A few of my favourite things

Invited to speak at a ‘meet the author’ function at the Ascot Vale Library later this year, I was asked to send a list of my five favourite books and ‘a line or two about why you love each one’ to the event organiser. This was over two weeks ago and, like a character in a Nick Hornby novel, I’ve been agonising about my Top Five ever since. How can I possibly limit my favourite books to five! Maybe if it were by genre, or author’s country of origin, or decade/historical era–though even then I’d still need the caveat of ‘Top Five Books I Haven’t Read Yet But May Well Become Favourites’.

(I’m current reading last year’s Booker Prize Winner, The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai–a contender for the latter–whose beautiful prose makes a sad story a great pleasure to read).

And then I wonder, What will this list say about me? Will I come across as too low-brow? Too high-brow? Too conventional? Will people choose not to ‘meet the author’ because they don’t share my taste in literature?

Under the circumstances, I decided to go with the first five books that came into my head. In fact, four of them came easily; I had to think about the fifth. It turns out they are all great books (as opposed to my favourite films, some of which are downright dodgy!). At some point in the future, I will indulge in listing my favourite books by genre, author, etc. But for now, here’s the list I sent the guy at the Ascot Vale library.

The Poisonwood Bible
Barbara Kingsolver
The story of a fundamentalist preacher, his wife and four daughters, set during the tumultuous period when the Belgian Congo became Zaire, and told in the daughters’ four distinctive voices. The sort of book I aspire to write.

The Time Traveller’s Wife
Audrey Niffenegger
Wildly imaginative and deeply romantic, I read this book slowly because I didn’t want it to end.

The English Patient
Michael Ondaatje
Forget the film! This stunning, poetic book about love, war and racism packs a punch that took my breath away.

Midnight’s Children
Salman Rushdie
The Booker of Bookers, this parable about the partitioning of India is beautiful, powerful, uncompromising and funny—much like my experience of India.

A Room of One’s Own
Virginia Woolf
‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’. Published in 1929, still a source of inspiration to me as a woman and writer.

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About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne-based crime writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. Her first novel, Behind the Night Bazaar won the 2004 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. She is a winner of the Scarlet Stiletto Award and has thrice been shortlisted for Ned Kelly awards. Her third novel, The Dying Beach, was also shortlisted for the 2014 Davitt Award. Angela teaches writing and is currently studying for her PhD in Creative Writing at Monash University.
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16 Responses to A few of my favourite things

  1. I think your list is put together perfectly in the spirit of the exercise. Farewell, My Lovely is my favourite Chandler – and would make it on my Top Five Crime list.

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  2. Luke Savage says:

    These are what first springs to mind,

    The Slave, Isaac Bashevis Singer

    A beauty

    For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway

    maybe a little old school for some, this is a romantic and exciting book that conveys the inner life of an individual better than any other.

    The Long Goodbye, Raymand Chandler

    Funny, cool and sad.

    Master & Margerita, Bulgakov

    Magic realism before there was such a thing.

    Between the Woods & the Water, Patrick Leigh Fermor

    Non-fiction and very much of its time but a young mans journey on foot across eastern Europe in 1933 is one of the best travel books ever written.

    Maybe a little testosterone fueled, but all are books I love and reread almost every year.

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  3. Fran Murray says:

    OK- here’s an electic mix of old and new, I’m sure on greater reflection this would be a different list, but this is what first comes to mind. Couldn’t stick to five, I’m afraid- books bring out the rebel in me, I guess.

    Ditto on Ang’s choice of the Poisonwood Bible- I relished going to bed early every night so I could read it, and had a building sense of loss as the pages to go got fewer and fewer…..

    To Kill a Mockingbird- Harper Lee. Read it at school- reread it every couple of years ever since. Prompted my first real exploration/discussion about issues of right and wrong and morality. It makes me reflect on the searingly clear and honest sense of justice that a child has- Scout as the character, and Fran as the young reader. I’m looking forward to the conversation with my daughter when she first reads it.

    The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini

    Bookclub book from a couple of years ago – John Howard and Phillip Ruddock should read it.

    The Cadillac Desert Marc Reisner.

    A fascinating political/environmental history of the politics of water in the Western USA. And while were on this genre-

    The Firecracker Boys- Dan O’Neill

    a history of the campaign to stop the proposal to build a polar bear shaped harbour in Alaska using a nuclear bomb. And it IS non-fiction!

