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Books that changed me

5 August 2012 621 views No Comment

Author and academic Ross Fitzgerald talks about his favourite books

Heartland – Mort Sahl

The Canadian-born Mort Sahl taught me that true satirists should have a go at everyone. After fierce attacks on American political figures and insisting the official version of President Kennedy’s assassination was a cover-up, Sahl was effectively blacklisted. His bitter account of his fall from grace is central to Heartland, published in 1976. Sahl mercilessly attacks the powerful.

John Barleycorn – Jack London

When I was a student at Monash University, a member of Alcoholics Anonymous gave me a copy of John Barleycorn – first published in London in 1913. Jack London was an early 20th-century English socialist who had suffered dreadfully from the booze. It was only after reading London’s harrowing descriptions of the effects of alcohol that I became aware I had a severe problem with alcohol.

Mutual Aid – Peter Kropotkin

After reading Prince Peter Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid, I realised that non-violent anarchy can be manifested in human organisations. In 1902, to repudiate social Darwinism, Kropotkin published Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, which argued that it was co-operation between individuals rather than competition that accounted for successful evolution.

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Under the Volcano – Malcolm Lowry

After reading Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano (published in 1947), I stupidly thought that I could write books while bombed out on alcohol and other drugs. This in no way detracts from the power of Lowry’s novel, which focuses on Geoffrey Firmin – an alcoholic British ex-consul living in Mexico. Indeed, Firmin’s drinking disastrously affects all areas of his life, particularly his ability to write.

Love Among the Chickens – P.G. Wodehouse

The rewritten Love Among the Chickens was published in 1921. Featuring Stanley Ukridge, the novel is narrated by Jeremy Garnet, an author friend whom Ukridge inveigles to help run a chicken farm. At the novel’s end, Garnet finds Ukridge presents yet another get-rich-quick scheme – to run a duck farm! These days, few realise how utterly subversive are Wodehouse’s writings.

Published in The Sun-Herald, Sydney, August 5, 2012