So, number one on my list (although not necessarily the best) is, Huraki Murikami's, 'The Wind Up Bird Chronicles'. If you would like a list of characters and a more succinct description of the book, with information on the background of the writer and this story, then have a look here.
This isn't the cover that I had on my copy.
The story is in three parts, which I didn't notice at the time, and each part is based on three pieces of classical music; the Prophesying Bird, Bird-Catcher Man, and the Thieving Magpie. Don't ask me who all the composers were, (Rossini? was one). You can look it up on Wikipedia.
There seems to be a trend happening here with Murikami. I just purchased '1Q84' which is a three part homage to '1984' (George Orwell). My copy is all three books in one though.
The start of 'The Wind Up Bird Chronicles' seemed a bit twee, the main character loses his cat, with strange almost childish dialogue between the characters. Don't let this put you off, this book is a bottomless pit, you jump in and you never hit the ground.
The main character is trying to find himself. He escapes his life and troubles by going to a vacant lot next door, where he has discovered an unused well which he climbs down (he may have been looking for the cat, it's a while since I've read it). He sits in the bottom where the air is sparse, he goes off into a world of intrigue and mystery in his mind.
His real life is then involved in similar sized events. No one is ordinary. This book is a very interesting and an unusual read. It is completely off the wall in the same way that 'The World According to Garp' and 'Catch 22' are, only more abstract.
Huraki Murikami was in his thirties before he started writing. He was at a baseball game between two Japanese teams in Japan, and it suddenly struck him he could write a book. Which he did, straight off the bat. He entered it into a competition and won first prize. Amazing. Not this story though.
It seems to mirror my own story, I go to the footy every week, and I suddenly think hey, I could write a book. Except I don't write one, and therefore have nothing to enter in any competitions, so that bit isn't the same, I'll give you that. Maybe mirror wasn't the word. Probably, completely nothing like my story would have been more accurate.
This is a translation and the problem with translations is that you lose all the nuances and subtleties of the true thoughts of the author. In this case, we've even lost two chapters and they've rearranged the order? I can't speak Japanese, so I don't know if this is a good thing or not?
2. John Boorman – Adventures of a Suburban Boy
John Boorman, if you didn't know, is a great film director who is English. He directed some of my all time favourite films - 'Deliverance'. 'Point Blank', 'Hell in the Pacific' and 'Excalibur'. I've read a lot of autobiographies and when I found out that 'Hope and Glory', a film which I also loved ,was John Boorman's life story, I sought out the book. It sat on my shelf for ages. Finally I started it but I couldn't get past the first few pages (which happens to me with a lot of books - 'Shipping News' also springs to mind) then end up not being able to put them down.
Finally I got past the start, and was swept away with the rest of it. If you haven't seen 'Hope and Glory', watch that too but don't expect 'Deliverance' though. This is touching and very funny in parts. Set in the second World War during the blitz in London as seen through the eyes of a child (Boorman). What are you doing you plonker, these are book reviews, and you're recommending films too. Well, the film was made from part of this book.
If you like to read about peoples lives that have been successful, and at the same time retained humility, then this should foot the bill.
3. Stephen J. Cannell – King Con
I just looked up this favourite of mine that Stephen J Cannell wrote. I saw the obituary and was stunned and saddened that he'd died. 'King Con' was the book. This American was a celebrated television writer - amongst his credits were 'Ironside,' 'The Rockford Files', 'Columbo,' '21 Jump Street,' 'The A Team' and 'The Greatest American Hero.' He certainly had a talent to entertain.
The same cover as the one I read.
'King Con', is more mainstream, more pulp fiction than any other book on my list. This is about cons and con men. If you liked the movie 'The Sting', or at least the concept of it, then you should like this book. I've just read a few reviews and none of them would inspire me to read the book though, so don't take any notice of those. Stephen Cannell, I believe was a man with that secret ingredient not many have, charm. He also had the knack to make it come across in his television shows and his books. I've read a lot of his books, in fact all of them before the 'Scully' character arrived, and the first three since he arrived. He's written about another eight 'Scully' books before his death I've since found out, which I haven't read.
Come to think about it though, his books are more in the thriller genre to be exact. Out of all of the ones I've read, 'King Con' has a lot of warmth and character as well as thrills, mystery and suspense.
I'm not going to try to describe the story to you as it was a long while ago that I read it, all I can say is, read this book - you won't be disappointed.
4. Laurie Lee – As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning
Laurie Lee grew up in the Cotswolds in west-central England. His work is described as prose. 'Cider with Rosie', which you may have heard of, is often used as a text book for English classes in school. This is the first of Laurie Lee's autobiographical trilogy.
This is a lovely book about his childhood, growing up in the Cotswolds. I had it on the curriculum when I was at school. To be honest, I couldn't get through it. Funnily enough, I can remember lots of stories from the book though!
This is the cover on my copy if you're scouring the 2nd hand shops.
It was 'As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning' that really struck a cord with me. Lauree Lee had reached 19, an age where he had grown out of his small village and wanted to discover the rest of what might be out there in the world. This, I think is what a lot of us come to feel, particularly men.
