I’ve gone for the traditional Top Ten format but I could honestly go on for hours about all the important books, the life saver books and the milestone books I’ve read in my life time.
I did think it was important to be honest about my most beloved texts, and include books that have mapped my life and love of the printed word, rather than be all pretentious. It would be ridiculous to say that I only ever read Sylvia Plath for instance, when we all know I’d rather have my nose in a Jilly Cooper.
*NOTE: Whilst reading back this post, it was peppered with “I loved it”, “It broke my heart”, “It’s soooo beoootiful!”, etc. I sounded like a giddy teenager. Let’s just agree that if a book is on this list, I loved it and it moved me in some way, K?*
So without much further ado, in no particular order:
The Millenium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest) by Stieg Larsson
When I think about these books it makes me want to pick them up and read them all over again. They are ace. Reading them, one after the other, is like immersing yourself in an amazing action movie that never lets up.
I’ve mentioned my love for Lisbeth Salander before and can honestly say that nobody has ever come close to her (for me) as a literary character (though I’m willing to wait for someone to come and match her). She is everything: strong, complex, spikey; kick ass.
The entire story is full of twists and terrible acts, is exhilarating, well paced, intriguing and bloody thrilling. I adore Mikael Blomkvist too, investigative journalist and main character. As he accepts a mysterious freelance assignment in the wake of a libel case he’s just lost, Mikael finds himself deeply embroiled in a dark family history. It’s a case that will grip you from the get go.
Also, if you’re ever stuck for something to do of an evening, Wiki the late Steig Larrson because his real life was fascinating and not so far removed from the trilogy that made his name. I am gutted that I will never read another book written by him, or meet (his) Salander again.
Shopgirl by Steve Martin
This book is just so understatedly beautiful. Before I picked up this perfectly crafted story, of Mirabelle, the lonely glove counter assistant (and titular Shopgirl), I had no idea that Steve Martin could write so well.
Comedy and stand up, obviously but not seriously, and not in such a breathless way. I didn’t know he would make me immediately want to protect Mirabelle; to wrap my arms around her and assure her that everything will be okay.
Martin’s attention to detail is sublime, his characters graceful in their subtlety. He paints such pictures with his words, I could see it all play out in front of me, even before they made the film, which I also adore. (Starring: Steve Martin).
He’s actually a brilliant man, and one of my favourites. An Object of Beauty is also lovely. I like a man who can write a good female character.
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Dunces is an oddball comedy masterpiece. Set in New Orleans and centred around repellent anti-hero, Ignatius J. Reilly, an obese, obnoxious and deluded fool. Throughout his quest to gain employment, we meet a cornucopia of colourful French Quarter characters.
This is just one of the funniest and quirkiest books I’ve ever read. I will revisit it again soon I think, as even typing this up now has made me miss Ignatius and friends.
Titular character, Kevin murders seven of his classmates and teachers in a Columbine-style rampage just two days shy of his sixteenth birthday. His mother, Eva, utterly distraught, looks back over their life together, through a series of letters to her estranged husband, fearing that her intense dislike for her own son may have played a major part in his nihilistic attitude, and subsequent downfall.
I think I can identify with Kevin’s mother (and Shriver herself) from the point of view of a non-maternal woman. Eva enjoyed her life very much before she fell pregnant but when Kevin is born she worries that she isn’t bonding with him. Displaying little to no affection towards anybody, least of all his mother, Kevin commits many acts of petty sabotage in the lead up to the main event.
Shriver has spoken openly about ‘maternal ambivalence‘ in the past, though this is a role she is no longer comfortable with. I’m sure the furor has now died down since Kevin was published back in 2006.
This book is devastating and unforgettable. When I speak about it, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. That has to be a good sign.
The Shining by Stephen King
I only read this book a year ago, which is shocking when you consider it. Until then there was a running joke in our household that I’d only read two of King’s books (Rose Madder and Needful Things), while G is a massive fan, and references them a lot. (You have to be there really).
I’m ashamed to admit it took me so long to pick this up, even more so because I wasn’t bothered about doing so, having seen and loved Kubrick’s film adaptation. G insisted I get over myself immediately and read it the way King intended the story to be told. Which I’m glad about because it is magnificent and scary as Hell.
Danny Torrance has a gift, something his new friend, Dick Halloran tells him is called ‘the shining’. Now his father has brought the Torrance family to the Overlook Hotel, where he is to be caretaker for the Winter, and Danny’s shining is getting stronger and more terrifying by the day.
When King is on, he’s really on and this is as good as it gets. Vintage Stephen King ruled the Horror fiction genre, presiding over his court of great characters and unique stories.
Now not only do I have a fuller understanding of the story, of the bubbling animosity between Mr and Mrs Torrance and of why Danny is so uneasy around his father, I can also see why King was so enraged by Stanley Kubrick’s reimagining. Some of the best bits from the novel didn’t even get a look in – I’m thinking about you the animal topiary! Still, I do watch the film with an appreciation for its styling, its tone and Jack Nicholson.
Guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one, Steve, even if I see your point.
Then I read it and I can honestly say that this is one of the most incredible works of fiction I have ever read.
I love the way it talks about religion and spirituality. I love the way Pi ponders at points why he has to make a decision about which belief system he should adopt. There’s a moment when he wonders why he has to choose at all, since he likes elements of all of them. Of course, Martel explains this better than I ever could, but it makes sense, endearing me to Pi’s character early on.
What happens to Pi and his entire family, as they prepare their move from Pondicherry, India to North America, a menagerie of exotic animals (from the family zoo) in tow, is devastating.
Stranded for 227 days at sea, Pi finds himself nose to nose with a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker. And thus begins the tale of survival and hope; and at the heart, a very unusual companionship.
Women by Charles Bukowski
Henry Chinaski is a low-life alcoholic. Finally, after a lifetime of low paid jobs and seedy bars, Henry’s star is on the rise and he’s certainly attacking his new-found fame with aplomb. Women, women, women are the order of the day. (Hence the title).
The thing about Bukowski is that his anti-romantic romantic side is difficult for me to resist. It’s not always pretty but it is always real. I find beauty in the words he used, and in the way he could punch out the perfect one liner. Nobody does it better.
I know a lot of people don’t like him and I can understand. Bukowski still holds up as the crown prince of Misogyny. Women in particular was thought to be one of the worst offenders towards the female gender. Given its subject matter and the relentless way in which Chinaski plows through the women he meets, it’s hardly surprising that this was the consensus.
But there is a lesson to be learnt within, and paired with a writing style I am drawn to, I still believe Bukowski has earnt his place on my list. Of which I’m sure he would have been delighted.
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
Man, I was obsessed with this book as a pre-teen. Given that it is a very dark tale, from the author who birthed Hannibal Lecter, that maybe gives you an insight into my character. I love forensic thrillers, serial killers and the pitch black side of human nature – part of me is twisted.
This novel centres around Will Graham, FBI profiler and hunter of very bad guys. Currently on the case of a serial killer sloppily nicknamed “the tooth fairy” by the local rag, he is forced to turn to his old acquaintance, Doctor Lecter, for help. Which is major awks really since Lecter has previously tried to kill Graham.
I think I must have read this ten times growing up. I loved both the film versions of Red Dragon (Michael Mann‘s Manhunter and Red Dragon) but neither come close to the book. Ain’t that always the way?
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Passionate, intense, amazing. As if I could leave Heathcliff and Cathy’s tale of possessive lurve off my list. This is what I used to think true love had to be like (and have since realised, thankfully, that this just isn’t the case. At all). I believed it had to be demented and wild, full of pain and suffering.
Mysterious foundling, Healthcliff is rescued on the moors as a child by Mr Earnshaw, and grows up close to the Earnshaw family. Falling in love with Catherine Earnshaw, the grown up Heathcliff is overcome with anger when things don’t quite go his way. Our anti-hero is both brooding and devastating; he is also mean, vengeful and selfish. Catherine isn’t much better. Made for each other, you could say.
Whatever my view of the main characters and their dysfunctional love, I love its moody tone.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
OHMYG, this book. I read it on our honeymoon and lay for hours in the dark at night imagining ghouls in the corners of the room, just waiting for their moment to pounce.
Sarah Waters is my favourite, a writer after my own heart. I sometimes wonder if she writes just for me. The Little Stranger is my favourite but it is a really hard one to pick, all her books are incredible.
Doctor Faraday is the village GP. Of humble beginnings, he has worked hard to get to his position and is a well respected local man. Called to crumbling Hundreds Hall to tend to a patient, he meets and befriends Caroline Ayres, daughter of the house. But Caroline, and her troubled brother, Roderick obviously have issues beyond the state of their dilapidated surroundings. Can Doctor Faraday help or will he find that their lives are more entwined than he thought?
Love. it. I love a good ghost story and this reads like one of the classics. As with all Waters’ novels, it’s almost impossible not to finish the whole thing in a day, even though you know you should be savouring every page.
If you’ve read this far then I must thank you for sticking with me. This list is a monster, but I have really enjoyed writing it.
A few special mentions:
Books that almost made the Top 10: How to Save Your Own Life, Lolita and Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World – all excellent.
Best pulp: Hollywood Wives and pretty much all Jackie Collins. A special thank you to my Mother’s bookshelf growing up. She never stopped me reading books that were probably a little advanced at the time and I thank her for that.
First book to make me cry: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Aslan!
First book to make me really fall in love with reading: Weirdly, American Psycho. I couldn’t believe books like it existed.
Favourite Authors, whose books I didn’t place in the Top Ten: Haruki Murakami, Douglas Coupland, Bret Easton Ellis.
Proudest pleasure: I love love love Jilly Cooper (especially The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous)!
All images via Google.