The Books That Made Me Who I Am

Through no conscious effort whatsoever, I naturally gravitate towards the gothic, bejewelled prose that women do so well. Sex and sexuality, psychosis, mental health, our relationships with our bodies, rape culture, feminism, jealousy, the strange nature of beauty and attraction, fate and existentialism - these are the kind of themes I see coming up in the books I read over and over again, and they are the raison d'être of female writers. There are a few, very talented men in my list (hats off to you, Vladimer Nabokov, for the creation of such an iconic little girl) but most of it is brazenly, dazzlingly womanly.

"Human life is but a series of footnotes to a vast, obscure, unfinished masterpiece"

Lolita by Vladimer Nabokov: There are lines in Lolita that still lacerate my heart even though I've read them every summer since I was 12. I love that it's uncomfortable reading - not because of the content, the content is very tame - but because of the sympathy, love and understanding we find ourselves having for such an awful abuser. It contains one of the most beautiful paradoxes in literature; Humbert's love for Dolores Haze - his ugly, obsessive, vicious love for her - is his one saving grace. Reading it always reminds me just how far each of us can swing between violence and tenderness.

"Go out in the woods, go out. If you do not go out into the woods, nothing will ever happen, and your life will never begin"

Women Who Run With The Wolves by Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estés: I usually hate reading non-fiction, but there's something so magical and addictive about the way Estés writes about psychology, creativity, and women that has me returning to this book every time I need my passion for living restored. Each chapter begins with a fairy-tale, and using her knowledge of Jungian psychoanalysis and story-telling, she shows us how the lessons within that story can help us lead better lives. 

"I have dreamed in my life strange dreams, that have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind"

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë: I hate to think that the Brontës gave me my template for great love, but I'm afraid that might be true. I was torn between listing Jane Eyre or Heights in this space, as both would be equally relevant. I chose Heights because I know it left me with a strong understanding that love is not a tender thing, and that people rarely end up with the one they loved most.

"Do not seek the because; in love there is no because, no reason, no explanation, no solutions"

Henry And June by Anaïs Nin: Nin is a real hero of mine, and even though she is long dead, her work is still some of the best erotica ever written. She lived an incredibly liberated life, and was somewhat of a mystery even to her husband. Her writing is just as unencumbered; deeply feminist, sensual, full of beautiful lies and profound truth. She gave me an insatiable thirst for experience and for the deep independence that comes with leading many lives.

"In the end, it wasn't death that surprised her, but the stubbornness of life"

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides: This book, and its adaptation, gave me my whole visual and emotional aesthetic for most of my teens. I had a bedroom filled with white, ripped dresses, dying flowers, miniature unicorns and crucifixes. I lived in a kind of puberty cage, marinating in my own young sexuality. I outgrew the dresses, but that feeling of haunting my life, rather than living it, has always remained.

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