“ Here you can write about your top ten general fiction books of all time. They don't necessarily have to be your favourite fiction books, they can be you most hated too. „
These are ten of the books I really like. It was quite hard to pick them, and if you were to ask another day I might come up with different answers for some, but here we go:
'Catch-22' by Joseph Heller.
I think I must have read this book over a dozen times. My first attempt at reading it, I didn't understand it, I didn't get it at all. That was in my mid-teens. I read it again at college, and this time it clicked for me. It's an amazingly funny yet viscerally horrific novel about World War 2. The novel gets dark, so very dark that you think there's no way hope can return but somehow Heller pulls it back.
"Yossarian - the very sight of the name made him shudder. There were so many esses in it. It just had to be subversive. It was like the word subversive itself. It was like seditious and insidious too, and like socialist, suspicious, fascist and Communist."
'Labyrinths' by Jorge Luis Borges.
A collection of short stories that bend your mind. When I first read these it felt like windows popping open inside my head. I'm not usually a fan of short stories, but these are the exception. Amazing stuff.
"Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire."
'Slaughterhouse 5' by Kurt Vonnegut.
Another novel set in World War 2, this time interweaving s-f. Billy Pilgrim is a time-traveller, an alien abductee and ex-soldier who witnessed the bombing of Dresden. Sounds a bit weird? Well, it is put like that, but it's wonderfully constructed, with excellent writing. Again, some of the story is pretty disturbing, (ie. the events in Dresden), but I think it's a great book.
"Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why."
'The Yellow Wallpaper' by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
This is a short story or novella rather than a book, but I'm putting it in anyway. In this story, Gilman takes on the 'rest cure' enforced by her physician for her depression, which she felt made her mental health worse. Her protagonist is forced to spend her time in one room, and slowly but surely her grip on reality slips. Her descent into madness is told in her journal entries, with her obsession with the yellow wallpaper signposting it. It's an important early feminist text. I really love the story: it's just so atmospheric and draws you in so effectively.
"I don't like to look out of the windows even--there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of that wall-paper as I did?"
'Cotillion' by Georgette Heyer.
Georgette Heyer's historical romances are my comfort reads of choice. They're like having a sly box of chocolates to yourself. In 'Cotillion', kind-hearted Freddy is suckered into a fake engagement with Kitty, ward of his irascible, miserly Uncle. She is desperate to escape her secluded existence and piqued by the neglect of rakish Jack, so cajoles Freddy into giving her this opportunity to sample the delights of Regency London. Heyer reliably produced very readable and witty stories, with likeable characters. 'Cotillion' is one of my favourites.
"No one could have called Mr. Standen quick-witted, but the possession of three sisters had considerably sharpened his instinct of self-preservation."
'Year of the Flood' by Margaret Atwood.
The book stands alone, but Atwood does pull together some of the threads from 'Oryx and Crake' (which I also loved). It's a novel set in the same post-apocalyptic world where strange mutant creatures roam and humankind has almost been eradicated. Like 'Oryx and Crake' the narrative is non-linear, but I found it easier to follow. It's told from the viewpoints of several characters, and it took a while for me to know which was which, but I found it an excellent satisfying read.
"Beware of words. Be careful what you write. Leave no trails."
'Jamaica Inn' by Daphne Du Maurier.
Du Maurier is another of my favourite authors. I think the chilling, evocative gothic stories she wrote were completely absorbing. I was hard-pressed to choose which one out of 'My Cousin Rachel', 'Rebecca' and 'Jamaica Inn' I prefer, but I went with 'Jamaica Inn' as it is so very firmly rooted in beloved Cornwall and the vicar of Altarnun is such a memorable character.
"Because I want to; because I must; because now and forever more this is where I belong to be."
'Guards! Guards!' by Terry Pratchett.
I love all Terry Pratchett but my favourites in his Disc-World series are always those that feature Vimes the city watch commander as a main character. So I picked 'Guards! Guards!' as the one, as it's the first where Vimes really gets an outing. Pratchett is always funny, always clever and very readable. In 'Guards! Guards!' an overly keen, adopted dwarf called Carrot comes to Ankh-Morpork to join the city guard and his enthusiasm for the job starts wearing onto the rest of the Watch.
"If there was anything that depressed him more than his own cynicism, it was that quite often it still wasn't as cynical as real life."
'New York Trilogy' by Paul Auster.
Paul Auster plays with the tropes of detective fiction and the immersion/dissolution of self in these three stories: City of Glass, Ghosts and the Locked Room. Each stands alone, but read together gain strength. It's brilliant postmodern writing.
"The story is not in the words; it's in the struggle."
'The Color Purple' by Alice Walker.
This is the harrowing but ultimately uplifting tale of a poor black woman's life in the USA's south in the '30s. Told from Celie's viewpoint in the form of letters to god, it's a fascinating book and I've loved it since I studied it in college.
"Well, us talk and talk about God, but I'm still adrift. Trying to chase that old white man out of my head. I been so busy thinking bout him I never truly notice nothing God make. Not a blade of corn (how it do that?) not the color purple (where it come from?)..."
And that's it, my ten. Thanks for reading.
Books are quite important to me! I think they can change the way you look at the world as well as being my favourite form of entertainment. There are just too many books I would like to read. I found this very hard to choose my top ten fiction books, would find it easier to choose my top 100! These are in no particular order, choosing your favourite book to me must be like choosing your favourite child as a parent! I will give a quick summary of each one but want to focus on why I have chosen it as some well-known ones here.
1. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte. This tells the story of the Earnshaw family. Heathcliff is brought into the home and falls in love with the daughter, Cathy. She chooses instead to marry Edgar Linton, a rich and upper class man which causes Heathcliff to wreak revenge on both families. This is such a powerful book; I love the dark, gothic elements and the character of Heathcliff. Many say he is unlikable and he does unforgivable acts in his destruction of people's lives but this complex character and tortured soul is one of the most interesting characters to be have been created. This novel also highlights issues for women at this time - which partly excuses the dreadful behaviour of Cathy (well some of it!). Bronte, like her sisters is an incredible writer and writes very detailed descriptions invoking an atmosphere that is not easy to forget. I also love this novel because it highlights different types of love - the destructive nature of passionate love and the dissatisfaction of a romantic / friendship love. It uses clever techniques to slowly reveal to the reader what has happened by using different narrators, such as Mr Lockwood - a visitor to the house many years later and the interfering housekeeper, Nelly. Not always reliable narrators, it leaves you to make your own mind up about what had happened and who was to blame. If I could have 11 books, Jane Eyre would have been in this list too!
2. Rebecca - Daphne DuMaurier. It is clear that the Brontes influenced Du Maurirer in both her style of writing and her content. However, this is a novel that deserves credit of it's own. It starts with the famous lines; "Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderly again." The young wife of Maxim DeWinter, a widower, is taken back from Monte Carlo to live with him at Manderly. She lives under the shadow of his first wife, Rebecca whose memory is kept alive by the presence of the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers. This is a haunting book; Rebecca is a powerful force throughout the book, despite the fact she dies before it even begins. The mystery surrounding her death intrigues the reader and the descriptions of the landscape and the setting, including the house itself is evocative. It is Mrs Danvers who steals the show; a complex, manipulative and mysterious character who readers all love to hate.
3. Return of the Native - Thomas Hardy. My favourite author, if I had to choose! His books are often bleak and depressing (and very descriptive) but I love them, his characters are so complex and this one haunted me afterwards (in a good way!) and made me think about life issues, it is one of those books that can have a profound effect on you. It describes Egdon Heath and the small community including Clym Yeobright (the returning native) and Eustacia Vye. It describes the various love triangles between the main characters and slowly the fates of all of them unfold. I love Eustacia - she is flawed but that's why I love her - Hardy has created one of the strongest female characters in literature. Hardy always keeps you guessing - you don't necessarily always get the end you want or suspect but his books are gritty. I can't really put into words just how much I love this book. If you try it please persist through the first few chapters - they are long-winded and actually almost unnecessary to the plot (I almost gave up when I first started this!) but to me this is probably the best novel ever written.
4. Hotel New Hampshire - John Irving. My favourite contemporary author. John Irving, an American author best known for 'Cider House Rules' and 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' is a bit like marmite, you love or hate him! His books are very quirky and original, amusing and sad - a bit of everything. He tests boundaries in his books - he portrays a lot of heavy and often controversial issues but very readable. I would recommend any of his books but for me, my favourite is Hotel, a lesser-known book. This is essentially a twist on the family saga - it follows the lives of the Berry family, particularly the 5 children who live in various hotels which their family runs. This is not your typical family saga though - it deals with incest, a stuffed family pet after a tragic plane crash and a bear. Bears seem to be a recurring character in Irving's books so watch out for them! I would also highly recommend 'The World According to Garp' and 'A Widow for One Year.'
5. Sophie's World - Josteein Gaarder. I remember reading this at college when I was about 16. It is a strange mix of fairy tale and an introduction to philosophy. It is a mysterious book; Sophie meets a mentor who lives her strange letters which read as short introductions to various different philosophical perspectives. Letters are also left for another girl so she struggles to understand who this girl is and essentially, who is Sophie? It opened up my mind to new ideas and is an original read. However, I re-read this as an adult and it didn't have quite the same impact on me so perhaps this is a book to read as a young adult. I just remember that feeling of wonderment when I was a teenager so it still remains a favourite book for that. I also went on to study Psychology partly because of this book so it really was a book that had an effect on my life!
6. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry. I think Rohinton Mistry is one of the most underrated contemporary writers and would encourage everyone to read this. This is set in the 1970's in India. This is a tale of class, race and poverty. Mrs Dina Dalal, determined not to have to marry again sets up a sweatshop in her home and takes in a lodger and two tailors. Over time they become close, almost life a family. Not the lightest (or happiest) of reads but this is beautifully written and very moving. It is also a fascinating read into the Indian culture.
7. Grapes Of Wrath - John Steinbeck. I love this and Of Mice and Men. Grapes of Wrath focuses on the Joad family who are forced to travel west in search of work and is a tale of survival. It deals with the theme of poverty and is also a discussion of whether the American Dream exists for some. Steinback is another writer that writes amazing descriptions and creates characters you care about. This is shocking at times and I realise a lot of my books are about depressing subjects but in a strange way they are also heart-warming tales of how people cope in extreme circumstances.
8. Northern Lights - Phillip Pullman. This is complete escapism. This is the first, and in my opinion the best in the 'Dark materials' trilogy. It tells the story of Lyra, a young girl living in Oxford who travels to the Artic to save her friend. My favourite part of the book is the descriptions of the various daemons which is part of their soul living in animal form. Pantalamon, Lyra's daemon, is a character in his own right and adds to the appeal of this book. The recent film made of this can not compare to his novel. He is a brilliant writer for both children and adults since it can be read on many different levels and I felt transported into Lyra's world, if only for a few hours! For me this is the best example of the fantasy novel - I feel I enjoyed this even more then Lord of the Rings which is another exceptional book of this genre.
9. Clan of the Cave Bear - Jean M Auel. I love this whole series (Earth children) - this is the first one in the series and is my favourite of the 6 so far (although Mammoth Hunters is also very good) and there is one more to be published. However, fans have to wait a while as she takes a long time to research and write them but they have been worth the wait each time! This is a very interesting book about prehistoric times - she researches them meticulously so they are a fascinating insight about what life was like. The series starts with Ayla, just five years old is orphaned after her parents are killed in an earthquake, who is taken in by the clan - a tribe of Neanderthals whose medicine woman decides to rescue her. As a Cro-Magnon, she is an outsider throughout and she struggles to find her own sense of identity, as many do not accept her. She has created a strong main female character in Ayla who is very likable and is a fantastic heroine. I was gripped by them as a young adult and still love them now. Just will have to wait a few more years for the last one now!
10. Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett. An exceptional book - an epic tale of ambition, power, religion, love and revenge. This is based around the building of a cathedral and a brilliant example of historical fiction. It tells the story of Phillip, the prior of Kingsbridge and his mason, Tom who helps him build his Cathedral. This is over 1000 pages long but it does not feel like an effort to read this as it is a page-turner. The novel has lots of pace so I never got bored of reading this and I look forward to reading more by this author and have only just discovered him.
I get on pretty well with books, it must be said. Probably a little too well, as they threaten to somewhat overwhelm my little flat - and there's a fair chance that they're breeding, rubbing cover-to-cover when I'm not looking. Still, it's a fairly healthy addiction, one that doesn't make me fat or bankrupt or prompt me to come down in sweaty shivers - there are certainly worse things to have an excess of.
However, this does mean that the following top ten is a bit provisional; I haven't read half the books in my bedroom, let alone the bookshop, so my count-down is well-aware that it's probably missing a lot of entries that should be there, and probably will be when I get round to reading them. I'm part way through Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood at present, and it's shaping up very nicely for a top-ten berth. Nonetheless, these are the most memorable, wonderful, enduring books I've had the good fortune to read; one or two literary heavyweights, others simply those reads that I've returned to time and again, and could happily sit down with at any given moment, regardless of knowing everything that lies inside. In any case, without further ado, may I present the current ten ...
10. Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut: 1969)
For my money the most powerful, cutting depiction of the futility and hopelessness of war, Kurt Vonnegut's time-travelling, vaguely-autobiographical fusion of genres recounts the trials of World War II soldier Billy Pilgrim. A man "unstuck in time", Pilgrim slips between different points in his life, moving back and forth uncontrollably. Something of an unconventional hero, our protagonist heads a story that wanders between poignancy, tragedy and downright weirdness, yet maintains a curiously touching quality. It's certainly not your average war novel - whatever that may be - but is all the more striking and memorable for it.
9. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles (Haruki Murakami: 1997)
Murakami's three-part tale examines the difficulties people find in really knowing someone, not least themselves - The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles looks at how these fragilities arise and how they can be healed. Toru Okada is missing his cat and soon finds that his wife has disappeared as well - in the process of searching for these lost parts of his life, he begins to discover that those things he thought he knew may not have been so. Murakami contrasts regular, everyday life with the surreal landscape that emerges when one starts to probe at long-concealed wounds and secrets, and this provides the impetus for the novel. However, it is not a black-and-white contrast; the book abounds with multiple, increasing shades of grey, providing a far-reaching, often rather confusing narrative which ensures the reader joins Toru in trying to make sense of his existence.
8. Northern Lights (Phillip Pullman: 1995)
Arguably this entry should be His Dark Materials; that is, the whole trilogy, as it is the story in its entirety which is so absorbing and powerful. However, for the purposes of choosing one book, it is the first of the three which makes the greatest impact, introducing us to the characters and premises which will go on to populate one of the most impressive pieces of children/young adults' literature - an epic that bears comparison with anything else that has gone before or since.
