All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…

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Booker Award: My top five books of all time!

Even though I’ve been too dragged down by the whirlpool of depression to post recently, I was nominated for a blogging award by Heather of the wonderful blog BitsnBooks.

This made me smile – who wouldn’t if they won an award – so a hearty thank you :)

The rules of this award are simple:

1.  Nominate other blogs, as many as you want but 5-10 is always a good suggestion.  Don’t forget to let your recipients know.

2.  Post the Booker Award picture.

3.  Share your top 5 books of all time

As I wrote in my previous post, I am a little incoherent at the moment, but I’ll do my best. Despite this incoherency, I do know that my top five books haven’t changed since 2009. In fact, three of them have been in the list for over a decade – one, for twice that time!

Enjoy, and if you haven’t read them, perhaps you should. Maybe you’ll love them as much as I do.

My Top 5 Books of All Time

1. Quest for a Kelpie (Frances Hendry)

“I sat, and listened, and smiled, and said little, and thought my own thoughts. It could just be an old woman’s fancy that the men seemed pompous and weak, the boys stupid and thoughtless, and the women vain, shrill and useless, in comparison with the folk of my youth; but I think not. Perhaps it is simply that they have never known, any of them, real hardship, which makes folk mature,”

When I was eight I played the recorder as part of my school’s recorder troupe. What few realized was that my decision to be part of this group had little to do with my love of this magnificent wind instrument and more to do with the fact I was the only boy in the group; and a ratio of eight girls to one boy is pretty awesome :p

In addition to using the recorder to entice beautiful girls with my cheeky magnetism I was also interested in books; Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and the Beano being my authors of choice. One afternoon my teacher, Miss Atkinson, began reading us a novel with a rather odd title. I had no idea what a Kelpie was and a quest was something Knights embarked on, not nine-year old lasses from fishing villages.

Over the course of the several days Miss Atkinson read this book to us, I became so enchanted by the writing, characters and period that I did not want it to end. But, as with all books, it did. So, I took my recorder clad self to the local library and borrowed the book so I could relive the adventure in my own time. I read it in my bedroom. I read it in on the Moss. I read it in my Aunt’s house. I read it so many times I memorized the book so that when I, finally, returned it to the library I was able to recall it whenever I desired.

When I was eighteen I ran away from home. It had been ten years since I’d read Quest for a Kelpie but my love of the book had never left my mind. One morning, after a particularly strange night in Stirling, I was browsing a charity shop whilst waiting for a train to Edinburgh. Sitting in the middle of a shelf was a small paperback copy of this much-loved childhood tome and all they were asking for it was a measly 50 pence.

The short train ride to Edinburgh was spent lost in the world I had loved so much growing up. As soon as I arrived in Edinburgh, I sat in the Princes Street gardens and finished the book before immediately starting it again that night.

This dog-eared, much read copy remained in my position for over ten years. Everywhere I went – Scotland, Belgium, Canada, emigrating to Australia – I made sure it came with me. Whenever depression took hold I would throw myself back into it to remind myself of the cheeky recorder player (pun intended) I once was.

2. Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher)

“You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything. . . affects everything.”

I first read this book in October 2009. After months of being homeless I had lost all hope of having a future and my mind was skipping around the edges of the abyss.

I read it in one sitting under a street lamp in the Kings Domain, interrupted only once by an old man out on a walk who seemed taken aback that a homeless person was reading a novel rather than shooting up or downing alcohol.

The moment I finished it I knew it should be required reading for everyone. It should be introduced into the school curriculum and studied at length. On one hand a touching account of youth, on the other an important treatise on depression and the indicators of suicidal ideation.

I have never forgotten the above quote, important words we should all live by. Even the most innocuous and random of actions can have devastating consequences on someone’s life.

I should know.

3. Memory and Dream (Charles de Lint)

“I finally figured out that I’m solitary by nature, but at the same time I know so many people; so many people think they own a piece of me. They shift and move under my skin, like a parade of memories that simply won’t go away. It doesn’t matter where I am, or how alone–I always have such a crowded head.”

Charles De Lint; my favourite author of all time, was introduced to me by a once great friend who has now faded into the mists of time. She told me of him one night over wine and cigarettes in a backpacker hostel and for months I kept a keen eye out for his books in every bookstore I visited.