    Poppy. Drusilla Modjeska

    A woman’s biography of her mother. When I first read it I strongly identified with the daughter. On rereading it since becoming a parent, I have new insights on the mother.

    Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen

    You either love her or you hate her- I love her.

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  4. I’m enjoying this exercise more and more: now I’m getting books recommended by people whose opinions I value. I’d heard good things about ‘The Kite Runner’ – thanks for the reminder, Fran. I must go back and re-read ‘Poppy’, too…

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  5. Dean Lombard says:

    Similarly I found it much easier than I expected… though still hard to omit so many good books. So in no particular order…

    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon) – astounding, moving, so very real and sad. I don’t know that I have read anything that gives such a compelling view of the world from inside a teenager’s mind.

    Setting Free the Bears (John Irving) – A road movie, a love story, with a potted history of the underside of World War Two stashed in the middle. his first novel which still for me has a certain charm and beauty that still nudges it ahead of his other work, even though plenty of the latter are ‘better’.

    Kafka on the Shore (Haruki Murakami) – again, a standout for me though all his work is breathtaking. Murakami’s stories are always so huge, but this one really takes the cake. features his most beautiful characters.

    Accordion Crimes (E Anie Proulx) – on so many levels… the life story of a green button accordion as it passes through a succession of owners… there is nothing else like it

    Down and Out in Paris and London (George Orwell) – my favourite author, who I thought would miss out until I relaise it’s ‘books’ not ‘novels’… Orwells non-fiction was always his best (notwithstanding the (flawed in the case of 1984) brilliance of his last two novels), and this one changed my life.

    The Riders (Tim Winton) – OK, I cheated by having 6, but this is a phenomenal book, his best by far. Such a compelling portrait of grief verging on insanity, certaily going beyond obsession…

    Hard to omit Steinbeck (I have more of his books than anybody else’s and Grapes of Wrath just missed out), Solzhenitsyn, Arthur Miller and Anne Tyler (Patchwork Planet), but good to see that some of my all time favourite books are not by my favourite authors at all.

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  6. Mary Latham says:

    I agree that it’s impossible to name only 5 favourite books. I haven’t done the first 5 that come to mind, I’ve named 5 that stick out from the rest for various reasons.

    Kenny and His Animal Friends by Joan Talmage Weiss
    This is the first “real” book I remember reading, when I was about 7 years old, as opposed to “little kid” books. I think that’s where my love of reading officially started.

    Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
    I remember this as the first “grown-up” book I read. I also loved it because it was a beautiful hardcover copy that my mother won for getting the highest score at her school in the intermediate certificate. Some books just feel nice in your hands and that adds another whole level of enjoyment.

    The Mythic Journey: The Meaning of Myth as a Guide for Life by Liz Green and Juliet Sharman-Burke
    A beautiful book filled with gorgeous images of art as well as the stories, this was a present from two very good friends. It introduced me formally to mythology which I have come to really enjoy. It would be the book I have taken down from the bookshelf most often; I continually refer to it.

    The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
    This is the first book where I finished the last page and immediately turned back to the first page and read it again. It was just so beautiful that I couldn’t wait to experience it again.

    The Time Traveller’s Wife
    This is a book that I didn’t want to finish. Similiar to Fran with the Poisonwood Bible (which I also loved), I dreaded reaching the last page. It was such a lovely story that I wanted it to keep going on forever.

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  7. olgamary/mutti says:

    Olgamary Savage.
    Three of my 5 favourites have already made the list –
    . The Poisonwood Bible
    Barbara Kingsolver
    . Midnights Children
    Salman Rushdie
    . The Kite Runner
    Khaled Hosseini
    and have been wonderfully “reviewed”. I would like to add the following , top of my list-
    . Jane Eyre
    Charlotte Bronte
    basically this book is about love as a human right. I read it first when I was in my late teens and loved Jane’s independent spirit ( for which she was condemned ) and her passionate nature. I have spent a lifetime remembering Aunt Reed, Lowood Hall ( made OLMC Goulburn look like a resort ) the mad wife in the tower and of course the greatest treat Mr Rochester.
    . Love in the Time of Cholera
    Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    So another great love story, this time lavishly romantic. there were times when I was reading this book that I literally held my breath. Delightfully extravagant, unique Marquez magic.

    I too am adding a sixth favourite –
    . Behind the Night Bazaar
    Angela Savage
    because you wrote it .

