There are so many books I have read that I took something from I want to share. So here, in no particular order, I will ponder upon and list my top 10 books I think should be read at least once in your lifetime...
Cwmardy - Lewis Jones (1937). This is a hidden gem from a lesser-known Welsh author. It's the first of two novels that form an educational and political bildungsroman in the Welsh mining towns of the early twentieth century. In this first part, the story follows protagonist Len from childhood to early adulthood, charting his personal and political growth during an era of immense Welsh struggle. There is much historical fact packed into it's pages, but is so beautifully written that the reader is catapulted into the Welsh hillside as though they themselves were sat staring out at the vast, hilly landscape in which the novel is set. Far from the preachy left-wing content one would expect, the political elements can be so subtle it is often overshadowed by the novel's beautiful imagery. Jones, Lewis, Cwmardy (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1991).
Oroonoko - Aphra Behn (1688). Don't be put off by its seventeenth century publication date! This is one of the earliest literary takes on slavery, following the journey of African Prince, Oroonoko (later re-named Caesar) from his life of comfort in African royalty, his being tricked into slavery, to his relatively comfortable life as a non-working slave. This novella touches on love, slavery, and morality, and its handy pocket size means it's a fascinating, yet short insight into the early days of slavery; one not wholly focussed on the experience of the slave in America, but also in their home country. Behn, Aphra. Oroonoko (London: Penguin Classics, 2003).
The End of Mr Y - Scarlett Thomas (2006). I first read this book around 15 years ago when I found it left in a house after I moved in. I loved the cover and the black page edges, and I remember thinking it looked quite gothic. I recommended the book a dozen times over the following years, careful about who I let in on this little secret. Thomas has an amazing talent for creating an engaging adventure embedded in a wealth of scientific fact and fact-based fiction (I hope - I'm no scientist!!). It's difficult to put into words without giving it away, but the ending sat with me to such a degree that I re-read it this year. While, admittedly, I had remembered it with a romantic memory, it was still everything I remembered it to be. Although shrouded in science, this book calls into question ideas around creation and religion with a protagonist not afraid to use her sexuality to get further along on her mission. It really is a must-read for any fantasy-fiction lover, and a great introduction to those less inclined towards a hard-to-define genre mix. Thomas, Scarlett. The End of Mr Y (Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2008).
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini (2003). I'm going to cheat here slightly and name two- because I just cannot choose between this and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Both are amazing; I read the latter first and went straight to the bookshop to buy The Kite Runner as I just couldn't wait. Both novels opened up my eyes to the other side of war, the civilians on the ground in the places we bomb, reminding me that not only are they just like us, they are often so much more. I whole-heartedly recommend both of these titles, and if you're anything like me you will not stop until you finish then regret reading them too fast.
(5-10 to follow soon)