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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

My favourite reads: Anna Zacharias 

Here are five books that have stuck with me since childhood

Klondike, The Last Great Gold Rush 1896-1899 by Pierre Berton (1972)
Klondike, The Last Great Gold Rush 1896-1899 by Pierre Berton (1972)

I am a forgetful reader and try to read slowly, taking a few pages at a time from a series of books each night, so that stories can better imprint themselves on my mind. It is impossible to pick favourites, but those that have stuck are often from childhood like the novel I read, Anne of Green Gables.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1867)

One book on a desert island? An easy choice. Tolstoy’s epic follows five wealthy families in Russia between 1805 and 1820, and two centuries later, it is a reminder of how universal and insignificant the human experience is. This is a book I look forward to rereading throughout my life, knowing that as I mature, so too will my experience of this masterpiece.

Klondike, The Last Great Gold Rush 1896-1899 by Pierre Berton (1972)

Canada’s master historian chronicles the last stampede, heroes and villains such as Soapy Smith, the gangster king of Skagway, Swiftwater Bill and Diamond Tooth Gertie, a dance-hall queen with a belt of 17 $20 gold pieces. I read Klondike to better understand my Canadian home, but found familiarity in tales of a transient and global population, plus ambiguous laws in a developing nation and men who danced away fortunes on $1 waltzes. Berton was raised in Dawson, the centre of the gold rush, a reminder that rich stories can be found on your doorstep.

The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert W Service, illustrated by Ted Harrison (1986)

Moments before Sam McGee of Tennessee dies of the cold in the Arctic, he makes his partner swear to cremate his remains. So begins a quest to burn that corpse in the icy Arctic: “Oh God, how I loathed that thing.” The poem was first published in Songs of a Sourdough in 1907, and Harrison’s bright, magical illustrations still shape how I see the sky.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko (1980)

Even in 1980, the Canadian children’s author Robert Munsch was woke. In this story, Princess Elizabeth has to outwit a fire-breathing dragon to rescue her fiance, the hapless but snobby Prince Ronald. The dragon burns her castle to the ground and all of her clothing, leaving her with nothing but a paper bag. One of Munsch and Martchenko’s classics, which have always starred a diverse caste.

The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr Seuss (1953)

It’s become popular for high-school graduates to received copies of Dr Seuss’s book Oh, the Places You’ll Go! I imagine a world where we take a lesson from Sylvester McMonkey McBean, who teaches the Sneetches the perils of materialism, prejudice and clanism. It’s a simple premise: the Star-Belly Sneetches had bellies with stars and the Plain-Belly Sneetches had non upon thars. Bonus: this poetry collection from 1953 includes The Zax, which has a cityscape reminiscent of modern-day Dubai.

Anna Zacharias is a news reporter for The National

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