Every week I look forward to reading the ‘Books That Changed Me’ panel in the Sun-Herald’s Unwind Books section. Each week someone, usually an author, writes about five books which that changed them. Almost always there are interesting insights, often a surprising title and frequently reminders of past reading pleasures. It is worth a look. Here’s a quick glance at some recent lists.
June Loves is an Australian author of over 50 non-fiction titles for children and adults. Her latest book,’ The Festival By The Sea’, is her second novel. June’s list was; ‘The End of the Affair” – Graham Greene, Biggles’ Second Case’ -W.E. Johns,’ Under Milkwood’ – Dylan Thomas, ‘Bearbrass: Imagining Early Melbourne’ – Robyn Annear and ‘Becoming a Writer’ -Dorothea Brande. Now there’s an eclectic mix! Of Biggles Robyn write, “This was the first book I read ( Iwas about eight) in the adventure series. Biggles was the hero in the books set post World War I. Biggles books were the reason I became a speed reader. Each week my brother and I would queue outside the local library to borrow books. We shared our books, reading with a torch under the blanket, whispering ‘ready’ when we’d finished a page”. I also was a big Biggles fan and once received a Biggles book as a Sunday School prize much to the consternation of some of the more conservative members of the congregation who didn’t deem Biggles as ‘suitable’.
Katherine Howell is a prize-winning crime fiction author and former ambulance officer from Queensland. Her latest novel is ‘Silent Fear’. Her list is; ‘Luther: The Calling – Neil Cross, ‘Madame Bovary’ – Gustave Flaubert, ‘The Remains of The Day’ – Kazuo Ishiguro, ‘The Wreckage’ – Michael Robotham and ‘Dark Places’ – Kate Grenville. ‘Dark Places’ is an absolutely stunning piece of imaginative writing and sadly underrated. In it Grenville tells the story of Albion Singer the father of Lilian from Grenville’s award-winning ‘Lilian’s Story’. Singer is a monster of a man and as the title suggests it is a dark story, but brilliant. Read it and be stunned as Katherine and I were! It has just been republished in the Text Australian Classics series at just $12.95.
Dianne Blacklock is a Sydney author who writes chick-lit and romance novels the latest of which is ‘The Secret Ingredient’. Her list is; ‘Great Expectations’ – Charles Dickens, ‘The Women’s Room’ -Mmarilyn French, ‘The Beauty Myth’ – Naomi Wolf, ‘Families and How To Survive Them’ – Robin Skinner and John Cleese and ‘Revolutionary Road’ – Richard Yates. Of ‘Great Expectations’ Dianne writes, “Dickens is one of my favourite authors and an inspiration. In this the central character, Pip, is sometimes infuriating, often arrogant, but flawed and human like the rest of us. While the story is rich and complex it is the characters who drive this novel; in my mind Miss Havisham remains one of the most extraordinary creations in literature”. In Dicken’s novel Miss Havisham is an elderly spinster and we don’t learn a great deal about her early life, about where she ‘came from’. It is thought that Dicken’s based the character on Eliza Donnithorne of Newtown, Sydney! In September we will be able to learn much more about the fictional character because distinguished novelist Ronald Frame has written ‘Havisham’ as a prelude to ‘Great Expectations’ and in it tells the story of Miss Havisham’s early life, before heartbreak came to define her entirely. To be published by Faber and Faber it is a masterly tribute.
Kirsty Eagar is a Sydney author of young adult fiction. Her latest book is ‘Night Beach’ and her list is another eclectic one. ‘Moominpappa At Sea’ – Tove Jansson, ‘Lord of the Flies’ – William Golding, ‘The Big Sleep’ – Raymond Chandler, ‘The Blue Castle’ – L.M. Montgomery and ‘Lace’ – Shirley Conran. While ‘Lord of the Flies’ and ‘The Big Sleep’ frequently appear on lists of ‘favourite books’ and similar ‘Lace’ rarely does although interestingly it is to be republished in September by Canongate, a small Scottish publisher. They describe ‘Lace’ as, “the scandalous book which defined an era, the book every mother kept from her daughter”. Here is what Kirsty wrote, “Growing up I was a big reader in a family of big readers and I worked my way through the two massive bookcases in our hallway. Things started off sweetly enough with ‘The Silver Brumby’ and ‘Little Women’. But then, aged 11, I found the good stuff – Harold Robbins, Judith Krantz and of course, ‘Lace’. Most of it went over my head, but the goldfish scene sure was an interesting exercise in sex education”.
I hope this blog leads you to more ‘good reading’ of one kind or another! Philip Bray.
P.S. Perhaps you would like to tell us about the ‘books that changed you’.