In honour of world book day, I’m revisiting seven of my favourite books….admittedly, it was supposed to be ten but I ran out of time.
This list has changed a thousand times over the past few days, it’s a bit like when you’re asked to pick your favourite songs and you go around in circles for hours swapping things out depending on mood, day, the position of the moon, hormones etc.
So, in no particular order, here they are.
To Killing A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
In some ways I don’t think this needs an explanation, it’s just a book everyone should read. Period.
I was first introduced to Atticus Finch, Scout, Jem, Dill and of course Boo Radley as an obnoxious 15-year-old in GCSE English. I’m going to say it was more than likely that I was pretty ambivalent when I was a handed a copy of it, little knowing that it’d be a book I’d come back to over and over again and still love as much as the first time I read it.
Part of the reason I love it so much is that it reminds me of my favourite teacher, D.P Brennan, I couldn’t stand him to start with. I wanted to move back to Mrs Gill’s class, a fact my mum (he’d taught her too) told him at year 10 parents evening, he wouldn’t let me, in fact he bellowed that “I was not going anywhere, was going to get an A” – I didn’t, sorry about that Sir.
Anyway, back to the book. I love how it explores the good and bad of humanity through the innocent eyes of a child in the American deep south. How it delves into cruelty, kindness, love and hatred.
I still cry, unashamedly, at the same parts – if you’ve read it, can you guess?
I still beam after every reading of it.
I know I’ll never tire of it and will go back to it time and time again.
I’m glad Mr Brennan wouldn’t let me leave his English class, I’m eternally grateful it was on the curriculum. Catching up with Atticus, Scout, Jem and Boo Radley will never get boring and will never fail to make me smile, cry and laugh.
“Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Atticus Finch
Once again, cheers Sir!
And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
I read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini a few years back followed up by the Kite Runner, I loved them both. I loved his depiction of how friendship and love can spring in the unlikeliest of places, I cried at both (this is beginning to sound like I walk around weeping with a book in my hand, I don’t). Despite knowing Hosseini’s work, nothing could prepare me for the absolute blub fest that came with reading this.
I remember being drawn in, immediately “You want a story and I will tell you one”.
We meet brother and sister, Abdullah and Pari, siblings who have a close bond who are about to be torn apart when their father allows a wealthy couple to adopt Pari. That’s when the epic journey of this book really begins.
Hosseini spans continents and generations, we see how both their lives differ.
Like Kite Runner and Suns, Hosseini is gives us background into his own country, Afghanistan. He carefully intertwines the complexities and conflict through his narrative without it becoming overwhelming, his characters are always at the forefront – the history of Afghanistan is the backdrop.
Throughout Mountains, there’s a multitude of characters whose stories are cleverly linked to Abdullah and Pari. Many seem innocuous and there was more than one occasion where I wondered where a certain strand was going but these sub characters are interesting and engaging enough to keep you hooked.
Abdullah dreams of being reunited with his sister; she has sense of something missing in her life. I longed for the moment they’d be reunited – I won’t give away the ending, but you will need tissues.
It is an emotional read, it does drain you, but it is worth every second and every tear. It’s meaningful, it’s devastating, it’s beautiful and as Hosseini writes himself it reminds us that, “All good things in life are fragile and easily lost” Khaled Hosseini
How To Fail by Elizabeth Day.
I read this at time in my life when I felt like I was failing at everything, I definitely didn’t feel like a success.
I don’t know why I picked this up, reading about failure doesn’t sound like the best thing to do when you feel like you’re failing, in fact it sounds borderline masochistic.
I’m glad I read it because it changed my perspective on so many things and changed my view on failure.
Elizabeth tackles failing at tests, sports, marriage, dating and poignantly her failure to have children, bravely documenting what she’s learned through her own -at times – gut wrenching experiences.
I loved her chapters on failing at knowing herself and failing at being angry. Don’t get me wrong I can throw a tantrum with the best of two-year-olds, but in the past, I haven’t got angry enough or fought for myself when it matters, accepting wrongs and letting people wrong me, that’s changed. I’m still learning to get to know myself, what I want, what I like and what I want to do. It’s a relationship that changes on a daily basis and that’s okay, I’m enjoying the challenge.
What this book teaches us, is that best laid plans go awry, things fall apart, bad decisions are made, we all fail. It’s how we react to failure and how we deal with it, is what matters. We can run from it or face it, own it and learn from it. I’m strong enough to face my failures and learn from them.
After all, life and what it throws at us is a gift so maybe it is time to embrace failure and grow from it:
“Life crises have a way of doing that: they strip you of your old certainties and throw you into chaos. The only way to survive is to surrender to the process. When you emerge, blinking into the light, you have to rebuild what you thought you knew about yourself”. Elizabeth Day
P.S Give the podcast a listen too, it’s brilliant, inciteful and funny.
Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte
“Reader, I married him”.
I am obsessed with the Bronte’s…. more on that another time.
I read Jane Eyre as part of my English degree at Leeds, a little late to come to it. I recently found an essay I’d written on Jane Eyre and feminism; it was seemingly pretty good – I got a first on that particular module.
