In no particular order here are some of my favourites. Not chosen for their prizes, reputation, literary value or lack thereof. My only strict criterion was asking myself the question, ‘would I want to read this again and again?’ I would be happy to pick any one of these books up at any time and get lost in it.
Atonement by Ian McEwan
This is Ian McEwen at his absolute best in my opinion. Just beautiful prose, every word counts which means gorgeous phrases and structure. Briony is not initially the most likeable character but I find sympathy towards her grows throughout the book until the heartbreaking twist at the end.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
I first studied this at Edinburgh and I love it as much now as I did then, despite basing many long essays since on Steinbeck and pulling it to bits. The Joads must be one of the most desperate families ever written about but the hope they display is incredibly humbling. It gives an amazing introduction to one of the most awful tragedies ever to happen in farming. Thanks to Andrew Taylor for teaching a great American Literature course.
Click here for a link to a story of real migrants, and an iconic image of the strength of mothers.
Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian
This has been one of my favourites for as long as I can remember, definitely top ten. I adore the characters and the evocation of both the era and the country setting are perfect. One of my top comfort reads if I’m feeling low.
Norwegian by Night by Derek B Miller
Thank you to Hannah for giving me this for my birthday this year. I love it, and loved the unlikely protagonist Sheldon Horowitz . I found myself feeling great sympathy for him while at the same time cheering him on while he outwits everyone. It’s brilliantly written, some wonderfully black, almost bleak, humour.
Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Another uni favourite. I know a lot of people feel irritated by Tess’ inability to stand up for herself but perhaps they are judging her by today’s standards. I feel huge sympathy for her, naivety being her only real crime. I love Thomas Hardy’s depiction of the English countryside too, lovely narration.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I can’t believe I only read this for the first time this year – and thank you to Jilly for allowing us to pinch her copy which was originally in Andrew’s possession after he had nicked it from some school – or something like that. Anyway, it is a lovely old copy of a most amazing book about which I don’t probably need to say too much.
Toast by Nigel Slater
I have been cooking Nigel’s recipes for years and learning how he came to his relationship with food is bittersweet as his childhood obviously was little fun. The trip down a gastronomic memory lane on which he takes us encompasses iconic food from many of our childhoods (UK based) and this, coupled with his warm writing style and self-deprecation makes for a comforting read despite the discomfort of the subject matter.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
An affecting book with a direct style that focuses on the affect of war on civilians, always a fertile ground for an outing into some social realism. The relationships are beautifully rendered with nuances outlined with great clarity that means you never quite know who you feel the more sympathy towards.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Easy, familiar reading to get lost in. This was the first Jojo Moyes I read and I have since read her entire back catalogue. Her breadth of settings for her novels is varied and impressive and with her accessible style they are all books to get lost in and devour in a couple of sittings.
Victoria Hislop – The Island, The Return, The Thread
I love all of Victoria Hislop’s novels and the fact that she finds and then introduces us to pockets of history that are seldom known or focused on. The enforced Jewish migration in Greece being a case in point and beautifully depicted in ‘The Thread’. This and The Return vie for position of favourite, the heartbreak of one family in the latter is dreadfully sad but wonderfully described.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S.Lewis
I’m not sure that a childhood should be considered complete without having read or being read these books. The encouragement of imagination through the wonders Lewis gives us is a gift and a joy for us all. Sam has just finished being read ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ in quiet time at school and it makes my heart sing when he comes home talking about Aslan, fawns and talking beavers.
His Dark Materials Trilogy by Phillip Pullman
While we’re in the realm of fantasy I’ll add this brilliant epic. The three books will suck you into their worlds until you emerge, head spinning like Lyra as she tries to chase down the gobblers. On her quest she amasses a wonderful army of friends (including Will, co-protagonist) and has to make some tough decisions lending a great coming of age element. It encouraged me to re-visit Milton with fresh eyes. Read all of them in a weekend, what bliss.
The Shell Seekers by Rosamond Pilcher
I couldn’t leave this out. The memories it holds for me are so strong and it has been my go-to comfort book for years. I only have to tell my Mum that I am reading it and she says ‘Oh dear, are you ok?’ I always will be while inside these pages. The gorgeous character of Penelope and the challenges presented by her three children provide a canny look at family life. The sections set in Cornwall during WW2 are so vivid in their portrayal you can practically taste the salt on your tongue. Just lovely writing; gentle but thought provoking enough.
Under an English Heaven by Robert Radcliffe
Another WW2 novel, this time set in Suffolk and based around the air forces based there. Elegiac writing about a Britain long since gone, with the gritty realism of war to temper the beauty but preserve the hope. Lovely characterisation and a gorgeous twist at the end.
The Mermaid and the Drunks by Ben Richards
Though the central character Joe is a know-it-all and because of that vaguely irritating, the passion he displays and so stirs up in others about Chile is fantastic to watch. It is a ‘watching’ novel as the pace and tone mirror the depiction of a wonderfully vibrant country. A really great exploration of the nature of exile and returning home – that’s what gets it into my list.