I recently wrote about the books that have got me through lockdown. All 13 of them. Since then I’ve added another 6 books to that tally, including the eye opening “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F Saad, and “Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge in a bid to improve my own education about the treatment of Black people in these turbulent times. (At all times in fact. But that’s possibly for another blog post.)
I was recently tagged in a “Post 10 books in 10 days” post on Facebook. I soon realised that narrowing down 10 books which have had an impact on me would be pretty damn difficult. So I’ve decided to pop my top 15 into a blog post. Let me know in the comments below if any of our favourites match, or if I’ve inspired you to read any of these for the first time!
This also coincides with Independent Bookshop Week, which is 20th-27th June this year. COVID-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted here in the UK, but you still may not fancy a shopping trip. Instead why not use indiebookshopweek.org.uk or booksellers.org.uk to find your local independent and find out if they have an online ordering system? Sadly, we’re not blessed with a ton of indie book stores here in Birmingham; our nearest is Bookshop On the Green over in Bournville. However, I’ve just discovered Hive.co.uk, where you can order books online, and nominate a favourite local bookseller to get a percentage of each sale. I confess to buying a lot of books on my Kindle, but this’ll be a great alternative when I want to purchase physical copies of the books I love to go on my bookshelf.
So, in no particular order, these are the 15 books I love most on my bookshelf, and which (imho) deserve a read.
This is one of those books that stay with you forever. It’s honest, it’s witty, and it’s heartbreaking as you read the diary of this teenage girl, with so many hopes and aspirations despite the tragedies unfolding in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. If you get the opportunity to visit the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, I wholly recommend you do so.
I read this book some time ago, and straight away recommended it to everyone I knew. The story revolves around Laila and Mariam, and their complex relationship with each other and their husband Rasheed. It’s a harrowing insight into the lives of Afghan women, living in a turbulent patriarchal society. The Kite Runner and And The Mountains Echoed by the same author are also worth a read.
Set in 1920s Alaska, this is a modern day fairy-tale of a childless couple who seem to conjure up a mysterious little girl after creating a “snow child”during the first snowfall of the season. It’s well-crafted and enchanting, with beautiful descriptions of the bleak and brutal Alaskan landscape. One to read on a cold winter’s night, wrapped up in a duvet with a steaming hot chocolate.
In 1940, a young blind girl and her father flee Paris to the coast. A gifted German orphan boy finds himself tracking enemy signals for the Wermacht. Their stories eventually collide as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. This book is full of rich detail that stimulates the senses, and takes a different path from the usual novels set in this period.
I mentioned this one in my recent Lockdown Library blog post, and it’s shot into my favourites list. It’s beautifully written, transporting you to the marshes of North Carolina; a tale of loneliness and fear and a yearning for something more.
A book that should form part of every young girl’s literary journey, Little Women needs little introduction. A classic coming of age story about four sisters and their mother, living in poverty during the Civil War, it’s a tale that makes me smile, makes me cry, and makes me think. There have been some notable film adaptations, but I loved the recent Greta Gerwig version.
I have no idea where my copy of One Day went so it looks like I’m going to have to re-purchase this one! This is the story of Emma and Dexter, who meet on St Swithins Day, and revisits them on the same day over the next 20 years. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, and heart-wrenchingly sad. Make sure you have tissues to hand. I also highly recommend Sweet Sorrow by the same author.
Whilst you’ve got the tissues out, delve into The Fault In Our Stars. This love story of two teenage cancer sufferers is never depressing but instead gently tugs on your emotions until you’re a blubbering mess. Don’t let the fact that it’s a YA book put you off, it’s a book about blossoming relationships, about hope, about life and about death.
There’s a bit of a theme going here, but this is one of the only books that has made me bawl in public. That and Lily And The Octopus (do not read if you have or have lost a beloved pet – you have been warned). Twelve-year old Trevor starts a chain of human kindness by doing good deeds for three people, and asking them to pay it forward to three other people. It’s a beautiful concept, and the book tells of both the successful and unsuccessful outcomes of this simple plan.
This is another recent read, covered in my Lockdown Library blog post. It’s the story of 8 year old Luca and his mother Lydia, forced to flee their comfortable life in Acapulco and cross the dangerous borders from Mexico into the United States. It’s sobering, gripping and completely unforgettable.
RIP Carlos Ruiz Zafon, who passed away just last weekend. His 2001 novel, set around the Gothic quarter of Barcelona, is a stunning thriller telling a tale of bookstores, shadowy figures and mysterious authors. It’s stylish, evocative and epic. And if you love this, there are another three books in The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series.
Another classic to add to the list, many of the themes from this masterpiece of American literature resonate today. Racism, ignorance, social inequality. The book beautifully encapsulates the 1930’s Deep South, and our narrator Scout Finch looks back with hindsight and wisdom as she remembers her perspective as an innocent and naive child.
A whimsical tale of magic and fantasy that centres around the mysterious Le Cirque de Rêves that appears at dusk and disappears by dawn. It’s dreamy and ethereal, but with dark, sinister threads running through. There’s a love story at its heart, with more than a hint of Romeo & Juliet about it.
One of those books that makes you think and stays with you long after you’ve finished, The Radium Girls tells the incredible true story of the shimmering, luminous girls that worked in America’s radium-dial factories during the First World War. Golden opportunities led to gruesome side effects, and this book tells the story of those that fought for justice whilst others lost their lives. A gripping and powerful read.
I love Kate Atkinson’s writing, and this book is another time travelling tale; this time it’s the story of Ursula Todd who lives through her life again and again, making different choices each time like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. It’s absorbing, beautifully written, and if you love the Todd family like I did, then go on and read the follow-up A God In Ruins. This is one that I’m definitely planning to re-read again soon.
Phew, that’s quite a list! I hope you’ve found something here that tickles your literary taste buds, and I’ve enjoyed revisiting some of my favourites. Some books are read once and forgotten, consigned to a charity shop pile, but these are all stories which I could read again and again. Don’t forget to let me know in the comments what you think of my selection!