A few weeks ago I wrote a post called ‘My Life in Movies‘ where I highlighted the films that have defined me through each of my life. As a companion piece – given literature is a source of entertainment, education, inspiration and strength – I now present ‘My Life in Books.
For each year since I was born, until last year, I have chosen a book that has resonated throughout my life. Not necessarily the best book of the year, but the one that would feature on a bookshelf to showcase the author’s who have inspired me, the passions that sing in my heart and a collection that speaks of who I am in my soul.
Note: I decided that the books chosen had to be first published (not re-published) in each year. These dates were sourced from memory and checked through Goodreads and Wikipedia. Thus any discrepancies will see a sternly worded email sent to these organisations for their misleading and erroneous content :)
1978 – The Folk of the Faraway Tree (Enid Blyton)
As I recently wrote about on The Voice of our Song, Enid Blyton played a huge part in my early years of literary exploration. My parents would read me the Famous Five series and the Faraway Tree series throughout my childhood, and this series in particular holds a special place in my heart.
1979 – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
Although I’ve never been the biggest Douglas Adams fan (although I loved some of his Doctor Who work) few could deny the brilliance of this book. I first read it whilst working a quiet winter shift at a backpacker hostel in Inverness and indulged in the rest of the series over subsequent quiet nights.
1980 – Still Life with Woodpecker (Tim Robbins)
Just missing out: A Confederacy of Dunces (John Kennedy Toole); The Six Lives of Fankle the Cat (George Mackay Brown)
This book was one of many fantastic books I read whilst backpacking in Canada. Picked up in a second-hand store I read it whilst traversing the wilds of the Rocky Mountains and have adored his writing ever since.
1981 – The Hotel New Hampshire (John Irving)
Just missing out: Little Big (John Crowley); Lanark (Alasdair Gray)
The Hotel New Hampshire is number three in my top five books of all time. I read it on a train between Edmonton and Toronto after being recommended it by a friend whom I’d met in Canada. Although others prefer Owen Meany, this book is almost literary perfection for me, and one I miss beyond measure.
I feel sad that I couldn’t include one of the great classics of the urban fantasy genre or a masterpiece of Scottish literature for this year, but my affection and memories associated with Irving’s book easily outweighs my love of the other two.
1982 – The House of the Spirits (Isabelle Allende)
I first read this in 2007 in between bouts of novel-writing, self-harm and suicidal ideation. Whenever I read it I think of that period and all associated with it. Allende is a beautiful writer and I admire her tremendously.
1983 – The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty (Anne Rice writing as A. N. Roquelaure)
Although several great books were written this year, my pick is this monumental work in mainstream erotica. This subversive take on the Sleeping Beauty tale is not for everyone, but is deliciously written, and far steamier than 50 Shades of Grey. It wouldn’t surprise me given the latter’s popularity if this trilogy was re-released in the near future.
1984 – The Wasp Factory
Just missing out: Boy; Tales of Childhood (Roald Dahl); Mythago Wood (Robert Holdstock)
This is arguably one of the greatest debut novels of all time. I first read it in 1999 whilst travelling around Scotland for a week-long holiday and it will forever remind me of Kyleakin, Inverness and the birth of my love for this talented Scottish author.
1985 – Quest for a Kelpie (Frances Mary Hendry)
My favourite book of all time. Period.
Oooo, controversial…is this graphic novel literature? Yes. It is. So if you haven’t read it, get over your issues and allow yourself to enjoy one of the greatest pieces of writing of the 1980s.
1987 – Obernewtyn (Isobelle Carmody)
My girlfriend introduced me to the Obernewtyn Chronicles in 2006. After visiting a naturopath I roamed a second-hand book store whilst waiting for a train and found a copy of this book just asking to be purchased. I began reading it on the train home and over the coming months explored the rest of this magnificent fantasy series.
1988 – Matilda (Roald Dahl)
Enid Blyton and Quest for a Kelpie aside, this book defines my childhood. I kept – and worshipped – my first edition hardback of this book for decades and read it dozens of times in that period.
1989 – A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
Just missing out: And the Ass Saw the Angel (Nick Cave)
Although not as high on my list of great books as The Hotel New Hampshire, this was the first John Irving book I read, and as it served as my introduction to this magnificent author just pips the greatness of Nick Cave to the post.
1990 – Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton)
A book I, like many, read following the 1993 Spielberg film. It was one of the first books to remind me that adaptations will rarely, if ever, be as good as the source material.
1991 – Cloudstreet (Tim Winton)
Following my arrival in Australia I set about exploring the world of Australian literature. This was one of several books I read during that period (Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude and Praise being two others).
1992 – The Crow Road (Iain Banks)
Just missing out: The Good Faerie’s of New York (Martin Millar); Praise (Andrew McGahan);Vox (Nicolson Baker)
My favourite Iain Banks novel, bar none. From the opening sentence to the last words I relished every chapter, page and paragraph of this book. It easily earns it’s spot as number four on my list of top five books of all time.
1993 – Trainspotting (Irvine Welsh)
Although not a tremendous fan of the movie I admire Welsh as a writer for his supreme talent of characterization, plotting and dialect. Certainly, his use of the Scottish vernacular is a barrier for some, but for someone who gets homesick, dipping into a Welsh novel is enough to fill the void.
