I thought it was high time I compile a list of my favourite books, as I refer to them so often. Now, evidently, all the Harry Potter books come way above any other book I’ve ever read. They’re just on another level. So For the benefit of the other books which I do genuinely love, I won’t include them on this list.
1. Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates
This has long held the top spot in my favourite books list. I read in for my A Level English coursework and absolutely adored it. The dialogue is so convincing: I’ve never read any as well-written as that was. That’s one of the things that has stuck with me, even though I haven’t read it in a while. My coursework when I read this was on the American Dream, and I’ve come to love literature about that. Revolutionary Road deals with it a lot, emphasising the “hopeless emptiness” that the characters felt. The devastation of this realisation that their lives are hopeless is so powerful and, as in so many good books, tragedy ensues. I honestly cannot give it enough praise, and if you haven’t read it, then do so immediately.
2. A Room With a View – EM Forster
Definitely my favourite ‘classic’ book. I love the witty observations Forster makes about humanity and society. Where Yates makes similarly astute and demoralising comments, Forster colours his with humour, often showing them in the form of an eccentric character, and therefore softening the blow. His writing style is absolutely beautiful. There’s one particular image which I always think of, about leaves blowing about in the wind, and they become a metaphor for Lucy’s situation, and it’s so seamlessly done that I am just in awe. It’s also very easy to read, and not very long, so for anyone who wants to read a classic, but is daunted by the lengthy tomes of Dickens or Hardy, this is a great place to start!
3. The Hunger Games series – Suzanne Collins
I’ve put these in as a full series so as to not clog up my top ten. I’ve mentioned them here before, so you might have guessed that they’d crop up. I think the most telling thing about how well they’re written is that every time I’ve read them, I still get sucked in and can’t put it down. Every time I read Mockingjay, the end seems even sadder, and it’s a testament to how we grow to love the characters and Collins’s aptitude as a writer. The same happens with Harry Potter, even though I’ve read them countless times. Another thing I love about The Hunger Games is the action and suspense, which is very well conveyed in the chosen narrative form. It’s perfect for anyone who enjoys fantasy, dystopian fiction, young adults’ literature, or just strong female characters.
4. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
This epic series is aimed at children, yet the concepts are so complex and intricate that adults can enjoy it as well. It is the perfect example of children’s fantasy literature as intelligent pieces of writing, and I felt like I learnt a lot through reading them. The contentious religious connotations means it has been banned in various countries/states in America, and I can actually see why… ***SPOILER ALERT as God dies. END OF SPOILER*** Do I think it should actually be banned? No. Because it is such a wonderful piece of fiction. The imagination and thought that went into it is admirable, and something that has inspired me to put as much thought into anything I write. The characters are so wonderfully varied, and Mrs Coulter is simply a masterpiece. The novels are tainted with tragedy, and yet the end is largely hopeful. I haven’t even scraped the surface of the praise that should be given to these books.
5. Atonement – Ian McEwan
I read this a few years ago, and loved it. Unfortunately, I had already seen the film, so I was spoiled for the wonderful ending, but I enjoyed reading it nonetheless. This is another one in which I found the writing style beautiful. The ability to write well – and by that I mean to see things in different ways and describe things surprisingly, and yet have the audience realise that it really is like that – is something I value highly, and I’m trying my best to push my writing abilities so that I can one day achieve this effect. Atonement is another sad book – you may be noticing a pattern here – but what’s the most powerful is the hope that springs forward in the form of Briony’s fictionalised alternative ending. Although we know that both Robbie and Cecelia died, Briony’s version shows that they are still alive in the memories of others, and in the words that bring them to life again. It’s a complex idea, but it gives the reader an almost peaceful feeling, giving them closure on the idea of death.
6. The Book Thief – Marcus Zusac
After holding off reading this for a while because my mum had read it and hated it, I finally read it and fell completely under the spell of Zusac’s writing. He has such a unique way of expressing himself, and looks at things from a different angle to show you them in an alternative way. This fits well with the narrative voice, because the story is narrated by Death. It’s fitting for his voice to be fanciful and strange, and also to be quite distanced from the humans, which is shown in his objectification of large crowds/soldiers, etc. The main character, Liesel, is really wonderful, and reminds me strongly of Lyra from His Dark Materials. In fact, her best friend is a boy named Rudi, and their relationship is very like Lyra and Will’s, including the terribly, terribly sad ending. This book is very sad: right from the beginning, but then I suppose that’s inevitable, if it is narrated by Death.
7. Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
Yes, this is the only Jane Austen book on this list, and it’s perhaps a surprising choice. I know a lot of people prize Pride and Prejudice above all others, but I prefer this one. I was seventeen when I first read it, and I was the same age as the protagonist, Catherine Morland. I think that made me relate to her a little more than I did Emma or Lizzie, but I also liked her as a character. She does make mistakes, she isn’t the most intelligent person, and she is easily led by others. She’s not the strongest female character Austen’s written, and although I do like reading strong females, I find Catherine refreshing. She is a normal girl. I also like the satirical nature of the novel, and how it focuses on the gothic genre. I was studying Victorian Gothic literature at the time (Wuthering Heights – another great book), and so it felt very relevant to me on that level as well.
8. The Daydreamer – Ian McEwan
Well, you know I’ve only just read this, but I had to put it here. I love the adaptability of the book: how it appeals to adults and children, and the playful, dreamlike quality of the prose really inspired me. The apparently unconnected stories make it feel like a series of fairy tales, and this is also brought out in the imagination of young Peter. It is essentially a book about understanding other people, about growing up, and about hope, and I think these are all important messages to readers both young and old.
9. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
This was such an interesting and complex idea, and was written so emotively. It’s funny, but I rarely cry about anything to do with real life. The last time I cried was almost exactly a year ago, and I think the situation was worthy of tears. However, I cry all the time at books or films, and I sobbed during the end of this one. The hope that was given to Kathy and Tommy was ripped away from them, and the pain they felt became my pain. The world in this book is unfair and at the same time realistic. Like in The Hunger Games, you can see this kind of thing happening. It also raises many questions about ethics and cloning, and although it may seem on the surface to be a simple romance set in the future, in reality it is thought-provoking and makes you question yourself. And, fortunately, there isn’t actually that much romance in it!
10. Peter Pan – JM Barrie
You must all have read this, or at least know the story. I was using this book when writing my children’s story for Creative Writing, and rekindled my love for it. I will say it again: the writing style is wonderful. The way Barrie describes things, like the “kiss” in the corner of Mrs Darling’s mouth, is so original and beautiful, and makes me want to read that book for the rest of my life. When I was younger, Peter Pan was my Harry Potter. I loved it. I wanted to be Wendy. I tried sleeping with my window open in case he came. I used to force my mum and my sister to be Peter and Michael respectively, and I would be Wendy and boss them about. I think it’s the escape to Neverland, and the idea that you never have to grow up that really captured me. I (now famously, in my family) once said that I wanted to stay six forever, because it was a wonderful age, and I was happy and I didn’t like the number 7. Well, now I’m turning 20 in three months, so I don’t think that’s worked, but it’s nice to know that inside I haven’t changed from this little girl who loved reading more than anything.
What are your favourites? Do you agree with any of mine? Do you hate any of my choices? Do you want to read any of the above? Comment with your ideas!