My Dear Old Friends

 

“A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight.”

- Robertson Davies

 

Selecting a short list of my favourite books was a difficult task. Older favourites gather dust on the shelf, while new favourites come along almost every year. 

But these shabby and well-thumbed books from my own shelf have stood the test of time.

 

Jane of Lantern Hill, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, 1937
At the age of eleven, this was the first novel I read by this wonderful Canadian author. I went on to read all of her books, over and over again. They provided the guiding narrative for my teenage years. Anne of Green Gables is her best-known novel, but I especially loved The Blue Castle. Although darker than the other books, the Emily of New Moon trilogy inspired me to become a writer.

 

Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1935
I read the whole series as a child, and then read it aloud again to my daughters, sometimes through tears. As a child, I felt sorry for Laura; but as an adult, I have a lot more sympathy for Ma. The Long Winter is especially heart-breaking.

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1911
Who could resist the fantasy of finding a secret garden behind a hidden wall, and bringing it back to life? I loved this book almost as much as The Little Princess, another Frances Hodgson Burnett classic.

 

A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton-Porter, 1909
This inspiring novel tells the story of a neglected girl who saves the Limberlost swamp from developers. She was one of the first environmentalists. The book’s precursor called Freckles, about a one-armed boy, is also excellent. I also loved Stratton-Porter’s book Laddie, a copy of which was awarded to my father as a school prize in 1931. It’s falling apart, but I cherish it.

 

Heidi, by Johanna Spyri, 1880
For years I longed to sleep in a hayloft and eat toasted bread with goat’s cheese, just like Heidi. This old story is still fresh and alive today.

 

The Secret of the Old Clock, by Carolyn Keene, 1930
My introduction to mystery writing, the Nancy Drew books never failed to entertain me with their plucky heroine. It was once my dream to run around town in my own snappy red roadster.

 

Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry, 1985
The man can create characters like nobody's business. You don’t have to be a fan of Westerns to fall in love with Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call, two former Texas rangers on a long cattle drive. McMurtry deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize for this literary masterpiece.

 

The Fortune of War, by Patrick O’Brian, 1979
A few years ago I went crazy for the thrilling, action-packed Master and Commander series, devouring all nineteen of them back to back in one six-month reading marathon. By the time I finished, I felt as if were sailing in a wooden ship, alongside Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Maturin. I was sad for days after I closed the cover on the last book in the series.

 

The Whiteoaks of Jalna, by Mazo de la Roche, 1929
This is a gripping series of sixteen books about the Whiteoak family of Ontario, following their trials and tribulations during the one hundred years from 1854 to 1954. I am still half in love with Renny. The series is available from Dundurn Publishing.

 

Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons, 1932
This is one of my favourite themes in literature: the heroine moves into an old farmhouse filled with dysfunctional family members and whips both the house and its inhabitants back into shape. Very British, meaning very dry and witty.

 

Moonshine, by Victoria Clayton, 2005
In a similar vein, Victoria Clayton is a contemporary British writer whose heroines find themselves in old houses filled with dysfunctional characters and transform them. Her books are clever and terribly funny. Out of Love is my favourite. I wrote the author a fan email, and she replied, which I thought was very gracious of her.

 

Wolf Willow, by Wallace Stegner, 1955
Another Pulitzer Prize winner (Angle of Repose, 1971), Wallace Stegner was a well-known American writer and environmentalist. Wolf Willow tells the fascinating story of his boyhood on a prairie homestead. I was thrilled to visit his former home in Eastend, Saskatchewan, now a historic site and writing retreat.

 

The Rainbow and the Rose, by Nevil Shute, 1958
I love everything by British author Nevil Shute. He wrote some heart-rending books about the Second World War. A Town Like Alice, set mostly in Australia, is still my favourite. It was made into an excellent Masterpiece Theatre miniseries back in the 1980s.

 

The Code of the Woosters, P. G. Wodehouse, 1938
Wodehouse is a master of the English language, and his humorous books about upper-class twits like Bertie Wooster and his butler Jeeves always leave me figuratively rolling on the floor.

 

Strong Poison, Dorothy L. Sayers, 1930
An avid mystery buff, I think Dorothy L. Sayers created an unforgettable and romantic detective in Lord Peter Wimsey, the man who fought the criminal element while courting the mystery writer, Harriet Vane. Apparently Sayers wished she WAS Harriet Vane, and so do I when I read these books.

 

Three Cheers For Me, by Donald Lamont Jack, 1962
I laughed out loud, helplessly and hysterically, when I read this first book in the series about the buffoonish Canadian First World War pilot Bartholomew Bandy.

 

Evidence in Camera, Constance Babington Smith, 1957
This autobiographical account of British air force officer Constance Babington Smith’s service as an aerial photographic interpreter in the Second World War, and her discovery of the first remote-controlled weapon, inspired me to write my own novel, Bird’s Eye View.

 

         WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

 

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