by Jennifer Bryce

I’ve noticed that my science fiction friends are keen on making lists: the twenty best films of the year, or my ten favourite operas. I don’t see much point in a list unless you discuss why you’ve selected particular items. English author Chris Priest was inspired by a BBC program, ‘100 novels that shaped our world’:

and, on his blog, compiled a list of 100 books that have shaped his life: Of these he says, ‘The uniqueness lies only in the totality, the existence of one title thought of as special in the context of all the others of similar specialness, memorable in a life full of fairly disorganized and impulsive reading… I do not claim world-shaping impact on me from these titles, nor are all of them novels, but they form part of the silent context from which one views the world and reacts to it.’

I decided to have a go. What are the books that have shaped my life? I was daunted by the thought of 100 books and in the end I came up with only 75 titles. Past 75, I was starting to list books I’d enjoyed, whereas for each of the 75 books I’ve listed I believe I can describe some way I was affected or changed. Not surprisingly, a lot of books from childhood fall into this category — some are very simple, opening up an awareness, eg of history.

Chris and I had eleven books in common. Listed in alphabetical order by author, they are:

1The Dam Busters Paul Brickhill
2The Outsider Albert Camus
3Alice in Wonderland Lewis Carroll
4Dubliners James Joyce
5Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell
6The Tale of Samuel Whiskers Beatrix Potter [all of Beatrix Potter for me]
7The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat Oliver Sacks
8Collected Sonnets William Shakespeare [particular sonnets in my case]
9Hamlet William Shakespeare
10On the Beach Nevil Shute
11The Time Machine H G Wells

I was intriuged that Chris chose The Tale of Samuel Whiskers as his special Beatrix Potter book. It’s the story where, up above the ceiling, rats make a kitten into a roly-poly pudding. I loved all of the Beatrix Potter books and especially remember that the Flopsy Bunnies became ‘soporific’ when they nestled amongst the cabbages — it became a word in my three-year-old vocabulary.

Here are my books, in alphabetical order by author:

12A God in Ruins Kate Atkinson
13Emma Jane Austen
14Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen
15The Noise of Time Julian Barnes
16The Sense of an Ending Julian Barnes
17No Friend but the Mountains Behrouz Boochani
18Testament of Youth [of Friendship and of Experience] Vera Brittain
19Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte
20Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte
21Peter and Co [and all of the Billabong books] Mary Grant Bruce
22The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett
23In Cold Blood Truman Capote
24Through the Looking Glass Lewis Carroll
25The Second Sex Simone de Beauvoir
26Descartes’ Error Antonio Damasio
27Great Expectations Charles Dickens
28The Wasteland T.S. Eliot
29The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
30The Narrow Road to the Deep North Richard Flanagan
31The Feminine Mystique Betty Friedan

The Secret Garden was first book I read completely by myself: I can still hear the wind ‘wuthering’ on the moors.

32All That I Am Anna Funder
33My Experiments with Truth M Gandhi
34Frames of Mind Howard Gardner
35Monkey Grip Helen Garner
36The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame
37The Female Eunuch Germaine Greer
38Daddy We Hardly Knew You Germaine Greer
39Grimm’s Fairy Tales The Brothers Grimm
40The Old Man and the Sea Ernest Hemingway
41Brave New World Aldous Huxley
42The Princess Casamassima Henry James
43The Golden Bowl Henry James
44The Turn of the Screw Henry James
45The Wings of the Dove Henry James
46My Brother Jack George Johnston
47A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man James Joyce
48The Good People Hannah Kent
49The Rainbow D.H. Lawrence
50Women in Love D.H. Lawrence
51The Road Cormac McCarthy
52Saturday Ian McEwan
53Nutshell Ian McEwan
54Collected Stories Katherine Mansfield
55The Complete Short Stories Somerset Maugham
56The House at Pooh Corner and Winnie the Pooh A.A.Milne
57Stravinsky’s Lunch Drusilla Modjeska
58Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
59Animal Farm George Orwell
60A Valley Grows Up Edward Osmond
61Old Peter’s Russian Tales Arthur Ransome

I expect that many readers won’t have come across A Valley Grows Up by Edward Osmond. It was given to me when I was about eight years old. It describes the changes in a fictitious valley, both geological and social, from ancient times to the 20th century. Beautifully illustrated, this book made me think about what particular places were like, say, 100 years ago and how they had changed over time.

