Fox Woods asked me to write about my favourite books. It was hard to decide what to make of ‘favourite’ so I picked the books that I think have most guided me as a reader.
Little House in the Big Woods – Laura Ingalls Wilder
This was the very first book I ever loved. My mum read the entire series to us many times as children, and I can distinctly remember being a little blonde thing, clad in pyjamas sitting on the edge of the bed while she read them to us.
The Ingalls became so vivid and familiar they were almost like a second family. Looking back on it, I think I felt such a strong tie to them in part because they moved so often and so did we, they were displaced children just like we were and their family went through hardships together, just like we did.
I really believe the magic of getting lost in Laura’s books is why I still read now.
Tomorrow When The War Began – John Marsden
Again, I loved the whole series and they were always released in October, so I got a new one for my birthday each year.
I liked that it was set in the country, something I was familiar with.
John Marsden has an uncanny ability to write characters that aren’t pretentious or jarring to a young audience. It never felt like an adult writing and the plot never seemed far-fetched.
Mum still has my copies but I’m too scared to re-read them and break the spell.
Hells Angels – Hunter S. Thompson
I am lucky enough to have a mother who was more than happy to indulge in my appetite for books and when I was about 13, she lent me Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, the plot of which, even as a Thompsonphile, I have never found that interesting.
However, Hunter is an honest, raw talent and there was enough magic in it to make me want to read more, so she lent me Hells Angels, a gonzo trip into the lives of outlaw bikers and why their existence shook the American psyche.
I’ve never looked back and read everything of his I could get my hands on.
Forget the drugs and guns and infamy, he can construct a sentence that will strike you through your heart.
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
I read this book for the HSC, as part of a utopia/dystopia unit. I think it was the first time I realised I took feminism for granted, and how easy it would be to lose the rights women had gained.
This book shaped my life for the next five or six years, as I ended up using it as a starting point for my Honours thesis at uni.
I still get chills when I read it, because the mechanics of control in the novel are so basic, yet effective.
Joe Cinque’s Consolation, A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law – Helen Garner
Helen Garner wrote this account of the death of Joe Cinque when her own life was falling apart and I think this perhaps loaned itself to the tone of utter senselessness she uses to describe the crime that led to his death.
I read an except of the book before it was published, as I sat in my car outside Bunnings, before my shift started and spent the rest of the day in a daze. It’s true crime, but it’s poignant, sad and terribly shocking.
I think it has stuck with me because the signs of the danger Joe was in were so apparent to those around him, and no-one could prevent his death because they were overwhelmed by the personality of the woman who killed him.
Between Mexico and Poland – Lily Brett
Lily has written three memoirs, Between Mexico and Poland was the first I read and a book I come back to almost yearly.
It barely touches on her career, in fact, her work as a writer is described almost as being a happy accident.
Instead, through her kalidescope of neuroses, she tells of her parents surviving the Nazi camps in Poland; the way Mexico’s frantic bursts of energy envelop her; how she can’t stop going back to Poland to try and make sense of her parents pain.
It’s a surprisingly funny and tender memoir.
Experience – Martin Amis
Another memoir I read religiously, despite having no real interest in Amis’s fiction, I love Experience because it gives insight into the education and lives of a generation of British writers in an atmosphere that doesn’t exist anymore.
It is a tale that is very much warts-and-all; is even-handed and loving.
Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace
This book broke me.
It took me months to finish it, as I fumbled my way through the footnotes of the footnotes of the footnotes and the themes which were both nightmarish and devastating.
It’s not a perfect book, DFW himself admits as much, but it’s brave and strange and an absolute challenge to read.
I’ve never had a book contain images that have remained with me so long after finishing it. Every time I see a white van, I still think ‘Les Assassins en Fauteuils Roulants!’ and I haven’t picked up the book in over two years.
I am planning on re-reading it this year.
The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
I love this book so much. I struggle with Russian to English translations because up until I read this book, they all seemed stilted and cold, anything captivating seemed to be lost in translation.
This is a satire about the Soviet Union, in which the Devil visits Moscow, in the company of a human-sized cat and a rather hideous cast of characters.
It’s very funny, and hard not to love each and every one of the evil protagonists.