Number three on my top five books of all time. There have been more successful De Lint novels and better plotted ones, but this was the first of his I read, and protected my 50p copy for nearly ten years before having to abandon it during my first few months homeless.
1995 – Microserfs (Douglas Coupland)
Just missing out: High Fidelity (Nick Hornby); Icefields (Thomas Wharton); Sabriel (Garth Nix)
It took me nearly fifteen years from its publication date to read this novel. Through the entire night it took me to whizz through the book I kept wondering why it had taken me so long.
1996 – Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace)
Just missing out: Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman); Behind the Scenes at the Museum (Kate Atkinson)
Impenetrable for some, a waste of time for others, I am firmly in the ‘wow’ camp when it comes to this work.
1997 – The House of Sleep (Jonathan Coe)
Just missing out: Bleeding London (Geoff Nicolson)
I remember reading this over a few shifts at a backpacker hostel in early 2003. Having never (and still never) read What a Carve Up! I wasn’t sure quite what to expect when I picked it up. The blurb lured me in, and Coe’s beautiful prose kept me on tenterhooks throughout. A marvelous book that I’ve been keeping my eye out for over the last few years.
1998 – Round Ireland with a Fridge (Tony Hawke)
Just missing out: I Know This Much Is True (Wally Lamb); Flesh Guitar (Geoff Nicholson)
My aunt gave me this book as a gift the week before I was departing for my backpacking odyssey. It was the first book I read during that monumental time of my life and the first book I ‘released’ into the wild. Ever since I left it in a hostel with a short message to read it and pass it I check every copy I see in bookshops and charity shops to see if it has come back to me. It hasn’t yet, but I hold out hope it will one day.
1999 – Northern Lights: A Poet’s Sources (George Mackay Brown)
Just missing out: The Amber Spyglass (Philip Pullman); The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear (Walter Moers)
A collection of work from the great George Mackay Brown, published posthumously, and number five in my top five books of all time.
A book I read in a single day in 2003 whilst stressed, anxious and needing an escape. A perfect read.
2001 – Salamander (Thomas Wharton)
Just missing out: Life of Pi (Yann Martel); American Gods (Neil Gaiman)
My introduction to Thomas Wharton came with the recommendation of Icefields whilst I was backpacking. Although I adored that book, this, had me captivated from beginning to end. An ingenious, inspiring and inventive quest that is criminally underrated and not nearly as famous as it should be.
2002 – The Crimson Petal and the White (Michael Faber)
Just missing out: Swim the Moon (Paul Brandon)
Before coming to Australia I took a week-long tour of Scotland to say ‘farewell’. During that trip I went to the launch of this book at Hootenanny’s in Inverness. There, I received a signed copy, which to the best of my knowledge, still resides in a box in my parent’s house.
2003 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon)
Just missing out: Join Me! (Danny Wallace)
Two books that I read during difficult times of my life; Haddon’s, after being forced to leave Melbourne courtesy of an abusive relationship, Wallace’s during the uneven days where I was balanced over the abyss of breakdown.
2004 – Inverness: A History (James Miller)
Just missing out: The Line of Beauty (Alan Hollinghurst); Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (Susannah Clarke)
The one and only non-fiction book on this list. However much The Line of Beauty reminds me of a relaxing week in Port Fairy, however much Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell reminds me of curling up next to the woman I loved, Inverness: A History was a source of great inspiration and assistance during the writing of The Ghosts that Haunt Me.
2005 – Anansi Boys (Neil Gaiman)
I purchased this book the day of its Australian release and read it on a holiday in Port Fairy, thus joining the long list of books that remind me of that beautiful town. Others include: The Line of Beauty, Fermata and Join Me.
2006 – The Stornoway Way (Kevin MacNeil)
Just missing out: Yes Man (Danny Wallace); Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Marisha Pessl); Only Revolutions (Mark L. Danielewski); jPod (Douglas Coupland)
Although cheating, this is joint number two in my top five books of all time. McNeil’s use of language, place and dialect is second to none and although some have criticized the ending’s change in tone and view (I concur, to a degree), the remainder of the novel is some of the best writing I’ve ever read.
2007 – Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher)
Just missing out: The Mark (Jason Pinter)
This is the other joint number two in my top five books of all time. I read this in October 2009 after becoming homeless and cherished every syllable. The message is important, the writing outstanding. I firmly believe this book should be studied throughout High School as both an example of quality literature and a lesson in the importance of mental health and suicide prevention.
2008 – Kieron Smith, Boy (James Kelman)
Just missing out: Wavesong (Isobelle Carmody)
It’s James Kelman. I wrote about him here. Kieron Smith, Boy is tour-de-force from a writer at the height of his power.
2009 – Jasper Jones (Craig Silvey)
I only finished reading this yesterday. After returning it to the library I was perusing the shelves for something to read, saw a different edition of this book, and decided to check it out because I needed to read it again. It’s that good.
2010 – A Visit from the Goon Squad (Jennifer Egan)
Just missing out: Room (Emma Donoghue)
A book I had read snippets about for a long time before finally, courtesy of my library, getting the chance to read it recently. Although some have criticized it, I have nothing but praise for this beautiful book. Highly recommended.
2011 – 11/22/63 (Stephen King)
Although not the world’s greatest Stephen King fan I realize I haven’t read all that many books from last year. This book combined two of my interests – time travel and JFK – into a wonderful, if overlong, story.