Thursday, 1 January 2009



Also known as The Introduction – but if I had given it that heading no one would have read it. Why does no one ever read an introduction?

Lists of “Fiction you should read before...” and lists of “The Top Classics” are available all over the web. Richard’s first assignment at University was an annotated bibliography about The Sun newspaper in the 1980s and 1990s. So I thought to myself why not add my annotated bibliography of books I think everyone should have tried. I’ve done a few similar lists over the years including ones for Bryony and Helen when they were young and I, foolishly perhaps, felt it would be useful to guide them in their reading. (Rich has never been interested in reading fiction – his fiction is all on screen.) I suspect the list now is not as I wrote it on previous occasions and in some cases that is due to my reading having been guided by the girls. I wonder at what stage the roles began to reverse? Any way, here is the list of Scriptor Senex at the age of 59 and a bit...

Students of literature might have to read the occasional novel for the good of their health but in general the purpose of reading fiction is enjoyment. The author may have intended their book to have a social or political message but it was up to them to put it into readable format. If you are not enjoying a book it is not worth finishing it. There are too many books awaiting our attention to worry about the one that got away.

There is a bias in my list towards historical, crime, fantasy, psychological works and novels about society. Although I had a spell of reading science fiction in my late teens and a very brief spell of reading cowboy novels they never had quite the impact of the other genres. Modern romantic comedy made an impact briefly a couple of years ago.

It has also occurred to me that some books I discarded (either completely read or half-read) in years gone by might now appeal a lot more. For example, I read a few Joseph Conrad books as part of my school syllabus. I had to read "Typhoon" and "Youth" and to get a better idea of his writing i also read "Lord Jim" and, I think, a couple of others. I was not impressed. However, glancing at a couple of e-books of his I think I might now rate him quite highly. I must try him again. Similarly, I never got on with Horace Walpole but it occurs to me to try again. I suspect in those days I was more concerned with plot than style and if one works on that basis it's not surprising I wondered "Why the deuce Hamlet the Dane could not find anything better to do than bother himself about his father's ghost!", to quote Marie Corelli. After my recent experiences with George Eliot, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens everything is worth a second go.

How can a man include Tom Holt and leave out Thomas Hardy? That just goes to show how individual a list of favourite classics always is. J K Rowling and Philip Pullman are both flavour of the month at the moment but don't rate highly enough in my eyes to make the lists.
You will notice that a number of ‘standard’ classics are missing from list. Works like Alcott’s “Little Women”, de Cervantes “Don Quixote”. Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” and Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver's Travels”. These are among the many classics I read (or partially read) and which did not enthral me or make me feel they simply should be read for the good of one’s soul. I must have tried about four Graham Greene’s before finally giving up on “Brighton Rock”... Nevertheless, they appear on many top 100 lists. There are number of others that I can never recall having picked up and which therefore should at some stage be considered. I have put some of these on the ‘Books to be read’ list.

I’m not really sure at what stage children’s books and adult books merge – the line is always going to be arbitrary. Some children’s books are equally enjoyable when read as an adult, others remain suited to children. I have, however, included half a dozen books that are undoubtedly children’s books – if you didn’t read them as a child, read them now. They may open your eyes to a whole new world of fiction.

My list has 125 books as I write this introduction. There was no design in the number – it is simply what they added up to. It will undoubtedly grow. One day I’ll do a matching list of Non-Fiction that should be read.

And here, eventually , is the list...

Douglas Adams – “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (1979)
A four-part trilogy in five volumes! Inspiration for a whole new sub-genre of fantasy science fiction. Hilarious and eminently quotable. Adams wrote other novels and also tried his hand at non-fiction including the environmentally important Last chance to See (1990).

W Harrison Ainsworth – “The Lancashire Witches” (1849)
Fifteenth and sixteenth century witchcraft as perceived in the mid nineteenth century through the eyes of one of the earliest English historical novelists. “Old St. Paul’s” and “Windsor Castle” are other excellent classics of his.

Brian Aldiss - " Non-stop" (1958)
Although noted as one of the most important science fiction writer s of all time, Aldiss also wrote conventional novels. His innovative literary techniques, brilliant plots and irresistible characters all combine to give him an audience that cannot get enough of his works. He was still writing in his seventies. Non-stop was one of his early works and tells the tale of a space ship manned by degenerate descendants of its original crew and suffering from over-enthusiastic vegetation.

Eric Ambler - " The Mask of Dimitrios" (1939)
Ambler, a wonderful writer of thrillers with a background of international business and politics but unfortunately a little dated nowadays. The hero of "The Mask of Dimitrios" is a detective story writer who delves into the life of Dimitrios whose body he has come across in a morgue in Turkey.

Kingsley Amis - "Lucky Jim" (1954)
An astonishing debut: the painfully funny English novel of the Fifties. Its lower middle-class anti-hero is a therapist’s nightmare. He is a reluctant history lecturer at a provincial English university who commits his social gaffes, carries on his inept relationships and crawls to his superiors while all the time demonstrating what a cultural philistine he is to those who know better. "Lucky Jim" burst onto the literary scene with extraordinary force, gaining Amis instant fame (and notoriety) as probably the most prominent of the so-called 'angry young men'. I read this in the mid-60s, along with its three Jim Dixon sequels, and absolutely loved it.

Isaac Asimov – “I, Robot” (1950)
Isaac Asimov was the most famous, most honoured, most widely read, and most beloved science fiction author of all time. In his five decades as an author, he wrote more than four hundred books, won every award his readers and colleagues could contrive to give him, and provided pleasure and insight to millions.

Jean M. Auel – “The Clan of the Cave Bear” (1980)
First of the Earth’s Children series bringing the Stone Age to a credible adventure story as Cro-Magnon Man interacts with Neanderthals. So far the series runs to five volumes and I eagerly await the sixth. The interval between each book is a demonstration of the depth of her research.

