Top Ten Tuesday: Books I could re-read forever

Top Ten Tuesday was originally created by The – sadly no more – Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted over on Jana’s That Artsy Reader Girl. If you like books and lists, it’s a no brainer…

This week’s topic is – Books I could re-read forever.

I found this monstrously hard, I’ll confess. So I’ve cheated a bit and created two lists. One is made up of those classics that the majority of people reading will have heard of and the other – expanded on a little more – is made up of those books that perhaps say a little more about my personal reading highs. I considered adding a third list of the books that didn’t quite make the first two but decided nobody needed that level of cheating on a Tuesday.

The Classics – these are (somewhat obvious) books that I adore, have read at least twice (in some cases quite a few more times) and will read again

  1. Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice
  2. Daphne du Maurier – Rebecca
  3. Dodie Smith – I Capture the Castle
  4. JRR Tolkien – The Hobbit
  5. Neil Gaiman – Neverwhere
  6. William Goldman – The Princess Bride
  7. JK Rowling – The Harry Potters (I’m looking forward to reading these with my daughter)
  8. C S Lewis – The Narnia Chronicles
  9. Norton Juster – The Phantom Tollbooth
  10. LM Montgomery – Anne of Green Gables (and the rest)

The Others – books that are a little less ‘universal’ but meet the criterion of books that I not only love but could (and have) re-read time and time again 

  1. Penelope Lively – Moon Tiger: One of my favourite ever books. Lively is a genius and her exploration of memory, history and time, coupled with one of the most beautiful fictional romances, is the book that keeps on giving.
  2. Barbara Kingsolver – The Poisonwood Bible: One of the most gripping, murky and atmospheric books I’ve ever read. Domineering evangelical Baptist, Nathan Price, takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. And things gradually fall apart.
  3. EM Delafield – The Diary of a Provincial Lady: For the humour, the wit and the utter Englishness of it all. Completely wonderful.
  4. Susanna Clarke – Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell: I wholeheartedly adore books with the ability to blend the world we know and the world of magic and faery in such a way as to make the end result utterly believable. This book does that, while simultaneously creating some of the most memorable characters in fiction. (See also Neverwhere)
  5. Mary Wesley – The Camomile Lawn: I read this for the first time when I was quite young, perhaps in my very early teens. All of the casual, war-driven bed hopping and f-bombs thrilled me and something about the terribly clipped, stiff-upper-lip Britishness of it all still thrills me a little today. Calypso and Polly were the older sisters I would have liked to have.
  6. Erin Morgenstern – The Night Circus: For anyone who’s ever thought about running away to join the circus.
  7. Lucy Wood – Diving Belles: Perfectly-crafted and perfectly-themed short stories that blend Cornish folklore with a touch of magic realism, and then firmly root themselves in the natural world.
  8. Vikram Seth – An Equal Music: Utterly beautiful and heartbreaking. The world of professional musicians is a fascinating one and Seth writes about a musical life in the most evocative and understanding way. When the summer shifts to autumn, I always get a yearning to re-read this one.
  9. Hilary Mantel – Beyond Black: A brilliant, dark, thought-provoking and absorbing story about a working clairvoyant and her troublesome spirit guide.
  10. Jess Kidd – Himself: When I read this for the first time, it socked me right in the gut. It’s bleak, harrowing, wickedly funny, charming and very different to almost anything I’ve read. I’m still a little in love with Mahoney.
Advertisements

Jess Kidd – Himself

Probably the top contender for my book of 2016. And it was a lucky find in the ‘new in’ section of my local library rather than a considered selection. I love when that happens.

29365635

In Jess Kidd’s debut, Mahoney returns to the place of his birth, Mulderrig, a tiny village on the West coast of Ireland, to find out what happened to the mother he lost as an infant. What follows is a murder investigation with a dream-like twist, where fantastical, paranormal elements are woven into the fabric of the story so seamlessly that it often seems odder to look up and realise you’re actually in a world where the dead aren’t regularly poking their faces through the walls.

The opening section caused my heart to skip over itself for a beat or two. It’s one of the most powerful, most shocking descriptions I’ve read, so it was something of a surprise to discover the book that followed; equal parts black as pitch, laugh-out-loud funny, witty, surreal, heartwarming and full of the most glorious imaginings I’ve read in a while. I’m already a fan of magic realism but I’ve rarely seen it handled with such glorious irreverence. Kidd’s voice creates a world that is familiar but ‘faerie’, it made me think of the way that places you know well take on an otherworldly strangeness in thick fog.

