Sometimes there is nothing better than curling up on the sofa with a good book and a dog at your feet. Even with my house in chaos with the renovations, I know I can always find a nice spot, tucked away, to get lost in a book.
I was asked by a friend the other day, ‘How many of your books have you actually read?’ He was referring to my 3 massive library-style bookshelves that are crammed full of every type of reading material, and my honest reply was ‘about 70-80%’. I have a massive TO READ pile as well, which I’ve been working through…but then I see another must read, and the pile grows again!
My favourites have changed as I’ve changed and grown as a person; my current faves may be ‘replaced’ by new ones in a couple months time, so instead I’m going to tell you about 5 books that have changed my life.
‘Girl’ by Blake Nelson
This book epitomises my high school years, I read it for the first time when I was 15, getting into ‘alternative’ music and gigging (for me it was industrial rock; NIN and The Tea Party were my favourite bands), boys, and partying. I didn’t dress like everyone else, I rocked a mini kilt years before ‘Clueless’ came out and I had a pair of industrial Doc Marten boots when they were still banned from school. The life and times of Andrea Marr read like my diary; a sheltered suburban teen discovering a whole new world and lifestyle, making mistakes along the way but taking every opportunity as it comes – whether on purpose or by bumbling, awkward, unsure accident. I’ve re-read this so many times and it always reminds me of being 15 again.
‘Fruits’ photographed by Shoichi Aoki
Japanese street fashion at its best! I was gifted the first compilation of photographs from the cult magazine of the same name, and was struck by how confident and strong the sense of individual style was in kids so young – in most cases under the age of 18. I’ve always dressed a bit differently; even as a pre teen I was tearing out pages from European issues if Vogue, wearing my interpretation of high fashion and making bondage style dresses for my Barbies from balloons. Canadian kids weren’t into that style back then. When I got to high school it was a mishmash of grunge-inspired flannel shirts and hyper-sexy bondage gear…I was sent home from school a few times when I appeared in ‘inappropriate’ outfits on non-uniform days. I loved the gothic Lolita aesthetic long before I knew what it was, before street fashion began to dictate high fashion. I now have most of the Fruits books and still enjoy the diversity of fashion and individuality portrayed.
‘Boy’ by Roald Dahl
Grade 9 English class, this book was my introduction to the ‘other’ world of Roald Dahl and established a lifetime of admiration for his work. I’d obviously read his works aimed towards a younger audience before this, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, but this book showed a different side to his writing. ‘Boy’ is an ‘autobiography’ of the author, but really that term is interpreted loosely – not a dry account of events but an intriguing insight into the imagination of Boy. I’d say it was a ‘gateway’ book, and led me to read some of my favourite Dahl short stories and novels…most notably ‘Skin’, which is rather dark but one of my favourite stories to this day.
‘The Endless Steppe’ by Esther Hautzig
The primary school I went to was predominantly second generation Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, and second or third generation Asian kids…with a few Canucks thrown into the mix. Our reading lists (which were handed out before the summer holidays) reflected that, with a lot of material covering the Holocaust. This was an autobiographical account of the exile of Esther Hauzig née Rudomin to Siberia during WWII. Arrested in Poland in 1941, she and her parents were branded capitalists and sent to work in an internment camp in Siberia. Though not as widely read as ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’, and though Esther survived whilst Anne did not, both were not only stories of these young girls but the brave people who tried to help them at great cost to themselves.
‘Wild Swans’ by Jung Chang
As a second generation Chinese immigrant, born in mainland China but without any real experiences from living there (we left when I was a toddler) I’ve never really identified with Chinese culture. I consider myself to be Canadian and even find it a bit offensive when strangers ask me ‘where I’m from’ but don’t accept Canada as my answer. ‘But where are you REALLY from?’ they always ask. Sure I’ve heard horrible stories about the cultural revolution from my mum, but it all seemed so foreign and unfamiliar she might as well have been talking about a galaxy far, far away.. A friend of my dad’s gifted me a signed copy of Wild Swans when I was a teenager because my parents are Shanghainese, and Jung Chan and her family’s story is from that city – and the effects of the cultural revolution on a family very similar to my mum’s. This book is what sparked my interest in Chinese culture, and has led me to some of my favourite books such as ‘Shanghai Baby’ (Zhou Weihu), the works of Amy Tan, Xinran and Lisa See’s ‘Shanghai Girls’ ‘ and its sequel, ‘Dreams of Joy’ to name but a few!