A few of my favourite things

See my list of Goodreads just over there to the right? I thought it was about time I shared my thoughts about some of my favourite books.

I do this hesitatingly, because I’m a tad cynical about “my favourite anything” lists. I suspect people angst over making one because they’re worried about what others will think of them. I must come across as an intellectual powerhouse, they think. I must list books that are screamingly clever (aka: indecipherable) and that one is supposed to find astonishing.

I’m sorry, but if I hear one more NZ actor/celebrity (and I use the term loosely) say that their favourite book is The Bone People by Keri Hulme, I’m going to scream. I’ve lost track of the number of American celebrities who have cited To Kill a Mockingbird as their number one. Bollocks. I bet half of them haven’t even read it. They say it because it’s trendy, and because they think everyone would laugh at them if they chose The Magic Faraway Tree (which, by the way, is a fabulous book. I can’t wait to read it to my daughter.)

Don’t get me wrong. I applaud brilliance when I read it, even if I don’t understand it or enjoy it. But as critics pile praise on mighty tomes for their fascinating obscurity, don’t you sometimes wish you were the dissident in the back row who suddenly leaps up and bellows into the incredulous academic silence: “Yes, but hang on! Does anyone actually know what the bloody thing’s about?”

My criteria? The books on my list make my heart sing. Simple as that.

So here, in no particular order, are my current Top Ten, with an attempt to sum up the brilliance of each one in a few lines. (“Good luck with that,” I hear the authors chuckle.)

1. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. This is probably the book I have most adored reading – ever. I can’t begin to describe how well the author combines ancient Ottoman history (with a postmodern twist), gothic horror, supernatural mystery and a compelling love story. The Observer praised its “vastly ingenious plot in which Dracula has developed a mysterious penchant for librarians.” Sceptical? It became the first debut novel to become number one on The New York Times bestseller list in its first week on sale, and as of 2005, it was the fastest-selling hardback debut novel in U.S. history.

Unfortunately I was disappointed with her follow-up, The Swan Thieves.

2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. When I finished this book I sat in silence, tears running down my face. In the truest sense of the word, it is beautiful.

3. The Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis. The dreams and hopes and longings and loves of my childhood, all right here. I still cry when Aslan dies.

4. Brother of the More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido. You must read this woman. Just listen to this observation by the decidedly-not-pregnant protagonist: “The place was an obscene seething hive of fecundity.” Don’t you love it? A good friend introduced me to Ms Trapido. I am eternally grateful.

5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Richard Yates, a writer often compared to Fitzgerald, called it “the most nourishing novel [he] read…a miracle of talent…a triumph of technique.” Yup.

6. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  A joyous recent discovery. A perfect blend of fantasy, horror, mystery and love. I want to run away and join it. Right now.

7. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. When my sister introduced me to this fabulous trilogy, she said she envied me because I was about to experience the thrill of reading something truly incredible for the first time. After just a few pages I understood what she meant. Glorious.

8. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. As soon as I read this I felt like shouting about it from the rooftops with religious zeal. My neighbours will thank me; the urge soon passed. But for the love of God – read it.

9. Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson. It’s just so fecking funny, particularly if you’ve travelled through Europe.

10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

(Just joking. But it is brilliant, and despite my earlier comment you should read it.)

10. The Best a Man Can Get by John O’Farrell. India Knight describes this book as “Howlingly funny, madly well-written, ruthlessly observed.” I concur. Anyone with babies or young children will find themselves madly nodding and laughing in teary recognition.

Of course, in a week I will wish I had included this book, or that book. And in six months or a year this list may be entirely different. That’s the joy of reading – you are regularly uncovering unexpected treasures and falling in love, again and again.

What about you? What’s your favourite book of all time? (You don’t have to be clever. Just honest.)

p.s. Check out my Goodreads for other books I’ve read and reviewed recently – some great, some not so great…

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