top of page

Tell Me a Story

Earlier this year I decided to do a bit of a stocktake of various items in Ben’s bedroom. In truth it is surprising that I had not done so before. After all, Ben’s room is not a place I have shied away from since his death. Indeed it remains an integral part of our home; one I visit at least once most days, particularly since it became the sleeping quarters of the latest full-time member of the family – our mischievous puppy, Zali.

But even though the room has also been a place for reflective vigil since January 27 last year, there were some items in it I had not taken the time to closely inspect until quite recently. One such group were the books, numbering just over 30 in all, that Ben had felt worthy of a permanent place in his collection of prized possessions. (And yes, I acknowledge that the use of the word permanent seems especially poignant in this context).

I now see that my catalogue of these treasured volumes tells us a lot about who Ben was, and what made him tick. The oldest was published almost 50 years ago, and its place in Ben’s library is so inherently intriguing that I have devoted a separate article to it alone - see Of Time and Stars (

There are three books for pre-schoolers amongst the collection. The first, “Mouse Look Out”, was a gift to Ben on Christmas Day 1999; a day that will linger long in my memory for two reasons. It was both the day on which the extended Cordner family gathered at their spiritual home (on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula) for a reunion, and the day on which Ben lost his maternal grandfather – Allan Crane; adored father of my wife Linda, devoted Pop, and a friend and hero to me for many years ‑ who died at what we viewed then, quite rightly, as the lamentably young age of 58. (This is a number that means all the more to me today, as it is the age I will be when my next birthday arrives).

Four years later, after starting primary school, Ben would name Mouse Look Out as his favourite book. It was one of those that almost demanded audience participation. I can still remember, with great fondness, Ben’s saliva-ridden squeals of excitement as he shouted the title of the book at the main character as it attempted to avoid capture by its feline pursuer. I feel sure the significance of the day on which he received Mouse Look Out was never lost on Ben; the fact that he could never bring himself to dispose of it seems to support that theory.

“Where’s Tim’s Ted?” and “Here Comes the Crocodile” were both books given to Ben’s older brother, Tim ‑ the first when he was five years old, and the second at age 21 on North Ryde RSL’s cricket tour to the UK in 2016 (don’t ask!). Both obviously retained significance for Ben; and it warms me to imagine he had put these three books aside with the considered intention of reading them to his own children, and grandchildren, in the years to come.

The main character in “Selected Works of T S Spivet” is a 12-year old scientific prodigy. As Ben was born in 1997, and the book published in 2009, it appears likely that I, or some other family member or friend, envisaged how appropriate it would be to bring Ben and T S together. And it seems Ben agreed.

He would also, without doubt, have delighted in the way that a number of the other works preserved for posterity pandered to his strengths and pre-occupations; books dealing with mathematical concepts in a light-hearted way (Think of a Number, and The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure); books focussing on adolescent humour and hobbies (1001 More Cool Jokes, Signspotting 3, 101 Cool Magic Tricks, and Origami); books about sport in general (The Top 10 of Sport, and Great Sporting Moments), and soccer in particular (The World Cup: Heroes, Hoodlums, High Kicks and Headbutts); and books that pushed the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, and political correctness (The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, The Dangerous Book for Boys, The Bro Code, and The Playbook – the latter two emanating from the popular TV show, How I Met Your Mother).

Katniss Everdeen, the main character in The Hunger Games trilogy (all three volumes of which – The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay ‑ retained pride of place in Ben’s collection), would have been much admired by Ben I have no doubt. Her moral courage, her willingness to challenge the status quo, her fearlessness, and her loyalty to those she cared about, are all qualities I observed many times in Ben, and they will continue to make me proud whenever I think of them.

Sixteen books remain for classification, and these say as much as any about what made Ben Ben.

Six of them are entitled Panorama, and constitute the complete collection of Yearbooks for Epping Boys High School during Ben’s time there from 2010‑2015. Their position in Ben’s library would come as no surprise to anyone who knew him during his teenage years, and beyond. As I have written elsewhere, it is hard to imagine an institution that has had a greater and more positive impact on a young man’s life and character than Epping Boys had upon Ben.

The final ten books are all works of non-fiction. Most of them contain information that can almost certainly be found quickly, and with relative ease today via a well-worded internet search. Volumes like the Guinness Book of World Records (x 5 – 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2012), The Top 10 of Everything, The Discreetly Plumper Second Book of General Ignorance (inspired by another extremely successful television programme, QI), Facts at Your Fingertips, Bill Bryson’s brilliant, but misleadingly titled A Short History of Nearly Everything, and The Usborne Book of Knowledge (featuring a number of especially well-worn pages in the section headed How Your Body Works) highlight Ben’s lifelong quest for a greater understanding of the world into which he was so thankfully born.

So why did he keep them, notwithstanding the vast expansion in the sum total of human knowledge since many, indeed most of them were published, and the equally significant advancements that have been made during that same period insofar as the accessibility of that knowledge is concerned? Why indeed, in today’s disposable society ‑ of which, it must be said, Ben was generally a card‑carrying member ‑ did he retain any of the books mentioned above?

Any hypothesis I may advance in response to these questions will, sadly, remain entirely speculative forever.

But I will venture this offering nevertheless: it is hard to let go of the things that have made us who we are. And the greater the influence those things have had upon our life, the harder they are to part with. Because the cherished objects (and the principles and the people) we value most, unlike our transitory possessions, do not depreciate over time. To the contrary, their value increases.

Which is how we know that they have become a defining element of the person we see in the mirror each day.

And just as these books helped to define Ben, so does everything he held dear now help define those of us who knew and loved him.


bottom of page