Wednesday, 6 October 2010

TheTen Best Books of All Time (part 1 of 2)

Recently, for a bit of fun, a friend and fellow writer and editor invited me and several others on Facebook to compose a list of the top 15 books that will always stick with you. After thinking about this for twenty-four hours I managed to construct a list of books that (although not necessarily what I’d consider my all time favourites) are the most memorable for one reason or another.

Actually compiling this list was quite difficult, to say the least. There are many reasons why a particular book will “always stick with you”, even if the book itself is not necessarily considered a ‘classic’ or of literary merit or even one of the best in its genre. Some books speak to you on an emotional level, striking a particular chord at a time in your life when you are vulnerable or grieving, or in a highly receptive or happy state of mind.

And some of those titles can often take you by surprise.

Once, many years ago, when I was at a particular low point in my life I found myself taking comfort in a vast array of fictional titles, ranging from TV Tie-Ins, comedy, cheap horror, even novelisations. Some of which stuck with me.

Some of the books I chose for this list were in there because they were the first exposure I had to a particular genre (Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart being an example, as it was the first novel I had read by an African author), others such as Thomas Hardy’s tale of the awkward Jude in Jude the Obscure were there because they left a lasting impression on an equally awkward teenager who was reading it in school.

So, after I’d written and posted it (and left a note saying that I could have written a list of the top 50 books that have ‘stuck with me’) it then started me thinking about other lists - particularly my the Ten Favourite Books of All Time.

I remember way back in the first year of college that myself and two friends decided to go away and compile a list of the 10 greatest books we’d ever read. This started me thinking about how that list might have changed some eighteen-odd years later.

Here, then, is my Ten Best Books of All Time (2010 Remix):
01 - A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
A Christmas Carol is, without doubt, the greatest single piece of literature ever written in any language. In the world. Ever. This is not up for debate, it’s a fact! If you don’t agree, then you’re wrong. Many people have only seen a film or TV adaptation of this and never actually gotten around to reading the book itself, which is a great shame as - apart from a couple of good versions - none of them have even come close to capturing the true darkness, despair and tragedy of the novel, as well as the bright, shining core of hope and warmth that sits at the very heart of the story.

I have this ritual when it comes to reading the book, which I’ve been following every Christmas for the past two decades - I read it over the course of five days, one chapter a night, starting on December 20th and finishing on Christmas Eve. For me it’s as traditional as putting up a tree, eating mince pies, or wearing colourful paper hats from out of a cracker.

02 - A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burguess
It took me a while to get round to reading A Clockwork Orange. My friend had a copy that he always used to carry around with him while we were at college, and at regular intervals would produce it from his bag and inform whoever was listening that this was one book that we all really should read. After glancing down the first couple of pages I would always hand the book back to him with a shake of the head. “No thanks, I don’t think I’ll bother.“ I’d say. You see, I was always put off by the language of the piece, written as it is in the fictional future street-parley of ‘Nadsat’. The fact that the book contains no glossary at the back for you to look up what a word means always struck me as ridiculous, and so, for many months, I refused to pick the book up.

I now have a small bet with friends who are undecided about whether to read it or not : “Read the first 7 pages. If you haven‘t go the hang of Nadsat by then and don‘t want to carry on, then simply stop reading and give it back.” Not one single person has ever stopped reading it! And all have loved it!

As with A Christmas Carol, thanks to it’s long overdue release on DVD, most people have only seen Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of the book. Despite it being one of the greatest films ever made, it still falls somewhat short of capturing the full terror and stark brutality of the 1962 novel.

03 - The Hotel New Hampshire - John Irving
The fact that this novel is, after all these years, occupying a spot in my Ten Favourite Books still amazes me. I went through a phase, in the very late 80s / early 90s, of reading what is considered by many as great ‘literary works’ - among which were the novels of Joseph Heller, Don DeLillo and John Irving. Yet, although many cite Heller’s wonderful Catch 22 as the greatest of the bunch, it would always be Irvings tale of awkwardness, incest, homosexuality, death and a girl in a bear costume that would stand head and shoulders above the rest for me.

It went on to spawn a rather unsuccessful but entertaining film adaptation starring a dreadfully miscast Rob Lowe. The film version of Irvings previous novel The World According To Garp was much much better!

04 - London - Edward Rutherfurd
Many people are put off reading this fantastic novel by its sheer volume of pages (1000 +) or that they’ve read his earlier work, Sarum, which is equally as page heavy and fear that they’d just be ploughing through an identical book. This is a pity as neither of those fears are true. It’s true that a modicum of commitment is needed when approaching a book of such length but the same can be said of reading Peter F. Hamilton, Leo Tolstoy or even Stephen King. One of the greatest historical novels you will ever read, whether you live in London or not (and I don’t).

05 - Dracula - Bram Stoker
I first read this novel while holidaying in Whitby and, although only 50 of it's 400 + pages are set in the small fishing port, it sure helps add to the atmosphere of the book as a whole. Along with A Christmas Carol this is probably the book I have read most since I first discovered it over twenty years ago.

It still remains one of the most frightening, grisly works of horror fiction ever written and has spawned some of the most varied, interesting, unique and (sometimes) downright bizarre sequels and spin-offs of any other novel in literary history. Some of the best being Mina by Marie Kiraly, Anno Dracula by Kim Newman, Dracula the Undead by Dacre Stoker & Ian Holt and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.
To Be Continued….


  1. I'm pretty sure the other guy's name was Ian holt, sigh like all the ones you mentioned except that one.

  2. Damn. I knew it was Ian, I'm not sure where my brain was when I wrote this. Have now changed it. Thanks...erm...Anonymous. :-)

  3. no prob
    i love Dracula too but have been having trouble with it since reader this "official" sequel