There’s a book meme doing the social media rounds and I’ve decided to devote a blog post to my response. Why not?
Just pick 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. They don’t have to be classics, they don’t even have to be that good. They just have to have made an impression on you.
I’ve selected my 10 books based on whether I find myself constantly recommending them to people (or at least have done in the past). I’ve also excluded any fantasy, since I could quite happily pick 10 fantasy novels — and besides I’ve done that before.
Without further ado, in no particular order, my 10 nominated books are:
The Secret History by Donna Tartt — I’ve only read this once, a long time ago, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it afterwards and couldn’t stop talking about it either. It’s one of those books that plays with your perceptions of events and makes you realise just how important context is. To be honest my memory has grown hazy on the details… but I do recall it’s harrowing and brilliant (and made a big stir at the time).
The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis — Every now and then you read a novel that grips you by the throat and will not let you go until you finish it, leaving you sleep-deprived and breathless. Such an experience is often a case of instant gratification, but sometimes . . . sometimes if you’re really lucky, that novel will be so brilliant that it leaves a lasting impression and keeps you thinking about it for days afterwards (and probably forever)… This is the opening to my post about The Doomsday Book from a few years ago. Check it out!
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood — I read this on holiday in Anglesea one summer, about 20 years ago. (Don’t you think it’s funny how some things become irrevocably associated with a place?) It disturbed me no end at the time, and although the intricacies of the plot have faded from my memory, the basic creepy gist of this post-apocalyptic story, where young women were enslaved and kept for breeding purposes, remains.
Scrap Metal by Harper Fox — No-one who reads this blog regularly will be surprised by the inclusion of a Harper Fox book in this list. She’s an author I’ve discovered this year and the challenge for me was selecting which one. I’ve gone with Scrap Metal because it’s such a beautifully written story about unconditional love, and I keep thinking about it. The setting (Scotland’s Isle of Arran) doesn’t hurt either. I talked a bit about the book in this post.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin — To my shame, I haven’t read much LeGuin (I really should rectify that), but this short science fiction book is an amazing exploration of gender and intercultural relations, exquisitely constructed. I really should read it again.
Possession by A.S. Byatt — This is one of those books you read and wonder how anybody could ever come up with something so multi-layered and complex. It’s a richly woven tapestry of poetry, fairytale, reference material, diaries, letters and narrative — all of it out of the head of the author. (It’s really no wonder this won the Booker.) It’s a book that mystified me at times during the reading (which I read in paperback and listened to as an audio in parallel), but by the end, like an impressionist painting viewed from afar, it made majestic sense. Not light reading, but oh so rewarding.
The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella — At the other end of the scale, this book is light-hearted froth and bubble, perfect for a Sunday afternoon. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, about a young up and coming London lawyer, who makes a mistake and bolts for the country where she finds a job as a live-in housekeeper… I think I liked it so much because I could relate to her domestic ineptitude and a part of me would love to live in an English country town (although NOT as a housekeeper!). It’s a book I’ve listened to on audio several times and keep lending to people.
House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III — I studied this book back in 2005 as part of a novel writing course, and it’s certainly stayed with me for a few reasons. One is the narrative style, as it uses three very different voices for the three point of view characters. Two is the unorthodox structure, which sees a third point of view character introduced in the middle of the book. Third is the amazing way in which the conflict rises between the main two parties as they strive for possession of a fairly ordinary suburban house. Both characters are sympathetic to the reader, and their conflict is tragic. Brilliant book.
Persuasion by Jane Austen — My favourite of the Austen books, Persuasion has so much heart and soul. It’s much less a social commentary than some of the others, and more the story of one young woman’s deep regret and second chance at love.
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton — This is another book I listened to as an audio and became fascinated and compelled by the patchwork structure. The novel jumps at seeming random between several different narrative threads — different times and locations and characters — so the reader has to build a picture gradually from all the pieces. I don’t know how you write a novel like that, but it works. It’s a dynastic story, set partly in Australia, but mostly in England.
What are your thoughts on these books? Would any make your top 10 most memorable? Please leave your most memorable read in the comments — and I’d love it if you participated in the meme and linked back here.
And let me know if I’ve inspired you to pick up any of these you might not have read!