This week’s rather convoluted top ten title really got me thinking. Which books have I been really annoyed about finishing? Which have I heard about others reading, and got jealous because they get to read them for the first time?
This list is in no particular order…
1. ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte
My all-time favourite, and it’s got it all… the windswept Yorkshire moors, a tale of forbidden, tormented love, ghostly hauntings, digging up a grave because you can’t live with the grief… Okay, so I’m a fan of a melodramatic love story and rather partial to a graveyard (and Kate Bush, but that’s almost unrelated).
I first read this as part of my A-level English Literature course, and I’d never read anything like it. The raw passion and fatalistic plotline left me screaming at Cathy not to be so bloody stupid, and at Heathcliff not to be so pig-headed. It’s one of the great literary tragedies that Emily Bronte died before getting the chance to write another novel.
2. ‘The Green Mile’ by Stephen King
I’m pretty certain that this is the only supernatural, death row, UTI-based novel out there, and I enjoyed reading it virtually in one sitting. What a great way to spend a day though!
3. ‘The Diary of a Nobody’ by George and Weedon Grossmith
Probably the funniest book I’ve ever read. It’s a late Victorian telegraphic account of a fool and his mundane life. Doesn’t sound great, but if you like ‘The Diary of Adrian Mole’ or ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’ then this may well be book for you.
4. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee
Like many, I was introduced to this novel as part of the GCSE curriculum at the age of 15 – which, incidentally, is absolutely the right age to be reading it. I couldn’t believe that the racism it revealed to us was a representation of what actually happened. This book was adult and raw and sad and lovely all at the same time.
As a Teacher of English, I’ve taught this many times, and classes love it. Boo hiss to Michael Gove deciding that only Literature written in Great Britain was worthy of being on the GCSE English Literature exams. A whole generation are now failing to be introduced to novels like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘Of Mice and Men.
Can a book be replicated? Well, think back to how excited were we all when the lost novel of ‘Go Set a Watchman’ was released a few years ago. And then how hugely disappointed. Nope – there is nothing like this novel and nothing like reading it for the first time.
5. ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ by George Orwell
My now-husband wooed me with both ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ and ‘Brave New World’. We were just good friends until he lent me these two books and then I decided that someone with such impeccable taste in books was surely boyfriend material. And he had a car.
Dystopian nightmare that has eerily become our own modern-day hell. Utterly terrifying and yet utterly brilliant. (The book, not my marriage).
6. ‘Gone With the Wind’ by Margaret Mitchell
At over 1000 pages, this is not exactly a light read. Until a few years ago, I’d never seen the film, and never read the book. I’d never had any inclination towards doing so, assuming that it was all just hype and most likely a silly romance. Then I noticed that it was always in those ‘100 books to read before you die’ type lists, and it made it onto by TBR pile – where it sat for a few years until finally getting read.
Wow! What a novel! The two main characters are pretty-much unlikeable, its themes of slavery, war and inequality are dire, and its backdrop of the American Civil War is not something that particularly interests me, and yet it is one of the most engrossing, absorbing books that I’ve ever read.
7. ‘The Remains of the Day’ by Kazuo Ishiguro
This is a tale of romance in older people, which in itself is somewhat unusual. It is quiet, reserved and muted. It is both heartbreaking and beautiful and I don’t think that I’ve ever read anything so sad.
8. ‘The Universe Versus Alex Woods’ by Gavin Extence
A teenager drives back from Switzerland with his best-friend/elderly neighbour’s, body in the passenger seat. And so it begins! As you’ll grasp from the premise, there’s an awful lot of dark humour in this novel, but there’s also a lot of warmth and some wonderful central characters.
9. ‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern
This novel is dreamy and magical, and I really wish that I could read it again for the first time.
10. ‘Charlotte’s Web’ by E. B. White
One of the joys of being a parent is being able to share books with your children. I’d never read ‘Charlotte’s Web’ myself as a child, but thoroughly enjoyed reading it with my own children, and watching how it captured their imagination. They cared so much about Charlotte and Wilbur, and couldn’t wait for the next chapter. I found myself looking forward to the next chapter of this one as much as they did.