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  8. angelasavage says:

    I mentioned in my original post that four of my Top Five Books came easily. The fifth was hard because there were literally dozens of books I could have chosen from, including several of which made the lists above (Love in the Time of Cholera, The Riders, To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone with the Wind) or were by authors who made the lists above (Son of the Circus, by John Irving; The Shipping News, by E Annie Proulx; Farewell, My Lovely, by Raymond Chandler). I’ve loved reading these comments from family and friends, noting both the diversity and overlap among books (and authors) on the individual lists. I like what this says about our relationships, and suspect a similar pattern would emerge if we could map out the Top Five Books of everyone we knew and loved.

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  9. Fran Murray says:

    just thought I’d drop back in with a movie recommendation. “The Lives of Others”, which is about the impact of the Stasi on East German society, and oh, so, so much more. If you liked Anna Funder’s book ‘Stasiland’, then this is the film for you. Best one I’ve seen in ages.

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  10. Lil Topic says:

    Big ask Savage, but I’ll have a go. This is a ‘Top Five Novels for Today’. ‘Might change tomorrow.
    1. Albert Camus, L’Etranger. Basically about how shallow society is, how meaningless life is, the search for sincere emotions, and probably the best evocation of existential angst ever written. Maybe.
    2. Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. And it is. Unputdownable brilliant kind of a biography about family life, love, relationships and an irrevent escape into humour to avoid all of the above.
    3. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina. Those Russian’s are something else aren’t they? Romance, tragedy, well they’re the same thing.
    4. Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot. The search for the stuffed parrot that belonged to Flaubert. Who has it? Where is it? Which one is the real one? A novel that demonstrates that a life can be written, read and presented to be a different kind of a life with each representation. Of course the search for a person’s real identity is ultimately futile.
    5. Keri Hulme, The Bone People. I wish I’d never read it because it still gives me a chill. An intense evocation of people caught in cross cultural angst, they fear themselves and they fear each other and any attachment.
    6. Shite is that 5 already. Have to include Alexander McCall Smith, 44 Scotland Street because it is charming and I want to be him, dine with him, and become his adopted child.

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  11. Lil Topic says:

    PS Plus everything on Olgamary’s list (not Hosseini nor Rushdie)

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  12. Andrew Nette says:

    A bit of a late entry here ….

    Most of the novels I read are crime fiction and my tastes and lowbrow to say the least. I cannot name five books with any certainty, but these would come close.

    The Long Firm (Jake Arnett): The life of a queer working class hoodlum through the eyes of his rent boy, a former porn actress down on her luck, a gay peer, a drug pusher and a radical criminology lecturer, all set against the backdrop of London the swinging sixties. Fantastic.

    The Big Nowhere (James Ellroy): Hollywood during the red care with a serial killer thrown in for kicks. “Knock, knock, who is there, Dudley Smith so reds beware”.

    March Violets (Philip Kerr): A missing persons investigation becomes a cesspit of corruption and intrigue for PI Bernie Gunther. Set amid the Nazi rise to power in Berlin in the early thirties, this is the best of several novels featuring the same character. Kerr writes as if he were there.

    The Last Good Kiss (James Crumley): I wish this guy wrote more! Every one of the small number of books he has written is great. The first line of Kiss is a killer: “When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bull dog names Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.”

    1984 (George Orwell): My non-crime pick. ‘Workchoices’, ‘Be alert but not alarmed’, and a long term war on terror. Orwell was pretty spot on.

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  14. sooz says:

    You know what I hate about this? There are so many darn good books out there AND I DON’T HAVE TIME TO READ THEM ALL! And I can’t remember half of the ones I have read…

    I could do my top 5 from the books already mentioned I think, and still not come close to catching them all. And as Lil said, I can only speak for today.

    A heartbreaking work of staggering genius was indeed fabulous. I read it cover to cover sitting on the front porch of an Indonesian guesthouse looking out over a valley during monsoonal showers…it definitely contributed.

    Time travellers wife made me laugh and cry and wonder at how darn clever a narrative can be. And I was pregnant so you know, I didn’t stand a chance.

    Poisonwood bible has stood the test of time against my crappy memory so it must be as good as I remember.

    Fine balance surpasses words and reviews. My most favourite of many favourite books set in India (god of small things, midnight’s children, karma cola, a river sutra…)

    Woman on the verge of time (I think that’s the title…) an oldie but a goodie for the androgenous feminist in us all.

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