Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Top Ten All-Time Favourite Books

It's almost noon Pacific Time, December 31, 2013; in another 12 hours, 2014 will have moved into place in the Pacific West Coast. :0) Happy New Years to those who've already celebrated and the best in 2014 to everybody. I've been studiously avoiding starting any of my 2014 reading selections today but finding it very difficult. I will admit that I read the prologue (3 pages) and the various book reviews and the author's acknowledgements in one of the books, but I will persevere and wait until tomorrow... or maybe when I go to bed tonight, before starting them.

So what to do today to occupy my time. Well, I've gone for my last jog of 2013 and felt pretty good about it I must say and taken the dogs for two walks so far. And it's still only noon.. lol. I also plan to do some ironing tonight, the missus and I do like to relax during our holidays. But in the interim, I've been rereading some of my Blogs and thought that it might be time to update my Top Ten All-time favourite book list. When I first started this Blog, back in September 2010 (has it really been that long?), I did a number of posts (10 to be exact) where I listed my Top Ten Favourite books of all-time. It's been 3 years now and I think time to see if I've changed my mind on any of the books. My original list was -

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (published in 1960)
2. On the Beach by Nevil Shute (published in 1957)
3. Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (published in 1951)
4. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (published in 1898)
5. The Postman by David Brin (published in 1985)
6. The Stand by Stephen King (published in 1978)
7. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (published in 1940)
8. Nineteen Eighty - Four by George Orwell (published in 1949)
9. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (published in 1962)
10. The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman (published in 1962)

My revised list contains some of the previous list as I haven't changed my feelings on them at all. Some that have disappeared may be somewhat arbitrary, but sometimes it is just as simple as I haven't read it in many years and I need to do so to see if my thoughts remain the same. So here you go, my revised all-time Top Ten Favourite books -

10. Pied Piper by Nevil Shute (published in 1942). This has always been a favourite of mine, but I think one reason why I didn't put it in my Top Ten last time was that I already had a book by Nevil Shute. But I've since reread (I think it's the third time I've done so) and I loved it again. Nevil Shute is one of the great story tellers. He puts normal people in often untenable situations and these people, who are kind, decent people, work their way through these situations calmly, gently often and make you love them. In Pied Piper, an elderly Englishman, John Sydney Howard, decides to make a trip to his favourite fishing grounds in the Swiss Alps, feeling it might be his last opportunity with WWII threatening. France is invaded while he is there and Mr. Howard finds himself escorting an ever increasing number of children to England to keep them safe. It is these events which Shute so perfectly describes and it is Mr. Howard's strength under extreme conditions that draws you in to the story. It is a beautifully crafted  and excellent story.

9. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin (published in 1969). I have read this book at least twice since I first read it in my Science Fiction novel course at uni. I will admit that I do need to read again as it's been probably 20 years since I last read it. However, I recall it as a fascinating story. Basically, an envoy from the Ekumen (an intergalactic coalition of humanoid worlds), a Terran native, Genly Ai is sent to the planet Winter (the name explains what the overriding climate of the planet is) to try and persuade the inhabitants of the planet to join the Ekumen. The interesting thing about the people of Winter is that they are ambisexual, spending the majority of the time as asexual and only once a month changing to either male or female during the period of high fertility. This has made Winter a peaceful world, I presume, without the constant irritant of male aggression, there is no desire to fight. There is political intrigue and the Prime Minister, Estraven, tries to escape. Genly ends up in a work camp in the frozen North and the Prime Minister comes to help her. It is their voyage through this frigid North where the relationship between Genly and Estraven develops and this part of the book especially turns an interesting Science Fiction novel into a fascinating must-read novel. I highly recommend and do plan to read again. If you want another recommendation, in the movie The Jane Austen Book Club, The Left Hand of Darkness is a challenge read for one of the couples. How's that for a recommendation?

8. The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier (published in 1969). This is another book I read for the first time while at uni. I didn't take it for a course, I think I liked the cover and then the write up on the dust jacket. Another fascinating story that I think may have influenced other writers such as Diana Gabaldon (and her Outlander series) and maybe even books like The Time Traveller's Wife. Of course, that's just my supposition. But the story is a time-travel novel and a unique one at that. This is the synopsis that drew me in; "Richard Young, tired of his life as a publisher, bored with his wife Vita and his two stepsons, is staying in his scientist friend Magnus' house in Cornwall. Magnus has developed a new hallucinogenic drug which Richard tries. His trips on this drug take him back 600 years as invisible witness to lives more exciting than his own, whose fascination begins to have repercussions in the 'real' world." du Maurier neatly intertwines Richards real life with his visits to the past making a fascinating story. This is especially evident when Richard wakes from one of his trips. The story has everything, excitement, romance, danger and fascinating descriptions of the area where Richard is staying. This is a book I've enjoyed a few times and it's due for a reread.

7. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (published in 1985). This is a dystopian novel, a work of Science Fiction by Canadian author, Margaret Atwood. It's a book I've enjoyed many times and has also been released as a well-received movie in 1990, with the screenplay by Harold Pinter and starring Natasha Richardson in the lead role. This is the synopsis, "Now, in a book that is at once mordant satire and dire warning, Atwood has created an Orwellian 1984 as seen by women in the near future. life in what was once the United States has become a sexually repressed existence in the Republic of Gilead, an intolerant theocracy founded by religious extremists. In a land where today's rhetoric has become tomorrow's reality, a still-young woman hauntingly recalls her old life in the 1980's, and with cool-eyed, often desperate detachment, she describes her new life as Handmaid, enlisted to bear children for the elite." It's a fascinating story, well-thought out and developed, at times scary as Atwood presents her vision of this future. She has carried on her looks at the future in more recent books, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, but consider this book as the precursor and consider it a must-read.

6.  The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (published in 1951). This book may have moved down my list but still strikes a chord with me. Even considering the unfortunate TV adaptation that came out in 2009, starring Dougray Scott, which bore no relation to the book, I still think this is one of the great Science Fiction novels ever written. This was my write up when I did my last Top Ten List. Check it out here.

5. The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham (published in 1944). This was a first time read for me this year. I bought it during a visit to Kingston, Ontario and read it over a weekend basically while the missus and I were attending the World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ontario. It was a story that grabbed me from the first page. This was my Goodread's review of the story, "I'd never read any Somerset Maugham before and really had no desire to read anything by him either. However recently I saw The Razor's Edge in a antique/ collectibles shop and I liked the look of it. Since one of my Reading groups was reading Modern English Classics as this month's genre, I decided to read it. I must say that I was most pleasantly surprised. Maugham has a way about him of telling a story. His writing style is very fluid and eminently readable. The story was interesting, the dialogue flowed nicely and I found myself waiting anxiously to get back to the book when I put it down. Did a lot happen? It was a tale of people, specifically friends of Maugham's, as he is the narrator and a character, with whom he spends time and observes. I liked the characters and I liked Maugham as well. He's an observer of humanity and expresses his observations so very well. Anyway, I loved the story, it's one of my favourites of this year. Will I read any more of his books? Well I purchased The Moon and Sixpence yesterday, so I hope so." The review doesn't go into detail about the book. It is basically the story of Larry Darrell, an American who is traumatised by his experiences in World War I and goes in search of some meaning in his life. On the way he interacts with Maugham and other friends. The characters are wonderfully portrayed, the dialogue is excellent. Overall it's a wonderful story.

4. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (published in 1940). In my previous iteration of my Top Ten List this book was my number 7 as it was a relatively new read for me and it had been a long time since I'd seen the excellent movie. Since that time, the missus and I have watched again and it's rekindled my feelings for the story. Basically a lovely story about a young woman growing up in the South and her relationships with a group of interesting friends, especially the deaf mute boarder, Mr. Singer. My thoughts on the book in the previous review can be found here.

3. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (published in 1898). I moved this up somewhat from my previous list. It is a book I've read a few times and it is due a reread in 2014. One thing I've always wanted is for somebody to make a movie of the book that follows the book, in the time frame the book was originally set. The most recent adaptation, starring Tom Cruise upset me very much. So many directors have shown the ability to create an excellent period piece. This book would be perfectly suited to such an adaptation. Maybe the BBC can persuade somebody to develop a version for them. I can only hope. My original thoughts on this selection can be found here.

2. On the Beach by Nevil Shute (published in 1957). I have read this book 3 or 4 times and never tire of it. It is probably the best 'end-of-the-world' stories I've ever read and that is a genre that I enjoy very much. It's such a classic and as I mentioned with my other Nevil Shute story, he is one of the best story - tellers ever. No matter what the situation, he presents people gently, demonstrating them to be loving, heroic and thoughtful. He writes such wonderful stories and having most recently read another of his stories, The Far Country, which was one of my Top Tens for 2013, I look forward to reading even more. This is my Goodread's reviews of the book, pretty basic for such an excellent book, "One of my top ten favourite books. I've read it so many times and also seen the movie with Gregory Peck a few times. So low key, yet it's the end of the world. US submarine in Australia, trying to see if there is any life in the Northern hemisphere. Life in Australia as the end draws near. US submarine makes final voyage to US. Truly fantastic story.  (added after most recent read) Having read this again, it's still a great story, what a powerful lesson to teach mankind. So depressing, ultimately, but told with class." More detail on the book, the movie and Nevil Shute can be found here in my original post.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (published in 1960). This book (and the movie adaptation) has been my all-time favourite since the first time I read it. I've read many times, I've watched the movie adaptation many times and each time it makes me laugh, makes me cry, makes me angry. I can see why Harper Lee might not have wanted to write another book after this, her first and only, as it is a perfect, timeless classic. However, at the same time, it would have been wonderful if she could have crafted more classics with her unique view of humankind. This is a touching story of a young girl, Scout Finch, growing up in the Southern US, during the 1930's. Various incidents influence her life, from the rape of a white girl, the trial of the black man accused of the act and other incidents, involving her father, her brother and the secretive neighbour, Boo Radley. There is so much to this story, so many layers, that even writing a bit more about it now, brings back the same feelings I have when I read it or watch it. My original thoughts on the book and the movie can be found here.

So there you have it, my latest iteration. I'll check back in a few years, if the Blog is still going and adjust, maybe.. :0)

Now onto 2014. 10 hours to go!! Happy New Year and the very best for 2014!!

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