Top Ten Books I Absolutely Had To Have – But Still Haven’t Read
I saw this meme a while back over at The Broke and The Bookish and thought it sounded very me – except of course it’s too easy, and I could give you a list of the top 200 books I absolutely had to have and still haven’t got around to reading. But here’s a handful that standout:
Booker shortlist 2009
I often ask for the Booker shortlist for Christmas, particularly since one of the UK book catalogues offers the set at a very economical price. But this list that year was so good – Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt, Summertime by J.M. Coetzee – that I couldn’t wait for Christmas to roll around and I ordered them as soon as the offer appeared in October. I lay in wait for the delivery van every day, and finally they arrived and I was thrilled! Only by then, the announcement of the winner was days away, the blogworld was flooded with reviews of the shortlist and suddenly the impetus had gone out of reading them. I’d read so much about them all online by that point, I felt I almost had read them. I’m still looking forward to all six shortlisted novels, just waiting for the right amount of time to elapse.
pre-Christmas 2010 fantasy and magical books
In the run-up to last Christmas I ordered myself a special batch of reading, all of it fantasy and fairy tale and so on, designed to inject the festive season with a little alternative spirituality. I ordered the works of Hans Christian Andersen, Michael Ende’s Neverending Story, Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve and The King Arthur Trilogy by Rosemary Sutcliff. Then the snow fell and the books took so long to arrive that Christmas was almost upon us when the travel-torn packages finally came. I squeezed in the Rosemary Sutcliff but after that the moment seemed to have passed and I didn’t feel like fantasy reading any more. Oh well, their time will come around again, no doubt.
Colette in Pleiade editions
It’s a convention of the university that if you write a dissertation on a French author and the work exists in the Pleiade edition, that is the one you must reference. Pleiade produces all canonical French writers in these special hardback editions – embossed covers in slip cases, thin, gilt-edged pages, a wodge of references, notes and secondary material at the back almost as big as the works themselves. When I wrote my thesis, three-quarters of Colette’s work had made it into Pleiade edition and none of Duras’s. Did I mention how expensive these books are? Each of the three volumes I bought cost me around £60. They are beautiful in their way but no fun really to read, with paper too thin for margin annotations, and tiny type and all those endnotes. They are my red badge of courage for submitting a thesis, and shelf ornamentation.
Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
This time last year I had a blockbuster-fest and the book that provoked it was Gone With The Wind. I can’t recall now why I decided I wanted to read it so much, but it was the first on my list to buy and the first I intended to read. And then, somehow, I ended up reading Valley of the Dolls and The Thorn Birds and Sidney Sheldon and without really meaning to, relegated poor old Margaret Mitchell to the last in the queue, by which point I’d had enough of 700+ page novels. I still very much want to read this novel – probably the summer will see me in blockbuster mood again.
Noah’s Compass – Anne Tyler
I so nearly bought this in hardback. I am a huge Anne Tyler fan and have read pretty much everything she’s written. But I held myself in restraint until the paperback came out and then finally I bought it. And now I’m still holding myself in restraint because Tyler is a reliably good read and there are times when only a book by one of my favourite, reliably-good authors will do. I’ve saving it up for one of those times.
Cleopatra – Stacy Schiff
Now this one I did buy in hardback, although not that long ago – January of this year. I heard it had won the Pulitzer, fell for the subject matter and the rave reviews and just succumbed to pure book lust. I still want to read it, only I can’t see myself fitting it into my schedule before about May. Where does the time go?
Narcissus and Goldmund – Hermann Hesse
Another recent purchase, and one I had intended to read the moment I got my little paws on it. However, once I had it, it actually gave me a real yearning for the Hesse novels I had read already. Somehow the desire I felt for this novel swerved away onto Siddhartha, which I read a few days ago, and Steppenwolf, which I feel sure I will now have to reread before coming to this one. I have no idea why this should be; it just is.
Skating to Antarctica – Jenni Diski
It must be a couple of years now since Dorothy read and reviewed this memoir. She made it sound so good I knew I had to have it. I found a cheap copy from an amazon marketplace seller and was pleased to receive it. It’s about Diski’s dysfunctional upbringing, featuring a mad mother, I do believe, intertwined with a journey she makes to Antarctica. I bought it just at the end of a long period of reading about motherhood, and it turns out that the vast majority of mothers who star in memoirs are mad and dysfunctional. Not that I mind adding another to my list, they are always worth reading about, but I haven’t felt that sharp twist of need that accompanies picking up a book and that says, yes, this is the moment to read another story about x or y. But I’m still looking forward to it very much, and the moment will undoubtedly arise.
Mentors, Muses & Monsters – edited by Elizabeth Benedict
Another blogger recommendation here from Stefanie, who posted glowing, delightful accounts of this book until I could stand it no longer. It’s a lovely volume, a hardback again, with untrimmed pages. The problem here is that I keep promising myself this book in conjunction with a writing project. I’ll be reading that book, I say to myself, when I write that article about writing I keep assuring myself I’ll do. Naturally the project keeps receding over the horizon, and so does my reading of this book. But I DO want to read it.
The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver
I can’t quite recall now why this book got so much coverage last year – it was in conjunction with a prize, wasn’t it? The Orange Prize, perhaps? Anyway, I waited until the copies online were cheap and bought one, and then it so happened that a whole bunch of very uncertain reviews came out in the blogworld and I read them all. They weren’t the kind of reviews where someone loved the book and another person hated it and so one feels persuaded that at least an interestingly provocative reading experience will occur. No, these were all reviews that just felt lacklustre about the novel, and those reviews are more offputting than any other kind, I think. I need to wait long enough to forget them, or until another bunch of reviews come out that show it in an intriguing light again. It will happen, and in the meantime, it’s not like I don’t have other books to read……