I’m always so frightened to class certain books as my favorites. Will I hurt my other books’ feelings? Will the spurned novels rise up and crush me in my sleep? I have read so many fantastic books and plan on reading so many more. This list only contains three books so it can’t even pretend to be all encompassing. And more little lists like this will be going up in the weeks to come. It’s a perfect plan, you see? I never have to feel limited to calling one set of books my favorite.
These are (a few of) the books I recommend to nearly everyone. I have foisted them off on relatives, friends, teachers, strangers on YouTube. Most people, regardless of their reading habits or preferences, will enjoy them. Some might not initially appeal to your tastes, but I implore you to give them a try.
The Hours by Michael Cunningham
(My copy isn’t pictured because my granny has been holding it hostage for the past six months.)
This book is the closest I have come to finding literary perfection. Cunningham’s writing is impeccable, both clean and rich without being pretentious or fussy. Certain sentences actually took my breath away. Cunningham is a master of making even the most inane situations works of art. If I wasn’t borrowing the book from my dad, I would have gone mental with a highlighter.
This novel follows the daily lives of three women inhabiting three different worlds- 1923 Richmond (a borough in the furthest outskirts of London), where Virginia Woolf is grappling with mental illness and the novel that will become Mrs Dalloway; 1949 Los Angeles, where repressed housewife Laura Brown is reading Mrs Dalloway and planning her husband’s birthday dinner; and 2001 New York City, where the prosperous Clarissa Vaughn is organizing a fete to celebrate her poet friend Richard. If the thought of all these different narratives in one short book terrifies you, fear not. All the stories intertwine gorgeously, but it is easy to distinguish their individual plots and characters.
Because each story is set over the course of a single day, I would recommend reading it the span of a few hours, rather than dipping into it over the course of a few weeks. I gobbled this book in two marathon sittings and felt much more in tune with the nuances of the story than I otherwise would have.
Perfect for: lovers of Virginia Woolf or Anne Sexton, women, all people in general
My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece by Annabel Pitcher
I am no by no means a stoic person. I have cried over dog food commercials, dead insects, broken plates. Surprisingly though, I’m not a very emotional reader. I only cry at very specific character deaths or certain sentimental scenes. This book was so heartwarming, so emotional, and so bloody enjoyable, that I bawled through the last fifty pages.
Meet Jamie, a fairly average ten-year-old boy who doesn’t deserve the life he’s been subjected to. His older sister Rose was killed in a jihadist attack five years before the start of the novel. Her death exacerbated the decline of his parents’ marriage and now his mum has moved away. Jamie’s dad became the type of person with ‘Keep England English’ stickers plastered to his car, Jamie’s other sister and Rose’s twin is forced into Rose’s shadow and struggles to cope. And to make things even worse, Jamie has to move away from the London he loved to the endlessly dull countryside.
Although marketed as a children’s book, this is a story everyone needs to read. Despite the inherent tragedy, it’s never depressing or cloying. Annabel Pitcher refuses to add any adult sappiness; Jamie is blunt and naive, truly seeing the world through a child’s perspective. It’s an unsentimental, but equally poignant, look at a broken family. It also speaks to themes of diversity, blowing holes in the theories spread by fear-mongers and certain politicians about Muslims in non-Islamic countries. In an age of messy family dynamics and internalized prejudice, this novel should be required reading.
If you liked: Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, or A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
I’m sure most people have at least heard of this, seeing as it is a modern classic, so I’ll keep the synopsis brief: Guy Montag is your average blundering fireman. Except, instead of putting out fires, he sets them. The written word is considered taboo, and reading a criminal offense. Technology and computers have taken over in books’ place.
This book has one of the most interesting perspectives on technology I’ve ever read. I feel like novels often completely disregard the importance of technology as a way to promote literacy. I’ve always found this a bit illogical. While some technology is overused, it serves an important function in our lives and can’t, at this point, be completely eliminated. Ray Bradbury agrees with me here, or rather I agree with him. His book promotes the idea of moderation- a balance between computers, group mentality, and social media interaction, and books, individual thought, and personal connections.
The best and worst part about this novel is its similarity to the modern world. In Bradbury’s universe everyone is so scared of offending anyone, all free thought and opinions have been quelled. Mildred, Guy’s horrible wife, is more attached to the characters on her soap opera than she is to her husband. Everyone functions on auto-pilot without truly considering their actions. If you don’t recognize these traits in our modern world, I doubt the rock you’re living under has Internet access. Considering Fahrenheit 451 was published in 1953, Ray Bradbury is a veritable prophet.
(And I mustn’t forget Bradbury’s hypnotic prose. And the fact that it’s the only dystopian novel I’ve ever read and liked. I could wax poetic about this book for ages.)
For readers of: John Wyndham, George Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood
So, if you haven’t already abandoned this post and rushed to your nearest library or bookstore (which you really should be doing), comment some of your ‘must-read books’ below. And if you want to know more of my most loved books or have recommendations, also drop me a line!
Have the loveliest Sunday ever! xxx