What books do I like to read? A friend asked me this yesterday. It's a good question. Up until a few years ago, I would have given the automatic answer of 'thrillers,' but lately, I find I tend to become bored quite quickly and look for something more. I know I like a book whose main character I can identify with, and whom I like. I have little tolerance for dull books, even less for 'meaningful' (usually pretentious tripe) and I don't bother with romance or anything else where the hero or heroine behaves foolishly. Misery Lit, I detest, (memoirs usually featuring a dreadful childhood) And biographies - usually boring. Books that win literary awards - also usually boring.
And yet with the exception of Mis Lit, I have enjoyed individual books of every kind. I recently read a biography, for instance, but it was Tony Windsor's biography. Tony Windsor has played a vital part in Australia's politics and is the single politician that I would happily call honest. (Retired now, which is a loss for the nation, though, no doubt, a gain for his family.)
And that book was very interesting.
These days, I like most to re-read my old friends from my own library. So many old friends - series, often - the Poldark books, The Hornblower books - Horatio Hornblower is such a well-drawn character, the Whiteoaks of Jalna. So many others.
My very first favourite book would have to be Enid Blyton's 'The Faraway Tree.' I remember my mother reading it to me, so I must have been quite small. And later, I found it again, and again I thought it so special - magical.
Some books do have magic. The Silver Brumby books by Elyne Mitchell. I wish I still had those original copies - there was a battered blue one, hardcover, and it had long lost its dustcover - 'Silver Brumby's Daughter,' I think.
I have since purchased new copies, just for sentiment, though I can still enjoy a book written for children. There is no need to deny enjoyment just because one is all grown up now.
Books were far less plentiful when I was a child. I read everything I could lay my hands on then, though I remember my mother being a little horrified with one particular one - 'it has a lot of sex,' she said. I scarcely noticed - I was reading it for its story - something about a racing car driver and his life, the dangers and the romances.
Whatever my mother read, I read as well - Neville Shute, Arthur Hailey, James Michener, the Boney books by Arthur Upfield. Many of those I have since added to my own permanent collection.
And then in school we had to read books. How poor must the choices have been, and how poor the teaching! For me, reading was like breathing, but the books we were set... The best were mediocre, the worst atrocious. It has left me with a lasting distaste for any book labelled a 'classic.' The worst of all was one by James Joyce - 'Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.' What conceit he must have had to think that anyone would be interested in such things as his liking for masturbation! I remember being surprised when the teacher explained that girls also masturbated. At that age, I scarcely knew what it meant. Too advanced for us? No, I would say far too sordid for us. It started, as I recall, 'When you wet the bed, first it is warm and then it is cold.' How not profound!
It was about that age, early teens, that I started reading Ian Fleming's James Bond books. That is what gave me my sex education - that and an encyclopedia, though when I first looked up 'erection' it only spoke of things such as putting up a building.
Thrillers, all sorts. I liked them in first person, and I liked plenty of action. By the time I was working and earning money, there were certain authors whose new books I would always snap up. Desmond Bagley, Gavin Lyle, Alistair MacLean. Some of the books I have in my collection are the same ones I bought when I was in my early twenties.
At that same age, I began reading some very deep books that I have not looked at for many years - feminism, sociology, psychology, War and Peace. Economics, even, though that was a struggle even then.
I read a lot of Science Fiction around then as well, even some Dennis Wheatley books - horror.
I was seldom interested in romances, though I very much enjoyed the light romances of Georgette Heyer. I loved the humour.
And then, much later, after a failed love affair, I had a sudden and short-lived interest in period romances - 'bodice-rippers,' though the only ones I still have are by an especially good author in that genre - Kathleen Woodiwiss.
Anyway, I never tried Mills and Boon again. The only such light romances I have read since are those written by friends. My chief objection to those is that the heroine is always depicted as intelligent, but yet does the most stupid things. Usually, the plot relies on her doing stupid things.
But there are always exceptions, and one exception are the Angelique books. The heroine still acts foolishly on occasion, and yet she is depicted as capable and intelligent. Like most of my old favourites, they are old books, most published in the 1960s. But there are real stories here, real adventures, and the historical background, as far as I can tell, is accurate. There had to have been some first class research to produce these books, so maybe calling them mere romances is doing them an injustice.
When my boys were in their teens, one read a lot of Fantasy, the saga type, all long books, always in series, usually of at least seven books, and often more. I caught the Fantasy bug from him, I still have his old books, and they are also good for re-reading.
