No 1

Yes Im a big fan of Tim Winton, too. And likewise I can barely aspire to write even a single sentence as compelling as his. Dirt Music has been my favourite so far.

His brother Andrew Winton is also incredibly talented, as a musician. I saw him perform at the Tamworth Music festival a few years back, and he was far and away the performer I enjoyed the most. And as good as his prepared material was, the repartee between songs, where he riffed along, gently messing with the minds of the audience, was even more remarkable.

A gifted bunch them Wintons!

Oh, please don’t remind me!!! I did read that way back then, and boy that was another blast of bleak! :slight_smile:

Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon. I read it when I was 11 or 12, and it influenced my thinking greatly at an impressionable age.

(I too am a fan of Tim Winton. Breath is a terrific surfing novel.)

I didn’t read anything when young that had a profound influence on me. I had things read to me in 45 minute blocks when I was 8 and 9 at school … Black Beauty, Treasure Island, The Severed Hand, a whole lot of Pickwick Papers … they influenced me, I guess, into not wanting to read novels and short stories. So when I did start reading, it was psychology, mythology and ancient history … I think the first novel I read, about 6 years later, was The Black Arrow but I wouldn’t put it at No. 1.

But my “Desert Island Book” would be The Lord of the Rings especially if I could have it bound with The Silmarillion. Do I have to run and hide under the table?

Actually, I have read it many, many times and never tire of it. When people who listen to my anecdotes about life say, “You should write a novel”, my usual answer is, “I can’t; it was written by Tolkien!” I just feel anything I wrote would be too derivative in relation to that.

And I did read Stephen Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant but didn’t really enjoy them. I persevered into the second set but gave up. I just found Covenant and the books too gloomy and negative, and the world Donaldson created didn’t work for me … it just seemed contrived. Sorry, nom.


It seems that, even with Bob’s careful introduction, at least two different kinds of “number one” are being presented: the book which knocked me on my ass when first I read it, and the book I’d want with me if stranded on a desert island.

The two might be the same, but – at least in my instance – are not. My earlier selection, Against Forgetting, is the desert island book. For the sit-down-fast selection, I’d have to go back and re-think my lifetime reading, and perhaps settle on Catch-22. Or Bleak House. Or Zorba the Greek. Or Kavalier and Clay. Or Doctor Zhivago. Or… well, you see the problem. Perhaps my dilemma solves itself, though, if one title steadily glows while others shine individually a moment and then are eclipsed.

Against Forgetting is an anthology; finding something new almost every time I pick it up strengthens its hold on my imagination. Bleak House, or any of the others, may provide a new insight on re-reading, but does not completely re-dazzle as AF can.


If it has to be JUST ONE book, then for me it’s The Hobbit. I was first exposed to the book by a really gifted teacher when I was in grade 5 or 6, and that story was the one that set the hook and made me a reader for life. Our teacher moved on to Fellowship in class after that, but by then I’d received the whole set for Christmas, and was already well past them devouring those too…

Mark: I wouldn’t say Thomas Covenant is my desert island book, but it was the one that made the biggest impact on me. It’s hard, all these years later, to remember why, but I think it was probably the first adult (i.e. not young person’s) book I’d read apart from Lord of the Rings and I was disturbed by the darkness of the books, as well as their ambiguity. Big impact.

By the way, if you don’t like gloomy and negative, do not read Donaldson’s Gap series. Although they open out into a grand story of redemption, the first novel in that series was unrelenting with darkness and misery. If I hadn’t been given the second book I probably wouldn’t have read the rest, although I am now very glad that I persevered. In the end it was a great series but, even on rereading, that first book is a bleak, tough, read!

Hugh: Breath is on my post-thesis list. At this stage everything is on my post-thesis list… :neutral_face:

I have been traveling since before this was originally posted. For me the greatest “book” or collection of writings in a book:


Not just in translation but in Hebrew and Greek, the great themes, pathos, insights, etc.

VALIS by PKD is a novel I read for the first time when I was 12. It has had more influence on my thought and perception than any other single work.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson was, perhaps, the first novel I ever read. It remains for me the best story I’ve ever had a narrator relate to me (although Lolita does to the English language was Naruda’s spring time does to cherry blossoms and I love to get drunk on that pollen).

The book that never ceases to offer joy and comfort is Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. The gargantuan three-tome collection is among my most prized material items.

