Book Week 2019 is upon us and to get us into the mood, we asked some of our writers to suggest their favourite book (or two).
We all have our favourite books, from literary fiction to romance to crime, from poetry to biography. To get the ball rolling, I thought to remind readers of one of the oldest books still around, Homer’s Iliad, a fine translation of which I wrote about quite some time ago. Set during the final days of the Trojan War, the story begins with the anger of Achilles and ends with the funeral of Hector, the Trojan warrior-prince Achilles has killed and whose body he has dishonoured by dragging it behind his chariot. The Iliad is full of battles fought by strong often swaggering men and deals with themes like pride, brotherhood, fate, greed and what is morally right. It’s a powerful tale undimmed by the passage of time and the sheer stunning poetry of the telling warrants re-reading every few years.
Here are some other reading recommendations to whet your appetite this Book Week. Go on, get reading!
Janet, TBS writer from the Finally Famous Book Club
One of my favourite books is Alannah Hill’s biography Butterfly on a Pin which I’ve only recently read. I read the book first then found out that Alannah narrates the audible version, so I downloaded that as well and listened to her tell her story. What a challenging life she has had.
The book is a roller coaster as far as your emotions go – happy, sad, then happy again. I could not put it down and read it in a few days. But I do advise readers NOT to read it while pretending to be busy at work (like I did). I had tears streaming down my face as clients were walking in the door. Slightly embarrassing, but the old “stye in the eye” story worked a treat.
Leigh McGaghey, TBS writer
Don’t ask me to choose a favourite…the books I most love, choose me. They know I crave mystery, the strange murder, the windswept landscape. These books feed me puzzles, the human conundrums, the plight of the unrequited lover and the bitterness of unspoken loss. They also uplift me, and capture and calm my mercurial mind with overtures of language –graceful and ageless. One such book is Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet.
“Everything was normal and right. There were dishes in the sink and the sund of kids playing in the street and the trains passing smutty wind. Something had settled over the kitchen. Rose kept the colours inside the lines and all the patterns were proper, sensible and neat. Happiness. That’s what it was.” – Tim Winton, Cloudstreet
Why do I love it? Because I’m a nationalistic, sentimental, slave-to-the-poetry lover of Winton’s plots and prose. I love that his characters are whimsical, complex/simple, real and identifiable.
Surely I live in the same street as they do.
Sandra, TBS writer from the Finally Famous Book Club
The Land Before Avocado by Richard Glover is a book I am currently reading and enjoying. How innocent and naïve I was growing up in the 1970s. I’ve always told my children that in my day life was so much easier; however, reading this book has really opened my eyes. While I had known my childhood days were a time of racism and unfair treatment of women, it actually took a book like this to make me realise that the world today is a much better place, at least as far as acceptance goes. If you grew up in the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s then this book is a must-read.
“The implication is that the parents of the past had carefully assessed the local risks levels, then decided to build their child’s ‘resilience’ by giving them their freedom. I reckon that fanciful. The parents were just busy—most of them—with their own preoccupations. Mothers and fathers didn’t usually drive their children to sport, nor did they watch the game. You cycled to the oval, played and cycled home. Some hours later, some might think to ask, ‘Did you win?'” – Richard Glover, The Land Before Avocado
Adam Barnard, TBS writer
For me a favourite anything is fleeting, but there are some books that you just have to go back to again and again, and one such for me is The History of Mr Polly by HG Wells. I love this book because Wells wrote so alarmingly well, creating characters with depth, detail and humour, right down to the regional accents, odd mannerisms and bizarre speech impediments. I find it’s extremely easy to lose yourself in Mr Polly’s almost Dickensian world.
“Time had removed the hair from the top of his head and distributed a small dividend to the plunder in little bunches carelessly and impartially over the rest of his features…” – HG Wells, The History of Mr Polly
Mr Polly himself is something of an anti-hero, and to be honest, a bit of a dick, but the sort of dick you want to cheer on and see succeed, and he does, in his way. No spoilers here if you haven’t read it, but I suggest you do.
