Okay, hate is too strong a word; I could never hate anything that someone has spent hours, months and years working on. Here are some of the books that I will never allow to leave my bookcase and others that I will never let to rest their spines on my hallowed shelves.
Let’s start with love because that’s so much nicer. The first books I remember loving as a child were those by Enid Blyton: Famous Five, Secret Seven, Magic Faraway Tree, Mr Meddle, Amelia Jane, loved them all. I’m looking forward to my children being old enough to have these stories read to them so I can see if I still love them now as much as I did back then. I was also a total Nancy Drew fan – hated the horse books that every other girl was reading – but wanted to be Nancy, albeit with a nicer name!
Other favourites that I discovered in late primary school were Little Women and Good Wives by Louisa May Alcott. By then I’d grown out of Nancy and wanted to be Amy and marry Laurie and had no idea why Jo wouldn’t – my childhood was nothing if not conventional!
Then I found Jane Eyre. I had never read anything like it at age twelve. Mad women locked in attics, love so passionate that you would risk blindness and Jane, with every reason to be scared of Rochester, standing up to him in every chapter. All three of these books are still favourites of mine and my daughter, at age four, has her own illustrated and abridged version of Little Women which is one of her favourites too.
Now that I’m a grown-up – relatively speaking – my favourite books are:
- The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
- Possession by A.S. Byatt
- Atonement by Ian McEwan
- We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
- Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
- The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
- Slouching Towards Bethlehem, also by Joan Didion
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
- Persuasion, also by Jane Austen
- Of a Boy by Sonya Harnett
I’ve limited myself to ten, which means I’ve left a few out but it’s either that or have a blog that runs for several pages.
Why do I love these? All of them I’ve read multiple times and enjoy them more with each reading. I know that if I was ever stuck somewhere with only one book, as long as it was one of these, I would be perfectly happy. My Jane Austen anthology was the only book I took with me when I went to London to live many years ago because I knew that, if I couldn’t afford a TV in London, Jane would keep me amused night after night instead.
So what makes me not love a book? It’s usually to do with not liking the main character or not being drawn into the world of the story. And I know that many books on my love list are on others’ hate lists. A friend of mine has tried to read The Blind Assassin several times but can never get past about page fifty.
I always finish books, no matter how much I am struggling with them. This is because often I might find that the first few chapters are hard work but then something happens and I do become lost in the story world and end up loving the book. This happened to me with, among others, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin many years ago. The only reason I persevered with it was because I was on a plane to New York and it was the only book I’d taken with me. But once I got the hang of the different narrative voices in the story, I didn’t want to put it down and was in tears by the end.
Okay, here goes. The first books I remember disliking were The Lord of the Flies and The Day of the Triffids, both of which I had to read for English Lit in high school and neither of which I understood. I just did not understand why boys would behave the way they did in the former – perhaps it was too far outside the scope of my imagination at the time. And of the latter, I can recall absolutely nothing but the feeling of despair at being made to read it. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was another from this time; I don’t think the realm of sci-fi/fantasy is for me, although Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, is an exception to this.
More recent books that I have struggled with were all bought because I was in a book club and they were the choices of the group. After these four, I dropped out of book club. The Bride Stripped Bare was one; I found the main character to be too much of a victim and could not relate to her behaviour. The Da Vinci Code was the other book and while I could see why people enjoyed it – Brown was great at leaving each chapter balanced on a high-wire – I thought his writing tended towards the amateur. The other two were The Alchemist by Paul Coelho which I found self-indulgent and My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult, which seemed to be written for the sole purpose of trying to make the reader cry but was so overwritten it was impossible to feel anything for anyone.
Wuthering Heights has never done anything for me; again I found Cathy to be too much of a victim and Heathcliff bordering on being a lunatic. I’m a huge Margaret Atwood fan but Oryx and Crake was a big disappointment; it felt more like a lecture and less like a story to me.
That’ll do for now. I’m sure everyone will disagree with me and will have their own lists. I’d love to hear them.