Sometimes lists can help. Since it was released in 2003, I have been slowly plodding my way through the BBC Big Read Top 100 books. It was a victim of its time, and of the fact that a lot of children voted, as JK Rowling, Jacqueline Wilson and Roald Dahl featured more prominently than they might have done otherwise. But in general, it has provided me with some great ideas for reading. Among the amazing books I probably wouldn't have read if it hadn't been for this list are Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, and Holes by Louis Sachar.
I am currently on my 91st book on the list - Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Now, I still have War and Peace and Ulysses to go, so it still might take me some time to finish. But once I have finished, I want to create my own list of must-read books. The best way of doing that, in my opinion, is to ask for recommendations. And it would frankly be rude to ask and not to give. So here is a random selection (i.e. the first ones that came to mind!) of ten books that I think everyone should read.
- We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Letters from a woman to her estranged husband after their son commits a high school massacre. One of the newest books I've read and one that haunted me for weeks afterwards. Stunningly written.
- The Stand by Stephen King. Considered by many to be his best-ever. An epic story of what happens when a plague released from a US government laboratory wipes out most of the world's population leaving the remnant to fend for themselves.
- Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. A short novel told from the point of view of a young man with severe learning disabilities over the period where he is trialling a new drug to make him "smarter", along with a laboratory mouse who is also the subject of experimentation. I haven't met anyone else who's read this which is frustrating because I love it! One of the few books I haven't read for a decade and can still remember.
- 1984 by George Orwell. An unsettling vision of a future where capitalism has gone mad and Big Brother is always watching. Spooky, tragic and ironically timeless.
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I know, I know. I keep going on about this, but it really is excellent. The character of Sidney Carton is my choice for the best bit of characterisation in fiction.
- Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde. Having said I never read new books, this was only published in the last couple of years. If I could write like any author, it would be Jasper Fforde. His tale of a world where people are classed according to how good their colour vision is, is one of the most inventive things I've read.
- The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne. The story of a friendship between two boys on opposite sides of a fence. A war story with a difference. Chilling and moving.
- I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. We needed something heart-warming in this list and this is my choice for feel-good children's book.
- The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham. I'm not a big sci-fi fan, but this story of a village where all the women become pregnant with a strange race of children, captivated me. I was sad that there was no Wyndham in the BBC list. This one is his best, I think.
- Perfume by Patrick Suskind. Another unsettling tale - I appear to like unsettling! The story of a man who smells of nothing but has an incredible sense of smell himself. One of the weirdest characters in fiction, surely.