In an essay called ‘TBM and John’, collected in Scribble, Scribble, Scribble, Simon Schama makes a bold assertion:
You always remember where it was that you first read the books that changed your life.
To which my immediate response is: er, no!
I have, for instance, distinct memories of where I was when I first read Lawrence Durrell’s The Revolt of Aphrodite. I was lying on a stone bridge over a dried-up river bed in the middle of a Greek island eating sweet fat black grapes while being buzzed by soporific bees. But I would hardly say that The Revolt of Aphrodite changed my life. My life was changed more by The Alexandria Quartet, and while I remember distinctly where I was when I bought that book (a small bookshop in the Lake District) I have no idea where I was when I first read it.
One book that probably did change my life was The Affirmation by Christopher Priest. I know precisely where I was the time before last when I read it. I took it with me when I went to the doctor to have fluid drained from my knee; I fainted, the doctor panicked, had me rushed into hospital, and I spent most of a day there trapped because the staff were too busy to tell someone who wasn’t ill to go home. But that was only one of several readings. Before that? And before that? No, I have no idea where I was.
While some of the books that most radically changed my life were those with which I learned how to read. I remember where I was. Well, at least, I assume it was my childhood home. But I don’t recall any of the books.
So do you remember where you were when you first read the books that changed your life?