Friday, 2 August 2013



I usually only read a book once. However, there are some notable exceptions to this general rule. I can nominate a bunch of books that, not only have I read several or more times during my life, but also could happily pick them up again right now for a re-read.

   Interestingly, all of these books were first read by me before I was 19 years of age. Let me tell you all about them.

1.    The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

Published in 1908, it’s considered a classic of children’s literature. Personally I think it’s a story for everyone. So, if you haven’t read it already, do yourself a favour and give it a try. Indeed, in 1909, Theodore Roosevelt, then US President, wrote to Grahame to tell him that he had “read it and re-read it, and have come to accept the characters as old friends.” I can truly relate to that.

2.    Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

Published in the 1880s, this is considered to be one of the Great American Novels. Ernest Hemingway, although critical of the final chapters, declared, “All modern American literature comes from Huck Finn, and hailed it as “the best book we’ve had.”” I read it again a few months ago, about 50 years since my previous read and I thoroughly enjoyed it once more.

3.    Seven Years in Tibet – Heinrich Harrer

A huge seller worldwide, after it was published around 1956, this book had a profound effect on me. It revealed the fascinating and mysterious world of Tibet prior to Chinese occupation and the exciting adventures of Harrer after he’d escaped internment in a British POW camp in WWII. And his close friendship with the young Dalai Lama which endured until Harrer’s death in 2006. Much better than the Brad Pitt movie. I dare you not to read it all -  once you’ve begun it!

4.    Kon-Tiki – Thor Heyerdahl

Another “boy’s own” adventure story of a scientific nature and another best seller, it was published in 1948. Absolutely mesmerizing for readers, especially in the pre-TV age. Still a great read. I must check out the latest movie.

5.     Joe Wilson and His Mates – Henry Lawson

Quintessentially Australian, this is a book of short stories published in 1901 and written by, arguably, one of Australia’s greatest writers – Henry Lawson – the stories can make you laugh and cry. They focus on the hardships and difficulties of the times, offset by humour and mateship. My favourite short story in the book is “The Loaded Dog”. It’s about a black, overgrown pup “who was always slobbering…Most of his head was usually a red, idiotic, slobbering grin of appreciation of his own silliness. He seemed to take life, the world, his two-legged mates, and his own instinct as a huge joke.” An interesting and hilarious situation follows when the dog picks up an unattended bomb cartridge. A very, very funny story.

6.    On Our Selection – Steele Rudd (Arthur Hoey Davis)

An Australian classic revolving around an admirable family of struggling settlers trying to make a life in the unforgiving Australian bush. The book comprises 26 self-contained sketches (chapters). The stories capture the stoicism, self-deprecation, understatement and anti-authoritarianism of traditional Australian humour. An example of Australian’s cynicism towards politicians is illustrated by Rudd (not related to our incumbent Prime Minister!) from his 1908 book, Dad in Politics – “Smith, the member for our district, died one day, and we forgot all about him the next. Not that a politician is ever remembered much after he dies, but Smith had been a blind, bigoted, old Tory, and was better dead. Politicians are mostly better dead, so far as other people and their country is concerned ….” On Our Selection is highly recommended.

7.    The Naked Island – Russell Braddon

This was a coming-of-age book for me. Before reading this book I truly believed that wars were honourable and heroic, with everyone playing by the rules, and the good guys eventually beating the bad guys. This is another best-seller and was published around 1950 and tells Braddon’s story of being captured by the Japanese as a teenage soldier when Singapore fell in WWII and the horrific treatment of prisoners of war by them. It is a harrowing story of privation, courage and mateship with an under-pinning tone of bitterness towards his captors. I understand that Braddon subsequently forgave the Japanese as expressed in a later book, The End of Hate.

8.    The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway

This was Hemingway’s last major work of fiction, published in 1952. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953. A moving tale about an old fisherman and his three day battle with a large marlin and subsequently with marauding sharks. Although the book was controversially received by critics, I think it was Hemingway at his best.

9.    Catch 22 - Joseph Heller

First published in 1961 this book is a hilariously satirical take on war, and a full-frontal critique of bureaucratic operations and reasoning. It abounds with zany characters and an atmosphere of apparent logical irrationality pervades the book. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of reading this wonderful book, here is an explanation of “Catch-22”:

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.” ……Get it?

So, there you have it – my books for life.

What are yours?


(Thanks to Wikipedia for providing much of the background material)

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