Susan Hill did a top forty of her favourite, can’t live without books at the end of Howard’s End is on the Landing.
Some of them I had never heard of, some of them I had heard of but had never read, and some of them I had read but didn’t think much of. Susan Hill’s list made me realise just how very different people’s reading preferences and experiences can be, and made me wonder at the mystery of how a book can speak so powerfully to one person, and yet leave another completely cold. There is magic inside the pages of some books for me. Magic; gold dust, if you will, that settles upon me as soon as I start to read, enchanting me, entrancing me, pulling me into another world so completely that I become wholly absorbed in the story, immersed in the world the words have created, at one with the characters who have come alive on the pages, and totally oblivious to the real world around me. It is like I have fallen into the pages, and actually become a character myself, watching the events as they unfold, powerless to intervene, a silent, enthralled onlooker.
However, these books that have managed to cast a spell over me may most likely mean nothing to others. They may have never read them; or, worse, they may have read them, and hated every word. How can words that I treasure so much, stories that have become part of the fabric of my being, be boring or uninteresting or just not all that special to somebody else? I have absolutely no idea, but this is, for so many, the delight and the adventure of reading; everyone’s experience is such a personal endeavour, and everyone’s soul is made up of the memories, inspiration, encouragement and emotion of different stories that have combined to mould us into the people we are. The stories we love, and hate, are a window, I think, into the truest nature of our hearts. And that is why I am so fascinated by the books people read.
I have been thinking about my favourite books, the ones I truly couldn’t live without. I’ve decided to limit them to ten, or things could get ridiculous. Making the list as concise as possible has forced me to distil my reading experience down to the bare essentials, those few books that have formed me, that never cease to delight and move me, and that have inspired me to become the woman I am today. The books I could quite happily read exclusively for the rest of my life; the books I would save if all my other books had to be sold, or given away, or disposed of, for some awful reason; the books that would sustain me through all of life’s joys and trials. Quite an undertaking. But I have done it. And here they are, in no particular order. I wonder what they say about me:
- The Bible (NLT translation is my preferred version – the link is to my exact copy!)
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
- The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
- Persuasion by Jane Austen
- The Hours by Michael Cunningham
- Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
- The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield
- Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Of course this list can only contain the books I have read so far in my twenty three years, and is subject to change as I read more, and my life experiences widen, but as of today, if someone packed me off to foreign climes with no more than one suitcase to contain my belongings, and no opportunity to ever lay my hands on a book again, these would be the ten I’d be taking with me; my greatest treasures, all of them.
I wonder; what would yours be?