The Power of Some

January 10, 2008 at 7:35 am (Uncategorized)

I heard a guy called Charlie Peckering (I think that’s right) on the radio today talking very entertainingly about a collection of short stories by feted writer David Eggers. I went looking for the book this afternoon on the strength of Peckering’s recommendation (along the ‘never been a fan, hate it when people say oh but this one will turn you, but, er, this one turned me’ kind of lines, in addition to just interesting and engaging chat about the stories themselves) but as yet have been unable to find it, all my local booksellers currently stocking just one Eggers title, What is the What.

Pouting due to my lack of success, I stood sulking by one wall of ‘top 100 books ever, as voted by the people of Australia.’ Interesting, I thought. Let’s see what the people of Australia loved.

Right at the top, kicking off the list, were the Harry Potter books. I’ve mentioned the J.K. Rowling books at least once on this blog, and noted that I’ve never read one of them. I’ve always intended to, though, because it’s been such a reading phenomenon. Hands down the biggest thing in books in my memory. Whopping. An absolute thumping success. So as a reader and fledgling writer, I think it’s important that I know firsthand what all the fuss is about. I took the first book of the series, The Philosopher’s Stone, off the shelf and thought why not now? Rowling ain’t no darling of the literati like the erudite and experimental Eggers, but shit, people love her books by the bloody millions so that’s good enough to pique my curiosity. Harry was coming home.

Further down the list (the Bible made it in, but was beaten by Gone with the Wind, Nineteen Eighty-Four and others. I couldn’t see Ulysses, but several Dan Browns made it in) was Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One. This was timely. Llew and I were talking about Courtenay only yesterday, because he’s running a writing course for a week out at Macquarie University early this year. My father-in-law is very involved with the uni, so he had asked me if it was something I’d be interested in if they’d allow me in as part of the broad university family. In the end, I decided it was just too expensive for me at this time, and passed. Llew was talking about The Power of One last night because he’s unsure I did the right thing. He – a non-fiction reader who only very, very, very rarely reads fiction and hasn’t read mine – thinks it might be worth the money to get some face time with Courtenay because Llew loved that book. Loved it.

And here’s the thing about Courtenay: like Rowling, Brown and the venerable Stephen King, several of his books were on that list of all-time favourites. This says several things to me about the Australian reading public, not least that they’re very loyal to authors they’ve enjoyed in the past. It’s much easier to walk into a bookstore and choose a book to take to the beach when you have a name you know you can trust. If you liked the first Harry Potter, chances are you’ll like the second, and so on, as Rowling discovered and then some. Of course they’re not the best books ever. But they are books many Australians can claim to have read. Perhaps more than any other book on that list, which at least partly explains how the series wound up in first place.

Llew said ‘Read it, read it and then decide.’ Well, okay. I may not end up on the course anyway – I may be ineligible, or I may be too insolvent to take part – but if someone who would never choose fiction feels strongly enough about The Power of One to press it into my hands and insist I buy it, then I’m curious enough about that magic to do as I’m told. I usually read literary fiction, that’s just the way my own taste rides, but more than anything I’m simply a reader, and ‘popular’ is not the dirty word some critics would have us believe. I didn’t find my Eggers, but I’ll be interested to read the books that made it home instead.

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