Alison Goodman defines a Talisman Book as “one of those novels that you read over and over again, a book that seems to resonate through you, that wards off the disappointments and insecurities of everyday life.”
My Talisman Books are the ones I’d rescue from a burning building. For example:
— My dogeared paperback copy of ‘Lord of the Rings’. This book – broken-spined, tattered, beloved – was probably one of the first thing that made me kneel at the altar of fantasy and begin SERIOUS worship there. Tolkien made me realise that the big epic dreams that crowded my imagination were FOR REAL, and were valuable. This book is the physical embodiment of that realization. It’s a talisman not just because of its identity but because of what it represents, the kind of hugeness and wonder and awe and the way it made me cognisant of my place in this world.
— ‘Tigana’ by Guy Gavriel Kay, because it’s one of the best BOOKS I’ve ever read. The writing and the story make this amazing for me and so does the visceral emotional connection I feel to the underlying themes of the book.
— ‘Nine Princes in Amber,’ the now out-of-print paperback edition that made Roger Zelazny lift his eyebrows in utter astonishment when I gave it to him to sign and ask me where on earth I’d got that copy because it had been out of print for YEARS.
– A volume of fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen, because all stories live inside that book, and I could read them and dream up the rest of a lost world by his tropes.
– And because it’s irreplaceable, a really ancient and ill-favored book with dull gray covers – a broken down book, loved well long before I had my hands on it, with scribbled commentary in the margins and on the bottom of the pages. This is the book that lived beside my grandfather’s bed, the book that he read and re-read and re-read, the scribbles in the margins are his thoughts, and in his hand. He’s been gone these twenty years. He’ll never speak to me again except through this book, and I WOULD go through fire to get it.
Those are Talisman Books in the purest and most glittering sense of the word. There are many many books that I love, and have adored over the years.
— But forgive me if I add another to my Talisman Book list, a book that I wrote. A hardcover edition of “Secrets of Jin Shei”, the book to remind me what I am, what the culmination is of all the gifts that all my other books have poured like gems into my waiting spirit. I’ll take a copy with me and show it to people if I lose the power of speech and they ask me who or what I am. Because that is what I am. Will always be. I am the creator of THIS THING, this book, this collection of words, this story… this Talisman.
There were the books which drew my tears – “Les Miserables”, Howard Spring’s “My Son, My Son”, Karl May’s “Winnetou” (although it took me YEARS to unlearn all the “facts” I though I knew about the American Indian culture in general and the Apache in particular after I finished reading his work), Jack London’s “Call of the Wild”, almost ANYTHING by Ursula le Guin, a book not many people reading this will have heard of but whose title translates as “The Time of Death” by a writer of my own tongue and tribe by the name of Dobrica Cosic and another book by one of my own, Ivo Andric’s “Bridge on the Drina”.
Lest you should think that I spent my entire reading life weeping, there are books that drew my laughter – Jerome K. Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat”, T. H. White’s “Once and Future King”.
And there are the comfort books I return to because I know I can find solace there – “Song of Arbonne”, “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”, Mary Stewart’s Merlin books, “Shadow of the Moon” by M. M. Kaye or any fat historical novel by Sharon Penman (but particularly “Here Be Dragons”), Barbara Kingsolver’s “Poisonwood Bible”, lots of stuff by Pearl Buck, books by Henryk Sienkiewicz, John Galsworthy, Boris Pasternak, Nikos Kazantzakis, Daphne du Maurier. Of more recent vintage, Catherynne Valente whose poetic vision enthralls me or Neil Gaiman whose dark and sardonically twisted tales and characters draw me in and China Mieville whose surgical command of the English language leaves me breathless and humbled.
So – what are YOUR Talisman Books?