Jane Austen – “Pride and Prejudice” (1813)
I could just as easily have chosen any of the Jane Austen novels – especially “Emma” - they are all wonderfully readable and symptomatic of their era. This is the story of the Bennet family and of Mrs Bennet's efforts to marry off her five daughters.

Richard Bach – “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” (1970)
Much acclaimed when published, this is the story of a seagull who follows his dreams. "For most gulls it is not flying that matters, but eating. For this gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight." Still a classic in my eyes.

R M Ballantyne – “The Coral Island” (1857)
Infinitely better than the more well-known “Treasure Island” by Stevenson this was another of my favourite childhood books. Three boys are shipwrecked on a Polynesian island and have adventures galore.

Honore de Balzac - "Old Goriot" (1835)
Balzac was born in Tours in 1799 and died in 1850. He is celebrated as one of the greatest French writers of the nineteenth century, in particular for his multi-part work La Comedie Humaine, He is credited with the invention of the modern realist novel. In more than ninety novels he set forth French society and life as he saw it. "Le Pere Goriot" is part of the Scènes de la vie privée section of La Comedie Humaine. It tells of greed and ambition, affluence and squalor in post-Napoleonic Paris. I read it twice - once in French and then The Penguin English translation.

Lynne Reid Banks – “The L-shaped Room” (1961)
With its two sequels, The Backward Shadow” (1970) and “Two is Lonely” (1974), this deep novel is the story of Jane, a pregnant unmarried girl turned out of her father’s house and living in squalid conditions with Toby, a Jewish writer, John, a jazz-player, and her landlady. Thanks to this book I can still remember how you catch bed-bugs! If any book deserved to be called a classic of the post-war period it was this one – it did for books what “Cathy Come Home” did for Television drama.

H E Bates - "The Darling Buds of May" (1958)
The problem with reading is that it ruins many televison series and films for you. Everyone raved about the Larkin series on television but having read all the Larkin family books I couldn't equate the characters with those on screen and gave up after the first episode. The books are classics as are some of the stand-alone ones like "Fair Stood the Wind for France", the tale of a Wellington bomber crew stranded in France.

Alan Bennett – “The Uncommon Reader” (2007)
I may be jumping the gun by including this in the list. It’s all too easy to think of the latest excellent book as being better than one which was read years ago but I think this will remain on the list for a while yet. (See my review).

Louis de Bernieres - "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" (1993)
I began this book more in hope than expectation and ended up rating it ten out of ten. An Italian captain (Antonio Corelli) and the daughter (Pelagia) of the local physician (Dr. Iannis) on the island of Kefalonia set against the background of the Italian and German occupation of the island during World War II, as well as the massacre of Italian troops by the Germans in September 1943. A wonderful thought-provoking wartime romance.

Carol Birch – “Scapegallows” (2007)
A girl escapes the gallows but is sent to Australia for her crimes. Mainly about her life in England at the end of the 18th century but also with something of her life in Australia in the early 1800s. A well-written historical novel based on a true story.

Enid Blyton – “The Boy Next Door” (1954) {Childrens}
Not part of a standard series of Blyton books this was my favourite for a long time and I read and re-read it. It ranks above the Famous five and Secret Seven series and well alongside the ‘Secret’, ‘Mystery’ and ‘Adventure’ series. The illustrations were by Gilbert Dunlop and contribute nicely to a fine children’s adventure story.

Enid Blyton – “Noddy goes to Toyland” (1949) {Childrens}
The first of innumerable Noddy books which made the little wooden man and his friend Big Ears household names across the world.
Ray Bradbury – “Fahrenheit 451” (1953)
The temperature at which paper burns! A totalitarian regime orders the destruction of all books but one man thinks about their value... Chillingly realistic science fiction with a moral.

John Braine - "Room at the Top" (1957)
The story of Joe Lampton, recently demobilised from the armed forces of late 1940s Britain and about to start a new job with the Municipal Treasury in the fictional town of Warley. Considered by many to be the first "Angry Young Man" book. It was followed jup in 1962 with "Life at the Top".

John Buchan - "Mr Standfast" (1918)
John Buchan, Baron Tweedsmuir, was a Scottish diplomat, barrister, journalist, historian, poet and novelist. He wrote adventure novels, short-story collections and biographies. His passion for the Scottish countryside is reflected in much of his writing. He is perhaps best known for one of his Richard Hannay novels - "The Thirty-nine Steps" (1915) but it is a later Hannay novel that I have chosen. In it the hero is likened to Mr Standfast from p;ilgrim's Progress and he travels through the various hazards that met the Pilgrim. "John McNab"(a Sir Edward Leithen story) and "Huntingtower", a stand-alone novel, were two others of his that I especially liked. As with so many authors I worked my way through most of his works in a fairly short period but "Mr Standfast" is one I also read years later and enjoyed equally the second time around.

Brian Callison – “A Thunder of Crude” (1986)
One of a number of first class twentieth century sea stories by an author who sadly went out of fashion much more quickly than he deserved. Most of his stand-alone novels are equally good with “A Frenzy of Merchantmen” and his first book, “A Flock of Ships” (1970), among those that really stand out. His latest book “Redcap” was written in 2006 but I have yet to read it.

Albert Camus – “The Plague” (“La Peste”) (1947)
I read this in its original French and thoroughly enjoyed this existentialist classic. Many people seem to consider it a dark and awful work but I found it spell-binding and wonderfully philosophical. It tells the story of medical workers finding solidarity in their labour as the Algerian city of Oran is swept by a plague. It asks a number of questions relating to the nature of destiny and the human condition. The characters in the book, ranging from doctors to vacationers to fugitives, all help to show the effects the plague has on a populace. Many have claimed it to be an allegory of Nazi Europe; I was never convinced. “L’Etranger” (translated as either The Stranger or The Outsider) is equally good.

Eric Carle – “The Very Hungry Caterpillar “ (1969)
A children’s picture book which quickly became a classic and remains popular to this day.

