I was going through some rather nostalgic moments today, focusing mostly on my childhood memories and the time I have spent with my grandparents. It is my grandfather, to whom I owe most of what has become of me. Among other things, he has taught me to love books. I often like to remind myself of one of his sayings:
All the knowledge of the world is hidden within books.
And so I began thinking. How much have I kept true to this idea? I am certainly no bookworm – I haven’t read that much recently – but I do love books, and I surely have read a thing or two throughout my life. And although it is becoming less and less popular to read actual books today, I am positive that nothing can ever replace the sense of touch of the dry paper or the smell of new/old books.
Anyway, I was trying to put together a list of the books that I personally believe to have the greatest impact on me as a person today. I guess it is not wrong to say that, in my teenage years, I was largely “raised” and educated by the literature I had at hand. So, after a little bit of thinking, here is what I came up with:
J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
I could have included the entire series, but that would have been cheating, so I just went with the first one. And it literally is the first one. It is the first book I have ever read in my life. At the age of six, I got the four Potter books as a Christmas present, after persuading my parents for quite some time that I will manage to learn how to read until Christmas time (and I did, just to get my hands on those books, I was quite some fantasy enthusiast). I share the love of the Potter franchise with many of my generation – this was also the first fandom I got into. And last but not least, I have created a “tradition” of this being the first book I ever read in any language I intend to learn. I have already done so with English and German and I intend to keep it up. (There’s even a Latin version of this books, and who wouldn’t like to learn Latin one day?)
A.S. LaVey: The Satanic Bible
Now this one comes from a complicated era of my “teenage rebellion” against the society, the morality and, obviously, religion. Despite the fact that I am not particularly proud of those years, I still stick to most of the opinions and attitudes I have developed back then. This book made the list mostly because it marks the moment when I finally began to think for myself, rather than just carelessly let things pass around me. Also, it has lead to plenty of other interesting literature, such as Nietzsche‘s work (no, not just The Antichrist), which eventually ignited my kinda-sorta-passion for philosophy; or the horror stories of H.P. Lovecraft. Oh, and after some lessons have been learnt, I came out as an egoistic atheist that I am today. 🙂
O. Wilde: The Picture of Dorian Gray
If I decided to number the list, this piece could easily be on top, as it is probably my very favorite work of fiction. It features both my most beloved literary character (Lord Henry Wotton) and the one I hate more than any other (Sibyl Vane). Beautifully written, it feeds me with strange kind of energy every time I read it. (At least once a year since the first time.) This is surely something many will agree with me upon and is most probably caused by the above-mentioned character of Lord Henry Wotton and his rather unconventional comments on society. Lesson taken:
The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.
(And yes, I am aware of how cliche this quote is.)
R.L. Stevenson: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde
I have loved this story since I was a kid and saw an interpretation of it in a movie called The Pagemaster. Since then, I have seen a few others, but it wasn’t until much later that I finally bought myself the actual book and read the original story. If anything, I love it even more since then. I have also heard a perfectly narrated audiobook and the idea of each of us having both good and bad parts of our personalities has become central to my reflections on human beings. Not that it was philosophically a new concept or that it was attributed to Stevenson, but to me, the names of Jekyll and Hyde will always be symbolic in this manner.
S.W. Hawking: A Brief History of Time
This is a book I got directly from my grandfather. I distinctly remember reading it in my early sixteen while visiting grandma’s sister. (Yeah, I know that was not exactly polite, but I was entirely devoured!) And it was a big thing, as it largely helped me solve my “educational crisis” – at the time I was suffering from massive disinterest in anything concerning my studies – I’m sure many high school students can relate. After reading this book however, I have absolutely fallen in love with physics. Fascinated, I have finished my high school as “the physics guy”, and even went on to study physics at the university here in Prague. It was only later that I switched to Mathematics.
R.P. Feynman: The Feynman Lectures on Physics
If Hawking’s Brief History of Time made me fall in love with physics, I was temporarily ecstatic when I got my hands on these. Richard Feynman, a Nobel prize laureate, was a legendary teacher, and he absolutely deserves that title. With his witty style, he has managed to turn even very complicated ideas into more or less easily understandable concepts, and along with Hawking, he has earned a place as a sort of role-model for me. I still keep the three books around and even now, when I’m not studying physics actively, I occasionally read in them. (Yes, this time I had to cheat and slip three books into one paragraph 🙂 )
V. Jarník: Diferenciální počet I
Although probably the least known one, it clearly has the most direct connection to where I am now. I once borrowed it from a local library (motivated by physics at the time), and it was that day that my slow transformation into a mathematician has began. Vojtěch Jarník was one of the most influential czech mathematicians and, not unlike Feynman, an exquisite teacher of his art. I was introduced to the rigorous, formal way of building Mathematics for the first time, and eventually absorbed by the beauty – and that is what got me to study Mathematics further. And despite that Jarník’s style is already a bit old-fashioned, I still keep four of his books next to the Feynman Lectures for occasional reading or for when I’m in need of specific information.
Looking back at the list, I believe it has actually captured the evolution of my personality over the last years pretty well. I guess it’s always good to know your past – as one of my favorite TV characters one said: (can anyone guess who?)
It is easier to know where you are going when you know where you have been.
If you have any great tips as for what I should read – both fiction and non-fiction – let me know below!
All the cover photos are a property of respective authors/publishers.
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