Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Ten Favourite Novels (2)


Mention of ‘The Magic Pudding’ in List 1 prompted thought about ten influential children’s books, books that had an impact at the time, and still do.

Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass (Lewis Carroll): The main character is pure reason meeting the absurdity of the social world, making them adult books written to amuse, but usually confuse, children.

We are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy (Maurice Sendak): All of his books are a gift, but I especially like this one because it dares to deal head-on with homelessness and the mistreatment of children, and how when we learn compassion things change.

The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame): A microcosm of Edwardian England, though I have wanted to write in heroic couplets a sequel where they all end up on the Western Front: Toad as an irresponsible idiot general, Ratty as a poetry-spouting captain, Mole as the private who goes ‘over the top’, and Badger as the army chaplain, epitome of English conscience, who wishes they’d all just stayed home.

The Young Visiters (Daisy Ashford): The title is correct, as is the spelling throughout this artless masterpiece written by a nine-year-old child for adults.

Winnie-the-Pooh (A.A. Milne): Pooh Sticks predates Samuel Beckett in making something out of next to nothing, while the geography of the ‘expotition’ to the North Pole simulates how we imagine the rest of the world without having to go there.

The Castafiore Emerald (Hergé): The unique Tintin story where the plot is based on an enigma rather than an adventure, as much ado about nothing is only resolved in the final frame on the last page.

Eloise (Kay Thompson): The antithesis of the ‘poor little rich kid’, Eloise makes innocent havoc wherever she goes, though mainly on her stamping ground of the Plaza Hotel NYC, which she shares with her “rawther marvellous” English Nanny.

Comet in Moominland (Tove Jansson): When we read books to our children we experience a second childhood, as happened for me reading these fantastical stories to my daughter, full of magic and the Northern Lights.

The Tailor of Gloucester (Beatrix Potter): My childhood copies of her books have fallen apart from enthusiasm and this one, like all her books a story of the actions of grace, is no exception.

The ‘Bulldog’ books (Arthur Catherall): Ripping yarns about a tugboat in the South China Sea that took on pirates, swindlers, smugglers &c., that I borrowed madly one after the other when I was about ten from the Moorabbin Public Library, Jasper Road, Bentleigh.


Sunday, 7 September 2014

Ten Favourite Novels (1)


A recent local Facebook thread invites us to list ten favourite novels. Novels are not my main reading and I have no system for how to read novels. However, here are ten novels I have read at times in my life when they made a significant impact. Each has a one sentence comment. The list does not even begin to describe my passion for Italian literature, let alone what has come out of say England or the United States since Samuel Johnson. I will return for a second or third list anon.

Australia
The Magic Pudding (Norman Lindsay): My grandmother gave me this book when I was six, its rumbustious Ballarat-types fighting over a scrumptious possession as though someone (boat people?) would take it from them.
The Vivisector (Patrick White): Sometimes we find the book that meets a need, as in my 20s I read this sprawling story of a Sydney painter, which spoke in infinite and caring detail of my own country.

Russia
Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy): From the opening scenes at the ice rink to the end at the railway line, he is unstoppable as he enlarges our lives with his imaginative world.
The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoevsky): This is a book for grown-ups, fraught by the reality of evil and leavened by the beauty of holy relationship.

Bohemia
The Trial (Franz Kafka): I read this at school, my first encounter with a novel that was not there to entertain, that could be read at the same time as realism, satire, psychodrama, and parable.
Too Loud a Solitude (Bohumil Hrabal): The shortest novel in the list, about a man who works in a paper pulp factory and who, when not drinking pilsener, reads Lao-Tze &c., which he rescues from pulp oblivion – salutary for a librarian!

Ireland
Ulysses (James Joyce): The author claimed “on my word as a gentleman” there is not a serious word in it; in my view, the greatest comic novel in English.
Finnegans Wake (James Joyce): The most terrifying verbal object in world literature, by turns entrancing and unreadable, sometimes within the same minute.

France
Gargantua and Pantagruel (François Rabelais): No one knows who wrote the first novel, but this is one of them, as it shows how the vibrancy of medieval life knows no bounds except for mortality and the love of Christ.
Life, a User’s Manual (Georges Perec): Although I am a huge fan of Italo Calvino, the greatest novel to come from the Oulipos is about the contiguous lives of residents of a Parisian apartment block, 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier, an address that does not exist in reality.