I can do without a television for years but a couple of days without anything to read will have me begging for mercy. The books below are some of my most favourite – they span multiple genres but are the ones where, in the old old days before Kindle, I would look anxiously at the diminishing stack of pages still to be read and consciously slow down my reading speed to make the book last longer while still wanting to hurry to the end to see how it all turns out. Nowadays I look at that “Time left in book” marker on the bottom left of my Kindle with the same worry. No matter how difficult things are in our lives, good books create a portal through which we can escape into a different reality.
1. The End of Mr Y – Scarlett Thomas
When I turned the last page of this book, I felt like I needed to re-enter the normal world again. It’s impossible to allocate it to a genre but it’s brilliant.
2. The Surgeon of Crowthorne – Simon Winchester
I’ll tell you upfront that it’s about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary but it is the most beautifully written story. Here’s a small excerpt (describing the submission of paper slips with word definitions on them to the editor of the OED):
Before long, the gentle shower of paper had turned into a raging blizzard, one that was to howl up from Crowthorne unceasingly for almost all of the next twenty years.
How you can you not love such a book? Also, the protagonist suffers from a rather unusual form of schizophrenia and it has a chapter called The Man Who Taught Latin to Cattle.
3. The Children Act – Ian McEwan
4. The Light Between Oceans – ML Stedman
Warning: if you’re in a rough patch in the infertility journey, it won’t be a good time to read this. I read it while trying to conceive and I cried rivers.
5. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
This book won the Booker prize in 1981, then the best Booker in 25 years in 1993 and the best Booker in 40 years in 2008. Nothing I can say will top that.
6. The Dry – Jane Harper
I will read absolutely anything this Australian author writes, including a grocery list.
7. Disgrace – JM Coetzee
it’s like a punch in the gut but, especially if you’re South African, it’s worth the pain. Particularly relevant in the context of the race and colour issues that are surfacing globally right now.
8. I am Pilgrim – Terry Hayes
– I don’t read spy stories as a rule, but this one is a cross between that and a murder mystery. My bestie messaged me when she was halfway through to say, “I’m reading this book and thinking it’s brilliant while simultaneously being terrified that someone will actually do what the main character is doing!”
9. The Thief – Marcus Zusak
You’ve never met a cooler, more articulate, hilarious Death than the guy in this book.
10. The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell
And finally, a group mention for absolutely anything written by Deon Meyer, Louise Penny and Elizabeth George. We could still keep our friendship if you don’t like one or two of these but I can’t promise anything….
I’d Love to know what’s on your list.