Ooh! So many fab books – so hard to decide on a top ten. Number 1 is easy: ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. I studied it for GCSE with Mr Scott (best English teacher ever) and then reread it again a couple of years ago and it was the reason I wrote my novel ‘We Can be Heroes’. Scout and Jem reminded me so much of my own son and daughter and it made me think about how they are growing up in a country that is plagued by a different set of racial divisions, perhaps less obvious but no less invidious. So I guess I tried to write a ‘Mockingbird’ for the 21st Century. And I can’t quite believe I just said that out loud (or blogged it out loud!) and I’m not claiming for a second that ‘We Can be Heroes’ even comes close to Lee’s novel, but I figure if you’re going to be inspired you may as well be inspired by the best. So, I nicked the structure of Lee’s novel for ‘We Can be Heroes’ and my characters Priti and Jed are very much inspired by Scout and Dill; and the themes I’m exploring – racial tensions, divided communities, broken families – are similar too. So ‘Mockingbird’ is my all time No.1.
Now to the other nine. Well, I read somewhere that you’re either a ‘Wuthering Heights’ person or a ‘Pride and Prejudice’ person but I love both so I’m not sure what that makes me. Although I think I prefer ‘Persuasion’ to ‘P and P’ because I’m a sucker for a rom-com ending and Captain Wentworth’s letter gets me every time. And I do find Cathy Earnshaw very irritating and self absorbed but then I get swept up by all that, ‘I cannot live without my life. I cannot live without my soul,’ and, ‘Nelly, I am Heathcliff!’ stuff, even though – and I’ve got my agony aunt head on here – I don’t honestly think that love should be that miserable and masochistic (seriously, girls, men like Heathcliff are bad news!) – oh, but when he jumps in that grave I’m quivering toast. Plus, I get ridiculously excited about the pre-Freudian imagery of windows and doors – but that’s probably cos I totally fancied this professor at Oxford who did lectures on Psycho-analytical post-modernism that made my head spin and my heart beat very , very fast!
Anyway, moving on. What else? I love ‘Millions’ by Frank Cottrell Boyce and ‘Spies, Dad, Big Lauren and Me’ by Joanna Nadin – both of which are hilarious and heartbreaking and magnificent. How many is that? Five? Hmm . . . ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ by Jean Rhys – which is the story of the mad woman in the attic from ‘Jane Eyre’ before she got locked in the loft and went loopy. Rhys turns Bronte’s novel on its head, makes you despise Rochester, think differently about madness, and it is written in the most luscious, dense, clotted prose that is so extraordinary it almost makes you feel like you’re losing your mind yourself.
Oh, and ‘Cry, The Beloved country’ by Alan Paton. I worked in South Africa for a couple of years and although I think Paton’s novel is hugely flawed (fervently anti- apartheid but paradoxically stereotyped in its portrayal of black characters) it was a novel that helped bring about the end of racial segregation in South Africa so it demonstrates that great stories have the power to change the world and that writers should not shy away from the most difficult topics of the day. It is also very beautiful and utterly heartbreaking and the opening paragraph is one of the most lyrical and poetical ever written.
I LOVE Harry Potter and No 3 – ‘The Prisoner of Azkhaban’ is my favourite – although No 5 ‘The Order of the Phoenix’ holds a special place in my heart because I read it whilst I was giving birth to my son. Yes, literally during labour – let’s just say Joe was in no hurry to get out because I read it cover to cover between contractions. Best pain relief in the world – thanks JK!
Oh dear, only two left. I love Andy Stanton’s Mr Gum books but I also love ‘The Great Gatsby’ – F Scott Fitzgerald; and ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ – Tennessee Williams (am I even allowed a play?); and ‘Of Mice and Men’ by John Steinbeck; and ‘The Family from One End Street’; and ‘Staying On’ by Paul Scott; and ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Rhoy; and ‘The Hours’ by Michael Cunningham and almost anything by Virginia Woolf and ‘In the Fourth at Malory Towers’ and ‘Adolphus Tips’ by Michael Morpurgo and – oh, I give in! I know that’s way more than ten but I’m a writer: I can’t be expected to count too! Tell you what, let’s just pretend that was only ten and move on! Too many books, too little time! And so many fab ones still left to read – hooray!
A weblog about writing, books, teaching and the rest of life by the author Catherine Bruton.