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Sunday 7 January 2024

Favourite Books of All Time


Dear friends.  This is the first in a new Sunday books post. I thought I'd kick off with my favourite books of all time. 

There are a few titles, like Little Women, 1984 and Jane Eyre, that may not surprise. They probably  figure on your list too.  But there are also a few you may not have heard of. 

Let me explain what each book means to me.  They have all resonated very deeply and still cross my mind every now and then. 

The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz

I remember first reading this in my dad's Reader's Digest. I then came across a slightly moth eaten copy at a fete. Slavomir Rawicz was a young Polish cavalry officer. On 19 November 1939 he was arrested by the Russians and after brutal interrogation was sentenced to twenty-five years in a gulag in Siberia. He and six companions escaped and travelled over four thousand miles on foot through some of the harshest regions in the world, including the Gobi Desert, Tibet and the Himalayas. It's a remarkable story of human endurance and determination. 

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte is a unique heroine in that she still has currency for all generations of women. She is a ordinary girl who keeps her dignity in spite of potentially being broken by some tragic situations.  I read all the Bronte sisters' books after this, but Jane has always been my favourite.

Little Women by Louisa M Alcott

I would probably cringe if I read this now, but as a girl I was utterly captivated. My favourite character was Amy. I should have identified with Jo because we had a lot in common: books, and writing. But somehow she seemed a bit too boyish. I liked Amy's vanity and love of pretty things. But I never did grasp what the "limes" were that she got in trouble for eating.  The only thing I could think of was lime sherbet sweets.

Never No More by Maura Laverty

I have a particular love of books written in the voice of a child. Irish writer Laverty wrote a bewitching account of life in rural Ireland. Set in the 1920s, Delia Scully was sent to live with her beloved gran, a somewhat indomitable woman with a talent for cooking.  The descriptions of both the food - boxty in the pan and colcannon - and how gracious Gran was to travellers, unlike the rest of the village, are enchanting. 

The Skin Chairs by Barbara Comyns

In a similar vein to the Maura Laverty is this forgotten gem by Barbara Comyns, who specialised in  eccentric characters living in genteel poverty.  Here the narrator is Frances, a middle child in a large family, who's sent to stay with snobby, horse-loving country relatives for the summer. She and her friends are terrified of a major who has, they're assured, chairs made of real skin. 

The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico

A novella that is so beautifully written and so tragic I challenge anyone to read it without shedding a tear. It's the tale of a hunchbacked artist, a girl, a wounded bird and a courageous act at Dunkirk.

1984 by George Orwell

We read Animal Farm in English lessons at school and this naturally led me to 1984, particularly as David Bowie's Diamond Dogs album in 1974 is based on the book. What a prescient book for today's cancel culture where different points of view cannot be tolerated. 

The Women's Room by Marilyn French

At the age of 18 I became interested in feminism and this book was de rigeur at the time. "This book changes lives" was the strap line. It certainly opened my eyes, both to "the American Dream" and to the patriarchy. It tells the story of Mira, who escapes domestic drudgery and a marriage where she isn't valued . She gets to Harvard and finds her tribe to finally live her life as she wants to. 

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

I have never been so shocked by a book as I was by this. Hardy, although now decried as a misogynist, was very ahead of his time. Jude Fawley, idealist and dreamer, wants to escape his life as a humble stonemason to go to university. It's a dark yet compassionate account of the insurmountable frustrations of human existence which reflect Hardy’s yearning for the spiritual values of the past and his despair at their decline.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Another book which took my breath away with its writing and the feeling of desperation and oppression that Kent creates. Set in Iceland in 1829, Hannah Kent brings to life the story of Agnes, who is charged with the brutal murder of her former master.

What do you make of my choices?  Which books have you read? Are there any you would have chosen from my list?  Do tell in the comments.

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  1. I loved reading A Long Walk to Water. Can you believe I’ve never read 1984 OR Animal Farm? I need to add those to my list for this year.

  2. The only one from this list that I've read is little women, I read a lot of Alcotts books when I was in middle and high school. Thanks for the suggestions.

  3. I've read Little Women and Jane Eyre. I read Jude the Obscure for my final dissertation but I enjoyed Tess of The D'Urbervilles much more.


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