Northern Lights tells the story of Lyra Belacqua, a young girl living in a world similar to, but essentially different from ours, with people wearing their souls on the outside, taking animal form. Living amongst the scholars of Oxford, Lyra stumbles across hints of worlds beyond her own when her Uncle, a celebrated explorer comes to visit. When her best friend goes missing, she is quickly caught up in a quest to save him and begin to fulfil her own destiny, one which will take her to the Northern Lights and beyond.
Pullman's novels truly do have epic scope; elements and themes hinted at here are expanded into fierce semi-Biblical undercurrents in the later novels, making His Dark Materials a work that excels in telling both small stories - that of Lyra and the companion she meets in the second book - and far larger ones, with far-reaching consequences. It is this mixture of great ambition, multi-layered narratives and stunning storytelling that makes the trilogy such essential reading - and Northern Lights is the place to start.
7. The Lost Continent (Bill Bryson: 1989)
Bill Bryson's first book, this is in many ways a very simple travelogue - but it's also his best work, and arguably one of the best travel books full-stop. Bryson has a classic gift for turning a fresh, deprecating eye to his destinations, able to see equally the good and bad of a place and its people, and to bring this alive on the page - and he has done it nowhere better than in his own country. This account is a story of a person rediscovering their own country, balancing recollections of what it was with what it has become and might yet be. The Lost Continent isn't as heavy with facts and back-stories as some of Bryson's later books; he just writes about what he sees and remembers, and it's probably this laid-back, honest style that makes this a quintessential, wonderful travelogue.
6. 1984 (George Orwell: 1949)
Terrifying and absorbing in equal measures, 1984 both holds up a mirror to our own times and paints a picture of a chilling, semi-alien dystopia. The tale of Winston Smith, a largely unremarkable man and his place in the strictly regimented society which monitors everything one does and says. Under the omnipresent gaze of Big Brother, everyone is told what to do and what to think; although the mind is the only place the ruling Party cannot reach. Thoughtcrime, then, is the way in which one rebels, and 1984 explores Winston's fate as he begins to head down this path. Orwell paints a haunting picture of the highs Winston discovers, then uses these to devastating effect when threatening to take them away. 1984 has been much-copied, and its influence is everywhere today - however, the endless chill of knowing the state is everywhere has never been replicated.
5. Lord of the Flies (William Golding: 1954)
Another classic, endlessly influential novel, Lord of the Flies relates the adventures of a group of boys who crash-land upon a tropical island. A vivid depiction of the contrasting sides of the island - a paradise and a prison, the book demonstrates how tenuous our hold on ordered society is, and how close we are to reverting to primitive, animalistic behaviour when the boundaries of our world desert us. Golding's portrayal of this slide is constructed with great skill, and presents a damning indictment of the true nature of humanity and society.
4. The Time Traveller's Wife (Audrey Niffenegger: 2003)
At its heart a simple love story, Niffenegger's great achievement with this book is to pair the basic tale with an often confusing but intricate and ultimately ingenious time-travelling premise - in doing so, making each part more striking and meaningful. Claire first meets Henry when she is a child - but Henry comes across Claire for the first time when they are both in their twenties. This curious paradox is explained by Henry's unusual condition; he is a man out of time, with an errant gene that causes him to uncontrollably time-travel.
3. A Box of Matches (Nicholson Baker: 2003)
Baker's brand of microscopic analysis, going through the minutiae of everyday life with a fine-toothed literary comb, has been employed in a variety of his novels, to varying effect. For me, this is its most successful outing, combining all the cleverness of The Mezzanine with a bit of heart and some family values. The narrator rises around four in the morning each day and spends some time sitting in the dark contemplating, or performing a few mundane tasks while the rest of the world sleeps. A Box of Matches is a warm, deeply evocative look at the many facets of human relationships - those with oneself, with life, with inanimate objects and other people. Both intelligently written and charming in nature, this is for me Baker's best novel; certainly a good thing in a small package.
2. Boy (Roald Dahl: 1984)
Although hugely (and deservedly) celebrated for his children's fiction, I feel this is the best thing Dahl wrote. The story of the author's life from birth until leaving education, Boy is filled with memories of childhood related only as Roald Dahl could. The memoirs abound with the same wondrous imagination and witty storytelling as his fiction, and are full of a host of dark, hideous adults - characters with more than a hint of Dahl's fictional villains. Though it's only a short, simple book, Boy is compelling writing you'll come back to time and again - and, as an entertaining, personal account, is one of the best autobiographies you'll read.
1. Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck: 1937)
Simply a near-perfect book. A novel about the power of dreams to make and break people, Steinbeck's slim volume relates the story of George and Lennie, a pair of wandering farmhands as they arrive upon a new ranch to work. With dreams of leaving the drudgery of their lot behind, the two represent the ideals of many who want to better themselves, faced with both practical problems and personal doubts. Steinbeck's concise, cutting narrative spins a story of immense power and potency, never missing a trick or wasting a word, and makes for a truly great classic novel.
My list isn't perfect; it's rather overloaded with male English language authors, although there's a fair balance of newer novels and more "classic" ones, even if there's nothing pre-twentieth century. I've also slipped a couple of non-fiction books into what's supposed to be a fiction countdown, but hey ... it's my list! I'd like to add both more female authors and a greater range of non-English books to my favourites though, certainly ... any suggestions?
Below I have attempted my top 10 fiction books of all time. In coming up with this list, I have tried to be fair to myself and include books based on how I enjoyed them when I initially read them, not on how much I think I'd like them now. The books therefore reflect my changing tastes over the years. This left me with the dilemma of whether to include books I enjoyed as a child - eventually I decided to include them but limit children's books on the list to two.
Books and reading are highly subjective, and everyone will have their own opinions on what makes a good book, and different people will also be looking for different things in a book. Some people like to read classics to say they've read them or because they feel they should. I've fallen into this trap myself sometimes - not always with bad results - but most of the time don't tend to. Fiction books I just read to enjoy, and if after a while I'm not enjoying a book I will stop reading. Life is too short for bad books. Some of the books on this list will have a lot of literary merit, some are what I call 'popcorn' books - mindless pap that's great fun to read.
So here goes with the list, not in any particular order mind - it's hard enough limiting myself to 10 books, never mind trying to rank them!
1) 'Magician' by Raymond E. Feist. This is a 'Tolkien-esque' fantasy novel, with elves, dwarves, magicians, warriors and Kings. While on literary merit and originality it ranks far below Lord of the Rings, for sheer enjoyment it is unrivalled in the fantasy genre. I first read this book when I was 12, and have re-read it many times over the years. It is little known, but was in the BBC Big Read Top 100 books poll a few years ago, and has sold several million copies. It's a doorstopper of a novel, at over 800 pages long but well worth a go. I often tell people, read to page 120. If after that you don't like it give up. More than likely you'll be hooked!
2) 'The City and the Stars' by Arthur C. Clarke. When I was a teenager/early twenties I read a lot of science fiction, and this was always my favourite. It's quite short, about 250 pages. It's about the last city in the universe, Diaspar, millions of years in the future. No-one new has been born in Diaspar for thousands of years, the same people are born, live, die and are reborn again (only gaining memory of their old lives when they come of age). Then one day Alvin is born, a totally new individual... Widely considered one of the true classics from the Golden Age of science fiction, The City and the Stars, more than any other novel I've ever read invokes in me a sense of awe and wonder.
3) 'Killing Floor' by Lee Child. An American crime thriller, written by British born Lee Child who is my current favourite author. This is the author's first book, and introduces the character of Jack Reacher, an ex-major in the military police, now a loner who wanders across America, exploring his home country having spent his first 35 or so years of life on American army bases round the world. One day he stumbles into Margrave, a small town in Georgia where he is immediately arrested for a murder he didn't have anything to do with. Reacher is a very tough character, incredibly smart and very unlike any other character I've ever come across. The book is excessively violent in places (it's Lee Child's most violent book to date) but is arguably required by the (very clever) plot, and for me is it's only possible negative point.
4) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. The only pre-20th century novel to appear in my list. I read this after watching the BBC television adaptation, and loved it just as much as the tv programme if not more. The characters leap off the page, and it's such a gentle, easy read. The tv adaptation followed the book quite closely, but there are some extra scenes in the book not in the tv series or film, particularly the epilogue showing Lizzie's life after marrying... oh but I really shouldn't say, just in case there's someone reading this that doesn't know the story!
5) 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea' by Judith Kerr. My first favourite book I think. I got it for Christmas when I was 2 - apparently I was ill that Christmas and couldn't sleep so my mother read this book to me - I liked it so much that I made her read it again and again and again... Years later I still loved reading it. It's about a family who hear a knock at the door - it's a tiger who asks to come for tea and basically eats them out of house and home. Simply brilliant. A perfect book for very young children.
6) 'The Historian' by Elizabeth Kostova. This book is about the search by successive generations of a family for the tomb of Dracula, but worrying events make them wonder whether Dracula is quite as dead as everyone thinks... The book combines all the elements of a thriller with a historical mystery and fair dash of horror. Together these different aspects make up a whole far greater than the sum of their parts. An absolutely brilliant book.
7) 'Chocolat' by Joanne Harris. The book is about the characters of Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk who arrive and cause a stir in a sleepy, rural French village when they open up a chocolate shop, challenging the traditions and staid way of life of the villagers. The book is hauntingly evocative and beautiful - you can almost smell the rural French air and taste the exquisite chocolates in Vianne Rocher's shop. I admit my infatution may be influenced by reading this book on a sunny beach in Turkey on my first holiday abroad and first holiday with my girlfriend, now wife. Still, I loved this book.
8) 'The Day After Tomorrow' by Allan Folsom. On the first page, main character Paul Osborne spies the man who murdered his father many years ago in cold blood on a busy street. The man was never caught and never seen again until that day. Paul follows him, seeking answers and revenge, and is catapulted into a nightmare... I read this book many years ago, and still lives in my memory as the ultimate thriller novel, even though I can remember next to nothing about what happens after the gripping opener. After I read it, this book was passed around every member of my family, and everyone loved it, including some who didn't like thrillers, and my brother who doesn't read books (for many years the only books he read were this one, and Magician which is number one on my list).
9) 'The Reality Dysfunction' by Peter F. Hamilton. I used to read a lot of science fiction, as I think I mentioned earlier, so should really have another book representing the genre in here. The Reality Dysfunction is massive - 1000 + pages, and the first in a trilogy of equally long books. It is Space Opera, science fiction that is vast in scope with many characters and stories across many planets... Set in 2600, on a distant colony world an utterly alien entity accidentally gets in between a dying human and the afterlife, with terrifying and awful consequences (don't worry no demon legion appears or anything like that!). This is awesome, brilliant stuff, but only read if you've got plenty of time to dedicate to it.
10) 'The Island of Adventure' by Enid Blyton. Between the age of 4 and 10 I read pretty much nothing but Enid Blyton so had to include the Queen of children's books on this list. OK so her books are very dated, and all the children eat about 20 sandwiches each on every picnic but who cares? The Adventure series of books feature just above the Famous Five in my estimation, and Island of Adventure is the first book. It's got spies, a mysterious island and a parrot called Kiki. What more could you want?
Phew, that was harder than I thought it was going to be. There are so many great books I've read over the years, and inevitably lots couldn't be included. Here are a few that just missed out:
The Island by Victoria Hislop
Trader by Charles De Lint
The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carre
Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl
Harry Potter (all)
I hope at least some of this list was useful or interesting. They will not all be to everyone's taste but it's such a varied list that I hope whoever reads this review can find at least one new book to enjoy from my list. Happy reading!
People always seem to obsess on at least one thing in they're life. It could be something as trivial as not ever wearing socks to bed, (which my one friends swears she'll NEVER do then I always give her that "Your weird", look whenever she mentions it) or it can just be the urge to constantly read at every given opportunity. There are times when I'm out having a good time with my friends that occasionally, I'll let my mind wonder and think to myself "Ok if I get home by midnight, I can still finish a few chapters of _____ before I have to get to sleep". It's so bad that sometimes when I KNOW I should be doing something productive i'll cast it aside and resort to my lazy pastime.
In the spirit of my obsession and from other Ciao readers review of this same subject, I figured to give my two cents worth. Namely, what I feel are the top 10 books of all time thus far. And the winners are....
1. Les Miserables- Victor Hugo (1862)
No book has ever touched me mind, body, and soul, as much as this. I probably think about one of the characters or circumstances at least once every week. That may sound odd to you yet, it's simply an amazing story with the best (in my opinion) written character of all time in Jean Valjean. He of course is the protaganist in this story and deserves something more than respect. He is the surpreme example of a complex, unselfish, tortured soul. Everything about him envokes sympathy yet, you almost feel like there is no need. He has this will and strength that make you wish you knew him or at least went out with him for drinks on occasion.
This story, although it evolves around him, has several other very strong and memorable characters. There is Fantine, a women who's had bad luck in life and has been forced into prostitution. Yet , her only concern is her child to which she sends every penny she earns. Her child is named Cosette and plays a larger role through the middle/end of the book. The so called "Villian" of the book is a Jean Dame Police Inspecter named "Javert". He isn't your classicaly evil villian. In fact he's merely a victim of his own rigid rules and discipline and as such, isn't without honor. I don't want to give anything away if you haven't read this or seen the movies made. The only thing I want to put across is how this story envelops you. The writing of Hugo to me is unparelled. He's a poet writer in a way, and you can see if by his style of writing. It's just....beautiful. Some great quotes are from this book as well like;
" If the soul is left in Darkness sins will be committed" and,
" All extreme situations have their flashes that sometimes blind us, sometimes illuminate us" and then my favorite,
" Is the underworld of civilization, bad because it is deeper and gloomier, less important than the upper? Do we really know the mountain when we do not know the cavern?
At the end of the day, I will say this is NOT an easy read. It isn't one of those novels you can read in a few nights. If you are patient though, this will move you and make you appreciate all this nuances and literary genius.
2.) The Princess Bride - William Goldman (1973)
Not to be confused with the movie. Although, the movie was a great adaptation from this book. Like all movie's based on books, it didn't tell the entire story. So, if you ARE familar with this movie (which come ON! Who hasn't seen the Princess Bride? That's INCONCIEVABLE!=), you'll be even more impressed with the book.