I love the classics, I love the language used, I love finding out about the context behind a book and how a novel was received at the time. In the case of Jane Eyre, it was labelled as ‘immoral’ and ‘unfit for women’s eyes’ – I’d have definitely broken the rules to read it, after all, “I would always rather be happy than be dignified”. Charlotte Bronte
The story of an orphan and her passionate love affair with the brooding Mr Rochester, but it so much more than that, it’s a story of strength, courage and finding your own voice.
It has romance at its heart but, you can’t deny that Rochester is a bit of bastard (in my opinion anyway). He taunts her, reminds her of her inferiority, compliments her, threatens to marry another woman and then proposes, that’s before we find out about the mad wife in the attic– talk about a mixed message.
Yet there’s still something that makes me love this novel. Love is treated as unruly and wild. Jane fights for herself, she fights for love (though she could have picked better). She is an early feminist, she stands up for her beliefs and her voice is heard and that’s Charlotte Bronte’s talent.
Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton
Have you ever read a book and thought “Fucking hell, that’s me”? Well I think most women reading this would think the same, there were times I thought Dolly Alderton was my spirit animal. I bought my best friend a copy for her birthday and I know it had the same effect on her as it did me, mainly because I was sat with her as she read it.
Dolly’s brutally honest about her life, she lays it bare, with warmth and humour. Tackling what most women will deal with in their twenties and thirties; falling in love, getting dumped, picking a career, obliterating the self-destruct button, celebrating friendship, finding who your people are and who you are.
It’s a comfort to realise that these feelings are normal, we’re all winging it and there’s a valuable lesson at the end, it’s about realising that you and you alone are enough:
“Because I am enough. My heart is enough. The stories and sentences twisting around my mind are enough. I am fizzing and frothing and buzzing and exploding. I’m bubbling ever and burning up. My early morning walks and late night baths are enough. My piercing whistle, my singing in the shower, my double jointed toes are enough. I am a just pulled pint with a good, frothy head on it, I am my own universe, a galaxy, a solar system. I am the warm up act, the main event and the backing singers. And if this is it, if this is there is, just me and the trees and the sky and the seas – I know that that’s enough” Dolly Alderton
By the end of it I really wanted to be her mate, I still do, I also wanted to hug all my friends.
Where Rainbows End by Cecelia Ahern
If you want a book that will make you smile, you can’t go wrong with Cecelia Ahern.
I’ve followed her career since P.S I love You was featured on Richard and Judy’s summer book club and have read every novel she’s written since. I’m a chick lit fan, but Ahern gives them all a little twist and I love how she manages to sprinkle a little bit of magic into her stories.
My favourite though is her second offering, Where Rainbows End, I romped through it in a day and have gone back to it again.
It’s the story of childhood friends Alex and Rosie who are separated when his family move from Dublin to Boston. It’s told through letters, emails and instant messaging. We see them grow over the years and how their relationship changes. We wonder if their friendship will survive the miles and if they’ll take a gamble on love.
It looks at how life gets in the way and how fate doesn’t always offer a helping hand. I laughed, I cried, I shouted, I may have even ‘whooped’ at certain parts and I smiled – what more could you want.
I did not however watch the film.
First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung
Almost seven years ago I went to Cambodia, I’ll hold my hands up, before visiting I was fairly oblivious to what had happened there. I didn’t know about Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian Genocide. I didn’t know that between 1.5 and 2 million people had been murdered between 1975 and 79. It is a dark chapter in history that we ALL should learn about.
After visiting Choeung Ek (the Killing Fields museum), I was struck dumb, what those who were murdered endured was horrifying. The battle for survivors and the mental scars they were left with is horrifying. It’s why we must learn about it and share their stories and why you should read this book.
Loung Ung is 5 years old when the Khmer Rouge comes to power. She lived in Phnom Penh, one of seven children, her father is a high-ranking government official.
The regime arrested and executed anyone suspected of connections with the former Cambodian government or foreign governments. If you were classed as a professional or an intellectual, you were a target of the regime.You could be classed as an intellectual by simply wearing glasses. Pol Pot’s treatment of people was beyond evil, the atrocities men, women and children suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge are some of the most disturbing things I’ve ever read about, it must not be forgotten.
First They Killed My Father, tells the story of the genocide through the eyes of child, it’s about the loss of innocence, how a child at first struggles to understand what is going on but soon becomes painfully aware of the danger she is in.
Loung and her family are forced to leave their home and hide her father’s identity, as a government official, he was a target and so were his family. They are sent to work camps, they’re starved, they’re tortured, separated and murdered.
It’s a true story, as Loung remembers it. It’s hard to read, you forget it is a child that is learning to survive, a child who is trained as a soldier, a child whose family is ripped from her and a child who later faces a battle for a normal life.
This is just one story about life and devastating loss under the Khmer Rouge there are thousands more. Stories like Loung’s ensure it’s not forgotten, and the victims are honoured.
They’re just a tiny selection of some of the books I love, there are so many more Wuthering Heights, Marching Powder (jaw dropping), Orphan of Islam, The Book Thief, Half A Yellow Sun, The Kindness of Strangers, The Lovely Bones, Letters From America, Bridget Jones, Chickenhawk, The Colour Purple, Oliver Twist, Pride and Prejudice, The Rules Do Not Apply, any Judy Blume, The Orestia – I think you get the picture.
Reading is a means of escape, it’s a way of learning and the best way to relax. Happy World Book Day, I’m going back to my book.
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm