Books – Top 5 Favourites

So, I’ve done a Film top 5, a tv one, music ones.. but so far no books. Now you might be surprised if you know my lifelong love of reading, but it’s hard to pick 5 out of a lifetime..but I’m going to give it a try. PS. I have to admit my reading rate of books these days is far far lower than when I was younger; my peak reading was probably 10-15yrs old.

 

Sidebar, I really wanted to use the word ‘devouration’ to describe the act of devouring books.. i know it’s not a word, but ooh it sounds so good….

 

My usual rule is: As with all my Top 5’s, they have to survive the test of time as well as multiple repeat readings.

 

However it’s a bit trickier with books as there are many, even favourites, that I re-read a lot.. but the ones I do have made it here, alongside ones that impacted me.

 

I have also split between Fiction and Non Fiction – mainly because I had more than 5 I wanted to list.

Before you continue, I realised when writing this that I go off on a huge tangent of my younger life, so feel free to skip to the list here instead.


While thinking of this list, I realised that most of the books were ones I first read between 11 and 14 years old. Maybe it was the right age to drink in their themes, worlds, and the like, but they are also books which are regarded as classics. So maybe I just had good taste, or maybe my mother, who is the most avid reader by far I have ever known, steered me right even at such a young age.

 

I was given the unique prize, for that library, of an adult library card at 9yrs.. which not only gave me access to the whole grown up sections of the library, but also 5 books per lend rather than the paltry 1 for the kids card. For that amazing gift, I should shout out the Killay Librarians from back then, who while being the cliched stern scary old women, knew a fellow book lover when they saw one.

 

I suppose some context of my life then from 11yrs old til 14yrs might help. My life revolved around swim training. I was good, very good.

 

I would get up at 6am, go to the pool, train for an hour and a quarter, then go to school, eating my breakfast in the car as we went. Then after school I’d go home and do my homework, make some food, and read in my room. Sometimes I’d go out after school instead, but was always home by 7pm to head to the pool for evening training, which was usually 2 hours. I’d get home around 9:30pm or 10pm and I’d be awake but physically tired, so I’d read lying in bed til sleep.. weekends were also training but only in the mornings.

 

That was mostly my world from 11 to 14yrs old. I didn’t really have much of a life outside the swimming pool or the school, and this was before the internet, or tv in the bedroom, so books were my entertainment. <= and that is the reason for this huge ramble..Hahaha

 

Note at 14, I dislocated my shoulder, changed swimming clubs, and other things, I quit – so that was the start of having actual real free time, but also the end of my Olympic journey. I did say I was that good 🙂 ..well tbh I doubt I’d have been on the podium, but definitely the finals… though we’ll never know eh.


Anyway, on to the lists.  There’s no real order, but I’ll start with the first main influence on my world view..

Fiction :

The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury (1950)

  • First read: 11yrs old
  • Version: Hardback Library copy

When the TV series came out (1980) it was a big deal… however for various logistical reasons partly mentioned above, I was unable to watch it at the time. I did see it not that many years later, but by then I’d read the book so was not that impressed with the tv ‘version’.

 

Anyway, due to the tv series, the book was everywhere, and being a avid reader I grabbed a copy from my local library. It was a revelation, I was totally immersed in his worlds. To this day I remember the pictures I had in my mind of the houses on Mars, the characters, the colours, the awareness that humans were probably a destructive plague on the planet.

 

Below, (with some flowery wordage) is how I pictured some of the houses in one of the stories when I was 11yrs old…and it’s till as vivid all these years later – now that’s what I call great world building.

 

There is a corner of a dwelling, it's made from a mud like concrete. It would be white in earth light, but on Mars it takes on the red hue that permeates everything. The next building is close and is similar but at an offset angle to give the occupiers some semblance of privacy on the crowded sector available to sustain life. There is a passageway between the dwellings, it is narrow, dark, but not quite dark enough that you can't see someone lurking, there just at the of your eye. They aren't moving, not sure they're even breathing, they may not even be there at all you can't quite be sure.

 

I had (and still have) quite the imagination eh. I wish I could paint, as I could show you this as I saw it in 1980 reading that book, and as I still picture it now.

 

I think why l loved it so much was that it created such rich worlds, and was the beginning of my love of sci-fi in general. After reading this one, I then read pretty much all the other books he’d written.. as a 11yr old, reading this and others like Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked, etc. definitely shapes ones world view.

 

It’s been a while since I last read all the stories..some don’t stand up as well, but others still have that lingering gut punch at which Bradbury was a master.

 

‘The Earth Men’ and ‘The Third Expedition’ are my favourites.. both so bleak and powerless, and for me far more psychologically horrific than any modern day horror film.


