This is the first of the series I am beginning based on Literary Listography, in which I will use the list titles given as post prompts.
I’ve started this series with the very first list in the book – Top 20 Most Beloved Books. I love this prompt – the word ‘beloved’ implies something beautifully specific. These are not necessarily the best books I’ve read, the ones I admire most or feel are most well executed. This is a list of the books that I hold closest to my heart – the ones that earned that place because they affected me deeply when I first read them and have therefore been held dear and often reread, as well as whatever critical, analytic admirations I might also hold.
Obviously, with twenty books to talk about this could get long – I’ll try to keep my thoughts brief, but feel free just to flick between the ones that interest you!
1 – I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
This is my favourite book of the year so far, and since reading it first I have already gone back to it twice. The language is gorgeous, the characters are vivid and while they both have romantic plots involved, these are never the focus of their stories – they are parts of very complex lives which overlap with the themes of the whole work. I wish that fifteen or sixteen year old me had had this book. Read my original full review here.
2 and 3- Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian and The Railway Children by E. Nesbit
I read these books so much as a child. I list them together because they were together my stocking at Christmas when I was about ten years old, and I adored them both. They are inextricably linked in my mind as my two favourite books as a young reader. I still have those same copies,a bit battered and worn. I am certain that I’ve read these books close to 100 times in the twelve years I’ve had them. The story of William, evacuee sent to the countryside and living with grumpy old Tom, still comforts me when I need something familiar to read. The story of Bobbie, Peter and Phyllis I read less often these days, but it’s in my memory just as strongly. These both shaped my reading tastes very strongly.
4 – Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
I read this first several years after watching the film adaptation. I still love the film, but the book is so much richer. A beautiful novel with multiple perspectives, moving back and forward in time, proudly advocating for tolerance and an end to bigotry of many types, set in 1920s Alabama. The cast of characters is huge and yet none of them gets reduced to a single characteristic or stereotype; Flagg draws parallels from the past and shows how they can answer to our present, always reminding you of the importance and power of friendship.
5 – The Complete Harry Potter Series by J K Rowling
I can’t not include these on this list, and I can’t count only one of them. Perhaps it’s cheating to cram seven books into one slot, but I’ll freely admit to that. I grew up with these books, with the films, with the magic and the hope and the terror. They shaped my reading experiences, my ideas about justice and the world, in very direct ways.
6 – The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
My copy of this once belonged to my granddad. It is a beautiful work – I find it difficult to pin down all of the things about this which are important to me except to recommend it, wholeheartedly.
7 – The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory
This is my favourite of Philippa Gregory’s books, though it was difficult o choose which to pick and include here. This is the story of Katherine of Aragon – from a young girl with her parents in Spain, to her marriage of Henry VIII. I adore the detail that Gregory gives us about the period, the way she weaves historical evidence with her own interpretation – and always calls your attention to what it interpreted with her historical notes. Her books were also among the first Adult fiction I read, so they have a special place for me.
8 – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Could I not? As I get older I am actually fonder of Sense and Sensibility, but I know this book inside and out – I grew up on it, overlapping from my childhood watching of the BBC miniseries into my teenage reading an abridged version, and later finding and loving the whole text.
9 – Why the Whales Came by Michael Morpurgo
I read this around Year Four or Five in school, and immediately loved it. It’s not something I regularly reread anymore, because I don’t need to – it’s a strong influence on my tastes still today, and certainly an influence on my writing. It taught me a lot – about loneliness and isolation, about friendship and love, about discrimination and cruelty, about selfishness and honesty.
10 – The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
This book is spectacularly imaginative, weird and full of wonder. It has a fantastically broad cast of characters, broad scope of location, a lot of very beautiful prose and a fair few references to Shakespearean plays and classical myth. I often reread this in the winter, and I love the amount of detail it contains – every read can produce a new observation. No character is ignored or left behind – every one is fully imagined, not simply a prop for anyone else’s storyline or characterisation to stand up on. It’s a masterful work of beauty.
