In every writers’ life, there was at some point, the beginning of a love for books. It may have been motivated by our parents, friends or merely an individual’s curiosity. For me, the semi-rebellious conviction of staying up late at night propelled an underlying interest in the art of storytelling.
Among the estimated 129 million books (129864880 according to Google in August 2010) that have ever been written, there are three books I vividly remember reading while growing up. Their stories have stuck with me.
Childhood book: Matilda by Roald Dahl
Matilda – the little girl with an extraordinary mind and gifts who had to grow up in a dysfunctional home, where her wealthy but shallow parents could not care less for her intelligence and skills. She diverts the void of growing up in an unloving home by fulfilling her love for books and playing pranks on her parents, such as super-gluing her father’s hat to his head.
Roald Dahl did not disappoint with this classic. The oddness of the characters is charming and the extremism of their behaviour adds colour to the plot. There is also something strangely appealing about little Matilda’s magical powers. As a child, I marveled at this element that seemed larger than life. Matilda is brave, and stands up to her enemies. She teaches the young mind that there is a time when you should stand up for what is good and even in the worst situations, that good can prevail.
The story is told from Matilda’s point of view, putting the reader effectively in her shoes. Roald Dahl successfully persuades us that Matilda is a girl we can understand, cheer on and rejoice with. Personally, Matilda also became the girl I wanted to be – mature, intelligent and courageous, all with a quiet, humble confidence.
To a great extent, Quentin Blake bound this children’s novel together with his genius illustrations. I remember having my imagination aided through these sketched, cartoon-formed images, as I was able to carefully put Matilda, her family and her school environment into context. It is interesting how much a simple picture can provide for a wild imagination.
To date, Matilda has been adapted into film and musical form. But I will one day relay this book to my children and encourage them to pick it up to read as well.
Teen book: The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time by Mark Haddon
This book is on my list for so many reasons, but two of which I will explain:
One, the story provides a deep insight into the life and mind of Christopher, an autistic boy. Although the story is centred and built around a central character who has Asperger’s syndrome, this striking element enhances the plot rather than drowns it. Mark Haddon uses first person narration to brings to life the ideals and thought-processes of people who so often are misunderstood in their uniqueness. Most of all, it confronts a common perception towards autistic spectrum disorder and conveys it as something distinctively beautiful rather than difficult to comprehend.
Two, to anyone who is simply looking for a good book to pick up, this is it. Haddon demonstrates the fact that mystery novels need not be so complicated in their plots. Instead, it is a simple story of how Christopher tries to solve the murder of a dog and the step-by-step thought process of this boy makes for an intriguing but ultimately pleasant reading experience.
Haddon brilliantly builds a space where the thoughts of a foreign mind become comfortable in our hearts. It sparks our compassion without the burden of sadness. The story is beautiful too, in the way it helps us delight in the characteristics of those who are different from us.
The book has won several awards such as the Whitbread Book Awards for Best Novel and Book of the Year, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book and the Guardian’s Children Fiction Prize. All of which well-deserved for this novel.
Adult book: False Impression by Jeffrey Archer
In this mystery novel published in 2005, Jeffrey Archer constructs a fictional story using scenes of September 11 attacks in New York. Archer offers a vantage point into the individual lives of a British aristocrat, a New York banker, a murderous heroine, an honours graduate and a senior FBI agent who are separated geographically. We are led through a plot set around international grounds surrounding issues sparked by valuable art works.
Much like any murder mystery plot, or even the popular but outdated Crime Scene Investigations series on television, the title is a direct suggestion of what the plot is driven by – false impressions. Archer introduces the lives of these characters in fragments and before allowing their connections to take form.
It gives readers the perspectives of lives happening in parallel, where there are millions of other people around the world doing completely different things in a specific time frame. While the complexity of understanding reality separated according to individual lives is somewhat exciting, Archer downplays the element of suspense by timing the novel in a relatively relaxed pace.
More than anything, this novel is something I remember reading because it would have been one of the earlier novels I picked up after reading bulk loads of teenage romance novels. It was a breath of fresh air in my own readership journey and an introduction to my interest in mystery novels.