Saturday, 11 July 2009

Fifteen books

Fifteen is the number of years since I first read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and knew that it would always be one of my favourite books. My mum bought me a copy when we were visiting family in Donegal, Ireland, after I had watched -and fallen in love with- the Alfred Hitchcock adaptation.

Fifteen is the age I was when I first read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, coinciding with the famous 1996 BBC adaptation.

Fifteen is the number of months since I read my first Persephone novel, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, and a love affair was born.

Fifteen is the number of Persephone books that I currently own (in Persephone editions).

Fifteen is the number of different bookshelves that my favourite books can be found upon.

Fifteen is the number of months that elapsed between reading my first Angela Carter novel, Nights at the Circus, at Undergraduate level and beginning to write a thesis on her work, as a postgraduate.

Fifteen is how many books I have collectively still to read belonging to two of my favourite writers, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Toni Morrison (I am rationing them out).

Fifteen is the number of books required for a recent book meme.

Instead of the first fifteen books I can think of, I am providing you with my fifteen favourite novels. As a relatively new blogger, most of you will be unaware of my all-time favourite books, so I thought it would be an idea to share them with you. Most of them will be known to you, if not personally then at least in title or author alone, and some will be less familiar but all are books worth reading. For my own sanity in whittling the list down to fifteen, I am restricting it to novels only (exlcuding favourite plays and the short story volume, The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter) and I am also leaving off beloved Children's classics as they warrant a list of their own and will be most likely covered on future Inner Child Saturdays.

1. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier - despite the fact that I love Virago and I have no qualms buying duplicate copies of books (if it's a beloved book), I will not upgrade this much-loved, battered copy of Rebecca. Besides, despite coveting the other du Maurier Viragoes, I don't actually like their copy of Rebecca (the one linked to). The best haunting, sensational, engaging book with a famous nameless narrator and one of the most famous of anti-heroines who never actually appears in the novel, as she is dead, but is powerfully evoked by those left behind.

2. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith - this is the book that I brought along with me to the first meeting of the book group that Simon at Savidge Reads created. The ice-breaker theme of this meeting was favourites but I guessed (rightly) that Simon would bring Rebecca so I brought my second favourite, the much adored and enchanting I Capture the Castle. It has one of the best opening lines, "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink" and is about a girl who wants to be a writer, living in a dilapidated castle with her eccentric family, who discovers love whilst growing up.

3. Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter - my first and foremost favourite book by Angela Carter. This novel defies description, although Nymeth did amazingly well doing so recently. There are so many layers to this novel, so much to discover and to marvel at, so much to love. It also contains one of the most memorable of characters, Fevvers, who is by far my favourite character in a novel.

4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - you know the story. This one is dear to my heart.

5. Wise Children by Angela Carter - a wonderfully witty and bawdy romp of twins, Nora and Dora Chance, whose theatrical lives are tied up with another theatrical family, the Hazards (Hazards and Chances, the word play is rife in this novel). Fellow Shakespearean fans will love this. This was Carter's last novel and it is an amazingly clever and comic one.

6. Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez - by far my favourite Marquez novel. I love his mastery of language and in Chronicle of a Death Foretold it is particularly lush.

7. Beloved by Toni Morrison - I mentioned Beloved recently in this post and all I will add is that it is an amazing book and one you should read.

8. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie - a masterpiece and a deserved Booker of Bookers and Best of Booker winner. This is an epic novel and similar to Angela Carter (they were friends) in that there is so much left to discover upon re-reading.

9. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer - it isn't often that you find a novel that is near-perfect and also original but this is one them. Words cannot express how much I love this book.

10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - I think that this novel should be required reading.

11. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov - it's Lolita, enough reasoning given.

12. American Gods by Neil Gaiman - this list would not be accurate if I omitted Neil Gaiman; it's bad enough that Terry Pratchett's Guards arc from The Discworld has slipped down to #16 (I can't narrow it down to just one of the Guards books anyway so it would be an unfair inclusion). American Gods is breathtaking in its scope; it is an odyssey. I urge you to relinquish any preconceptions of Neil Gaiman that you may have and read this as he is a storytelling master.

13. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides - I have loved this novel for a decade and will happily re-read it over and over on Sunday afternoons. It's usually controversial to say that I far prefer it to Middlesex, which I found disappointing.

14. Time's Arrow or the Nature of the Offence by Martin Amis - this is an incredible book told from the perspective of Todd T. Friendly, former Nazi officer, who tells his the story of his life backwards. This is not a passive read but one where the reader has to actively reverse events to see them in their cruel light, hence becoming complicit in Todd T. Friendly's actions. I've read a fair amount of Holocaust literature and this one stands out.

15. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters - her magnum opus. I love Victorian suspense fiction and this modern take surpasses the classics.

So there you have it, my favourites and me all wrapped up in a bow. It was an incredibly difficult and time-consuming list to make as there are so many books that I love. The ones which very nearly made the cut include Lady Rose & Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson; 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff; Fall on Your Knees by Ann Marie MacDonald; The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark; The Awakening by Kate Chopin; Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys; The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman; Emma by Jane Austen; Geek Love by Katherine Dunn; A Fine Balance by Rohintron Mistry... and there will be books that I am sacreligiously forgetting.


verity said...

