1. The Diary of a Nobody – George & Weedon Grossmith
Okay so this is my all-time favourite book. But biased as I am I’d still love everyone to read it, to at least get a glimpse of the extraordinary humour displayed here in Victorian London. It was first published in 1892 by the Grossmith brothers, who both contributed to the words and illustrations. The book is a diary written by our protagonist Charles Pooter, a middle class office clerk who lives a relatively quiet life with his wife Carrie, son Lupin and small group of friends. But the catch here is….he’s an idiot. He’s a nineteenth century David Brent who makes terrible pun jokes and desperately wants to be a member of high society. Still you can’t help but root for him and the total British-ness of the book is just super. The story is very funny, very likable and I’ve read it 100 times. Why not read it once?
2. In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences – Truman Capote
Truman Capote was most famous for penning Breakfast at Tiffany’s and hosting outrageous parties. In fact Marilyn Monroe – one of his close pals – infamously referred to Queen Elizabeth II as a cunt during one of his celeb gatherings – funny how you don’t see that quote written on her internet memes? Anyway, it is In Cold Blood that is Truman’s real masterpiece. It tells the true story of an entire Kansas farming family who were slain by two thieves in 1959. The book was actually a major breakthrough because it was the first ever non-fiction novel to be written – Truman was a true pioneer. And just as all of his work, Truman’s use of language, his description of people and surroundings is second-to-none. It’s such a vivid, enthralling story which is both spellbinding and heart breaking. It certainly made me think about life. Perhaps it might make you think too?
3. Animal Farm – George Orwell
It’s usually Nineteen Eighty-Four you see on these must read lists and as much as I do love Nineteen Eighty-Four (I’d recommend either book) I can’t help but think that Animal Farm is more relevant to the politics and hierarchy that we are all familiar with. Nineteen Eighty-Four is more dystopian and outlandish, but Animal Farm really does – in my opinion – sum up the world we live in and the greed and power that can corrupt literally anyone. Orwell based the book on the Russian Revolution but the core beliefs are relevant today and probably always will be. It’s a short book and can easily be read in a day – so read it! As you do you can think about Orwell’s incredibly clever words: all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. Because depressing though it might be, how true it is.
4. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Harper Lee only wrote one novel in her lifetime and To Kill a Mockingbird was it. It’s a testament of how popular and well received it was that the film adaptation was made just two years after publication, as well as winning Lee literary awards such as the Pulitzer. If you haven’t read this book already then you really must do. It’s easy to read, it’s warm, it’s funny and the characters are really alive (probably because most of them were semi-autobiographical). The story is set during the Great Depression of the 1930s, told via tomboy Scout who is the daughter of a lawyer controversially defending a black man on trial for the rape of a white woman. Many life issues such as racism, class, death and loneliness are covered in the book and it is very smart having the story told through the eyes of an innocent kid who doesn’t understand why life is so unfair or strange for some. It’s a must read and also introduces us to one of the loveliest, most level headed, polite and best thinkers in modern day fiction – Atticus Finch.
5. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
I only read this book because I found it in a charity shop and I wanted to know what it was that made it so controversial. Truth be told I still don’t know and apart from the whole Mark Chapman thing I think people were just more easily shocked in 1951. And all old people get a little scared at the idea of a youth rebellion don’t they? Having said all that I loved this book. Well it was Holden Caulfield that I fell in love with. I don’t understand why people would call him arrogant or pretentious I never once saw him like that. All I saw was a sensitive and hugely kind hearted teenager who couldn’t make sense of the darkness that frequents the world; nastiness, greed, abuse and loneliness. It’s a strange fly-on-the-wall type book as Holden leaves his school to pretty much just walk around New York City. But the way it’s told in first person really gives you an image of Holden and his world and it’s his thoughts and opinions about the situations around him that make the story.