Agatha Christie – “Murder at the Vicarage” (1930)
Agatha Christie is the world's best-known mystery writer. Her books have sold over a billion copies in the English language and another billion in 44 foreign languages. She is the most widely published author of all time in any language, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare.
“Murder at the Vicarage” was the first Miss Marple book.

Agatha Christie – “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” (1926)
“The Mysterious Affair at Styles” was the first Hercule Poirot book and pre-dated Miss Marple by ten years but the best Poirot one was “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” (1926).

Arthur C Clarke – “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)
Clarke is the most widely-read and best-selling science fiction writer. In this story, better known from the film, an anomaly is discovered on the moon. So great are the implications of the discovery that, for the first time, men are sent out deep into the solar system. But before they can reach their destination, things begin to go wrong. Horribly wrong.

Michael Crichton - "Sphere" (1987)
Michael Crichton writes a really good tale whether it is a crime thriller like "Rising Sun" (1991) and the "Great Train Robbery" (1973) and "Timeline" (1998) or science fiction like "Sphere" and "Prey" (2002). Some of his science fiction is chillingly like science fact in the near future.

Roald Dahl – “Fantastic Mr Fox” (1970) {Childrens}
Mr Fox outwits farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean but at the expense of his tail. A book which was Richard’s favourite night-time reading for a very long time and which I must have read forty times or more (and to which I wrote a sequel). One might expect that to have killed it completely for me but in fact I still like it.

L. P. Davies - “The Artificial Man” (1965)
He had been born in an isolated village and lived there all his life. The local people were his friends: they seemed to want to protect him - but from what?. Then there was the girl, the stranger, who had found her way through the briar-covered hills into the valley. Just one of many excellent science fiction works by L P Davbies which I enjoyed during the 1960s and 70s.

Charles Dickens – “Great Expectations” (1860/1)
Great Expectations was first serialised in All the Year Round from 1 December 1860 to August 1861. It is regarded as one of Dickens' greatest and most sophisticated novels, and is one of his most enduringly popular, having been adapted for stage and screen over 250 times. My second favourite is probably “Bleak House” whilst “David Copperfield” is the nearest thing to a Dickens autobiography.

Monica Dickens - "One Pair Of Hands" (1939)
This was Monica Dickens' first book and was followed by a sequel "One Pair Of Feet" (1942). They recounted her work as a nurse which, of course, was of great interest to me after my spell in Broad Green Hospital and going out with nurses. "My Turn To Make The Tea" (1951) was another good one of hers. There is an argument that these are not fiction but autobiography. In fact they are fiction but heavily based on her own experiences. If I must choose a definite novel of hers then I will go for Mariana (1940), a coming of age story. Monica Enid Dickens (May 10, 1915 London - December 25, 1992 Reading, Berkshire) was a British writer, the great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens. Jo and I met her at the Alder Centre and she signed some well-thumbed copies of her books that we possessed.

Stephen Donaldson - "Lord Foul's Bane" (1977)
The first part of his fantasy trilogy, 'The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever', rapidly became a classic, establishing Stephen Donaldson as one of the most important figures in modern fantasy. He called himself The Unbeliever because he dared not believe in the strange alternate world in which he suddenly found himself. Yet he was tempted to believe, to fight for the Land, to be the reincarnation of its greatest hero.... I have read the First and Second Chronicles (Another three volumes) but I have yet to read the Last Chronicles (2 volumes) which I shall probably not read until I have read the first six for a third time. In my eyes this is second only to "Lord of the Rings" in the fantasy genre. I first read this during David’s spell in hospital over the New Year 1987/8.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky – “Crime and Punishment”
A young man living in poverty criminally succumbs to the desire for money. The psychological impact this has on him and the people closest to him form the basis of the novel which I found hard going in places but then, unlike GB and Helen, I’m not a major fan of the older Russian classics.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - "The Lost World" (1912)
Most people would consider the Sherlock Holmes novels as the best of the Conan Doyle books but I have chosen the first of the three Professor Challenger stories. I loved this tale of prehistoric beasts in the Amazon jungle. It would be so lovely to think that such things could be found.

George Eliot – “Silas Marner” (1861)
I spent some time debating which of George Eliot’s novels to include here. “Middlemarch”, “Daniel Deronda”, “Felix, the Radical”, “Adam Bede” and “The Mill on the Floss” vied with each other and in the end I near as dammit tossed a coin. Each has much merit, though in different ways. (The only reason “Romola” is not included is because I haven’t read it!)

Sebastian Faulks – “Birdsong” (1993)
Faulks' fourth novel, it tells of a man called Stephen Wraysford at different stages of his life both before and during World War I.

F Scott Fitzgerald – “The Great Gatsby” (1925)
Set in the Jazz Age of the roaring 20’s, this book unravels a cautionary tale of the so-called ‘American dream’. Specifically, the reader learns that a few good friends are far more important than a million acquaintances and that the drive created from the desire to have something is more valuable than actually having it. I spent some time debating whether to include this but then decided I would have been the poorer for not having read it – which seems a pretty good way of deciding.

Gustave Flaubert – “Madame Bovary” (1857)
Emma Bovary and her reviled husband are at breakfast. As they bicker, scenes from Emma's past are called to mind and played out with all the passion for which Flaubert's novel is famous. Easily dismissed as a tale of scandalous adultery this is so much more. One of the few great French novels that I didn't read in its original language - a fact I have always regretted but have no intention now of trying to correct. Mon Francais n'est pas assurer! How I wish I had read that instead of Proust!

C.S. Forester – “The Gun”
Between 1937 and 1967 Forester wrote the thrilling Horatio Hornblower series but if you don’t fancy working your way through those (though I think they are worthwhile) try this excellent stand-alone about the Napoleonic Peninsular War.

