World Book Night: These are a few of my favourite reads…

I love a good dedicated week. You know, like National Pie Week or Global Gravy Friday or whatnot. Who is on the deciding panel for such things? Whoever you are, there are a lot of folk jealous of your life.

Tonight is World Book Night, which is all about sharing the books you love with the world. What are the books that have stayed with you? The ones you can’t help but urge everyone else to read? I have a lot of these. Many of them come from childhood, when the images that books can conjure are so vivid they can be imprinted onto you for many years. Some are more recent love affairs too. All have contributed to my diminishing eyesight and over-active imagination.

Here’s my little list. I would love to know yours.

A Passage To India by E. M. Forster

My copy is battered, dog-eared and has absorbed a good ounce of sun cream, just as it should do. I have a deep suspicion towards very clean cookbooks and barely damaged paperbacks.

A Passage to India is a beautiful but disturbing look at the relations and tensions in India between the British Raj and the Indian population. The central storyline is that of an alleged assault upon British tourist Adela Quested by Dr Aziz, through which Forster looks at the racial tensions of 1920s India under the British. However what really sticks in my mind from this book is the beautiful descriptions of India and, in particular, the affect the country has on the elderly and quite sweet British tourist Mrs Moore.

If you like this, you might also like…

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga is a very modern take on the perceived and real chaos of living in the world’s biggest democracy. There are some hilarious characters, most particularly the “white tiger” himself, who is writing to the Chinese Premier to tell his life story and his viewpoint that if a life of crime is what is needed to become a success, it’s the way to go.

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

This is one of those books that you could easily read in one sitting, so intriguing is the plot, but at the same time you never want the book to end, you never want to leave that world. The House at Riverton refers to a grand old manor where a young maid called Grace (now in her 90s and narrating the story) worked and where, as well as polishing up the silver, she became entwined into the glamorous 1920s world of the sisters Hannah and Emmeline. But Grace has a dark secret she has kept from the world all these years but which comes back to the surface due to a film being made at the manor regarding  the shooting of famous war poet Robbie Hunter.

If you like the sound of this, you might also like…

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte has a similar feel in many ways (maid keeps a secret, dark love affairs, big house in the country) and, let’s be honest, it’s got to be pretty bloody good for Kate Bush to write a song about it. The first chapter though has to be one of the worst ever written though. And it still annoys me to this day how so many of them have the same name (Cathy? Which Cathy? ARGH).

Also this is a good book for people who love Downton Abbey (which I presume is everyone).

The Island by Victoria Hislop

I borrowed this book from Peckham’s amazing public library for my holiday to Rhodes but it was so addictive I’d read the whole book far before my flight. This debut novel (from the missus of Ian Hislop, don’t you know) centres around a young British woman who knows little of her secretive Greek mother’s background. She goes to her mother’s home village in Crete and discovers that it faces the now-abandoned leper colony of Spinalonga and, through the story of local woman and her mother’s old friend Fotini, is told the truly tragic yet romantic story of her family.

If you like the sound of this, you might also like…

If Greek islands are your thing, then Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres is just so beautiful and a great holiday read that will resonate with you for a long time.

Cocaine Nights by J. G. Ballard

Cocaine Nights is a dark dystopian novel set in the seemingly perfect Spanish resort town of Estrella de Mar, where British ex-pats go to tan their retirements away. The main man, Charles, goes there to sort out his brother who is in jail, but soon becomes entangled in the dark, criminal behaviour that lurks underneath the clean streets of white-washed villas.

If you like the sound of this, you might also like…

It’s a film but I always imagine the world of Estrella de Mar to be like that inhabited by Ray Winstone in Sexy Beast.

Another great novel with a dystopian edge I enjoyed recently is A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, which is told from the perspectives of many washed-up and troubled individuals in New York and LA, spread out over about 40 years. It’s vision of a future where children decide the popularity of art and music using hand-held Apple-esque gadgets is pretty horrifying.

The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric

This is such a difficult book to describe as it’s a collection of many stories from the inhabitants of a village in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina, told over around 400 years from Ottoman rule to the shooting of Franz Ferdinand and the beginning of World War I. The stories are moving and quite folksy too, and all revolve around an impressive stone bridge that spans the river and is the main meeting point for the villagers.

If you like the sound of this, you might also like…

There is quite literally nothing like this book.

Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski

Set in LA from the time of the Great Depression to Pearl Harbour, the novel charts the adolescence of Charles Chinaski, who is quite clearly Bukowski. Charles is an unpopular kid plagued with acne and a horrid home life who in response becomes an aggressive tough guy. The book, which is truly fantastic, has the ability to be terribly funny and tragic at exactly the same time, which really is the sign of a great writer.

If you like the sound of this, you might also like… 

J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is the tamer younger brother to Ham on Rye and essential reading for any teenager in crisis.

Queenofthenightbus xxx

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