6. Starter for Ten – by David Nicholls
It was my love for BBC2 quiz show University Challenge that made me buy this book seven or eight years ago. And it is now almost in tatters from the amount of times I’ve read it. It’s the best coming-of-age novel I’ve ever read and it is probably the funniest book I’ve ever read too. Set in the 1980s we follow our protagonist Brian Jackson who is a geeky, hapless but nice guy who goes off to university and joins the University Challenge quiz team – his dream. Brian also falls in love with an unattainable girl, makes terrible jokes, always says the wrong thing and still has bad acne at age 19. The whole story is very funny but it’s his internal thoughts that are fucking hysterical – and unlike the aforementioned Charles Pooter, Brian knows exactly how he comes across. It’s a delight to read and though Brian may be a dope at times and have slightly pretentious aspirations, he is undeniably a great guy. And for anyone who grew up in the 1980s, this is a great book for nostalgia.
7. Matilda – Roald Dahl
I had to have a Roald Dahl book in here, along with Enid Blyton he was my favourite author growing up and will always be one of my favourites thanks to his irreverent and unique outlook on life where adults cannot always be trusted and often it will be left to the children to be strong and heroic and save the day. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the story of Matilda so I won’t bore you too much. It’s my favourite Roald Dahl children’s book (followed closely by The Witches) and it’s a funny story more than anything, but also tender, sad and very magical too. It was recently made into a west end musical which I didn’t enjoy very much but that’s more to do with all the fucking singing than poor production (I’m not really a musical person…except Grease and Bugsy Malone of course)
“It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.”
8. The Turn of the Screw – Henry James
This is arguably the best classic ghost story ever written and in my opinion – quite ahead of its time. The Turn of the Screw was published in 1898 and at this time spooky stories were more obvious. A ghost wearing a white sheet and holding chains – that kind of obvious. What James did was scare his audience by writing about the supernatural in a more subtle, believable way that was even more frightening for an imaginative reader. This story follows a governess who having started a new job looking after two small children in an Essex manor house, starts seeing ghostly apparitions. Strange things going on, the governess becomes convinced the children are also friendly with the ghosts that so far, only she seems to see. The real twist in this tale is that you never quite know what the truth is – is the governess mad or has she really seen these ghostly figures? Both conclusions are equally hideous and horrifying, particularly when you read the final chapter.
9. All Quiet on the Orient Express – Magnus Mills
I’ve never really found an author like Magnus Mills before. He breaks literary rules and writes the strangest stories. But not strange in a Franz Kafka type way, strange in a can’t put my finger on it type way whilst the story also remains very reminiscent of real life. I’ve read most of his novels but this is undoubtedly my favourite and I’ve read it a good few times. It’s seemingly a simple tale – an unnamed narrator is holidaying in a small English village, gets friendly with a local farmer and ends up staying longer than planned. Not really that scandalous, no? Well if you add a gold crown, some cans of green paint, a precarious teenager and a lack of baked beans then you may well get to the more sinister undertones this book has to offer along with great and often very funny, observations of the small town mentality. A truly unique and memorable book that creeps up on you before you even realise is. A modern day classic.
10. Harry Potter – J.K. Rowling
This refers to all the HP books but my personal favourites are Prisoner of Azkaban and Order of the Phoenix. I don’t think they’re any better than the other books, I just particularly liked the stories and especially the characters. I didn’t read a Harry Potter book until four of them had been published. None of us like being pushed into stuff do we and I was determined to avoid the craze. Well….one chapter into Philosopher’s Stone and I was hooked. I’ve never been one to wear a wizard hat and queue outside WH Smith (though kudos to those who did) but I still remember each release date of the last three books and by gum was it exciting. I’ve probably re-read the HP collection more than any other book and I don’t really care that much about the fantasy or wizardly ways. The characters, the humour, the adventure and friendship within the story is what makes them so special. Dumbledore and Hagrid in particular are wonderful creations. Ron was always my personal favourite and the love story with Hermionie (which became evident in the Goblet of Fire!) was one of my favourite stories.