
    I am less cosmospolitan (sigh).

    1. Patterns started to emerge (a little) while I was writing. A little careful reshuffling may also have been slightly involved (after all, I do write fiction). Some authors I forgot by accident, while some deliberately, because they didn’t fit in with the theme of that decade.

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