Monday, 8 June 2009


Today marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of George Orwell’s classic 1984. I remember reading it as a teenager and then watching the film with John Hurt playing the part of Winston Smith. The title 1984 has become synonymous with state control and many words and phrases from the book have become part of our everyday lexicon. I often wonder how many viewers of Channel 4's Big Brother (which has just begun its latest series) know where the title comes from.

Yesterday the Independent on Sunday ran a feature asking various writers to comment on 1984 and to indentify their favourite books and I was interested to read the responses; two in particular jumped out at me.

Philip Pullman comments:

The most influential book for me is the Bible. That was all around me when I was a child and I absorbed the stories of the Old and New Testaments at a very early age. They are part of how I think and feel. I don't believe they are the word of God. As a literary work it has great poetry, dramatic stories, myths – and it's the work of so many different hands, too.

This is interesting because in a list of influential books Pullman cited for Waterstone’s last year for their Writer’s Table series he didn’t mention the Bible and I wrote a post about it at the time. It did seem strange given the clear influences of the Bible evident in Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy that he made no mention of it. It is good to see Pullman acknowledging the place of the Bible in his formation, though there is no surprise that I would want to go much further in saying what the Bible is.

Ann Widdecombe cites Who Moved The Stone? by Frank Morison:

Who Moved the Stone?, which I read when I was 14, is the most influential book I've ever read. It's an examination of the resurrection. I found it very convincing and easy to understand and it made a lot of the minor characters in the Gospels come to life. I was already religious-leaning, but I think it convinced me.

Widdicombe’s choice resonates with me because I also remember reading the book as a teenager and being reassured that the basis of my faith was not just wishful thinking, nor simply the product of my upbringing as a vicarage kid, but founded on reasoned and rational propositions. Not very post modern I know but nevertheless important for me at that stage of my faith journey.

Apart from the Bible, I struggle to say which book has had the most influence on me, though a book that does keep coming to mind as I write this post is Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. My parents had a beautifully bound set of Dickens’ novels and when I had exhausted my supply of Alistair MacLean, Dennis Wheatley and J.R.R. Tolkien, I used to read Dickens. The narrative of A Tale of Two Cities hooked me straight away; the action and adventure, love triangle, tension, history, characterisation and the theme of self sacrifice are all compelling. It brought the French Revolution alive in a way my history studies never did and the old black and white film staring Dirk Bogarde remains one of my all time favourites.

Time to revisit Darney, Carton and Manette this summer I think, if I can finish Jurgen Moltmann’s autobiography A Broad Place and David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas.

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