Saturday, October 15, 2011

My 10 Favourite Books of All Time

Up until now I haven't touched much on the "literature" part of my header intro, so I thought it was about time for a few posts on my favourite topic.

I'm a writer.  It's scary to say that because there are so many amazing writers in blog-land; frustrated writer/bloggers are almost their own cliche, now aren't they?  Like the waitress declaring she's an actress.   But it's true.  Although marketing is my day job now, my degree is in Professional Writing, it was my first job, my precocious hobby and lifelong obsession.

But it wasn't my first love.  That was reading.

Curling up with a good book was, and is, my favourite thing in the entire world to do. Having Little Red has sort of slowed me down a bit (I can no longer spend entire days in bed reading) but I can still manage to chew through a small novel in a week, a fat one in a month.  I don't purport to have highbrow tastes but I am a voracious book-reading machine.

So without further ado I thought I'd share with you my Top 10 Books of All Time... just in time for some summer reading perhaps?  I realise you all won't necessarily have the same tastes as me, but in my opinion these are all top-notch reads; maybe something will spark your interest.

1.  The Bride Stripped Bare - Nikki Gemmel
You know how sometimes it's not just the novel but the very context in which it is read that evokes such fond memories?  This book unfolded for me on a ski lodge holiday, and I'll forever remember the sheer delight of insatiably licking each word from its smutty pages, with a glass of red in hand, as a crackling fire in the background.  At least I could blame the fire for my red cheeks.

This novel is hard to describe.  It's shocking - almost pornographic in parts - and has an ending that will literally make your jaw drop.  But it's also a tender parable about motherhood, about the search for meaning within oneself, as a woman, as a wife, as a sexual being.  It has echoes of  Nancy Friday and Lady Chatterley's Lover but is totally unique for all that. 

It rocked my world.  (I will never lend my copy of this book out, it's that good.)

2. Tully - Paullina Simons
It was really hard for me to pick a favourite Paullina Simons book.  I call her the thinking woman's Jodi Picoult... she has all that juicy characterisation which keeps you on the edge of your seat, but with far more depth to her characters and less tendency to wrap things up in a cheesy American ending.   Tully is one of those beautifully flawed heroines you want to punch and protect in equal measures; and you'll be spellbound by her story.
I also adored Simons' more popular, uber-romantic Bronze Horseman trilogy.

3. We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver

This book won the Orange Prize for literature so I like to think of it as a scholarly addition to my 'list'.  Ahem.   In reality, it's anything but dry - a story about a serial-killing teen, a high school shooter, written from his mum's perspective.

Shriver takes this horrific scenario to an altogether different place than you'd expect - largely due to her writing but also her incredibly astute psychological observations.  Brilliant.  Just brilliant.

This is being made into a movie soon.  I'll be waiting outside the cinemas.

4. Wideacre - Philippa Gregory

Another prolific writer from whose catalogue I find it hard to choose.  Most of you will know Philippa Gregory as the author of "The Other Boyleyn Girl", which was made into a movie recently with Scarlett Johannsen.   Gregory is undoubtedly the doyenne of historical bodice-rippers and her heroines have amazingly large balls for their time.  But in my opinion her Tudor novels weren't her best.  This series, set in early colonial America, has a heroine even fiestier than Anne Boyleyn... and in several parts even made this open-minded chick draw a sharp breath.

I don't know what it is, but I do have a soft-spot for the villianous heroine, the one who will do, fight and fuck anything to get her way.

And do it on a horse in a corset too; well, take that modern feminism! 

5. The Book Thief - Marcus Zusak
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.  If you want a story to melt your heart, try this.  Book lovers will identify with the protagonist, a little girl called Liesel whose only solace during the  horrific Nazi times she grows up in is her precious books.  Each one comes to her in a very special way, and has its own story.  This is about 'the power of words to create worlds' says the blurb, which is apt.  Grab a tissue box.

6. The Time Traveller's Wife

I won't say a whole lot about this book because most of you have probably seen the movie with Eric Bana, however I will say, it definitely deserves a place in this list, and thoroughly deserves its widespread success.  Absorbing, unusual; incredibly poignant without a trace of saccherine.

7. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur GoldenIt's probably no accident that a great many of my favourite novels have been made into movies, but in some cases it's a shame, particularly when people don't get to experience the book first.  In this case, I wasn't a fan of the movie but this book remains one of my all-time favourites.  It's completely tranporting, one of those rare novels with the ability to make you feel you're actually in the other person's skin, looking out at the world through their eyes.

This is fiction but I love the whole 'real-life story' genre... real people going through hardships and struggles in different cultures, through illness, addiction or abuse... yes it's voyeuristic (but hands up who isn't a voyeur), but I also find it strangely uplifting and life-affirming.   What the human body and mind can survive.

8.  The White Masai - Corrine Hofmann

White chick on honeymoon in Kenya falls hopelessly in love with a Masai Warrior, leaves her husband for him and goes to live in a grass hut in Kenya.  Ridiculous plot?  No, real life experience.  Un-putdownable from first word to last, as the unlikely pair try to forge a relationship despite a vast cultural divide.   Read this in one sitting.  (Also a movie, but don't bother)

9. Before I Go To Sleep - S.J. Watson

It's hard to say much about this without giving it away!  But here's the premise.  Woman's memory is wiped clean every night as she sleeps... the result of a horrible, mysterious accident.  Loving husband takes care of her.  But is everything really as it seems?  She has to employ some desperate measures to find out, and what she finds is a twist you won't see coming.   Like a sinister version of 50 First Dates - another up-all-nighter.

10.  Outlander Series - Diana Gabaldon

A lot of my favourite books have plots that sound ridiculous when you try to describe them, yet somehow they work brilliantly - it takes a leap of faith to try and that's why personal recommendations are so powerful.  You'd never try a bunch of novels unless someone told you you must.  So it was with the Outlander series. 

A time-travelling nurse steps through some magical stones in Scotland and finds herself in the 1700's, falling in love with a Highlander despite being married.  Sounds stupid doesn't it.  I thought so too, but 5 books into the 6 novel series and I can barely put it down to make dinner.  Forget Scarlett and Rhett, this is one of the most epic love stories ever told.

Special Mentions:
* The Hypnotist - Lars Kepler  (for those Steig Larsson fans out there)
* Left Neglected - Lisa Genova (brilliant psychological drama)
* A Million Tiny Pieces - James Frey (yes, despite the Oprah saga)

I'm sure there's more but this is waaaay too long already!

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