6 Favourite Books Of All Time
As soon as I could read I became a huge bookworm, hooked on The Magic Key and later hooked on Harry Potter. I tried to read Franz Kafka at around age 13 and couldn't quite get it (although I did very much like his short story The Bucket Rider). When I got to about 17 I started getting really into sci-fi and existentialist writers (particularly Hesse and Sartre as they expressed my understanding of the world at that age with the perfect form of introspective anguish). This is a run down of stuff I read around that time that has really stuck with me as powerful and important and personally meaningful. It is mostly composed of white male writers as I was much more exposed to them than others at the time, and I was on a bit of a classics binge (shout out to Jane Austen because she's one of my absolute favourites in terms of classics).
1. Mort - Terry Pratchett
The Discworld series was one of my earliest entries into sci-fi (alongside all the glorious stuff by Rob Grant and Douglas Adams). What I liked about it was its use of silliness and the fantastical side by side. Rincewind is a huge loser who is awful at being a wizard, yet he's our hero. The librarian is an orangutan, which leads to difficulty asserting authority (although he does manage), and death likes cats. Death is by far my favourite Discworld character, which is why I've chosen Mort as my favourite representation of the series, as the plot focuses largely on Death. He is smart, sarcastic, and one of few characters who really has any sense. Death is one of the funniest and most brilliant characters I've ever read. I seriously love death.
2. Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham
At the other, more serious and sinister end of the sci-fi spectrum, is this spooky and surreal gem. Day of the Triffids is essentially a zombie apocalypse story, only the zombies are of course killer alien plants. There's a sombre realness about this book, combined beautifully with a kind of gently mysterious undertone. I find a lot of apocalypse-based stories quite predictable and lacking suspense, but this book retained a sense of intrigue until the end for me. Also there's something so delicious about killer plants as antagonists. I think I might a big fan of evil plants (Little Shop of Horrors, anyone?).
3. Watership Down - Richard Adams
I think of Watership Down as similar to Day of the Triffids in that they both have a brooding, unnerving tone. Watership Down feels huge. Its description of rabbit societies and beliefs is at once harrowing and beautiful. The sun god Frith and surrounding belief system was something I found a very enchanting interpretation of religious psychology and iconography as a child, and it's the same simultaneously disturbing and enchanting feeling that has stayed with me from things like The Secret of NIMH and Secret of Mana (lots of secrets). Plague Dogs, also by Richard Adams, is a similar story about escaped test dogs.
4. Narcissus and Goldmund - Hermann Hesse
And now we enter the romantic section. This book is about a young man (Goldmund) who ends up travelling and meeting a mentor and making artwork and stuff. We watch his life unfold and the sweetness of the mentor-mentee relationship. Goldmund sets out to experience the world, to find the meaning of life. The romance of this idea of exploration and adventure is a theme across Hesse's work, and it's the fundamental link which makes his books feel almost more like maps of feelings and lives than novels. Hesse's language completely captured me as a kid. The poetics of his prose are immense and he consistently creates a rich world of tactility and beauty through his rich description. Hesse's work feels very narcissistic to read in that I see myself in every main character and it seems very much as if Hesse's protagonists are versions of himself - so I guess I felt and still feel a strong kinship with him, or at least the selves he portrays in his writing.
5. Eugene Onegin - Alexander Pushkin
Onegin is a man who falls in love. The story has one of those perfectly heart wrenching conclusions. I won't spoil it, but the devotion of it, the commitment to owning that misery, almost, is what made me love it above all else. I'll be honest though, I first came across the story from the film adaptation Onegin with Ralph Fiennes and Liv Tyler. Fiennes' performance was astounding - he was the perfect dismissive and cold, and later impassioned and distraught Onegin. The snow and the stiff silence, ah, yeah, I loved the film.
I read the book wondering if I might find it dull in book form, or wouldn't appreciate the format (the book is written in verse), but I found the story just as compelling and Eugene Onegin earned a special place in the literature wing of my heart. It's the number one in melodramatic passion & tales of heartbreak - not schmaltzy or cheesy or insincere - and I think as a teenager who kinda wanted to keep it a secret that she totally believed in that utter devotion and endless passion and pining for the rest of your life type of love that is not really seen as cool or realistic, I loved it as evidence for that. Sad, miserable, painful evidence for sure, but part of me also enjoyed the deliciousness of that bittersweetness. The pain mixed with the beauty of passion.
I mean, I'm not one for "tumultuous, obsessive relationships are romantic" but I AM one for "pining and sobbing and desperately wanting someone is actually a normal thing and it's good that people are capable of passion like that as long as they're not hurting/imposing on someone". When I was growing up I felt a lot of passion and felt alone with it, so this book was like discovering an affirmation for me. It made me feel like I was normal.
6. The Scarlet Pimpernel - Baroness Emmuska Orczy
The Scarlet Pimpernel is romantic and adventurous and has all the appeal of the cool historical setting, but in more of a light-hearted way than Eugene Onegin (although hey, revolution and rescuing people from beheadings isn't exactly the lightest topic). I loved all the flowery, noble nonsense. I loved the sweetness of the pimpernel and all the daring rescue missions and the whole idea of a secret masked hero. I loved the suspense held throughout with the simple question of who does and doesn't know the identity of the pimpernel. It was a very fun thing to read, with excitement, adventure, and princely romance. It felt like reading a children's book in that it was just so fun. The sort of book that makes me want to leap around, all full up on the zest of the story. In this case I'd probably do so brandishing a rapier and a red coat.