As someone who’s considerably less interested in producing a blog, in the conventional sense, than in imagining what, say, the LRB might be like if it only had a single, regrettably lazy, easily-distracted and discernably right-of-centre contributor — nothing wrong with a ‘normal’ blog, by the way, except that I’m simply not cut out for writing one — the very idea of ‘memes’ sends me lurching towards the ‘delete’ button.
On the other hand, reading Gareth Williams’ fascinating post here, with a special definitional supplement here, right before embarking on a half-hour, book- and iPod-free bus journey — and recalling a similar exercise by my old friend Barry Campbell, although I think that was on Facebook rather than Barry’s excellent blog, and hence, perhaps, as unrecoverable as it is now unlinkable — was a recipe for the sort of me-too response out of which the whole obligatory, mock-convivial and hence charmless ‘meme’ thing doubtless originated. And anyway, however much some of our American cousins may raise an eyebrow at this, it really is still too hot in London to think properly.
Hence, without much apology, here are, as per Gareth’s example, ten books which ‘have most influenced [my] thinking, that [I] have found [myself] referring to most often in reflection, speech, and writing’, complete with minimal justification. To the extent that they are ordered in any purposeful way, it’s (roughly) the sequence in which I encountered them.
1. The Book of Common Prayer (various editions). Christened into the American Episcopal Church soon after birth, educated at a refulgently eccentric Episcopal parochial school, an irregular attendee at services during my lengthy spell at Trinity College, Cambridge, confirmed (rather belatedly) into the Church of England in 1996 and now a conventionally devout if not excessively frequent communicant, the liturgy of the worldwide Anglian communion has always been there in the background, incanting its timeless commentary in the face of a lifetime of change.
The Psalms, in particular, are the most perfect poetry we have, encompassing every human mood. Gloomy or flirtatious, contrite or more than ready to smite someone — I’ve returned to the Psalms in all these states, and never failed to find the words I so badly needed to hear. No, more than any other, the Book of Common Prayer is, to crib Gareth’s formulation, a book I’ll never truly ‘finish’.
2. The Collected Poems of W.H. Auden (1945). Heaven knows, as a poet and as a man, Auden had defects. Continue reading