Today I wanted to just give you a little glimpse into some of my favourite books. Being the English and Drama student that I am, I tend to read quite a lot of books and plays so it’s pretty tough for me to narrow it down. Nonetheless, this is my top five! Reads that I would recommend to you all, so if you’re looking for you’re next read or you haven’t picked up a book since you ditched English at GCSE, you might be curious to try one or more of these. I have purposely chosen these books for anyone really, I tend to read a lot of philosophical books but often many of them can be hard reading and not always a joyful read. I’m not undermining my top five here, but they have been chosen with anyone in mind, rather than someone who strangely, like me, likes to read and debate more crazy ideas. So relax, you actually might like these!
5. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle – David Wroblewski
This is a hefty novel, it takes a fair while to get through it, so if you are looking for a light and short book next, this might not be the best for you. However, this book is so good. It’s the first novel by Wroblewski and is fairly recently published (2008). It’s set in rural Wisconsin and follows the boy, Edgar Sawtelle, who has been a mute since birth. He comes from a heritage of dog breeders and there is a beautiful connection with dogs and animals in this book. The tale is wrapped up in history and mystery, following the past but equally dealing powerfully with the story of the present also. It is actually a close but very clever re-telling of a huge classic. I was so convicted with the storyline itself that it took me far too long to even realise it was a re-telling, so it can be appreciated in its own right too. It’s one of the only books I’ve read that has been published recently which can cope with tragedy and difficulty in such a compelling and mastered way. I just picked it up on Waterstone’s shelf and went for it, with no recommendation or ever even hearing of it before. It was a pleasant surprise (pleasant is an understatement at its thoroughly enjoyable discourse and style). Even Oprah chose this for her book club and included it in her ‘Favourite Things’.
4. Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Now I’ve heard mixed opinions on this book, but largely I think they have been positive. I certainly have positive words since it has made my top five, in fact I have nothing but love for it. This is a book I like to recommend to everyone. It’s got a strange and ambiguous plot line but if you’re prepared to go with it, it’s one of the best modern magical realism novels I’ve read. This story follows a young boy who has had numerous philosophical and spiritual influences in his upbringing and has a pretty cultured and interesting life. These themes are outworked in the more practical staging of the plot which is that he survives many days shipwrecked on the ocean with a tiger. He meets some unusual ‘friends’ in his journey, which is almost of an epic genre. I do not want to give the twists and turns away as that is part of the thrill of the book but if you fancy an unusual but wholesome read, this might be it. I say wholesome in the sense that it provides an amazing variety of themes and questions for a young boy, but like many books with a philosophical edge, it can leave you pondering. Again, it’s only a recently published novel from 2001 so I’m trying to provide some more recent work as well as some older.
3. Animal Farm – George Orwell
I don’t think an English student can go far without noting Orwell as a particularly decent writer for the last century of fiction, particularly regarding both political and gripping reads. I was going to include 1984 in this list, as it firmly belongs in my favourite books but Animal Farm is a shorter read and a very impressive allegorical novella. Many, if not all, of Orwell’s work are largely political and scarily accurate. The fascination most of us have about 1984 is that despite being published in 1949, it was rather successful at predicting the future we live in, it’s greatest examples is a lifestyle where we are always watched by the government (Big Brother even derives it’s name from this novel) and people controlling our thoughts and ideology. Anyway, clearly that novel also belongs here but I will stick with Animal Farm for good reasons. This was published in 1945 and was influenced by the events leading up to Stalin era and World War II. It is set, as it suggests, on a farm where the animals revolt against the Farmer and instead take charge themselves. It offers a very political question about power and government, class and equality. The animals mimic many of the humane government systems, with meetings and votes, commandments and leaders. It is only short but very thoughtful and I would definitely recommend it to anyone (As well as 1984!).
2. Doctor Faustus – Christopher Marlowe
Some of my course mates might be surprised to see that this has only made second place and not first, as it is common knowledge that I love Doctor Faustus. I studied this at A-level when discussing the form of gothic literature and have never looked back since. It was fist published in 1604 so I apologise for my extreme points of reference for these works, so many being recent and this being the only older one really. Let me just say, if the thought of it being ancient in comparison to Harry Potter is putting you off, let me sell it to you. It’s a play that was written by Marlowe, often known as a rival to Shakespeare’s work, so if that isn’t dramatic enough for you, I don’t know what is. Only joking. It’s actually based on a classic folk tale of Faust, a highly intellectual man who probably has too much intelligence and too much arrogance. He decides that since nothing is out of his intellectual capacity, he will try the ultimate feat of conjuring up a devil because all this God-Christianity malarkey is old wives tales. Clearly, there are already many contradictions in his thinking…surely the devil is just as much fantasy as God? Equally, Marlowe’s subplot of the servants and peasants also able to conjure up devils questions just how clever this doctor really is. So, he sells his soul to the devil for forty years of power and freedom. To see what he uses all that power on his farcical and humorous, it really should be seen on stage for its full effect but I love the story so much that I’d recommend even reading the play! It’s one of the most hilarious yet tragically important pieces of literature of our time I believe. As a Christian, it’s one of the most challenging reads I’ve read because it brings to light great questions and challenges to the church and it’s mixed views!
1. To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Finally, we’ve made it to my number one! This is another book I first read at school, but this is possibly the one and only book I owe my degree and potential future career to, since it was the first time I was truly inspired by literature. Before, I thought literature was created to stay on the page. I thought it was all behind close books so to speak, I did not realise how challenging and real the arts could be. After this book was published in 1960, Harper Lee lived a quiet existence, firmly keeping out of the public eye because she did not want fame and fortune. This is a very humble attitude for a very humble but incredible book. The story is about a young girl named Scout and her older brother Jem, who experience a number of things in their community. As kids, they are innocent and naive, yet very opinionated about what they see and think about it. Their father, Atticus Finch (one of my favourite role models in fiction), is a lawyer who is the most humble, most wise and most just man you will ever meet – perhaps that is why he is fictional?! It’s such a beautiful but raw story of justice and simple morals; living with and judging our community.