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Book post

Okay, so back in November (ish) sabethea made a post discussing a particular list of "One Hundred Books You Must Read", and asking for other people to make their own recommendations on a similar theme. I had intended to have a go at answering the question at the time, but there was [personal profile]fandom_stocking, and dw_50ficathon, and some stuff involving actual real people too, believe it or not. But here now, belatedly, is a book post. There aren't one hundred recommendations, although I might just about be able to squeak that if pressed. Due to reasons of space, most of my books are packed away just at the moment though, so I have nothing to refer back to, which complicates things. Neither is this is a list of "Books You Must Read", because that sort of thing is clearly nonsense. Instead it's a jumbled and probably incomplete list of books that I've especially enjoyed, or that have made, at some point, a particular impression. Not such a snappy title, I know, but a far less obviously inaccurate one.

These are in no order, either of likeitude or in terms of chronology, but I am going to start approximately at the beginning. I was lucky, I suppose, as I grew up in a house jam-packed full of books, and it was just naturally assumed that I would want to read them. Most of them were very old, and it wasn't at all uncommon to have to hunt through a bookcase to find an errant page, but the missing bits would usually turn up somewhere. Except for the middle three chapters of Sula, by Lavinia Derwent, that is. I suspect they may be long lost beneath the floorboards of a certain bedroom in deepest Gloucestershire. But anyway.

It's quite hard to recommend some of those books now. Enid Blyton was bloody good at distilling a small-child-appropriate adventure into less than two hundred pages, but she did tend towards UKIP levels of xenophobia. Even as a very little kid I found The Valley Of Adventure uncomfortable reading. I haven't seen a recent publication of that, but it's one of the few cases where I rather hope it's been a little bit tweaked. Similarly Willard Price. If you're eight to ten years old, there's few better books to read than his series about Hal and Roger Hunt, teenaged boys who help their father capture animals for zoos and safari parks. (Actually they don't so much help as do it all themselves, as Pa Hunt has a disturbing tendency to disappear, and leave his sons to battle gigantic wild animals all alone. Parenting was a whole different ball game in the fifties, clearly). I adored those books, and the aquatic ones would be top of the list of recommendations (for children. And the more interesting adults) now. That's South Sea Adventure (sharks! shipwrecks! manta rays! squid!), Undersea Adventure (sharks! submarines! man-eating shellfish! octopuses!) and Diving Adventure (sharks! orcas! undersea cities! more sharks!). Unfortunately, half the series was set in Africa, and they're wince-inducing. I could never understand how Willard Price could have Hal fight to defend his brown Polynesian boyfriend blood brother Omo against racist taunts, and then two books later drop the whole series into a mire of racefail in the African bush. It's not just parenting that was a whole different ball game in the fifties. Oh, and he was wrong on almost every natural history point too, but I'm a bit more inclined to overlook that.

Another great thing to read when you're a little kid are the Hardy Boys books by Franklin W Dixon (a pseudonym shared by many). There were approximately two hundred of them, so there was always another one to read. Some were really good, some were a reasonable way of frittering away the school holidays, and others were dire, but that's probably inevitable when you have people churning the things out by the truckload. They seemed good enough at the time, though. Other people seem to have so much more fun growing up. If you're not fighting treasure thieves on your very own island, or rescuing kidnapped princes, or swimming with whale sharks, or chasing salt-water crocodiles, then you're probably battling pirates somewhere instead. Maybe I should have been following suspicious-looking foreigners instead of sitting in my bedroom reading about them?

The other great set of books to read when you're a kid are the Target novelisations of Doctor Who. They were everywhere when I was growing up, and you could usually pick up a few at a jumble sale easily enough. Back in those pre-BBC Video days, they were the only way to meet earlier Doctors. Most of the ones that I had as a kid were Ian and Barbara adventures, with a few Jamie ones thrown in for good measure. I had a few UNIT family ones too, but 1980s Doctors seemed a bit thin on the ground. Still, Ian and Barbara! You don't need much else when you've got those two fighting Daleks and Aztecs and French revolutionaries in dubious hats (although not all at the same time, more's the pity).

