Considering how much one is exposed to over a life of 50 years, the choices seem limitless. But there are certain specific elements that stand out.
Although I do not read it regularly, poetry has left a powerful impact. Yeat's The Municipal Gallery Revisited contains perhaps my favorite lines of all:
Think where man's glory most begins and ends,
And say my glory was I had such friends.
I like this poem and that sentiment particularly because to emphasizes how much of one's journey through life is shaped and guided by the people you know. This is certainly true in my case, even though most of my friendships have been episodic and confined to certain phases in my life. I have lost touch with people who were extremely important to me at various times, and regard that loss with a tinge of regret yet feel thankful that they played their part when they did.
When I was about 22 I lived for a while in Chiswick, London. I was unemployed for almost all this time, and spent much of my time in the Tate Gallery, frequently gazing at this painting by John William Waterhouse:
The Lady of Shalott
I like the painting more than Tennyson's poem, not least, I would say, because I was romantically involved with a number of young women who shared something of the state of mind expressed here. Needless to say, that did not last. What do you know when you are 22?
Perhaps the most significant book I read in my early days (apart from the ubiquitous The Lord Of The Rings) was Dicken's Great Expectations, a story, that in Miss Haversham, takes the Romantic ideal expressed in Waterson's painting to almost post-modern extremes of caricature. Concurrent with that, I developed an interest in Expressionist painting and music, particularly that of Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, Marc and Kandinsky
Schoenberg, pictured here, did both of course, but is better known as the bête-noir of 20th century music. I lapped all of it up, finding in those atonal and 12-tone works a musical idiom that greatly appealed to me.
It still does, even though I have allowed the tonal world to repopulate. Currently my favorite composer is Franz Joseph Haydn. I find in his works the ultimate balance of invention and craft that epitomizes the Enlightenment, the moral, religious and philosophical period that set the stage for modern society and sometimes seems in danger of being overturned these days.
As far a pop music goes, my earlier entry still holds up.
As I grew older, three books have become important to me. They are Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu[/I], Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, and Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities. These are three of the very few books I cannot read all at once. Instead, I dip into them and focus on some individual episode, almost as if they were the Bible. It's striking that all three books were written at about the same time, and all introduce deep philosophical concepts that require a lot of digestion. I come away from reading these books feeling as if something is a little clearer in my life, even if it is not altogether apparent at the time exactly what it is
Perhaps I will have some further thoughts on this later, but this will do very nicely for now.