I’ve been asked a few times to list my 10 favourite books. But how do you choose only 10?
The 10 books I would save if the house was burning down?
The 10 that I would recommend to a friend?
Or 10 I would choose to read again if they were to be my last?
None of it helps, so I’m just going to run at the keyboard with my head down.
If I did this again tomorrow there would be changes I’m sure – but these are the books I’m picking today…
1. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
I stole this from my father before I left for University, then carried it from house to house for about twenty years before getting around to it. Don’t leave it that long! The story, characters, and writing are simply perfect.
2. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
No gimmicks or authorial handstands. Just brutal honesty and simplicity. Steinbeck never gets in the way his story and it’s all the more powerful and heart-breaking for it.
3. A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
Inventive, linguistic, subversive, funny, dark. What more do you want?
4. The Book of Illusions – Paul Auster
Expansive, epic, hysterical, tragic. The scale, variety, quality and depth of this novel are just breath-taking. Layers on layers and plots within plots, it’s a work of art.
5. The Stand – Stephen King
Does anyone do characters like Stephen King? Despite their generally fantastic contexts, his characters are so authentic, so alive, you feel they might just step off the page. I think this is one of the reasons he is so good at giving up goosebumps – his characters sell the narrative. And no less so than with the sprawling cast in this whopper of a book – a stunning act of pure creation.
6. The Princess Bride – William Goldman
I came to this book after falling in love with movie (In my Top films 3 for sure), and opened it with some trepidation – would it live up to the film? Or make it look pale by comparison? I needn’t have worried; the novel is its own entity and it is magnificent. I can’t wait until my children are old enough to read it.
7. Lullaby – Chuck Palahniuk
Chuck Palahniuk is a craftsman; he labours over every plot point, piece of research, and line of prose. At times I found myself reading with my mouth hanging open I was in such awe of this book.
8. The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
A beautiful love story wrapped in a mind-mangler of a concept. Audrey Niffenegger didn’t miss a trick: she squeezed every drop of possibility from this wild premise, shocking, surprising and baffling us with the temporal mechanics, whilst all the while maintaining a steady hand on the heart-aching love story. What a feat.
9. Barnaby Rudge – Charles Dickens
I came to Dickens late, swearing off his books after being ‘forced’ to read Great Expectations in secondary school. I was big on vampires, zombies etc. when we read it, so I resented having to read this old duffer going on about old spinsters in an old house. Where’s the monsters, Charlie? If I could go back and whisper in my fifteen-year-old ear, I’d tell myself to stop being such a prat, then I’d whack young me over the head with Barnaby Rudge. You want horror? I’d say. Go read about some of the things people had to endure in the 18th centaury.
10. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
This man can write anything. With style and then some. But never at the expense of story. David Mitchell has it all, how I hate him!. Of all his books – and they are all outstanding – this is my favourite. Rumour has it some people can’t finish it. If you’re one of them, take a deep breath and try again. It’s worth it.