Eventually, I found a copy of this book in a charity shop in Inverness. Again, a mere fifty pence provided me with a book I have long-held dear to my heart.

De Lint has inspired me more than any other writer in history. The genre he pioneers, Urban Fantasy, is the setting of 80% of my fictional writing and I have read all the work he had published up to 2009.

An event I have never overcome following my breakdown was selling my De Lint collection – years of scouring second-hand book stores and eshops – lost to the mayhem of mental health.

4. The Stornoway Way (Kevin MacNeil)

“I hope she’s having stupendous dreams, maybe of diamond ballgowns and glittering clifftop castles and golden tigresses thundering along naked beaches, and maybe she’s swimming whitely through the sky on a winged horse, surveying her pastel-tranquil world and there are pink roses like innocent kisses in her silken hair and the air all around her wherever she goes is exactly the temperature of a wraparound hug. Bless her. I’m in love.”

I can’t read this book anymore.

It is a trigger.

I read it in the latter months of 2006, as I was preparing to embark on my tertiary education journey, as I was solidifying my plans for the future, as I was feeling more confident and self-assured than I’d ever felt, as I was falling in love with a beautiful kind-hearted woman who turned out to be the sociopathic narcissist whose abuse would be the catalyst for my life’s destruction.

I want to read this book again.

But I can’t.

I think it would tip me over the edge.

Books I love, books I adore, books that enter my top five, I guard with an intensity that is hard to describe. In the months following my breakdown I knew, as with my De Lint collection, that I would end up selling my copy of this book for rent or medical expenses. I couldn’t bear the thought that this novel – which contains some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read – would end its life gathering dust on the shelf of a second-hand book store, so I gave it to a friend as a birthday present.

Where it is now, I have no idea, hopefully as with the other books on this list, it has found a loving home.

5. The Hotel New Hampshire (John Irving)

“Keep passing the open windows,”

Cars stress me. Buses scare me. Aeroplanes freak me. Trains…trains are another matter entirely. I love trains. I love the sound, the movement, the fact you have an understanding of scale and distance. Throughout my life, there have only been a handful of train journey’s I’ve ever taken that have stressed me out.

  1. A trip from Glasgow to Oban in 1999; the toilet was out-of-order and I desperately needed to go for nearly three hours. VERY uncomfortable.
  2. A trip from Glasgow to Fort William in 2008; a blissful time with Samantha saw my anxiety rising after saying farewell at Queen Street, cue panic attack.
  3. A trip from Edmonton to Toronto in 2000; after a week of pure happiness in the Rocky Mountains I was missing my new friend and wished to be heading west, not east.

What alleviated the frustration of that long trip across the prairies was one of three books I had picked up in a second-hand book shop prior to the journey. I’d read Irving before (the brilliant Owen Meany) but my newly made friend had recommended The Hotel New Hampshire and I always read recommendations from people I respect.

I read it in one day – not surprising, given I was trapped on a train. I re-read it almost immediately. I fell in love with Fran and Lily and Egg. I relished Irving’s prose and witty dialogue and keep passing the open windows became a mantra of sorts.

Like all other books on this list it is not merely a brilliant book, but a book that reminds me of a specific time and place. Of a state of mind that I have never been able to return to.

Quest for a Kelpie; the innocence and excitement of youth.

Thirteen Reasons Why; the faint glimmer of hope amidst a desolate, empty existence.

Memory and Dream; the joy of late night conversations with long ago friends.

The Stornoway Way; embarking on a new chapter of my life.

The Hotel New Hampshire; a period that was probably the closest I’ve ever come to pure happiness.

Today, every library, bookstore or charity shop I visit sees me looking for this book. I find copies of Widow for One Year, Garp, Owen Meany, The Fourth Hand, Cider House…but never this. Not once, in five years, have I found a copy of this book.

One day I will, and when I do, I will smile with pure happiness before opening the cover.

My Nominations

With my depression being as severe as it has been lately it is not just writing blogs that I’ve had trouble with, but reading them also. I feel bad about this, but hope to begin reading my favourite blogs again in good time.

1. The Wrong Road Home

2. Fringewalk

3. Story Treasury

4. Buckwheatsrisk

5. Fish of Gold

6. Writer’s Block

Until next time :)