The Pure Pleasure of Books

Writers must read, and read widely, we’re told. Why would anyone not want to read?

Waterstones PiccadillyI’ve always loved reading and was fortunate to be born into a home full of books. I can never understand when I go to somebody’s house and there are no books around. I wonder why? Why would you deprive yourself?

In my childhood and young adult years, I read widely around my O- and A-level set texts and ploughed through school recommended reading lists. I’m a completer, you see; I love nothing more than to see a line of ticks against every single book on a list.

I lost my way fictionally speaking for a few years. Busy with life, a career and weekends full of DIY, I confess (the shame… the shame…) that my reading narrowed to Cosmo and endless sort-your-life-out self-reflection and cod-psychology books. Venus and Mars, several dozen how to be a better woman and even more how to meet the man of your dreams texts all passed through my hands. They didn’t work.

In my late twenties I found my way back to fiction via the Sunday Times book reviews and best seller lists. I own up to occasional forays into chick lit (Bridget Jones had a lot to answer for) uber-commercial (John Grisham and Jeffrey Archer are sneered at by many, but rewarded me with hours of page-turnability) and even the odd few chapters of erotica (Black Lace, the forerunner brand to 50 Shades and all its imitators).  But my pleasure has enduringly come from what might be called mainstream quality fiction – the sort of books which these days get talked about in book clubs and find themselves adorned with Richard & Judy or Costa stickers, and are so often on those 3 for 2 promotional tables at Waterstones.

Today I love reading and listening to these types of books, and I’ll typically have 3 or 4 on the go at once; paperbacks, e-books and audio. I love stories which engage me with the quality of their writing and the depth of their characters, but deliver a great plot and a satisfying ending. And I particularly enjoy stories with a psychological edge.

But I was sorting out my bookshelves the other day and I realised that I’ve enjoyed many different types of books over the years. Just for fun, I thought I’d let you in on a few of my favourites. I’m not trying to be smart or clever – just me – so there are pot-boilers and airport books as well as contemporary literary, funnies and even the odd classic. Whilst I have few favourite authors, I’ve only included one book from any particular author. It’s not an exhaustive list, by any means – it’s really not – just a few notables.

Sizzling Psychological Suspense

  • Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
  • Blue-Eyed-Boy – Joanne Harris
  • Before I Go to Sleep – S J Watson
  • Room – Emma Donoghue
  • Monster Love – Carol Topolski

Gripping Grizzlies

  • Acts of Violence – Ryan David Jahn
  • A Quiet Belief in Angels – R J Ellory
  • London Fields – Martin Amis

Favourite funnies

  • My Family and Other Animals – Gerald Durrell
  • Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson
  • E: A Novel – Matt Beaumont
  • The Hundred-Year-Old-Man Who Jumped out of a Window – Jonas Jonasson

Books I just loved from beginning to end, sometimes without even knowing why

  • A History of the World in 10½ Chapters – Julian Barnes
  • Far From the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
  • Beach Music – Pat Conroy
  • Wild Swans – Jung Chang
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – John Berendt
  • Alone in Berlin – Hans Fallada
  • One Day – David Nicholls

Books that made me want to give somebody – anybody – a huge hug

  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows
  • The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce
  • Five People You Meet in Heaven – Mitch Albom
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time – Mark Haddon
  • The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer

Amazing audiobook narrations

  • The Casual Vacancy – J K Rowling (narrated by Tom Hollander)
  • Dominion – C J Sansom (narrated by Daniel Weyman)
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson (narrated by Saul Reichlin)
  • The Help – Kathryn Stockett (narrated by Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, Cassandra Campbell)
  • A Kind of Intimacy – Jenn Ashworth (narrated by Jane Collingwood)

I’d love to know if you have a favourite read, and why. I’m always on the lookout for books that leave their mark on a reader and I’m sure I miss many, many great reads.  So, tell me… what would you recommend?

35 thoughts on “The Pure Pleasure of Books

    1. Really? Oh, that’s nice! It’s a pretty everyday selection, but there might be a few you haven’t come across, worth trying.

        1. It’s all about the pleasure of immersing yourself in a good read. I don’t know that genre well, but it’s a rich pasture.

    1. Ah… we Brits know how to write a good crime thriller! I say ‘we’…. but you know what I mean 🙂

  1. you have so much great information in your blog. I struggle to get much reading time but I know I can learn plenty from you, Thank you so much and greetings… 🙂

  2. I recently read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Best book I’ve read in years. So much so I keep recommending it to people so I’ll have someone else to talk to about it other than my neighbour who originally recommended it. Please give it a go

    1. Sounds interesting – It’s not one I’d have picked out myself but I’ll put it on my list. Thanks for sharing your recommendation.

