A higher education system of enforced literature reading tends to lead to one thing: the wilderness years, post-university, in which you never ever want to read a book again. I escaped relatively unscathed. Others did not.
A friend of mine, who studied on the Creative Writing and English Literature course, proudly informed me he just bought a book. For the first time since university. That was four years ago. Then he asked me to provide a list of books he should read to get back into reading.
This is that list.
These are all great books I’d recommend to anyone, but I should point out this is specifically tailored to him. He gave me the following (useless!) precis of his tastes. “Well, I’ve read all of Sue Townsend and Douglas Adams. But I’m not looking for a comedy. I like, horror, high fantasy, and things with twists.” What book did you just buy? “The new Mark Haddon.” Right…
So the recommendations go thusly:
1. SJ Watson – Before I Go To Sleep
A superb thriller for sucking you in from the first page, compulsively readable and all leading to a great twist. All whilst avoiding any whiff of airport novel or, to put it slightly sniffily, trash.
2. The Haunted Book by Jeremy Dyson
This is not as terrifying as his ‘Ghost Stories’ play, but its in the same vein, and its damn good. Interconnected stories framed by the writers ‘search for the truth about the supernatural.’ Watch the trailer for it online if you wish to jump out of your skin and have sleepless nights.
3. Belle Du Jour – The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl
I love this woman, and if I know my friend’s liberal use of sex-related verbs to describe everyday occurrences (well, that teaspoon is just FUCKING my cup of tea right up the ARSE), this should work well. What elevates it above the ‘bonkbuster’ status is occasionally gets pigeon-holed in is her complete and forthright honesty, and outright strength. I repeat, I love this woman.
4. David Sedaris – Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim/Naked
(Did I mention? The friend is gay.) Quite simply put, no-one makes real life funnier than David Sedaris, and not many people can be funny with this much pathos. I hope the Google Glass comes with a Sedaris app, that will filter the world through your sunglasses so that you can see it just the way he does.
5. Neil Gaiman – Neverwhere
Another solid fantasy classic, where a Londoner going about his day to day churn in the big city of London suddenly falls through the cracks and discovers the bizarre world of London below, where there are Knights at Knights Bridge and an Angel at Angel Islington. A wonderful, wonderful novel by a wonderful, wonderful writer.
6. The Magicians – Lev Grossman
Remember he said Mark Haddon? Well, if Mark Haddon decided to write Harry Potter, he might produce something like this; the real story of what everyday teenagers plucked out of real life and put in a magic school might do. (See, even that sentence sounds childish. This book is not.) It also features the most pitch-perfect parody of Narnia you will read anywhere.
7. Pumpkin Teeth by Tom Cardamone
Am I putting this in just because its a personal favourite? No, I don’t think so. The perfect fusion of literary and genre, with a dark, queer sensibility, and running the gamut from horror to joy.
8. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruis Zafon
A book that absolutely creaks with atmosphere; the gothic bleached into the streets of Barcelona, with lost libraries and mysterious strangers lurking amongst the gables and madhouses, waiting for history to unwind itself.
9. Anno Dracula by Kim Newman
What if Dracula came to England… and married Queen Victoria?
10. Glen Duncan – The Last Werewolf
When we left university, I gave him a similar list of ten novels to read. Top of the list was I, Lucifer, because since college I have been a mad raving Glen Duncan fan. Since then he achieved a minor hit with The Last Werewolf, a kind of anti-Twilight that puts the sex and gore and bite back into werewolf stories. Personally? Its not the best of his novels. But its still great, and it’s a great reminder of how good reading can be.
So… what do we think? Agree? Disagree? Suggestions? Feel free to comment or tweet me!