William Goldman is one of my favorite authors. He's more well known as a screenwriter having written such masterpieces as, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Stepford Wives, Misery, Chaplin, and Fierce Creatures. Yet, it's his books that really endear him to me. He wrote Marathon Man, Boys and Girls Together, Magic, The Color of Light, and one that just barely missed my top ten called "The Temple of Gold" , which was his very first novel. I think it's his style of writing that really grabs you. In the Princess Bride, it's written more like a satire, but it almost didn't need that. If he would have changed and just purely made it an adventure story , it still would have worked and people would STILL have loved it. With what he adds in terms of comedy, witticisms, and the like, captapult this into icon status. In 100 yrs I hope young and old people around the world are still reading this. And when i'm old and gray and lying on my deathbed I want someone to read this book to me so it's the last thing on my mind. I love it that much!
3.) Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte (1847)
Don't worry, not all of these top 10 books are going to be from the 19th century. Only, there are so many stellar writings from that time. Literature then was at it's peak and modern day writing has been so influenced by these older authors. Think about the "horrid" novels. Those started Mary Shelly's Frankenstien, which then gave way to Bram Stokers Dracula and stared all sorts of movies and movies based on these types of characters.
Jane Eyre is the same type of timeless piece that people try to duplicate but can just never be quite as good. In a lot of literary circles, this is not only harolded as the greatest novel written by a women, but some have even called it the greatest novel EVER written. That goes a bit far to me, but maybe they really aren't THAT far off. In terms of writing, Bronte surprizes you throughout the novel. There are times where you can feel her 19th century oppression and stoic almost depressed tone. Then she'll turn the tables and it will become passionate and driven , full of hopes and dreams. In a way, I think Bronte wanted to be Jane. I mean, we'll never know of course, but it just seems that she wrote Jane's character, based on her qualities and emotions.
The protaginists of the story being Jane Eyre and Mr. Edward Rochester come off the book as your reading. It's like you can see them fighting against they're instant attraction, not really knowing what it is. Yes, this is for all intents and purposes, a love story. Which, if your a girl you'll love. If your a guy, you are thinking " ok moving on...". Only, you might want to check yourself. This is a "dark" love story. It's not full of "I love you's" or "heaving breasts" or people waxing poetic over one another. It's deep and intense and forboding and sad and happy and everything else all rolled up together. In a way, to me, Charlotte Bronte was like the female Edger Allen Poe. So, for you men out there, if you like Poe.....you'll like Jane Eyre. Give it a try but just make sure your mates aren't around to see you reading it. =)
4 - This is All I Ask - Lynn Kurland (2000)
Ok so THIS is a quote unquote ROMANCE. Who cares? Now all you males reading this can move down to the next few which I promise will not make you lose your mancard.
Most novel critics would never in a million years put a book like this in they're top 10. Well i'm not a novel critic, so i'm breaking all the rules. To my sister and myself this is our brain candy favorite and most "read" book. It is soooooo easy to get caught up in ,and the storyline is sigh worthy. Let me assure you though, that this is NO way a bodice ripper or full of words like "Assiduously", "Umbrage" or "Scoundrel". It's actually pretty PG and is decently well written. I've read some of Kurland's other books and like them "ok" but not half as much as this one.
It's a story about a girl sold into marriage by a father who constantly abused her. She is almost afraid of her own shadow b/c of this and has become painfully shy and skittish. There are parts of the story that make you want to roll your eyes and think it's a little corny but those are few and far between. The male character is an infamous knight (yeah I know how very Sir Walter Scott Ivanhoe, right?), that has lost his eyesight and his first wife as well. He's very jaded, but under all his menace is capable of kindness. Seeing these two characters get together is.....well fun. This is a book I end up reading almost in one sitting if I have the time. It's story is such that it sucks you in and you can't stop looking. All of my girlfriends I let borrow this book (which usually they STOLE and never gave back so i've had to buy this a few times) have always gushed about how much they loved it. So, basically if your a girl....You'll adore this story.
5.) The Rainbow - D.H. Lawrence (1915)
This was one of my first "grown up" books I read. I was in junior high at the time and I saw this book on my English teachers desk. I asked her what it was about and she sorta looked a little embarassed and said " oh well, you'll probably read it once your in high school". That got me wondering "Why do I have to wait until high school? And, why wouldn't she tell me what it was about?"
So of course, being the annoying little Curious George that I was, I went and checked it out at my library. Let me preface again that I was around 12 at the time. That is vaugely important b/c this book was actually banned in several countries b/c of it's taboo subject matter at the time. I was in for a bit of a shocker, but it really wasn't all THAT shocking. Sure some things were, especially for a 12 yr old, but when I read it now, it seems so tame and just, beautifully written.
It's mostly about the characters trying to find themselves?? It's hard to say b/c there is no real plot at ALL in this book. In reality , if Lawrence wasn't such an amazing writer, this would have been a complete bust. In other words, what made this book worthwhile was Lawrences's way of describing things. At the time it took me weeks and weeks to read this thing because I had to re-read sentences or look up all the huge words. (Lawrence is the most articulate writer i've ever come across) . There was also this great sense of sensuality. Not necessarily "sexuality" but, it was quite sensual and just had this viceral feel to it. LIke I said it's more of a character study than anything else, but it's still beautiful and Lawrences writing will blow your mind. I personally liked this better than his others simply because of that. Lady Chatterly's Lover is his most popular, but I didn't think it really showed off his talents quite like The Rainbow did. (Women in Love is the sequel to this novel and I'd also recommend that one as well =)
6.) The Complete Works of Alexander Pope - Alexander Pope (1700s?)
I'm sure many of you will not be rushing out to buy this on Amazon or Borders. =) It's not what i'd call a very....entertaining read? Although, to me it was entertaining in some parts. Pope is more of a preacher of ethics and morals than anything else, but he does get in a few humorous quotes now and then. You can tell he had a sense of humor beneath his brillant mind.
His most famous work was "An Essay on Critisism". Which, i'm constantly in awe of whenever I get a chance to read it. It's not very long per se, but its writing is more in prose , so it's a bit hard to read. You'll find yourself having the same lines over again in order to grasp it unless your paying REALLY close attention and concentrating on the words. Some very famous lines come from his "Essay" like;
"Fools rush where angels feel to tread" and,
"To Err is human, to forgive, divine".
In reality he's a poet, but not a poet just such on purely asthetic qualities. You can just feel that everything he says, he says with a purpose. With the hope that someone will listen to him and pay heed, and learn from it. He didn't write things just to sound "pretty", except his writing really IS beautiful. It's always said that Shakespere had such a way with words that to this day, no one can match. Well, in my mind Pope had a better way with words than even Shakespere did. And, until you actually read his stuff, you'll never know what your missing.
7.) Money - Martin Amis (1984)
Martin Amis' most famous novel is probably "The Rachel Papers" that was , ta daaaaa made into a movie. (They really need to just start letting screenwriters WRITE movies and Novelist WRITE novels, stop turning them into bad movies!) Anyways, Amis's stuff has always had it's bad and good critics. After I read the Rachel Papers, I "liked" it enough to check out some of his other stuff. So, I checked out "Night Train" at the library and well....I hated it.....I couldn't even finish it . So, i just gave up on the guy after that. Until last year when I heard his name mentioned again. I thought ok, maybe I should give him one more shot. I went through his list of books and found the one with a story line that looked the most promising called "Money".
This book was....GREAT. I mean it made up for "Night Train" 100 times over. I just loved almost everything about it , tThe funny lines, the wit, the self-loathing, the names of the characters, (and the characters themselves)....I mean how can you not like the names , Spunk Davis, Frank The Phone, and even the main character named "John Self". All the names reflect who the characters really are. John Self is....Selfish...essentially. He's directs commercials so has a little bit of money that he always spends and he's pretty much always drunk. Plus he's obsessed with sex and food. You get to see Self, go through the process of having Frank The Phone want to kill him, and dealing with crazy actors and the like, then climaxing to a HUGE plot twist at the end. I mean I could NEVER have dreamed up the ending to this. It really showed me how imaginative Martin Amis is. I really think most people would enjoy this book, it's a fun read and I think it really was the ending itself that made me appreciate the beginning (if that makes any sense?)
8.) This Side of Paradise - F. Scott Fitzgerald (1920)
This only made the top ten because of Fitzgeralds writing ability. the storyline is a bit dull, but it's done in typcial F.Scott fashion and is kind of similar to The Great Gatsby (Which i'm not very fond of). This book though, unliked Gatsby, was done in a lighter fashion and shows that the author wasn't full of himself ....yet. I first read this book my last year of high school and while I was not sure If I liked it or not, I had to end up reading it a few times in order to do a good report on it. After that, I really did fall in love with it. The main character is a young man who goes to princeton falls in love and it's unrequited. He then joins WW1 but it's already pretty much over when he joins so there is no mention of him "fighting" in it. He then falls in love AGAIN only to be rejected b/c the women is rich and he is not.
It sounds pretty depressing I know, but while you feel sorry for him being unlucky in love, you really like his character and the way he expresses his emotions and just , talks in general. There are some great lines in this book but the most famous is at the end where he says " I know myself, but that is all." This is a great book to read on a train or in the middle of work ,where your brain is humming, b/c then you'll appreciate Fitzgeralds writing style even more.
9.) The Martian Chronicles - Ray Bradbury (1950's?)
I was going to put an H.G. Wells book here because he is the king of Sci-fi. It would just be too obvious though. Wells deserves a top 10 mention but, I simply couldn't leave this one out. Bradbury is more known for his book Farenheit 451, which I've really never finished reading. It's sititng there on my bookshelf and i'm sure i'll get around to reading the rest of it one day. Still, this book of his captured my interest far more than 451 did. It is a sci-fi book while also being a social discertation. I really don't want to even go into a synopsis of it based on the fact that it's the type of read you need to experience in an undliuted form. You need to go into it, not knowing what it's about. Let me just say, that it's most assuredly NOT disapointing and , in most parts , quite riveting. If humans ever do terraform and colonize Mars, this should be the Bible for telling us what to do and what NOT to do in that case.
10.) The Time Travelers Wife - Audrey Niffenegger (2004)
Mentioning this book reminds me that I really need to read it again. My brother-in-law's parents had this book at their house one day and in a moment of boredom I picked it up and started reading. I wasn't all that impressed in the beginning, only , there was something about it that made me continue. I"m so glad I did because it just got better and better with every page. Niffenegger must have an enormous imagination to conjure this idea up and it's so original. There was even a brief TV show in the U.S. called Journeyman, that used her story as a concept for the series. Her writing style might not be as polished as some of the greats, but the plot itself makes up for the lack of it. It can be somewhat....confusing...in parts, but you end up forgetting that and just , going with it. It's about a man who has a "disease" that causes his body to *whoosh* vanish into different times. One minute he'll be walking down the street in the present day, the next, he'll be in some random field back in the 1960's. It's during one of those time travels that he meets his future "wife", whom, at the time, is a child and he is already married to her in his 30's. His meeting her in the past, causes her (when she's in her early 20's)to seek out the future him (when he's also in his 20's)....are you confussed yet? Ha, it's definately NOT easy to explain, but this author does it very well and there are full of funny moments, and touching ones as well. It's not really a "love" story, it's a story of this guy trying to deal with this horrible "problem" and making a life for himself despite that. I think men, women, old people, young people, and every other demographic would really fall in love with this story. It's very easy to love.
Some that just missed the list........
The Time Machine -H.G. Wells
The Silent Gondoliers- William Goldman
The Once and Future King - T.H. White
Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut
Feel free to comment on any of these or send me your top 10 , i'm always looking for new books to check out and obsess over.
TOP TEN BOOKS.
OK I am a bookworm.
I enjoy reading and have done for many, many years.
Listed below are the first 10 books that came to mind and so are most memorable to me.
The blurb on them came straight off the top of my head, enjoy.
Author - Brian Aldiss
A wonderful romp in the VERY distant future where humans are 1 foot tall and kilometre sized spiders spin webs between the Earth and the Moon. The plant life is terrifying and enjoys human flesh, to survive here takes nerve and a keen eye. A novel that is sometimes dark but always inventive.
This is a book you WILL read again.
My rating - 10/10
2. SENTENCED TO PRISM
Author - Alan Dean Foster.
In the not to distant future, giant corporations hunt for virgin worlds to exploit. Keeping any planets they find secret for as long as they can so as to gain an advantage once the opposition moves in also to exploit the planet. Prism, where life is silicon based, has lost communication with a secret station placed there. A problem sorter is sent in but what he finds and what happens to him are incredible to read. The imagination of Foster is superb and this is a brilliant book.
This is a book you WILL ALSO read again.
My rating - 10/10
3. THE HOBBIT
Author - J.R.R.Tolkien.
In a hole in the ground..............
Surely everyone knows this story?
A wizard, A Hobbit, Bilbo and 11 Dwarves go treasure hunting. Along the way they will battle Ogres, Wood Elves, Huge spiders, Dragons and a few humans. This is a simply well written and eternal book.
Sorry for being repetitive but his is a book you WILL ALSO read again.
My rating - 10/10
Author - Clive Barker.
The novel starts in Liverpool and involves wizardry, hidden worlds and evil spirits. The carpet is the secret path to the Fugue, a hidden world peopled by the 'Seerkind', who being hunted by an evil presence named Shadwell. It is a large novel which will hold you spell bound, no pun intended.
A superb page turner, you will be unable to put down.
My rating - 9/10
Author - Stephen King.
Sci-Fi meets the zombie genre. Excellent story and King at his best. A virus gets into the phone systems throughout the world and enters the human brain upon answering your phone.
This novel reminded me a little of Quatermass and ringstone round.
A great novel and you will enjoy this book.
My rating - 9/10
6. THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS
Author - John Wyndham
I wonder, should a meteor storm light up the night skies, how many people would avoid watching it after reading this book. The meteor shower ends up burning out peoples eyes, permanently, rendering nearly all the human are blind. At the same time triffids have been being farmed for their oils, triffids are walking plants that can kill whith their stingers.
Once the Triffids escape, the humans become hunted, slayed and eaten.
A classic apocalyptic novel.
My rating - 9/10
7. FEET OF CLAY
Author - Terry Pratchett.
A series of mysterious deaths comes to the attention of Commander Vimes who with the help of the 'watch' is trolls and Dwarfs sets out to solve these peculiar deaths. Enter a strange Golum who has begun to think independently, throw into this the exotic backdrop of Ankh-Morpok and the threat of civil unrest and this is my favourite pratchett story of all. Coming a close second is 'Going Postal'
An excellent page turner.