Janine (“Neen”), TBS writer from the Finally Famous Book Club
This Book Week, I was thinking about a favourite book and decided to go back to school to the first book I read in class that really got me hooked.
Prior to that, I think I daydreamed through the many tiresome tales we were forced to narrate.
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird took me to that place a good story takes you. I’ve always been drawn in with every read, loving the innocence of the children and their carefree adventures that turn into life-changing moments. Maybe my Dad’s recollection of his own adventures with his sister drew me to these characters. They fancied themselves as the local Scout and Gem growing up poor, carefree and fabulous.
Of course, the 1962 movie is also one of my favourite films: it’s so hauntingly beautiful. The narration is so mesmerising and Kim Stanley who plays the voice of grown-up Scout really makes you feel like you’re there standing on Boo Radley’s porch.
Alexandra Tselios, publisher of The Big Smoke
I have two favourite books (one business, one fiction): Built to Last by Jim Collins and Ward No. 6 by Anton Chekhov. My father gave me Built to Last when I was at university, and it really helped me understand what it takes to build a visionary company, with one of my favourite lines from the book being, “Visionary companies make some of their best moves by experimentation, trial and error, opportunism, and—quite literally—accident. What looks in retrospect like brilliant foresight and preplanning was often the result of ‘Let’s just try a lot of stuff and keep what works’.”
I always refer to this book as it’s not full of palatable business fluff like many popular business books these days.
Chekhov’s writing makes me feel at home, but Ward No. 6 is my favourite. At university, my lecturer for Russian Lit said it was his darkest piece, and not his best – but it was always the short story that resonated with me, a challenging read that I loved, showing the fragility of intelligence and the conflict of empathy. Despite being written in 1892, it’s still relevant when it comes to healthcare and our approach as a society to those with mental illness. In saying that, August Strindberg’s The Dance of Death is a close second competing for first place.
“Life is a vexatious trap; when a thinking man reaches maturity and attains to full consciousness he cannot help feeling that he is in a trap from which there is no escape.” – Anton Chekhov, Ward No.6
Vikki (“Babs”), TBS writer from the Finally Famous Book Club
In the lead-up to Book Week I’ve been thinking about a favourite book and decided to nominate Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin. It’s a beautifully written autobiography and such an inspiring story. Li’s life as a child in communist China, his incredible perseverance, self- discipline and ultimate success are told with feeling and honesty. It was an effortless read, and very well worth reading again.
“I had now tasted freedom, and I couldn’t lie to myself about that.” ―
I’ve read all eight of Raymond Chandler’s novels (and a few of his short stories), several times – both in English and in Greek; I’ve watched the movies; I’ve listened to the radio adaptations (again, in both languages); but if you ask me what any of the books are about, I have no idea. And I’m not only referring to The Big Sleep and its infamously confusing plot; I can’t remember any of them. And yet I keep returning to Chandler to immerse myself in his prose and atmosphere. I’m not sure if he’s received the acknowledgement he deserves for being one of the great stylists in English literature – his similes alone deserve a thesis.
“It seemed like a nice neighborhood to have bad habits in.” — Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep (Philip Marlowe, #1))
Contrary to most of the “hard-boiled” writers who prefer a dry, edgier prose, Chandler’s writing is juicy, meaty, filled with emotion that underlines the protagonist’s flawed humanity. They say that crime fiction is – at its best – a vehicle for social commentary and that’s true for Chandler’s work, in which detective Philip Marlowe is always set on a one-man battle against the city he lives in and its ecosystem of corrupt elites, lowlife criminals, femme fatales and the underworld.
He’s a lone knight trying to stay true to a code of honour that seems out of date in his world, and nowhere is all this more evident than in The Long Goodbye, which is a romantic masterpiece of false identities and false relationships. Marlowe is the only element of truth in a fake world, and it’s no wonder that the next, and final, of his adventures, Playback, sees him deciding to settle down and get married, choosing a true relationship, love and life over death and crime. In a way, Chandler’s writing is the literary equivalent to Sinatra’s singing – macho, but also human and sensitive.
A code of honour to live by.