Ten* Books That Changed Me by Gabrielle Tozer
*This list could have had 1001 books, ranging from children’s and YA through to romance, drama, crime and non-fiction, so I’ve chosen stories and authors that have shaped my writing career, stolen my heart or stuck with me (perhaps for simply reading them at the right time for me).
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
Like many readers-turned-writers, Roald Dahl’s work unleashed my imagination. Not only are his stories fantastical, hilarious, dark and outrageous, but they burst with heart and love.
For me, Dahl was the ultimate children’s writer because he wrote directly to children – he didn’t try to kiss up to adults, he remained unflinching in his storytelling. (In fact, the adults in his novels are usually horrid, except, of course, for the beautiful Miss Honey in Matilda.)
In the past few years, upon discovering a few unfortunate things about his personal life, Roald Dahl has become somewhat of a problematic literary hero for me. [http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/pocketdocs/problematic-literary-heroes:-roald-dahl/8102946] But nothing can change the fact that his books are magnificent and they’ve all inspired me to read – then inspired me to write. The truth is, I could’ve added many of Dahl’s works to this list. Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, The Twits… but Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has a special space on my bookshelf because I adore the world so much. Sweet grandparents! A chocolate factory! Oompa Loompas! Character names like Charlie Bucket and Augustus Gloop! Just gorgeous. I still look for a Golden Ticket every time I chow down a chocolate bar on deadline.
Lost & Found, Brooke Davis
I fell in love with this quirky, heartbreaking and beautifully written novel from the first page. Penned by Australian writer Brooke Davis, this debut novel stuck with me long after I put it down. The themes of love, feeling lost and grief resonated with me, especially in the lead-up to working on my latest YA novel Remind Me How This Ends, which also deals with losing the person most important to you.
But it’s the way Davis captures the voice of seven-year-old Millie, eighty-two-year-old Agatha Pantha and eighty-seven-year-old Karl The Touch Typist that punches me in the gut. A man on my morning commute even caught me mouthing, “Oh my God…” to myself while wiping away a tear during one of my more fragile reading sessions. Tender, sweet, tough… I called my mum as soon as I’d finished reading it. Davis is a gorgeous writer. I would read her shopping lists, her to-do lists, anything.
High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
I’m prone to a pop culture “Top Five” list like Rob Gordon, have messy feelings about plenty of people who I shouldn’t, and used to spend my high-school video-store wage on albums at my local Sanity store. The characters in High Fidelity are flawed – they’re awful at times – and Rob spends way too much time looking back at the past and what might’ve been, but damn, sometimes that’s how life makes you feel. You ask yourself, “What if?” You daydream about that person who held your hand once in the dark and wonder if it could have become something more if you let it. You try not to let yourself stress about the path taken – but end up fantasising about the one you didn’t in your most private moments. Some people need nice heroes and happy endings in books, but I don’t. I’m obsessed with imperfect protagonists and wobbly emotions, so Rob and his self-absorbed woes in High Fidelity nailed it for me.
Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
Hello, comfort read! Laugh-out-loud funny and relatable, this was my perfect book to reread with a glass of wine and a packet of greasy salt’n’vinegar chips. I love the structure, love the diary format, love the romance, love the flirty messages between Bridget and Daniel…
Bridget Jones’s Diary makes you feel a wee bit better about any Daniel Cleavers that have rattled you over the years. Oh, and those times when you’ve made a fool of yourself at work. And, if I’m being honest, when you’ve given yourself a stomach-ache from overdoing it on a block of chocolate. Okay, fine! Bridget Jones’s Diary just makes you feel better about all of it. And it’s bloody hilarious. Sometimes you just want some good old-fashioned fun, escapism and schadenfreude. Onya, Bridge.
Tomorrow, Where The War Began, John Marsden
If Roald Dahl’s work inspired me to become a writer, then John Marsden and his Tomorrow series cemented the idea. There was, and still is, so much to love about this prolific series. Its themes, voice, plot and messages are timeless. Why do I love it? Many reasons, including a strong female lead, it’s set in the Australian bush and has a page-turning plot that isn’t afraid to push its heroes beyond their limits and expose their darkest flaws to the light. Plus, my signed copy of Tomorrow, Where The War Began is still one of my most prized possessions.
