A little while ago, I was sent a tantalising email. Two of my friends in London had challenged themselves to list their top 10 favourite books of all time. Once they had responded to each other, in their thirst for discovery, they emailed me in Sydney to ask my opinion. I reveled in responding. I took some time and a great deal of pleasure coming up with the list. I enjoyed it so much, I thought I might copy the discussion here for others to read, if they had the inclination and time…
Note – the start of my soliloquy is in response to one of my friends mentioned Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, which technically isn’t part of my top 10, but I do ramble on about it nonetheless.
“Firstly, I have also read On the Road… I know what you mean Ash, its a little light on plot, but its got the most delicious expressions. I actually marked in the book my favourite lines… I just happen to have it next to me as I type, so here are a few cool lines:
“We all realised we were leaving confusion and nonsense behind and performing our one and noble function of the time, move.”
“The car was swaying as Dean and I both swayed to the rhythm and the IT of our final excited joy in talking and living to the blank tranced end of all innumerable riotous angelic particulars that had been lurking in our souls all our lives.” [how brilliant is that!!]
“I realised these were all the snapshots which our children would look at someday with wonder, thinking their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered, stabilised-within-the-photo lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, or actual night, the hell of it, the senseless nightmare road.”
Anyway, my top 10 books:
Notes from a Small Island, by Bill Bryson. I was given it as a present before I moved to the UK, and didn’t get it when I read it. Then I read it again after I had lived there a little while, and I just gushed, I just love the British!
The Ground Beneath her Feet, by Salman Rushdie. Much easier to read than his other books, and an insanely good story, so rich and clever and the most beautiful prose you can imagine.
The Art of Travel, by Alain de Botton. Actually, I love all his books, I would classify them as popular-philosophy, but this one is amazing because he writes about how different artists and philosophers can teach us ways to view travel and the ‘journey’ in new ways. He is really easy to read, and his insights are so clever.
Now this is a bit of a cheeky entry… can I say ‘anything by Guy Gavriel Kay’? It includes about 10 books, but they all are probably my favourite books. This author worked with Tolkien’s son to prepare the post-homously released The Silmarillion, so you get a feel for what he does. His first creation was a trilogy called the Fionavar Tapestry (the first book is called The Summer Tree), in a fantasy genre, but its the most intense emotional ride, and its to this day the book (or set of books) I have read more than any other. I read quotes from it at my sisters wedding. I named my cat after one of the characters. It’s a big part of my life. Then his later books are more historical fiction: he takes a real time in history and creates imaginary characters that go through the real events that happened. For instance, my favourite of these ones is called “The Lions of Al-Rassan”, which is set in the south of Spain during the time of the Moorish occupation of that region (I think around 1400). There, in Granada, where the Christians and Jews and Muslims lived together in peace and harmony, until the Christians decided to take back the region. So what happens when a female Jewish doctor falls in love with both a Muslim lord and a Christian General. Aah, honestly, it will make you weep and laugh and gape. Incredible. All his books are filled with real people, real foibles, but in incredible settings, and with the most beautiful writing style… aah. My favourite author of all time.
Love in the time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Also A Hundred Years of Solitude. The man is a genius. You literally want to write his words up on a wall and gaze at them, they are so beautiful.
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series, by Douglas Adams. Who couldn’t like this series… Marvin the Paranoid Android was my favourite. I giggle and giggle to it.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Suskind. A beautiful book about a man with an incredible sense of smell and a murderous disposition.
The Picture of Dorien Gray, by Oscar Wilde. I love the concept of this book… the painting of the narcissistic boy that reacts to his corruption while the boy stays beautiful.
Of Human Bondage, by W. Somerset Maugham. It’s an oldie, but boy is it a goodie. I just looked it up on Amazon, and guess what other people who bought this book also bought? Yep, On the Road. I giggled when I read that. It’s about a club-footed orphan who is discontent and travels and tries different professions and women and countries, in search for himself. I read it while travelling. Brilliant.
The Forbidden Knowledge series, by the brilliant Stephen Donaldson. First book is called ‘The Real Story’. Its a sci-fi series, which many don’t like, but its the best I’ve ever read. Its so dark and disturbed in parts, its the most insane story, and you can’t work out whether to love or hate the characters. I’ve read it a few times. Awesome.
OK, thats 10 entries, and considering 5 of those entries were for a series of books, I feel very cheeky. But they are a good spread of books: sci-fi, fantasy, classics, non-fiction, comedy, tragedy, magical realism, satire… keep you reading for ages. I would love it if more people read Guy Gavriel Kay’s books, he is very little known, but there is no compare to his books, they are works of art.”