Whenever I pick up a book, I am very aware of the deal that has been brokered. In return for my attention and imagination a writer has promised me a journey into a world of their creation. These are five books that bring me the most happiness! they allow to me suspend reality and delve into this new world and I go all in, feet first.
I am unsure when, or why, it started but for as long as I can remember as I read a book I underline, circle or highlight sentences that strike me. Usually, by the time I’m through with a book it looks like it’s been studied eagerly for a GCSE English Exam.
Additionally, I tend to leave a book wherever I finish reading it, complete with all my annotations. I love the idea of someone reading a book and sharing my experiences without knowing me. I did once find one of my own annotated books in a Camden Market book stall, and bought it again.
Only a very few books stay with me. For me to keep them with their pages closed, withholding life from the stories within, means a book has done something very special for me.
It has become a part of my own story.
Five books that bring me the most happiness!
Armistead Maupin – All Of His Work!
Armistead Maupin could write a sandwich order on a sticky note and I would still find a way to find elegance, beauty, and love within it. In my late teens I was dating an older man who introduced me to Tales of the City by loaning me a copy of the first book, I was spellbound immediately.
I immediately bought the sextet and over twenty years later not only do I still cherish that set of books but as the works of Armistead Maupin has been added to, he has ended up with a dedicated shelf in my Reading Cave (I have a room in my house that has one armchair and a load of dog beds).
The beauty of these books lies in their accessibility, anybody, but especially LGBT+ people are given the best lessons in the history of our people in the best possible way. It was through Mouse, a mainstay throughout the books, who ended up being a spin off star in Micheal Tolliver Lives that helped me to make sense of my own life as a young gay man. I never asked for permission to be myself because I felt that the generations before me had done that, my job was to maintain my own sense of self respect and be unapologetic about it.
Armistead taught me that with his writing; his incredible, poignant, heart welling and soul gratifying writing.
My Undoing – Aiden Shaw
If Armistead Maupin forged my resolve to be an active participant in the world and take my seat at the table without asking for it then Aiden Shaw is entirely responsible for the the absence of judgement in my character. Interestingly, I didn’t know that Aiden was an actor in porn movies before reading the book and myself and my dear friend Phil will forever share memories of this book (we also share fond memories of his other book Sordid Truths, but that’s because I stole Phil’s copy and still have it in my house to this day!)
As a fellow Pisces I could recognise a lot of the sensory detail in Aidens writing in my own own experience of reality, there’s a gorgeous sentence in one of his books where he describes woodchip wallpaper and it has never left my mind. His writing is irreverent about the constructs created by humans but is entirely reverent about the experience of living.
This book sits alongside his other books Brutal and Sordid Truths (technically my friend Phil’s book) on my nightstand.
Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
This is a masterpiece for me that stands alone, and forever will stand alone, in its brilliance and beauty. I find it easy to become absorbed in the worlds created by writers but with this I was not absorbed in the world created by Gregory, his world became my world and I actually experienced a kind of grief when I emerged battered and bruised but covered in the salve of love. My copy bought in 2003 sits on the cabinet beside my reading chair and at nine hundred and thirty three pages long I have promised myself it will be the first thing I read when I move to Spain later this year.
What is marvellous about this book is that is based on Gregory’s own life, and as it says on the back of the book, he wrote this book three times after his prison guards destroyed the first two versions.
You will be transported into another world, you will experiences cultures and scenarios that will leave you exhilarated, dumbfounded and oftentimes you will be physically exhausted despite being sat in comfort, reading.
This is an experience, it is also the only book in my house that does not have a single annotation in it, showing my immersion in its pages.
The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
This books lives in my bedroom, and over the years I have read it five times, each time understanding another layer of delicate complexity within as my own maturity, experience and perception evolves. It’s like a slow release capsule of magic that reveals a new dosage at just the right time, I doubt its magic will ever expire.
I have read this book in India, England, America, Spain and Italy and each time it has felt like a different book. This is a must read for anyone, but be warned it’s not for the faint hearted, this is no casual read for the commuter train – read it on a train at your peril because I guarantee you will become so entranced that you will certainly miss your intended destination.
If forced to put it into a category, I would say it’s a classic coming of age family story but that is an insipid and woeful description of this book.
Fifteen Dogs – André Alexei
I found this book in Paris, in my favourite bookshop of all time Shakespeare and Company and after bringing it home to England I then read it at our house in Spain. I bought this book because from reading the back of the book I was enraptured. Fifteen Dogs are given human consciousness and language by the gods as the basis. The story is one of a wager between two gods, this is not a whimsical story though, it is a smart and beautifully brutal journey.
I laughed, cried and at the end I ugly cried. This book is the second in a Quincunx and I am sad to say that this is the only one I have read as of yet. This is something I intend to remedy quite quickly.
This books lives immediately beneath ‘The God of Small Things’ on my bedroom window sill.