Books that changed me
Ross Fitzgerald is the author of 40 books, most recently ‘So Far, So Good’, co-written with Antony Funnell and published by Hybrid.
THE KING JAMES BIBLE
While attending St Mark’s Anglican Church in Brighton in Melbourne in the 1950s, I started reading ‘The King James Version of the Bible.’ This inspiring translation had a huge impact on my appreciation of the wonders of the English language and the possibilities of reading and writing about history. Although I have been a devout atheist for decades, reading the King James Bible led me, in late 1969, to briefly being a teacher of Biblical Studies at Brighton High School.
When I was a student at Monash University in the 1960s, a member of Alcoholics Anonymous gave me a copy of ‘John Barleycorn’ – first published in 1913. Jack London was an early 20th-century American socialist and novelist who had suffered dreadfully from the booze. It was only after reading London’s harrowing descriptions of the effects of grog that I realised I had a severe problem with alcohol myself. As an indirect result of reading ‘John Barleycorn’ I stopped drinking on Australia Day 1970.
Canadian-born Mort Sahl taught me that true satirists should have a go at everyone – that no one and nothing is immune. After fierce attacks on American political figures and insisting the official version of President Kennedy’s assassination was a cover-up, Sahl was blacklisted so that the only work he could get was appearing on university campuses. His bitter account of his fall from grace is central to ‘Heartland’, published in 1976. Still performing, Sahl continues to mercilessly attack the pompous and the powerful.
LOVE AMONG THE CHICKENS
The final version of ‘Love Among the Chickens’ was published in 1921. Featuring Stanley Ukridge, the novel is narrated by Jeremy Garnet, an author friend whom Ukridge convinces to help him run a chicken farm. At the novel’s end, Garnet finds Ukridge presenting him with yet another get-rich-quick scheme – to run a duck farm. These days, few realise how utterly subversive are Wodehouse’s comedies. When working on my Grafton Everest adventures, I find that reading Wodehouse helps improve and simplify my writing.
The Sun-Herald, January 27, 2019, p 46.