E, M, Forster - "A Passage to India" (1924)
The great novel of the British Raj, it remains a brilliant study of empire.
Fynn - "Mister God, This is Anna" (1974)
"Mister God, This Is Anna" is a book by "Fynn" describing the adventures of Anna, a mischievous yet wise five and a half year old who Fynn finds as a runaway in the 1930s. Nineteen year old Fynn takes her in and becomes her caretaker and closest friend. Fynn recounts his time spent with Anna, and gives a very personal account of her outpourings on life, mathematics, science and her mentor, Mister God. The book gives us a beautiful account of the friendship between them. Fynn's identity was kept secret for a long time but proved to be Sydney "Sid" George Hopkins (1919-1999). An all-time classic, i recently bought this to re-read it.

Diana Gabaldon - "Cross Stitch" (1991)
Also known by the title Outlander, this is the first of the Outlander (Jamie Fraser) Series which is a fanciful combination of historical novel (the late 17th century) and fantasy. A wonderful storyteller.

Paul Gallico - "The Small Miracle" (1950)
Paul Gallico's range of subjects is as wide as that of any author I can think of. I have chosen "The Small Miracle" because it is such a pleasant little tale. It’s often published with “The Snow Goose”, another small miracle of a story.

Alan Garner - "The Weirdstone of Brisingamen" (1960) {Childrens}
Wonderful tale of magic set on Alderley Edge, Cheshire. Given the choice of Garner, C. S. Lewis, Philip Pullman or J K Rowling I would choose Garner. There is a sequel and a number of similar books.

George Gissing - "New Grub Street" (1891)
This autobiographically based story is about the literary world of late-Victorian London that Gissing inhabited, and its title, New Grub Street, alludes to the London street, Grub Street, which in the 18th century became synonymous with the "hack writing" that pervades Gissing's novel.

William Golding - Lord of the Flies (1954)
A powerful, alarming and horrible look at the possibilities for savagery in a lawless environment, where compassionate human reasoning is replaced by anarchistic, animal instinct. I doubt anyone has ever enjoyed reading this book but it remains on my list of books you should read because its moral is so undiluted. (Second only to H G Wells’ “Island of Dr Moreau” on my list of books to give you nightmares).

Kenneth Graham – “The Wind in the Willows” (1908) {Childrens}
One of the best children’s books ever written; short ands sweet. A playful mixture of animal fantasy and adventure with a bit of moral lesson thrown in for good measure. The version illustrated by E H Shepard was the one I grew up with and therefore favour. There are many versions still in print but if you want a first edition and can manage without the dust jacket you can probably get it for under £8,000. (With dust jacket the last 1st edition through Sotheby’s went for £39,000 but that was over ten years ago.)

George & Weedon Grossmith – “The Diary of a Nobody” (1892)
"The Diary was first published in serial form in Punch and then appeared as a book in 1892. That it has never been out of print since is testament enough to the vitality of a work which stands up not only as historical social record - which it does, the myriad small details such as the price of Champagne, and the fact that bona fide travellers might get a drink at an inn whilst it was technically closed; how one would re-dress a cold leg of mutton to disguise its prior serving or the fashions of the day, all serving to whet our wonders of how life was - but also as evidence of the immutability of human nature: teenagers were ever wayward, parents ever embarrassing, and all of us who ever have stepped out of our normal milieu know the risk of saying or doing awry. " from a review by Lesley Mason

H Rider Haggard - "King Solomon's Mines" (1885)
Good boy's adventure stuff in this first of the fourteen Allan Quatermain novels. In all he wrote another sixty novels, nearly all historical adventures and most set in Africa or South America. He was the Wilbur Smith of his day and it will be interesting to see if Wilbur Smith is till as readable a hundred years hence.

Arthur Hailey - "Airport" (1968)
In a raging blizzard, a stricken aeroplane is struggling against all odds to reach its destination. For seven suspense-filled hours a blocked runway, a suicide, a mass demonstration, a stowaway, a pregnancy and a psychotic with a home-made bomb... Now so 'spoofed' that it could be seen as laughable but at the time it was published it was a first class adventure story.

Radclyffe Hall - "The Well of Loneliness" (1928)
The classic lesbian story despite its publication date. Needless to say, it was banned in many places for many years. The reception to this book, a thinly disguised autobiography, virtually ruined her career.

L P Hartley - "The Go-Between" (1953)
Another 'classic' which probably gives away my age (or at least my era) . A moving and tragic tale of thirteen year old Leo Colston's summer activities delivering love notes between the daughter of the house and the son of a tenant farmer.

Joseph Heller – “Catch-22” (1961)
This book coined the self-titled term “catch-22” that is widely used in modern-day dialogue. As for the story, its message is clear: What’s commonly held to be good, may be bad… what is sensible, is nonsense. Undoubtedly one of the greatest literary works of the 20th century.
'[He] would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; if he didn't want to he was sane and had to.'

Ernest Hemingway – “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (1940)
A short, brutal look at an American fighting in the Spanish Civil war and his resulting views on life and death. Written while Europe was reaching the peak of its second great conflict of the century.

Susan Hill - "In the Springtime of the Year" (1973)
The story of a widow's attempts to come to terms with her husband's death. A classic tale of grief.

James Hilton - "Good-bye, Mr. Chips" (1934)
Mr Chips teaches in a school “Established in the reign of Elizabeth, as a grammar school, it might, with better luck, have become as famous as Harrow.” I loved this book and also "Lost Horizon" (1933), another Hilton classic.

Barry Hines - "A Kestrel for a Knave" (1968)
This book, faithfully filmed as "Kes", is the story of Barnsley boy Billy Casper, academic failure and eternal victim, who finds release and a sense of personal identity through caring for and training a kestrel.

Tom Holt - "Little People" (2002)
One of over thirty books, many of which are equally good, by Tom Holt who writes a unique style of comic fantasy. Humour being a very personal thing, authors like Rankin and Holt may not be to your taste but at least try one sometime.

