SOME STEPS IN THE PAST: AN ATTEMPT AT AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY
by Mikhail Yeselson
8. MY BOOKS
Why do we love to read literature, fiction and non-fiction? It is true that reading forms our intellect and improves our personality, but that is only part of the attraction. The books we read only throw wood in the fire, supplying us with fuel to enrich our minds with reflections of other people's thoughts and actions -- but we must fan the flame and support the fire ourselves. We take the words, the phrases, and the actions from the books we have read and make them our own. Then, a long time after, we read a book again and find the expressions we have been using: "Oh, it's from here!" we think with admiration and gratitude.
I began reading very early; the first book I read by myself was The Jungle Book in a beautiful gift edition illustrated by big pictures. Since then, I have been slightly crazy about Kipling all my life. The Soviet powers did not love him, and his other poems and novels were published scantily, or not at all; I had to obtain pre-Revolutionary editions of his works to read them.
It was through Kipling and many other writers whose books I Ioved that English literature, both American and British, became second most important to me. Skip the details again; let's go to my bookcase and take a glance at the books which I could take from Kiev.
There is Mark Twain -- I love him from the first line of the first volume to the last line of theNotebooks. Four volumes by Hemingway stand beside, although I only love his early stories about Nick and the late novels like The Old Man and the Sea and Across the River and into the Trees. Of course, Kipling is here: I could buy this book just before our departure. Of course, Edgar Poe:
It was many and many years ago
In the Kingdom by the sea...,
(Russian poet Yevtushenko asked, "Who did not try, as a youth, to translate 'Annabel Lee'?" I did, too), and authors whose books helped me through hard times: O'Henry, Jerom K. Jerom, and Jerrald Darrel.
Many people consider Sir Charles Snow a very boring writer, but he was a physicist in his youth, and his mode of thinking is very close to mine. His The Cause is a beautiful pattern of human and scientific honesty, and takes an honorable place on my bookshelf. And nearby -- the cold brilliant wit of Oscar Wild and his incredible Ballad of the Reding Gaol:
...Each man kills the things he loves
But each man does not die.
Well, let's go on. William Faulkner. I don't like his writing, but Tatyana adores his vague pages. Apdike and Steinbeck -- it seems premature to me to label their works classics.
The next is Doctorow, who was introduced to us in Russian only recently. His mysterious Loon Lake laying among the mountains is not so far from us now.
Who else is here? Joseph Haller with the dark humor of Catch-22 and the deep sorrow of Something happened. Tony Morrison with her bright ornamentation of Song of Solomon. Kurt Vonnegut, who is always the same and eternally brand new. Arthur Clark, Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, Paul Anderson and Harry Harrison, last but not least. Jack London, who is not represented on my bookshelves but will stay in my heart forever.
Is that all? Oh, no, no.
Why am I doing this, and what I am writing for? Only to ask you: "Could the country that I knew thanks to the books of her beautiful writers be strange to me?"