You don't just need fiction when you're a kid, though. You also need dinosaurs. I don't remember when I first became besotted, any more than I remember when I first learned to read, but the two things must have happened at about the same time. One of my absolute favourite books as a little kid was The Collins Book Of Dinosaurs by Tom McGowen, which is full of fabulous paintings, and brilliant scene-setting essays on some of the most famous dinosaurs. I still have it. Most of the information is embarrassingly out of date now, and several dinosaurs have changed shape completely, but I'd never get rid of it. Everybody needs dinosaurs, not just kids. Though they ought to read rather more up to date books than that one. I recommend Dinosaurs: The Most Complete, Up-To-Date Encyclopaedia For Dinosaur Fans Of All Ages by Dr Thomas Holtz, which has a pleasingly cumbersome title and stupendous pictures. But I want to recommend The Collins Book Of Dinosaurs because *love*.

A book about dinosaurs. Not recommended unless you're reading this in 1980, but still clearly a Book Of Great Wonder.

Anyway, I really ought to move on to the actual brief, and cover books that I properly recommend. Although you'd have a job getting hold of this one. When I was about four or five, my grandfather took me to the Natural History Museum, presumably because of the aforementioned dinosaur obsession. They have a lifesize blue whale model there, in those days hanging from the ceiling above a door. I fell utterly in love, and he bought me a book from National Geographic about blue whales. I could probably still recite much of it by heart. I still have it (it's a bit battered), but fortunately, unlike the dinosaur book, it isn't so crashingly obviously out of date. It's a lot easier when you can just look at an animal to see what it's like, rather than having to play fossil detective.

This is going to take forever. I have to be less wordy. List time!

01. Dinosaurs: The Most Complete, Up To Date Encyclopaedia For Dinosaur Lovers Of All Ages by Dr Thomas Holtz, with illustrations by Luis V Rey. (Or The Collins Book of Dinosaurs by Tom McGowen (with illustrations by Rod Ruth) if you're reading this in 1980).

02. The Blue Whale by Donna K Grosvenor, with illustrations by Larry Foster.

03. Return To Treasure Island by John Goldsmith. This is the novelisation of his miniseries for ITV, broadcast in 1985. The TV series is one of the best things ever, and certainly the best piratey thing ever. The book was all I had until the DVD release appeared a few years ago. I love it utterly.

04. A Liar's Autobiography by Graham Chapman. One of the Python team, Graham sadly died in 1989. He was a wonderfully loopy man, a true British eccentric, and his autobiography (partially ficionalised, partly written with at least five other people, and completely glorious) tells the tale (sort of) of his life up until the early eighties. It covers being gay back when it was still illegal to be so in the UK, becoming a doctor, doing comedy instead because the Queen Mother thought it was a good idea, fighting alcoholism with Keith Moon, and lots more besides. It's terrific. And that "less wordy" thing isn't working too well, is it.

04. The Vesuvius Club by Mark Gatiss. This came out several years back (there are a couple of sequels, although they really aren't quite so good). At the time, largely thanks to Captain Jack Harkness having completely taken over my world, I was thoroughly bored with heterosexual heroes. And then along came Lucifer Box, morally suspect, wildly bisexual agent for the British Government in Edwardian England. Read this book; you will not be disappointed.

05. The Eclipse At The End Of The Century by Jan Mark. I used to read Jan Mark's books when I was a kid, then in around 2000 she came up with this one for young adults. I wasn't really that even then, but I was given this book for Christmas that year, and was totally knocked over backwards. Seriously, it's awesome. Read it.

06. Temeraire by Naomi Novik. Not a book, but a series. Currently there's eight, and the ninth and final part is due out next year. Temeraire is a dragon, assigned to the Royal Aerial Corps, helping the British to fight Napoleon. That's how the series started out anyway. Since then it's spread out to encompass a whole, alternate history of the world, with dragons in Australia, South America and China. Best part of the series is Iskierka, the unstoppable pirate dragon, and her hapless human companion, John Granby, forever being dragged by her into ever more dangerous ventures. I recommend these heartily, particularly the odd numbered books, which are always best.

07. Jonathon Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. About two thousand pages long, and jam-packed with footnotes that are almost more involving than the story itself, this is a book about magic in Napoleonic times. It's not a quick read, obviously, but it is a very good one.

08. Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens. Look! Proper literature! This is a great book. Literary types don't like it because it's bloated (apparently), and features an unnecessary (apparently) detour to the Americas, but read it anyway, because it absolutely drips with sarcasm. If you ever thought Dickens was something dull and dreary that gets thrown at you in school, read this book. He may have been dull and dreary at times too, but he was also a master of sarcasm.

