All Time Favourites

I’ve been reading avidly from a very early age. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was read to me at age two and I now have eighteen years of experience behind me. For the most part I enjoy every genre and its always hard to pick favourites, especially when there are so many great books to choose from. That being said, here are my top five books of all time.

Harper Lee’s first and, until 2015, only novel became a ‘benchmark of American literature’ and is widely recognised as one of the most popular and influential books of the twentieth century.

To Kill A Mockingbird explores complex attitudes towards race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s as lawyer Atticus Finch defends a black man charged with the rape of a white girl through the eyes of his young children, Scout and Jem Finch. For the most part ignorant of the heavy prejudices of their neighbours and friends, Scout and Jem navigate the grey areas between right and wrong and come to terms with their own morality.

I read this book years ago and Atticus Finch remains one of my favourite characters for his authentic kindness and bravery in the face of adversity. As a father he attempts to protect his family from the outrage of the town whilst also staying true to what he believes and this moral juxtaposition, all witnessed through the eyes of Scout and Jem, is what is so memorable about this book.

Obviously.

For anyone that doesn’t know, although I would be curious to know how that was possible, Harry Potter is a series of fantasy novels following the life of the boy wizard across 6 books from his childhood home, through his years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, to the Battle of Hogwarts as the Boy Who Lived comes face to face with Lord Voldemort, the Dark Lord responsible for the tragic death of his parents.

I was reluctant to include this series as one of my favourites because, well… isn’t it everyone’s? It seemed too easy but I couldn’t not. Harry Potter has been an institution in my life and the life of most people my age since childhood. The Philosopher’s Stone was read to me at 2 years old and I’ve grown up with Harry, Hermione and Ron since the last film instalment was released in 2011. I’m not someone who will go on the offensive if you haven’t read it (I myself haven’t read them since I was probably too young to appreciate them and yes I do plan to read them again) and I can perhaps understand if you don’t get the hype surrounding the series, but for me they are and will always be a favourite.

“After all this time?”

“Always,” said Snape.

Grace Lisa Vandenburg counts. The letters in her name, the number of poppy seeds on her cake, the number of steps from her apartment to the cafe, everything.

This book was recommended to me by a friend a few years ago and follows Grace’s life as she lives with OCD and goes on to fall in love with Seamus Joseph O’Reilly who’s life is not so ordered.

From the blurb I didn’t expect it to become a favourite but its stuck with me ever since I read it. Although the protagonist is problematic and often struggling with the world around her, Jordan’s writing style remains funny and memorable and I found myself rooting for Grace as she seeks help for her mental illness. The book also brought to light how difficult everyday tasks can be for someone with this disorder, for example the number of poppy seeds on a cake dictate how many bites Grace must take to eat it, whether that be 2 or 102. The description of this scene has stuck with me ever since.

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
― Madeleine L’Engle

Noughts and Crosses is a children’s book about two star-crossed lovers, kept apart by their difference in race, but not in a way you would recognise.

Sephy is a Cross – a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a nought – a ‘colourless’ member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses. Against a background of prejudice, distrust and mounting terrorist violence, a romance builds between these two childhood friends which puts them both in grave danger.

Malorie Blackman is a brilliant writer and was one of my favourite authors growing up, writing other books I enjoyed such as Pig-Heart Boy and Boys Don’t Cry. Based on Blackman’s writing and her character creation, this book is great as just a story based around a romance but it is so much more than that. I read Noughts and Crosses as a child but was aware even then of the important themes addressed that are not normally aimed towards young readers. This unprecedented story, put into a recognisable context of a love story, has stayed with me into adulthood and still rings true today.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is my all time favourite book. I’ve read it over and over again and can quote it by heart.

Young, handsome and fabulously rich, Jay Gatsby is the bright star of the Jazz Age, but as writer Nick Carraway is drawn into the decadent orbit of his Long Island mansion, where the party never seems to end, he finds himself faced by a dark secret: a silent longing that can never be fulfilled. And soon, this destructive obsession will force his world to unravel.

I love this book for so many reasons. Fitzgerald lived through the 1920s and his own lavish lifestyle and hedonism is reflected in the parties thrown by Gatsby and Daisy’s high standards. The characters are, although largely unlovable through their selfishness or greed, multi-faceted and complex, approaching the contemporary attitudes towards women, the newly rich and the poor. However most of all I love how Fitzgerald writes. The paragraphs flow like poetry and create imagery so vivid its impossible not to imagine the incredible library or the grey, depressing Valley of Ashes. The story and characters are hopeless and constantly disappointing but the writing and style has me coming back to it over and over again.

He had one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced, or seemed to face, the whole external world for an instant and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself.

I hope you enjoyed this window into my soul. Please let me know your favourite books in the comments, I’m always on the hunt for new things to read!

– Helen Worrall

 

Image: http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2014/01/book-titles-translation/

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