Favourites

we all have our favourite books don't we, I know I must have dozens but every so often I like to sit down and try to sift through the piles of Literature i've avidly devoured over the years and select the few that really stand out in my mind.

These are usually the books i've returned to time and time again despite always having new things to read at hand. I often find that you can only truly know a book when you've read it more than once, it usually takes a re-read and then another and another, allowing the book to permeate you completely until you can fully appreciate and cherish it. After all as Oscar Wilde said: “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” 

so here is a list of the ten books that have most shaped me, the ones that stay with me always. The list isn't necessarily in any particular order, just as they appeared in my mind when I made the list.
i'll update this as often as I can to so be sure to check back for more in the future!


The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams - I first got hold of a copy of this book when I was thirteen. Up until then i'd only heard about it on the TV and come across mentions of it in other books and magazines. When I asked my parents if either of them had read it my dad just shook his head and my mum said 'no, isn't it a book for hitchhikers?'. I knew that a new film adaption of the book was soon being released (April 2005) and that it was a wacky sounding movie full of strange creatures and alien worlds. I was already a bit of a sci-fi fan in those days so I endeavoured to get my hands on the book before seeing the movie. I can still vividly remember the day I sat down to read it, mostly because once i'd opened the cover I didn't stop or move until i'd finished the last page. I sat in the in the corner of the sun filled living room, curled up in an armchair beneath the skylight and let myself get flung across the Galaxy along with the inimitable Arthur Dent and the slew of colourful characters and hoopy froods that filled the pages. I can recall at one point I was laughing out loud so much that my mum appeared to ask me what on earth was so funny. As soon as i'd finished the book I flipped straight back to the front to read through the introduction again, laughter still fizzing in my throat and anticipation for the next book in the 'trilogy of five' (which I promptly bought along with the rest of the series as soon as I was able). Since then i've re-read the book at least a dozen times, in times of deep sorrow or hopelessness I find it close at hand, like a reliable friend always ready to cheer me up and make me laugh and always reminding me not to Panic.


Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - It is a truth universally acknowledged that LOTS of people tend to place this book highly on their list of favourites, and I am no exception to this. But the truth is I really do love this book! It was the first Jane Austen novel I ever read and it has remained the favourite despite having read the rest of her work (Northanger Abbey probably comes in a close second to this). Once again this was a book i'd only heard about from other books, and I first read it when I was thirteen (clearly a defining age for me literature-wise) mainly because I wanted to know what all the fuss was about concerning this 'Mr Darcy' character, whoever he was. I read it over two days, and for about a week afterwards I found my vocabulary voluntarily spilling out streams of eloquent and articulate words and phrases. As i'm sure almost all women do when they first read the story, I related a lot to Lizzie, her love of books and solitude reflected my own introverted habits and her delightfully sharp wit was ever so inspiring. The thought that people could be won over with words and wit instead of beauty and looks was endlessly comforting to a sarcastic and bookish thirteen year old with a mouth full of braces and badly dyed hair. Of course I also fell for Mr Darcy and his darkly brooding good looks, it was probably one of my first experiences of crushing on a literary character (oh how I would learn...) and FINALLY I understood all the fuss and could at last agree with my mum (who is still half in love with Colin Firth) that Mr Darcy was indeed 'bloody gorgeous'.


The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath - I came to this book later on in my teenage years, despite having heard of the book many times it wasn't until i'd dropped out of high-school (for health problems) and enrolled at art college that I found myself checking this book from the library and consuming it within an evening. I was seventeen when I first read it and although I didn't know that I would end up re-reading it again at eighteen and nineteen and again a few times since then, I will never forget the first time I read the story of Esther Greenwood and her downward spiral into the darkness of depression and her subsequent breakdown. Although I knew next to nothing about the contents, I'd heard enough about Sylvia Plath to know that it could be a polarizing topic in certain circles so i'd never really found the time to ask anyone about it. At the recommendation of a tutor at school, i'd already read Ariel, Plath's collected works of poetry, so it seemed strange that it had taken me a little longer to read her famous novel. In many ways I couldn't have timed it better. I left secondary school one year into my sixth form IB studies because my own mental health was beginning to deteriorate rapidly. Looking back now I know that between the ages of sixteen and seventeen I suffered a small breakdown of my own, so reading The Bell Jar was an incredibly personal experience. I'd never before read a book that so perfectly encapsulated exactly the things i'd been through, the things i'd thought and felt. It felt like the pages were speaking to me specifically, giving words to the thoughts and feelings that coursed through me. Despite the dark topics presented in the book, it was a relief to see it all written down, it made me realise that perhaps I couldn't be quite as crazy as i'd feared, after all the book was published in 1963 and its themes still rang as true for me in 2008 and continue to do so today.