09. The Crow Road by Iain Banks. I first encountered this when it was serialised by the BBC in 1996 (the TV version is also excellent). I read it a year or two later, and was completely absorbed. It's a magnificent book. It also has one of the best opening lines ever.

10. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. Born out of a 1996 BBC TV series that lacked the funding to do the idea justice, this grew into a wonderful story, filled with terrific characters. Read it.

11. Torchwood: Trace Memory by David Llewellyn. See also #04. There's so many books, and so many swashbuckly heroes, but all of them are straight. Not that there's anything wrong with straight heroes (obviously), but it can get a bit repetitive. And then along comes this author that nobody's ever heard of before, and he writes a wonderful, wonderful adventure story that takes all the best bits of Torchwood, and runs with them in glorious fashion. Jack gets to leap through windows and swing from ropes, and swashbuckle along with the best of them; and he gets the guy as well.

12. Life: An Unauthorised Biography by Richard Fortey. The story of life on Earth, from the earliest days until approximately now. Beautifully written; and I do mean beautifully.

13. Great Tales From English History by Robert Lacey. Fabulously readable snapshots of history from 1381 to 1953. Similar volumes are planned for Scottish and Welsh history, but apparently it takes a long time to write thousand page overviews of history. Damn.

14. Measuring The Universe by Kitty Ferguson. Yes, okay, a bit niche, this one. But I wrote my dissertation on the invention of the telescope, and its impact on the history of science and technology, and at the time there were no books on the subject anywhere. Within a few months of my graduating, this appeared on the shelves. She couldn't have published a year earlier?! It's a great book, anyway.

15. Galileo's Commandment, by various. An anthology of science writing throughout history. Okay, again probably a bit niche, but I love the history of science, and this is a great book in that line.

16. The Periodic Table by Primo Levi. Just read it.

17. On The Road by Jack Kerouac. I had wanted to read this one ever since they made an episode of Quantum Leap about it. Then I finally got hold of a copy when I was about seventeen, and fell in love. It's about sprawling in the sun on hot days, listening to good music, and driving as far as you can just because you can, and never stopping a sentence because why bother, and thoughts go on and on so why shouldn't sentences. It's excellent.

18. Pretty much anything by Leslie Charteris or Margery Allingham, because they're by Leslie Charteris or Margery Allingham.

19. The Moon's A Balloon by David Niven. An oblique look at the history of Hollywood, told as part of one man's magnificent adventure of a life. Lovely stuff.

20. A Twist Of Lemmon by Chris Lemmon. The story of Chris's life with his father Jack; a history of a Hollywood legend, but also of a father and son. It's also one of the funniest books I've ever read. Definitely recommended.

Oh, and about five hundred others. The complete Monty Python scripts. The Roman Mysteries series by Caroline Lawrence, which are supposed to be for twelve year olds, but why should they get all the fun? Memoirs Of A British Agent, by RH Bruce Lockhart, the story of the Russian Revolution by a man who was there in the middle of it all (and absolutely essential reading for fans of the subject). Deep Blue by Mark Morris and City Of The Dead by Lloyd Rose, because there's too many BBC Doctor Who books to recommend all the ones that deserve it. And I'd never remember all the good ones anyway. The Complete Eighth Doctor comic strips from Doctor Who Magazine, partly because they're utterly brilliant, and partly because they accompanied me for a large chunk of my life, and I couldn't miss them out. The King Of The Copper Mountains by Paul Biegel, because it's just about the best thing for children ever written. And The Ladybird Book of Tables, which has the times tables at the front, and then is jam-packed with alphabets, conversion tables, alternate numerical systems, and just about anything else to do with numbers you can think of. I was given it when it first came out in 1981, and I still refer to it regularly. Thanks, Mum.

Oh, this could go on all night. I am now shutting up.

PS: And the first three Harry Potter books, before they became too long, too bloated, too not nearly as well planned out, and too full of angsty shouting. I'd recommend the first three to anybody though.

PPS: And Some Other Rainbow by John McCarthy and Jill Morrell, twinned with An Evil Cradling by Brian Keenan, but maybe just if you're me, which you're clearly not. I got so wrapped up in the hostage crisis back in the eighties and early nineties, and their books, when they finally came home, were enthralling. It's a whole different perspective of an endlessly complicated political situation that continues to affect the world today. Sad, and also important.

Okay, this time I'm really shutting up. Promise. :)


( 13 fierce growls — Growl fiercely )
Feb. 14th, 2014 07:23 pm (UTC)
I loved Hardy Boys growing up! I read all the Nancy Drew books first but I actually like Hardy Boys a little better (I blame the tv show for that mostly since I had a huge crush on Joe as a kid).