Homer – “The Odyssey” (c 700 BC)
The Greek heroic epic.

Aldous Huxley - "Brave New World" (1932)
Dystopian novel of London in AD 2540 (632 A.F. in the book; A.F. standing for After Ford) It anticipates developments in reproductive technology and sleep-learning that combine to change society.

The Rev. H. Escott Inman – “Loyal and True” (c1910)
A very thick Victorian (in style if not in publishing date) public schoolboy story. Illustrated by the author. This was uncle JPD’s and I borrowed (and read) it at least twice subsequently managing to find a copy for myself many years later.

Michael Jecks - "The Last Templar" (1995)
The first book of about thirty books in the Medieval West Country Mystery series involving Sir Baldwin and Bailiff Simon Puttock, Easy-reading historical novels that probably don't deserve to be considered classics but I thoroughly enjoy them!
Geoffrey Jenkins - "A Twist of Sand" (1959)
The first of Jenkins' novels which concentrate on South Africa, the Skeleton Coast and the sea. Good adventure stories.

Jerome K. Jerome – “The Idle Thoughts of an idle Fellow” (1886)
You've been in love, of course! If not you've got it to come. Love is like the measles; we all have to go through it. Also like the measles, we take it only once. One never need be afraid of catching it a second time. The man who has had it can go into the most dangerous places and play the most foolhardy tricks with perfect safety. Jerome is. of course, more famous for his travelogue “Three Men in a Boat, To Say Nothing of the Dog” (1889) described by some as the funniest book in the English language but perhaps they hadn’t read the idle thoughts!

Gareth Lovett Jones – “The Wind in the Pylons” (2003)
Wonderful satire on all things modern, especially the environment and corporate bodies, as Mole from “Wind in the Willows” (1908) finds his way, by accident, into weaselworld in the 21st century where all the old characters turn up but in somewhat different guises. If you’ve read Wind in the Willows you must read this book (in two parts) and if you haven’t read “Wind in the Willows” you should read them both!

Franz Kafka - "The Trial" (1925)
Franz Kafka was one of the major German-language fiction writers of the 20th century. This is the enigmatic story of Joseph K. in a nightmarish bureaucratic world.

Bel Kaufman - "Up the Down Staircase" (1965)
A humorous examination of life as a teacher - a classic of its type. The plot revolves around Sylvia Barrett, a young idealistic high school English teacher in New York who hopes to nurture her students' interest in classic literature (especially Chaucer) and writing.

Alexander Kent - "Midshipman Bolitho" (1975)
The first of 28 books about Richard Bolitho and his rise through the ranks of the navy in the late 18th century. A similar type of series (and a similar timescale) to Forester's Horatio Hornblower series. Alexander Kent is a pseudonym of Douglas Reeman who has written many other nautical works in his own name.

Hans Hellmut Kirst - "Gunner Asch goes to War" (1950)
One of a series of fine Gunner Asch novels which is also matched by some equally enthralling stand-alone ones like "20th July" which is a historical insight into the Hitler assassination plot. Gunner Asch is a cynical German soldier who is fighting Hitler's bureaucracy as much as the Allies! Brilliant.

Arthur Koestler - "Darkness at Noon" (1940)
An unrivalled portrayal of the nightmare politics of the twentieth century. Its hero is an aging revolutionary, imprisoned and psychologically tortured by the Party to which he has dedicated his life. A most thought-provoking work.

D.H. Lawrence – “The Virgin and the Gypsy” (1930)
Most people regard “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” as the classic Lawrence but I would go for “The Virgin and the Gypsy” written two years later. It is the delicately written story of a young girl's emotional awakening in the elemental presence of a gipsy.

David Lodge - "The British Museum is Falling Down" (1965)
One of the funniest books ever written in the English language. "Literature is mostly about having sex and not having children. Life is the other way around... And that, precisely, is the dilemma that preoccupies Adam Appleby as he begins another day of research in the Reading Room of the British Museum. Adam is a graduate student in literature and a practicing Catholic in the days before the Pill. He is also married, has three children, and is not looking forward to the possibility of a fourth. On this foggy day in London, however, work and life conspire against him. As Adam makes his bumbling way through a series of misadventures that do little to alleviate his anxiety, the reader is treated to a hilarious and heartfelt tour of academia that only David Lodge could have created."

Robert Ludlum - "The Bourne Identity" (1980)
Ludlum was the author of twenty-one novels, each one a New York Times bestseller. There are more than 210 million of his books in print, and they have been translated into thirty-two languages. He is the author of The Scarlatti Inheritance, The Chancellor Manuscript, and the Jason Bourne series of which this was the first. I've forgotten the plots and must read the Bourne series again.

Alexander McCall Smith – “The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency” (1998)
In which we are introduced to the philosophy of Mme Ramostwe and her native, and much-beloved, Botswana. The first in a super series of nine books (with a tenth on the way). McCall smith’s “44 Scotland Street” series and Isabel Dalhousie novels are also remarkably good.

Mary McCarthy - “The Group” (1963)
"Wickedly compounded of its characters' youthful cluelessness and haute-bourgeois snobbery and its author's touching, fragile faith in human progress, "The Group" speaks its gossip in the composite voice of Vassar 1933, channelled through its most famous graduate." ...from a review by Pam Rosenthal. I loved this book and it inspired me to write the first half dozen chapters of one of my first novels (most of which have not reached beyond those first six chapters).

Alistair MacLean - "H.M.S.Ulysses" (1955)
Maclean is the author of twenty-nine world bestsellers and recognised as an outstanding writer in his own genre. I liked his books so much when I was young that I collected them in Heron leather-bound hardback. He is probably better known for "The Guns of Navarone" and "Where Eagles Dare" but I think "HMS Ulysses" - his first novel - was never quite rivalled. It is the the compelling story of World War II Convoy FR77 to Murmansk -- a voyage that pushes men to the limits of human endurance, crippled by enemy attack and the bitter cold of the Arctic. Most of his books have been made into succesful adventure films.

