As a student and lifelong lover of English Literature, I feel a certain obligation to prove myself by enjoying and appreciating the classics – not just read them because I’m supposed to, but read them for fun.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely do – at least a third of my “Favourite Books In The Entire World” shelf is taken up by the books that Dad bought when he cleared out the “Classics” section of the local Blackwell’s shop. However, the other two-thirds of that shelf is taken up with a whole mish-mash of different books, some of which most definitely need more love – so here they are for you now, counting down from five.
5. “Someone Like You” by Roald Dahl
This one’s at the bottom of the list because, I suppose, it’s the least in need of recognition – but in comparison to Dahl’s other hits (with which everyone from the age of five upwards is familiar) “Someone Like You” is . Most people tend to know the stories through the TV series “Tales Of The Unexpected” which is fine, but the book is certainly worth a read as well. In fact, it’s not so much on the list as a book that needs more love as one that everyone should read.
First published in 1953, it’s one of Dahl’s earliest publications, and was the first short story anthology I ever bought. Each story is simultaneously hilarious and incredibly dark with its own unexpected little twist at the end, and the cynical, blackly comic style of writing has been one of the main influences on my own writing style – see this short story for evidence (although that’s based more on a short story from a different anthology – fifty completely meaningless points if you guess which one).
4. “Un Lun Dun” by China Miéville“UnLondon is at war. We’re under attack. And it’s been written, for centuries, that you – you – will come and save us.”
This young adult novel is an explosion of all the things I didn’t know I wanted until I saw them on the page. Set in UnLondon, a sort of dystopian alternative world formed from all of the broken or discarded things of the original London, “Un Lun Dun” features deadly giraffes, walking buses, dustbin ninjas, talking books, creatures made of words (a concept I cannot ever express enough love for) and one of my favourite fictional villains of all time: the terrible Smog.
Miéville’s book is dark and bizarre and insanely fun to read. I’d recommend it to any Potter fans still looking for similar reading material after the end of the franchise, or anyone who’s a fan of Neil Gaiman’s work. Sidenote: it’s worth getting an author-illustrated edition – Miéville’s drawings are the cherry on top of a beautifully macabre cake.
3. “The Cartoon History Of The Universe” by Larry Gonick
The English Literature part of my brain is berating me for including what is essentially the mother of all comics in this list, but the fact remains that this book is absolutely brilliant. I’ve always been something of a history geek, particularly in my childhood – I still have the three boxes full of Horrible Histories magazines that I collected until the age of ten, and to my delight I found that this acted as a sort of adult follow-on from that (which is great, because while I have no shame in using my little sister as an excuse to watch Horrible Histories on CBBC, it’s nice to have an equivalent that’s actually written with older readers in mind).
2. “Mister God, This Is Anna” by Fynn
Even though I no longer count myself as a religious person, this remains one of my all-time favourite books. “Mister God, This Is Anna” follows the story of the titular character, a five-year-old runaway in 1940s East-End London who is taken in by Fynn and his family. It’s presented as a true story, with “Fynn” as the narrator – in fact, I thought it was, until I did a little bit of googling and discovered that “Fynn” was in fact the pseudonym for the actual author, Sydney George Hopkins.
Even so, the characters are vibrant and very well-rounded, and the way we see even the most complicated philosophical questions filtered through Anna’s world view and distilled into something incredibly simple continues to intrigue me every time I read it (and at only a hundred pages or so, it’s one of those finish-in-a-day stories so I’ve read it through several times).
1. “The Incredible Adam Spark” by Alan Bissett
“The Incredible Adam Spark” centres around eighteen-year-old autistic fast-food worker Adam, who – after a sudden head injury – finds himself thrust into the role of Falkirk’s first and only superhero. Or does he? As the reader, you watch Adam grow and change and struggle with the question of whether or not his curious new powers are, in fact, all in his head.
One of the many things I love about this book is the unique narrative style – it’s written according to Adam’s inner monologue, meaning that the entire novel is narrated in a thick scottish accent, spelled phonetically, riddled with interruptions and bizarre formatting. It’s very easy to be put off by this over the first few pages, but after about the first chapter you just become acclimatised to it and in fact it brings a whole new level to the way the story is told.
And that’s the list! I may or may not do another one of these at some point in the future – maybe suggest a book that you think deserves more love (with reasons attached) in the comments and I could do a reader-dictated post? Just spit-balling here.