Dune – Frank Herbert (1965)

  • First read: 11yrs old
  • Version: Hardback Library copy

 

So, The Ray Bradbury started my sci fi love, so where else would I go but the world of Frank Herbert. It was a harder read for a 11 yr old,the language was harder, and the themes more subtle, but as with all the books I read: I learnt, I researched, and I grew.

 

The religious themes along with political intrigue was somewhat outside my daily life which made it all the more exotic and interesting. Reading Dune, I rooted for Paul, the hero, the Kwisatz Haderach, the overthrow of oppression – all seemingly destined for a euphoric climax where the hero won and the world was a better place. Spoilers, that didn’t happen..there was no happy ending, just a horrible inescapable decent into another war and conflict.

 

The biggest issue I had with the film (Dune (1984), was that, having read the series of books, you have that dread of the future for these people and their worlds. Paul is not the brilliant hero, he’s just as flawed and human as everyone else; the Freemen aren’t just the plucky underdogs to root for, they are also fanatical terrorists. It’s the enormity of this world that I can’t help but be both astounded by and drawn into.

 

Fun fact .. when I was 21 I decided to camp backpack around Scandinavia on my own for a month (mid October to mid November). This was before mobile phones, internet etc, so when you were away, you were pretty much cut off.

 

The closer it got to leaving day, the more I was having second thoughts, however as I had told everyone I was doing this, I didn’t want to seem a coward and back out.

 

In my travel notebook for the trip, on the front page I copied out the below, and after the first few days in my tent in Norway only I remained.

 

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

For that, and hundreds of other reasons, Dune is on this list.


 

Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh (1945)

  • First read: 14yrs old
  • Version: hardback library copy

 

How to describe such a wide canvas of a story. The first time I read it I was captured by the decadence of the freedoms and wealth, it wasn’t until subsequent rereads and life that I could start to understand that we can all be trapped and spend lives searching for something that is maybe a ghost. I have been lucky in that don’t believe in ghosts, so never fell pray to a Brideshead or a religion.. but while I can not out myself in Charles’ shoes completely, I am content to borrow them from time to time.

 

This passage (Book I. Et in Arcadia ego Chapter One) is one of many favourites that are heavy with memories..

 

“I have been here before,” I said; I had been there before; first with Sebastian more than twenty years ago on a cloudless day in June, when the ditches were white with fool’s-parsley and meadowsweet and the air heavy with all the scents of summer; it was a day of peculiar splendour, such as our climate affords once or twice a year, when leaf and flower and bird and sun-lit stone and shadow seem all to proclaim the glory of God; and though I had been there so often, in so many moods, it was to that first visit that my heart returned on this, my latest.

That day, too, I had come not knowing my destination. 


Non Fiction:

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (1985)

  • First read: 17yrs old
  • Version: Purchased paperback copy

Being a preteen in the 70’s where the threat of nuclear war was not that far from reality, its not really surprising I ended up interested in the history of the nuclear bomb, and the people who worked on its creation. Obviously Oppenheimer’s quote of himself “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” was the first thing that caught my attention. How could it not – I mean, you’ve read my previous favourites above LOL.

 

However, it was one of Oppenheimer’s colleagues that stood out for me, and after he was involved in the Challenger hearings panel I decided to investigate his work and life further. Now I was not a fan of physics or chemistry in school.. it was badly taught and I just didn’t get it. I loved mathematics though, so if I’d have had a different set of teachers maybe I’d have taken to Physics more. Later in life I’ve come to appreciate physics and how it relates to the real world a lot more, and am quite happy to sit through YouTube lectures in all sorts of subjects that back in school I’d switch off in boredom,

 

This book is collection of his memories of Feynman’s personal and working life, and what a life he had. A fascinating and unique character, who I’d have at my ‘dream dinner party’ any day.

 

If you want a taste of who this man was, check out his Letter to Arline – read for Letters Live here

 

I think it’s his curiosity, the absolute joy in finding things out, was present in everything he did.. whether constructing formulas for the atomic bomb, or safe cracking, or playing the bongos. He needed to know how things worked, and coupled with a great gift of storytelling and you have a fascinating read.

 

This book, my general fascination with all things nuclear, and the Chernobyl disaster (1986) provided the impetus for my dissertation in college and a likely entry on a government ‘list’ back in the late 80’s 🙂


The Big Short – Michael Lewis (2010)

  • First read: as an adult
  • Version: Purchased paperback copy

While I’ve spent my working life in IT, my fist academic love was Economics, and more specifically Macro Economics and how it relates to Market forces: “the actions of buyers and sellers that cause the prices of goods and services to change without being controlled by the government”. Joining the EEC, the creation of the Euro, the Global Financial Crisis, all fascinating from an economic perspective.

 

Unfortunately these days it also consists too much of money grubbing politicians and fake news and stupid people pushing decisions. But if you want to learn about the mid 2000s banking crisis that brought the financial world to the brink, this is an excellent read.

 

And if you can’t face the book, the film is pretty decent too 🙂

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