Wednesday, September 10, 2014

10 books - Go!

In much the same way as the Art Meme circulated on Facebook (that I wrote about here), I recently saw a Book Meme that, as a book lover, really appealed to me. Essentially, the instructions were to list 10 books that had stuck with you. You weren't required to think too deeply, just off the top of your head. I mentally started coming up with my 10 books and thought I'd expand a little on them here.

So, in no particular order, and certainly not a highfaluting list, I present the books that came to mind:

Are you there God? It's me, Margaret. by Judy Blume

I first read this as a 10 or 11 year old and feel like it is almost a right of passage type book that young girls should read as they enter that strange pre-teen adolescent stage - where lots is happening with your body and hormones come into play. Friendships are important and you are sorting through feelings and emotions. When my eldest daughter was approaching puberty I bought it for her and will soon introduce it to my youngest daughter.
A little while ago I found Judy Blume on Twitter, and of course started following her. So many of her books were a part of my youth. It was wonderful to know she was still writing. I love the little tagline she has on her Twitter account as a nod to this book:

Kane & Abel by Jeffrey Archer

I always think of this book as the first grown up 'big' book that I ever read. Google helps me to know that it was 592 pages long, but I probably would have guessed more. It seemed huge at the time, when I was a youngish teen. At the time I read it I had no idea that Cain and Abel were biblical characters (no religious upbringing for me) so didn't make that connection to the title as most would do. The story of rich man and poor man and their intersecting and warring lives, set against the history of the early 20th century, captured my attention, and I know I went on to read the sequel, The Prodigal Daughter, too.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

A very dear friend, who is a dog lover recommended this book to me. We had not long adopted our own golden retriever and she thought I might enjoy the book. What an understatement. I loved it. A unique, told through the eyes of the dog, story that had me enthralled throughout the journey of joys and sorrows. I looked at my own dog differently after reading it. And I don't think Enzo was a golden retriever necessarily, but the cover picture certainly looks like he is.

Outlander / Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon

I've already gushed quite a bit about this book in a separate post here but had to include it in this list. I think of it as Outlander now but when I first read it, it was Cross Stitch. This is a book, and a series, that stays with you. I find myself thinking about the characters frequently. It is such a powerful series, with such rich characters. There is so much history cleverly interwoven. I read recently that Diana Gabaldon wanted to write about characters who have a 50 year relationship and that spoke to me. How lovely, to think that  a series is built around the lives of two key characters who celebrate a long marriage and ongoing love and passion. It will take an amazing book to knock this one off as my 'All time favourite book'.

Tandia by Bryce Courtenay

I knew I had to include a Bryce Courtenay book in this list. For many years he would release a book a year, usually in time for Christmas and I would receive it as a gift. I was a total fan, writing to him and gushing all over the letter about how much I loved his books. When I went to a literary dinner to hear him talk and then meet him to have my book signed, he inscribed one 'From your man, Bryce Courtenay' which was a play on the fact that my husband always referred to him as 'Your man'. So when I sat down to think about which book I would include in this list, it came down to two, Tandia, which I've chosen, and April Fool's Day, which was a really wonderful book, and educated me so much about AIDS and the way those with it were treated, back when there was so much fear and innuendo. I chose Tandia though, which is the sequel to The Power of One. I distinctly remember reading it  when I was commuting on the train and crying unabashedly through some of the brutal and heartbreaking scenes. I just couldn't stop reading, tears or not, this story written against the backdrop of South African apartheid.

My Brother Jack by George Johnston

Seems so odd to think a book I HAD TO read is on this list. This was my year 12 English text and I really enjoyed it. I still have my copy with all of the annotations I made throughout it. I must re-read it again. I remember it as an important piece of writing about 20th century Australian history, and relationships, and the way Australians view themselves. I don't remember it as a chore to study this book and my HSC results for English were quite good so I suspect I did okay responding to essay questions about it.


Oh! the places you'll go by Dr Seuss

It wasn't that long ago that I learned that this was the last book written by Dr Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) and what a gift he left as his final piece of work. I love it as a book of hope and inspiration, filled with lines of whimsical wisdom. “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go...” When I completed my studies to be a primary school teacher recently we had a last day gathering of our cohort. I had collected $10 from everyone as a contribution toward a secret gift for themselves. At the appointed time I sat at the front of the room and read this book to our group of new teachers. "Congratulations. Today is your day"..."You'll get mixed up, of course, as you already know"  It realistic suggests that it might not be perfect smooth sailing but you can make it happen... "Today is your day... Your mountain is waiting" I then gave everyone a copy of the book and we signed messages to each other in the books. The message I wrote to my peers was "100 years from now, it won't matter how much money you had, what your house was like, or what kind of car you drove, but the world will be a better place because you made a difference in the life of a child."

Uncle Bert's Diary by Herbert F.G. Lefevre

This one is totally biased and nepotistic. I've spent a huge amount of time these past few years, and especially these past few months, typing out my Great Uncle Bert's world war 1 diary. You can read it here. I first read this diary in 1989 when I was studying a a subject at uni called 'Australians at War'. I then wrote an essay about 'mateship', which, as a word has modern origins. Back in the first world war they referred to each other as 'pals' rather than 'mates', but word usage evolves I guess. My lecturer gave me a 'First' for the essay, which I think these days is a High Distinction. But enough about me. This diary is remarkable. It is a detailed, daily account of Bert's war experience, from enlistment, through training, travel across the seas, time in Egypt, Italy and England and then on the front line in France. His writing is awesome and as his great niece I am incredibly proud, and now honoured, to be bringing it to a wider audience. I hope to shortly be finished typing so I can send it to print. If you want the link to the start of the diary, you can click here. If you'd like to buy a copy of the printed version message me here.

The Wave by Morton Rhue

Another book from my school years that I HAD TO read for English, or perhaps for Social Studies. This book absolutely fascinated me and I recently read it again. It is such a thought provoking book and as a fictionalisation of a real class experiment it demonstrates how people can become indoctrinated. It has powerful messages of bullying, leadership, peer pressure, family and individual vs community. This is a book that really makes you think and reflect. The fact that so few of the students were able to see the dangers of what was occurring in the school is quite frighteningly symbolic of the larger narrative that the author is trying to demonstrate about how The Nazi's were able to rise to power in the 1930s.

The Scrapbook: a novel of friendship and love by Peggy B Baker

This is my easy read book for the list. For ten years I was a Creative Memories consultant. Creative Memories has gone by the wayside now, but during the early 2000s it was at the forefront of the scrapbooking industry and introduced many, many people, mostly women, to scrapbooking. From the minute I was introduced to scrapbooking I knew it was for me. I love photos, I love stories, I love craft. For me, being able to integrate all three in one hobby was a dream come true. I was immersed in it. I made dozens of albums for my family and as gifts for special people in my life. A US friend met this author and had her sign her book and sent it to me as a gift. This book truly is about friendship and love. It's simply told, with scrapbooking as a backdrop to the story. I purchased several copies of the book to gift to friends and family, who, like me, love reading and scrapbooking. As the back blurb states, "Scrapbooks tell the stories about our girlsfriends, our children, our parents, our boyfriends, and our husbands. This novel celebrates the art of scrapbooking and our memories of those who have touched our lives."

So, there you have it. My list of 10 books. Please share yours. I love a good book recommendation and I'm curious about the story behind people's book choices. Since I started writing this post I've come up with more books I could have included, so, I suspect if I did it again, my list might be different, but here it is for this moment in time.

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