We all have those books that stay with us well after we close them and put them down, those books that change you in some way, whether it’s through a spark of insight or greater shift in understanding life, the universe and everything. These books seem to find you at just the right time and many of them, I either don’t have anymore or never owned in the first place. I could list at least 100 of these but here is a list of 10 books that have rocked my world over the years.
Promethea Written by Alan Moore, illustrated by & J.H Williams III & Mick Gray
Set in a futuristic alternate New York, this is a a gorgeous blend of fantasy, mystery, crime and sci-fi. Williams III’s artwork is rich and dreamlike and brings all of Moore’s mutli-layered concepts to life as we explore magic and mysticism through the protagonist Sophie’s quest to learn the secrets of mythical warrior Promethea that she embodies and the ultimate battle between worlds. This epic 5 volume series got me hooked on graphic novels.
Jitterbug Perfume – Tom Robbins
Considered a cult classic by many, this is a wild ride of a book that takes you through time and place. It is profound but in Robbins’ particular eccentric and quirky style as he questions humanity’s quest for perfection and eternal life. It makes beetroot sexy and started me on my lifelong love of all things Tom Robbins.
This one got away. I think I left it somewhere for someone else to discover.
The Buried Giant by Kazuo ishiguro
Ishiguro’s subtle and poetic writing creates a dreamlike world set in an Arthurian England where a mist of forgetfulness lies over the land. It involves a quest like no other and deeply endearing characters. Reading this was like swimming through someone else’s beautiful dream.
This one got away. I loaned it to someone.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
The coming of age for hermaphrodite Calliope is a story in itself. Told through an intricate and secret family history and set against the backdrop of major moments in American history makes it absolutely breathtaking. This 2002 Pulitzer prize winner is an epic and deft novel that does not let you go. Take a deep breath before you dive in.
Bliss by Peter Carey
When Harry Joy dies for 9 minutes, he comes back to life believing in theabsolutes of good and Evil. This existential awakening takes him on a dark but hilarious journey to escape the evil he believes has taken over his family and life and seek redemption. Set in Queensland in the 1980s, the quirky characters drive this story, making it uncomfortably funny at times. Winner of the 1981 Miles Franklin Award, Bliss is the book started me on my love of Peter Carey (although there are several I couldn’t read).
The March of the Crabs – Arthur de Pins
This delightful graphic novel trilogy was a chance discovery and tells the story of the fictional little Square Crab (Cancer Simplicimus Vulgaris). A freak of evolution, this species can only go in a straight line and are bottom of the Crab pecking order…until our crab hero Sunny turns the world on it’s head. This sweet, funny story is ultimately an exploration of destiny and the wider effects of change, when the Square Crabs revolution cause ripple effects in nature and for human environmental vandalism. The illustrations are reminiscent of Art Deco and 1960s cartoon, with strong colour blocks and pen lines that give lightness and movement across the page. It is a beautiful story with a strong message.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimananda Ngozie Adichie
Set in 1960s Nigeria, this book tells the story of the Igbo struggle to create the independent Republic of Biafra. Told through the experiences of the main characters (2 high society sisters, an intellectual academic, a houseboy and an English expat), this book shines a light on post-colonialism and offers a confronting and harrowing depiction of civil war and the lasting damage for everyone regardless of place in society. Adichie’s description of people and place transports you as a reader, making this difficult to read at times but for all the right reasons. I discovered a world of Nigerian authors that I had never read before through this book.
This one got away. I gave it to a friend.
Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko
This is a raw and honest novel that opens up the contemporary Indigenous Australian experience. It is an intricate story of individual and personal pain, love, loss and longing as the main protagonist Jo searches for connection to culture and Country. Deep, strong themes are explored with cheeky dark humour and when I read this book, I found a new favourite author.
This one got away. I wish I had it back.
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
At first glance this seems like a typical space opera – spaceship taking humans to colonise a new planet. However, what grabbed me was the exploration of the flaws in this familiar premise. Robinson describes the ship, with it’s Earth biomes and microcosm in great details, the societal structure is set out well and then he starts to take it all apart. It is a tightly written, thought-provoking novel that deals with the issues around biology, environment, technology and psychology in a way that has not been done before. I’m not a huge sci-fi fan but this one stayed with me.
Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe
This book of non-fiction affected me profoundly. Using first hand accounts from first colonial settler and explorer diaries, Pascoe describes a radically different Aboriginal society from the one we have been taught since colonisation. Written clearly and in a narrative style, Pascoe describes a culture and knowledge that questions the “hunter-gather” tag given to Indigenous Australians. There are accounts of some of the earliest known sophisticated agricultural and land management practices in the world. Dark Emu turns our perceptions on their heads and it is devastating to think of all we have lost but exciting to think of all we can gain. This book is a game changer.
This one got away. I gave it to a friend because everyone should read it.