Gertrude’s Diary #91 – Books I Have Loved

Reading is such an intensely personal experience, it seems crazy to try and recommend books to anyone.  But what I hope to convey here is that stories are like long-lasting psychoactive drugs: they alter the make-up of our imagination and give us access to unexpected insights.  Or they can make us completely self-absorbed and unsuited to any kind of useful employment.  Jackie Collins fans I mean you.

  1. Ursula le Guin:  A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tehanu, Tales from Earthsea, The Other Wind.
    I hate to top this list with titles that are often regarded as “teen-fiction” and “fantasy”.  I mean, people might stop taking me seriously.  But in my defence: I’ve read fantasy books and they tend to be overblown and tedious.  I’ve read teen-fiction and it is generally distinguished by superficial plot and predictable narrative.  In contrast, the Earthsea series is compassionate and delicately wrought, effortlessly unpacking dense philosophical concepts into the vivid and utterly memorable language of story.  The elements of fantasy are not belaboured, but rather are so skillfully incorporated that magic is simply a natural and unremarkable tool with which to examine the workings of power and the nature of good and evil, identity and difference.  Five stars.
  2. Richard Adams, Watership Down.
    Skillful writing and the author’s obvious love for and knowledge of natural history makes this work a pleasure to read.  Remarkably fast-paced and absorbing, Watership Down also conveys to the reader some very important lessons:  good leadership requires above all things, humility;  the qualities of every individual – no matter how diverse or difficult to deal with – are required for the success of the whole; the exercise of Might will never equal Right, and often leads to Wrong; and finally, rabbits have their own mythology and they can talk!
  3. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
    Another book sometimes received as children’s literature – chiefly because the main protaganists are children – Harper Lee turns the cold, hard light of innocent curiousity on hypocrisy and cruelty.  The harshness of the subject matter is leavened by an immaculate evocation of the joy and passions of childhood.  The setting of Alabama in the 1930’s, with it’s quaint language and slow-moving poverty, is also sufficiently removed to be an historical curiousity, although it can also be bemusing.  For instance, I’ve never worked out what a scuppernong is.   And please don’t look it up on Wikipedia for me; I prefer for it to maintain an air of mystery.
  4. Invariably makes me laugh (warning:  empty bladder before reading):  anything by David Sedaris, and most of Bill Bryson’s work.
  5. Things to read after you’ve just watched a horror movie or something by Stanley Kubrick and want to calm your jangled nerves enough to go to sleep:  Agatha Christie or James Herriot.  It’s a choice between, “I’m dreadfully sorry but the Vicar appears to be dead” or “I’m off now to stick my arm up a cow’s arse in the Yorkshire Dales”.
  6. The Norton Anthology of Poetry.  Words, meter, rhythm, meter.  I tell you, I’ve dropped some wicked poems in that book.  Wooo hooo.  I still ain’t come down from some of those suckers.

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