I was going to follow a theme, like the first top tens should be a ten top tens about music, but I’m really not that organised.
Since I’ve been immersed in liberated books, I thought I’d do my all time top ten books.
1. The Great Gatsby. No comparison. No argument. No contest. It just is. It’s one of the reasons I don’t think they could ever do a good film of it because it’s such a great, great book. It’s such a sad, sad story – the pointlessness of love, of never being able to go back and reclaim what you once had, how love blinds us, how love improves us. Love is sad. That’s all this book says. The Redford film version is not for me, but I love Baz Luhrman and I long to see what he’ll do with it. Leo di Caprio is a little portly for me but I loved him in Romeo+Juliet and he was floppy-haired and beautiful, so maybe it will work. No matter how corrupt you might be, you can still have a pure and un-corrupted love, even just for a moment, but you can’t cling to that love. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. And mostly, the other person in that love affair won’t see it the same way you do. Too sad.
2. To Kill a Mockingbird. I know both of these are fixed in a period of time and in a space in the world, and I think that’s why I like them. I love how dignified Tom is, and I feel for the Ewells in a way. It’s inspired and it always makes me cry, just like The Great Gatsby does. The Gregory Peck version is great, but I can’t listen to anyone saying ‘Atticus’ in a southern drawl any more. I like that Nelle Harper and I share a surname too. That’s just the icing on the cake. It’s the first of my favourites told through the eyes of a child. I obviously like the ‘writing as a child’ genre.
3. The Shadow of the Wind. A story about a library in Barcelona, and a love story. What’s not to love?! I love the description of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and I’d kind of like to be the curator of such a place. Not unlike The Great Gatsby as it is a story of a sad love, but also a mystery. I love Carlos Ruiz Zafon and I’d go as far as to say he’s my favourite current writer.
4. Of Mice and Men. Yes, I could put many Steinbeck greats on here. I equally love East of Eden and Cannery Row and Tortilla Flats – the quaint American picaresque of the Depression – but when you’ve taught Of Mice and Men over twenty times and it never, ever loses its wonder, then that’s a great book. I like things that are allusions to other great stories – and I like how this book works as a giant hyperlink to loads of other texts, not least the Bible. Also, noticing a pattern about how life doesn’t work out the way you expect it to… about how life isn’t fair. Read every major book he’s ever written and I love them all, even though he’s quite a lazy writer – he likes to re-use the same images and ideas. I wonder if he thinks his reader stupid and feels the need to reiterate his point over and over and over.
5. Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende. I love South American fiction – so many, many great writers and I love the kind of surreal, dreamy magic to them, so this would definitely be right up there. Plus, Eliza, the main character, is the type of woman I’d like to be. She’s amazing, a little crazy, independent and super-adaptable. And not only that, the first book on my list that’s a little more upbeat.
6. Love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It’s all of this stuff that got me thinking about South America a long, long time ago. I don’t know what it is about these stories – they’re just so free.
7. A Suitable Boy. Stephen King once said reading a novel can be like a long love affair – and this one really, really was. It made me weep buckets at the end. Like a love affair, it didn’t end the way I wanted it to. That’s all I’ll say about it. I lived this book for about a month. Most things don’t take me a long time to read, but this one did and it was part of me for what seemed to be a very long time.
8. The Dharma Bums. Again, another of those books that are just so free and so fun, a little crazy and also completely unique and unforgettable. I have a huge crush on Japhy Ryder, the little zen poet who sends the author off into another realm. I’ve been lucky to know a few people like Japhy Ryder – freespirited individuals who are not constrained by society in the same way as most.
9. The Kite Runner – such an amazing story and so beautifully written. Friendship and guilt. I obviously like stories that make me cry!
10. The Magic Toyshop – I had to put at least one Angela Carter on. She’s probably my favourite writer of all. I wallow in her words – it’s like taking a bath in Belgian chocolate, sumptuous and rich and glorious – but not every day reading. I love her short stories the most, since I like anything that takes something expected and makes it unexpected – twists on originals, if you like (this is why I like John Scieszka’s children’s books like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs) and spent a lot of time teaching creative writing classes where I take a classic story and twist it. But of her full-length novels, this is probably my favourite. It’s both sad and happy and weird and definitely Carter, through and through. Love comes in many forms.