A low-fi list of books I've read over the last 20 years or so. These entries in bold are the books I particularly liked.
Anthem by Ayn Rand
Scifi about (predictably enough) the evils of community and anything approaching socialism, and the wonders of individuality and man-eats-man competition. As a novel there are some good ideas, but a teenager-like habit of labouring some points to make sure we get it. wiki
Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis
Fun, but once you've got the idea there are far too few interesting bits amongst the endless pontificating about Christianity. The final letter in the series is gold though. wiki
The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham
Again John seems just slightly too keen for everyone's entire family to be wiped out, but this story's interesting too for the media lens. (Filched from a hostel in Southland and left at another.) wiki
Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith
Euphonic and gentle.
King Lear by Willy Shakespeare
The one Shakespeare play I really enjoyed at school (the 'vile jelly', of course), and enjoyed it again this time thru. Good while travelling.
The Royal Changeling by John Whitbourne
Interesting alternative-reality fantasy novel, partly cos King Arthur is a baddie.
Flashman & the Dragon by George MacDonald Fraser
More rogering and tally ho from the world of Flashman. wiki
The Tale of Troy by Roger Lancelyn Green
Drags together all the various stories in a fairly innocuous short book.
The World of Tolkien by Mitchell Beazley
"Mythological Sources of the Lord of the Rings". A lot of the same stuff as Ruth S Noel's book, but better, and with pictures! Some really great artwork - some recogniseable from other Tolkienalia. (Some duds too.)
The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
This was meant to be a sidestep from American Gods, but ended up in deepest HarryPotterLand. It was kinda fun, but I don't think I'll be looking for the rest of the inevitable trilogy.
Harry Four by JKR
Read aloud. The first of the really 'chunky' Harrys and nowhere near as good for reading with kids. Even Max can recognise that.
Freakonomics by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt
Great book! A bit too prone to posit shocking conclusions for the sake of a good shock, and too often does that annoying poor-science journo thing of treating any scientific study as gospel (well, any study that says something they want to treat as gospel anyway!). Far better on this than most though, and some really interesting (and, yes, shocking) results from looking at the stats.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
I came at this book from Michael Chabon in two directions: it's part of the story in Fanboy & Gothgirl, which I was interested in ever since Kavalier & Clay, and it's a modern story about the Norse gods in America, which is very Summerland. A spectacular story, especially when you realise Gaiman's predominantly a comic author. It had me running to wikipedia for all the mythic characters. I was convinced Shadow was to become the new Odin. nerd review ... wiki ...
The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon
Awesome novel, even for someone like me who knows almost nothing of Jewish American culture. I lost track by the end tho, and need to go back and re-read. interview the age
Fanboy & Gothgirl by Barry Lyga
Oh. My. God.
Myths of the Norsemen by Roger Lancelyn Green
A bit prudish, which is a shame as the Norse gods bang like dunny doors (consider Loki's adventures as a horse, or Thor as the bride of the giant king...). This is a great story tho.
norse mythology ... this guy did my favourite ever pic of odin, but I can't for the life of me find a copy online!
Jonestown by Chris Masters
Way too much about Jones being gay, but a great read otherwise.
Beowulf prose version by EV Rieu
What a startlingly dull story: Monster eats scandies. Beowulf boasts endlessly. Beowulf rips off monster's arm (actually, that's the only good bit!). Monster dies. Beowulf boasts endlessly. Monster's mum eats another scandi. Beowulf kills Mum. Boasts. Gets old. Kills/is killed by a dragon. Yawn.
Kinda weirdly, the fillum came out shortly after. They did a better job with the shitty ancient story than you might have thought.
High Spirits by Robertson Davies
A Collection of Ghost Stories. Davies' love of mythology/saints comes thru.
The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay
A book about the love of books.
Five Black Ships by Napoleon Baccino Ponce de Leon
Indulging my nerdism for ancient explorers. This is a novel following Magellan's voyage in 1519 - lovely rich language and great characters! I'd read the story of Magellan and his mutinies a few times and never been all that interested by it, but 'Ponce de Leon' is a magnificent story teller.
Harry Three by JKR
Reading aloud. Bliss is reading to a kid you love.
Flashman's Lady by George MacDonadld Fraser
My first foray into the world of Flashman. It's good ! What a great way to learn history too ! wiki
Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz
'Dispatches from the unfinished civil war'. Looks at Civil War nuts in the North and the Southern states. Some harmless, nutty fruitballs - some deeply-scary racist shit, but complex, y'know. amazon
Harry Seven by JKR
The end at last. A better read than most of the chunky Harrys, with more happening in the middle bit than usual.
Transit of Venus by Julian Evans
('Travels in the Pacific') A really interesting modern (lefty) travelogue across the pacific islands. One of the best Pacific travel books I've ever read. At first glance similarities with O'Rourke's famous whinge-fest, but this is far more engaged and fascinating. amazon
Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
Good fun. uhhrrrr!