Pooh, Piglet and Christopher Robin playing ‘pooh sticks’, a game I still enjoy playing.

62The Black Prince Adam Roberts
63Awakenings Oliver Sacks
64On the Move Oliver Sacks
65The Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger
66Complete Memoirs of George Sherston Siegfried Sassoon
67Macbeth William Shakespeare
68Gitanjali Rabindranath Tagore
69Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy
70The Diaries of Beatrice Webb
71The House of Mirth Edith Wharton
72Voss Patrick White
73The Wooden Horse Eric Williams
74To the Lighthouse Virginia Woolf
75Mrs Dalloway Virginia Woolf

I come to the end of my list of 75, only to find that by technical error one of the most influential books of my childhood has ‘dropped off’. It is a book of poems about the kings and queens of England, given to me when I was seven. The poems are factually accurate: Henry VIII was ‘Bluff king Hal was full of beans/ he married half a dozen queens….’ At that impressionable age I remembered a lot of the poems off pat and even today, when I want to remember when a particular king or queen ruled, I mentally refer to those poems. The book also gave me a time reference — what year was Guy Fawkes? When were the wars of the roses? So, I really had 76 books.

Tony Thomas, however, came up with 141! This may be because he has a personal library of about 30,000 books. Tony says:

100+ authors and books that changed my life

(Books: one (or two or three) books, or series, for each author – often representing many others by that author.

Changed my life: a scene, a character, a feeling, an approach, a style, a world, stays with me still.)

