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favourite books of all time (at least, up to 2017)


What does it take to give a novel the prestigious title of 'favourite book'? Is it the impact? Enjoyment? Turns out it's a fruits basket of reasons—beautiful writing, emotional impact, page-turning madness.

Book Week got me thinking about why some books are special. Our school takes Book Week pretty seriously. Three teachers spoke to us about their list-toppers. A teacher I like talked about the superiority of One Hundred Years of Solitude. Quite unfair, sir, considering the rest of us have a hundred years' worth of material to compete with. But I take up that challenge! So, in no particular order...


THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO by Patrick Ness

"She was losing herself. In that black between places, she was losing herself."  19-Ciò detto, sollevò l'arco e scagliò la freccia. Il dardo argentato strappò il piccolo arco dalle mani del dio, che cadde all'indietro per la sorpresa e precipitò a terra. Quando si rialzò, vide che Apollo era già lontano. La rabbia gli riempì gli occhi di lacrime.

“But a knife ain't just a thing, is it? It's a choice, it's something you do. A knife says yes or no, cut or not, die or don't. A knife takes a decision out of your hand and puts it in the world and it never goes back again.”

I beg you, your children and children's children should absolutely read this. Any age. Do not let the middle school to teenager label fool you: this is a serious and violent trilogy about war and human nature. The label isn't a recommended age. It's an age limit.

Anyway! The Knife is about Todd who lives in Prentisstown, on a planet where every man can hear every other man's thoughts—that's right, men, because there are no women. Their thoughts produce 'Noise', an almost unbearable flooding of sight and sound. One day, Todd comes across a place that is completely silent, which is impossible. Unless the mayor has been lying about everything. Did the war against the natives really kill all women? Can anything ever be justified in war?


 EAST OF EDEN by John Steinbeck

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"But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.'"

(I.e. my favourite book of all time!) Set in Salinas Valley, California, East of Eden follows two families—the Hamiltons and the Trasksacross three generations. Since we witness their lives from childhood to adulthood, we get know them inside and out. I couldn't help but love Adam Trask, a major character, precisely because I watched him grow up and go through some pretty harrowing experiences. See someone's life through their eyes for long enough, and you begin to love them just for existing.

But everything in this book centers around one important idea, and that's the choice between good and evil. You know the story of Cain and Abel? Or if not, Adam and Eve? Two timeless Biblical talestimeless because it repeats throughout history. The choice of good and evil is inescapable because we are the children of Cain—something the book shows again and again with characters like Charles and Adam, Caleb and Aaron. That we are not born conquerors of sin, but each of us mayest conquer it yet.


ALANNA: THE FIRST ADVENTURE by Tamora Pierce

large.jpg (500×726)  Give your fight to the Lord. He will fight for you. Eva Green in Camelot

“Here was the center of training for knighthood…She must learn to fall, roll, and tumble. She would get dirty, tear muscles, bruise herself, break bones. If she withstood it all, if she was stubborn enough and strong enough, she would someday carry a knight's shield with pride."

The book that began it all! I'd loved reading as a kid, as kids usually do. The earliest book I remember reading is Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me. Since The Rainbow Fish to The Wombat Diaries to Roald Dahl and Andy Griffiths, the joy of reading hadn't diminished. But the first book I remember loving, not just enjoying, was Alanna, a coming-of-age fantasy novel. It had everything you'd expect—a tomboy girl who wants to be a warrior, a cast of male friends, magic, proving the doubters wrong—but it does it so well

Alanna and her twin brother Thom are from Trebond. They live in a world where women learn magic and men become knights. And yeah ... no one's happy with their gender role. When 'Alan' of Trebond pulls a Twelfth Night and joins the knighthood, nobody sees past her boyish disguise. Thanks to her weak physique, people doubt her ability but soon she is better than them all. Alanna's story is simply light-hearted fun.


WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Brontë

   Thomas Hanks.  Wuthering Heights

“Don't get the expression of a vicious cur that appears to know the kicks it gets are its desert, and yet, hates all the world, as well as the kicker, for what it suffers.”

Wuthering Heights is like chairs grinding on wood, meat hanging from the ceiling, whistling winds and grey skies. But, you know, in a good, wild way. It surrounds an orphaned man called Heathcliff and two houses on the moorland: Thrushcross Grange (home to the Lintons) and Wuthering Heights (home to the Earnshaws). We feel natural pity for Heathcliff right away; in the beginning, he is mistreated by his neighbours and foster brother. Not proper, they deem him, since he is a motherless boy of low status, and certainly not an Earnshaw. Nevertheless, his only friend is Catherine Earnshaw, his foster sister. But they find that circumstances tend to drive people apart.

