For me, a good novel isn’t one with a highfalutin title that adds to my ‘literary knowledge’ status, but rather one that lingers, one I’m still walking around in when I put it down. I have so many favourites but here are seven that have changed me, shaped me and fashioned my view of the world and my place in it.
#1 Possum Magic by Mem Fox. Illustrated by Julie Vivas
Ok so I’m showing my Australian roots here but this book taught me to read. Grandma Poss turns her granddaughter, Hush invisible to keep her safe from the dangers of the Aussie bush – a service that would no doubt be popular with tourists. The catch is, she forgets how to change her back and they travel across the country eating quintessential Australian cuisine trying to find a cure. And yes, vegemite does make an appearance and yes I do think it’s delicious.
#2 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
How many of us had a Boo Radley living on the street, knew of a Mayella Ewell or had a friend just like Dill? I’ve probably read this book about fifteen times and I’ve fallen in love with Atticus Finch each one of them. Plus there’s that great line; “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” The world would be a much better place if we all did that – unless you’re Hannibal Lecter and take the advice literally.
#3 The Godfather by Mario Puzo
There were so many wonderful things about spending the school holidays with my nonna and one of them was being able to read whatever I wanted as her English wasn’t good enough to sensor my choices. Even though I didn’t fully understand it at twelve, this story taught me that the severed head of a racehorse could end up in your bed, adults sure had a lot of sex and more importantly, the lines between good and evil weren’t as black and white as Disney movies made out. Good people were capable of doing bad things, especially once their hearts had been ripped out and soured with the act of revenge.
#4 Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Kudos to Mary Shelley for winning this little wager she made with her husband, Percy, John Polidori and Lord Byron to write the best horror story. Toted as the first science fiction novel ever written, this book offers a piece of advice that has simultaneously consoled and haunted me ever since I first read it – that monsters are not simply born, but created.
#5 The Pursuit of Love by Nancy MitfordFor me this book was like a kind of Narnia, pulling me through the airing/Hons cupboard and into something more melancholy, more real than the seemingly effortless chatter of Fanny and the Radletts suggests. Plus there’s the added bonus of Uncle Matthew – hunting his children with bloodhounds and stomping about the house in his dressing gown like the Great Agrippa.
#6 Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
Many of the prophetic issues addressed in Orwell’s novel have come to fruition. Big Brother scared me more than the reality television show and I still harbour the fear of being eaten alive by rats.
#7 Cloudstreet by Tim Winton
An Australian classic which celebrates everyday people. Each character is struggling to find meaning in their life, their place in the world and belonging within their family. It’s nice to read a book that doesn’t shy away from Aussie colloquialisms and if you’re ever wondering what to buy me for Christmas, a Pentecostal pig would do nicely, thanks.
This list doesn’t even scratch the surface of life changing books out there. We’d love to hear about which books had an effect on you so make sure you tell us in the comments.