24 February, 2012

Playing Catch-Up

Does anyone else get a slight feeling of panic when they consider all the books they're missing out on? There are so many wonderful books out there and so many great authors, and no possible way to read them all in one lifetime. I find that I very rarely read a newly-released book, unless it is by an author I know and love, because I'm too busy trying to catch up on all the thousands of good books that are already out there. I don't think I've ever read a Booker Prize winner in my life. Goodness, I'm still getting through Jane Austen!

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
That was a hard choice! Have you enjoyed any of these books (or not enjoyed them!)? There are so many other books I want everyone to read - these aren't even necessarily my favourites - but I must stop and let you have your turn. What books must I include on my must-read list? Any genre or age range accepted!


  1. I loved Shades of Grey, and I liked most of Jasper fforde's books. I'd recommend A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. I also like Dorothy L Sayers' books about Lord Peter Wimsey, and if I had i choose just one of them it would be The Nine Tailors. In a similar vein, the Margery Allingham books about Albert Campion. And how about some Virginia Woolf, such as To the Lighthouse? (Ian Wilson)

  2. PS - I have no idea why it thinks I mad the comment at 2.29 pm instead of at 10.29 pm.

  3. Daphne du Maurier's The House on the Strand ~ probably one of the best time-shift books ever written; Rose Tremayne's Silence and Music (or is it Music and Silence?)~ history novelling at its intriguing best; Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd ~ a must for Wessex fans;Susan Hill's Serrailer novels ~ for those of us who like our crime writing to be more than the genre demands;Susan Hill's Woman in White ~ just a beautifully told creepy; any of Trollope's Barchester Chronicles; Room; The Book Thief; anything by C J Sansom.... (Ceve)

  4. Chicken soup for the soul .various authors.brilliant read ,Playground mafia( light hearted and relevent to my life) and pride and prej ,naturaly.

  5. Thanks, Ian. I've read A Suitable Boy and The Nine Tailors, but not any Margery Allingham or Virginia Woolf. Lots of people have said they liked To the Lighthouse. That will go on the list.

    Thanks, Mum. Of those, I've read Far From the Madding Crowd - though I wasn't a huge fan (I preferred Tess)- and The Woman in White (which I loved) and one of the Barchester Chronicles (which I enjoyed very much. Will definitely The Book Thief and The House on the Strand on my list.

  6. I've only read one of those (The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) and my Dad read The Midwich Cuckoos to me when I was a child (yes, I have a cool Dad!)

    The book I recommend to EVERYONE (my copy has been lent out so many times it's totally dog-eared) is The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. Seriously, read it.

  7. I've read it Angeline! I very nearly put it on this list as well when I spotted it in my bookcase! Great book :)

  8. I've enjoyed numbers 3, 4, 9 and 10 from your list. I would recommend Tell No One by Harlan Coben, Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy and Kim by Rudyard Kipling.

  9. Derek, you've read Flowers for Algernon! Exciting! Thanks for your suggestions too. I'd like to read another Hardy and something other than the Just So Stories.

    Suggestions from my facebook friends include: Anything by Jeanette Winterson. The Gormenghast Trilogy (which I've read) The Amnesiac by Sam Taylor Wood. The Raw Shark Texts. The Hotel New Hampshire and Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving. Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt.

  10. I've been trying to discover the title of that Stephen King book for years. I saw a tv adaptation which I thought terrific, so now I know, I'm off to buy it.

  11. Glad to have been on service Martin! It's probably my favourite book ever. Stephen King says it's a bit depressing that everyone thinks it's his best work when he's written tonnes of books since then! But I think I'd be OK with writing a book as popular as that. Just amazing.

  12. Hi Chloe, thanks for the book list.
    For a bit of fun - I've tagged you on the Lucky Seven Meme:


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