My rating - 9/10
8. MID FLINX
Author - Alan Dean Foster
This book is one of a series starring Flinx and his pet mini dragon, pip. This novel finds them running from the bad guys on a planet with carnivorous plants and evil alien race called the 'Ann'.
It's basically an enjoyable adventure through wonderfully thoughtout landscapes whilst trying to avoid being eaten by the local flaura and fauna.
An enjoyable read that might enspire you to read more Alan Dean Foster.
9. THE GREEN BRAIN
Author - Frank Herbert
Set in the not to distant future mankind has successfully managed to poison mother earth. From atomic bomb testing, pollution spills and attempting to kill off insects, the human race know faces payback time.
The insects have learned to work together but who or what is directing them?
10. FORREST GUMP
Author - Winston Groom
Well what can I say about Forrest? Simply brilliant book. His adventures in the book are slightly different than the film but non the less hilarious and beautifully written.
I love reading and so thought what better way to express this than by writing my top-ten book list. The books on this list may not suit everybody but I have done my best to give a brief description of why I like them and what they are about in order for you to make choices as to whether they are for you or not.
I have already written reviews for some of these books and will write reviews for the rest in due course so if some of what you read does sound familiar then this may be the reason. I have with the word (REVIEW) by the title fo the book signified that I have written a review for that book.
I apologise about the length of this. Enjoy :)
10 / Carrie's War - Nine BAWDEN (REVIEW)
Now I know that this is a children's book but I really like it. You don't need to be a certain age to relate to this book but it is written on so many levels.
In Brief - Carrie's War tells the story of a young girl (Carrie) and her younger brother Nicholas who are evacuated during the war. They fall into the care of Mr Evans and his sister who quite quickly becomes Auntie Louise. Mr Evans is a strict man who has a past he doesn't want to reveal that involves conflict with his other sister. This sister has a housekeeper called Hepzibah and it is here at this house that the children find comfort. Everything however isn't perfect and just before the children are about to leave to go back home something happens that will haunt Carrie for the rest of her life.
9/ Journey to the centre of the earth - Jules VERNE (REVIEW)
This is a book I wasn't sure I would like when I started it. To be fair I'm not to fond of 'classics' but really enjoyed reading this book despite the ending being a little strange.
In Brief - When Professor Lindenbrock discovers an ancient parchment bearing cryptogram maps he and his nephew begin the most hazardous journey of their life. Their journey to the centre of the earth begins on the summit of a volcano and continues through secret passage and across deserted underground masses of water. This journey of discovery however isn't without its problems, which include running out of water and life threatening injuries. This journey could quite easily be their last.
8/ The Da Vinci Code - Dan BROWN (REVIEW)
After not having read any 'good' books in ages reading The Da Vinci Code came as a more than welcome relief. For page one I found the story absolutely gripping and carried the book around everywhere until I had finished the very last page. It is a book that entwines fact and fiction so cleverly that the boundary between the two is forever unclear - in a good way. It is by far the most intriguing book I have ever read.
In Brief - Jacques Saunière's death is a mystery but the mystery he leaves behind is far more intriguing and Robert Langdon is soon to find out. Together with Saunière's granddaughter Sophie Neveu, Langdon goes on a search that they hope will lead to the Holy Grail itself. They however are not alone as an albino monk named Silas is hot on their tail. As Robert and Sophie's quest continues the form of this prestige relic comes under questioning and all is not exactly as it seems. Sophie and Robert must learn fast to stay ahead of the game and whom they choose to trust could have a direct effect on how long they continue to live.
7/ Historian - Elizabeth KOSTOVA (REVIEW)
I absolutely loved this book due to the fact that the novel is a web of story-line that cleverly entwine to update the Bram Stoker classic 'Dracula'. It is written with a great style and flare and due to the introduction of gothic horror means you constantly look over your shoulder to check you are alone.
In Brief - The story begins when late one night a young women, finds a cache of letters and an ancient book which are all ominously addressed to "My Dear and Unfortunate Successor". This discovery plunges her into a world that she could never have dreamed of, a journey she never expected to undertake, a labyrinth of mystery where the secrets of her fathers past and her mother's mysterious fate are connected to an evil that is hidden deep in the depths of history.
6/ Sovereign - C J SANSOM (REVIEW)
Sovereign is in my eyes an utterly compelling read from the very beginning. It is a historical fiction novel that entwines historical fact with a gripping tale of murder, mystery and heresy. From the moment I opened the cover I knew I was going to love this book and it did not let me down. Sansom's writing style is one to be admired.
In Brief - In 1541 when Henry VIII sets out on his progress to the North a lawyer Matthew Shardlake and his assistant Barak are requested to travel along with the progress to process petitions and ensure the welfare of an important conspirator. Whilst in York however a Glazier is murdered and this murder plunges Shardlake into deeper mysteries that are not only connected to the prisoner he was tasked to take care of but the royal family itself. What he discovers could threaten the Tudor claim to the throne and lead he and Barak to one of the most terrifying fates of the age...
5/ Jane Eyre - Charlotte BRONTË (REVIEW)
Like I said earlier I'm not too fond of 'classics' but this is another that I really enjoyed. To be quite honest I'm not too sure why. The writing style is certainly easy to read and the language not to complex compared to other 'classic' novel. It is certainly a book I would highly recommend.
In Brief - Jane Eyre is an orphan entrusted into the care of her aunt. The aunt cares greatly for her own children but treats Jane with a severe dislike. Ultimately Jane becomes stubborn and uncooperative and is subsequently sent to an extremely strict Evangelical school. Despite prejudgements she thrives her and through the encouragement of others blossoms and finally moves on to work as a governess. It is here that she falls in love with the illusive master of the house, Mr Rochester, and a tale of gothic horror and love begins.
4/ The Boy who loved Anne Frank - Ellen FELDMAN (REVIEW)
I don't usually read this type of story but am certainly glad I read this novel. It is a truly heart-warming tale that asks the reader to think about the power of stories, the meaning of history and the possibility of coming to terms with an unbearable burden of memory. In my opinion it is mere brilliance and is old with a compassion that cannot be overlooked.
In Brief - The story tells the tale of what might have happened if the boy hiding with Anne Frank, Peter Van Pels, had survived the war. Leaving behind the ghosts of Europe Peter has reinvented himself in America, married and raised a family but the publication of one young girls diary brings the world he has carefully constructed crashing down around him. He sees his own past being distorted in front of his own eyes until the differences between his present and former self spark a crisis he cannot suppress.
3/ Angels and Demons - Dan BROWN
As you can probably tell by where it's placed in this list I believe the Angels and Demons is a far better Dan Brown novel than the much acclaimed Da Vinci Code. It is written in a similar style but tells a story that personally I found more captivating. It introduces the Robert Langdon character met in the Da Vinci Code but is simply in my opinion a much better read.
In Brief - The novel is based around a conflict between an ancient group called the Illuminati and the Roman Catholic Church. When Leonardo Vetra, a much-respected scientist is found murdered in his own quarters and branded with the word Illuminati on his chest Langdon is called in. What he sees terrifies him, as the legendary ancient society seem to have resurfaced and to make matters worse have also stolen a canister of highly explosive anti-matter. In the meantime the Pope has 'died' and so along with Vetra's adopted daughter Vittoria, Langdon must attempt to follow the path of the Illumination in an attempt to uncover the truth.
2 / One Shot - Lee CHILD
This is as you can tell by were it stands in my list one of my favourite all time books. I read One Shot before I read the rest of the novels in the series, as I didn't realise at the time that it was a part of a series. Despite this I still loved the book and have since read it numerous times. Lee Child has a real flow for prose and in my opinion this is the best book in the series, although it is a tight contest.
In Brief - This novel like the others tells the story of Jack Reacher. Reacher is an ex-military police officer who is now unemployed. He is a loner and lives off the grid. In this story in a busy shopping centre, six bullets are fired and five people are killed. The case however is open and closed within hours but the man accused claims 'You got the wrong guy'. Apart from this however all he'll say is 'Get Reacher for me'. The bulk of the novel therefore is focused on Jack Reacher's search to find out Why? And once he knows that, how he can prove to the police that the man they have in custody is not the right guy.
1 / Private Peaceful - Michael MORPURGO (REVIEW)
This is my favourite all-time book. It is written for children probably between the ages of 12 - 16 but I think it is a book that everyone should read at least once. The story epitomises the power of friendship first time and when I read it I was blown away by the delicacy of the story. It is a book that will make you laugh and cry but is certainly not a book you will forget in a hurry. The book is only short but is one that you'll never want to put down. The tale, one you'll never want to let go.
In Brief - The book tells the story of eighteen-year-old Private Thomas Peaceful on the battlefields of the First World War looking back over his countryside childhood. These memories are fond ones but the story however isn't quite what it seems, as when the First World War breaks out Thomas and his brother Charlie join up and fight side by side in the trenches. It is now that you begin to realise that as the clock ticks by and Thomas remembers how things he is getting closer to the present day. A present day where something will change his life forever.
"Tonight, more than any other night of my life, I want to feel alive"
Thank you for reading xx
Top Ten books? Pah, ten minutes worth of effort, I muttered to myself whilst scanning Dooyoo categories
I can run that off right now. That was two weeks ago and I have only just come up with my definitive list. If I had realised just how difficult it would be I wouldnt have started thinking about it, but I did and here we are. A properly written list is a real reflection of the person that you are and can reveal so much about your character and personality. My first temptation was to grab a couple of handfuls of thick, impressive books off my shelves and eulogise about them, but I soon realised that often the thickest and most impressive books are the dullest, so I sat down and had a proper think.
One of the problems I have is that I read voraciously, everything and anything that comes across my path, and I am eternally tormented by the thought that the next book I read will be the best one ever. I found myself putting this list off until I had finished a few more of the unread books on my shelves, or had bought a couple more from my Amazon wishlist (559 and rising), but I soon realised that this idea was ridiculous. I own a lot of books as well (we had to turn the master bedroom in our flat into a library and with ten full bookshelves in, it is already at capacity), so choosing just ten seemed an impossible task.
So I have decided to make this my top ten fiction that really had an impact on me, to the extent that I can still remember the characters and storylines several years later. So here it is, in no particular order, my top ten books.
1. Empire of the Sun, J. G. Ballard.
I happened to catch the film of this book completely by accident and it moved me so much that I went straight out and bought the book. It tells the story of Jim (based on Ballard himself), a young boy living in Shanghai just before the second world war. His life is one of privilege and wealth until the Japanese occupy Shanghai and he is separated from his parents and placed in an internment camp. The contrast between the first part of the book and the last is extreme, he goes from a sunny suburb to a life of starvation and horror, learning how to survive in the strange environment of a Japanese camp. The story is told with great skill from the childs perspective; Ballard rejecting any adult constructions that could be placed on events and we see Jim adapting relatively quickly to his bizarre new life and begins to accept it as normal. The horrors and privations are not dwelt on, the story is told matter-of factly and without excessively emotive or graphic language. This book just doesnt need all that extra padding to make it moving and compelling, the story is honest and mesmerising and draws you in from the start. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and has won both the Guardian Fiction Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; understandably in my opinion.
2. The Dragonbone Chair, Tad Williams
Im going to include the whole Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy under this heading as it is impossible to read the one without reading the rest of the series. The story is set in a Tolkienesque fantasy world, beautifully constructed and thought out, far above your average fantasy fiction. A kitchen boy called Simon lives in a huge crumbling castle, enjoying a simple life until he becomes the apprentice to the castle apothecary and his adventure begins. The series tracks his story and those of his companions through an exciting and perilous world, on the trail of the three famous swords (Memory, Sorrow and Thorn), which appear to be the only way to save the world from the growing power of the Storm King. I have read this on average once a year for the last ten years as the story wholly captures your attention and you can completely immerse yourself in this world for as long as it takes you to read the three books (all around a thousand pages long). Tad Williams has thought through this world so well that she has created the beginnings of several languages, with a glossary and translation at the back, that reflect the different peoples she has created. This and Tolkien are the only fantasy novels I have on my bookshelves as they are the only examples of this genre that I really enjoyed and felt absorbed by.
3. Regeneration, Pat Barker
Set partly in the trenches of the First World War and partly in the Craiglockhart hospital, this book was never going to be an easy read. It is based around Siegfried Sassoons visit to the facility (run by W.H.R Rivers) officially suffering from shellshock and unofficially because he wrote an article against the governments management of the war. Other illustrious names in the book are Wilfred Owen and Robert Graves, the latter on a mission to convince Sassoon to retract his statements for the sake of his career. Another character is Richard Prior, a fictional soldier suffering from shellshock who becomes the main focus of the subsequent two books in this series. An excellent film has been made of this book which is how I found out about it; like the film this book pulls no punches about the First World War and the effects on those fighting at the front. It gives a real insight into the psychology of a soldier at the beginning of the twentieth century and an idea of the pressures faced by a soldier in any conflict. I found the other two books didnt live up to the promise of this one, but I found myself thinking about the characters long after I had put it down and it gave me a whole new perspective on First World War poetry.
4. The Best of H P Lovecraft- H P Lovecraft
I loathe horror movies, I cannot stand anything with the slightest hint of suspense and it took me three or four goes to manage to sit through Alien yes you can laugh now. So why a book of creepy stories? Because I am ok with horror stories, quite happy to read them anytime, rarely get scared but this collection of horror stories scared the living daylights out of me, to the extent that I didnt want the book in the house any more and had to imprison it under a couple of happy books for me to even sleep. Lovecrafts skill is to build a story in such a way that you are disarmed from the first page, until he has built such a net of skilfully constructed images that by the end of the story you are seriously disturbed and shaken to the core. I started the first page and thought it would be comparable to some of the tamer Edwardian stories I have already read, but I wont be so quick to judge a book again. Even having it next to me on the sofa as I write this is creeping me out, so it will be returned to its safe space inbetween Chocolat and Cold Comfort Farm. This collection includes some of his most well known stories including The Dunwich Horror and The Rats in the Walls. [Shudder].
5. London, Edward Rutherfurd
Covering 2000 years of history in 800 pages seems like a tall order. To do it and include major historical events, a coherent story and a convincing picture of life in London at the time seems an insurmountable task. I was doubtful at first but I have to say that I think Edward Rutherfurd has pretty much succeeded. He follows the lives and descendants of five familys through 21 different periods in the history of the city of London, begin with the Celtish farmers and fishers living on the banks of the Thames at the time of Julius Caesars invasion of Britain. If you are looking for an indepth history book, this is not for you, it cuts out a great deal of information (understandably as it covers such a span of time), but it also gives a brilliant, human picture of what life might have been like at different points in time. He focuses in on the lives of the fictional families for a few weeks or months at a time e.g. at a marriage or historical event, before fastforwarding sometimes a few years, sometimes decades to see how the fortunes of the family have played out since the last time we visited. Rutherfurd handily provides us with several simple maps and a simplified family tree to help keep up with who is who. I became completely immersed in the stories of these five families and came away with a better understanding of how certain events may have been perceived and experienced by the ordinary people. On the strength of this book I also bought other similar Rutherfurd books- Sarum and The Forest, but was most impressed with this one.
6. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Hah! You didnt think that you could get away without this one did you? I have loved this book ever since I first read it at 12 and the story of the five Bennett sisters is one I often return to. An acknowledged classic of literature, Jane Austen has created a scintillating and humourous picture of the country middle-class in the early 19th century, as Mrs Bennett makes her determined efforts to marry off her five daughters with disregard for anything other than raising their positions in life. Without her dubious help, two of her daughters marry successfully, but the third is tainted with scandal and her story reflects the attitudes at the time to women who step outside the boundaries of respectability. Elizabeth Bennett is one of my favourite characters in literature; she is feisty, witty and intelligent, and is able to stand up to the pressure of her mother and society by refusing to marry possibly the most unattractive suitor I have ever come across in literature the odious and obsequious Mr Collins.
7. Tom Jones, Henry Fielding
Tom Jones is a foundling, abandoned as a baby in the bed of Mr Allworthy. He grows up a strong and handsome boy, envied by Mr Allworthys legitimate nephew who is weak and bookish. When he falls in love with the neighbours daughter, Sophia Western, events and people conspire against them and the rest of the novel is a series of comic events as Sophia and Tom attempt to find each other, whilst being chased by Sophias father and Mr Allworthy. Fielding includes lots of political and satirical discussion which can be quite offputting, but I love the story, it always has me giggling away and is a thrilling and saucy read. Tom Jones was the beginning of a serious interest in eighteenth century literature, as will be evidenced by my next choice!!
8. Pamela, Samuel Richardson
I was seriously torn here between Burneys Evalina, Defoes Roxana and Pamela, but I plumped for Pamela as it was on the basis of this book that I read the other two. Pamela is a serving maid who is continually pursued by her mistresss son, whose motives are less than honourable. This story- told in letters between the two of them, is the battle for Pamelas virginity; she wants to hold onto it until marriage and he doesnt! This was a deeply controversial book when it came out in 1740 as Pamela is the first English heroine to work for her living and challenges social ideas about the place of lower-class girls and their value. At times the moral attitudes of the 18th century voiced by Pamela become intensely irritating, used as we are to a society with much laxer values, and I had to repeatedly put it down when I got cross with Pamela, but the characters are amusing and likeable and there are many frankly comic moments. I also found it a fascinating insight into life in this time period and as a Penguin Classic its nicely handbag sized. I did buy Richardsons other novel Clarissa (an enormous book) and looked forward to a similar read but I found it tedious and self-involved, not as fun as Pamela.
9. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
Classics students at an elite American university sink in an obsession with Greek history which leads to a series of terrible events reminiscent of a Greek tragedy. Narrated by Richard Papen, an outsider who slowly becomes absorbed into the group, we follow the story from his position of ignorance and events are revealed slowly to us as they are explained to him. This book is heavy on Greek history, much of the action taking place at study groups and tutorials, but is eminently readable nonetheless. It is a thrilling novel, slow paced in parts but beautifully and insightfully written. I would hesitate to describe it as a murder mystery; on reflection it would be hard to place this book in any category at all, other than maybe absolutely brilliant and classic literature. I first read this when I was 18 (and chose to do a book review on it for my English A-level) and I have read it every year since, the only modern book that has ever held my attention for this long.
10. Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
I am a big fan of Hardy and this is my favourite of his books. The love story of Bathsheba and Gabriel and the hurdles he has to cross to win her appeals to my romantic side, tempered as it is with the darkness and reality of Hardys depiction of the countryside at this time. The tragedies that haunt this book from the very beginning when Gabriels sheep are killed come to a dramatic and unforeseen conclusion near the end. Far From the Madding Crowd is a warm and funny romance with a healthy dose of Hardy realism/betrayal/pain and I regularly return to its pages to immerse myself in the story.
So there you go, my top ten books that I have read and can remember!
My top ten books of all time, well now this could be difficult....
I am a big reader, I always have been since I was a little girl. I was very proud when I realised that I had already read about half of the Big Reads top 100 books when the list was published and I have been a little obsessed about reading my way through that list since!!
I am a particular fan of modern classics and contempory fiction. I have to say that I have struggled with some of the old classics e.g. Far from the Madding Crowd, Jayne Eyre and such like. Anyway thats getting of the point. So top ten books ever, this list has been updated (05/10/05) as recently I have read a number of superb books!
IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER.
This is the story of Kunta Kinte who was poached from his home in The Gambia and shipped to America to work as a slave. The book follows his life from his childhood, his crossing on the slave ships, his life as a slave and his eventual freedom. It is roughly based on a true line of ancestory of Alex Hayley. The story is heartbreakingly sad and rather graphic information at times. You must read this book!!
2) The God Of Small Things.
This is the story of boy and girl twins, Rahel and Estha growing up in India and told from the perspective of Rahel. The twins are torn about by an illict event in their childhood and the book details their lives up until their reunion after 23 years. This is another fabulous book. My friend wrote her English Literature MA on it!
3) To Kill a Mockingbird.
Voted the sixth best book on the Big Read, this book truely lives up to these expectations. Set in America in around the 1950's. The story is told from the perspective of two white children whose father, 'Atticus' acts as a lawyer and supports a black man 'Tom Robinson' who has been falsely accused of raping a white women. Another fantastic, well written book. A Classic.
4) Memoirs of a Geisha
Set in Japen this book tells the story of a young girl kidnapped from her fishing village and sold to a geisha house as an apprentice. She tells her story many years later from New York when cultures and times have changed. I read this book along time ago and this I can't recall many of the details. But it definitely stands out as one of the best books I have ever read and wonderfull written.
5) The Time Travellers Wife.
Simply one of the best books I have read for a long time. This recently published book which was a best seller is the story of Claire and Henry, who met when Claire was 6 and Henry was 36 and married when Claire was 24 and Henry was 30. Henry has chrono-displacement disorder. He time travels. Told from the perspective of both parties this is in essence a love story and a tragic one. It is believable, mesmorising and addictive. I loved this book, it made me smile, it made me cry and it made me laught. Buy it.
6) One Flew Over the Cookoos Nest.
Set in a mental institution in America back in around about the 50's this tells the story of a group of mental patients within the ward. The story is told from the perspective of 'The Cheif' a huge Indian-American guy who hasn't spoken for years and who is presuemd to be deaf and dumb. At the start of the book the ward receives a new patient 'McMurphey'. McMurphey is a gambler, a drunk and a ladies man. He gets himself committed as he would rather sit around in the hospital than work of his sins at the work farm. McMurpheys electric presence on the ward soon puts a sparkle back into the lives of the patients. But, McMurphey has the Big Nurse to compete with....
7) Watership Down
I only read this classic childrens novel written in the 70's relatively recently. Watership Down is the tale of the adventures of a group of bunny-rabbits as they leave the warren in which they have spent all of their lives in search of better things. The main characters and leader of the group is Bigwig and he is accompanied by Hazel, Fiver, Dandelion, Pipkin and Holly. This is a great book and you'll never be too old to enjoy it! It tells the story of their journey as they search for somewhere to burrow and their plight to find some does to join them in their new home. A wonderful book.
8) Kurt Vonegut's Short Stories
I can't remember the name of this book, although I am trying to find out. The book is a collection of wicked short stories which concern the human race and the nature of society. All the stories have a twisted and random theme. I was introduced to this book by my friend Carrie-Anne and I am hoping to read some more of his stuff in the future. If anyone knows the name of this book please drop me a line.
9) The Poisonwood Bible
This is the story of a family; father, mother and four daughters, who go to the Congo to act as religious missionaries. This is their struggle with a way of life so alien to them and their rejection by the people in the village they serve. The Congo changed this family in ways good and bad. The Posionwood Bible is a vividly written account of this experience told from the prespective of each of the women. A fantastic read.
10) His Dark Materials.
I have only just read this trio after a couple of years of desperately wanting to! The trio is composed of Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spy Glass. Northern lights was written as a children's book but adults love the complexity of the plot and the depth. The main characters are Lyra and Will, although Will is not introduced untill book 2. Together the two of them have a task to fulfil which takes them though other worlds. Although generally considered to be a science fiction book I have to disagree and place it more towards the Harry Potter end of the scale, I am not a scifi fan but I LOVED this! Northern Lights is clever with many interesting twists and turns. It is a must read!
Choices, choices, choices..... It was pretty hard to narrow it down. I hope you enjoyed!!! Let me know if you check any of these books out and what you think!!
Thanks for reading.
It has proven surprisingly hard to distil down to ten from the great number of books that I have read over the years and something that has seen me sitting shifting through a couple of boxes of books that I had almost forgotten about. In the end a couple of criteria have been applied that the chosen ten have to satisfy, the first is that I will have read the book in question at least twice over the years thus implying that it is a good read and secondly that the book will have had an influence on me or hold some special meaning to me either because of the content or what was happening in my life at the time that I read it.
So here we go, with the exception of number one they are in no particular order however the first book is my all time favourite.
1. To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
I have probably read this book a dozen times not counting the fact that I first came across it as part of my English Literature studies in high school. It is a beautiful moving story that charts the early years of a small girl Scout growing up in a small town in the Deep South and her relationship with a reclusive neighbour who is the local boogie man amongst the children in her street. It is also a damning portrayal of the racist prejudices that existed during this period as her father takes on the case of a black man accused of raping a white woman. I get genuine pleasure from reading this book as it is told through the innocent eyes of Scout, there are moments to make you smile and others that will bring a tear to your eye and it is a beautiful piece of work.
2. e. by Matt Beaumont
This is one of the funniest books I have ever read and will strike a cord with anyone who has ever worked in an off ice with the inherent politics and back biting that goes on. Set in an advertising company the entire story is told through a series of e-mails and it is hilarious and an innovative way to put a book together. There have been a number of follow up stories as well but I have never bothered with them as for me the novelty of the style was part of the enjoyment in reading this book. It is still one of those books that I will pick up and read a section at random just to bring a smile to my face.
3. Way Past Cool by Jess Mowry
Set in Oakland California this is the story of a group of young black teenagers seeking to survive on the streets and to avoid falling into the employment of the local drug dealer. I enjoyed this book because of the gritty way in which it told the story and did not in anyway glamourise the lifestyle of drugs and gangs nor did it fall into the trap of using hackneyed generalizations and stereotypes within its pages, the characters come across as being individuals and all the more believable for it.
4. Animal Farm by George Orwell
I could just at easily picked 1984 but out of the two I believe that Animal Farm is the better written and is more creative. Depicted by Orwell as a fairy tale it tells the story of when animals took over a farm and what started as a utopian existence for all soon falls into a nightmare situation as the more intelligent pigs begin to take over and imitate the original human owners. I chose this book as at the time it helped spark an interest in politics and a social conscience in me and prompted me to study politics at A level. This in turn bought me into contact with the teacher who persuaded me to go to university.
5. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
This is a delightful little book which tells the story of three gentlemans journey along the Thames. Set at the end of the last century the journey is made up of a series of mishaps with the three individuals displaying equal amounts of innocence and incompetence. Beautifully written this is a book that is hard to put down and is easily read in a single sitting. It also holds special memories for me as it was the only book in my rucksack when I set off to travel for two years after university and it remained with me for the entire journey.
6. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Capote is probably most famous for Breakfast at Tiffanys however this true life telling of the murder of a wealthy Kansas farming family and the conversations Capote had with the two killers as they waited on death row for their execution. It is a moving account of the events that led up to the deaths and the attempts by the two killers to shift the blame onto each other as they endured through the endless court wrangling that symbolize the American judicial system which sees both convicted and the victims families suffering years of uncertainty before the death sentence can be carried out.
This book is very insightful and Capote brings honesty to the account and you can see that it has had a lasting effect on the writer and his views on the death penalty.
7. Sucking Sherbet Lemons by Michael Carson
This is a funny book charting the adolescent fumblings of one Benson who is torn between his strong Catholic beliefs and the irregular motions of the flesh that dominate his thoughts and in particular his feelings for Brother Michael. This is a touching and very funny account of a young mans struggle with his sexuality and the conflict his homosexual feelings have with his Catholic upbringing. Benson is a character that it is hard to warm to as he is pompous and self righteous but he is also vulnerable and in a state of turmoil that evokes sympathy in the reader. A very funny book and a great read.
8. The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde
A true classic written with an abundance of style it charts the moral decline of Dorian Grey who enjoys a youthful existence as a picture of him ages and depicts the impact of the debauched life that he leads. Attacked at the time of its publication it is a moving dark novel that at times made me nervous to turn the page and read further however just like the victim in a horror movie who enters the darkened room I found myself unable to stop reading this great piece of work.
9. Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkein
After the trilogy of movies and all the hype that surrounded them I would be surprised if there was anyone who did not have a basic understanding of the storyline.
The complexity of this story, the depth of detail and the strange worlds created by Tolkein made this a book one I simply had to read despite its daunting size. Heavy going at times it is a great read and a wonderful account of friendship being tested to the limit in the battle of good against evil.
10. Faithful Ruslan by Georgi Vladimov
This is a story told through the eyes of a prison guard dog during the Stalinist era. Originally circulated secretly in Russia this is a frightening account of the horrors inflicted on Russians during Stalins rule and the aftermath when the camps were closed down.
The dog Ruslan has been bought up and trained to give his loyalty to only one person and this becomes a metaphor for the Russian people. This is a moving novel and although relatively short in length every page is evocative and thought provoking.
Hope you have enjoyed my selections and thank you for reading and rating my review.
Top 10 Books of All Time
Apparently my sister taught me to read when I was still in my cot which impressed my mum and dad somewhat as they were able to stay in bed slightly longer in the mornings. At infant school I was summoned to read with the heamistress regulalry and it was written in my permanent school record that i (quote) like reading, it's my hobby (precocious 5 year old, moi?). So I think I started early, and that means that I have read an awful lot of books and I'm not a book snob either. At the moment I am quite happily buying anything from TESCO's that costs £3.73 regardless of genre or author. This means that my bookshelves are full with a diverse collection of novels, biographies and factual books. In fact there is always something that I fancy reading again, so I've probably read them all at least twice.
