Here’s one that’s been doing the rounds on Facebook:
“In your status line, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard – they don’t have to be the “right” or “great” works, just the ones that have touched you.”
Here goes, in no particular order:
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I cried and cried and cried some more. So very moving. And I just loved that the narrator was in fact…well, read it yourself and find out. I was devastated to find out recently that they have turned this into a movie. Whhhhyyyy? Why do they have to massacre my favourite novels by putting them on the screen, thus losing all the beauty and nuance of the written word???
Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala. I read this very recently. The author lost her husband, two sons and parents in the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka, and this is her memoir: of the first terrifying moments of the wave’s onslaught to the dreadful aftermath and through the ensuing years. I almost couldn’t read it in parts, but out of respect for the woman who wrote it, I forced myself. I have never read an account of grief and loss like this one. It’s hard, but it’s worth it. It made me hug my daughter very often and very tightly.
The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. This was the formative book of my childhood (along with the rest in the series). Oh, how I longed to climb that tree and discover what magical land was at the top, and then to slide down the slippery slip with Moonface and Silky. I am about to read it to my own daughter now. I can’t wait. (And I will continue to call the children by their original names – Jo, Fanny and Dick – rather than the modern reprint versions of Joe, Frannie and Rick. Political correctness be damned.)
Necessary Losses by Judith Viorst. For anyone who struggles with loss and letting go. It’s a bestselling classic and its fantastic, but be prepared to face some truths and feelings that may make you uncomfortable. My copy is covered in highlighter pen and scribbled notes.
The Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis. These were to my youth what The Magic Faraway Tree was to my early childhood. I can read them over and over even now and never tire of them. I still long to be whisked away to Narnia and to have access to a guardian angel like Aslan.
His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. The trilogy follows the coming-of-age of two children, Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry, as they wander through a series of parallel universes against a backdrop of epic events. In my opinion you won’t find a better Young Adult fantasy series – although don’t let the fact that it has been characterised as YA fiction put you off. Pullman was speaking to adults as well. Wikipedia has this to say: “The story alludes to a broad range of ideas from such fields as physics, philosophy and theology. The trilogy functions in part as a retelling and inversion of John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost, with Pullman commending humanity for what Milton saw as its most tragic failing. The series has drawn criticism for its negative portrayal of Christianity and religion in general and layered with meaning and commentary on religion.” It is fantastic and unexpected, and surprisingly emotional. Read it.
Which brings me to my next pick: Paradise Lost by John Milton. Oh, it’s wonderful and amazing and enthralling. Milton’s masterpiece on the fall of Satan has stuck with me years after I studied it at university. Christopher Ricks writes: “Milton’s mastery of language fortifies not merely our sense of what is beautiful, but our sense of what is human.” This work obviously had an effect on me because I have managed to incorporate it into my novel-in-progress. You’ll have to wait to see how, but it does involve fallen angels.
When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner. I went through a Pentecostal phase when I was younger. Yes, I was part of the happy-clappy, speaking in tongues, casting out demons, hating myself for being so sinful brigade, attributing every tragedy and sadness and world event to God’s divine will. This book is the perfect, wise, gentle antidote to all that bullshit. If you are suffering or hurting or wondering why the hell our world is the way it is, read it.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. I only read this recently and found it extremely moving. It’s a little strange in parts as the author plays with structure and narrative mode, but I loved it. I’m all for experimentation.
Romantic Poetry and Prose (one volume from the Oxford Anthology of English Literature). The Romantics were my favourite poets. I dip in and out of this anthology from time to time and always wish I did it more often. I particularly enjoy Romantic Literature’s addressing of the supernatural, the darkness, the melancholy, the marvellous. And I LOVE gothic novels. But that, my friends, is a whole other list.
Now, at risk of sounding rude…