Last week my friend Sharn from Family History 4 U, issued a challenge on Facebook to list ten books which have affected my life. Others seemed to list their 10 easily while I was first presented with a blank mind, followed by puzzlement over which to choose.
In the end my solution was to think of books which take me back to the time or place where I read them, or which played an important role in a phase of my life. I’ve highlighted those that I think have played a truly critical role in my life or my understanding of it. Judy Webster talked about not over-thinking her list, something I surely haven’t managed. I could blame it on having time during a long flight but that wouldn’t really be true…I just hate being pinned down to a limited choice. I could equally well nominate dozens of others.
So here is my ten from ten list:
The Heidi series (i) (Johanna Spyri). I loved being able to imagine life on the hills with grandfather, the simplicity and his gruffness.
The Girls’ Own annuals and similar that I got each Christmas, if I was lucky. Actually I was recently given two early-edition annuals by one of my mother’s friends.
Pestering Mum and Dad for the Reader’s Digest book on Animals which of course I got as a birthday gift, but for which I can’t find the title right now.
2: The teen years
Michel Quoist’s Prayers of Life; The Ugly American (Burdick & Lederer); The Last Blue Sea (ii) (David Forrest aka David Denholm); Animal Farm (George Orwell); For the Term of his Natural Life (Marcus Clarke).
The summer of Dickens when I read all of Charles Dickens’ books. What do I remember? Not a lot.
3: Personal interests
My God, it’s a woman (Nancy Bird), a gift from a colleague who knew about my enthusiasm for, and interest in, flying.
The Right Stuff (Tom Wolfe): the story of the test pilots and astronauts.
Bill Bryson’s Neither here nor there. I vividly remember reading this book one Australia Day long weekend at Rainbow Beach and driving DD#3 crazy with my laughter as she tried to nap. His Down Under book is equally funny, especially on the topic of the Northern Territory and Darwin.
Dragged Screaming to Paradise (Suzanne Spunner) which I read soon after I arrived in Darwin and which echoed so many of my own experiences. I laughed and laughed.
5: Papua New Guinea
Territory Kids (Genevieve Rogers) about what it was like to grow up in the Territory of Papua New Guinea, giving me a better understanding of my husband’s early years.
A suite of photo books on PNG (v) which were gifts from my future husband as an introduction to my new life, and any of James Sinclair’s books on PNG.
Mr Cassmob and I shared an obsession with Mount Everest for many years despite being totally unfit and also in my case, having a fear of heights. We had an extensive collection of books of which I’ve chosen Many people come looking, looking (Galen Rowell) for the story of the people, and an expedition. Everest the Hard Way (vi) and other books by Chris Bonnington.
84 Charing Cross Road (Helene Hanff) remains a favourite book, and movie, for the sheer pleasure of reading it and for the implicit warning to prioritise our bucket lists. I have re-read this book many times and enjoy it each and every time, and always want to shout at her “just go!!”
7: Writing: letters and books
Searching for The Secret River (vii) (Kate Grenville). I loved how she described hunting down her ancestor’s biographical information while denying she was a family historian of the stereotypical type. It also taught me just how much work goes into writing a book and the varied sources of inspiration.
8: Social Issues
Jack London’s People of the Abyss (viii) pulled me up short when I read it in Denpasar airport one year. The effect of one group’s “wants” on the abilities of other’s survival. The perilousness of life for working-class people, a group to which many of our ancestors belonged.
Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits which made a huge impact on me.
Gifts Differing (ix) (Isabel Briggs Myers) which provides a framework for understanding different personality types and traits.
10: Family History
Australian Pioneer Women (Eve Pownall) and Nick Vine Hall’s Tracing your Family History in Australia, the first books I was given as I started my family history in 1986. Who would have known the journey that was ahead of me.
The Voyage of their Life (Diane Armstrong) because it confirmed for me that there was merit in tracing emigrants.
My book Grassroots Queenslanders: the Kunkel Family (x) for which I won a couple of prizes. Cheeky to include it here, but publishing this family history was a personal high and the feedback from family was precious.
You might be interested in a blog post I wrote some time ago about my lifelong addiction to books or my response to Geniaus’s Reader Geneame. My Bewitched by Books blog which has been languishing for some time but there are a few reviews on it. Not that I haven’t been reading plenty of books but unfortunately I’ve spread myself a bit thin on the ground with other activities.
What books have had a formative effect on your life? Or which books stand out in your memory for the time when you read them?