My Top 15 Books, with Bonus Commentary

If the Facebook Note was the standard-issue DVD, consider this the Special Edition with Running Commentary and Rich Text Formatting. For any readers who don’t have me as a Facebook friend, the list below was my response to a chain thing asking recipients to jot down their favourite 15 books. So here they are again, expanded with explanations on why I loved them and you should too!

Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien

Back when I actually was a kid, I usually cited this book as my favourite. Surprisingly believable, considering it centres around a bunch of talking rodents, the back story of how they came to be being my favourite part of the tale.

Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland (+ Through The Looking Glass) by Lewis Carroll

On a page-by-page basis I never found Alice’s adventures that compelling – although I loved the Jabberwocky and committed every line & made-up word to memory. Being a product of Victorian England, the charming, opium-induced nonsense of Alice’s adventures is served a little dry at times, thanks to Alice’s excessively prim nature and proper English (relative to today, anyway). Even so, there’s no way I could ignore this classic because the sheer, mad brilliance of its characters has burrowed like a slithy tove deep into my consciousness, and even inspired me to get back into drawing of late.

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

This book completely shits all over Harry Potter or even Lord of the Rings, being a similarly epic fantasy novel full of magic, monsters and mythical creatures, but generating landscapes, villains and heroes of far greater beauty, originality and complexity into the mind’s eye. Most significantly, the grand saga of Atreyu’s and Bastian’s quests has quite a profound moral and philosophical core – so much so in fact that The Neverending Story has actually helped me to shape and define my spiritual beliefs, as I explain somewhere in my pre-Wordpress blog here.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

As a kid I thought this book was pure genius. Filled with witty wordplay and memorable characters, the book is entertaining above all because it is clever, but in precisely the sort of fun, light-hearted way that children – like me, once upon a time – find endearing.

The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling

One word: Kaa. Kipling’s hypnotic, enigmatic python rivals the Chesire Cat as my favourite animal character of all time. That aside, The Jungle Books is a highly evocative and unusually ‘mature’ depiction of jungle life – almost documentary-like, at times – compared with the sugar-sweet, “one big happy animal family” version young audiences are usually fed.

Tomorrow, When The War Began (+ sequels) by John Marsden

I already wrote about the importance of this book to me here. If John Marsden had never written TWTWB, The Journey would probably be here instead – a strange but beautiful book by the same author on the journey from boyhood to manhood.

Making History by Stephen Fry

Discovered this book during my teenage obsession with Hitler, and it was probably the first ‘adult’ book I really enjoyed. Thought-provoking read interpersed with painstakingly-researched events from Hitler’s life, based on what might’ve happened had the Toothbrush-Moustachioed One never got into power.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

My two other obsessions as a teenager were Salvador Dali’s paintings and Oscar Wilde’s stories. I actually enjoyed many of his short stories more than Dorian Gray – the Happy Prince literally made me cry – but seeing as we’re talking “books” this will serve nicely.

The Outsider by Albert Camus

This was one of my “texts” for Year 12 English, and apart from maybe Lord of the Flies, the only one I’d actually read in my own time – as I have many times over. Meursault’s carefree, existentialist narration had a spell-like effect on me from the very first page, so much so that reading the book became a summer tradition for years to come. If reading Fear and Loathing is like taking a hit of speed, The Outsider is like a big, fat joint enjoyed at dusk on the balcony of an Algiers apartment.

The Polish House by Radek Sikorski

For its sheer readability and charming personal touch, I rate this as the best history book I’ve ever read. The author uses his restoration of a derelict chateu as a springboard for a very human and engaging account of various periods in Polish history, from the religious geopolitics of the Middle Ages through to the tragedy and heroism of World War 2 and its Communist aftermath, skilfully blending the microcosm of his project and his relatives’ experiences with the broad panorama of Poland’s past.

Dune (+ Dune Messiah) by Frank Herbert

This book is pretty much the closest thing I have to a Bible. Absolutely amazing work of the imagination that has etched such incredible visuals upon my mind that I refuse to watch the movie adaptation or mini-series for fear of spoiling them. More than just a science fiction epic that has entered the public consciousness – so much so that I actually thought giant sandworms were real as a kid – Dune is also an extraordinarily insightful spiritual, ecological and geopolitical tract, a masterful combination of study and story spoiled only by a long line of inferior sequels that, in my opinion, muddy and water down the visionary power and wisdom of the original. (Its immediate successor, Dune Messiah, was decent though.)

Chopper: From The Inside by Mark Brandon Read

What can I say. Everyone likes a bit of smut now & then, and this book serves up plenty of it with all of the black humour and colourful language Chopper Read’s reknowned for. I’ve accumulated about half a dozen of the Chopper diaries but the first one remains the best – just don’t read it before bed, unless you want seriously fucked-up dreams.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

Probably my all-time favourite book when all is said & done. On the surface it’s just one long, demented account of ridiculously antisocial, illegal and drug-fuelled behaviour in America’s tackiest city, but beneath the madcap veneer is also a very serious critique of America’s worsening political and social degeneracy – ‘the Death of the American Dream’, as Hunter S. Thompson called it. It’s the manic, anything-goes energy of the book that I relish though – reading Fear and Loathing literally energizes me, like a good drug. There’s something addictive about seeing the modern world caricatured in all of its vice, glitz and stupidity through the perpetually drug-hazed lens of Raoul Duke, lending it a warped, comic-book quality where anything can happen but you can also get away with anything.

“We were somewhere on the edge of the desert, near Barstow, when the drugs began to take hold…” …no matter how many times I return to the book and read that first line, I know I’m gonna enjoy the ride as much as I did the first time.

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

Everyone goes on about Fight Club and Invisible Monsters but in my opinion, Haunted is Palahniuk’s best book. It’s a series of dark short stories within an equally dark broader narrative, the skilfully woven whole being a damning indictment of modern society generously strewn, in Palahniuk’s unique style, with bizarre factoids and dry, incisive one-liners. Haunted felt distinctly deeper to me than any of his other novels though, exploring the most base layers of the human condition – and Mr Whittier’s rock-grinder theory, like The Neverending Story’s symbiosis of Fantastica and Reality, remains a key illustrative element in my spiritual beliefs. Again, see MindFields for more details.

Masters of Doom by David Kushner

The only other non-fiction work apart from The Polish House, and written much like a story in a very immediate, magazine-article style full of striking metaphors, vivid characterization and titbits of contextual history. The book is really an intimate study of the two conflicting personalities that brought the world Doom, Quake and Wolfenstein 3D – gory and ground-breaking games that me & my friends all grew up with – set against the backdrop of the burgeoning computer and video game industry. If The Polish House is the most interesting history book I’ve read, this is hands down the most interesting biography.

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