A list of 10 books seems a bit criminal to me as books have always been a big part of my life, as children we spent 5 weeks in a tent over the summer holidays and we were encouraged to read to pass the time. Over the years my tastes have matured somewhat from Judy Blume and Christopher Pike, although I will often be found in the 'Teenage Fiction' department of my local Waterstones!
So, a definitive list of Jo's favourite books of all time, where to start. I think I shall firstly set myself some criteria. My list will be full of books that I have read more than once; they will be ones that have touched me emotionally or ones that I have read with amazement. They will be books that I would read again - willingly. Most of all they will be books that I have enjoyed at one time or another.
1. The Abhorsen Trilogy - Garth Nix
I bought these books quite by accident one day as I quite liked the look of the front cover.
This trilogy is available in both children's and adultd book forms although my set is the children's books. We follow Sabriel in the first book as she fights with her father a variety of ghastly monsters both dead and alive. Throughout all three books we are put into the lands of both the dead and the living and follow Sabriel through her journey as Abhorsen in waiting. We are also introduced to Lireal, a seer without 'the sight' and follow the story of both of these women through to the end which in true good versus evil fashion is action packed and exciting.
All in all these are a stunning trilogy well worth the time effort and brain power to get through. They are probably my all time favourite set of books and will not gather dust on my bookshelves but will be read over and over.
2. His Dark Materials - Phillip Pullman
Another set of books I bought from the children's section of Waterstones. I had read this trilogy well before the BBC did their Big Read which rated these books 3rd I think. We follow Lyra on her adventures through worlds and finish the third book feeling a little bewildered and sorry for Lyra who has lost her best friend and doesn't know where he is. After reading these books I found myself wondering at the imagination of Pullman and how he managed to dream up the storyline. I have read these books twice now and am always left feeling in awe of the author's way with words and imagery.
I reckon that everyone should at least try and read these books as they look like becoming a modern classic.
3. The Tick Tock Man - Terence Strong
I first read The Tick Tock Man when I was about 15 and my mum had bought it for her summer holiday reading list. Basically the book focuses on the Tick Tock man or in other words a bomb disposal expert who finds himself fighting silent wars with the IRA's bombs, trying to find out how to defuse them safely. The IRA however are getting more and more cunning and the Tick Tock Mans job is getting more and more dangerous.
I always thought that this book would make a great film but it never seems to have been snapped up. It may have been that the subject matter seemed to gritty for Hollywood. What the book does do is make fictional characters seem real and fictional situations seem plausible. This book left me feeling exhilarated yet slightly frightened about the endless possibilities for violence.
Second time round I enjoyed the book even more. Sadly I have owned 2 copies of this book, the first was mum's but she lent it to someone. The second I found at a second hand book stall but have lost it. Maybe next time I find a copy I will keep it somewhere safe.
4. The Wilderness Man - Lovat Dickson
This book is about Archie Belany who was born in England in the latter 19th Century. Archie grew up in the care of 2 aunts, but managed to escape to Canada where he started coming into contact with Indians and befriending them. As he had long hair and was tanned from the sun Archie was able to pass himself off as a half Indian and was accepted into the group. It was the Indians that gave Archie his name that he would be known as, Grey Owl.
To cut a long story short this book is about a pioneer of conservation and managed to tour Great Britain with lectures about conserving the wilderness. Grey Owl lectured in front of the then king of England about this subject.
What made me pick this book is the fact that following his death Grey Owl was 'outed' as Archie Belany in the worlds press and his message was lost in the scandal. Now, almost 100 years later the importance of conservation has become accepted as a necessity by the general public and Grey Owl's message has been accepted as the guidelines for all naturalists to follow.
This is a magical book which really touched me as it describes this horrible man who turns from trapping wild animals to being the pioneer in wilderness conservation. A man truly ahead of his time.
5. Remember me? - Christopher Pike
This was one of the first books that introduced the concept of life after death to me. I was about 12 or 13 when I first read this book and it made me cry, frightened me and I had to read it again, more than once. Christoher Pike was the first Author that I really enjoyed reading and me and my friends went out of our way to buy all of his books. Remember me is one of his best books, focussing on Shari who wakes up at home after a party and is ignored by her parents. She follows them as they go out and is surprised to see herself lying on a slab at the morgue. Shari knows she is murdered and the story begins.
A book that I would happily read again even now. In fact all of the Christopher Pike books are well worth looking at.
6. When the Wind Blows - Raymond Briggs
I remember my grandma having a copy of this book in her car (I think). As I recognised the drawings from the Snowman I picked it up and started to flick through. For those who don't know the book follows Jim and Hilda as they prepare for an oncoming nuclear attack. Obviously this book was written in the Cold War and is clearly anti-nuclear. We see Jim and Hilda preparing themselves for a nuclear attack and if I remember correctly they shelter behind a mattress and doors propped against the wall.
Jim and Hilda eventually die from radiation sickness and normally by then I am a little teary. A really harrowing tale of an everyday elderly couple trying to make do with what they've got in a nuclear war.
7. The Jigsaw Man / Picking up the Pieces - Paul Britton
I think my dad first bought this book as a summer read, more likely my mum bought it for my dad to read! Both the Jigsaw Man and Picking up the Pieces have done the rounds through the family at least once. Paul Britton is the psychologist involved in a number of high profile crimes, including the Jamie Bulger case. I'm quite interested in forensic psychology and found that I couldn't really put either these books down after picking them up. Again these books are quite shocking and the author does talk about some aspects of cases that the reader may find distressing as we all know that it's factual.
These books give you a really good insight into the world of psychology and forensics and I would happily read both again
8. The Little Princess / The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
Every little girl wants to be a princess and both of these books involve little girls who have been treated like princesses but whose circumstances had changed. I love the magical feeling of both of these books and while the Little Princess is my favourite I enjoy the Secret Garden as well. I may be a bit of a wuss but I always cry when the neighbours start to treat Sara as the Princess she knows she is after her father dies and she loses all her worldly possessions. There's something about a happy ending that always makes me cry. I think it's a triumph over adversity thing really.
Anyway, most of you will have read these as children but it's really worth reading them again as adults, if only to re-awaken the child in you.
9. Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Each member of my family received a copy of this book one year from an Uncle. It tells the story of a seagull who decided that he wanted to fly faster than anything else. He wanted to hold records for being the fastest seagull ever. Even when he was cast out form the flock he was determined to keep practising his flying skills. The book is written as a motivational story, encouraging you to follow your dreams and strive for better at all times, regardless of what others say about you and you will find the ultimate reward.
As a child when I read this first I was captivated by the seagull story and the whole inspirational message passed over me. Having re-read this book a number of times I can see why some people think it to be full of new age ideas and don't really like it. Having read this first when I couldn't understand the other meanings I took this to be a book about a seagull that could fly fast; simple really.
10. Tony Hawks, Dave Gorman and Danny Wallace
I have lumped these authors together as there really isn't any particular book of theirs that I prefer to the others. These are the books that in recent years have been known to make me guffaw in public as I'm sitting reading in the park. That makes people look at you bizarrely I can tell you. The ones that stand out form the crowd are Playing the Moldovans at Tennis and Join Me, although anything written in the manner of these books is likely to make my list.
So, there you have it, 10 books that I love. I know I have included some multiple choices but hey, that's my prerogative!
Books have always been a major part of my life and trying to choose a top ten is like trying to pick a favourite cloud out of the sky - next to impossible. So I thought about it some more and decided to set some criteria for the choice. With one exception, I've read all the books listed below several times over the years and have enjoyed them each time. In many cases, reading them again has brought a new perspective or point of interest. I'm not going to attempt to put them in rank order - that would be too much of a challenge. So here goes ...
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
Asimov's books were my introduction to science fiction. He's best known for the Foundation future history series, but these were hard going when I first started reading his books in the early 1980s. I have always preferred his short stories, especially the ones about robots. The three laws of robotics, made famous in the recent film (which, though watchable, in no way does justice to the breadth of Asimov's imagination) were first listed here. In the book, robo-psychologist Susan Calvin is recounting her experiences with robots. Their positronic brains can be a bit buggy and this can alter their behaviour in interesting ways. I liked all of Asimov's short stories and had difficulty in choosing one book. This one stands out because I still find it interesting. As a teenager, I was fascinated by the idea of robots, what they could do and how they might change our lives. Now, I'm blown away by the immensity of Asimov's vision. Given that the stories in this particular anthology were written in the 1940s and 1950s the concepts he proposes are radically forward thinking. Even today, technology hasn't fully caught up.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
It is a truth universally acknowledged ... that many people love this story. I first read this book at school. I have to confess to being a girly swot. Well, not really, but I used to read my literature books before term started so I could enjoy them before teachers leeched all the fun out of them. So in my O-level year, I shut myself away with Pride and Prejudice and got lost in the world of Eliza Bennett, Mr Darcy and others. I was enthralled. Despite the setting which was so far from my own experience, the characters and situations sprang to life and I read would end up with Mr Darcy, whether her sister Jane would marry Mr Bingley and what would become of the flighty Lydia. Austen's descriptions of characters and situations are unparalleled and the book is unputdownable. This is a book I have read and reread over the years and each time I get new enjoyment from it. Perhaps as I get older, I can see the perspectives of more of the characters, or perhaps it's just that it's a damn good read. This is one of my favourite books and if pushed, I would put it at the top of my list.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
This is another widely loved tale. The story of Jo, Beth, Amy and Meg growing up in genteel poverty in the US has something for everyone. Because the sisters are so different in personality, every reader can find someone to identify with. My favourite was Jo, the tomboy who was always getting into scrapes, but as I have read and reread it, I have come to appreciate Beth (who is gentle and good); Meg (sensible and good); and Amy (vain and foolish, but with a good heart). The lives, loves and traumas of these four sisters have moments of humour and of sadness. Almost everyone can find something to relate to in this great novel.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
One of my favourite books of all time, this short, inspirational tale sold one million copies in its first edition and has continued to be a bestseller. Jonathan Livingston Seagull wants to rise above the ordinary, food-focused life of a seagull and explore the possibilities of flight. Despite its title, this book is not just about seagulls. It is a story about searching for excellence, finding it within yourself and helping others to do the same. I love it because of the sense of possibility it gives me. I always feel uplifted after I've read it. Other good books by Bach include One and There's No Such Place as Far Away.
The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
Unlike the books I've listed above, this is a book I've read only once (it was a reading group choice earlier this year) but am sure to read again and again. Eddie is a maintenance man at a carnival. He dies at the start of the book and then meets five pivotal people from his past. Through his interaction with them he tries to make sense of his life and to undo any harm he may have done. This is a beautiful concept, even for a non-religious bod like me. It was an extremely moving book, with moments of great sadness. I like it because it made heaven a real and interesting place. It's also a comforting book for anyone who has experienced a loss.
The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
Don't be put off by the recent film - the book is soooo much better than that. The story of Jason Bourne, the spy who has lost his identity, is gripping from start to finish. Jason tries to find out who he is and who he's working for. Along the way he finds out that he can speak several languages, knows things he doesn't think he should and can kill very efficiently. He uncovers a web of betrayal, the full extent of which is only revealed at the end of the novel. For me, this is the best of Ludlum's copious output (which includes two sequels to this novel). Jason Bourne is a strong and likeable character and the book is fast paced. I sat up well into the night to finish it the first time I read it, and even though I now know how it will turn out, it is still a good read.
Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan
Again, this is a much better book than the film would suggest. Terry McMillan was part of a new breed of African-American writers who wrote contemporary stories rather than focusing on the injustices of the past. This is the story of the lives and loves of four African-American women (shades of Little Women and Pride and Prejudice). I liked this book because the women in it were like women I knew - smart and sassy and able to take control of their lives (sometimes). McMillan's other books, Mama, Disappearing Acts, How Stella Got her Groove Back, and A Day Late and a Dollar Short are also worth a look.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The story of Celie who is abused by her father then married off to an equally abusive husband, Mister, is told through her letters to her lost sister Nettie. Celie recounts her pain at the loss of her children and sister and bewilderment at some of the events of her life. When Mister introduces his new love Shug Avery into the household, Celie's transformation begins. Shug helps her to find a sense of self. The Black English vernacular takes some getting used to but it is worth persisting because this is a remarkable tale of triumph over severe adversity. Walker's Possessing The Secret of Joy, the tale of Nettie's life in Africa is also worth a read, though it's not for the fainthearted, as it deals with female circumcision.
The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson; illustrated by Alex Scheffler
This is a story I discovered recently when it was given to my (then) one-year-old as a birthday present. It is a rhythmical tale of how a small mouse outwits his would-be predators by inventing a monster called the Gruffalo. When the Gruffalo turns up behind him, he gets quite a shock, but soon turns this to his advantage, showing the Gruffalo (who is walking behind him) that all the other creatures are afraid of him. He thus makes it safely back home and scares the Gruffalo away. This is one of my daughter's books that I can read with her over and over again, without getting tired of it. It's also such a good book (see my review) that I've been giving it to all the children I know as gifts. That's why it's on this list.
Misery by Stephen King
Paul Sheldon, a writer, crashes his car and is taken prisoner by his number one fan, Annie Wilkes. She reads his latest manuscript and doesn't like it. So she burns it and forces him to write a new one. For my money, this is one of King's best books. I was a fan in my teens (Carrie, The Stand, the Shining), fell out of love with the Green Mile series and have recently started reading him again, but Misery is one I've gone back to a few times. The relationship between writer and reader and the novel within a novel make this a compelling tale. And now that I've become a full-time writer myself, I plan to read it again.
Best books for language, description, characterisation: Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, The Color Purple
Best pacy reads: The Bourne Identity, Misery
Best children's: The Gruffalo
Best inspiration: Jonathan Livingston Seagull, The Five People You Meet in Heaven
Best vision: I Robot
Best feel-good: Waiting to Exhale
So there you have it - my top ten fiction list. What do you think?
How do you pick your top ten books? It is difficult enough to narrow it down to my top one hundred! Nonetheless, let me present to you ten books that I feel everyone should read. From a personal point of view they are classics but only by reading them will you decide the same. In no particular order
1: Dr Faustus by Christopher Marlowe.
Reading this for A-level English I remember being gripped throughout. Dr Faustus is a man seeking fame and glory by any means. When he dabbles in dark magic a demon known as Mephistophilis appears offering him all he desires in exchange for his soul. This is a much covered concept but this is still one of the best tale of consequences. Filled with evocative imagery as the reader delves into the psyche of an intelligent man driven mad by greed and a lust of power Marlowe's powers of description are second to none. Dr Faustus is probably best known in its play form or opera conversion as "Faust" yet I urge you to read this. After all at a mere 103 pages what have you to lose? A morality tale studying the shallowness of humanity must be a worthy addition to anyone's bookshelf.