And there was a surprise for me not long ago. A book on one of those bargain baskets you sometimes see at a newsagency - $3.47, I think, something like that. Not a genre I have bothered with in the past, but it sounded intriguing - fantasy/romance/erotica, I suppose one could call it.
'Slave to Sensation' by Nalini Singh.
In a world that denies emotions, where the ruling Psy punish any sign of desire, Sascha Duncan must conceal the feelings that brand her as flawed. To reveal them would be to sentence herself to the horror of 'rehabilitation' - the complete psychic erasure of her personality . . .
I am often lured to books that speak of mind powers.
And that book, I enjoyed so much that I bought a dozen more of the series at full price, before I became bored with them. There was an intriguing developing background story, but the books became repetitive, each one with a great deal of erotica writing within, that I don't particularly mind, but it was beginning to slow the actual story down too much. I'll probably never know when the ruling Psy finally get overthrown. They gave me a great deal of enjoyment all the same, and I have kept them, and will, no doubt, one day, read them again. Maybe I'll even buy the final few.
For good books are like that. They can be brought out, dusted off, and you can renew an old friendship.
So what books do I like? Maybe I just like books. There is no need to limit oneself to 'liking' only one genre.
It is a bugbear of mine, this modern idea that first, a book has to fit within a certain genre, and second, that genre then has rules that you are supposed to follow. How utterly boring, and how it must dampen creativity. A book should take you where the story goes. It should not have an artificially imposed 'structure,' it should not have 'rules' of the genre, it should be just a story. The argument that one has to fit a book into a genre to make it easy for a bookseller to arrange his shelves? How can a reader discover books he didn't know he liked unless the divisions are broad - maybe fiction, non-fiction, fantasy and children's. They are all the divisions a bookshop needs.
Here are some suggestions of good books that you, the patient reader of this post, might like to check out. My rules are that they must be from my own collection, no two books of the same genre, and no book that I have already mentioned.
'Tim' by Colleen McCullough. Genre? Women's fiction, maybe?
'Tomorrow, When the War Began' by John Marsden. YA. 7 in the series.
'Clan of the Cave Bear' by Jean M. Auel. Genre? I don't think it fits into any genre. 6 in the series, though the last few were not nearly as good as the first two.
'Simon's Choice' by Charlotte Castle. A thought provoking book. Again, it doesn't really fit into a genre.
'The Crystal Cave' by Mary Stewart. The story of Merlin, 4 in the series.
'The Sunbird' by Wilbur Smith. Action.
'Riders' by Jilly Cooper. 'a multi-stranded love story' it says in the blurb, but I liked the story of the horses as much as the stories of the riders.
'The Power of One' by Bryce Courtney.
'Bonecrack' by Dick Francis. There are numerous books by Dick Francis, a few not so great, but most of them, I have read again and again. Thrillers.
'The Misery of Christianity' by Joachin Kahl, probably very difficult to get these days. Non-fiction.
'Phantom' by Terry Goodkind, fantasy, a series of around a dozen.
'The Persian Boy' by Mary Renault, the story of Alexander the Great as told by his eunuch slave.
'The Exiles' by William Stuart Long, (later revealed as Vivian Stuart.) Australia's history, fictionalised and developing into almost a family saga. At least a dozen in the series.
'The Population Explosion' by Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich. First published in 1968 when the world population was 3.5 billion. It was said to have been 'discredited' though I forget the reasons. But now our population is 7 billion, a doubling in less than fifty years. So many problems we are having now - war, poverty, refugees, the destruction of nature reserves and the extinction of animal species, the pollution of our atmosphere - and the root cause of every one of those problems is that there are too many people.
I've digressed, but I think I've reached the end of my list anyway. So many good books, so many old friends.
And there are my own books. Well, naturally, I like them. Two more will shortly be released - 'The Frost and the Sunshine', the fourth and final of the Shuki Series, and 'Lionel's Wedding,' a Penwinnard Story.
The Penwinnard Stores are not a series as such, more of a series of stories, though they are all set at Penwinnard Boys' Home (fictional) and they feature a lot of the same characters. They are fine for reading as standalone stories.
'The Frost and the Sunshine' could also be read as a standalone. I have moved Shuki to Australia, an area I like very much. This book is interesting in that I range forward for 30 years or so, and what I have found rather eerie, is that too many of the forecast events are coming true. Read it and see. It is already available as an ebook, but only, so far, on Smashwords.
And if you have read to here, you deserve a reward.
To get 'The Frost and the Sunshine' free, use the Coupon Code: VG83C,
but only until October 27, 2014.