Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Top Five Books

I'm in big trouble. In late October I'm going to be speaking at the Brunswick library. That's not the problem; I love giving talks. I'm looking forward to it.

No, the problem is that they asked me to provide them with a list of my five favourite books. They'll display this somewhere in the library with the heading Author Top Reads. Now, I think that's a great idea. Anything to encourage reading and to introduce people to books they may not have heard of.

Unfortunately this request is having a disastrous effect on my brain. At first my mind went blank and I couldn't think of any book I ever liked. Then I began to think of books I've enjoyed that I've read in the last month.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Isn't this amazing? It's already sold over a million copies but I've only just got to it. I read it a couple of weeks ago and thought it was beautifully and sensitively written.

Winter's Bone, by Daniel Woodrell. I watched trailers of the film and I was so impressed that I ordered the book from the fantastic Tasmanian library service. The story is dark but gripping, and Woodrell captures the closed world of the Ozarks so well with his densely poetic language.

On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan. I loved this. I found it quite haunting when I read it on our recent Cradle Mountain holiday.

There's a stack of books for kids that changed the way I see the world. There are books I read when I was young, or that I read when my kids were young, that have stayed with me ever since. I reread Robinson Crusoe so often I used to dream about it. Little Women kept me company for years. I loved Jane Gardam's Bilgewater.

I read My Side of the Mountain with my kids. Recently my daughter Meg told me she's been reading it with her stepson. She doesn't even remember it from when she was young, but she's loving it now and so is he.

One of my all-time favourite books would have be a small novel for children called Searching for Shona, by Margaret Anderson. I bought this for our oldest daughter when she was in primary school. I read it then and have never forgotten the story of two British schoolgirls swapping identities during World War Two. I have to admit that when my daughters carried off their old toys and books I kept this one; I still reread it every few years.

There are books about writing that I've reread countless times, including Annie Dillard's The Writing Life and Anne Lamott's indispensable Bird By Bird.

Then Farmdoc asked me, 'What about Wolf Hall?' And it's true, I loved that so much I couldn't put it down, and I ended up with a really sore neck from holding it up to read in bed.

And one of our visitors said she'd just read Life of Pi, so then I remembered all the Booker Prize winners I've adored over the years. My mother and I used to buy the winning book as soon as it was announced and discuss its merits over cups of tea at her kitchen table. I miss that so much now she's gone. Toni Morrison's Beloved was one of her favourite books and so was Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.

That's when I started to feel queasy about this whole project.

In the end I think I'll go with the first five that came to me and I'm going to try to forget the whole thing before I go crazy remembering books I've loved at different times of my life. I've tried to work out why it's these five, and I'm not sure I know exactly. Taste in books, as in so much else, is personal. For me I think it's mostly about the power of the language and story. I like a sense of morality at play too. And I like to learn something.

Drown, Junot Diaz
Henderson the Rain King, Saul Bellow

The Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley
The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy

How about you? What books are on your list?

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