Tag Archives: graphic novels

Books of influence

Think back through your life. What books have left an indelible mark, good or bad, on your soul? Was there a novel you were forced to digest at school that put you off reading forever after? Is there a non-fiction title that led to an epiphany about your true calling? Did a self-help publication rescue you from a dark place? Is there a work with an unmatched ability to transport you from from the humdrum to a place where you can shed your burdens and relax?

These books don’t have to be your favourites. They don’t need to be great literature, either. They just need to have made an impact that echoes within you today. They might be books you can’t bear to throw away, even though you haven’t picked them up for decades. And they could be the titles that stay on your bedside table so they’re always within reach.

Here are a few that helped make me who am I am, for better or worse, and the reasons why:

Tintin & The Red Sea Sharks – Herge
This was the first graphic novel I laid eyes on. The fact that I can still remember finding it in the Yarram library – a hardcover comic felt like a forbidden fruit – is proof this book spiked the Richter scale of my years. I’ll never know whether I ended up a journo because of the adventures of the unstoppable boy reporter but I have my suspicions.

Asterix the Gaul – Goscinny & Uderzo
I moved from Tintin to the Asterix series, which revel in punning and wordplay. During my early tabloid newspaper days I was a rampant punster in inappropriate places. I think the two Frenchmen and their translators are to blame.

To the Wild Sky – Ivan Southall
This novel was young adult before the genre existed. For reasons I’ve detailed elsewhere, it could have led to my becoming an author. Even if it didn’t, it was one of the first books that helped me understand the power of story. And it was Australian, unlike most of the Blyton-esque stories I grew up with.

The Chrysalids – John Wyndham
Wyndham specialised in sci-fi that could be happening in your own backyard. I devoured many of his books. This title made me think what it meant to be different, accepted and able-bodied. It raised questions I hope to explore in my next novel and it certainly led me down a path into social justice journalism.

To Kill A Mocking Bird – Harper Lee
This could be filed with the titles above and below it, under the heading ‘Injustice’. Reading novels such as this, even as compulsory school exercises, made me aware that there are times when you need to speak out, no matter how unpopular that might make you. I was reminded of this courtroom drama recently, when reading Chloe Hooper’s excellent and upsetting The Tall Man.

A Kindness Cup – Thea Astley
I did a unit on ‘justice’ in either Year 11 or 12 and this was one of the set texts. It was certainly the first I’d heard of massacres of indigenous Australians. The injustice evident in this tale has stayed with me ever since and influenced my years at university and as a newspaper journalist.

1984 – George Orwell
Also school reading. At some level I think this made me realise the people in power don’t necessarily deserve to be there and should be scrutinised and held accountable for their actions.

Shogun – James Clavell
One of the towns I lived in as a teenager had a mobile library visit fortnightly in a semi-trailer, adding to the exotic appeal of any space full of stories. Thanks to that truck I dabbled with Stephen King, James Herbert, Ian Fleming and other authors that the librarian cocked an eyebrow at. This Hollywood-esque saga was the first time I was so completely transported to another culture to experience adventure, honour and sexuality. I’ve probably read it three or four times since.

A House for Mr Biswas – VS Naipul
I tackled English literature at university and didn’t exactly love it. There weren’t many books I had to read that I enjoyed. I’m not even sure I enjoyed this one but I’ve never forgotten it. It led me to other titles such as Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. When I first had the chance to travel internationally it was India I ventured to.

The Art of Happiness – The Dalai Lama with Howard C. Cutler
One of my friends remarked that this book taught him to be a man and how to deal with anger. I wouldn’t go quite that far but I would say it has made me think about who and how I want to be.

Thank you to the lovely Julia Lawrinson for prompting this post in her blog.

Incidentally, last year I did a Facebook 15 Books in 15 Minutes list, with a slightly different brief … and came up with a slightly different catalogue. If I were to list authors that have influenced me, that would be a different list again. Maybe that’s a challenge for another post. In the meantime I’d love to hear about books that have left a mark on the inner you.

Unmanned and dangerous

During my writer-in-residence stint at insideadog, I kicked off a discussion about graphic novels. In part, the inspiration for the topic was my discovery that girls enjoyed Tintin novels just as much as boys. That surprised me somewhat, given the only female character of any significance in Tintin is Bianca Castafiore!

Turns out girls are all about the story, unlike most boys (it seems) who need a bloke to identify with. Apparently girls will read anything as long as the story looks good. Most boys will only read books with suitably blokey covers. (I’m clearly in a minority.)