  3. I’m sure you’ve missed one…. 😉

    An excellent, diverse selection. I’m a completist too, as you would tell if you visited my study. I have rows of Stephen King, Guy Gavriel Kay, Iain Banks (and his alter ego Iain M.) Patrick O’Brian, Robin Hobb, George RR and the complete set of Flashman to name but a few.
    You can learn as much from a good page-turner as you can a literary classic. You just need to read.

    Oh, did I forget Tom Clancy, Peter F Hamilton, Irvine Welsh, Pratchett, Simon Schama….

    1. Wow, that’s quite a selection! I’ve read a little Stephen King, but none of the others you enjoy. So many books, so little time!

  4. Knowing your interest in unreliable narrators, I’d suggest Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson. Was so wrapped up in the characters I forgot to look for the twists and got slapped round the face not once but twice. Would have to add a George Eliot or Wilkie Collins to your list for deeply satisfying. For pure beauty of prose, it’s hard to beat Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales. And the loudest I have ever laughed is at Rupert Baxter, in P G Wodehouse’s Lord Emsworth tales.

    1. You mentioned Gods in Alabama the other day and I was intrigued. Lots of great suggestions here too. I marvel at how well-read you are – it puts me and my pot-boilers to shame 😉

      1. Not at all. My teens were a real mix with my mother (and grandmother) casting penny dreadfuls at me, while my brother threw his Wilbur Smiths. It wasn’t till my twenties that I really discovered how good the classics are and since then, though I love modern fiction it’s hard to enjoy the best sellers. And my shameful secret is I loathe Jane Austen. So I’m obviously a literary lightweight!

        1. One thing I know is that there’s nothing to be gained from being snobby about books – entertainment can come from a beautifully crafted literary work or a classic, and from a ripping yarn or a pot-boiler you buy in the supermarket.

  5. I’ve read a few of your favorites and I have to agree. I would recommend ‘Middlesex’ by Jeffrey Eugenides if you haven’t read it. The audio i listened to was really well done if you want to go that route.

    1. Ah, I’ve heard of ‘Middlesex’ – a tour de force by all accounts. Another one for my list, and thanks for sharing.

  6. Lawrence Block the burgler series, Dean Koontz, Michael Connelly, JD Nixon both Little Big Town and Heller series ebooks, Neil Gainman. All of these writers pull you in to their stories.

  7. Good diverse list you’ve got there Jools! It was Gabriel García Márquez who first got me into literature with ‘No-one Writes to the Colonel’, His magic realist classic ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ is a favourite. More recently, I enjoyed ‘The Sound of Things Falling’ by Juan Gabriel Vásquez (good example of an unreliable narrator) and am currently enjoying his ‘The Secret History of Costaguana’.

    1. Ah… I knew we could depend on you to flag-up a few towering Latin American authors. That’s a great trio, combining magic realism, unreliable narrator and heaps of Latin American heritage.

  8. I think you and I were twins separated at birth. I printed your list and I’ve read three quarters of them. Try any of the 3 books by Joseph Boyden. I enjoyed The Orenda the most but each of them are a great excuse to curl up and read.

    1. Oh that’s funny! I don’t know Joseph Boyden’s books but will give them a try since our tastes seem so well aligned. Thanks for the tip.

  9. What a gift Jools! A ready to wear booklist. This is getting cut and pasted somewhere. BTW, months ago I listened to *Life After LIfe” because I saw it on your sidebar.

    1. Well, I hope you enjoy some at least, of my happiest book experiences! I’m plugging away at Life After Life as I’ve enjoyed all of Kate Atkinson’s previous books. But it’s very different, and I’m not connecting with it as readily as I have her other stories. I’m reading rather than listening, and I wonder if listening would make it easier. What do you think?

      1. Yes, Life After Life. You may notice that I said I’d read it, but not that I particularly liked it. It is different from her other works. I’m hoping Jackson Brody will make another appearance.

        1. Ha! Yes I noticed! I realise she can’t go on writing Jackson Brodie for ever, but they are good reads, aren’t they?

  10. Favourite audio book narrators? Ian McKellen on Wolf Brother, Stephen Fry for Harry Potter [rightly won lots of prizes], Andrew Sachs doing Agatha Christie! SD

    1. Oh these are good to know – great narrators add a special something to the experience of a story. Thanks for the tips. I must be one of a tiny community who has not read HP. Might be worth attempting the audio?

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