The number of books in this world must reach into millions. A quick Google tells me that there were just shy of 130 million books in 2010, so that number will have increased by at least a few thousand, perhaps even a few hundred thousand in the last couple of years. With so many books in the world it’s near enough impossible to have read every single one of them. Even if you did try, once you finish one book, another three or four would pop up in its place.
Over the years I’ve read many books, I’ve enjoyed lots of different kinds of stories and explored various different worlds. Each book has given me an insight into a different aspect of the world and made me see it in a new light.
The following ten books are stories which have captured my attention, my heart and everything in between. I’ve laughed with them, cried through them and found solace in their pages. Above all else, these books have stayed with me for, in some cases, a long time.
I suppose my books have sections, some I discovered in childhood, others in adulthood and a few more at random times without any given reason. Interestingly enough, I’ve read three books from my list in the last couple of years.
1. Ian Serraillier – The Silver Sword
There are many stories they make you read in school; Shakespeare, To Kill a Mockingbird and Henry’s Leg are just a few that I had the privilege (or curse?) to read. But aside from those, there are only a couple of stories that have truly stayed with me since I was forced to read them.
The Silver Sword was my entrance into fiction set in the Second World War and you will see as this list goes on that it was a very important thing I discovered.
The Silver Sword is one of only a handful of books by male authors which have really taken me in. This novel tells the story of a family, three children, who must find their way across Europe in the height of war. It’s a story filled with love, emotion and plenty of drama as they survive each and every battle they face.
2. Michael Morpurgo – Private Peaceful
Another war and another male author, Michael Morpurgo has written a few stories which I enjoyed. The Butterfly Lion only missed out on a place here because I simply didn’t have enough space and Private Peaceful just about pipped it to the post.
They made a film out of this story a couple of years ago, starring the wonderful young actor, Jack O’Connell, and though it wasn’t quite as good as the book, it still held many of the emotions that the book had.
This story is all about love, it’s about strength and it holds such moral controversy that you can’t help but be pulled into the difficulties the Peaceful brothers face.
3. Ann Brashares – The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants
As my childhood faded away and my years of high school disappeared into the past I was left with so many ill feelings about friendship and love. A chance friendship with a girl in Australia, though difficult at times, brought me one of the greatest joys I have ever faced. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants made me believe that love and friendship could be something so important and so wonderful. It gave me five separate books in the series which were filled with heartache, pain and most of all, hope.
It’s difficult to describe exactly what this book and its follow ups gave me, but the feelings are profound. Every moment exploring the lives of Bridget, Lena, Tibby and Carmen made me feel…something. It was always happy, it wasn’t always perfect, but life very rarely is. What it did was give me the one thing I’ve always wanted to be real, and that’s a friendship so deep seeded that little more than death can tear it apart. I may not have been as lucky as the girls in the book, but they have given me more than I could possibly have imagined.
4. Virginia M. Axline – Dibs In Search of Self
You know when there’s a book that makes you feel like the world will actually be okay, that nothing can ever truly damage you because such a book exists? I feel that way about Dibs. Dibs is a little boy who wouldn’t talk and through countless therapy sessions, his therapist helped him to explore everything he was feeling. It left me feeling like in the end, it is always worth trying because you never know what you might just overcome. Like Dibs, life hasn’t always been kind to me, but if he can get through it, then maybe there’s hope for the rest of us.
5. Jodi Picoult – Nineteen Minutes
Nineteen Minutes made me feel like actually, my controversial opinions do matter and they aren’t always wrong. Shootings in American schools are often in the news, I say often, I mean that they are usually very high profile incidents. Any shooting in the US is usually international news within hours. Often I hear of anger and frustration at gun laws and the person who fired the shots. On the side of that, I sit there wondering why someone would do such a thing. I want to understand the person who picked up that gun and felt they needed to use it. Naturally I feel sadness at the families of anyone who loses their life, but my main thought seems to stay on the perpetrator. I can’t help it, it’s always been that way.
