This list is part of a much bigger one of ‘books I can’t live without’, but I whittled it down to five because it’s easier to build a blog post around it. Top (insert number here) lists are entirely objective of course, but I quite like them.
So now, without further ado and in no particular order, my list:
Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
During a break from university, I had a job at a jewellery store and reading at lunchtime became the highlight of those rather boring days. This book became the highlight of that highlight. A spoof of the countryside novels of the day (think Thomas Hardy and his ilk) it tells the story of Flora Poste and her attempts to sort out her country relatives, the Starkadders.
The main thing I love about this book, is Flora herself. She’s a meddler and a matchmaker, a modern Emma with a practical edge and, unusually, her sensible nature makes her the heroine not the sidekick. The acutely observed Starkadders and the other country folk wouldn’t be out of place in a modern day soap opera.
It’s not be the deepest book on the planet but it’s funny, entertaining and overblown. Read it. Just beware of something nasty in the woodshed.
Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
This is an obvious one. I’ll admit that this is my favourite book. Other books come in and out, but ultimately, I always come back to Alice.
My mother read me the book originally, then we got the Disney film on video and my obsession went a bit beyond normal. I watched that film everyday for two months. Seriously. I drove my parents nuts. Since then I’ve watched every film and TV adaptation I can get my hands on. And of course I’ve read the book (and I’m including both Wonderland and Looking Glass in this because it’s my list, so my rules). I wanted, heck I still want, to be Alice. I want to go on adventures and meet talking rabbits and knights and fight the Jabberwocky. And that’s pretty much what fuels my writing – except all the adventures happen in my head.
Pride and Prejudice (and Zombies) – Jane Austen & Seth Grahame Smith
I’ve read the original – it’s is the only romantic novel I like. That’s down to sparky Elizabeth Bennett and the good old fashioned hate-love relationship she develops with Mr Darcy. Jane Austen doesn’t do sentiment, so her bitingly funny views of society mean you avoid being smothered in sappiness.
The inclusion of un-dead beasties just lifts the tale to a whole new and brilliantly awesome level. The unmentionables are another level of society, to be avoided whilst everyone gets on with the important matters of marriage and money. And of course Lizzy and her sisters are kick-ass zombie slayers. It can be a bit gross, but if you’ve got the stomach for guts and romance, devour this tome.
Microserfs – Douglas Coupland
This was the first Douglas Coupland book I ever read and I became a bit of an addict after that. This book mixes big dollops of pop culture with questions about modern life and how people connect. Coupland’s work verges on the hipsterish, but this book especially has real heart. The plot is simple, following a group of Microsoft employees through their day to day lives. It’s very much about the characters and the way they’ve been helped and hindered by the technology they live and breathe. Coupland’s strengths are his pin point descriptions of modern culture and sparky, realistic dialogue. Open this book and make some new, nerd friends.
Guards! Guards! – Terry Pratchett
My Mum got me into Terry Pratchett at a young age, first through Truckers and The Carpet People, then onto the legendary Discworld. Pratchett’s work was a revelation because he wrote how I wanted to write. His books were funny and imaginative and they made me think I could actually be a writer myself.
The Discworld series turns fantasy tropes upside down. Myth and magic abound, but life is still filled with bureaucracy and stupidity because humans are still, well, human.
Men at Arms features my favourite bunch of characters, the City Watch, and is pretty much classic Pratchett. The earlier books in the series are good, but I feel like Pratchett really gets into his stride with this book. Really I would say you’re onto a good thing with any Discworld novel, but this one I definitely recommend.