Carole Matthews - "More to Life than this" (1999)
Kate Lewis is thirty-five and feeling restless. Her husband Jeffrey is keen on gardening and golf; her children are obsessed with well-balanced diets; and Kate's main worry is when to do the ironing. There must be more to life than this! This was not only my first Carole Matthews but also the first of the modern romatic comedy genre that I read. I quickly followed this with "A Whiff of Scandal" (1998) and "Let's Meet on Platform 8" (1997). Great fun adn well worth reading however old and cynical you are.

Spike Milligan - "Puckoon" (1963)
It's 1924 and the Boundary Commission is deciding on the new line between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. With typical bureacratic style, the border finds it's way down the middle of Puckoon, dividing house from outhouse, man from wife, and pub chairs from bars. Absolutely hilarious.

A.A. Milne – “Winnie the Pooh” (1926) {Childrens}
Illustrated by E. H. Shepard. Still as popular today as in 1925 when he first appeared in the London Evening News. The book appeared in 1926.. He enriches the coffers of the Disney Corporation by one billion dollars a year – more than Mickey Mouse. The House at Pooh Corner was published in 1928. I suspect we all have a favourite character in the Pooh stories and without doubt mine is Eeyore.

Iris Murdoch – “The Bell” (1958)
One of a number of twentieth century classics that date me. Like Mary McCarthy’s “The Group” this is now rarely read and proved not to be a long-lived classic. Good and evil, humour and sadness, lay community and nuns, religion and magic – it’s a novel of contrasts by a philosophy lecturer. Deserves a better fate than its modern obscurity.

Robert Neill - "Mist over Pendle" (1951)
Another author whose works of historical fiction I read avidly. Most had a local (to me) setting as, for example, Mist over Pendle which was a story of the Pendle witches whose trial in 1612 is one of the best recorded witch trials.

Audrey Niffenegger - "The Time Traveller’s Wife" (2003)
Brilliant plot, skilfully executed. This was my book of the year for 2003. I shall enjoy reading it again in a few years time (d.v.)

Edna O'Brien - "Country Girls" (1960)
The first of the three novels about Cait and Baba sees their escape from countryside and convent to the alluring "crowds and lights and noise" of Dublin. The follow up works - "The Girl with Green eyes" and "Girls in tgheir Married Bliss" were equally good.

George Orwell – “Nineteen Eighty-four” (1949)
Written the year I was born the concepts in this classic still hold good sixty years later. In it, an all-knowing and watching government manipulates the population. We get closer to Orwell’s vision with every decade that passes.

George Orwell – “Animal Farm” (1945)
Orwell and Pratchett are the only authors to make it onto my list twice. All the others I shall leave the reader to decide if they want to chase that author’s work further. Indeed, if I hadn’t already got two I would add Orwell’s non-fiction work ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’. Animal farm is a satire on the perils of Stalinism but is equally applicable to totalitarian governments across the globe.

Boris Pasternak - "Dr Zhivago" (1958)
The only book I can think of which was outshone by the film. The book was outstanding but the film so impressive that it surpassed it. An epic novel of the Russian Revolution and one of the greatest love stories ever told.

Alan Paton – “Cry, the Beloved Country” (1948)
One of the greatest novels to emerge from the tragedy that was South Africa racism. The story of a Zulu pastor who goes from the country goes to Johannesburg to find his sick sister, where he discovers that his brother has left the church, his sister has become a prostitute, and his son is a murderer. It managed to convey the bad points of apartheid whilst remaining a novel of love and hope and endurance. A must read for anyone concerned with humanity.

Ellis Peters - "A Morbid Taste for Bones" (1977)
The first of the Brother Cadfael medieval mysteries by Edith Pargeter under her pseudonym Ellis Peters. The series has 20 books in it and Cadfael has quite a cult following.

Peter Pook - "Professor Pook; the Schoolmistress's Companion" (1966)
One of many in the series of semi-autobiographical novels by Peter Pook whose real identity - John Anthony Miller was not known for many years. The bumbling, put-upon Pook has many different occupations throughout the sereis (which was published beteen 1962 and 1979) a reflection of the fact that the author was variously a boxer, footballer, bank clerk, diver, Royal Marine, Indian Navy Lieutenant, antique dealer, schoolmaster, lecturer and author.

Terry Pratchett – “The Colour of Magic” (1983)
The first in the wonderful Discworld series. Those who enjoy this tend to become hooked and end up reading the whole set of 30+ Discworld novels. Pratchett was the UK's best-selling author of the 1990s, and as of December 2007 had sold more than 55 million books worldwide, with translations made in 33 languages. He is currently the second most-read writer in the UK, and seventh most-read non-US author in the US. In 2001 he won the Carnegie Medal for his children's novel The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents. Sadly, despite being the same age as me, he is suffering from the early onset of Alzheimer’s.

Terry Pratchett – “Mort“ (1987)
In which DEATH makes his first major appearance.

Terry Pratchett – “Wyrd Sisters” (1988)
The only author to make it onto my list three times as Garrny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and co. take off in earnest.

J B Priestley - "The Good Companions" (1929)
An instant hit when it was published in 1929, “The Good Companions” made Priestley justly famous and it remains his best work. The novel is written in picaresque style, and opens with the middle aged, discontented Yorkshireman Jess Oakroyd. He opts to leave his family and seek adventure "on t'road". On the way he meets other folk, equally discontented with their lots in life and they form a troupe of performers. Wonderful stuff but it takes a while to appreciate the use of dialogue.

Mario Puzo – “The Godfather” (1969)
Brilliant storytelling. It is a shame that this epic of Sicilian Mafia family life became such a well-known film. As with so many books it must have substantially reduced the number of people who read it. The films were good but the book far better.

