This year is the 21st year of World Book Day – a celebration of authors, illustrators, books and reading. What better way to mark the occasion than to share our favourite books?
This is a very difficult question: I read a lot of books and I have never re-read anything. So I suppose the best way to determine what my favourite book is would be to pick something that I would consider re-reading. Middlemarch and Silas Marner by George Eliot are up there, and I was tempted to choose Margaret Atwood’s insanely brilliant Maddaddam trilogy which I’ve recently finished.
However, I’ve gone for Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, which captivated me when I read it about 15 years ago. It’s intricate and intelligent, and the ‘nested’ stories – each narrated by a very different voice – kept me hooked, and guessing, right to the end. I won’t give too much away – and please don’t be tempted to watch the film version (it’s not good!!) – this is a book that you should pick up and read straight away.
My favourite book is a children’s story called Dance of the Dinosaurs by Colin and Jacqui Hawkins. We discovered it in a library and my son (then two years old) loved it so much we bought our own copy.
The story tells how Georgie and Dee are frightened of the thunder and lightning. That night their cat takes them on a journey in a hot air balloon to find out how a storm is made. Their balloon takes them to distant lands where Georgie, Dee and cat find themselves joining in with a thunderous, stormy and crashing dance of the dinosaurs.
The rhythm and rhyme of the story encourage the reader and listener to crescendo into roars, stomps and romps as the dinosaurs create a hullabaloo. At this point my son would jump around his room showing me his best dinosaur dance moves.
In the next part of the story, all the dinosaurs are exhausted from their jumping around and Georgie, Dee and their cat are ready to find their way home. The reader and listener get to wind down as the story rhythm slows, and the characters softly float homewards in their hot air balloon, before returning sleepily to their beds.
The energy of this book takes the reader on a journey, and makes it a fun and delightfully engaging read for little ones and grown-ups. It is a firm favourite of ours for a bedtime read, roar and cuddle.
My favourite book would have to be Middlemarch by George Eliot for its wonderfully complex characters scrupulously analysed and presented with compassion. Its setting may be an English provincial town in the 1830s but its concerns are both local and universal. It’s a novel that can be re-read and appreciated in different ways over time.
It’s an impossible ask, though: what is your favourite novel? What about Jane Austen? What about Jane Eyre and the wonderfully strange Wuthering Heights?
Fast forward a century and then some, Richard Ford’s novels, especially the Frank Bascombe series (starting with The Sportswriter in 1986) are favourites. And my new love is Elizabeth Strout.
And my favourite comfort reading? Robin Hobbs’ Assassins and Liveships trilogies, the first novels in an epic fantasy series.
Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin is the true story of Griffin’s journey in 1959 to write a magazine article about what life was really like for a black man in the Deep South during the time of racial segregation in the US. It’s an undercover operation because Griffin is a white journalist and uses pigment pills, sun lamps and skin dye to disguise himself. Of course, he experiences and documents hardship, prejudice, racial abuse and weary defeat. But he also visits Montgomery – years after the bus boycott sparked by Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a white person – and there is hope in the air with local preacher Martin Luther King Jr.
I found this book when our grade 10 English teacher took us to the library and told us to “go and choose a book, read it and write about it”. Attracted by its very slim page count, I picked out The Great Gatsby (F Scott Fitzgerald). But my teacher’s face screwed up: “Hmmm, that could be difficult…” so I went looking elsewhere. My teacher had obviously not read Black Like Me or she would have given me that lemon-squeezed face squared.
This was one of the first books I read in my early teens that wasn’t for instant escapism. And it was so much more than a biography: it introduced me to realities of recent history and a concept of journalism that I hadn’t seen before. The fact that it had slipped through the safety net of my English teacher was probably also an added bonus.
If pushed to choose just one book, I think it would have to be The Rainbow by DH Lawrence. I first read this book because I had to, for my A-levels. But I loved it. I was a romantic and dreamy 18-year-old and I think that’s partly why this tale of passion and love appealed to me so much at the time.
Of course I had to find out more about Ursula and the Brangwens, so then I read Women in Love. And then it was only a matter of time before I progressed to Lady Chatterley’s Lover. (I tend to latch onto authors and binge on their novels, as my bookshelves full of Virginia Woolf, Jonathan Coe, Garrison Keillor and Margaret Atwood will attest!)
I have re-read The Rainbow since (though admittedly not for a good few years) and it definitely stands up to scrutiny a second and third time. There aren’t many books I want to re-read but this is certainly one of them. I’d like to think I’ll get chance to read it again on my holiday this summer; I just hope I’ll like it as much now as I did as an adolescent.
What do you think of our list? Feel free to recommend your favourite reads.