This is a meme that’s been doing the rounds on Facebook this week – you have to post 10 books that you really love, in no particular order. I don’t normally do things like this on Facebook, but I loved seeing all my friends’ answers, so decided I would answer. This is my list, with some comments about why I love each choice.
Dune by Frank Herbert
Probably my favourite sci-fi book ever. Set far in the future, Dune is the story of Paul Atreides, the young duke of a desert planet, and his battle to overthrow his enemies. I love this book because it’s just so rich. To me, fantasy and sci-fi works best when the author has clearly worked out every detail of the world they’ve created, and that’s what you have here. A rich cast of characters, a detailed history and political background make Dune an awesome read.
The Lord of the Ringsby JRR Tolkien
I read this when I was 11 and it blew my mind. As with Dune, the world created here is so rich and detailed, down to the invented languages and history, which again makes the story really rich. I have mixed feelings about the films; they’re good, but I’m not sure they capture the spirit of the books that well. But the books, I come back to time and time again.
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Cloud Atlas is really clever. It’s a series of short stories nested within each other, moving forwards through time, with each story featuring in the next in some way. The characters are linked, and the book explores the good and darker sides of humanity and how we try and dominate each other. It’s deep, sure, but well worth it. Each story has a different feel – one is a murder mystery, another is a travel voyage, another is science fiction. Like I say, very clever.
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
This is a love story. A real love story, with sadness and regret and people being very very human. Set on a small Greek Island during the Second World War, this is the story of local girl Pelagia who falls in love with an invading Italian officer. At times utterly heartbreaking, this is one I fell in love with the first time I read it.
Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
Sophie is a 15 year old Norwegian girl who finds mysterious messages asking her questions. She gets drawn into a quest with a mysterious philosopher, and together they follow the history of Western philosophy before realising they are characters in a book written for a girl called Hilde. It all gets a bit metaphysical at the end, but it’s a great way to discover different philosophical ideas. It came out when I was 15, so maybe that’s why it struck a chord with me.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
This story is set in a somewhat dystopian future, where most women are infertile. Women who have born children are put into rich families to act as surrogates, called handmaids, and the book is told from the point of view of one of these women. It’s a great story in itself, but it’s also pretty thought-provoking.
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
Another book whose film adaptation I can’t make up my mind about. High Fidelity Is the story of Rob, a music lover who runs a record shop, and the ups and downs of his love life. It’s funny, it has lots of musical geekery in it, Rob’s endless top 5 lists are fascinating and, he’s a really awesome character, because he’s just such a normal guy; you can imagine bumping into him in any pub. The reason I’m not sold on the movie is because they moved it to America, and this is such an English book.
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
I used to read a lot of fantasy when I was younger, but kind of got bored with it over the years. It all seemed so samey. Then, a few years ago, I read this and remembered why I love fantasy, if it’s done well. I also fell a little bit in love with China Mieville when I saw him speak at a Literature festival a few years ago. He writes beautifully – I’ve seen criticism along the lines of suggesting he writes with a thesaurus open. But when you hear him speak you realise that no, he has an absolutely astounding vocabulary and command of the English language. It’s hard to sum up the plot of Perdido Stret Station in a few words but essentially it’s an urban steampunkish fantasy thriller.
Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
I want to say this is a fantasy, but actually I don’t think there is any magic in it, or any fantastic creatures. This could be set in some remote corner of the real world. Titus Groan is about the inhabitants of the castle of Gormenghast after the birth of a new heir, Titus. It’s not all about plot, more a slow-boiling, sweeping, fabulously descriptive story, with some very weird and wonderful characters. I read this immediately after The Lord of The Rings, when I was 11, on the advice of my English teacher, to whom I’m indebted for introducing me to so many great books, with this one top of the list.
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
This is a brilliant book to curl up with on dark evenings. It’s the story of two magicians during the Napoleonic wars, and how they bring magic back to England. It’s written in a sort of pastiche of the style of writers of the time such as Jane Austen, which I love. The two characters are so completely opposite and unlike each other that they make a nice contrast – Strange is young and romantic while Norrell is old and stuffy. I believe the BBC are adapting it, which I’m really looking forward to.
So, that’s my 10. That was really, really hard to do – I could easily have done 20, or 30. I decided not to do any series, otherwise I’d have things like His Dark Materials in there for sure. I’m sad about some of the books I’ve not picked – there’s no Jane Austen, no Neil Gaiman, no Discworld. But I like my list; it’s been fun thinking about books that I’ve read and re-read over the years. I now want to read these again!