Robert Rankin - "The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse" (2002)
Robert Rankin is an unrepentant Luddite who writes his bestselling comic fantasy novels by hand in exercise books. He is the author of The Witches of Chiswick, The Brentford Trilogy (8 books), The Armageddon Quartet (3 books) and many more. In this book - his 24th and best - a boy named Jack sets out to seek his fortune in the big city ( Toy City formerly known as Toy Town). There is a serial killer loose upon the streets. One by one, the old, rich nursery rhyme characters are being brutally slaughtered.

E M Remarque - "All Quiet on the Western Front" (1929)
The definitive novel of World War I.

Frank Richards - "Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School" (1947) {Childrens}
The first book in the Greyfriars School series. This may well have been the first substantial series that I worked my way through almost in its entirety. (There are over fifty books in the main series and over a hundred subsequent ones.) I remember walking to Old Swan Library to get them once I had exhausted those in Childwall at the age of 11.

Harold Robbins - "The Carpetbaggers" (1961)
Sex, money and power - I learned a bit about all of these from the Harold Robbins books, a number of which were best-sellers in the 1950s and 1960s. Another excellent one of his - though much shorter - was "Stiletto" (1960). In all I read his first 11 books (up to 1972) after which I lost interest in his style.

J. D. Salinger – “The Catcher in the Rye” (1951)
Iconic representation of the ups and downs of teenage angst, defiance and rebellion. A reminder of the unpredictable teenage mindset in a prose style of some excellence but often criticised for its profanity and sexual content. Varies from being a standard school text to a banned book according to where you are!

Dorothy L Sayers - "Busman's Honeymoon" (1937)
The 13th of the fourteen Lord Peter Wimsey books. (I read quite a few Wimsey books but cannot recall which ones apart from this). Born in 1893, Dorothy Sayers was one of the first women to be awarded a degree from Oxford University. Her first book featuring Wimsey, "Whose Body?", was published in 1923 and over the next 20 years more novels and short stories about the aristocratic amateur sleuth appeared. Dorothy L. Sayers is recognized as one of the greatest mystery writers of the 20th century.

Anna Sewell – “Black Beauty; the Autobiography of a Horse” (1877)
Another book which I re-read many. many times as a child. I couldn’t help getting emotional at the bad times in Black Beauty’s life even when I knew all would come right in the end.

William Shakespeare – “The Tempest” (1610)
I suppose one has to have a Shakespeare play and that being the case I’ll go for “The Tempest” as my favourite even if it may not be his greatest work. I don’t particularly enjoy reading plays – I’d much rather watch them (which after all is what they were designed for). Nevertheless “Julius Caesar” and “Macbeth” were others that really captured my attention in print.

Tom Sharpe - "Blott on the Landscape" (1975)
Sharpe's wit is first class and his style unique. In addition to his stand-alone novels the Wilt series (beginning with "Wilt" (1976) and the Porterhouse Blue series are all extremely funny as Sharpe tears academia apart. In "Blott on the Landscape" we see a mllionaire property developer and Tory MP determined to have a motorway driven through the ancestral home of his spouse, Lady Maud. Local opposition grows with Blott, the gardener, playing his part.

Graham Shelby - "The Cannaways" (1978)
With its follow-up, "Cannaway Concern" (1980), this was one of the best historical novels I had read when it came out in 1978. I had been contemplating writing one myself but, recognising the research necessary for "The Cannaways", I gave up the idea.

Nevil Shute – “On the Beach” (1957)
A cloud of toxic radiation is encircling the world, and you have one choice left…how you will die.... Equally good is "What Happened to the Corbetts" (1939), a distinctly prophetic novel, written just before the war and describing how it would affect a town like Southampton. "A Town Like Alice" (1950) is another of the better Shute novels and includes a description of the Japanese Death March of World War II.

Alan Sillitoe - "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" (1958)
One of the angry young man novels. Working all day at a lathe leaves Arthur Seaton with energy to spare in the evenings. A young rebel of a man, he knows what he wants and he's sharp enough to get it. Before long his meetings with a couple of married women are part of local gossip.

Dodie Smith – “I Capture the Castle” (1948)
“I Capture the Castle” relates the adventures of an eccentric family, the Mortmains, struggling to live in a decaying English castle in the 1930s. A gentle novel, narrated by an intelligent teen-aged girl, Cassandra Mortmain, in the form of her journal. Great fun.

Wilbur Smith - "When the Lion Feeds" (1964)
The novel which made Smith famous and the first of his that I read. It begins the Courtney family saga which was to progress to three series. It is the story of South Africa at the burgeoning time of the gold rush in the 1890s with Sean Courtney displaying his iron resolve to win wealth and power, no matter the price.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” (1962)
If you only ever read one book in your whole life it should be this little novella by Solzhenitsyn who suffered so much for his antri-Soviet comments. One day in a Russian concentration camp - one more day survived, one more day of small successes. This is a classic survival manual of man’s inhumanity to man. Even if one accepts that we in the West are as indoctrinated as those in the East (in our own way) the background of who is doing the evil is irrelevant. The fact that man can transcend it is what counts.

John Steinbeck – “The Grapes of Wrath” (1939)
An American classic about the Depression. A family of sharecroppers hit by drought and forced off their farm to seek jobs elsewhere form the central theme of Steinbeck’s deeply touching tale.

Mary Stewart - "The Crystal Cave" (1970)
A top-drawer storyteller with a first-class subject (the Merlin / Arthurian legend). She went on to write three sequels and I read the series twice. I have also read some of her stand-alone novels twice including the mysteries like "My Brother Michael" (1959)

Josephine Tey – “The Daughter of Time” (1951)
Richard III’s innocence or guilt of the murder of the Princes in the Tower is the subject of this brilliant historical crime novel. Fantastic Fiction says “Josephine Tey is one of the best-known and best-loved of all crime writers.” That may have been the case years ago but is no longer true. Which is a shame, she deserves to have held her place. Her plots and her writing style are as fresh today as they were when they written, only the world of the crime novel has changed. The other five Inspector Grant mysteries are just as good as are her stand-alone novels of which the best is “Brat Farrar” (1949)

J.R.R. Tolkien – “The Hobbit or There and Back Again” (1937)
In which Tolkien introduces Bilbo Baggins and begins his adventures.

