Sunday, January 18, 2009

a selection of good reads

Just because I felt like it, I am here listing a few of my favourite books. These aren't necessarily in my group of absolute favourites (although a couple are) and you will have heard of or read most of them already, probably. But here is what I like about a random selection of good books.


The Tricksters, by Margaret Mahy
Now, this is a claim made by someone who isn't actually fully informed yet - but I think this novel is the best novel ever written by a New Zealander (let's qualify that by saying, of what I've read). I fully accept that not everyone would agree with me, but there it is. It is also, probably, among my top ten or twenty books ever.
Set at the beach during a New Zealand summer, starring a family that has been visited by three mysterious men, this is a book ostensibly written for teenagers which could rival most adults' novels in terms of skill. Mahy's writing style is just beautiful, and her plot imaginative, magical, intriguing; her characters so full-bodied it feels like you could reach out and touch them.

A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
A lot of people love this book, I know. And I no less. It's so clever. I love Burgess' creativity with his language, Nadsat, and for some horrible reason I love his main character (hero? anti-hero?) who shouldn't be loved, and I love the questions this raises.

Almost Heaven: Travels through the Backwoods of America, by Martin Fletcher
This is a book by a British journalist who travelled around the USA stopping in any tiny, insignificant place he came across and coming across the most interesting people and things. For someone from a country half a world away, it makes for bizarre and fascinating reading, but it's not a mean "let's-mock-America-in-all-its-weirdness" kind of book. It's simply fascinating.

Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray
This is probably my favourite classic novel, after Jane Austen's, and after Jane Eyre, or maybe equal with Jane Eyre. It's long - but it kept me engrossed easily. Thackeray's characters are interesting and flawed, he is an incredibly funny narrator, and there isn't an easy ending. His whole point is interesting:
This, dear friends and companions, is my amiable object – to walk with you through the Fair, to examine the shops and shows there; and that we should all come home after the flare, and the noise, and the gaiety, and be perfectly miserable in private.
The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, by Bertolt Brecht
One of the few plays I would actually read for enjoyment, and a play that I really, really want to see. In fact, have any of you seen it? What was it like?
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
When I think "Russian literature", I think "huge". This, happily, is small. It's also a book that is a simply written, under-dramatic account of one day in the gulag for one insignificant man. Everything in it feels grey. There was nothing in it that stood out or begged attention, but for some reason I couldn't put it down. In fact, I finished it two minutes before we ate dinner, and after reading it, boiled potatoes tasted like the food of angels. It's that impacting a book.

The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis
An absolutely amazing book that must have taken quite some dedication to write. It's also one of those books that must be a book. No movie will ever manage to do justice to it; even an audiobook would fall short. Perhaps it's a mark of how true it rings that the demon Screwtape and the junior demon Wormwood can only be brought to life in our own minds, where we have heard them already.
Finally, The First World War, by Gerard J. De Groot
This was a set text for an undergraduate history paper I took in 2006, and one of the few history books I have ever read that was a pleasure to read. It seems wrong to say that, given that I am a history student, but I guess I could say this was an influential book for me, teaching me that history can be as alive as any novel if its scribe is any good.
I quote: As the Archduke passed by in his car, the first young assassin failed to get his revolver out of his pocket in time to get a clear shot. The second was spooked by the close proximity of a policeman, who would obviously have disapproved. The third lost his nerve when he saw the Duchess Sophie, sitting next to the Archduke. The fourth decided he was not cut out for the life of a terrorist and went home. The fifth threw his bomb, but missed. The sixth conspirator, Gavrilo Princip, heard the bomb, decided that the plot had succeeded, and sat down feeling smugly satisfied. He then saw the Archduke's car speed by and rued the passing of his heroic moment.
De Groot, as well as being a good writer, is very scholarly - it's not simply a popular picture book - and his conclusions are very interesting.

6 comments:

Sarakastic said...

I have always wished that my parents named me Makepeace or at least Sara Makepeace. I'm not even joking.

Stacy said...

Thanks for the book recommendations. I actually haven't read any of those. Not even the Screwtape Letters, embarassingly enough.

~Virginia~ said...

haven't read any of those--thanks for the recommendations! i love any excuse to go to a bookstore! :)

heidikins said...

I loved Screwtape Letters! And I'm part of the way through Vanity Fair...goodness that is a huge book! I'm gonna have to get Clockwork Orange, sounds fab.

xox

Trish Ryan said...

That's an amazing list!
I love the Screwtape letters...it made sense of so much!

Read on :)

JenKneeBee said...

I've been meaning on reading Vanity Fair for a while. Maybe I'll get around to it soon! Thanks for the list :)