1. One book you have read more than once:
Like my friend, Andrew, who originally sent me the template for this meme for bloggers, I’m a hoarder when it comes to books. Wasting time on the Internet these days has definitely cut into the time I might have spent re-reading old favourites, and I do lots of reading of picture books and short novels for work/school, but I would have to choose: 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff.
In the 1980s, an actress of my acquaintance, Elaine Lee, was appearing in the play version of 84 Charing Cross Road, opposite Judi Farr and the late Leonard Teale. To my horror, the season was completely sold out. They had just added one more performance by public demand (whew!) but, while I was waiting for the big day, I picked up the book out of curiosity – and was immediately hooked. It’s the true story, told in letters, of a feisty New York woman who loves English literature (and the mystique of leatherbound second hand books), and her pithy correspondence – almost love affair – with the canny manager of a London antiquarian bookstore. I just love the way the personalities of both main characters permeate their letters, and to see the evolution of their deepening friendship and mutual respect over many years, and the positive effects a single deep friendship can have on others. One also gets a taste of life in both cities: while stoic Londoners soldiered on under post-war food rationing, hectic New Yorkers’ career paths, dental health and rental crises was preventing the following of dreams. Inspiring!
The feature film version with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins is excellent, too, as is an audio version featuring Miriam Karlan and Frank Finlay. The movie’s soundtrack album is also a firm favourite. When I finally got to see Elaine in the play, the curtain call bows by the cast were real tear-jerkers. An amazing theatrical experience.
After reading 84 Charing Cross Road (which included the sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street), I was recommended the hilarious Underfoot in showbusiness, also by Helene Hanff, which details her frustrating quest to become a playwright. I then found Apple of my eye on my own, ironically just a few weeks after visiting New York for the first time. That one has Hanff and her friend, the aptly-named Patsy, exploring New York as if they were tourists. They made me want to go back immediately and see everything I’d missed. I eventually found a rare, second hand hardcover version of Apple of my eye (the one with all the photographs), on my next visit to New York. There’s this wonderful three-storey second hand bookstore in Greenwich Village, where every book is alphabetised and categorised.
2. One book you would want on a desert island:
Mmmmm. The omnibus edition of The lord of the rings by JRR Tolkien. It supports endless re-reading, and I would love the luxury of time to read it again after all the fun of seeing the three movies. (I loved seeing Sawyer reading Watership Down as his book of choice or, rather, the default book for a desert island, on TV’s “Lost” recently. But it’s not long enough for an extended stay.) Coincidentally, the one book Helene Hanff absolutely hated when she had to critique it, as part of her job evaluating books in Underfoot in showbusiness, was… The lord of the rings.
3. One book that made you laugh:
Mmmm. I love the humour of Peter David, comic book writer and “Star Trek” novelist, who’s extended his talents into several series of very funny, very punny, medieval/fantasy books, particularly his Sir Apropos of Nothing trilogy. See also The Woad to Wuin and Tong lashing. (I also love collections of newspaper comic strips of the 80s and 90s, such as “Bloom County”, “Calvin and Hobbes”, “The Far Side” and “Robotman”. They often give me a good belly laugh.)
4. One book that made you cry:
The ultimate time travel novel, The man who folded himself by David Gerrold. A young man inherits a strange time travel belt and turns his life upside down as its power tempts and/or corrupts him. It’s a real coming-of-age novel, so as a then-stereotypical science fiction fan in my early 20s, this one really hit home at times. It certainly adds layers of complexity to all those science fiction shows that so carelessly flirt with time travel.
David, of course, is also the creator of “tribbles”, those little prolific fuzzballs from “Star Trek”. I’ve bought every novel David has written (and have read most of them), and he always takes his readers on an informative journey.
5. One book you wish you had written:
My unpublished social history on Aussie TV. Sadly, after several close calls, the Australian literary market was unable to embrace my proposed manuscript as a commercial venture. (Maybe I should reconfigure it as a doctoral thesis?) The book would have contained behind-the-scenes gossip, previously untold anecdotes and celebrity interviews. Sigh…
6. One book you wish had never been written:
Worst “Star Trek” novel ever: Deep Space Nine: The Laertian Gamble by Robert Sheckley. I was shocked to realize the recently-departed Scheckley was a highly respected science fiction writer. This book was just turgid, turgid, turgid. I’ve read lots of “Star Trek”, and this was just hard work to even keep turning the pages. Ick.
7. One book you are currently reading:
Warpath by David Mack. It’s a gripping instalment of the “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” post-series adventures. I fell behind on my “Star Trek” reading, and it’s been next to impossible to avoid reading online “spoilers” for this book. (Ditto the final Harry Potter book!)
8. One book you have been meaning to read:
Mmmm. I’ve bought all of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next (and Jack Spratt) science fantasy novels as they’ve come out in mass market paperback. He was signing in Galaxy Bookshop one night – and anyone who owns a pet dodo (The Eyre affair) and gets Lost in a good book, or even The well of lost plots, sounds like someone I want to read about. The covers and blurbs are so compelling, I hope I do enjoy them when I finally get the chance.
9. One book that changed your life:
Star Trek: the motion picture by Gene Roddenberry. I knew “Star Trek” from the animated series of the 70s, and pre-publicity about the making of the first feature film to revive the 60s TV show. Picking up this novelization in a supermarket checkout queue (and reading it before seeing the movie) turned me into a “Star Trek” fan and opened so many new doors over the past three decades.
10. Favourite Australian children’s book:
From my own childhood – very nostalgic, and probably nothing that would appeal to most children today – Cole’s funny picture book. Two volumes have been around for A Very Long Time, and the third (edited by E.W. Cole’s grandson) almost as long. I’ve taken this book to several Premier’s Reading Challenge events. My Volume 1 is inscribed by my paternal grandfather on my sixth birthday, and he made a point in helping me to build an appreciation for this scrapbook of the Victorian Era. It’s incredibly-densely packed with text, and fine-lined engravings of days-gone-by. It has poems, stories, riddles, jokes, picture puzzles, codes from the days when television and X-boxes weren’t even figments in their inventors’ imaginations.
You are hereby invited to respond, and tell us your 10.