Up to ‘F’ already. Please feel free to play along. Any book, fiction or non-fiction, or the surname of an author, as long as it begins with that letter.
In the 1970s, I used to belong to The Military Book Club. One of those organisations that sent a book every month, and you could decide whether or not to keep it. They sent me a book by John Keegan, ‘The Face of Battle’. I kept that one, and still have it today. This examined the historical side of combat, the logistics, the myths, and the realities. Choosing just three famous battles, Agincourt, Waterloo, and The Somme, Keegan delivered a fascinating insight into war over the centuries. One for fans of the genre only of course.
Sarah Waters 2002 novel ‘Fingersmith’ might best be described as a Victorian crime drama, with a modern twist. Imagine the writing of Dickens, but with references to lesbianism and pornography, and you will get the idea. Told in three parts, this is a very interesting book, exploring so many different themes which are all intertwined in the lives of the main characters. Don’t be put off by the subject matter though. This book won awards, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize too. It was later made into an excellent two-part drama by the BBC, starring Sally Hawkins. It is available on DVD.
Philip Jose Farmer was an American writer who specialised in the Science Fiction genre. I only read his ‘Riverworld’ series; five books set on an imaginary planet in the future, populated by some characters who are familiar to the reader, in a decidedly unfamiliar environment. This is an enormous work of fantasy and ideas, which I became sucked into, after struggling with the first book for some time. Once you get your head around the concept, it becomes addictive indeed. If you like such themes, but have never read this series, prepare to be amazed.
‘What if?’ books can be very intriguing. Take historical events, reverse the outcome, then explore what might have happened differently. ‘Fatherland’ is a 1992 novel by Robert Harris, and it is based on the presumption that Germany was victorious in WW2. In 1964, Hitler is still alive, and about to celebrate his 75th birthday. The story centres on the investigation into the death of a high-ranking official, by one of the leading characters, detective Xavier March. But the world imagined is so well done, with a believable alternative to actual events, and convincing technology, politics, and world affairs. This really is an excellent novel, and can be enjoyed by fans of many different literary genres.
My top pick today is a novel about books, and the burning of them, from one of the great modern writers, Ray Bradbury. ‘Fahrenheit 451’ was published in 1953, but is as relevant today as it ever was. In the shadow of the McCarthy era in 1950s America, Bradbury brought us a vision of the future, in which all books are banned. In the book, ‘Firemen’ are employed to burn books, and the possessions of those who read them too. Paper ignites at 451 degrees Fahrenheit, hence the title. One ‘Fireman’, Montag, becomes involved in saving books, and associates with others who hide books to read. I will not give away any more of the story, but I recommend this book without reservation, as the foretelling of a dystopian future that is all-too possible.
It was also made into a film in 1966, starring Julie Christie and Oskar Werner.