Name my top ten favourite books? Ten?!?
This must be some kind of bizarre mental torture.
Those were pretty much my thoughts when a well-meaning friend tagged in a #10in10days event on Facebook. (Every author has a secret drama queen. If they claim they don’t, they’re probably being contextually inaccurate.) To add to my woes, my personal library downstairs currently runs to several thousand books, and doesn’t by far cover all the books I’ve loved and left in my life.
So, after I calmed down, and checked out various other peoples’ entries, I got into it and started thinking. My top ten books of all time? What would they be, and why?
I figured I’d share below, in case anyone’s looking for something new to read.
The Horse and His Boy. Yes, of all the books I’ve read in my life, and as you may’ve gathered, there’ve been a few, this one probably takes the top spot. I fell in love with it sometime between the ages of six and seven, tried to move to Narnia, and very probably it gave me my initial interest in learning to ride. (I lived on a boat at the time…)
I still have a lovely, Folio Society copy of it in my library, a gift from my father, and every so often I get it out and re-read it. Of all the Narnia books, it’s my favourite, and at the simplest level, I think it’s because it’s the only one entirely set in Narnia.
The Monstrous Regiment. More than any other author I know, Terry Pratchett can expose the nonsense that underpins society and make it hilarious, and possibly nowhere more than in this book. I made the mistake of reading it for the first time on a bus, and laughed so hard I actually had a seat to myself. Topical, unflinchingly accurate, and stand-alone, I’ve just about worn the covers off this Discworld.
The Game of Kings. I love Dorothy Dunnett’s writing. I’ve read at least a couple of versions of this series to pieces. She writes historical fiction, and the characters, plots, and settings are incredible. Crawford of Lymond is an incredibly rich and complex character; there’s nothing transparent and open-and-shut about him. In a world of YA written for the grade 6 reading level, this series is like yoga for the brain.
Dragonflight. Anne McCaffrey was my first brush with science-fiction, aged about ten, and I still have that copy of the book – it’s gone in the harbour, it’s got marine varnish on it, and it’s been chewed on by kittens. I don’t like all her later books, but the original Pern series may well be what hooked me on sci-fi. When it comes to epic vision in world-building, this series is a great example.
Lord of the Rings. I scared myself so thoroughly with this book aged seven that I wouldn’t go to the bathroom on my own for six months. J.R.R. Tolkien has the ability to write a story that drags you in to the extent that you wake up and shake your head and try to figure out why all the colours are drab, you can’t feel your feet any more, and which century is it, anyway. This is one where the book is and will forever be better than the movie (although get back to me once we have Star Trek-style holo environments…).
Valour’s Choice. In terms of military sci-fi, you really can’t do better. Tanya Huff’s protagonist is Torin Kerr, Confederation Marine, and along with cracking pacing and excellent writing, the one-liners and turns of phrase in this book (and the rest of the series) keep me coming back for more. If anyone’s having trauma flashbacks to the Starship Troopers movies, have no fear – there is no comparison.
Magic Bites. Magic and technology rule the world in cycles over multiple millennia, and technology is beginning to lose its sway. Kate Daniels is a mercenary for hire in the USA, front and centre for awakening demi-gods, magical curses, and rogue shape-shifters, even if the non-rogue ones debatably cause her more trouble. This series is a relatively recent find, but for fun and originality, it definitely earnt a spot on my list.
The Eagle has Landed. Actually most of the Jack Higgins are on my read and read again list; for gritty, realistic thrillers that are much more than simply point and shoot, he’s one of my go-to authors. I started climbing my parents’ bookshelves to steal these books about age nine or ten, and one of the things I really like about his work is that the villains are often more relatable than the heroes. Jack Higgins has a unique skill for taking everything you think you know and making you think about it again.
The Morgaine Cycle. I found this in a charity shop somewhere near school, and consequently was MIA for most of a week of classes. C.J. Cherryh has her weak points with things like consistency (see the Phoenix series), but in the Morgaine cycle, the atmosphere, the settings, and the characters combine into the perfect sci-fi / fantasy read – complex, dark as hell, and compelling.
Tarnished Knight. Jack Campbell is one of my more recent discoveries in sci-fi, and his Lost Fleet protagonist is so damn perfect it makes my teeth hurt, but in the Lost Stars series, the characters are dark, cynical, and prone to double-crosses, and totally hit my happy place. Campbell’s books excel in plausible battle scenes, but this later series also brings strong characterisation and great plots to the table.