Harry Two by JKR
Read aloud. Maxine starting to really get into having to solve the mysteries.
The Invisible Man by HG Wells
The Son of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs
I bought this old gem solely because of the very campy cover (not the one to right, but even better!): a pic of Korak (he's the son of Tarzan!) in fetching leopardskin loincloth, poised to rescue swooning maiden from the snarling ape). But I loved this book! So much fun!!
A shot from the old Weissmuller show: uhhrrrr! ... comics
The Steep Approach to Garbadale by Iain Banks
Yet more drunken, rich Scots families driving fast cars, talking about music, obsessing about clothes and lusting after cousins. A tad disappointing in the end.
Peter Pan & Wendy by JM Barrie
The novel of the play. Beautiful, beautiful ideas and language. Love the individual pirates, and the Lost Boys, and how cruel and heartless Peter is, not glossing over children's evilness. Nerdily enough, I kind of got into this via Treasure Island : Flint feared Silver ('Barbeque'). Silver feared Hook. And it turns out that Hook feared Smee!
Paradise Lost - The Novel by Joseph Lanzara (from John Milton).
A really lovely prose version... I just couldn't handle it in verse. Bloody fantastic! Appropriately pompous and strange language. Lovely illos by Gustave Doré .This was an absolutely magnificent read. I was inspired to look up occasional phrases in the poetical original, but could *never* have read the entire story thru in that form, and wouldn't have understood what was going on even if I had! wiki the war .. wiki gustave .. text of the poem ..
This is a book that will get you obsessing about ancient illustrations
Port Out Starboard Home by Michael Quinion
"the fascinating stories we tell about the words we use" (and how most of those stories are bogus!). You gotta admire how the author (fussy and superior tho he might be) doesn't let a good story get in the way of accuracy ... if the origin of a phrase is unknown, he just says so, despite that being bloody unsatisfying!
Harry One by JKR
Read this thru with my six year old. (JK's critics would say that's about the right target audience!) Fun!
Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Medievil Sherlock Holmes (He's even from Baskerville!). Some of the catholic navel gazing gets a bit wearying at times (apparently this novel is notoriously easy to abandon!), but for me there was always another dead monk to get things moving again. notes for nerds .. wikip
Dear Jack by Flip Shelton & Kate Langbroek
'Break-up letters from famous and infamous Australians.'
King Arthur & the Round Table by Alice M. Hadfield
A very clean, very '50s version of the stories. As might have been told by Johnny Howard or Enid Blyton. Lancelot and Guenevere were JUST GOOD FRIENDS, okay?!
One of my favourite bits: Sir M, who was a coward and a thoroughly unworthy man, had thought himself in love with the Queen for a long time. His love was of the kidnapping and not the knightly kind, and he waited for a chance when Sir Lancelot was away. "Of the kidnapping and not the knightly kind"... lol. teaching notes
Children of the gods by Kenneth McLeish
Really great 'raw' versions of Greek myths and legends, not tidied and up and prettified for the masses. Interesting alternative versions too. Blood, gore, rape ... woo hoo. Nice illos by Elisabeth Frink. plays by the author
The Crow Road by Iain Banks
Banks in a nutshell: weird Scots family and friends wrangle with Docs, alcohol, cars and music. Great mystery and a strangely detailed delivery, obsessively describing what characters are wearing or listening to. Second time through. Ended up donating this spare copy to bookcrossing.com. author's website .. article about Banks
The Sword in the Stone by TH White
King Arty's childhood - the 1930s version that became the Disney film. Some wickedly clever, funny parts. wikipedia
Unintelligent Design by Robyn Williams
An ABC science journo on why I.D. is bollocks. Not particularly enlightening and sometimes kinda annoying. Very much preaching to the converted: if you're one of those that buy into I.D., this book won't change your mind. If you're *interested* in I.D., this book won't help you understand what it's about. wikipedia
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I haven't read this for a long time - had forgotten quite how great a book it is. (Tho that business with the crippled left arm seems as unlikely now as it did when I was at school.) chapter notes
Robin Hood retold by JW McSpadden
Many comely young yeomen clad in Lincoln Green prance through the woodlands loosing their shafts truly. Sadly, the illustrations in this version aren't the full-colour ones I remember from an edition of this that we had as kids, but they're funny enough even in black and white. You can see where Errol Flynn got his motivation. (The fox version was *so* much cooler!) full text
Inversions by Iain M Banks
Brilliantly subversive Culture novel. (You have to know the Culture before you realise it's Culture.) wiki (spoiler)
Inferno by Dante
I managed to find (yay for eBay) a translation with notes by the same writer as Purgatory, the matronly Mrs Dorothy L Sayers. Fantastic story, even tho Peter Standford had given away the ending. which level of hell will YOU end up on? .. cool diagram of Hell .. danteworlds .. flash
The Bible by Moses et al
(stalled at Jeremiah ...) On the same basis as reading The Odyssey/Iliad and those old Grail stories, partly I just wanted to see where all the stories/sayings/cultural refs come from. And a lot of these insane stories, scarily, are still relevant now (the mark of Cain, the Caananites...).