Martin Chuzzlewit is so good and underrated. I'm a huge fan of Dickens in general but I have a special place for that one.

Oooh, On The Road is awesome. Have you seen the tv show Route 66? It was inspired by it and has the same vibe...it's one of my favorites.
Feb. 15th, 2014 12:09 am (UTC)
No, I've not seen that series. I shall have to look it out. The IMDb makes it sound interesting. Did you see the BBC adaptation of "Martin Chuzzlewit" back in the nineties ('97, I think)? Great cast. I recommend it; although they changed the ending a bit, probably inevitably.

And hello Aramis. :) I thought you'd like the show! Has it started on BBC America, or have you been snagging it by other means? That's probably the best way, as it's likely to be edited slightly on BBCA.
Feb. 15th, 2014 11:03 pm (UTC)
I hope you like it if you see it..there's nothing quite like it, imo. <3 I have and I really love it!

*big grin* I'm actually downloading it since I don't have tv. I'm completely obsessed with it so far.
Feb. 16th, 2014 02:01 pm (UTC)
It has been very entertaining. I was wary, because it's modern TV, but aside from the usual issues with fencing never being done properly nowadays, it's been great fun. I really like Aramis and Porthos especially. It's not on this week though, which is a pity.
Feb. 14th, 2014 08:50 pm (UTC)
I always love reading about books my frineds like ...

I know at least some of them ... Enid Blyton of course was the heroine of my childhood!

Love the Temeraire books, still have to read no. 8, though. And I think I've read Trace Memory ... and some other of the Torchwood books ...
Feb. 15th, 2014 12:14 am (UTC)
I'm never sure how well known Enid Blyton is in other countries, but it's pretty rare that I meet someone who's never heard of her. It's quite an achievement being that well known, and for so many years. There aren't a lot of authors who can claim that.
Feb. 15th, 2014 10:44 am (UTC)
Awww, this is a great post! Book love! ♥

I'm sure I recognise that dinosaur book cover. I suspect we still had some in our libraries when I got my job.

Some of these I've never heard of, some of them I've read and loved a lot, too, and one of them I once borrowed from the library, gave up on the hope I'd ever read the thing, and took it back again, but not before I accidentally spilled half my dinner over it. You just brought back my secret guilt. (I mean, I cleaned it off and it seemed okay, but librarians should be more careful. And probably fine themselves.)

Feb. 15th, 2014 11:07 am (UTC)
:D I hope it was a nice dinner! Or maybe I should be hoping it wasn't, given that half of it got spilt.

Poor book. You fiend. :p
Feb. 15th, 2014 03:42 pm (UTC)
Yes, no amount of Mark Tapley can make up for being stuck with Martin Chuzzlewitt jnr for 60 pages solid.

I keep uming and ahhing over 'Temeraire'. I like dragons and the idea of pirate dragons! But I'm worried it'll be too bogged down Napoleonic battle details. I'll add the Russian Revolution book to my list though.
Feb. 15th, 2014 08:33 pm (UTC)
No major battle details, no. The first couple of books have a few Napoleonic battles, of a Sharpe sort of nature, but not especially detaily. Then in #3 they're off to China, and #4 to Africa, and it turns into an international adventuring romp. There are battles, but certainly nothing that bogs things down.

If you're wanting to give the series a try, you could read #3. I don't think it would matter that you've not read #1 and #2. It would give you a good indication of the direction that the series has taken.
Feb. 16th, 2014 04:21 pm (UTC)
An adventure romp sounds more like it:D I leave the historical battle books to Callan.
Feb. 16th, 2014 07:09 pm (UTC)
Yes, it's all too easy to get caught up in painstaking detail. I was pretty much delighted with the Temeraire series from the beginning though. The dragons are tremendously well realised as characters, and there's some really likeable humans as well. When the series first began, there were complaints from military buffs about the wrong weapons being used by the French (they're not worried about the Napoleonic wars being fought by dragons, just by the wrong weapons being wielded by the humans!) so I don't think the intention was ever really to be a fantasy Sharpe.

Also, the British covers are a thing of beauty:

Feb. 16th, 2014 07:25 pm (UTC)
V. Nice and will stay nice on a ereader screen:) The whole Napoleonic dragon thing was hushed up as all academics know;p
( 13 fierce growls — Growl fiercely )

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