I was reading an article in The Guardian the other day, ‘The 100 books to actually read in a lifetime’. It was commenting on a recent list by Amazon.com & how some books are so familiar you think you have read them when actually, you haven’t. I certainly find that is true & it is the same with films.
As always with a list I went through it & found I had read 33 out of the 100. Of course it was a very American biased list & no doubt I would have achieved more if it had been a UK list. After all I am a great reader aren’t I? My mother would frequently embarrass me by telling whoever would listen how she called me to get ready for school when I was about 7 or 8 & found me standing by my bed reading a book with one leg in my knickers & one leg out. I frequently had several books on the go at any time. Can’t fault me on the quantity front!
I tweeted the list to see how others did resulting in the suggestion that we blog our favourite 20 books. A tricky task; so few vacancies for so many books, books which change from day to day depending on moods, memories & a multiple of other things. These are not necessarily great books, but somehow they have made an impact on me. My list today is…..
Saucers Over the Moon – Malcolm Saville.
This book is from those knicker leg days. It is a tale from the Lone Pine Adventure series of books I read avidly as a child. I would rush out to the travelling library to see if there were any new adventures I hadn’t consumed. I wanted to belong to the gang, I wanted to be a girl with a boy’s name (Peter) & have adventures like they did. No Secret Seven for me, this was the real deal.
The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe – CS Lewis.
I guess this was another adventure that I wanted to be in, but a rather more fantastical one. I remember it being read to me at Primary school & still vividly recall the feeling in the pit of my stomach as Aslan was sacrificed on the stone table.
Gormenghast – Mervyn Peake.
Another fantastical tale read as a teenager. I loved those mad, bizarre & even grotesque characters interacting in the gothic castle & kingdom of Gormenghast.
Rogue Herries – Hugh Walpole.
The first of four books in the Herries’ Chronicle, it is a turbulent story of Frances Herries who uproots his family from Yorkshire & moves them Borrowdale. Full of passion & drama set in the dramatic scenery of my beloved Cumbria. I loved it.
Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger.
This book really hit the spot when I was in my teens. I have been too scared to re-read it since!
Waterland – Graham Swift.
I have often claimed this as my favourite book of all times. I am not sure why but it is the one that always pops into my head. It is something about the interweaving of the past & present, the history of an area & of specific characters in it & how that impinges upon lives in the present. The waters of the Great Ouse seem to constantly lap at the edges of the story or flow through the middle to great effect.
Trumpet – Jackie Kay
I love all of Jackie Kay’s writings & have read her short stories, poems, auto-biography, but this book was the first of her writings I had come across & I loved it instantly. What isn’t there to like in a tale of an acclaimed jazz trumpeter and the revelation of his biological sex as female after his death, causing ructions in his family.
Nicholas Nickleby - Charles Dickens
There are a number of Dickens’ novels I could have chosen but this one I particularly love. It has tragedy & humour in equal part & is a stonking good read.
Persuasion – Jane Austen
As with Dickens, I could have chosen a number of Jane Austen’s novels. I love her writing which delicately threads its way through the manners & mores of society at the time. I often feel she has her tongue firmly in her cheek & love the veins of humour running through the ups & downs of the many relationships.
Old Filth – Jane Gardam
“Failed in London Try Hong Kong", this is the moving tale of a retired judge who began life as an orphan of the Raj. The title may put you off…please don’t let it.
Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This novel haunted me; as a child I can vividly remember the news about the effects of the Biafra’s struggle to gain independence from Nigeria. This novel weaves the tales of different characters during a turbulent period of African history.
Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
Whilst on the subject of Nigeria, another tale with an enormous impact, this time as colonialism is taking hold with its impact on the traditions of the Igbo people. A hugely important book, but so readable & thought provoking.
Mapp & Lucia - EF Benson
I first heard this on the radio & the extract I heard made me want to read this, one of several volumes about the characters of the small town of Tilling in the 1920s. Bitchiness & snobbery abound & again the tales pivot on the manners & mores of that period, but don’t we all love a bit of gossip.
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
There has to be a Steinbeck & this massive tale of a family in the Great Depression forced to move from Oklahoma to California, not just to seek a better life, but to enable them to survive. So moving right to the end where a final act almost breaks your heart.
Beowulf - Seamus Heaney
This is a recent addition to the list. As a child I always loved the epic tales of gods & heroes. It was therefore such a joy to read Seamus Heaney’s version of this Old English epic poem. I could almost hear Heaney reading it aloud as I raced through the pages. (In fact I bought the CD of him reading it later)
The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins
This is generally considered the first detective novel in the English language. It was a must read for a long time but became a did read after i had read The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher, an actual murder case which Collins & Dickens were fascinated by & which is generally thought to have influenced their writings. A really good who dunnit.
Nemesis - Philip Roth
Beautifully written & moving, this work explores the effect of a 1944 polio epidemic on a closely knit Jewish community. Roth has said this is his last novel. I recommend it.
Secret Scripture - Sebastian Barry
More beautiful & moving writing, this time from Ireland. As with many of his novels Barry deals with the religious and political upheavals in Ireland in the 1920s – 1930s & interweaves that with the present day & how it has tainted the lives of those who lived through that period.
Geek Love - Katherine Dunne
This may seem a bizarre book to choose, but it is indelibly imprinted on my brain. The books follows a circus family who breed their own freaks for a freak show by altering the genes of their unborn children in varying ways. I know, what a premise for a book about family love, which is the underlying theme of an unforgettable tale.
The Black House - Peter May (The Lewis Trilogy)
I think this is the most recent addition to the list, after all we love crime & thrillers so here is one of the best. The reason I loved these books is that holding up & weaving through the solving of the crime is the fascinating background of the protagonists on the Isle of Lewis & how they lived their lives in that very individual environment. Highly recommended.
So there it is…..but what about those that got away……..
To Kill a Mocking Bird
Little House on the Prairie
In Cold Blood
What has happened to John Rebus, as I sit here looking at the many books we have, I realise i could go on forever.