I'm up to: Jeremiah (the story continues to stall, while God justifies exile)
Other thoughts along the way:
Isaiah (one man's rambling predictions of smitings to come. Oh, also the messiah's announcement which was to cause SO much trouble later on). 33.23 appeals to my puerile sense of humour. 43.6 is quoted by Dubwize in one of my favourite reggae songs.
Proverbs: Solomon, get over her!
Psalms goes on and on, but #44 is my favourite... cop that whinging! Slightly ahead of #137, think BIG HAIR and flares).
The Kings and the Chronicles: You smite them and You smite them, but the moment You turn Your back, they're sacrificing their kiddies to Baal and worshipping golden cows again.
King David was naughty! (And a shirt lifter!)
Genesis: As someone famous once said "God, God is a shit!"
archie & mehitabel by Don Marquis
Collection of poems and writings from a cockroach and a cat. Very fun very cute. Archie's full of wise, useful sayings: "don't cuss the climate it probably doesn't like you any better than you like it ...". donmarquis.com
The Runestaff by Michael Moorcock
Trash fantasy. I used to read a bit of Moorcock's "Elric" series at uni, as an alternative to learning anything about physics. Moorcock's a shit writer, but Elric was an interesting antihero - albino, sickly, a bit gothic. Dorian Hawkmoon (star of this bit of rubbish), on the other hand, is just a dil with a big sword.
The Devil - a Biography by Peter Standford
Not incredibly well written, but this is a really fascinating book! It gave away the climax of Dante's Inferno (and WHAT a surprise - I have not been so impressed, nor so frustrated at not having discovered something properly, since a mate telling me that Darth Vader was Luke's Dad.) Lots too about Paradise Lost which made me want to read that, and classical myths, apocryphal gear omitted from the bible, nut-bag "voices in their heads" saints, witch-hunts ancient and modern, and loopdeloops through the ages. Also ideas thru the ages of the old testament God in fact being the devil, which having recently read Genesis-Exodus, makes some sense!
44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith
I love the idea of serialised novels. Scotland St is serial extreme, with daily instalments. I reckon it shows tho. The characters are cardboard cut-outs, and all viewed from the perspective of a fussy old-timer (which is perhaps why Mma Ramotswe rings so true?!). And the story itself is pretty underwhelming.
Other Temples Other Gods; The Occult in Australia by Nevill Drury & Gregory Tillet
Non fiction 1980 book with some really great images of occult artwork (old and new) as well as Ma and Pa Kettle types in (and out of!) their wizarding robes. The late 70s photos help make it all even better! Astrology, wicca, wizards, Satanists, 'The' church and some loopy churches, new agers ... oh, and Lemurians again!
Prester John by John Buchanan
Prester John has always fascinated me and I love these old rollicking chap-lit type books. This one didn't disappoint, with gobsmacking racism throughout (well, it was written in 1901) and a hilarious prig of a hero. The author, John Buchan, ended up Governor General of Canada, which is pretty hilarious when you look at his writing here and consider what current GGs can get in trouble for! wiki on the author .. wiki on Prester John
Summerland by Michael Chabon
Good fun. Not the beautiful language of Kavalier & Clay - more easily-digestible like (eek!) Stephen King or JK Rowling. (I was sick and bed-rid, so ploughed thru it pretty fast.) Really nice mythology - American Indian, Anglo Indian and some nice scatterings of Scandy too. Features 'Coyote', who I always loved, and makes him (aka Loki, another of my favourites) a believable, quite likeable, fairly evil, appropriately fallible kind of god. (Maui would have been another alias to add to his CV, I thought.) Coyote .. Loki .. amazon
Tales of the Greek Heroes by John Walsh
Nice little book. Written for older kids, in the 40s. All the biggies are here (Theseus, Jaaason, Herk) along with some good stuff from The Iliad and Odyssey.
The Literary Companion edited by Emma Jones
Lots of literary titbits. Some pretty cool, some a bit dumb.
The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa
Two stories: Paul Gauguin (in France and in Tahiti, and mad), and his grandmother an (also mad) socialist activist in Peru and France. The story flips between Paul and Grandma, and back and forward in time for Granny between France and Peru, and in tone between third person and ... "addressing" the characters. "Paul walked thru the door, but you knew what lay beyond, didn't you Paul". But it all works okay. Translated from Spanish. wiki
Second time through - a bit of an antidote to the tortuous Llosa, popcorn for the brain. The last Harry comes out this year and these books are so ... easily digested ... that I couldn't remember what had happened in number six.
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
Second time through. Banks' *fantastic* first novel. wiki