Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Top 10 books

Following PD, and after having read her marvellous list, I've decided to make my own list of top 10 books on my blog, in the hope that readers will then be inspired to make their own lists - either here, or on blogs of their own. These books are in no particular order - I'm listing them as they come to mind. And, of course, these are in no way the only books that I've loved, read over and over, and been inspired by - I'll be leaving out plenty more that I will later wish I had included. Ten is too tiny a number.

So here goes.

1. The Art of Murder (Jose Carlos Somoza): I read this book earlier this year, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since. In terms of imagination, creation of an alternate (in a manner of speaking) cultural world, and a gripping crime thriller, The Art of Murder is has no equal. It raises deeply disturbing questions about the definition of 'art', the boundaries that we draw - both for ourselves and others - and how far we might be willing to push them. One of the best books I've read in a while.

2. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery): The first of a series of six books, this is the one I love most. I discovered Anne rather late, when I was in college, thanks to a friend - that friend and I have long since parted ways, but Anne has stayed with me. This delightful story set in the late nineteenth century of an orphan girl who gets adopted by a brother-sister pair in Nova Scotia, Canada, never fails to make me laugh and remind me that the world isn't such a bad place after all - no matter how unhappy I might be.

3. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4 (Sue Townsend): I discovered Adrian Mole in my pre-teens and found in him a kindred spirit - minus the weird parents - and a couple of years later, when teenage angst set in, this book, and the one that followed (The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole, aged 15 1/2), were very reassuring indeed! It was later, upon reading them all over again, that I realised what a wonderful sociological commentary they were on Britain under Margaret Thatcher.

4. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee): There isn't much I can say about this classic that hasn't been said already. Atticus remains my hero - and while I first read it as a precocious 11-year-old, when I was really too young to fully comprehend the gravity and complexity of the book, I remember wanting to be Scout, and wishing I had a friend like Boo Radley. Only when I read it again as an adult did I discover how wonderful it is - and since then, I've read it again and again.

5. The Bartimaeus Trilogy (Jonathan Stroud): I know, I know, I'm cheating here - but how can I mention one of these fantastic books and not the others? This is one of the best fantasy trilogies I've ever read - wonderfully written, quirky, imaginative, with one of the best endings of all times - these books make me laugh, give me goose bumps, make me cry - time I re-read them again!

6. The Dispossessed (Ursula K. LeGuin): I discovered Ursula LeGuin very late in life, but since then I haven't stopped reading her. If anyone were to ask me who my favourite author is, I'd have to say it's her. Her science fiction and fantasy are a world apart from anything that had been attempted either before or after. This book, the best and most incisive treatise on political anarchy I've ever come across, stuns you with its prescience. It's gripping, it's rousing - it's not just the best science-fiction book I've read, it's one of the best books of all time.

7. Tehanu (Ursula K. LeGuin): The fourth in the Earthsea series, the quiet and thoughtful tone of this book makes it different from the other, 'action'-oriented Earthsea books. It's quietness in no way takes away from its scathing feminist critique, though. A wonderful read.

8. Stet (Diana Athill): I perhaps love this one so much because I'm an editor working in the publishing industry - but no one can fail to appreciate Athill's first, and wonderful, memoir. She talks about her days as an editor with Andre Deutsch, tells us interesting anecdotes about authors like Naipaul, gives us insights into the workings of the publishing world, all too familiar to people like us - and I was reassured no end to find that she, too, didn't think too highly of Philip Roth!

9. Like Water for Chocolate (Laura Esquivel): Again, a fantastic bit of magic realism. It's not as intense or grim as Allende, but grips you nonetheless. One of the most powerful love stories I've ever read.

10. All Creatures Great and Small (James Herriot): All four books (the others being: All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Things Wise and Wonderful, The Lord God Made Them All) are among the best I've ever read, but somehow I love this one most. Herriot's wonderful prose brings it all to life - the mad characters (Seigfried and Tristan, especially), the animals, the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales - the experience is undoubtedly better if you're an animal lover, but you don't necessarily have to be one to appreciate the wonder of these books.

And a few I left out - The Left Hand of Darkness (because there would have been too many of LeGuin's books in the list); Angela's Ashes (Frank McCourt); The King's General (Daphne du Maurier); and The House of the Spirits (Isabel Allende).