Last Summer, Kylie Ladd
Like Christos Tsiolkas’ polarising novel, The Slap, Last Summer goes down in suburban Australia and what you see behind closed doors isn’t always pretty. And that is why I love it. Again, my American Beauty-style obsession with “looking closer” on people’s lives is evident. Ladd’s Last Summer focuses on the complicated relationships between a tight-knight group of people after the sudden death of a loved one, and you get to explore the aftermath as each person struggles to pick up the pieces. The good, the bad and the oh-so ugly pieces.
With impressive storytelling, blemished characters (yes, you may despise a few of them) and sharp insight, Last Summer is a read about loss, shattered dreams and heartache that will make you wonder if you really know the people in your life. Ladd, who has a PhD in neuropsychology, stretches these characters across the page until they’re so real you feel like you’d know them if you bumped into them on the street. Plus, Ladd mastered multi-perspectives in a big way! I have two alternating perspectives in Remind Me How This Ends – I have no idea how she wrangled nine of them in Last Summer. Nine. Talk about a puppeteer.
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
If you haven’t read this novel set in Nazi Germany during World War II, do yourself favour. It’s original, moving and powerful. Plus, as a writer, I adore the story of the author beyond the pages of The Book Thief: Zusack redrafted the novel multiple times throughout the process, switching up the narrator from Liesel to Death, and even experimenting with third person.
I often think of Zusack and The Book Thief when I’m neck-deep in edits and floundering around in the mess of my words. I remind myself I can fix anything if I put in the effort – it just might take a while.
Looking For Alibrandi, Melina Marchetta
“Things don’t turn out the way you want them to. And sometimes, when they don’t, they can turn out just a little bit better.” Oh, Josie Alibrandi. This YA novel is a classic. Family, love, pressures, identity, coming of age… this was the book that spoke to me on a personal level during high school. Sure, Josie may have been a private school half-Italian girl, and I was a public school half-Lebanese girl, but her fears and hopes were so real and well-drawn that we felt like one and the same. Be right back, just bowing down to Queen Melina.
On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft, Stephen King
This was recommended reading during university and it hasn’t let me down. Since reading it, I’ve also fallen in love with other novels on creativity and craft, including Big Magic, Use Your Words, The Artist’s Way (parts of it) and Bird by Bird, but On Writing was the original that kick-started my writing mojo. Like anything, it’s not for everyone and you can cherry-pick the parts that work for you and your process. More than anything, King’s words helped me to focus on getting down my shitty first draft of my debut YA novel The Intern, rather than worrying about things beyond my control like what people will think of it.
Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell
My heart. My heart. This gem set in the eighties is romantic and heartfelt, and seeing Eleanor and Park’s friendship develop into something so sweet and pure via their slow-and-steady interactions on the school bus was beautiful.
I wasn’t in a very happy, productive or creative headspace when I stumbled across this contemporary YA novel, but it reminded me why I loved writing and reading again. This book lifted me up with all the wonder and awkwardness of first love, then knocked me over with some of its grittier, heartstring-tugging moments.
Plus, in Year 10, I had an intense three-and-a-half month relationship with an Iron-Maiden-loving boy who I met on a school bus and it took me way back to those angst-ridden, butterfly-inducing days. Ahh, young love.
Remind Me How This Ends
“Milo was a discoloured memory with blurred edges and a washed-out palette. Yet five minutes with him and everything came back to me in an instant.”
Layla Montgomery’s life fell apart at thirteen. After her mum died in a shock accident, Layla’s grieving father packed their bags and forced her to leave behind everything she’d ever known.
Milo Dark has been stuck on pause since the Year 12 exams. His long-term girlfriend moved 300 kilometres away for uni, his mates bailed for bigger things, and he’s convinced he missed the reminder to plan out the rest of his life.
As kids, Layla and Milo shared everything – their secrets, a treehouse and weekends at the river. But they haven’t spoken since her mum’s funeral. That is, until Layla shows up five years later in his parents’ bookshop without so much as a text message.
Pretty soon they’re drawn into a tangled mess that guarantees someone will get hurt. And while it’s a summer they’ll never forget, is it one they’ll want to remember?
A boy-meets-girl-again story from the award-winning author of THE INTERN and FAKING IT.
COMING SOON from Gabrielle:
The Feeling From Over Here
(a short story featured in the Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology) (out April 24)
Two teens reunite on an overnight coach from Canberra to Melbourne and are forced to deal with a painful incident from their past
Peas & Quiet
(out June 19)
Two very different peas live in one small peapod … no wonder Pip and Pop have to find a way to live together happily!