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Thursday, 4 September 2014

Favourite books

Today, I responded to one of those chain-letter things on Facebook.  I had to name ten books that had knocked my socks off. I started reading when I was about four, and books were my constant friend and refuge as a lonely only child with parents who were really not cut out for the job of raising a child.

It worked doubly, because in my constant campaign to win their approval for anything I did, the only thing that they ever approved of was my reading, probably because it kept me quiet and out of the way.

They would order me to attend Sunday school at a church they never went near, just to get me out of the house. That was fine: for many years, I always took a book with me "to read on the bus".  If I had been at home, I would have been ordered to "do homework" or "study", but on my own, I could pursue interests and gain an education.

You see, I would go out the door at the right time, but most Sundays I went to a suitable bus shelter away from where I might be seen. I sat there, read and came home again at the appointed time.  My parents never knew that unless the weather was bad, I went nowhere near the terminal boredom they thought I was getting.

In my teens, I was kept supplied with books even though my local library charged sixpence a book for fiction, when I had a ten books a week habit, by a kind librarian who explained about the books with LF on the spine, meaning literary fiction. Those, she told me, were free, as were non-fiction.

Parents, and I guess librarians, have no idea what effects their actions will have.

I noted many more than ten books that knocked my socks off, but these ones made the most lasting impressions, at various times:

1.  Gödel Escher Bach, an Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter;
2.  The Lives of a Cell, Lewis Thomas;
3.  Finnegans Wake, James Joyce;
4.  The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins;
5.  On being the Right Size, J. B. S. Haldane;
6.  The Lunar Men, Jenny Uglow;
7.  Freedom on the Wallaby, Poems of the Australian People;
8.  Beetles Ahoy! Ada Jackson;
9.  Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens;
10. While the Billy Boils, Henry Lawson.

There is a thread of radical social responsibility there, and also a deep interest in science, neither of which would have pleased my parents who were both conservative in politics and ignorant of science.

I wonder now if my choices were made as a way of kicking over the traces,

Those books made me a human who cares about science, justice and truth, but number 11, 'On the Shoulders of Giants' by Robert K. Merton made me care about communicating those ideals, even if four sociologists, who should have known better, once cited it as 'On the Shoulders of Grants'.

 I guess the authors needed a better proof roader. No, I'm sorry, I mean a better prof reader.

I know one thing: a smell checker wouldn't have picked that one up!

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