The Book that Made Me, edited by Judith Ridge

You have to get to a certain age to really be able to appreciate a book like this. You have to be able to look back on your childhood with a few years of perspective to be able to understand and articulate your reading habits and the effect that they may have had on your writing, or even your whole development.

This book contains a short chapter from 32 different writers from all across Australia and New Zealand, with three English authors thrown in for good measure. Many chapters start with a picture of the writer as a child and many have a cartoon by Shaun Tan. I was pleasantly surprised by how different each narrative was when all had been asked to describe the childhood book at made them. I dread being asked “What is your favourite book?” because it is impossible to narrow the choice to a single volume. Many of these writers had the same problem, often talking broadly about their childhood reading before narrowing the choice down. Some talk about their comics too.

This book contains a short chapter from 32 different writers from all across Australia and New Zealand, with three English authors thrown in for good measure. Many chapters start with a picture of the writer as a child and many have a cartoon by Shaun Tan. I was pleasantly surprised by how different each narrative was when all had been asked to describe the childhood book at made them. I dread being asked “What is your favourite book?” because it is impossible to narrow the choice to a single volume. Many of these writers had the same problem, often talking broadly about their childhood reading before narrowing the choice down. Some talk about their comics too.

This book contains a short chapter from 32 different writers from all across Australia and New Zealand, with three English authors thrown in for good measure. Many chapters start with a picture of the writer as a child and many have a cartoon by Shaun Tan. I was pleasantly surprised by how different each narrative was when all had been asked to describe the childhood book at made them. I dread being asked “What is your favourite book?” because it is impossible to narrow the choice to a single volume. Many of these writers had the same problem, often talking broadly about their childhood reading before narrowing the choice down. Some talk about their comics too.

One story that sticks in the mind was by Will Kostakis, who was so disappointed by the book that he had to read at school that he simply started to write his own story. The boy next to him stole the first page and demanded more. Soon the whole back row of the class was reading his story. Inevitably the teacher got hold of the pages and rather than expelling Will, also demanded to see more. That same story became 20 pages and then later a whole novel. It was rejected many times and then rewritten until it was good enough for someone to publish. So began a life as a writer.

Catherine Mayo spent her childhood holidays on Waiheke Island sailing boats with her brothers. Their Mum read them books like The Hobbit and the Narnia stories. Sometimes their father, a scientist specializing in plant diseases, would read, but as the hero or heroine wandered through forests they would stop to contemplate infections of Phytophthoria cinnamomi in the Pinus radiata trees until the kids all yelled “Daaad, it doesn’t say that.” Mum had to take over. Catherine loved the story of Homer’s Odyssey (one of my favourites too) and that love of classical history, lived out on the headlands and beaches of Waiheke, has led her to set her novels in these ancient times.

Probably the most famous among the 32 is Markus Zusak, author of the phenomenon that is The Book Thief. Sadly his list of 12 reasons why The Outsiders by S E Hinton was the book that made him lack the charm and warmth of many of the others. Stories are more fun than lists.

The Book that Made Me has lots of great stories about lots of great books. Helpfully there is a list of all those mentioned in the index, as well as a small biography of all of the 32 writers. Profits from the book will go to the Indigenous Literary Foundation in Australia, to help provide books and resources to indigenous children. A great read and a great cause too.

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Marcus Hobson Marcus was until recently a businessman but has given all that up to follow his lifelong passion to be a writer. With a varied career behind him, including a degree in Ancient and Mediaeval History (and archaeology) he has wide ranging literary tastes from popular fiction to Viking sea burials. He is currently working on his second novel, a mix of fact and fiction set in the First World War (and crossing his fingers about getting his first book published). Marcus lives near Tauranga with his wife and their daughters.

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