Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Writer's Favourite Reads

1. Alice In Wonderland (Lewis Carroll aka Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)

Alice In Wonderland Manuscript

First published: 1865

The charm of this story lies in its origins. Presented as a birthday gift to Alice Liddell in 1862, the shy Oxford Don never intended this incredible flight of fantasy for public consumption. Nor would he have understood the modern trend to malign the psychological motivations accredited to his choice of young heroine. Alice In Wonderland remains a staple of Children's English Literature because Dodgson did understand the way children think.

A glorious and witty escapade unfolds as Alice makes her way across the incredible landscapes and scenes Carroll conjures from his imagination. Not only does he poke fun at "stuffy" victorian society, but manages to satirise the narrow-minded shortcomings of adulthood itself.

2. Lord Of The Rings Series (J. R. R. Tolkien)

Lord Of The Rings Front Cover

First published: 1954

Fantasy fiction writing at its absolute best. JRR creates epic, poignant adventures including memorable characters, detailed natural landscapes and builds cleverly on existing english and celtic folklore.

Although JRR amusingly denied any parallels between the dark forces described in his tales and fascism, due to him writing this masterpiece during the interwar years, I think the struggle against fascist principles is at the heart of The Rings Triology.

3. Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy (Douglas Adams)

Hitchhikers Guide Front Cover

First published: 1979

The gentle ironies and deflation of human egoism Mr Adams describes here are both delicious and entertaining. The film and TV series do not succeed in encompassing his breath-taking intergalactic vision. Concepts explored through the engaging stories are often original and contemporary.

The great strength of this book and the ones that followed is Adams ability to demystify complex scientific and philosophical ideas. He often does this with tongue-in-cheek humour that debunks the seriousness of the science fiction genre itself.

4. Hearts In Atlantis (Stephen King)

Hearts In Atlantis Front Cover

First published: 1999

Few american authors can write about their own country's prejudices and realities in quite such a powerful way as Mr King. Although he's famous for his horror stories, this book demonstrates King's (possibly under-rated) talent as a master craftsman of fiction itself.

I cannot fault many books SK has produced, leading right back to his incredible debut novel Carrie in 1974. Works like this one, Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile put King on a level footing with Dickens, due to the way he can show us the bitter-sweet human condition and create meaningful, memorable characters and situations.

I have chosen Hearts In Atlantis due to King's exploration of American Society in the 1950s and 60s. Unusually, the book also hints at autobiographical themes. The stories he weaves together here are cleverly-built, gripping and touching.

5. Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus (Mary Shelley)

Frankenstein, 1831 Edition

First published: 1818

Astonishing, beautifully-written masterpiece giving rise to a whole new genre of fiction-writing; namely the gothic novel. The fact Mary did all this before age twenty makes the breadth and depth of Frankenstein an uncanny literary achievement. Here, Mary keenly explores potent scientific ideas in a human and gritty way. She cleverly exposes the flaws of scientific arrogance, the human cost of misapplied scientific progress and delivers a memorable, dramatic tale.

The engaging opening chapter of a sea captain recounting the discovery of Frankenstein found half-dead, out in the snowy polar wastes, is one of the most memorable I have read.

This work is still relevant today with the rise of genetic engineering. A fitting testament to Mary's prophetic vision she illustrates with masterful prose throughout the book. One that asks us to question the Scientific Age in which we live.