Don’t forget that everyone can play along. Just add your own favourite book titles beginning with ‘D’, or those of any author whose surname begins with that letter.
It couldn’t be ‘D’ without Charles Dickens of course. When I was a child, my grandmother had a complete bound set of his work, stored in its own bookshelf. She had never read it though, so as I took each volume down to read, I had the joy of being able to feel the binding, and to smell the pages of those unopened volumes. His books are fantastic examples of descriptive writing and wonderful characterisation, and have left us with an historical legacy to treasure always. I won’t bother to add any titles, as once I started, I could go on all day. But if you have never read any of his books, I suggest you start with ‘Great Expectations’.
British author Frederick Forsyth is a rather opinionated individual, who can be difficult to like as a person. However, in 1971, he published his first novel, and I could not put it down. I stayed up so late reading it, I was late for work the next day. ‘The Day of The Jackal’ is about an assassination attempt on the former French president, Charles de Gaulle. Rarely had I read a book so meticulously researched, or so gripping in its style. I soon felt that I knew so much more about events in modern French history, the war in Algeria, and the terror campaign of the OAS that followed. This is how to write a thriller, undoubtedly. It was later made into an excellent film, starring Edward Fox.
In the same year, I read a new novel, ‘The Dice Man’ by Luke Rhinehart. This fascinating book poses the question of how your life might turn out, if you left it all completely to chance. The main character is a psychiatrist named after the author, (a pen name) who one day decides to continue his life based on rolls of a die. He gives each number a potential outcome, and acts on the result. The effects of this decision are life-changing, and take him down a route from which there seems to be no escape. As well as the experiences of the Dice Man, we see cults spread around the idea, and as others begin to live their lives in the same way, society itself begins to change. A very unusual concept, and one that works very well.
Daniel Defoe was an English writer, best known for his books ‘Moll Flanders’, and ‘Robinson Crusoe’, though he wrote much more. As a child, I was drawn into the world of the castaway sailor, Robinson Crusoe, and his native companion, Man Friday. I used to imagine myself trying to survive on that island, wearing clothes made from palm fronds, and wondering if I would ever be rescued. That a book published in 1719 caught my imagination so firmly never really occurred to me at the time. It is interesting to note that this book has been printed in more than 700 versions, and is second only to The Bible in the numbers printed in the western world. It has also been made into films and TV series, and inspired many copycat series and films, such as ‘Lost In Space’, and ‘Castaway’.
I have to include the Russian author Dostoyevsky in ‘D’. His heavyweight fiction delivers moral impact, alongside historical accuracy, and his themes have endured from the middle of the 19th century, to the modern day. Never an easy read, with many characters, and often depressing themes, they do however reward the serious reader with a glimpse into a bygone age. Most of us will know his book ‘Crime and Punishment’, a tale of murder and retribution that has been filmed more than 30 times. But I can also recommend ‘The Gambler’, and ‘The Brothers Karamazov’, as examples of his other novels.
My top pick today is the first novel in a series by Frank Herbert. I did not usually read science fiction at the time. Although I had read some H.G. Wells at school, as well as a few John Christopher and John Wyndham novels, it was not a genre that appealed that much to me. (And still doesn’t) However, during the late 1970s, I read an article about Frank Herbert in the Sunday Times, and decided to try his novel ‘Dune’. I could never have imagined how caught up I would become in the unusual worlds portrayed in this book, and the five sequels that followed. Imaginary planets, time-travel by folding space, a drug that was the major currency of the universe, and giant sandworms too. Add a mystical religious order, warring families and empires, and some intriguing and unique characters, and I was well and truly hooked. I couldn’t stop reading them. I stayed up half the night, I was late for work again, and I couldn’t wait for the outcomes of the convoluted plots. This was story-telling at a massive level. I never aspired to get anywhere close to this, but it did give me ideas, and a lesson as to just how much work is involved for the author. It was later made into a film of course, by David Lynch. He did very well with it, but couldn’t get close to the complexity of the ideas.