These are the books that I love, that I have re-read and will re-read again. The books I cannot forget, and that I cart with me as I move from one tiny shared house to another, instead of putting in storage with the rest of my library. This is, and will hopefully always be, a work in progress. It is also in no particular order.
The Virgin Suicides
Sometimes, I often find, where you read a book is as important to the reading experience as the pages themselves. You must read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin on a Greek island, and A Room with a View in Florence. And most importantly of all, read The Virgin Suicides in summer, on a hazy afternoon, in a slightly sleepy mood. That might sound crazy specific, but really, it makes all the difference. This is an indistinct, dreamy novel of teenage obsession, based on the concept that nothing ever feels so strong or hurts so deeply as first love. The first love in question is directed collectively at the five enigmatic Lisbon sisters, seen through the eyes of a group of boys who live on their street. I guess the title of the novel gives away much of the plot and the reader never gets to know the sisters, beyond fleeting glimpses into their claustrophobic world. So, if you’re a reader who likes all your loose ends tied up, this may not be the one for you. Personally, I thought that it was a lovely read, elegantly written and haunting. The story, like all good mysteries, hangs in the memory, but no explanation will ever be given. It reminded me of the bittersweet essence of growing up, and how painful it is to learn that not everything can be explained away.
Our Mutual Friend
This exercise, of digging out my favourite books, has surprised me, in that most of the books that immediately sprung to mind where those discovered during my teenage years. The question- Am I just dragging around a lot of old baggage? – is one that I feel I may have to address in the coming year. It will be 2010 after all, a shiny new decade, and my quarter century. Ugh, scary.
Anyway, enough of that. Without further ado I would like to present a book read just this year; a book that I just can’t get out of my head. I like to think I’ve read a respectable amount of Dickens for someone my age, yet I can’t help thinking I wasn’t ready for Our Mutual Friend, (In case you are interested, I’d previously read A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, Hard Times and Great Expectations), and it came at me like a weighty 880 page smack in the face. For the first 600 pages, it was a struggle to force myself to read it. Something didn’t flow for me, and every page was an effort. Then, miraculously, at almost exactly page 600 I turned a corner and rolled downhill to the resolution, loving every minute. Thus, Our Mutual friend earned its place in this list, and the title of Most Extraordinary Book I Have Ever Read.
I later read somewhere that Our Mutual Friend was Dickens’ final book, and he struggled with the writing process more than he was accustomed to. I felt cheered by this, and a certain connection to the great man, knowing that my struggle reflected his own. I also feel that Our Mutual Friend was an appropriate final bow for Dickens, being an epic, sprawling love letter to his beloved city, cast with a range of characters to revival any he had written before.
I know that this book deserves a re-read, and when I finally get around to that, I think I may fully be able to appreciate its greatness. As for my next Dickensian endeavour, currently Bleak House is topping my post-uni ‘to read pile’. Literally can’t wait.
Well, Wilkie Collins was going to be in this list somewhere, and I think Armadale, freshly read a couple of weeks ago, is now my new favourite. I loved it so, I couldn’t put it down, and I didn’t even try to guess what would happen like I often do, I just let the story take me. Predictably my classmates (I read it for an English Lit seminar) hated it, begging the question I often sigh in my head in their general po-faced direction- ‘Why do you study English when you all hate everything ever written?’
This will probably not be so much a review as a gushing embarrassment to my fine literary brain (I jest), but I feel myself genetically incapable of not loving anything vaguely classed as Victorian Sensation Fiction. I’ve often wondered where my obsession with books came from, but I generally imagine a fairly genteel Victorian lady somewhere in the Sheffield area, devouring the latest copies of Household Words (seriously, why does no such magazine exist today?) and resenting the interruption when decorum forced her to take tea with the vicar.
What a horrible, shameful digression this has become! In short, any of the three Collins books I’ve read could be here, but Armadale is first in my memory, and featured a very interesting protagonist in the shape of the wily Lydia Gwilt. I don’t want to give any of the plot away, so I’ll just command you to read it (and The Moonstone and The Woman in White too).