Reading this book allowed me to look at the world from their point of view, to see what sort of motives drives a person from a relatively normal life right up to shooting a few people dead. It spoke to my heart and it gave me a more in depth answer than I could possibly have asked for. Not all people are like the boy in this book, but his journey and the situations that brought him to the point of firing that gun, only make me want to hug him harder.
6. Tatiana de Rosnay – Sarah’s Key
I picked this book up in a bookshop in Washington DC, it looked interesting and there was nothing else I could find. I most read it on a bus travelling around the North East of the USA. I don’t normally read books that way, I like silence and time to focus on the words on the pages. But Sarah’s Key stole my heart and refused to give it back until I’d finished the final paragraph.
Sarah and her family were French, they were Jewish and they lived during the Second World War in an arrondissement of Paris. This story not only ticked several very perfect boxes, it also highlighted a very difficult part of France’s history. The Vel’ d’Hiv’ Roundup was an event in history that very few people seem to know about. But like many of the people in Nazi Germany, families like Sarah’s were pulled from their homes and sent to concentration camps.
Sarah’s Key has since been made into the most wonderful of films, one of only a few which really does the book justice. And regardless of how hard I might try, I cannot and will never forget the story of Sarah’s Key.
7. Joanne Harris – Chocolat
Magic is everywhere. I’ve never been one for fantasy, though Harry Potter managed to capture my heart. I much prefer a story set in the ‘real’ world. But Chocolat encompasses that realism with a little touch of fantasy, enough to appease my curious mind and yet not too much that it steals away any sense of possibility.
I adored Chocolat and the books that followed. Following Anouk and Vianne, amongst others, in their journey through life was nothing short of a blessing. I still hope, and beg, that one day Joanne Harris returns to this beautiful world and gives me, and others, more.
8. Markus Zusak – The Book Thief
There are very few books in the world that leave me with a feeling so strong that I want to run about the streets and shout about how perfect it is. The Book Thief is far from perfect, but by the end I couldn’t stop the feeling that this is the best book I have ever read.
It gave me such a weird, and amazing, feeling about books. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that it changed my perception on reading. I’m now less picky and more interested in trying a book, even if it doesn’t seem like my cup of tea. Of course, The Book Thief itself is set in the Second World War, so it was naturally going to be a huge success for me.
If you pick up any of the books from this list to try reading, please, please, make it this one. I think (and desperately hope) that you won’t be disappointed.
9. Erin Morgenstern – The Night Circus
Words make me so happy, reading makes me happier. Mixing the mystical world of a different turn of phrase with reading makes me the happiest. I didn’t realise it until I began to read, but when a certain style of language is used, it makes me feel different.
Reading The Night Circus made me want to write better sentences, more eloquent and formal prose that usually belong in days gone by or a book like this. It also gave me that lovely mix of realism and fantasy. The Night Circus is exactly what it says on the tin, it’s a story about a circus that is run only at night, it’s about some beautifully formed characters, some unusual people and so many weird and wonderful creations. It made me feel like anything is possible.
10. Jodi Picoult – The Storyteller
I don’t know where to begin with The Storyteller, except to say that it was everything I could possibly have hoped for and much more besides. Jodi Picoult has been a firm favourite since long before Nineteen Minutes, and this book only solidified her place in my heart.
Jodi Picoult mixed with baking mixed with fiction mixed with war-torn Nazi Germany and the harrowing experience of Jews during the Second World War make this one of my favourite books. Whilst some may slip off this list in favour of newer or more recently read novels, I have a feeling The Storyteller will never leave.
The novel is made up of the same fabulously crafted storylines twisted together that make Jodi Picoult a literary genius. Everything else besides makes this book truly remarkable. I won’t say anymore, if there’s any book you should read off this list…oh, wait…no…you must choose between this one and The Book Thief. I’m not sure it’d ever be possible to choose.