Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Someone recently asked me what my favourite books were - a loaded question to say the least!
I think I replied: 'anything by Cormac McCarthy', an offhand response that saved me having to think too much...or decide.

But think I did, sitting in front of my book shelves one morning, scanning titles and authors and remembering the feelings each instilled in me. Quickly, I whittled the pile down to around 30...and then stalled. What was I basing my selections on? And how many could I choose?
I stuck my nose into each book in turn, reading a few passages to try to recall why I liked the writing so much. Hours passed, and the pile lessened by only by a few. Procrastination seemed the best from of progression, so I went to turn the coffee machine on.
Eventually I came up with a plan. Imagining a desert island scenario, I could only take 10 books and no more than one by each author.

Number One was easy: 'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy. It was my first McCarthy novel, and initially only meant to be a few pages before bed. Of course I read it in one sitting, and lay there in the dark afterwards, my brain and emotions alive with the characters and images and possibilities McCarthy created. Two days later I read it again just to make sure I hadn't dreamt the whole thing.
'The Road' led me to reading, and re-reading, the rest of McCarthy's books. And if I allowed myself more than one of his titles in this selection, then 'All The Pretty Horses' would definitely be there, possibly along with 'Blood Meridian', 'No Country For Old Men' and 'Cities Of The Plain'. Suffice to say, I'm a McCarthy groupie.

Number Two: 'Feeding The Rat' by Al Alvarez. This is a simple yet revealing story of an amazing man, and Alvarez applies one of his writing mottos 'less is more' with style and grace. A beautiful read. One of Alvarez's other books, 'The Writer's Voice', keeps me up at nights.

Number Three: 'Fugitive Pieces' by Anne Michaels. Normally I'm only susceptible to crying at soppy movies, but this opened the floodgates also. So much emotion packed into each paragraph that I became an instant Michaels fan and went in search of her poetry.

Number Four: 'Girl In Landscape' by Jonathan Lethem. My favourite Lethem novel used to be 'The Fortress Of Solitude', but I think 'Girl in Landscape' pips it. I never thought science fiction would make my top ten, but this is an understated read that lets you fill in the blanks of the alien landscape with your own imagination.

Number Five: 'A Soldier Of The Great War' by Mark Helprin. The life story of Alessandro Giuliani is memorable and moving, written in the style that sweeping novels should be written.

From here, my palms got a little sweaty. I didn't want to limit myself to only five more books. There were too many titles to leave out. So I decided to list a 'floating five' that could, and will, change depending on the day, weather, tide, strength of coffee, etc....
Feel free to shoot down my selections, but you have to state yours first.

'The True Deceiver' by Tove Jansson
'Black Sun' by Edward Abbey
'Caught Inside' by Daniel Duane
'The Solitude of Thomas Cave' by Georgina Harding
'Into The Wild' by Jon Krakauer

Yep...that'll do for starters.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating selection Paul, and partly because I haven't read most of them. That's the charm of lists like this - they open up new possibilities. And even though I don't really climb, I do enjoy reading climbing books, so I'll hunt out Al Alvarez (and yours too!

    I haven't got time to suggest 10 of my own, but here are a few:

    "Dirt Music" by Tim Winton is my favourite Aussie novel. He's a brilliant observer of characters on the edge. Even though I've never been to WA, his evocation of it put the Kimberley close to the top of places I want to go.

    "Waterlog" by Roger Deakin. A charming, poignant, acutely observed, and as disarmingly eccentric book - rather like the author himself. Nominally it's about swimming across Britain, but is about so much more.

    "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" by Annie Dillard. This is a classic of nature writing, full of fascination and insight about people as much as nature. Her other books, incl. "An American Childhood" and "Teaching a Stone to Talk", are also wonderful.

    That's enough for now. Thanks for your blog!