 1J D SalingerThe Catcher in the Rye
 2Iris MurdochUnder the Net
 3Henry FieldingTom Jones
 4Jonathan SwiftGulliver’s Travels
 5Jane AustenPride and Prejudice
 6Maurice SendakIn the Night Kitchen
 7Peter DickinsonTulku
 8Sebastian BarryDays Without End
 9Fiona MozleyElmet
 10Fritz LeiberFafhrd and Grey Mouser books
 11L Sprague de Camp (& Fletcher Pratt)The Incomplete Enchanter
 12Tom DischCamp Concentration + The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of
 13Philip K DickThe Man in the High Castle
 14Hal ClementMission of Gravity
 15James BlishA Case of Conscience
 16Deborah LevyThings I Don’t Want to Know
 17Primo LeviThe Periodic Table
 18Ian McEwanThe Cement Garden
 19Tom McCarthyC
 20Franz KafkaThe Trial
 21Anthony PowellA Dance to the Music of Time
 22Simon MawerThe Girl Who Fell from the Sky
 23Thomas HarrisThe Silence of the Lambs
 24Julian RathboneJoseph
 25Michael ConnellyBosch novels
 26Ursula K Le GuinThe Left Hand of Darkness + Earthsea novels
 27Raymond J Healy and J Francis McComaseds Adventures in Time and Space
 28Robert A HeinleinStranger in a Strange Land
 29Adam RobertsGradisil
 30Matthew HughesBlack Brillion
 31Kate WilhelmThe Infinity Box + Death Qualified
 32Brian W AldissHothouse + The Malacia Tapestry
 33Simone de BeauvoirThe Second Sex
 34Christopher PriestThe Separation
 35Ray BradburySomething Wicked This Way Comes
 36Jack VanceThe Dragon Masters + The Dying Earth
 37Kim Stanley RobinsonRed Mars
 38Frederik Pohl (& Cyril Kornbluth)The Space Merchants + Man Plus
 39Jo WaltonFarthing + Among Others
 40Joanna RussThe Adventures of Alyx
 41Margaret AtwoodThe Edible Woman
 42Karen Joy FowlerWe Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
 43Robert AickmanCold Hand in Mine
 44Lord DunsanyMy Talks with Dean Spanley
 45Graham JoyceThe Tooth Fairy
 46A C BradleyShakespearean Tragedy
 47Jonathan KellermanWhen the Bough Breaks
 48John GrishamThe Firm
 49Donald E Westlake (Richard Stark)Bankshot + Point Blank (The Hunter)
 50Bill JamesYou’d Better Believe It
 51Lee ChildKilling Floor
 52Jim ThompsonThe Grifters
 53Alastair MacleanThe Guns of Navarone
 54John BuchanThe 39 Steps
 55H Rider HaggardShe
 56Edgar Rice BurroughsTarzan of the Apes + A Princess of Mars
 57A E CoppardDusky Ruth and other stories
 58Mervyn PeakeThe Sword in the Stone
 59Kenneth GrahameThe Wind in the Willows
 60A Conan DoyleA Study in Scarlet
 61Clive JamesThe Metropolitan Critic
 62Edmund WilsonThe Triple Thinkers + I Thought of Daisy
 63William ShakespeareThe Tempest + King Lear + Henry IV part 1
 64Anton ChekhovThe Oxford Chekhov
 65Charles DickensOliver Twist
 66Vladimir NabokovLolita
 67Philip RothThe Plot Against America
 68William TrevorCollected Stories
 69Rudy RuckerPostsingular
 70Kingsley AmisLucky Jim + The Alteration
 71J B PriestleyBright Day + Literature and Western Man
 72Emile ZolaDrunkard
 73Joseph FurphySuch Is Life
 74John Le CarréThe Spy Who Came in from the Cold
 75Garry DisherWyatt novels
 76Amy WittingI for Isobel
 77Julian BarnesBefore She Met me
 78Jane GardamBilgewater
 79Thomas PynchonV
 80John BarthThe Sot-Weed Factor
 81Samuel JohnsonPreface to Shakespeare
 82Aldous HuxleyMusic at Night + essays
 83Patrick WhiteThe Solid Mandala
 84Robert GravesClaudius novels + Goodbye to All That, poems
 85Gore VidalMatters of Fact & Fiction + Myra Breckenridge
 86W H. AudenThe Dyer’s Hand + poems
 87A D HopeThe Cave and the Spring + poems
 88C S LewisPerelandra
 89Evelyn WaughScoop
 90Richard FlanaganThe Narrow Road to the Deep North
 91Bertrand RussellWhy I Am Not a Christian
 92John GribbinIn Search of Schrödinger’s Cat
 93Richard DawkinsThe God Delusion
 94Daniel DennettConsciousness Explained
 95Sam HarrisThe Moral Landscape
 96A C GraylingIdeas That Matter
 97Frank KermodeThe Age of Shakespeare + Not Entitled
 98Tim FlanneryThe Weather Makers
 99Nicholson BakerThe Size of Thoughts
 100George Orwell1984 + Collected Essays
 101John WyndhamThe Day of the Triffids + The Crysalids
 102H G WellsThe Time Machine + War of the Worlds
 103Frank MoorhouseThe Americans, Baby + Forty-Seventeen
 104J R R TolkienThe Lord of the Rings
 105Thomas Burnett SwannThe Day of the Minotaur
 106Peter S BeagleThe Last Unicorn
 107Ian FlemingJames Bond books
 108William GoldingLord of the Flies
 109Joseph HellerCatch-22
 110Edgar Allen PoeShort Stories
 111K J ParkerMightier Than the Sword
 112Raymond ChandlerThe Big Sleep
 113Lewis CarrollAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland
 114Pauline KaelI Lost It at the Movies
 115Audrey SchulmanTheory of Bastards
 116Sally RooneyNormal People
 117Patricia HighsmithThe Talented Mr Ripley
 118SarbanThe Sound of His Horn
 119Keith RobertsPavane
 120David CrystalLinguistics
 121Philip Jose FarmerThe Image of the Beast
 122William EmpsonSeven Types of Ambiguity
 123David LodgeChanging Places
 124Anthony BurgessA Clockwork Orange
 125Ken MacleodThe Execution Channel
 126Clive HamiltonRequiem for a Species
 127Naomi Oreskes (& Erik M Conway)Merchants of Doubt
 128James ShapiroContested Will
 129Larry McMurtryLonesome Dove
 130Joe R LansdaleThe Bottoms + Hap & Leonard series
 131Hal DresnerThe Man Who Wrote Dirty Books
 132Andrew FordComposer to Composer
 133J G BallardVermilion Sands + The Crystal World
 134John D MacDonaldA Deadly Shade of Gold
 135Kate AtkinsonCase Histories
 136Colin WilsonThe Outsider
 137Thorne SmithThe Night Life of the Gods
 138Walter M MillerA Canticle for Leibowitz
 139George Macdonald FraserFlashman
     140Johann WyssThe Swiss Family Robinson
     141T S EliotSelected Poems