So whether you’re the kind of person that constantly has their nose buried in a book, or the kind of person who picks up that one book every few years that they’ve loved for oh so long, or just a holiday-by-the-pool kind of reader, most people love books, or at least that one book that made them say”oh my god, this is the best book ever written”.
So i thought i’d do a little post about the books that, in my 21 years have made me utter those very same words.
First, I thought I’d share with you my stance on books, stories, and literature. Quite simply: I LOVE IT. Growing up in my family home the living room was filled on one wall with a (nearly) floor to ceiling bookcase, full of dusty books my parents had picked up over the years. Everything from Biographies of obscure musicians to dust covered mini Shakespeare copies from my mum or dad’s school days. We had the lot.
One of the most distinct memories I can remember is my mum recommending I read Jane Austen. “Is she still alive?” I asked, curious as to why a modern day write would be telling stories about a time no one really even remembered any more. Needless to say my mum found that question distinctly amusing. This memory is sort of the point at which I attribute my love of books.
Suddenly the idea that a woman who wrote about things so alien to me, from so long ago, could draw me into her world and make me invest in the characters, well, it was almost magical.
That is the thing about books. Someone you’ve never met, living either somewhere you have never visited, or in a time that is long since past, can write down a thought, a tale or a story, and that thought, tale or story can resonate through time and space, reaching 12 year old girls for whom the world is an increasingly daunting place, or for middle aged men for whom the world is an increasingly wearisome and tiring place: Solace can be found.
That’s what reading is in a way solace. And escape.
If I’ve had one of those days where everything that could go wrong just does, i can pick up a book, or even turn on an audio book, and get lost for a while in the pages or the sounds. The words reassure, rejuvenate and replenish. I can imagine myself in a part of any number of situations, or I can read a sentence that perfect describes something i’m feeling that I couldn’t before articulate, and I think “it isn’t just me”.
So without further a do here are the books that have stuck with me through the years.
These are in no particular order, but are books that I either struggled to put down, or books that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
1. PERSUASION, JANE ASUTEN
Not necessarily the most famous Austen novel, but my favourite. Anne Eliot is a quieter, calmer and more introverted Elizabeth Bennett. Once persuaded out of an unsuitable marriage when she was young, she is now 26, and the man she turned down is back in town, and bringing with him success, status and money. It’s the story of second chances, mistakes made right, prevailing love and the importance of listening to, understanding and respecting your own heart.
2. I CAPTURE THE CASTLE, DODIE SMITH
One of the most famous first lines in 20th century literature: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink” sets you up for a novel that is lovely in its 1930s englishness, that you can’t help but fall for it. It tells the tale of a relatively bohemian family. A once great but now failing writer and father, a nude loving, fabric dying, non evil stepmother, two sisters who couldn’t be more different and a know it all little brother. The story is written from the perspective of sister Cassandra and her diaries. In them is a story of unrequited love, family, kinship and all set in a part ruined castle in the “depths of Suffolk”.
3. THE HANDMAID’S TALE, MARGARET ATWOOD
If you like dystopias this is the one for you. Atwood creates an America in which fertile women are few and far between, a right wing religious conservative group have taken power and returned the country to an almost biblical time. Fertile women are assigned to prominent government members households and their purpose is to recreate. Underground resistance, self preservation, sex and friendship is what this book is all about. Kinda grim but one of those ‘whoooaa’ books.
4. CATCHER IN THE RYE, J.D. SALINGER
The essential coming of age book. Originally published for adults it has since become a cornerstone of youth culture and literature due to it’s themes of alienation and all that teenage angst. Told threw the eyes of Holden Caulfield – the epitome of teenage rebel – the story is one of identity, belonging, loss, innocence and connection.
5. THE BELL JAR, SYLVIA PLATH
Feminist icon Sylvia Plath’s only novel. A ‘roman a clef’ – meaning a book based on real life but covered with fiction – the book parallels Plath’s own dissent into mental illness. Plath uses the protagonist Esther Greenwood to delve into ideas of social acceptance, feminism, relationships and mental health. A must, especially if you love her poems.
6. ANIMAL FARM, GEORGE ORWELL
Bunch of farm animals throw out their human overlords and take over the farm, laws are made, roles are delegated, a new society is formed. But it’s not quite as simple as that. Marxist metaphors, political significance, a whole lotta circular narrative, weirdly, you have an unputdownable book. If trippy dystopia written by a seminal writer is your thing, you just found your perfect book.
7. THE GREAT GATSBY, F. SCOTT FITZGERALD
I read this during sixth form, and was OB.SESSED. The free and fancy 1920’s backdrop, the characters, often unreliable and unrealistic, are written so cleverly to highlight Fitzgerald’s disillusionment with the American dream, with the decadence of the era and the superficiality of it all. All of that with a tragic love story at the centre of it.
8. THE REMAINS OF THE DAY, KAZUO ISHIGURO
Written in the first person, from protagonist Stevens, an english butler, he reflects on his life, his profession and his personal relationship with former colleague – housekeeper Miss Kenton. If you’re more of a film lover than a book worm, there is a gorgeous film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson – but the book is equally – if not more beautiful. Ishiguro is one of my favourite writers, you should also read Never Let Me Go – can’t recommend this author enough!
So there you go! a few books I’ve read over the years that really left an impression on me. I think there’s something in there for everyone. And don’t be fooled, though most if not all of these are classics, I spend a lot more time reading a trashy romance or a quick psychological thriller – classics are no the be all and end all – they can be intimidating for sure, but I’d recommend giving some of the above a chance, there are some truly beautiful, thrilling and lovely stories at the centre of these novels, not to mention characters you can’t help but fall in love with.
Love, E x