I enjoy reading (which is probably not surprising for a writer) and at any one time I usually have several books on the go. These tend to be a mix of fiction, popular science, travelogues and occasionally a biography or two if it’s of someone I really respect. Other than a few trash fiction paperbacks I’ve picked up when stuck in airports or when I’ve been looking for a quick, mindless read to kill some time, I keep almost everything I read and this means I have shelves groaning with an eclectic mix of books. I was looking through these the other day for a specific book to recommend to someone and it got me wondering, out of all the books I own if I had to recommend just five to other people, which five would I pick?
It took me a while to whittle it down to a final list but here they are (there’s actually six on it rather than the intended five because that’s as short as I could get it!):
1. The Day Of the Triffids by John Wyndham: The is the grand-daddy of modern post-apocalyptic fiction and more than fifty years after it was written it’s still relevant. Don’t get fooled by any of the attempts to turn this into films or TV mini-series as, with the exception of the one the BBC did in the 1980s, they’re pretty awful and miss much of the point of the story. Instead go back and read the original book. If you read it and find yourself thinking that it reminds you of the film 28 Days Later that’s because it’s a homage to this book with the eponymous walking plants replaced with rage-filled infected.
2. What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard Feynman: Richard Feynman is one of my heroes (and I don’t have a lot of them). He was all a scientist should be: intelligent, rebellious and curious about almost everything. I could have chosen either of his autobiographical volumes, but I went for this one because in it he discusses his role in the investigation into the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster. In particular, he discusses how he had to fight against many of those higher up in NASA to both find out the truth and make sure it was revealed to the world, and it casts a light on the ineptitude that seems to be prevalent in most governmental organisations. The way he demonstrated exactly what went wrong with nothing more than a glass of ice water and a piece of rubber in the middle of a live a press conference was truly brilliant and ensured no one could cover it up.
3. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb: This book explores the impact that highly improbable but hugely influential events can have on the world. We’re all still feeling the effects of one of these events (the financial crisis that started a few years ago) so such events are something which affects all our lives. This means we should try to learn a little more about them. However, ‘Black Swan’ events can be positive as well as negative and we need to be able to identify the good ones too so we can make the most of them when they happen too. And of course, you could argue that a zombie apocalypse is the ultimate ‘Black Swan’ event so if you’re into you post-apocalyptic reading and writing, this book provides some interesting insights.
4. Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us by Robert D. Hare: We all think we’re familiar with psychopaths from films and books, and indeed from news stories about real life serial killers. However, not all psychopaths are killers. In fact, it’s reckoned that 1 in every 100 people are psychopaths (and something like 1 in 10 CEOs of big companies) so you’ll probably run into several during your life. This book written by the world’s expert on psychopathy will help you learn how to spot them and how to stop them from ruining your life. This is important because while psychopaths are rare, if they get their hooks into you the effects can be devastating to say the least. It will also allow you to play ‘Spot The Psychopath’ amongst the celebrities, politicians and businessmen you see on TV screens demanding they are listened to and respected (this can be a real eye-opener!). Finally, as a writer, I’ve found this book to be invaluable resource when writing believable characters, especially the nasty ones!
5. The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time by Jonathan Weiner: This book provides an introduction to the work of Peter and Rosemary Grant have been doing in the Galapagos islands over the last 40 years. It’s a book that’s part biography, part popular science and it not only provides an insight into the day-to-day work of two world renown scientists but also provides a great introduction to anyone wanting to really understand what Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is and how scientists think it works.
6. Espedair Street by Iain Banks: This has been described as the greatest rock biography ever written but it’s entirely fictional. It tells the story of a small-town lad from Scotland who, more by accident rather than by design, becomes a member of one of the world’s greatest and most famous rock bands. It’s probably my favourite book by Iain Banks, a great contemporary author and one who has done much to inspire my own writing, but it only just edged out The Crow Road to make it onto this list. Any would-be writer can learn a huge amount from this author’s writing style. It was recently been announced that his next book will be his last due to the devastating news that he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and has been given less than 12 months to live. Even from the announcement of his condition we can all learn a lot about how to face life and all it has to throw at us.
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.
To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.