11 – The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman
This is a very slim little volume which I read earlier this year, and I adore for its perfectly pitched magical realism. It is a beautifully self contained little fable and I have a lot of fondness for it. I only read it this year, but the brevity of it makes me think it may be something I slip back into in slumps between ‘new’ reads to reinvigorate me.
12 – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I really struggle to decide whether to list this or Divergent in this list, because both have been important to me. It’s tricky to choose, as I read this on the heels of Divergent, and I love them both for very different reasons. This choice might be because I reread these more recently, might be because Mockingjay: Part 2 just came out, might be because the films of The Hunger Games are pretty good adaptations whereas the Divergent films have gone entirely off-book – it could be any number of things, but at the moment, this series feels a bit more ‘beloved’.
13 – The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor
Again, I can’t be sure how old I was when I read this… it may have been the early days of secondary school. I saw it in WHSmiths and was amazed, visited the paperback every time I went into town and eventually got a copy with birthday money. This is a retelling of Alice – or Alyss – in Wonderland, making Lewis Carroll’s book fit within the story. It’s a wonderfully imaginative retelling and I love it for its closeness to an old favourite as much as because it is an independent story. It is the beginning of a trilogy, and while I enjoyed the two sequels the first book will always be a firm favourite.
14 – I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
This is something of a classic, and I’m sure makes a lot of people’s lists. I first read this a bit over the ‘usual’ age, but I instantly loved it, enough to write out various parts as quotes and stick them up on my walls (yes, I was one of those teenagers). I want to read more of Dodie Smith’s books in the future, based on how much I love this and One Hundred and One Dalmations.
15 – Lovesong by Alex Miller
I read this in the first year of my degree on advice from writing tutors, and it absolutely broke my heart. It is beautifully written, layering narratives over one another to create a story that spans many years and several countries. I’ve only read this one twice, but it had a profound impact on my reading habits and writing style ever since.
16 – No Shame, No Fear by Ann Turnbull
This is a beautiful novel, actually the first in a trilogy, about a young Quaker woman named Susanna living in Shropshire in 1662. I found this years ago in a discount bookshop, and bought it because it was based on Shropshire, which is where I grew up. I’ve come to love it for many reasons though. It’s historical fiction that focuses on ordinary people more than the grand figures or events, and treats the lives of young people in those times as important. It has a central love story, but is very careful to balance the headiness of young love with the practicalities of their lives. It also has a lot more going on than the romance.
17 – Finding Cassie Crazy by Jaclyn Moriarty
This is the epitome of silly fiction with serious undertones and it just makes me smile. It follows three best friends at Ashwood High School, set in Australia, when their English teacher sets up a pen-pal project with a rival local school. It also covers lots about family relationships, dealing with grief, bullying and ambition. They’re all a little bit odd in their own ways – and I think feeling different is a very common teenage experience.
18 – The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy
My favourite poetry collection of all time. I studied Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry for A Level, including a few from this collection, and while A Level English Lit has a special talent for making the best texts loathsome after a year, I still adore these. Mrs Tiresias is – possibly, by a margin – my favourite in the collection.
19 – Wonder by R J Palacio
This book is about a boy called August (or Auggie) who looks very different to everyone else, and his experience of starting school. While the ending is a bit perfect, it is heart-warming and important. I also love that it takes in not just August’s perspective, but that of the people around him – who, whether he likes it or not, have their lives affected by him being different, by his need for medical help and surgeries, by his heightened need for support. It’s a great look at how we do and can cope with situations where things can be awful and there’s nobody to blame.
20 – A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
One of the first plays I read properly and actually understood, and the one that I know the best to this day. I’ve played most of the Rude Mechanicals at some point and even taken a turn as Titania. This play has cropped up in my life in so many ways – aged twelve, aged sixteen, aged nineteen. Each time I’ve looked at it through a different lens and found something different there.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this Lit List – let me know some of your most beloved books in comments!