Kidd is also brilliantly adept at characterisations and the townsfolk of Mulderrig are so vibrantly drawn that I feel almost as if I’ve met them in person. From the warm-hearted Bridget, to the caustic, theatrical Mrs Cauley, the vulpine priest, to the sinister Widow, there’s not a weak-link in the line-up, welcoming or otherwise. And over them all, Mahoney, who I’m probably just as susceptible to falling in love with as the poor women of Mulderrig.

I’m reluctant to say too much more, which is often the way with favourite books I knew little about on my first read. If you’re inclined to give it a go, I’d suggest you’d be better off knowing as little as possible.

Further reading: 

2016 – Looking back at books

Looking back:

A lot happened in 2016 that wasn’t about books so I’m particularly proud to have managed to read a fair amount – and a lot of it great. I’ve just been having a browse through my list of books read this year and these are the standouts (in the order in which they were read):

picmonkey-collage2

 

  • Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth – a witty, gentle read by a man whose achievements should put him at real risk of hubris and yet who displays anything but as he explains how he did what he did, with some excellent ‘zero gravity’ stories along the way. Read my review here.
  • Michel Faber’s The Courage Consort – an exquisitely crafted novella about musicians on the brink of crisis. Dark, funny and with a warmth at its heart that I’m amazed Faber managed to create in so short a read. Read my review here.
  • Margaret Forster’s My Life in Houses – a poignant, wise read about how bricks and mortar become the bones of a life. It also came along at just the right time for me.
  • Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife – this was a reread for me and is supposedly a fictionalised look at the experiences of former First Lady Barbara Bush. I’m always drawn to the personal stories behind the political or the historical; the perspective that helps you remember that everyone is also a person, no matter how much the media may obscure that. A gripping and insightful read.
  • Sylvain Tesson’s Consolations of the Forest – the book I feel most guilty for not having written up and perhaps the one I’m most likely to reread soon. Tesson spent six months living alone in a remote cabin in Siberia, fortified by vodka, cigars and tabasco. This book came out of the diaries he kept and is both beautiful, thought-provoking and inspiring.
  • TaraShea Nesbit’s The Wives of Los Alamos – an unusual book about a deeply unusual experience; in this case, that of the women who accompanied the men who built the atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert. Read my review here.

picmonkey-collage1

  • Christine Montross’ Falling Into The Fire – a moving and unexpectedly poetic example of how to write about mental illness without dehumanising the individuals involved. Read my review here (which also features Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial, a book that should probably also be on this list).
  • Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings – an expansive book that follows the lives of six teenagers from their first meeting at a summer camp for those interested in the arts. Once immersed, I found this a believable and absorbing exploration of how envy, loyalty, money and passion can affect the relationships between people.
  • Jess Kidd’s Himself – probably my book of the year and a review will follow in the next couple of days. It’s been written for a while but I gifted (foisted) this particular book on a close friend who also occasionally reads the blog and didn’t want to inadvertently reveal the book before she’d received it!

 

 

picmonkey-collage3

Looking ahead:

I tend to love the idea of shaping my reading more than the reality so I’ve been cautious when thinking about reading resolutions for 2017.  Setting reading aside for a moment, I’d like to write more here in the new year. That means featuring more of the books that I enjoy and trying to create more of a dialogue about them. I also have some ideas for how I’d like to develop the blog and some personal goals for my writing in a wider sense that – apologies – I will keep close to my chest for now.

When it comes to reading, like much of the book blogging community at the beginning of 2016, I am now feeling committed to ‘read my own damn books’, whether that be on my shelves or in the ether of my TBR list. Moving house this year brought it back to me anew just how many books I own and the proportion that remain unread. Coupled with a TBR list that seems permanently stuck at around 500 titles, I feel like I could benefit from just hunkering down and reading a few of the books I’m already excited about rather than constantly being diverted by the new and shiny.

I’m also feeling newly passionate about streamlining my book collection. In the past, I’ve always been the type to keep everything, like a rather large and unwieldy ‘diary’ of book exploits past. Now I feel as if I want the books I keep to be those that bring me real pleasure.

So 2017 will be a year of shortening lists and letting go. I’d like to start 2018 feeling a little less overwhelmed by all the books I always intended to read.

Other than that, I shall selfishly continue to read what I want in a gloriously scattergun way!

Happy new year everyone. Wishing you all a lot of love, happiness and books in the year ahead.