Continuing on with last week’s narrative thread, we asked writer Lachlan Liesfield what books he’d plunge himself into an inferno to save.
Some things occur just at the right time in your life, and leave a much greater effect than they would have otherwise. Such is the case with films, songs, stage and books. There are a few pieces that, looking at them a couple of years on, I know did just that for me. While the influence of so many pieces spikes and then fades, these are a few that have left powerful impressions on me. So much so that I can see their continuing influence on me more clearly after removing myself from them, and all for different reasons.
I present then the three books I’d risk considerable crisping of the skin to save.
Seven Ancient Wonders – Matthew Reilly
Everyone is skeptical when they receive a book they’ve never heard of as a present. Even if you trust the taste of the one giving it to you (which I most certainly did), it’s hard not to eye these gifts with a little uncertainty. Though by the time some months after I received it, that I eventually picked up Seven Ancient Wonders, I found that I had finished it and its two follow-ups within a matter of days. A classic treasure hunt, in every sense, written with fun and flair. While I may have let his other series fall to the wayside, Reilly’s Jack West Jr series is the one I still check for updates on. It was the first book that made me sit and think “I could do that”. While the half a novel that eventuated from me sees this probably closer to “I could try that”, Seven Ancient Wonders was the book that actually got me “writing”, not just thinking of stories before I went to sleep. Six years later, and it’s still what I want to be doing. I just hold out my hopes for the Four Something Something’s to come out any time now…
The Inferno – Dante (Translated by Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander)
It always sounded so imposing, so grand and epic, “Dante’s Inferno“. And in truth, it was. Though I think that was why I wanted to read it, a journey through Hell had to be. And yet, setting out to read a three volume epic poem, I had never read anything of its kind beforehand, little even in the way of poetry. Inferno was a door to that, and I am indebted to it ever since. It pulled me from what I had read all the way until then – light adventure stories with enjoyable action that you could pick through in a day, with little exception – into something so far removed, and was the impetus for me starting to read more classic literature. Too, the Hollander translation I first read sings whilst providing a commentary that not only feels informative but enlightening, both playing their role in the power of the piece. While I may favour Purgatorio as my preferred section of the Divine Comedy, being somehow both noble and melancholic – making it feel more fantastically ‘divine’, and providing that sombre, inward reflection that seems so tied to Christianity more than either part either side – Inferno is where it begins, and was where I began. And so for that, it appears on this list.
Anton Chekhov’s Short Stories – Anton Chekhov
In truth, it was a production of The Cherry Orchard that brought me to Chekhov, a play that so engrossed not only me but the entire party I went with, that it only seemed natural to read him myself. While planning this piece, choosing out three books that seemed most influential to me was far harder to determine than I thought it was going to be. To choose not what I had loved, but had been moved by, was more difficult than it appeared.
There was however, never a moment where Chekhov did not appear.
It was the attitude, the quiet power of each of his stories, to show more in a doctor’s visit to an outlying farm, or a conversation amongst friends, than in pages of overwrought exposition from so many others. His is a writing of undertone, of atmosphere, of mood. And it was this that had the most direct and profound influence on my own writing, and why I wrote. I had never enjoyed character studies, yet within the following months I wrote one. I did not try to say anything, now I write only when I have something to say. True, sometimes what I want to say is simply a story of spies, a set piece of action whose purpose is a smile. Sometimes it is a poem, that though infrequent, is no less heartfelt.
And sometimes it is short, a story to match an idea. Pulled from an image in one place and a thought from another, a single conversation whose words are far less important than the silences between them.
For all those stories, these are the books I want to thank.
I imagine, that should I ever come back to a piece like this, the list will undoubtedly have wholly changed. And any number of things could have done that. But, these three, at this moment, these have been most important to me.