Today is my 50th birthday. I’m still not sure how that happened! I was only a young girl, lost in my favourite Nancy Drew Mystery a few years ago, or so it feels like!
To celebrate, I thought I would post about some of my favourite books, read over the last 50 years.
Childhood wonder through classics like The Eagle of The Ninth!
When consider one of my favourite books as a child, Rosemary Sutcliff’s the ninth legion is always the one I think about. I loved the sense of atmosphere she evoked and I spent many happy hours reading her story, of a Roman legion lost in the mists of time. Even now as an adult, I still love books that feature the Legions of Rome, with Simon Scarrow’s Eagles of the Empire Series a firm favourite.
Teenage angst and tortured love with Jane Eyre!
Next is my favourite read as a teenager, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I fell head over heels in love with Jane and Rochester . It was such an intense love story and read at an age when everything seemed possible, I yearned with equal amounts of passion and longing for their love affair to survive the obstacles it faced.
Moving onto my time at Aberystwyth University, it was here for the first time that I rarely read for pleasure. I studied both American and British literature, but rarely picked up a book for the simple joy of reading. For three years nearly all the novels I read, were connected with one course or another.
Studying history and literature with The Color Purple!
One of the books I remember most from those years was Alice Walkers, The Color Purple. It was the first book I’d read which featured an LGBT character and reflected what life was really like for women of colour, in a deeply segregated America along racial and gender lines.
I have read hundreds of books since I left University. Those that have meant the most to me are the books that reminded me why I love reading so much. It’s an integral part of who I am and without a book I feel incomplete.
Amongst those books that have stood out for me in the last twenty years are:
Love and heartbreaking reading with The Song of Achilles
I adore this this book, with its themes of love and sacrifice. Books rarely make me cry, but this book reduced me to a sobbing wreck on a train journey home from London. I proceeded to buy it for birthday and Christmas presents, because I wanted everyone I knew to read this intense and emotional story. It sits there at the top of my list of all time favourite books.
War and suffering with The Lie by Helen Dunmore.
Of all the novels I have read set in or around World War 1, this is the most intense and finest of them all. I was immensely moved by the depiction of the untold damage done to those that survived the nightmare of the trenches. Left damaged and alone with their nightmares, unable to get over the loss of so many while they lived.
The fine line between friendship and love with The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain.
I lucky to discover this book because I read Waterstone’s recommended fiction book every month . What a joy it is! It’s themes of love and friendship filled me with longing and hope. If asked about books I would recommend, The Gustav Sonata is one right at the top of my list.
Achingly tender reading with Tin Man by Sarah Winman.
If any book is going to knock The Song Of Achilles off the top of my all time favourite books, then it will be this achingly tender and astonishingly beautiful book. It reminds me why I love reading. With its themes of friendship, love and the thin line that divides the two, Tin Man should be required reading for all students of English Literature in a modern and changing world.
Reliving my childhood through The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon.
I think I fell in love with this book because I was a young child during the long hot summer in which it is set. It reminded me of simpler times, of the joy of Angels Delight, adventurous and overly imaginative minds running amok.
There have also been a few much loved non fiction books……
Natural wonder and recovering from grief with H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald.
This is the incredibly powerful story of when Helen MacDonald decided to train a Hawk. But that is just one level of the book, because beyond this is her journey through crippling grief and how in training the hawk she found the strength to heal. I came across it in a small bookshop and bought it on impulse, having meant to read it for a few years and I am so glad I did.
Re living the Thatcher years with Maggie and Me by Damian Barr.
Maggie and Me is one of the funniest and certainly the most memorable autobiographies I have ever read. The writer despite living through a tough childhood, told his story with remarkable warmth and great humour. I will never think of mouth wash and Tom Jones in the same way, ever again.
Taking into account my love of theatre, I have started to collect texts from my favourite plays.
The power of theatre to call for freedom to love with The Pride by Alexi Kaye Campbell.
This was an amazingly powerful, emotional, funny and complex love story and depicted the way attitudes towards homosexuality have changed. The line that will always stay with me is,
“What is the point of this stupid, painful life if not to be honest? If not to stand up for what you are in the core of your being?”
Thank you to all the authors that have made the last 50 years more amazing because of the stories you shared with me!