2: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
A novel that draws on the horrors and futility of war yet sets it in the science fiction realm of space and the future. Ambitious to say the least, yet Joe Haldeman pulls it off with perhaps the greatest science fiction book of all time. "The Forever War" is everything a book should be, compelling, well characterised and descriptive. Set in the future, we follow the army career of space marine William Mandalla. We follow him as he battles through hundreds of years against the mysterious Taureans. What sets the novel apart in a much-maligned genre is its relevance to the modern day and historical events. Haldeman draws heavily on his own experiences in Vietnam as we are taken through the centuries in a blood thirsty, poignant yet ultimately tragic tale of a reluctant hero. Made all the more impressive by the fact it was published in 1974 yet in many ways predicts current events Haldeman has produced an addictive story that delves into the scarred psyche of the veteran soldier.
3: Night Watch by Terry Pratchett
Now I can hear the groans already. Scorned by the literary elitists Pratchett is simply too popular for his own good. He releases two+ novels a year and has a massive base of adoring fans. This is enough to get most authors down yet Pratchett seems to relish in it. Dismissed as a fantasist who does not even use chapters (as Tom Paulin delights in telling people) he writes about the Discworld. A flat world that parodies our own populated by Witches, Trolls and Vampires cannot surely be the place for satire and writing of intelligence yet in "Night Watch" Pratchett displays a perfect example of this. A noir style whodunit this book covers a lot of ground from police brutality to classism to revolution and the Monarchy and even racism ("Ankh Morporkians have no time to be prejudiced due to skin colour as there are so many other things to be prejudiced about!). However, all Pratchett fans will attest that his genius is that his satire is hidden among a mass of humour, plot and ridiculous caricatures and this is what Pratchett fans love yet everyone else hates about it. If you have not tried a Pratchett book try "Night Watch" you will love it or hate it but if you love it trust me you never go back.
4: The Stand by Stephen King
So many novels by King failed to make this list not because they are not good but because The Stand (particularly the complete and uncut edition) is head and shoulders King's greatest work. This novel is an epic tale of apocalypse due to a deadly epidemic and the contrasting battle between good and evil. Affective on so many levels this story bases itself on the ideals of religion and the battles between God and the Devil but as with all King books stresses the importance of humanity on earth's events. The characters in this book are so wide ranging yet King manages to make them all interesting from the "retard" obsessed with the moon to an insane traveller you will be gripped by all their stories. It would have been so easy to make this a tale of action yet King provides food for thought as he supplies contrasting sides with very little difference between them. In many ways this is a book about the evils of man-made technology but it is the human tragedies within that make it so readable. And for those wondering, this is no horror novel.
5: Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
A coming of age tale with no Witches, everlasting gobstoppers or marvellous medicines might seem like a strange choice as my favourite Dahl novel but let me explain further. There is no subversive humour to be found within but there is an emotional story about a nine-year old boy being brought up by his dad. Perhaps, based on Dahl's own experiences of childhood this is a masterful telling of a boys trials and tribulations in school and life and is a nostalgia laden trip for all children. Heavily rooted in times were corporal punishment and poaching were the norm this is all about the setting and the relationship of father and son. Dahl's descriptions of Danny's first adventures poaching with his father, driving a car and making a kite may not sound exciting but I remember being enthralled as a child and subsequent re-readings have held out. This is one to pass down through the generations.
6: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
I was determined to hate this when were handed this in English Literature yet I cam to love it. This novel is essentially about a feminist movement in a downtrodden, restrictive communist future. Atwood's heroine Offred (meaning Of Fred) in this seemingly utopian society is unique in that there is no major unveiling of a strong character, no shock revelations and indeed no surprise happy ending. This novel is a heavy read at times but its subtlety is its strength. It tells of the folly of man but it is in Atwood's description of the society and its restrictiveness that there is most interest. Little things such as scrabble are taboo among men and women yet ironically to remain sexually attractive to men women steal pats of butter to use as moisturiser. It is the social observations that Atwood makes that compelled me to read it and will compel you too. Politically incorrect in many ways but all the more refreshing for it.
7: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
No top ten of books should neglect to mention the late great Douglas Adams. The funniest, most ludicrous yet fundamentally British book of all time Adams mercilessly takes apart humanity and our superiority complex when earth is demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass and the only thing it is known for is being "Mostly Harmless". With a fabulously cast of characters from two-headed alien to paranoid android this is just the funniest book you will ever come across. Arthur Dent is the perfect reluctant Hitchhiker in dressing gown and only a British writer could make him obsessed with finding a decent cup of tea. I have lost count of the number of times I have read and re-read this novel and every time I find something new. Full of wit some purists prefer Hitchhikers in its original radio format but the novel offers so much more in terms of characters and sheer scope. After all in what other book could you discover the answer to the ultimate question, "What is the meaning of life?"
8: 48 by James Herbert
Herbert is such a patchy writer, when he is on song his novels are truly spectacular, when he is not they are formulaic and dull. "48" is most certainly the former. Known throughout the writing world as a "schlock horror" writer who is more about the gore than the plot (for the perfect example read "The Rats") 48 is a refreshing change for King in that there are no supernatural entities or mutated animals. Herbert instead presents a post-war version of London that asks, "What if Hitler as a final act of defiance unleashed a deadly blood disease that makes leprosy look tame?" Herbert's tale of one mans isolation as he presumes himself to be the only person left immune to the disease is a rapid race against time. Herbert's description of a derelict London is a chilling one and the bloodthirsty infected groups chasing our hero across London bitter at his purity has a real "Night of the Living Dead" quality yet retains the action of a high speed car chase. And of course it wouldn't be a Herbert novel without a twist! This is a novel of spectacular settings and incredible vision and one of that I always come back to in the dark, winter months.
9: The Taking by Dean Koontz
What would you do if Aliens were invading the earth? What you run for the hills, pray or fetch your rifle? These are some of many questions Dean Koontz asks us in "The Taking". Molly Sloan awakes to eerie lights and smells she does not recognise. There is a sense of foreboding in the air that Molly does not like. Why do the usually arrogant coyotes whimper and seek shelter at her door? Koontz is often thought of as the thinking mans Stephen King and novels such as this are probably the reason why. Koontz takes the much-travelled route of alien invasion yet gives it a fantastic twist, some truly original ideas and a staggering conclusion. However, it is Koontz's writing that makes this book such a strong read. His imagery and powers of description draw you in. You fully immerse yourself in the novel and can imagine the settings perfectly; you empathise with the lead character and follow their journey as if you are part of their party. It is Koontz's ability to immerse you in his world that makes this novel as good as it truly is. Add to this Koontz's ability to play on our mortal fears and what you have is as close as you will get to the perfect thriller.
10: The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien.
Many of you will be surprised by my Lord Of The Rings omission and rightly so. However, "The Hobbit" takes the final spot due to it being more accessible and exciting throughout. There is no doubting LOTR is an epic but for sheer adventure nothing beats The Hobbit and of course it appeals to children and adults alike. Who doesn't like a good old-fashioned swords and sorcery style book? The Hobbit is different to many in an often-staid genre in that Bilbo Baggins the hobbit in question is an unwitting hero. There are no tales of daring do and indeed his quest for Dragons treasure is as unwitting and reluctant as it is dangerous. This is why this book appeals to so many. Everybody loves a clumsy, naïve hero especially as a teenage reader when we are all clumsy and naïve. Tolkien was a superb writer and for many including myself The Hobbit is his most enjoyable novel. With a full cast of dwarves, wizards, and orcs and of course the troubled Gollum to contend with Bilbo is thrown from one dangerous situation to the next thanks to his friend Gandalf. As a teenager I could not put this book down and the same is true on subsequent readings. Add to this Tolkien's natural ability to render the land of Middle Earth into living colour and you have one of the best books of all time.
So there you go. Fitting just ten in was so hard and no doubt some will be asking were other classics by C.S Lewis etc are. However, I have tried to give you an idea of my reading tastes and just be joyous as I could have happily listed ten King or Pratchett books!
Amazing. Just a few short days after I was saying that I rarely did challenges (and usually only after someone has specifically asked/demanded/pleaded with me to do it) and here I am doing another one. Of my own volition, no less. I'll have to be careful not to get away with all this frivolous writing malarkey, or you won't be taking me seriously any more, will you? Ahem. Anyway, books. I have always been a big, if not a fast, reader if that isn't a contradiction in terms. Books play an important role in my life, and not just because I am a student (and therefore theoretically read them from time to time), but they are also a hobby. My mum was a librarian for most of her working life, so I have grown up with books around me all the time; not only is my parent's house permanently overflowing with books, but also there are always two large of library offerings (one to be read and one to go back). My own flat is scarily similar - between my and the other half, three large bookcases have been filled beyond capacity and there are various piles and deposits of books dotted around the place. And guess what I did during my fundraising gap year before starting my MA? That's right, I worked in a library. But I digress. On with the challenge... Q. What is your favourite genre? This tends to change over time and really depends on my mood. At the moment, I would certainly go for historical fiction - those huge doorstops of books that are thoroughly researched, such as Edward Rutherford's work or Bernard Cornwell's "Stonehenge". I also have a couple on my "to be read" pile from the library, Reay Tannahill's "Fatal Majesty" and Conn Iggulden's "Emperor: the Gates of Rome" (I have read neither author before, they are there for me to try something new). I have also started reading "girl fantasy" (as BF calls it) with mixed results. Marion Zimmer Bradley
39;s work was a little long-winded and overly romantic for my tastes, but I found Nancy Mc Kenzie's "Queen of Camelot" to be a satisfying read. I also enjoy crime fiction for that matter; a good whodunnit (or the new breed of psychological "whydunnits" that seem to be coming out a lot now) can be absorbing, as I like to try and work out the mystery for myself before the end! Ultimately though, I will try most types of fiction, with two exceptions - I don't like romance novels (I am of the opinion that all Mills & Boon books should be burnt, along with their authors) and horror stories. Q. Do you read the classics, i.e., the great authors of the 18th and 19th century? I went through a phase when I was in high school where I read quite a few of the classics - "Jane Eyre" and Wilkie Collins' "The Moonstone" particularly stick in my mind. Unfortunately, things have gone downhill since then! In my present situation I tend to find that I am wading through academic texts written my authors who think that their views carry more weight if they are written in the latest jargon and with the most complicated and verbose wordage possible, on a regular basis. Such is research. But I tend to find that this influences my choice of fiction; after a day of headache-inducing textbooks I want something lighter than a book written in outdated language that I will have to concentrate deeply on. I want something that will help my mind relax. Perhaps when I graduate I will have enough spare brain capacity to return to the classics - I am well aware that I am over educated and under read - but until then, I can't see it happening. Q. Are you interested in thrillers? Now, this really depends on what you define as a thriller, doesn't it? If you mean the sort of book my library calls thrillers - Ruth Rendell, Val McDermid, Minette Walters, etc - then on the whole my answer would be yes.
