Top 5 Books of All Time
1. I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith - I love this book even though I don't usually go for such overtly girly books. The novel was published in 1948 and was written whilst Smith was feeling homesick for England as she and her husband had moved to the USA during the 1940's. Perhaps this is why there is something very nostalgic about I Capture the Castle - telling the story of a young woman during the early thirties, who lived with her family in a broken down old castle as they struggle to get by in growing poverty and isolation. It tells of a time before the war and the ugliness so it must have been a lovely book for those young people to have read.
Mainly, what I loved about this book are the characters. It is so much a story about the people who inhabit the pages. It is not a fast paced book, I think it is rather a book that you come to love in and alongside. Cassandra's voice came alive in my head as she wrote. The opening line is: "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink." And from this moment you are there with Cassandra - sitting in that kitchen sink - or making a few quick observations and then coming back later to write them up. There is a sense of time and movement in her journal - of belonging and intimacy.
I Capture the Castle makes me feel happy, it makes me feel alive and I it makes you think about these characters and it makes you feel.
2. Shogun - James Clavell - This is a surprising book. It's hard to imagine me even reading a book like this. At first glance you might think this is just some blokey book about Japanese samurai, ninjas and war but this couldn't be further from the truth.
Kandice recommended this book to me - and I got it into my head to give it a go. My copy of the book was a good 1125 pages, but it is the shortest long book I have ever read. Clavell is a master storyteller - at every twist there is a turn and if you think you're going in one direction you'll be taken down another. You find yourself on a massive Japanese rollercoaster and unable to stop.
Shogun follows the story of Blackthorne, an English pilot during the 1600's who is ship wrecked along with his Dutch crew upon the shoreline of Japan. Blackthorne has to learn how to survive in a culture so vastly different from his own.
It is unexpectedly funny - in fact outright hilarious as I found myself laughing so loud people had to tell me to shut up! Just wait until you get to the duck scene, I shall say no more but boy did that have me laughing up a storm.
The characters of Blackthorne and Mariko are two of the most memorable characters I have ever read and will stay with me for a long time. Reading Shogun is much more of an experience then just a good book.
3. Dogsbody and Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones - Oh okay okay I know, that is two books but I really cannot choose. Dogsbody is the first book I truly fell in love with at the age of nine and my love for it has not changed sixteen years later. Howl's Moving Castle is also one of the books that I love and who cannot love Howl (even though you know you should not)?
Dogsbody is about the Dogstar, Sirius who is punished for losing his temper, by being sent down to earth to retrieve something he lost. He wakes up on earth in the form of a puppy - and is later adopted by Kathleen, a lonely young girl living with her uncle's family. The story is actually surprisingly deep and reading it again after so many years I observed a lot I had missed as a young child. Jones has a skill for writing invisible threads of complexity, into a deceivingly simple sounding story.
Howl's Moving Castle is about Sophie, a young hat maker who is cursed by a wicked witch and anything more would really be a spoiler. I have read it many times and every time it makes me laugh and fall in love with the characters over and over again. It is hard to describe books by Diana Wynne Jones. They never sound fantastic on the outside, but inside they are exceptional. She is by far the best writer of YA/Children's fantasy there ever is. And I mean better then JK Rowling. Which brings me to...
4. The Harry Potter Series - These have been with me for near on ten years ever since I first read them at the tender age of 13/14. There is a lot of criticism of the Harry Potter books - such as the idea of a wizarding school not actually being unique. You don't have to be Einstein to arrive at that conclusion. Anyone read The Worst Witch? And there will be countless other stories about young, orphaned boy wizards who end up in a school for wizards. It is not an original idea. What makes Harry Potter, Harry Potter and not some other book like Willy the Wizard or whatever other half-baked load of crap there is out there?
Rowling meticulously planned each of these seven books so that when you read book six and look back to book three for example, you suddenly see a connection you may not have had before. She developed a world which people believed in, one that lives on in each of our imaginations, and characters whom we all felt we knew.
Harry Potter makes up a whole era of many people's lives - millions of people young and old waiting for the next installment and rushing out to buy it, queuing up for hours at midnight openings.
When Harry Potter ended - some part of my childhood ended with it. It was hard to believe I'd never again feel excited for the next one - never be left wondering whether Snape was a goodie or a badie (I always knew the truth!) I don't think there will be another book or series that will captivate me like that ever again. But maybe it was because I was a child at the time I started the series? Maybe now that I am no longer a child I can no longer give myself to a book so effortlessly and freely?
5. The Stand by Stephen King - Picking the 5th one is the hardest. So many could go in this spot. The Otori Series by Lian Hearn, The Roth trilogy by Andrew Taylor... Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, The Loop by Nicholas Evans. These could all be in my top five of all time. I have chosen The Stand though because it filled me up just like the other four filled me up. Maybe it isn't the BEST written book I have read, perhaps there are BETTER books in my read list, but The Stand wrapped me up and took me away and I guess that's what it takes to get on my top five. Not quality but how much I enjoyed it.
The Stand was my first book by Stephen King. I bought it totally on whim. (Partly because of Gary Sinise, partly because it had crossed my mind that I rarely read any American fiction). I never expected to even like it so I was pretty surprised by myself when I ended up loving it.
For one these kinds of dystopian, end of the world novels have never attracted me. The idea of 99 odd per cent of the population being wiped off the face of the earth did not fill me with excitement. Stephen King had never even been on my radar. I don't like horror but I'm coming to terms with the fact that I'm an idiot and shouldn't be trusted to pick my own books.
I'm not sure what I liked about it. I think it is, that King is able to write about something that is so far out there but make you believe it. He does like to go on an on and on with characterisations (I think he overdid it in IT) and is quite wordy and descriptive - but it works. He has such a strong voice you want to listen to him. I wanted to know about these characters - Stu, Fran, Nick, Tom, Larry, Nadine. My favourite was of course Stu.
The only thing I did not like, which is perhaps why this book should not be in my top five, is that I think the ending was rather weak - in fact let's just call it lame. But despite this, I still loved it which brings it back into a rightful position within my top five all time books.
And so that folks - is my Top Five of All Time list. Later I will come back with my other High Fives, so keep an eye out (or just close them, whichever.)