10 Books.

So, this thing has been going around on the tweetbook, wherein you ante up your ten “defining/influential” books, from your life. Given how much I read (a lot. Everything. The cereal box if there’s nothing else) this has been flipped my way a few times. And I gotta say, I like the idea. There are books that stick with you. They don’t necessarily teach you anything, but they may settle around moments in your life, realizations, or just be books that really got you. THis is actually a kind of thing I talk about: I’ve talked previously about some of the formative Young Adult lit I read, and that has stuck with me. You’ll see some crossover with that list, for sure.

So, this is mine.

1. The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien

Pretty self-explanatory there. I mean, I’m a fantasy guy, right? But the thing is, my dad read these to me, when I was very young, AND used the “proper” (and they’ll always be the proper) voices: thick, exaggerated Yorkshire accents (that’s my background, btw). And I’ll never forget that. It also fixed my love-affair with epic fantasy, right at the start of my life, and had a big part in turning me into the voracious reader that I am. That experience showed me the way a book can be in your head, not just visually, but audibly.

2. The Adventurous Four/ The Famous Five / The Secret SevenEnid Blighton

British kids adventure stories. Kids solving crimes. Books written for kids with kid-themes but serious adult overtones. The Adventurous Four especially, set during World War II, properly set me on a life of reading thrillers; the Five and Seven set me down the road of crime stories. I had all of them. Actually, let me correct that. I STILL have all of them, secreted away to be passed on at an appropriate time. Also, thoroughly and completely British, as I am. Given the modern criticism of the books, I will definitely have to re-read them before passing them along, but they’re definitely formative for me, and I turned out ok.

3. The Hitchhiker’s GUide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

Another Brit! Go figure, right? This is another one I read with my dad: this time, found on a shelf in a rented house in the South of France, on holiday, when I was probably nine or ten years old. And as you can probably guess from the first two books on this list, one of those that cemented a love for not only science-fiction, but dry, caustic, black humour. It’s partly on the back of Douglas Adams Hitchhikers series that I fell for Monty Python, and continue to read things like Terry Pratchett, Robert Asprin (check out Phule’s Company, and Robert Rankin (check out The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse.

4. Watership Down by Richard Adams

This was the first book I was told I wasn’t ALLOWED to read. I was in grade 5 (first year in Canada) and it was in the “young adult” section of the school library. WHich was, honestly, a stupid thing to have, in a school that only went to grade 5. I had to get permission to read it. To this day, it’s a hell of a book, and it really, really shouldn’t be. it’s about RABBITS, for god’s sake. British rabbits, at that. But it’s a phenomenal story, with brilliant characters in it. And an ending that STILL makes the room all dusty. You can write about anything, and make it interesting, if you want to. This was the one that proved it. It’s basically an urban-fantasy story and… yeah. I love this book. I’ve worn out three paperbacks re-reading it over the years, and even my hardcover has a broken spine from the same. And I never manage to damage hardcovers. As for the story, the world-buiding (something that comes up with fantasy writers a lot) is particularly stunning: it’s not something I clued into when I was ten, but today, the complexity and completeness of the world that Adams’ created absolutely boggles me, and is obviously a huge part of why this one has stuck with me: invented mythology, social order, language, everything is there. The depth, based on the volume of writing, is at least equal to Tolkien’s “Middle Earth”.

FYI, the movie has basically NOTHING to do with the book, except that it’s about rabbits. And they have the same names. Well, “nothing” isn’t particularly accurate, but there’s significant changes, so… read the book. It’s far, far better than the movie.

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I just realized, all my authors so far are British. It’s not going to end that way, but… hunh. How about that?

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5. Stephen King. Tough to call out one book: More like “most of the books”.

IT was the first book (at thirteen) that I put down due to content. I got to Stan’s suicide and was just “whoooo, no”. (It took me a couple of tries to get through James Herbert’s “The Dark” but that was later. The Stand: epic post-apocalyptic fiction. All of the Dark Tower: epic high-fantasy. I really just love pretty much everything King has written.

If, however, I have to pick one, it’s… none of the above. The Bachman Books is my pick. Specifically, on the strength of Rage and The Long Walk: The Long Walk is one of the finest pieces of writing I’ve ever read. It’s a study in character development and nothing else at all. If you’ve not read it, get to it.

6. FutureTrack5 – Robert Westall

Basically, everything I said in the YA post I linked to above still applies. I still love this one for it being the first “almost an adult” book. I’m pretty sure that this is the book that jumpstarted me into post-apocalyptic dystopian lit: yes, even before I got into Orwell. I really loved this book in its day: to the point that I’ve not re-read it in the last fifteen years, because I’m scared that it won’t be good anymore. One day, I will: because it may be better now, than it was then, just due to perspective. But either way, I can’t un-read it, once I do reread it. SOooo, still, I wait.

7. Helter Skelter

This is the only non-fiction that really jumped on me early on. It terrified me too: much like watching “Nightmare on Elm St”, I didn’t sleep properly for a few days after reading it. This swas the one that piqued my curiosity for true-crime. I still love these kinds of books… in moderation. And with the lights on. Every bit as terrifying as anything Stephen King ever wrote, maybe more so, being as it happened.

8. Illegal Aliensby Nick Pollotta and Phil Foglio.

There is no reason this one should be on the list, except that… I love it. I really do. It’s not especially well written, it’s a bit of a one-trick pony. It is, stylistically, trying (and failing) to be Douglas Adams. But in that failure, it becomes something of its own, and there’s a good story in there, too. It’s funny, and strangely, surprisingly compelling. And I’ve replaced the paperback twice, and recently bought the ebook, too. I just keep coming back to it. It’s fun and mindless, and I love it.

9. Shakespeare.

You know, you’re not even getting a link. If you don’t, and haven’t, read and loved Shakespeare, get out of here. Seriously. You’re not really into reading if you don’t have a favorite Shakespeare piece. I BITE MY THUMB AT YOU, SIR.

10. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

We’re finishing off with a fifth Brit: I didn’t even read it the first time: my family had these audio cassettes (and “Flash Gordon”) in the car as we drove around Europe when I was a kid. The voice characterization, the madness, the … just everything. This is one of those kids books that is so, totally, completely for adults. Except that it isn’t. I can’t read it without hearing Kenneth Grahame’s voices in my head. It is completely MAD. And I really do love it.

That’s it. That’s my ten. I always say more than I mean to, and lets face it, that’s more than ten (obviously). There’s a lot of mentions, and I could easily add another two or three dozen as “honorably mentions”, especially if I got into my new favorites.

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