Ruth Rendell is a bit overrated but still perfectly readable most of the time, while authors such as McDermid and Walters are amongst my favourite when th ey are on form. Q. What about horror stories? Oh no, I really can-t stand them. I did try a couple of James Herbert books at some point in the dim distant past and I think I have picked up a Stephen King novel before now, but it is just not my thing at all. I did use to read Christopher Pike and other Point Horror books in my early teens, but to be honest none of these were ever very scary and not really what I would class as horror. Supernatural fiction or mystery stories were a closer approximation - I think they were only ever labelled "Point Horror" as a marketing gimmick! Q. Do you read Science Fiction? I may be moving into fantasy books, but I haven't got as far as their cousin science fiction yet. Still, if I ever decide to, I live in the perfect house for it. One of the three aforementioned large and overflowing bookcases in our flat contains the entire back catalogue of Doctor Who books..... Q. How many Harry Potter books have you read? All of them, although I only own one (Order of the Phoenix). Yes, I know they are children's books, I know that they can be argued to be derivative, I know they are over hyped and I know that they are not the best written books around. But I enjoy them. Sometimes it is just fun to pick up a light and undemanding book and escape into a fantasy world rather than read a weighty historical tome or a crime book that describes in graphic detail how awful a place the world can be. I just wish they had been around when I was a kid. Q. Have you ever read and enjoyed biographies or autobiographies? Biographies are not something I tend to read very often, although I don't know why, as I tend to enjoy them when I do. One of the best I have read is "Bad Blood" by Lor
na Sage - I originally came to read it as it was written by an author who grew up in a village just a few miles from where I grew up. Bad Blood ended up winning the Whitbread prize for best b iography in 2000, which was actually just a few months before Lorna Sage died. It is not a long book, but it is so beautifully written. Roald Dahl's autobiography "Boy" also sticks in my mind, but for quite different reasons; this managed to be both funny and moving, but lets face it, Roald Dahl could make even the most mundane situation witty and amusing, couldn't he? My mother is a far bigger reader of biography than I am, and constantly recommends titles to me. I know what they say about good intentions, but I do intend to read the autobiography of Kate Adie at some point (recommended by mother - and looks pretty good from the excerpt I read in Reader's Digest recently) and the second part of Road Dahl's autobiography (which I think is called "Flying Solo"). I think the fascinating thing about a biography is finding out how people go to where they are; I usually find the earlier parts of biographies about people's formative years to be the most interesting. Q. Do you remember any of the books you read and loved as a child? Yes! There were so many of them that I loved, and a lot are still contributing to the eternal clutter of my parent's house. I was a huge Enid Blyton fan for a start, and had full sets of "the Famous Five" and "Secret Seven" books, as well as "the Faraway Tree" and the "Malory Towers" series and re-read them several times. (Nobody seems to read these books any more though, do they? I suppose they are just not PC enough). I also liked the Chronicles of Narnia (full set again!), the Wind in the Willows, and pretty much anything by Christopher Pike, Dick King-Smith, Beatrix Potter or Colin Dann. Throughout my childhood, my mum would r
egularly come home from work with bags of new books from the library - she had a wonderful habit of looking through any new books that came into the library, picking out ones she thought I would like and letting me be the first person to borrow them. :-) Q. Have yo u reread these books as a grown-up? No, but I am planning on picking up my set of Narnia books when I go home for Christmas so I can re-read them again. Q. Is there a book of which you can say it has influenced you? Strangely enough for someone with such a persistent bibliophilic tendencies as myself, I cannot think of a single book that has caused any profound influence on my life. There must have been a score of books that I have read that have stayed with me and had small influences on me - a recent example would by Mark Haddon's superb book "the curious incident of the dog in the night time" that was written from the perspective of a boy with a form of autism. This novel gave me a greater understanding of the condition than any number of TV documentaries could have done, and I suppose that in a way influenced me. Q. Which are your favourite authors? How much time have you got? I can't possibly list everyone here as there is a word limit, but as a summary list I enjoy reading Minette Walters, Val McDermid, Jean M Auel, Phillip Pullman, Edward Rutherford, Bill Bryson, Barbara Vine, JG Ballard, MR James, CS Lewis and Roald Dahl. There are also plenty of authors sitting on my "must read at some point" list (such as Kathy Reichs, Ian Rankin, Yann Martel, Douglas Adams and more of Bernard Cornwell) that well have the potential to make it onto my favourite author list in the future. For that matter, there are other authors again who I quite like but wouldn't say are my favourites (Helen Fielding, Ruth Rendell, JK Rowling, Patricia Cornwell, Roberts Harris...). But curiously enough, you haven't asked
me who I don't like. Well, at the risk of rotten tomatoes being thrown at me, I don't like Tolkien. There, I've said it. Let me clarify this point though, I think that they are damn good stories (Peter Jackson's films just go to show that) but I find him utterly unreadable. Although that is hardly my fault - Tolkein wrote half his books with the specific intention that they were never to be read by anyone else! Of course I also hate GP Taylor (but anyone who read my last book review with know that!) and have never really got the fuss over Terry Pratchett's works either, for that matter. Q. Which book would you take with you on a desert island? I think that might depend on the island. If it was a hostile place that I was trapped upon, then I think I would want Ray Mears' "Essential Bushcraft" so that I didn't end up doing something dumb and killing myself before rescue arrived. If this was a paradise island where I was on holiday though, then I think I could assume that I was safe and going to be fed, so I could take something with me for pleasurable reading. On the rare occasions when I go on holiday I like to take something that I can dip into quite easily and read in short chunks, as I find I sometimes want to fill in a spare half hour or so, but don't want to spend an entire day reading as I might do at home. What about a book of short stories, then? Either Road Dahl's "Tales of the Unexpected" or Neil Gaiman's "Smoke and Mirrors" would be good. Q. What is your attitude towards translations? OK, it is confession time. The only translations I have ever read were when I was a young child, and they were stories that had been converted from their original Welsh text into English. I enjoyed them, but then I did read them in both languages so perhaps I got more out of them than if I had just read the English copies. (I will just add here before yo
u all go thinking I am some bilingual brainiac that I learned a lot of Welsh from my mother when I was young, but I have lost a lot of it since I moved to England, and I doubt I could do this any more). In general I think translations are a good thing if it means more people getting access to different literature, but most things will probably be better read in their original language as the author intended. Q. Do you buy your books/get them from the library/borrow them from friends/steal them? I have always gotten the majority of my books from the library, simply because it was a habit that I picked up in childhood. At the present moment in time I think I have membership cards to five different libraries sitting in my wallet! I know that library books can often be tatty and have mysterious sticky stains on them (I should know, I had to clean them off often enough when I worked in one...) but they are free. Newcastle city library doesn't have the most inspiring choice of adult fiction I've seen, but at least they offer a requests service for free if the book is held anywhere in the city libraries, which is more than a lot of places have. This is a huge bonus if you are trying to survive on a meagre research grant! I do occasionally buy books (although only second hand or highly discounted for budgetary reasons) and have borrowed a couple for BF's extensive range. Q. When you buy books, do you prefer hardcover editions or pocket books? I love hardback books, but they are far too expensive for me - the only one I have at present is the "Order of the Phoenix". It's paperbacks for me the rest of the time... Q. Have you ever tried Audio Books? Yes, I have tried a few books on tape, but I never really took to them. I find they distract me if I use them when I'm driving, and don't occupy me enough if I am just sitting and listening to them. They are quite nice to have if y
ou are ill though, as they can entertain you if you don't feel up to picking up a book and reading for yourself. Q. Top ten favourite fiction books? Well, you?re not asking for much here, are you? I have tried to sort out my favourite 10 books, but they are in no particular order, it has taken me long enough to get this far! - Clan of The Cave Bear by Jean M Auel - Empire of the Sun by JG Ballard <b r>- The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman - The Sculptress by Minette Walters - The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar by Roald Dahl - Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - Stonehenge by Bernard Cornwell - A Dark Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine - The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis - The Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde Phew! Huge thanks to Malu for giving us these challenge questions and for everyone (anyone?) who managed to get this far!
I've put this under 'Top Ten Fiction', because this challenge seemed like a good opportunity to decide my top ten favourite fictional books, both adult and children's. See below. * What is your favourite genre? * I don't really think in terms of genre. However someone told me, some months ago, that there are basically three ways that people mainly focus their minds, depending on their personality preferences. Either they focus mainly on information, or on activity, or on people. Someone who mainly focuses on information would probably enjoy non-fiction the most, or the kind of books with a lot of technical or linguistic detail. Someone who mainly focuses on activity would probably mostly enjoy plot-driven books with plenty of action. I happen to be someone who focuses mainly on people, so it makes sense that I like books which focus on people - those that are character-driven. That doesn't mean I don't want any plot, but it's secondary, and has to have a satisfactory (preferably happy) ending. So I mainly read modern family sagas and gentle romances, at the moment; I also like some historical novels, so long as they're not set in the battlefield, and aren't too depressing. For non-fiction, I enjoy lighter Christian authors, 'clean' humour, popular psychology books, and just about anything to do with health, nutrition, education and raising children. * Do you read the classics, i.e., the great authors of the 18th and 19th century? * Some of them. I like Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë, but am not too keen on Dickens, other than 'A Christmas Carol'. I read 'Mayor of Castorbridge' at school, and thought it was OK, but when I read one or two other Thomas Hardy books I found them utterly depressing, particularly 'Jude the Obscure'. So I don't read those any more. * Are you interested in thrillers? * I read light
crime fiction sometimes - Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle, GK Chesterton, or Ellis Peters for instance - but I'm not interested in high-action thrillers. I've never yet read a Tom Clancy, although my husband has dozens of them. * What about horror stories? * No way! I'm the kind of person who used to hide behind the sofa when Dr Who was on television. Anything scarier than that, and I'd have nightmares for weeks. * Do you read Science Fiction? * Not in general, though I've delved into it occasionally. I do enjoy Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, but they're both a strange blend between sci-fi, fantasy and humour. I also very much enjoyed CS Lewis's sci-fi trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength). But I find most of the genre either too technical or too depressing. * How many Harry Potter books have you read? * All of them. I read the first one, which someone gave one of my sons, before they become so well-known - though not, unfortunately, a first edition! I don't like all the hype that surrounds them, or the antagonism in some quarters which has fuelled the amazing popularity in others - but I do think they're extremely good books for older children, well-written with humour, and with plenty of appeal for different ages. My favourite so far is the third, the Prisoner of Azkhaban. * Have you ever read and enjoyed biographies or autobiographies? * Yes, in a low-key way. I really enjoyed CS Lewis's autobiographical book 'Surprised by Joy', and have read a few others by or about authors. I like them best if they're interspersed with some humour. I also like semi-autobiographical books such as Bill Bryson's explorations around the world, the James Herriot 'vet' series, Gerald Durell's family-based books, and 'Driving over Lemons' which describes one of the ex-Rolling Stones buying an
d doing up a property in Spain However I'm not at all interested in general in the lives of film-stars, sports personalities or politicians. * Do you remember any of the books you read and loved as a child? * Absolutely! Enid Blyton was my favourite for many years, and certainly encouraged me to become an avid reader. I loved the 'Faraway Tree' series when I was about six, and then later on the Mallory Towers and St Clare's books. As well as those, I read the 'Lone Pine' series and others by Malcolm Saville, anything I could find by Noel Streatfeild, all the Paddington books by Michael Bond, the Chalet School books by Elinor M Brent-Dyer (all 60+ of them), books by E Nesbit, Arthur Ransome, Hugh Lofting's 'Dr Dolittle' series, Mrs Pepperpot, Louisa Alcott's 'Little Women' series, Susan Coolidge's 'Katy' series... I could go on all day! I used to read at least one book every day. * Have you reread these books as a grown-up? * Certainly! I've read many of them to my own children, and some of them to myself. A good book is a good book at whatever age. * Is there a book of which you can say it has influenced you? * The Bible is the most important and influential to me. Other than that, I couldn't choose just one. But here's a selection: Patricia M St John's 'Treasures of the Snow' - as a young child CS Lewis's 'Narnia' series - as an older child CS Lewis's 'Mere Christianity' - as a teenager Walter Trobisch's 'I married you' - as a young wife Penelope Leach's 'Baby and Child' - as a very young mother Ross Campbell's 'How to really love your child' - when my children were about four or five Otto Kroeger and Janet Thueson 'Type Talk' - about ten years ago Philip Yancey's 'Where is God when it hurts?'
- about five years ago Riso and Hudson's 'Wisdom of the Enneagram' - recently * Which are your favourite authors? * Oh boy... have you got all day?! Rosamunde Pilcher, Robin Pilcher (her son), Adrian Plass, Terry Pratchett, Susan Howatch, Elizabeth Goudge, Louisa M Alcott, CS Lewis, Ross Campbell, Maeve Binchy, Georgette Heyer, Janette Oke, Mary Sheepshanks, Alexandra Raife, Marcia Willetts, Erica James, Philip Yancey, JK Rowling, Dick King-Smith, Shirley Hughes, Jane Aiken Hodge, Jan Karon, Kathleen Rowntree, PG Wodehouse, Anne Tyler.... to name a few off the top of my head. * Which book would you take with you on a desert island? * I'm assuming that's in addition to the Bible and Shakespeare, like on the Desert Island Disks radio show! Ummm ... well it depends how long I was there. If it was for a long time, I think I'd want a good illustrated encylcopedia (preferably the full Britannica) so I can identify plants and learn how to survive. But just for a few days, up to a week, if I had shelter and food provided, then maybe something like Lord of the Rings. I've read it three times in all, but the last couple of times I skimmed a fair bit. It's so long I doubt if I'll take the time to read it properly again, and it would be quite fun to do so if I had a week to myself with nothing else to do. * What is your attitude towards translations? * I'm very thankful for them, since I don't read any language other than English fluently. The only thing I think is silly is when a British book is 'Americanised' (or an American book 'Anglicised') supposedly to make them easier for people to understand. To me that's condescending, as if we couldn't work out from context what an elevator or a diaper is. * Do you buy your books/get them from the library/borrow them from friends/steal them? * Buy them second-hand, or ask fo
r them from relatives for Christmas/birthdays! I like to keep books if I enjoy them, and usually I do. I suppose we have about 4,000 in all. * When you buy books, do you prefer hardcover editions or pocket books? * I do like hardcover books, but generally buy paperbacks because they're so much cheaper. * Have you ever tried Audio Books? * No, but they're an excellent idea for the partially sighted, or for people who drive a lot, or for children. One of my sons used to listen to audio books a lot to help him get to sleep. * Top ten favourite fiction books * I've limited this to books I've read in the past ten years. There are many, many books which I've enjoyed (I read on average about one a week) but these have the additional 'Ahhhh.... ' factor that leave me feeling moved, or awed, or refreshed in some way above and beyond the normal enjoyment of a book. In alphabetical order of author: Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë) - I read this in my teens and fell in love with it. Even though I can now see how over-melodramatic and unlikely the ending is, I still love it. I've read it about four times in all, including within the past year. Arabella (Georgette Heyer) - I enjoy almost everything this author has written, but somehow Arabella stands out above the rest as an almost perfect historical romance, with delightful characters that have human flaws, clever plotting, and a most satisfactory conclusion. Absolute Truths (Susan Howatch) - I love Susan Howatch's 'Starbridge' series, which starts with 'Glittering Images'. The sixth one, 'Absolute Truths', is outstanding in its characterisation, the way it ties together plots from all the previous books, and the relationships between the many characters involved. Precious Time (Erica James) - A young mother takes six months off work to travel around
the country with her pre-school son, to give them time together. Lovely characters, and a great story. Perelandra (CS Lewis) - Also known as 'Voyage to Venus'. A newly created world, where a young couple need to decide whether or not to follow an apparently arbitrary rule. My absolute favourite of this trilogy. The Sacred Diaries (Adrian Plass) - Perhaps not well-known outside Christian circles, this author is the only one who can make me laugh out loud, time and again, while still imparting incredible wisdom about humanity and faith, through his diary-style fiction. I'm cheating here and including all three of his 'sacred diaries', and the two related books, since no doubt they'll be included in one volume sooner or later. An Ocean Apart (Robin Pilcher) - This is Rosamunde Pilcher's son, who's only written two novels so far but is working on a third. He's inherited her talent fully, and I was thrilled to discover this, his first book, which I thought wonderful. Winter Solstice (Rosamunde Pilcher) - Probably overall my favourite modern author, and if I hadn't chosen this book I'd have chosen 'September', another of her family sagas. Off Balance (Mary Sheepshanks) - I like all this author's books too, but Off Balance was particularly good due to the inclusion of a very lovable child with learning difficulties, who was most sympathetically drawn. A week in Winter (Marcia Willett) - A wonderful blend of sadness and delight, with a very satisfying ending. * Favourite children's fiction books * I can't come up with a single ten favourite children's books, so instead here are my favourite children's fiction series. I read the first six avidly as a child. The final four weren't around then - but I've read them to and with my own children, and also to myself. Faraway
Tree series (Enid Blyton) - the first books I ever read to myself Narnia series (CS Lewis) - read and re-read through my childhood, and again as an adult Chalet School series (Elinor M Brent-Dyer) - the first twenty or so particularly 'Gemma' series (Noel Streatfeild) - four books about some cousins growing up together Anne of Green Gables series (L M Montgomery) - eight books in all, about Anne as child and adult Little Women series (Louisa M Alcott) - classic American family books Sophie series (Dick King-Smith) - for younger readers, about a delightful but determined small girl who wants to be a farmer Truckers series (Terry Pratchett) - about some 'nomes' who have to escape from imminent destruction, full of humour Harry Potter series (JK Rowling) - no need for description here! Bagthorpe series (Helen Cresswell) - humour and strange antics from this gifted family And finally ... my all-time favourite children's book, not amongst the above, is a simple story with delightful pictures and a lovely message: 'Dogger' by Shirley Hughes.