Sunday, 27 November 2011

"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them" ~ Mark Twain

I feel that this post has been staring at me crossly for a long time like the cats of the people I babysit for when I don’t let them sit on my lap. Time to get it out in the open. The Book Recommendations. Some are new reads, some are old favourites, some are pretentious classics and some are derisively mocked. But they’re all brilliant. These are just the top ten, but beware that I shall be sending y’all a great long list of everything I love sooner or later.

1. The Outsiders by SE Hinton You will laugh, you will weep, you will want to keep reading after you have finished reading the last page that has brought you and the characters right back to where you started. Don’t be put off by the odd names such as ‘Ponyboy’ and ‘Sodapop’. The story is compelling and emotional, and the voices of the characters are just so likable, even when they do the most terrible things and break your heart.
2. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf I read this just last month and it is simply beautiful. The language she uses is so decadent and generous, yet she still manages to convey every motion and concept in the most concise, sensible manner. The narrative covers just one day of Clarissa Dalloway’s life, full of tangents and delicious details, and by the time you reach the end, and read that last line, you’ll just want to cry with relief and misery and pity and joy all at once.
3. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman I should hope you’ve all read this already, because it’s just one of the best stories you’ll ever come across. It’s poetic and lyrical, full of rich, vibrant description with some quantum physic science fiction fantasy thrown in. Plus the characters, plot, challenging philosophical questions and armoured bears do rather help.
4. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith Oh this book. When they ask me on Desert Island Discs in fifty years which book I’ll take with me, it’ll have to be this. I really did cry through the last three pages. The story is told by Cassandra, honest and naive, who writes in her journals the account of her sister Rose’s engagement, and the misadventures that befall them. Poor Cassandra. She doesn’t deserve what she’s left with at the end; she’s good and kind, and you will just want to bundle her up and cry with her.
5. Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson So sue me. This book is hilarious and charming, even if it is aimed at eight year olds. Ah it’s just so funny and cute and well-written and adventurous and quiet and imaginative and full of lovely characters and loaded with wit. The ultimate banter-fest. Seriously. Give it a try.
6. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome Don’t be put off by their weird old-fashioned names. Arthur Ransome wrote books about the holiday adventures of children in the Lake District, most of which involved boats and tents, and Swallows and Amazons was the highlight of his career, in my personal opinion. Remember when we used to play war, and we had bases and battles and tactics and things? That’s what these kids do. Now read the book.
7. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen Being the educated bourgeois dog that you are, you’ll have read this already, possibly for your GCSE English Lit coursework. Lots of people find Jane Austen tricky to get into, but Pride and Prejudice is the easiest way in. It’s witty and beautifully told, and Lizzy-and-Darcy is just so perfect a couple you can’t help but feel delighted and desperate all the way through.
8. Howards End by EM Forster I just finished reading this last week, and it is totally brilliant, right up until the last word. What makes it so sublime and worthwhile is how it is full of seemingly unrelated events, each important in their own right, but each mundane in the course of the novel itself; however, by the time you hit the last chapter, you truly see how everything fits together perfectly, and the sense of relief that everything has ended as it should is just overwhelming.
9. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières A tragic and beautiful love story set during the War. Antonio is an occupying Italian soldier, Pelagia is a local Greek girl on the island of Cephalonia. The book begins with a sweet anecdote telling how Dr Iannis managed to extract a dried pea from a patient’s ear. Nuff said.
10. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien There are no words. I actually chose this one for the list over Harry Potter, and that tells you something. This is the ultimate adventure story, and, being the fantasy junkie that I am, this is probably my favourite of all. It’s not just the books that make themselves worth reading, although the story is exciting and wonderfully crafted; it’s the fact that the whole world and it’s many languages and cultures have been intricately constructed by one man. A truly magnificent feat of fiction.

Harry Potter is not on there. I apologise, but if you haven’t read it already, I don’t think that even I would be able to persuade you. My next post will be an extra long list of my must reads. Then we shall go back to happiness and the meaning of life. See ya later.

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