There is a programme on British TV (BBC2) at the moment hosted by Anne Robinson called ‘My Life In Books’. The idea is that a guest picks five books they have read throughout their life so far that have somehow stood out for them – as inspiration, direct influence, unforgettable entertainment etc. The guest then has to explain something of the plot and/or the reason for their choice.
The rules for choosing your five books are as follows: the first book should be from your childhood; the next book from your teens; the final three from any point during adulthood. Any genre is acceptable.
Being a bloke who likes making competitive ‘Top 10’ or ‘Top 5’ style lists (i.e. being a bloke!) I thought I’d have a go at this! And (given that Mrs Robinson is unlikely to invite me onto her show anytime soon!) what better place for me to be doing it than my blog?
So, here goes:
My childhood book is Bottersnikes & Gumbles by the Australian writer, S A Wakefield. Ludicrously no longer in print, this is an absolute children’s classic. Bottersnikes and Gumbles are weird critters that live in the Aussie Outback amidst discarded rubbish. Bottersnikes have green wrinkly skin, cheese-grater noses and long, pointed ears that go red when they are angry, which is most of the time. They are perhaps the laziest creatures in the world. They eat mattress stuffing (preferably barbecued) and pictures of food out of magazines, and for sweets they like rusty nails and bottle tops. The Bottersnikes’ biggest fear is water, because they shrink when they get wet and have to be hung out to dry. Gumbles, on the other hand, are the most friendly and cheerful creatures in the bush and can be squashed into any shape without being hurt, although when flattened completely they cannot regain their own shape without help. They are also hopeless (and helpless) when they get the giggles. The Bottersnikes capture The Gumbles, squash them into tins and jam jars and keep them as slaves. Hugely entertaining, these tales also carry a moral message. (Childhood Runner-up titles: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster; The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien)
The book choice from my teens is The Catcher In The Rye by JD Salinger. Had to be, really – given it was such a direct influence (along with Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint) on my own novel, RUDE BOY. ‘Catcher’ was the book that hooked me on reading for pleasure as a teenager (outside of the books we had to read for school exams). I’d always been a reader but ‘Catcher’ cemented the habit. The plot? The expelled and troubled Holden Caulfield vents his disaffected spleen! I don’t want to say too much more as it might spoil the twist at the end of RUDE BOY! (Teenage Runner-up titles: Macbeth by Shakespeare; Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu)
Non-Fiction: Meditations by Rene Descartes. Many moons ago I studied Philosophy at London University. I first read Descartes’ Meditations as part of my BA Philosophy syllabus. It made a major impression on me as an 18/19 year old student. Meditations is the work that led to the ‘cogito’ (cogito ergo sum: I think therefore I am) and, in more recent years, directly to the movie, The Matrix. My own suspicion is that consciousness ultimately holds the key to understanding both the human condition and the meaning of life – which, I suppose, is why Meditations made such an impression on me back in my teens. Anyway, that’s what I think…therefore I am! (Non-Fiction Runner-up titles: What Philosophy Is by Anthony O’Hear; Reason, Truth & History by Hilary Putnam – specifically the chapter ‘Brains In A Vat’; a modern restatement of Descartes’ cogito…and another direct influence on The Matrix)
Gothic Horror: Dracula by Bram Stoker has to be THE defining Horror novel – Gothic or otherwise. I love Gothic Horror. Stoker’s Dracula is beautifully written and constructed – with prose of far higher calibre than those who routinely decry the genre and have never read the text can possibly appreciate. It’s also the definitive epistolary novel – a genre soon to be replaced by the email-ary novel no doubt! Famously, Bram Stoker never visited Romania and completed all his research for the book in the British Library – choosing the real historical figure of Vlad The Impaler to bequeath his nickname ‘Dracula’ to his protagonist as a result of this research. Stoker’s novel was not the first vampire novel ever written (Varney The Vampyr and Carmilla – a direct influence on Dracula and one of my ‘runner-up’ choices from my teenage years…see above! – both preceded Stoker’s book) but Dracula is undoubtedly the most influential. (Gothic Horror Runner-up titles: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley; Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson)
Contemporary Fiction: Seithe by Poppet. ALL of Poppet’s books are excellent – right at the cutting edge of modern fiction. Seithe is my personal favourite. It’s a truly intelligent, atmospheric, relentless adventure with vampire/supernatural themes. Click on the Poppet link (under Author) at the foot of any page of this blog to discover more. (Contemporary Fiction Runner-up titles: The Cold Six Thousand by James Ellroy; Blood’s A Rover by James Ellroy)
So, in summary, here are the five titles I have selected:
- Bottersnikes & Gumbles by SA Wakefield
- The Catcher In The Rye by JD Salinger
- Meditations by Rene Descartes
- Dracula by Bram Stoker
- Seithe by Poppet
And finally: If this really was the ‘My Life In Books’ TV show, this would be the point at which I would be required to explain what these five books ‘said’ about me! Hmmm! This, I guess: I read therefore I am…fascinated by teenage rebellion and mythical creatures!
Well, that’s my selection! Feel free to post your own 1-5’s!