It’s World Book Day, you know. I could wang on about books all day and all night, and if I had the opportunity I would. But time is short, I fly to Australia tomorow, and anyway the reputation of books is reasonably well established without my help. Nonetheless here are half a dozen which you might like to try. I wouldn’t care to say they are my six favourite books, because I’d then immediately think ‘shit! what about…?’ But they’d all be in the Top 20. I might post six more tomorrow or at some future date.
So to confirm, you must read one or more of these texts and you will be examined on your critical responses.
THE GREAT GATSBY (F.Scott Fitzgerald). The older you get, the better this book seems, with its wistful reflections on the human yearning for something just out of reach. A short, simple, briliantly executed novel, full of unforgettable passages. If you read it for GCSE or something and didn’t enjoy it, try it again. If you’re really lazy, just skip to the end for my favourite ever final paragraph.
MIDDLEMARCH (George Eliot). This is my favourite 19th century novel, somewhat unfashionably, and definitely in the top ten novels ever written in English. Unfortunately it is intimidatingly long, dry-looking, and strikes people as hard work when they could by reading Jane Austen for their old-time kicks. If you do brave it though, it is a wonderful experience, on a canvas broader than Austen could ever have taken on. It’s the sort of book which you settle into so cosily that you start to worry about what you’ll do when it’s over.
THE MAGUS (John Fowles). …which also applies to this massive, weird sixties masterpiece about a guy who goes to a Greek island and has all sorts of problems. It’s been the model for pretty much all my novels, which tend to be about guys who go somewhere and have all sorts of problems. It is a bit too long, pretentious in places, full of odd and unnecessary scholarship, but it’s one of the most entertaining books you will ever come across.
THE THIRD POLICEMAN (Flann O’Brien). I tweeted about this earlier. A demented, incredibly funny, surreal and dark adventure from an author who was little-known in his own time. The book wasn’t even published till after he died. It’s lucky someone eventually saw sense because it’s really awful fun.
THE LITTLE STRANGER (Sarah Waters). My favourite novel of the past five years. A sort of ghost story stroke class drama, set in mid-20th century Britain. Waters is probably the best English writer who’s not dead; she makes writing look easy and all her books are great, but this one is so exciting that I had to keep putting it down and walking around for a bit.
JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR NORRELL (Susannah Clarke). The most underrated novel in recent history. Should have been a massive, Pullman/JK Rowling-type phenomenon. It’s about the rivalry between two magicians in a sort of parallel version of the world. If that sounds unappealing to you, it certainly did to me too, but I was won over. It’s full of wild imaginative writing and it will stay with you for a long long time. Though perhaps not literally. I gave my copy away, for example, to spread the word. I don’t think it worked.
As I say, I could come up with quite a lot more, but these should keep you busy for a bit. Off you go.