Sarajevo: A War Journal by Zlatko Dizdarević profoundly changed my life; among other things, its subject matter led to a 15-year journey of writing, travel, and scholarship.

So I guess I have four number 1s. What can I say? I am a literature slut.

Tentatively putting my toe into this deep water to test the temperature, as a relative unknown here. So many great responses and possible choices already named–Zarathustra; Godel, Escher, Bach; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch. All have had impacts on my life at different times, different phases. Crime and Punishment; The Brothers Karamazov; War and Peace; Anna Karenina (I had a major Russian phase). And I’d put the Collected Far Side next to Calvin & Hobbes for pure joy.

But I’m not sure I can say just one, so I’ll say two: the first novel I read that hooked me permanently on reading was The Grapes of Wrath. I was in 5th grade and somehow found my way to Steinbeck in the library. I pursued everything he wrote after that, and was a committed reader from then on. But the novel I keep going back to for unending inspiration is Gravity’s Rainbow. (You never would have guessed that from my epigraph, huh?).

(However, if I only had one book to take on a desert island, I’d have to go with the Collected Shakespeare. Infinitely re-readable.)

My number 1, the book that has influenced my life and my thinking and the book I have read more often than any other book, is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Although I am the opposite of a motor bike rider … :laughing:

To Kill a Mockingbird

Far From The Madding Crowd

The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke

It wasn’t the first work of spec fic I had ever read (that would be Stranger from the Depths by Gerry Turner) but it was the first spec fic novel that really lit my pilot light for the genre. Because of my enjoyment of this particular little adventure, I read the rest of Clarke’s works in one summer when I was a wee lad living in Hawai’i at Hickam AFB. I was living in ‘paradise’ and still found myself flopped on the rough carpet in the base library in front of the shelf filled of paperback science fiction that scores of young G.I.'s had given to the library when they had moved on to other assignments.

Clarke had a deft way of cleverly and smoothly incorporating the odd bit of LGBT content into his works from time to time. For me it was like magic to read those few pages wherein he made mention of people like myself, within a science fiction universe, no less. No big thing. No heavy handed obtrusiveness. Just… there, like everyone else around me.

The City and the Stars itself includes no such content, but had I not read that one novella, I would probably not have read the rest of his works until who-knows-when later, and would not have received that reassurance, so early on, that there was a place for me in the future. It was like an invitation from Clarke, letting me know that I existed and was in fact not invisible.

This is cheating the “one-only” regulation just a wee bit…

Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey series… Master & Commander etc. There are 20 books in the series. They’re so very well written, technically and historically; the characters very quickly become your friends (I cheer for them); and the plots are riveting. There are twenty (and a half) books but they flow in series so they’re one gigantic book.

I just finished reading The Children of Witches by Sherri Smith and loved it. It’s set in 1700s Germany (think witch hunts); she’s married to the local tavern-keeper and has two sons. One is special. He’s so special that the local priest takes him to help manage the town’s children who lead the witch hunts. At about the two-thirds mark, as riveted as I was, I wanted to put the book away for fear of the way it was looking to end. But stopping mid-book is against my rules and so I crept forward. I’m not going to break the rule about reviewers spoiling the ending except to say, “I loved it”. I re-read it and have kept it for another read. Very well written. Beautiful characters. Intriguing and exciting and emotional.

Can I write about my favourite eBook? I’ve resisted the eBook thing but I love my iPod Touch and I secrretly think I will love reading books on an iPad. It was Amaranth by Sal Maa-Neco. I got it from and I read it on my iPod Touch using Kindle. It’s a fascinating romp / story as told by an old man recalling his childhood friend and their adventures growing up in Istanbul. I’ve been to Istanbul and I think that’s why I bought this book, and I’m a sucker for boy/childhood adventure stories in exotic locations (I blame Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson). I’m fairly hard-hearted but I cried reading this book - and I wasn’t expecting that. But I also laughed aloud and it’s been a while since I did that reading a book. This was certainly a very good introduction to ebooks, and I think I’m sold on them. Reading on my iPod Touch was far better than I was expecting. I liked the way the writer was able to incorporate colour pics into the story. Having written about Amaranth, I think my next thing is to re-read it.

I’ll go with Michael Steele’s answer and say A Tale of Two Cities, oops, I mean…

The book that has probably influenced me most in my life is called Scepticism Inc and by Bo Fowler.

But my favourite book is probably Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne because I could reread it hundreds of times without it losing much.