Compiling this list is totally impossible of course, as favourites change and I keep reading excellent books which should be added to it.
Also, because our reaction to a book depends on the life experience we bring to it, a book I loved years ago might not stand the test of time. Similarly, great books I have read but wasn’t ready for might not make the list simply because I experienced them at the wrong stage of my life.
Applying those limitations I have come up with the following ten books. This is not a literary list. It is not my “best books of all time”. It is my favourite books – the ones I have loved, the ones I laughed at or wept over and the ones I couldn’t stop thinking about long after I’d read the last chapter.
It’s an eclectic list, but compiling it has made me want to read these books all over again. They are that good.
- Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
It may seem like a cliché to put this first but it would be dishonest not to, because I love Jane Austen and this novel in particular. I have read Pride and Prejudice countless times. Jane Austen’s writing is perfection. Her wit is spectacular and her characterisation is superb. Mr Darcy is and always will be the perfect gentleman.
- On the Jellicoe Road – Melina Marchetta
Whilst she is better known for her other works such as Looking for Alibrandi, for me Jellicoe Road is Marchetta’s best work. The plot is original and the narrative structure is perfect. When I first read this book I was so moved and excited by it that I wanted to share it. I gave it to an English teacher at my school, who returned it unread. I promptly gave it back to her, insisting “you must read this book”.
She returned the book to me with tears in her eyes saying “thank you for making me read this book”. Years later she met Melina Marchetta and told her the story. Marchetta signed a copy of the book for me with the inscription “I’m glad you thought it was worth the journey”. It was and I treasure that signed copy.
- Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling
It would be unfair to single out one book from this series. They have all made me laugh and cry. The final scene between Harry and Voldemort in the Deathly Hallows is one of the most suspense-filled literary scenes I have read. When I joined the queue to buy my copy of Deathly Hallows in 2007 (I was 73rd in the line) there was an elderly lady in front of me, and a young man about twenty years of age behind me. He had been out partying the night before and had joined the queue to buy his copy before heading home. Surrounding us were boys and girls, and men and women of all ages. As I surveyed the crowd, I realised that I don’t know of any other book or book series in history that has had such a huge impact. J.K Rowling is a genius.
- Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
Browsing the shelves of my school library in Year 6, I came across this book and borrowed it. I had no idea what it was about and had never really heard of the Civil War. But when I read those opening lines “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when captivated by her charm as the Tarleton twins were”, it was me who was captivated. I devoured the book. I learned about the Civil War and the Deep South. I read and re-read, watched the movie, then read the book again.
Despite portraying a very romanticised version of slavery, this books makes my top ten because of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler. They should be utterly unlikeable: Scarlett is conceited and ignorant, Rhett is superior and selfish. Yet they are two of the most entertaining literary heroes ever.
- Extremely loud and incredibly close – Jonathan Safran Foer
This is a book that polarizes people. Some critics hated it, but I think it is brilliant. The protagonist is a nine year old boy, Oskar Schell whose father died in 9/11. The book follows Oskar’s journey to discover information about his father, whilst also exploring the story of his grandparents. I fell in love with Oskar who is the most amazing child narrator I’ve ever encountered.
- Small island – Andrea Levy
A prize-winning book set in England after World War II, which follows the lives of Jamaican immigrants in Britain. The Jamaican men have fought for the ‘mother country’ during the war, but face overt discrimination and bigotry when they attempt to begin a new life in the mother country. This book is beautifully written and I love it because the characters are so vivid, and the themes are both timeless and universal.
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
A small community of delightful, quirky characters come together under the German occupation of Guernsey in World War II. Written in epistolary style, this is a heart-warming tale about human nature. Both poignant and entertaining, its author was also a librarian – so I was always going to love this book.
- Back when we were grown ups – Anne Tyler
I love everything Anne Tyler has written. This book is a favourite because it examines a common theme in a unique manner: the self-discovery of a woman who “discovered she had turned into the wrong person”. Set in Baltimore like most of her work, Tyler’s appeal is in her ability to write about the everyday in a distinctive way.
- The Betrayal of Bindy MacKenzie – Jaclyn Moriarty
I love Bindy MacKenzie. She is so perfect somebody wants to kill her. Part thriller, part comedy and part examination of adolescent girl psyche, this young adult book is unforgettable. Bindy MacKenzie has the most distinctive voice of any female protagonist in recent history.
- The idea of perfection – Kate Grenville
How can you not love a book about the idea of perfection? Harley and Douglas have some serious self-worth issues and both are full of their own inadequacies. Set in a small Australian town, accompanying these less-than-perfect characters on their journey of discovery is my idea of perfection.
With special mentions to Little Women – Louisa May Alcott, Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson, Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier, and all of Jane Austen’s works.