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Virginia Woolf | Inspiration | Reading List
About a year ago my friend and I decided to start an office book club. Given that it’s mostly only me and him that’s ever in the office, it was just us in the book club. The rule was the book had to be under 200 pages. We selected ‘Anthem’ by Ayn Rand from a list of books under 200 pages.
I read the book fairly quickly. I read some of it on a train. I enjoyed it, but didn’t love it. I enjoyed the process of ‘reading a book’. The physical process of having a book with you and turning to it in a quiet moment, something I’d not done for a while.
I decided I wanted to read another book, and returned to To The Lighthouse; a novel I had tried to read twice previously and given up both times around page twelve. It had been a few years since I last attempted it and I’m not sure what compelled me to try it again, but I went for it. For the first sixty pages I hated it. I really hated it. It was so wordy, dense, and nothing seemed to be happening. I just wanted the characters to go to the bloody lighthouse already. I struggled and struggled… when suddenly it clicked. There’s a dinner scene and the characters’ internal streams of consciousness are ricocheting around the pages masterfully, so seamlessly it’s dizzying. It was beautiful and unlike anything I’d ever read before. After sticking with Woolf for (what felt like) so long her writing style suddenly made sense to me. It was like a beautiful vision suddenly coming into focus; I understood! The sentences became joyous and I enjoyed every word she chose, and I swallowed the rest of the book and was left in a daze. I thought about the novel and its ideas often; it had a magically profound effect on me, one I’d never experienced through literature before.
Over the next six months I went on to read many other Woolf novels. I read her essays and articles (Middlebrow is my favourite) and I took many, many trips to the library. Barbican has volumes of her letters and diaries, and I’d go on a Saturday and read them for hours. I read as much as I could.
Woolf unlocked a new world for me. I read intermittently growing up, but I’d never read anything I’d considered profound and personally touching (although I did read Anna Karenina which was pretty engulfing for a while, I felt a mixture of sorrow and joy upon finishing it). Woolf changed that for me, and from the back of that I was sent on a huge literary adventure. The rush I gained after finishing Lighthouse was so nutritious and wholesome, I felt fed, inspired and my mind was left buzzing. It was thought provoking and enriched my thought process in my day to day life, my perceptions and understandings. I wanted to find that feeling again, and so I was inspired to begin reading.
Before I read To The Lighthouse my knowledge of literature was very poor; beyond a basic general knowledge I simply knew nothing. With Woolf, she opened the door and showed me a whole new solar system in the Galaxy Of Things I Can Be Interested In And Adore. There is so much to explore and I’ve learned so much as a result.
Below are the novels I’ve read in the past twelve months (I’ve made bold my favourites). As a reference, in the four previous years, from 2008 to 2012, I only read six books. Below are over 30 titles. I credit the list to the feeling I got from To The Lighthouse, and wanting to feel that again.
Anthem Ayn Rand 1937
To The Lighthouse Virginia Woolf 1927
Cat’s Cradle Kurt Vonnegut 1963
Orlando Virginia Woolf 1928
Candide Voltaire 1759
Candide, Part II Campigneulles & Laurens 1760
Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte 1847
Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad 1899
The Waves Virginia Woolf 1931
Far From The Madding Crowd Thomas Hardy 1874
We Yevgeny Zamyatin 1921
The Sound And The Fury William Faulkner 1929
Mrs Dalloway Virginia Woolf 1925
Silas Marner George Eliot 1861
A Room of One’s Own Virginia Woolf 1928
Animal Farm George Orwell 1945
The Celestial Omnibus E.M. Forster 1911
Therese Raquin Emile Zola 1873
The Master and Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov 1937
The Hearing Trumpet Leonara Carrington 1960
The Island of Doctor Moreau H.G Wells 1896
Ulysses James Joyce 1922
Nana Emile Zola 1880
The Road Cormac McCarthy 2006
Sons and Lovers D.H. Lawrence 1913
The Year of Magical Thinking Joan Didion 2005
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man James Joyce 1916
The Fall Albert Camus 1956
A Confederacy of Dunces John Kennedy Toole 1980
Notes From Underground Fyodor Dostoevsky 1864
Infinite Jest David Foster Wallace 1996
The Sun Also Rises Ernest Hemingway 1925
Wise Blood Flannery O’Connor 1952
Night and Day Virginia Woolf 1919
Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter Simone De Beauvoir 1958
Cassandra Christa Wolf 1984
Swann’s Way Marcel Proust 1913
Winesburg, Ohio Sherwood Anderson 1919
I’ll always be grateful for Virginia Woolf.
Grayson Perry’s huge tapestries on display at the Royal Academy as part of the Summer Exhibition are wonderful.
This is from the last page in the last part of Swann’s Way; the first volume of Proust’s A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu. After reading 500 pages of gloriously beautiful (and incredibly intense) text, as if he hadn’t rewarded you enough already, Proust closes his masterpiece with the following text.
Posting the end of a book could generally be regarded as a “spoiler”, but given that the passage doesn’t really reveal anything of the plot, and that it’s not plot driven book to begin with, I feel that this can be considered an exception.
Here it is, the bold parts made me clasp at my heart:
Alas! in the acacia-avenue—the myrtle-alley—I did see some of them again, grown old, no more now than grim spectres of what once they had been, wandering to and fro, in desperate search of heaven knew what, through the Virgilian groves. They had long fled, and still I stood vainly questioning the deserted paths. The sun’s face was hidden. Nature began again to reign over the Bois, from which had vanished all trace of the idea that it was the Elysian Garden of Woman; above the gimcrack windmill the real sky was grey; the wind wrinkled the surface of the Grand Lac in little wavelets, like a real lake; large birds passed swiftly over the Bois, as over a real wood, and with shrill cries perched, one after another, on the great oaks which, beneath their Druidical crown, and with Dodonaic majesty, seemed to proclaim the unpeopled vacancy of this estranged forest, and helped me to understand how paradoxical it is to seek in reality for the pictures that are stored in one’s memory, which must inevitably lose the charm that comes to them from memory itself and from their not being apprehended by the senses. The reality that I had known no longer existed. It sufficed that Mme. Swann did not appear, in the same attire and at the same moment, for the whole avenue to be altered. The places that we have known belong now only to the little world of space on which we map them for our own convenience. None of them was ever more than a thin slice, held between the contiguous impressions that composed our life at that time; remembrance of a particular form is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years.
Beautiful. I can’t wait to read volume two.
Ideal personality traits for cats:
Likes to talk, but not too much.
Is lazy most of the time but with occasional bouts of energy.
Loves to be sassy.
Loves to eat and is a bit overweight
Purrs a lot
Is a little bit stupid
Thinks he or she is actually a human or some other animal.
Likes to sit on laps.