I’ve made many lists of things. Favourite albums. Favourite songs. Favourite David Lynch films starting with “E” (that one was very short) … but I’ve never made a list of my favourite books. My rate of book consumption is much slower than my rate of devouring movies, TV, music etc. so I’ve never felt I had enough of a shortlist to choose from. However, I’ve finally read enough that I want to give it a go. So here’s my top 10 novels …
10. Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers – Rob Grant & Doug Naylor (1989)
Infinity, as you might expect, is based on the cult British sci-fi comedy TV show, Red Dwarf. It’s the first novel written by the creators of the show – a show that I’m not a big fan of, to be honest. The handful of episodes I’ve seen gave me a few chuckles, but I’ve never felt the need to take it any further.
However, as a book, it works really well. Without the need to make a joke for the laugh track every thirty seconds, the writers were able to take their sci-fi ideas a little more seriously and provide back story to the characters, giving the whole thing some dramatic weight. I also like that the book doesn’t get nearly as “silly” as some of the TV episodes I’ve seen, preferring to take the slightly more realistic stories of the show’s first couple of seasons, and combine them into a cohesive plot.
It’s still quite funny though, so fans of the show’s sense of humour shouldn’t be too disappointed. All up, perhaps the highest praise I can give is that I prefer it to the similarly-themed, much-acclaimed Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
9. Popcorn – Ben Elton (1996)
A clever and entertaining look at violence in movies and its repercussions (an especially hot topic back in the mid-90’s). It’s too bad the widely hated Ben Elton’s Live From Planet Earth was booted off Australian TV after only three episodes earlier this year. Not because I thought it was good, but because it’s now very hard to convince anyone he’s a good writer.
8. Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling (2000)
Each Harry Potter book is a shade darker than the previous one, so when picking a favourite most readers will choose the book that balances the kid’s stuff and the adult themes to the degree that suits their tastes. For me, it’s this fourth instalment, smack bang in the middle of the series. Dragon chases and Quidditch tournaments etc. provide plenty of childlike whimsy, but the final chapters leave the reader with murder, tragedy and looming evil – the first depressing ending in the series. Goblet also marks the first time that awkward teenage romance is significantly featured – an aspect I have to admit I’m a bit of a sucker for.
7. A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess (1962)
The controversial but fantastic movie has it’s origins in an even better novel. On the page, Clockwork Orange comes across a bit softer than on film, partly because the violent actions are masked by the slang words used – after all, reading about someone being “tolchocked in the gulliver” is a lot less sickening than watching a man being kicked in the head. The plot of both versions is almost identical however. That is, right until the very last chapter. Film fanatics will be familiar with the movie’s disturbing ending, but the book includes a whole extra chapter that changes everything. Burgess was apparently pressured into removing this final chapter for the novel’s US release and subsequently it was left out of the film. I’m still not sure which version I like better, but this glaring difference is one of the most interesting things about the novel.
6. Matilda – Roald Dahl (1988)
Like most Australian kids from my era, I was brought up on a steady diet of Roald Dahl. And it was this tale of a young girl, academically and supernaturally gifted, taking on her despicable parents and downright evil headmaster that captured my imagination the most. It’s one of the few books I can remember reading multiple times as a child.