Tuesday, 7 February 2012

A list for readers

 I am a very avid reader and one of the things I really appreciate about books is how sharable they are and how, through discussing a novel or non-fiction work, or poem with someone else who has read it, you can enjoy something that you have already finished once all over again.

However, despite all of this, when I asked recently what my favourite books are, I realised it was something I actually hadn’t thought to quantify recently. But since I always want others to recommend books of all kinds to me, I thought I’d at least try and scrawl down what I consider to be some of the greatest things I’ve ever read and why I loved them so very much. So keep your eyes peeled for all the posts about books coming after this one, too!!

Bleak House - Charles Dickens
Dickens always writes characters and settings that just pull me right in. Try this for a snapshot of atmosphere: smog-filled, Victorian London to set your imagination off in the very first few sentences.....

"LONDON. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill-temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if the day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.
Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green gaits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ’prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.
Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much as the sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom by husbandman and ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hours before their time — as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard and unwilling look."

There are so many interweaving tales, personalities and social commentaries woven into this novel that I just feel like I consumed it whole, in about 4 days one year on vacation. I've wanted to read it again many times but I've always felt like somehow, maybe, I couldn't recapture the magic of reading it for the first time ever and of following plot twists and beloved characters all the way to the end.

The Hours - Micheal Cunningham
Okay, I'll admit  that my love for this book in part comes from my love for Virginia Woolf, and particularly for "Mrs Dalloway". But it also comes from my big time appreciation of fragmented narratives and stories which only interweave loosely and can seem as disconnected yet abstractly linked as we do to one another in real life.
"The Hours" makes me at turns sad and deeply reflective but also really optimistic and inspired in a way that you might be surprised by.

"I remember one morning getting up at dawn, there was such a sense of possibility. You know, that feeling? And I remember thinking to myself this is the beginning of happiness. This is where it starts. And of course there will always be more. It never occurred to me it wasn’t the beginning. It was happiness. It was the moment. Right then."

V for Vendetta - Alan Moore

This was the first graphic novel I ever read and I probably cried in multiple places, far more than was really acceptable. But I pretty much loved everything about V....to the extent that, as I write this I realise quite how much I want to read it again.

I think I leafed through it in one afternoon and I'm also pretty sure that a lot of what spoke to me about it was the depiction of an institutionalised authoritarianism and suppression which is so historically familiar but also grounded in the very real fears of Moore based on what he was seeing during the Thatcher years.
It - Stephen King

Now, I'm gonna be the first to admit that I never really thought I would be a Stephen King reader and, even though I absolutely loved "It", I probably wouldn't read another of his novels again. My love for "It" came not from the fact that it was well-written, suspense filled and compulsive reading (although it is all of those things) but the subject matter it deals with. For me, it would be very difficult to argue that "It" is not about the power and strength of children and the power of childhood.

It probably helps that the novel ends with this very same sentiment that I so identified with throughout its 1000+ pages. I don't think it would have been possible for me to have sped my way through such a mammoth book in less than a week if I hadn't been rooting both for its protagonists, and for what they represent.

"You don’t have to look back to see those children; part of your mind will see them forever, live with them forever, love with them forever. They are not necessarily the best part of you but they were once the repository of all you could become............That stays, the bright cameo of all we were and all we believed as children, all that shone in our eyes even when we were lost and the wind blew in the night."
Honestly, I can't recommend most of these book I love enough...I'll keep writing blog posts like this, a few books at a time and if you've read any of them, please let me know what you thought and if you decide to read one or a few from now on, let me know when you've finished!
I think all the poetry will have to come in yet another post after all the other stuff: it deserves its own place.

For now, there are a good few books on my current "to read" list as well. I'm pretty excited to get through these (I'm hoping easily by the end of the year!):
Wise children - Angela Carter
Palestine - Joe Sacco
The Teahouse Fire - Ellis Avery
Extremely loud and incredibly close - Jonathan Safran Foer
The storyteller's daughter - Cameron Dokey
The Years - Virginia Woolf
A mercy - Toni Morrison
The inheritance of loss - Kiran Desai
Reading in the dark - Seamus Deane
Watchmen - Alan Moore
The Sister Brothers - Alan deWitt
Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch
Sexing the cherry - Jeanette Winterson
Naoko - Hagashino Keigo
The Line of Beauty - Alan Hollinghurst
The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern
Dovekeepers - Alice Hoffman

So, I am going to join a library but if anyone (in Canada) has any of my "to read" books, feel free to lend them....I read pretty fast, I promise!!


  1. Wow! I'm a bit embarrassed to say that I have read hardly any of those :( but Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is AMAZING :) weirdly, you're the second person this week to say you're planning to read it, my friend Dan started it a few days ago! Have fun :) x*x

  2. I'm glad you finally got a book of King's under your belt. I really wish you'd pick up some more ;) I can't recommend "The Talisman" (by both King and Peter Straubb) enough.