He heads to Southampton, on his way to London and is able to eke out a living playing his violin as a busker. This also meant he met like minded fellow travellers, as well as a whole host of other interesting people.
Almuñécar - somewhere in Europe.
He eventually ends up or perhaps is drawn to Spain. It's a funny thing with writers from around that time, they all got entranced by the Spanish Civil War - Orwell and Hemingway to name another two.
If you have ever had the travel bug, or dreamed of travel when you were young, or you are dreaming of it now., give yourself a treat and read this book. I purchased a copy for my son (so it doesn't matter how old you are), when he went overseas, and he (a very rare event) went to the trouble to send an email saying how much he loved it. "It's the best book I've ever read" he told me later.
I've since sent him 'I Can't Stay Long'. I'm yet to hear what he thought of that. If you purchase 'As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning' on line as an e reader and it comes with his other two autobiographical books. Read this one first. If you want to read the others, do so. But, just to give you the heads up, read these two books before those, 'A Rose For Winter' and 'I Can't Stay Long'. I think you may love these two almost as much as 'As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning' but you may not get to them if you read the other two parts of his autobiography first.
These books are hard to come by, especially as real books. You may be lucky to find them in second hand bookshops. If you go looking and find them, they are gems.
People often ask, what's the best book you have ever read. This is a silly question for anyone who reads a fair bit, as there are so many wonderful experiences to cherish from so many books. But, if push came to shove and I had to name my all time favourite, 'As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning' would be it.
5. Tim Winton – Cloudstreet
Tim Winton is Australian. I'd describe 'Cloudstreet' as prose. I don't know but I think you'd like this book better if you are over 50. Tim Winton has captured characters from a by gone era that do not exist in this day and age (not many, anyway).
This is a great cover, summons up happy untroubled days for kids.
This for me formed a large part of my love for this book. Not only does he capture the characters from yesteryear, he also summons up all sorts of nuances from these characters that complete the spell.
This book is about two families with a lot of bad luck for baggage. Lamb and Pickles are the names, just like incompatibility on a dinner plate, so is the eventual merging of these two family disasters. Their stories take place over a period of 40 years from 1943 through to 1963.
Set in Perth, it's wonderful to read something that really captures a lot of the Australian character. From downing a beer, to tossing a coin in two up, the whole experience reeks of Aussieness. I know a lot of people don't like the Australian caricature that is portrayed in a lot of movies, but these characters are all part of what Australia was. I've known these people.
There has been two attempts to film this book, the second attempt a TV show has just recently been released on DVD. The first one I never saw. This one I have. It was quite enjoyable. Even though Tim Winton was involved in it, they somehow stuffed something up with the house (which in the book had a life of its own, with wicked memories in the walls - in the series it was almost the 'Amityville Horror') and the Aboriginal character, who is the book was an outsider who observed the goings on in the house - but it didn't fit into the story at all in TV adaptation.
In the book, it all works like a charm. This is the problem though, when making a classic book into a movie or TV show. Unless you've got yourself casting the performers and David Fincher at the helm as director, it doesn't always work as you imagined it.
Tim Winton won the Miles Franklin Award for this book, deservedly so. If you haven't read it, rush out and get yourself a copy now. You'll finish it over a long weekend.
6. William Kowalski – Eddie's Bastard
William Kowalski is the author of 'Eddie's Bastard'. This story has a lot of character, and I loved it. It took me to those places only readers know. This is a book that slipped through without being noticed by the public and critics alike. No one really appreciates this book, except for those in the know like me, and now you too.
I first saw this book in one of my old haunts, a book shop with no direction, run by someone who didn't know books. I used to trade in books I had read that I didn't want to keep. I picked this one up and it sat on a bookshelf at home unread for twelve months or more.
One day I picked it up and started to read, for a few hours or more, I went off to that place we all know. Since then it sits in that imaginary bookshelf in my mind of favourites. I'm a great believer in the quote "Expectation is the mother of disappointment". I think the opposite applies too, no expectation can produce a cracker. This was 'Eddie's Bastard' for me.
The story is about a baby dumped on his grandfather's doorstep, with a note; 'Eddie's bastard'. Eddie has died in the Vietnam War. The grandfather, finds the baby, and recognises the family gene. The grandfather brings him up in an unconventional way as he is drunk most of the time. Made to follow suit with his old man, the baby is called Eddie.
It is a story about someone who is good, impacting on things around him, in a coming of age yarn. The story is often told in flashback informing us of the Mann family history. Starting with a family curse dating back to the American Civil War. The Ostrich farm failure that has left the grandfather as the towns laughing stock. As well as a relationship between his grandfather and a Japanese soldier stranded on an island together in the second World War.
There are some darker moments when Eddie has to face up to an abusive father of his childhood sweetheart, Annie. The story has been criticised for being a too happier a pill to swallow, which is perhaps true. But I didn't contemplate that at all when I was reading it.
Kowalski is an American writer who wrote this, his début when he was only 28. There is a follow up to this story if you are interested, 'Somewhere South of Here,' although I read it all and in my opinion it wasn't a patch on 'Eddie's Bastard'.
So there you have it, a bumper edition of good books to read. Hopefully you can accommodate your own tastes with at least one of these, if not all of them.