Anyway, one of the Dog Insiders recommended I check out a series called Y: The Last Man. Based on a quick Google and test-read, I was hooked. You can download the first episode free here. I’ve subsequently purchased and read the next 10 or so. It’s one helluva story and doesn’t pull any punches. Violent, yes. Confronting, yes. Is there a message? Yes.

I recommend it – but definitely not for younger folks. I’d say 17 and up.

Y: The Last Man cover image
Y: The Last Man cover image

Books for boys 2

Of all my posts so far, Books for boys has attracted the most eyeballs. Getting boys to pick up a book, open it, begin reading (often slowly and grudgingly) and then persevere right through to the finish, can be a real challenge. As a result, there are countless parents and teachers out there on a Holy Grail-style quest for titles that can engage and entertain.

I’m no literacy expert. But I was a compulsive reader when young. Still am, really. I read to my son every night, select books for him from the local library, chat to him and his mates about what they’re reading (if they read at all), visit schools to talk about being an author and journalist, and consume a lot of books myself – many in the Young Adult category. I reckon that gives me a pretty good spider sense for what will snare male readers and what won’t.

While I reckon almost all the titles in my earlier Books for boys post are winners, those listed below are also well worth a look. And if you want to delve even deeper, here are some themes I reckon you should watch for:

Competition: This doesn’t have to mean sport. It could mean who farts the loudest. But boys are inherently competitive and once they get sucked into a competition, they’re more likely to stick around for the medal presentation.

Action: This doesn’t have to mean guns and blood. It does require interesting developments every few pages. Boys are impatient. They don’t want to wait for stuff to happen. I recently read a really well written junior fiction book about two girls whose friendship was on the wane. They talked about it a lot and eventually made up BUT NOTHING ELSE HAPPENED. I guess that’s why the cover was pink.

Short chapters: Yes, I know, this rule is broken by Tolkien and many others. But if you have a seven-year-old who is only beginning to read, they want to feel like they’re getting somewhere, not bogged in a chapter that never ends. Short chapters let them pause, take a break, absorb what they have read and, cue parent voice, turn the light out before midnight.

Humour: Hard to write, great fun to read. Lots of boys like reading gross-out material about bums, snot and slime generally. I actually think the key to this stuff isn’t how sticky or stinky it is. I reckon it’s the story and the slapstick. Boys want to laugh at weird and wonderful things happening – mainly to adults.

Interests: If your boy has an interest or obsession, play to it. Buy books that detail the boots worn by Beckham or the sword swung by Sir Lancelot. If you can’t find a bookstore carrying Japanese manga card game characters, look for them online. Where there’s a market, there’s a publisher.

Comics: Don’t shy away from graphic novels – but do check the suitability for your boy’s age group. There are some fantastic graphic novel series available and, reading is reading, whether there are pictures or not.

I’ve gone on too long and haven’t listed any books yet. I’m not great at pumping my own tyres but I’d note that my own debut novel, Game as Ned has been popular with male (and female) readers aged 13 and up. Judging by the letters I’ve received, the boys like that there’s lots of action (after a slow start), occasional humour, short chapters and a tense finish. When a 15-year-old writes to say “I don’t like reading but your book is the best book I’ve read”, it’s a mighty compliment.

Anyway, here are some more Books for boys that are well worth a look, with suggested reader ages in brackets:

Skulduggery Pleasant – Derek Landy (a bit trippy and obtuse in places but funny and sassy and most boys look at the cover illustration and go “whooooa – I want to read that.”) (10+)

Contest – Matthew Reilly (Most Reilly titles are great for boys but, of those I’ve read, this is my favourite.) (12+)

Kill the Possum – James Moloney (Covers some heavy terrain but teen males will identify with the narrator’s emotions) (15+)

Looking for Alaska – John Green (15+)

Somebody’s Crying – Maureen McCarthy (14+)

For younger readers, check out:

The Tangshan Tigers series – Dan Lee (my son found these by himself, read them and loved them) (7+)

The Captain Underpants series and The Dumb Bunnies – Dave Pilkey (6+)

The OK Team – Nick Place (7+)

Just about anything with Andy Griffiths’ name on the cover (6+)

Ditto for Paul Jennings (7+)

Star Wars graphic novels (7+)

I’ll keep adding to this list as I keep on reading. To check out my personal library, click here. I have added a Books for Boys tag so you can search titles I believe boys will enjoy.