J.R.R. Tolkien – “The Lord of the Rings” (1954/5)
One of the greatest stories ever told, and by far one of the most popular and influential written works in 20th-century literature. Published in 1954/5 it inspired a host of fantasy literature for the next sixty years and will continue to do so for many decades yet. I think the written word has been done a great disservice by the creation of the films even though the quality of the screenplay and acting was good. Only by reading the original work can the true flavour and brilliance of the Lord of the rings be appreciated. One of the few books I have read three times and of which I hope I shall never tire.

Nigel Tranter – “The Wisest Fool” (1974)
One of Scotland's best-loved authors, Nigel Tranter wrote over ninety novels on Scottish history. He died at the age of ninety on 9 January 2000. Not only was he born the same year as Dad (who also lived into his nineties) but he looked a bit like him! I cannot for the life of me recall which one I read first but I worked my way through very many of them. At one stage I thought of trying to re-read them in chronological order but apart from the Robert The Bruce trilogy I tended to just read them as I found them. One that does stand out in my mind is The Wisest Fool because I have always liked James i (James VI of Scotland) ever since I studied the Stewart era at school.

Anthony Trollope – “The Warden” (1855)
A gentle introduction to the great Barsetshire series. Equally good are the Palliser novels (of which my favourite is “Phineas Finn”) and the few stand-alone ones of which I have managed to get hold, like “Ralph the Heir”. Fortunately there are many still left for me to find – and doubtless enjoy.

Leon Uris – “Exodus” (1958)
Leon Marcus Uris (August 3, 1924 - June 21, 2003) was an American novelist, known for his historical fiction and the deep research that went into his novels. “Exodus” was his biggest success but he has been an internationally popular writer for fifty years. I read “Exodus” – the story of the birth of the Israeli nation – twice on its own and then a third time with “Exodus Re-visited”. I learned a lot. I have read his first thirteen novels – all excellent - but not his last two novels. They are on my list to read some day.

Jules Verne - "A Journey to the Centre of the Earth" (1964)
One of the principal inventors of what later became known as sf, Jules Verne wrote highly coloured nineteenth century romantic adventure stories, many of which turn on wonderful inventions like submarines or flying machines or on amazing events like the grazing of the Earth by a comet (in Hector Servadac). I was very young when I read all my Jules Verne so I cannot recall any in detail and have simply chosen "A Journey to the Centre of the Earth" as one I can definitely recall reading.

Virgil – “Aeneid” (c 19 BC)
The Latin epic poem about Aeneas, a Trojan hero, who travelled to Italy where he became the ancestor of the Romans. (I only read Book 9 but I can still quote a few bits in the original Latin!).

Minette Walters - "Acid Row" (2001)
This was very cleverly advertised on Classic FM prior to its publication and I read it. This introduced me to Minette Walters not only have I thoroughly enjoyed it but all her subsequent ones as well. I once read one immediately after a Ruth Rendall and the difference was so telling that I haven't read another Ruth Rendell since. "The Dark Room" and "The Echo" rank as highly as "Acid Row" in my estimation.

Keith Waterhouse - "Billy Liar" (1959)
The semi-comical story of Billy Fisher, a working-class 19-year-old living with his parents in the fictional town of Stradhoughton in Yorkshire. Bored by his job as a lowly clerk for an undertaker he leads a Walter Mitty-like life.

Evelyn Waugh - "Scoop" (1938)
This brilliant satire about the Daily Beast is the definitive novel from when Fleet street was Fleet Street and not some warehouse in Wapping. Alternatively you could read the spoof about the aristocracy and the bright young things of Mayfair in "Decline and Fall" (1928) or "Vile Bodies (1930). "Brideshead Revisited" (1945) avbout which I recall nothing was always on my ‘best reads’ lists in my twenties. Perhaps I should re-read it to remind myself why. Strange that so many others should have stayed in my memory and this one completely gone!

H G Wells - "The Time Machine" (1895)
H G Wells didn't only write Science Fiction but he is probably best known for it. The plot of this is so well known it needs no commentary. Another first class one is “The War of the Worlds”(1898) best known for its radio presentation which frightened the American nation to death in 1938! H G Wells also wrote one of the two books I liked least – “The Island of Dr Moreau”. It gave me nightmares.

P.G.Wodehouse – “Ice in the Bedroom” (1961)
Although I enjoyed the Jeeves books my favourite series was the Blandings Castle one of which “Lord Emsworth and Others” (1937) was the best. But I have chosen one of Wodehouse’s many stand-alone novels for my very best example of the Wodehouse humour. Another excellent stand-alone was “The Girl on the Boat” (1922). (I recall that “The Clicking of Cuthbert” (1922) was Phil’s favourite so it must have been a good year for the author!) He is the sort of author you either love or hate.

Virginia Woolf – “The Voyage Out” (1915)
Virginia Woolf's haunting first novel follows Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose and their young niece on a sea voyage from London to South America. But if you want to read the best of Virginia Woolf try her diaries or the non-fiction "A Room of One's Own" (1929)

Herman Wouk - "The Caine Mutiny" (1951)
One of a number of books by Wouk about moral dilemmas. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was immediately embraced as one of the first serious works of fiction to help readers grapple with the human consequences of World War II.

John Wyndham - "The Trouble with Lichens" (1960)
I loved John Wyndham (who also wrote as John Beynon) and his science fiction though "the Midwich Cuckoos" was a bit troubling. "The Day of the Triffids" (1951) is probably better known than “Trouble with Lichen” but I liked the latter better.

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