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon - this book came out in 2004 a few weeks before my thirteenth birthday, when it was lent to me by my English Lit tutor at the time. In all honesty I would probably never have even heard of this book until I was much older but my wonderful tutor came up to me in class and said 'I know you like to read a lot, I really think you'll enjoy this book, if you'd like to borrow it?' I didn't have a clue what the book was about or what made it so special but I was delighted to be singled out among the class even more so when another student piped up asking to borrow it as well. When the tutor answered them with a 'no, it's a bit advanced for you' I was sold, enthusiastically agreeing to read it as soon as possible. I think at the time I was too curious to ignore the strange title so I dutifully began reading it that very day at school, spending my entire lunch break in the library with my nose in the fresh hardback book. I finished it that night at home, staying up well past my bedtime to reach the last page. In the morning my mum chided me for my bleary eyes from lack of sleep but on the way to school I told her excitedly about the book until she herself asked to read it. She read it that afternoon and I returned it to my teacher the next day. She asked if i'd decided not to read it after all as it had only been two days but I explained what had happened, how myself and then my mum had quickly read it, much to her amusement. The story itself sticks out in my mind as a wonderful example of narrative literature and I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but I think it was the way in which it was given to me that made it all the more special and even more difficult to forget.


The Choirboys by Joseph Wambaugh - I was lucky enough to grow up in a home filled with books and stories, my parents taught me to read before I started school and I used to drive them mad with how fast i'd race through the new books they bought me. As I got older they encouraged me to borrow books from their own collections that filled the shelves of various rooms in the house when my pocket money had run out and I couldn't afford new books. There was always one book they'd talk about over and over again, but I was always deemed 'too young' to read it. They'd talk about it so often that I began to know the characters enough until eventually it just felt like I'd read it already! As it happens I didn't read it until i was nineteen. I was about to spend three weeks travelling through France and Spain with my parents, but i'd run out of new books to save for the trip and didn't want to break into my holiday savings for another new stack to take with me. They suggested I take a few of theirs to fill the gaps, and The Choirboys is one of the ones I grabbed (along with a couple of other Wambaugh books). I read it in the car along the French motorways and at one point I was laughing so much they had to pull over at a rest stop as I cleared the tears from my eyes and stopped convulsing with laughter. I don't think i've ever laughed so much at a book in my life although in truth the book is also very sad, there is a harrowing darkness at its core that haunts the reader long after the last page, but that is almost completely overshadowed by the sheer hilarity of the rest of it! It's another one of those books that I only have to think about to be instantly cheered up. It doesn't matter how many times I read it, I still laugh out loud at it every single time.


The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris - now I know what you're thinking, especially if you've seen the movie, which you probably have, but hear me out. This is another book i'd long since known about mainly due to the endless pop culture references to Hannibal Lecter. I knew that my mum was really creeped out by the movie (which I myself had first watched when I was about nine-years-old, much to my parents dismay) but she'd never read the book nor did I know anyone else that had read it. It was something i'd forget about until I heard it mentioned on TV when those references to Hannibal the Cannibal would peak my interest once more. So when I was twenty-one I ordered cheap used copies of the books on Ebay then watched all the movies one after the other. I read them all in order starting with Red Dragon and i've read Hannibal and Hannibal Rising but it was the second, Silence of the Lambs that really stuck with me. I've always been fascinated by villains in books and films, even today you can pretty much guarantee that if I watch a movie or TV show with a dark brooding villainous character, i'll root for the villain over the hero any day! But Hannibal Lecter is a whole different world of cunning evil genius, his actions are disturbing and terrifying but his mind is so clear, so terribly astute it's hard not to admire him and all his suave cleverness. He's so very eloquent and almost elegant in the way he delivers each conversation with Clarice Starling. The book is so beautifully written, there is a poetry to Harris' writing, the manner in which he uses words to effortlessly conjure scenes in the readers mind, I often found myself re-reading paragraphs just to savour the language used. Not only is it articulately written it's a compelling thriller that smartly maintains suspense from start to finish. I've always had a strange fascination with abnormal psychology and I don't think i've ever read a better depiction of a psychopath than that of Hannibal Lecter (and i've read a lot of books about psychopaths and sociopaths...) the book is addictive to read, even when you do put it down you find yourself wanting to pick it up and find out what horrifying and disgusting slaughter will happen next either at the hands of Lecter himself or of the books' other villain, the disturbed serial killer Buffalo Bill!


