When Ruskin Bond sits down to write a book about his favourite books, one considers it seriously. And when he sits down to write a book about books that inspired him during his growing up years, children should definitely read it.
Bond is nothing if not honest. “I read Shakespeare’s plays out of (a) sense of duty, and found some of them extremely boring. I could not stomach Jane Austen, and I found Hardy terribly depressing,” he confesses in the introduction. Having made these “heretical” statements, Bond gets down to business.
My Book of Favourite Books:Selected by Ruskin Bond,Rupa, 243 pages, Rs295
The collection starts off with Hugh Walpole’s (the New Zealander who made a name for himself in England) Fortitude (1913), a novel that made a deep impression on Bond. He begins with this one because it is not well known today. The extract has Peter Westcott, a young boy, watching his idol, Stephen Brant, duel with an “enemy”. Peter’s only thought is for Brant’s safety and victory, while the fight itself is about more complicated issues.
Jack London, A.E.W. Mason, Charles Dickens, Evelyn Waugh, Joseph Conrad, W.W. Jacobs, H.E. Bates and Saki figure, among others, in this stimulating collection. Bond also writes about how he could never have hoped to be a writer if he weren’t such a voracious reader. Maybe, there is a message here for would-be authors.
Bond’s praise and admiration is not limited to authors from another age. He acknowledges the contribution of contemporary children’s writers. At the height of the Harry Potter craze (when the third Potter book was released) in India, I had asked him if he thought J.K. Rowling had brought reading back into fashion. He was warmly appreciative of the fact, giving credit where it was due.
But, back to the young Bond’s favourite books. There is Brother Hutchins (a short story), Jacobs’ (famous for The Monkey’s Paw) hilarious account of a young thief-turned-priest-turned-thief. He is the only author who gets two chapters. The other one: The Lost Ship, where a missing ship’s only survivor turns up after years.
Waugh’s story of mistaken identity, The Wrong Boot (from Scoop, published in 1938), too finds a place. Bond hasn’t chosen any of Saki’s shocking stories. He prefers to go with the funny The Stalled Ox. The extract from Nicholas Nickleby (1839), Dickens’ story reflecting the pitiable state of England’s boarding schools of that period, has the destruction of Dotheboys Hall School.
Bates, the country solicitor’s clerk-turned-author, who wrote the Uncle Silas series, gets a look-in with Death of Uncle Silas. The author of the children’s classic Bevis, Richard Jefferies’ The Story of My Heart is one of the “heavier” ones in this anthology. London’s Love of Life is, as usual, a tale of survival during tough times. London was the highest paid author of his time and his stories of courage are stirring even now. Mason’s wartime adventure, The Four Feathers, about a man’s fight to regain his lost honour, finds pride of place in Bond’s list of favourites. The Four Feathers is one book that has never been out of print since it was published in 1902. It has been filmed so many times—most recently with Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley and Kate Hudson.
A must-read for children—plot building, the climax, the twists and turns of a good novel are elements that youngsters can pick up from these stories. Bond’s notes at the beginning of each story are invaluable.
The writer is the editor of Heek, a children’s magazine.
Write to email@example.com