Friday, 18 July 2014

List #29: My favourite books

I've said it before, but you'd just as well ask a parent who their favourite child is as ask me which are my favourite books.  At the moment I have just a shade under 1,000 books in my house and each one is precious, kept because I loved it.  Anything I don't feel passionately about gets passed to a charity shop so, if it's in my house, it's one of my favourites.  I didn't think anyone would want to read a 1,000-strong booklist, though, so I managed to narrow it down a bit (although I'm already thinking of others I forgot, I Capture The Castle being the most egregious lack).


1. Persuasion Jane Austen.  A hard choice this, but Austen's last novel won out over Pride & Prejudice because of its wonderfully world-weary heroine and the most romantic ending ever.
2. Longbourn Jo Baker, which I've raved about here rather a lot lately.
3. Regeneration Pat Barker, set during WW1 and featuring a cast of characters both real (poets Wilfred Owen and Seigfried Sassoon appear) and imagined.
4. Drawing Blood Poppy Z Brite.  This has been a favourite for years and years and I never get tired of it.  A sort of horror/love story/thriller mash-up that's far more than the sum of its parts.
5. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower Stephen Chbosky.  I just love this.
6. Generation X Douglas Coupland.  Everything he's written since about 1997 has been pretty terrible IMHO, but the first, and best, of Coupland's novels will always have a place on my favourites list.
7. Interpreter Of Maladies Jhumpa Lahiri, which is a collection of short stories loosely set within the Indian community living in the Eastern USA.
8. Boy Meets Boy David Levithan.  The author describes this as "wish fulfillment, a gay fairy tale," and it very much is that.  High school life with the homophobia (largely) taken out, and a very lovely story.
9. Wolf Hall Hilary Mantel is just the most brilliant novel of recent years and got me into reading more about Tudor history.
10. A Clash Of Kings George RR Martin is the second and, I think, my favourite of the Game of Thrones series of books.

11. Michael Tolliver Lives Armistead Maupin.  I couldn't quite get away with putting the entire Tales Of The City series onto my list, so I narrowed it down to my current favourite of the series.
12. The Song Of Achilles Madeline Miller is the book that I have felt most passionate about recently (well, apart from Wolf Hall.  And Longbourn).  I sobbed and sobbed when it was over, and then turned to page one and began reading again.
13. Winnie-The-Pooh & The House At Pooh Corner A.A.Milne.  Slightly cheating with two books by the same author, but hey ho.  Lovely, funny and well worth a re-read in adulthood.
14. Anne Of Green Gables L.M Montgomery was my absolute favourite heroine as a child.
15. Fangirl Rainbow Rowell (if you take all the cheesy Simon Snow extracts out).
16. Prep Curtis Sittenfeld.  The boarding school adventures of Lee are like a less murderous version of those of Richard in...
17. The Secret History Donna Tartt, which is a peerless example of the campus novel, given sinister new life in the tale of a group of privileged students who take their studies of Ancient Greek rather too far.
18. The Night Watch Sarah Waters is my favourite of hers (although Fingersmith is also amazing).  Set during WW2, the narrative is cleverly structured, moving backwards through the war so that we initially see the main characters after the war and then learn why their lives became what they are.


1. Everybody Loves Our Town Mark Yarm.  A gripping and entertaining oral history of grunge and the Seattle music scene.
2. Girls To The Front Sara Marcus.  A history of the Riot Grrrl movement.
3. How To Be A Heroine Samantha Ellis, which I reviewed here.
4. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Jeanette Winterson is her beautifully written and moving memoir.  Very much recommended for her thoughts on class and the North-South divide.
5. Ex Libris Ann Fadiman is a collection of short pieces about books and reading, and had me howling with laughter - and nodding in recognition - at many times.
6. True Notebooks Mark Salzman.  Salzman was a struggling writer when he got a job teaching in a juvenile detention centre in LA.  Working with young men convicted of violent crimes, he gives them a voice to write about their own experiences.  A wonderful book.
7. Meat Market Laurie Penny.  I've just bought her new book, Unspeakable Things, and hope I enjoy it as much as this collection of essays from last year.  Penny writes with a passion and integrity which I find inspiring.
8. It's So You ed. Michelle Tea, which I reviewed here.
9. How To Be A Woman Caitlin Moran.  Leaving aside some problematic elements of this book (Moran has been accused of transphobia, amongst other things, and can at times be frather self-aggrandising), this is an exciting and accessible book that sought to bring feminism once more into the mainstream.
10. How To Be Free Tom Hodgkinson. This book - which is part comic writing, part political polemic, part philosophy, part manual for changing your life - was just what I needed to bring my thoughts into sharper focus a few years ago, at a point when I felt disenchanted and overworked.  It genuinely did change my way of thinking, and my life.
11. Three Letter Plague Johnny Steinberg. Steinberg is not a well-known writer here at all, but has published many books in his native South Africa, each dealing with an uncomfortable element of post-apartheid society: home invasion and murder, land reclamation, gang crime, and here in this book, HIV/AIDS.  The story of one man - Sizwe - living in the impoverished Eastern Cape, Steinberg as always writes captivatingly about the problems that lie at the heart of the 'new' South Africa.
12. My Traitor's Heart Rian Malan.  Malan is related to one of the architects of apartheid, D.F Malan, and in this book he attempts to come to terms with white guilt and Afrikaans guilt in the shadow of South Africa's struggle to establish itself as a new and democratic society.
13. All Point's North Simon Armitage is a wonderful mix of travelogue, poetry, comic writing and sheer love for the beauty and weirdness that is West Yorkshire.  As a Bradford girl, I loved every word.


  1. Ooh I think Persuasion will be my next Jane Austen, I'm slowly working my way thru them! I wasn't fussed on the movie version though so that put me off a bit...lots of good stuff here! :)

    1. It's just wonderful, very funny but also sort of elegiac and wistful. And it has one of the most beautiful and romantic endings, which was RUINED by the recent(ish) TV adaptation.

  2. Ooh good list, I might try and do a similar post (though it'll be at least 50% graphic novels!) x

    1. Oh I totally forgot about graphic novels! Every time I do a favourites list, I manage to forget about something really essential. I would definitely add Hyperbole & A Half onto this list.

  3. Great list - I expect that a lot of them will end up on my to-read list!

    Have you read American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld? It's up there as one of my all-time favourite books, which probably has a lot to do with the subject matter (it's about a First Lady, and I'm a US politics loser), but I just adore Sittenfeld's writing. It's a real epic of a book, and I've read it a few times, but writing this has made me want to read it again!

    I agree about Persuasion - I think it's often overlooked in favour of the big three Austen novels, but I think it's a gem of a book. Anne Elliot might not be as sparky a heroine as Lizzy Bennet, but I think she's magnificent, and I really identify with her.

    1. I have read American Wife, and really loved it. I love all her books except for Sisterland, which I hated. Did you hear that she has been signed up to rewrite a modern version of Pride & Prejudice for the Harper Collins Austen Project? I've read the two published so far, hated Val McDermid's Northanger Abbey, but loved Joanna Trollope's Sense & Sensibility. I'm looking forward to seeing what Sittenfeld makes of P&P and am DYING to know who will tackle Persuasion.