Monday, September 08, 2014

Ten books that have stayed with me – A slightly sexist list of my favourite reads

In response to an internet meme (and because I've not been asked), here's a list of ten books or book series that have stuck with me throughout my life.

OK, so it's eleven.

The first thing to note is that all the authors are men, and I am well aware of this lack of diversity, not to mention the misogyny of the central character in one of my choices. Yes, there are many fine female writers (Hello, Joanne Harris), but none have managed to get into my off-the-top-of-my-head top ten, mainly because I read mostly male-dominated SF and comedy in my formative years. To put a female author in for tokenism's sake (as I nearly did with To Kill A Mockingbird) would have been lying to both you and myself.

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett - Good Omens --- What's not to like about this acknowledged comedy classic? Two of our best writers at their very peak, and one I can read again and again

Spike Milligan – Adolf Hitler (My Part in his Downfall) --- Truly one of the funniest books ever written, and the follow-ups were just as good. The later books became a little maudlin, but let's not forget the tears of laughter running down your cheeks as you read the book for the lost-count-how-many times

Harry Harrison – The Stainless Steel Rat Saves The World --- The first science fiction book I was ever given, and completely hooked me on the genre. I was no older than ten or eleven at the time, and I thought books don't get any better than this. I later learned it wasn't even the first in the series, but it truly reeled me in and bears repeat readings. Later books in the series became formulaic, which seemed a shame for a writer of Harrison's talents.

Isaac Asimov - The End of Eternity --- Then I was given this one, which introduced my young mind to the difficulties of time travel, from meeting yourself, to changing your destiny, to time travellers leaving messages in newspapers. Knowing Asimov it was probably the first of its kind, and I still love it.

Aldous Huxley – Brave New World --- As a piece of prophecy, it's pretty much spot on. Get the edition with Brave New World Revisited to properly scare yourself about the way the world is going now.

John Steinbeck – The Grapes of Wrath --- I went through a period of buying "worthy" novels that I felt I should have been reading. By and large, most I thought utterly over-written bollocks (I'm looking at you, Rushdie), but The Grapes of Wrath stuck with me with sheer power and despair that works at so many levels.

George Orwell – 1984 --- They made us study Animal Farm at school and it was so over-analysed I just can't bring myself to like it. 1984, on the other hand, stands the test of time, and is still genuinely frightening.

Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy --- I've still got my autographed edition of the Trilogy in Four Parts, and you're not having it. As essential to English culture as 1984. So there.

George MacDonald Fraser – Flashman --- The decidedly politically incorrect adventures of the bully and anti-hero from Tom Brown's Schooldays. I've written about Flashy before, and like many fans, I'm sad that Fraser spent his final days writing one of the worst books in existence (The Reavers) instead of Flashman Book 13.

Patrick O'Brian  - Master & Commander --- By which I mean the entire 20-and-a-bit collection of Aubrey-Maturin novels. An incredible and detailed account of two friends at sea, which lost pace at times they were stranded on land. Sadly, O'Brian died as they set out for sea in the 21st book, so we'll never know how it finished.

Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace --- I read this in a two-week period while at a residential course with the BBC in the middle of nowhere in which my snooker game went from "complete novice" to "mostly harmless" in the same period. One of the few books I've read that had me immediately going out and reading the real life stories that the war of 1812 brought.

Books I've read which people said I should like, but hated:

The Hobbit
Catcher in the Rye
Crime and Punishment
Midnight's Children

 All over-rated tosh, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise.


Try The Dog Allusion said...

'Catcher in the Rye' gained fame because it was the first novel to address teenagers as a separate group that is in between children and adults.
'Vernon God Little' is more apt for today's high school students in the USA.

isolator42 said...

A useful list for me, SD - giving me some pointers for future reads... including some early 2000ADs for Stainless Steel Rat, but never mind.

Might have to fight you about Catcher In The Rye, but the inclusion of Douglas Adams makes it all better :)

Paul Shotts said...

Only phoneys fail to appreciate Catcher in the Rye.
Other than that you have 3 direct hits with my own list (Huxley, Orwell, Adams), plus one same author (Asimov). And O'Brien would probably have been my 11th...

TRT said...

No Molesworth? Jennings? There must be the odd Enid Blyton or two? CS Lewis? Dr Seuss? Tom Sharpe? Tom Holt? Or one of those excellent Coleman books?

Alicia Foodycat said...

You are totally wrong about The Hobbit, of course.

Interesting, it hadn't even crossed my feminist mind to think about the gender balance in my list, and now I have gone back and checked and it's 50/50. TAKE THAT, PATRIARCHY.

Anonymous said...

Add anything by F Scott Fitzgerald to your list of phonies and I am completely with you.

Anonymous said...

Concur with 7/12

Gram Lynch said...

A fine list, but I'd switch "Adolf Hitler (My Part in his Downfall)" for Spike Milligan's "Puckoon" - an inspired piece of lunacy which is a truly laugh out loud book.

Unlike absolute tripe such as "Lucky Jim" which is always held up as the best of comic writing. But it's not, it's tripe. Really bad tripe that's gone off. Can you tell that I hate "Lucky Jim"?

Keith said...

"The Reavers" - what's that? Surely you mean "The Steel Bonnets" which is a detailed history of the Border Reivers. Hint: It's a history book, not a work of fiction, and certainly not the worst book ever written :(