To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee - Curiously enough this is another one of those books I probably wasn't supposed to read until I was much older. As it happened, when I was twelve my English Literature tutor decided to set the book for the higher class to study. I remember going to my local bookshop that Saturday and searching in vain throughout the children's section, not realising that the book would be in the 'grown-up' fiction section. Eventually giving in I approached the counter asking for a copy of the book to which I was immediately asked, 'how old are you?', when I replied and explained what it was for I was given a bemused look, 'oh, it's normally for GCSE students'. If I hadn't been interested in the book before then I was suddenly itching to get my hands on it. Nothing will make a child want to read a book quicker than telling them it's too old for them! I read the book through the weekend and got to school on Monday bursting with questions for my tutor. At that age most of the books I read were filed with magical far off lands, imaginary creatures with special powers or talking animals. To be assigned a book filled with such serious matter was a change indeed, but one I readily embraced. I was old enough to have experienced bereavement and emotional pain so there were parts of Scout's plight that I understood all too well, but living on a small island in a very sheltered community the book also raised questions the like of which i'd never even considered. I'd certainly never had to fight for anything in my life, the thought of such unfairness seemed impossible in my comfortable world, but it made me really think, something very few books up until then had done. I do recall that there were complaints from some of the other students parents over the subject matter of the book but our tutor maintained that we were old enough to understand and appreciate the novel, which I think we mostly were. At the time I was very fond of Scout Finch and her love of books, comparing reading to breathing struck a chord within me because I could relate to it so completely. It's a book i've re-read at least four times in the past ten years and each time I do I find another little piece of it taking on new meaning. I definitely understand it now a lot better than I did aged twelve, but i'm very grateful that I was introduced to it before my teens, it's an incredible book, unputdownable and utterly unforgettable.


Double Act by Jacqueline Wilson - Illustrated by Nick Sharratt - Now you might be wondering what a Children's book like this is doing on the list. What no Lewis Carroll or Roald Dahl?! Well obviously I have dozens of children's books that deserve a place on this list but this one is here for a special reason. It's the first book I remember re-reading because I'd enjoyed it so much. Let me explain: when I was little my parents took me travelling a lot, when I was six or seven they took me to Mauritius for a fortnight and as was tradition at that point, they let me pick a few new books to take with me on the trip. I'd recently finished the last of Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree collection (borrowed from my school library) so i'd picked a 'new' book for the trip and this is the one I picked. Why did I choose it? Simple, because of the illustrations adorning the cover of course! I don't remember much of the trip other than endless sandy beaches, aruba blue ocean as warm as bathwater, blue skies and palm trees everywhere. But I will never forget the afternoon my parents took me to a local Natural History Museum (to see the stuffed Dodos!), for some reason our lift back to the hotel was delayed so I was plonked on a bench on the shady Museum porch and left with my book while my dad went to find other transport and my mum stood soaking up the sun. I can still remember the moment that I turned the last page and realised the book was finished, it was over. So instead of putting it back into my backpack, I immediately flipped back to the front of the book and started reading it all over again, just like that. This was the first time i'd ever done such a thing with a 'proper book' (i'm sure I flicked through my picture books hundreds of times) without being told to do it by a parent or teacher. It didn't matter that i'd just read it and knew what happened, I had enjoyed the story (and the illustrations) so much that I wanted to experience them again straightaway. It's a strange thing to hold on to and remember but I suppose it began a lifelong habit of re-reading books repeatedly and was also the book that first inspired me to want to be an illustrator (Nick Sharratt is one of my all time heroes, in case you didn't know) and because of this, I will always love this book!

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