I've always loved monster stories. Not the boogeyman kind, but the ones where monsters are made, not born. Like Frankenstein. I also love generation stories where history can't help but repeat itself. It's true, isn't it? I've witnessed it in my own family to know. Wuthering Heights has both, and together they show what class, propriety, society, isolation, and loneliness will do to a man, given enough time and hurt.


THE NAME OF THE WIND by Patrick Rothfuss

Kvothe in Tarbean from The Name of the Wind Art Deck  kickstarter-rothfuss-denna

"Perhaps the greatest faculty our minds possess is the ability to cope with pain...First is the door of sleep. Sleep offers us a retreat from the world and all its pain...Second is the door of forgetting. Some wounds are too deep to heal, or too deep to heal quickly...Third is the door of madness. There are times when the mind is dealt such a blow it hides itself in insanity...Last is the door of death. The final resort. Nothing can hurt us after we are dead, or so we have been told."

This is a perfect example of where first-person works well. Some fantasy stories have a broad scope with a colourful variety of characters, like A Game of Thrones. But this rich novel is about Kvothe—magician or 'sympathist', traveling trouper, lutist, child prodigyfrom childhood to teenage years. We witness every tragedy, twist and turn in his life, narrated by Kvothe himself, so we really get to know how the cogs in his mind turn. It's hard to explain what the plot is. Much like the rest of us, Kvothe's story is one of discovery and adventure. There's no end goal, no One Ring to destroy (though Kvothe has his own plans), but the journey is fun, fast-paced, and actually kind of insightful.

I think first-person fantasies are quite risky. You have to capture the depth and vividness of your world, and at the same time, make the protagonist interesting enough to carry the story. That's a big burden for any character, but Kvothe bears it well.


HONOURABLE MENTIONS

HALF A KING by Joe Abercrombie

  Even the strongest of ships will be swallowed by the raging sea.  "Saga Oseberg" at Roskilde Fjord. The first reconstruction of the Norwegian Oseberg ship sank in just 20 seconds during his first trials in 1987, no one thought afterwards that the ship was even sail skillfully. But reconstructioners from the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde in 2006 thought that after a meticulous reconstruction, the ship could be resurrected and become able to sail.

“You may need two hands to fight someone, but only one to stab them in the back.”

+ atmospheric—dark and muted palette. Kind of reminds me of the Viking Age or Skyrim.
+ clever yet realistic protagonist, interesting characters
+ surprising and well-executed plot twists!


THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY by Oscar Wilde

This is the most Dorian Gray thing I've ever seen  a . p o e t i c . d e a t h | of a crimson heart |

“You will always be fond of me. I represent to you all the sins you never had the courage to commit.” 

+ Oscar Wilde is such a good writer. Like, to the point where I and other writers despair and throw our pens in the trash. Listen to this: "The dim roar of London was like the bourdon note of a distant organ." Where does he get this stuff from?
+ very dark and imaginative. The idea of a portrait revealing your sinful deeds is frankly terrifying.
+ Basil, Lord Henry and Dorian are a brilliant trio, each with a distinctive voice. Banter is on point.


LES MISÉRABLES by Victor Hugo

Napoleone e il suo staff  Paris Photography - Pink Passage

“There is always more misery among the lower classes than there is humanity in the higher.”

+ you really feel like you've been absorbed into post-revolution France. The world was so vivid that I was really confused when Meghan Trainor starting playing on the radio.
+ Sympathetic, complicated cast consisting of Jean Valjean, Javert, Fantine, the Thenardiers, Marius the ABC's (ofc. Enjolras!), Cosette, Eponine. All your favourites from the musical, basically.
+ only reason it didn't make the cut is because of Hugo's extremist approach to detail. My copy of the book is an actual brick (no wonder I haven't finished yet).

What do you think? Have you read any of these books? Would you like to someday?

jo

8 comments:

  1. I like your choices! I enjoyed Wuthering Heights and would like to read East of Eden now.

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  2. I haven't heard of a lot of these! I'll have to check them out and add them to my TBR pile.

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    1. They're good, thoughtful reads. :)

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  3. TKONLG is at the top of my favorites, too, but surprised me by being one of the biggest tear-jerkers I've ever read as well. Great list!

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    1. Yes! I couldn't believe how much of an emotional roller coaster it was.

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  4. Ah yes, it's a hard question. I don't think I'd ever be able to choose a favourite book of all time! I haven't actually read any of the ones you listed, but they sound interesting. Les Miserables is on my to-read list, but like you said it's such a brick, I'm not sure if I'll end up reading it or not. I don't seem to have the patience for slower books anymore!

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    1. It was quite hard - but East of Eden was worth it. ;) It took me too long to get halfway on my copy of Les Mis. I think I'm losing my patience, too...

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