Sunday, 9 March 2014

Reading Autobiography Part 2: 10 more top reads

Our contribution to the school World Book Day extreme reading photo collage.
So as planned here is Part Two of my all time top twenty reads.  It was much harder to finalise this list - there were a lot of possibles and I've changed my mind several times.  These books made the final cut for various reasons, not all really to do with the 'quality' of the book.  Some were chosen because they are associated with  particular time or place.  Others are there because I remember the sheer pleasure they gave me when I read them.  A good book for me also has to be memorable and maybe say something about the state of the world or about the human consciousness.  No - that sounds pretentious.  Shall I just get on with it?

The Bridge by Iain Banks
Have blogged before about Iain Banks' books and how sad we were when he died last year.  This is my favourite of his books - I've read it twice.  Banks also considered it his best novel.  Almost sci-fi and not my usual kind of book at all with several overlapping narratives but there's a kind of love story at the heart of it. I suppose that made me warm to it more than some of the others like Complicity which I found too violent. The bridge is the Forth railway bridge in Fife and is kind of central to the whole novel.  Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, which nearly made the list, is similar in structure but The Bridge is better in my opinion - not as long or as weird. 

Praxis by Fay Weldon
Once upon a time in the early 80s before I became a teacher I'd decided I wanted to work in travel.  Did a post-grad course and got a job, working at first for an Irish tour company (my boss was John Doonican, brother of Val, for those of you old enough to remember).  Then, when that folded, found a job with Alitalia, the Italian airline.  I worked in a building on Oxford Circus and it all sounds very glamorous but it wasn't.  I worked in accounts; it was boring; the building had no windows and there was a creepy little man called Orlando who accosted me every time I went to the photocopier.  Escaped mentally by reading my way through everything Fay Weldon had ever written during lunch and coffee breaks. This one is the best in my view. She a great writer - humour and a serious feminist message mixed.  Met her once at a Chester Literature festival event - she's a very entertaining speaker.

Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
An unusual book which explores bullying and relationships between young girls. It's like another of my choices, Patrick Gale's Notes on an Exhibition as images of painting are used throughout the novel.  I also met Margaret Atwood at a Cosmopolitan book day in London (!) many years ago.  She signed a book for me. Lovely lady.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum Kate Atkinson
Still her best book in my view and nothing since has come close until Life after Life  Read a copy after it first came out in 1995 and haven't read it since but still remember it.  On my to reread list.

The Stone Diaries Carol Shields
I'm seeing a pattern in the books I've chosen.  The last three tell the stories of (fictional) women's lives.  So does this one.  It's a fictional autobiography in fact.   It's a long time also since I read this but some episodes (the birth for example) so well written that I can rerun them in my mind like a film.

Star of the Sea Joseph O'Connor
One of two Irish entries to the list though to be honest I could also have included at least of one Maeve Binchy's books.  I read every single one of these and then passed them on to my mother-in-law whose usual  reading was Mills and Boon.  Great storyteller and another sad loss recently.  Star of the Sea is a more demanding read, telling the story of a ship on the way to New York at the time of the Irish Potato famine.  Click here for a proper review by Terry Eagleton.  Like my recent favourite, Where'd You Go, Bernadette, it is narrated in a series of documents; news articles, letters etc.  So is The Stone Diaries I think.

Beloved Toni Morrison
Gave up on first attempt at reading this, but came back to it and glad I did. Disturbing and memorable and there's the chapter which begins 'I am Beloved.. which sent tingles up my spine.

Fingersmith Sarah Waters
My favourite of all her novels.  A great storyline and set in Victorian London. Has the best plot and most unexpected plot twist ever.

Notes from an Exhibition Patrick Gale
Read this a few years ago followed by all the rest of Gale's novels.  Interesting portrayal of family life and mental illness.

Skippy Dies Paul Murray
Last book on the list and another Irish writer. Have blogged before about this book here. Hard to choose between this and Zadie Smith's White Teeth.  Similar because both use humour and create a picture of contemporary life, Smith in London; Murray in Dublin. Went for Murray in the end. 

So that's it.  I'd love to hear other people's top twenty.  It's been great linking to Laura at Circle of Pine Trees for the Year in Books, but won't link this as I'm kind of breaking the rules and have done my link up for the month already.  But if you come across this post via Laura, I'd love to hear from you. 


  1. The Bridge, Skippy Dies and Behind the Scenes at the Museum are definitely on my all time best reads list. I am not sure if I could narrow it down to 20... I will try and come up with my own list I think, it is such a good idea and I am now going over to Amazon and add some of the books you mention to my wish list. Thank you! Cx

    1. I'm surprised and delighted that you share these favourites with me - hardly anyone I know has read Skippy but I love it. So would be pleased to hear of your favourites even if you can't narrow it down to 20.