Fantastic - what a brilliant post Claire :)
I am so glad you have I Capture The Castle in there. I love that book but don't even own a copy! I've been thinking I should read some Angela Carter since she often comes with a green cover, so with your recommendation I will :)

farmlanebooks said...

Great post! We share a few favourites, but there are a lot I haven't read yet. Most are in my TBR pile, but Nights at the Circus, Wise Children and Time's Arrow aren't - I'll have to add them!

Paperback Reader said...

Verity, thanks :).
I Capture the Castle is such a fabulous book, you really should find a copy! I have the Virago edition (of course) but I covet the lovely Vintage one.
I basically think that everyone should read some Angela Carter (I'm a bit of a broken record when it comes to her). She does indeed come with a green cover at times so no doubt you will come across her at some point.

Jackie, thanks to you too :).
Please add them all - they're quite weird but definitely wonderful.

Vintage Reading said...

Lovely post, I love The Awakening. I only discovered it a few years ago. I must re-read that novel.

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Vintage Reading, I'm planning a re-read at some point too. It's a great novel. Kate Chopin's short fiction is also very good.

P said...

That's a great list. Am reading Virgin Suicides at the moment.

I did find Lolita slightly disturbing, to be honest. It made me shudder more than once.

Have an Angela Carter book, which is next on my read list: The Magic Toyshop. Haven't read anything by her yet, but the cover just took my breath away.

Paperback Reader said...

P, thanks for commenting!

I hope you're enjoying The Virgin Suicides.

The subject matter of Lolita is disturbing but I find the writing beautiful. I have the Annotated edition and there is so much to discover in the text.

Is your copy of The Magic Toyshop the Virago edition with a drawing of Melanie dressed as Leda on the cover? It is stunning.

Darlene said...

Great post! It's been bothering me for weeks now where my copy of I Capture the Castle has disappeared to. It had a picture of the characters from the movie so not a vintage copy or anything but still! I really must make a point of picking up a copy of Rebecca, it comes highly recommended.

Paperback Reader said...

Thanks, Darlene! I hope you find your copy of I Capture the Castle and that you read Rebecca soon as it's a fantastic book.

Dot said...

This was a lovely post, Rebecca and I Capture the Castle are two of my favourite books!!

Paperback Reader said...

Thanks, Dot :). They are both such beautiful and much-loved books.

JoAnn said...

What a fantastic post! I don't know what to comment on first! We share many favorites, and almost favorites. I must read Angela Carter and Midnight's Children ...and Miss Pettigrew was my first Persephone, too!

Paperback Reader said...

Thanks, JoAnn :). Glad to know that we share so many favourite books.
I think that Carter and Rushdie should be must-reads for everybody.
Miss Pettigrew seems to be a first for many, especially after the movie.

Nymeth said...

Considering that almost all the books on your list that I've read were books I LOVED, I really ought to read the ones I haven't - 6 and 14. I said "almost" because the only exception is Chronicle of a Death Foretold. I read it when I was 15 or 16 and really disliked it. But later I returned to Marquez and fell in love, so I suspect my teenage self is not to be trusted!

Paperback Reader said...

Ana, never trust your teenage self!

claire said...

Claire, love this post! We share a lot of similarities. For one, THE favourite authors: Garcia Marquez and Morrison.

Pride and Prejudice, Beloved, Midnight's Children, To Kill a Mockingbird.. love them all. I would probably have the same authors but their different works on my top 15. I felt differently with Lolita, though. Loved the writing, but was too creeped out by Humberto.

I bought I Capture the Castle (the Vintage Classics one!) a few months back but have never touched it, because I'm saving it! (Delaying gratification.)

Have been wanting to read Rebecca for so long but I admit I don't like the cover, which is what makes me keep putting it off. Is there any other?

Paperback Reader said...

Claire, we do have very similar book loves and likes.

Lolita often leaves people cold or conflicted with the subject matter but I love the lush writing, that opening sequence, the literary allusion... I am planning to read Ada or Ador finally this year and I have high hopes that it is going to become one of my new favourites.

I remember seeing I Capture the Castle on your blog. I really, really hope that you like it. Rebecca too; I think everyone should read Rebecca. I don't mind the rest of the Daphne Du Maurier series with those covers but it doesn't do Rebecca justice. I would suggest looking out for a secondhand copy with a different cover but they are few and far between and none truly encapsulate Manderley or the atmospheric mystery. There should be a classic edition, with a Hitchcock influence. I love mine because it has the mist and gloom but not the house.

Samantha said...

I have the exact same copy of Rebecca as you (I also own an updated copy too!)

Loved your list of 15 books - like you, I loved I Capture the Castle and quite a few of the others you have listed. I have yet to read any Angela Carter....

Paperback Reader said...

Samantha, you are the only person I've come across who owns that same copy of Rebecca!

I hope you have a chance to read Angela Carter at some point - definitely a writer for the wish-list.