Monday, 21 April 2014

The Books That Changed My Life

As a Literature student I love books. I love reading them, I love talking about them, and I often get asked what my favourite book is. A good book is one of life's true joys. When you find a book that you just can't put down all you want to do is curl up with it and no matter how sleepy you are you just want to read one more chapter. I've read countless books for study and for pleasure and there are dozens which I have loved reading, but there's only a handful which have really moved me in ways I had never expected. This sort of book never leaves you. Here are 6 of the books which have had this effect on me. In no particular order (apart from Number 1!)...

6. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. This is the first novel I ever read. Recommended to me by my amazing Dad, it was the perfect introduction in to the world of literature and it booted the door wide open for me! Dad is a true book lover and he always has at least 2 books on the go. He regularly works 13 hour days but still has the time to read books himself and chat to me about what I'm reading too. He's a big inspiration in my life and he was right again with this novel. 

The story follows the coming of age experiences and emotions of young orphaned Jane through her hard, loveless childhood, and her growth in to womanhood. I vividly remember my feelings towards Jane; I loved her character for her passion, strong principles and determination in the face of adversity. 

Charlotte Bronte's style of writing is wonderfully easy to read, and I loved the whole idea of the pseudonyms of the Bronte sisters who pretended to be men in order to be published. Charlotte was 'Currer Bell'. I just thought this was so cool, and still do!

5. A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh. This was one of the books I wrote about for my BA dissertation, and amazingly I still have an amicable relationship with it. It's not uncommon to study a book and hate it afterwards, just like going through a stormy breakup. But Handful and I are still on very good terms. My Dad is the more keen reader of my parents, but this one was actually pointed out to me by my Mum, who said she'd done it for her O Levels. I read it, it captured me, and I wrote my dissertation on it. 

Without spoiling the story for you (because I really want you to read this book!) I would describe Handful as a poignant and often painful insight in to affairs and divorce, at a time when affairs and divorce just didn't happen. 

Evelyn Waugh is a very unpopular author today because he was such a tough old boot and wasn't afraid to let people know his political stance. However, he was famously left by his wife which explains why he chose to write about what he writes about in this book, so Handful exposes a more vulnerable side to him that I didn't know he had. He's probably more famous as the author of Brideshead Revisited, which I also covered in my diss, but I have a softer spot for this less well-known book written much earlier in his career by a less famous, younger Waugh.

4. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. I studied this for my A-Levels. I admit I've never been very kind about American Literature on the whole, because in my view most of it deals with one of two things: frontiering or the American Dream. (Think Moby Dick and the Great Gatsby. Both great novels but the idea is much the same throughout American Lit). 

Anyway, back to Cuckoo. It took me less than a week to finish this book, it's set in a mental institution and centres around the character of Randle Patrick "Mac" McMurphy and the terrifying Nurse Ratched who rules the roost. 

McMurphy rocks the boat in the institution, in a book that deals with really tricky issues like violence, drugs, metal illness, sex and rape. It's not a light read but it is an excellent read, and the film with Jack Nicholson is fantastic.

3. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Another recommendation from my Dad. "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again" is the novel's famous opening line, and the story is narrated by a woman, whose name we never learn (so intriguing!). She's named only as the second Mrs de Winter, living in the shadow of her husband's seemingly perfect deceased first wife, Rebecca... Read this book!

2. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle. This book proved to me just how special the stories of Sherlock Holmes are. Nobody needs telling how good these books are or what they're about (we've all seen Sherlock!). But reading Conan Doyle's novel gave me a new appreciation for just how special the relationship between Holmes and Watson is, and how amazing Holmes' methods of deduction are. And how socially screwed-up Holmes is! God he's crazy, but stupidly clever too. I've read other Sherlock Holmes stories too, but this one is the first and a good starter-offer for newbies to the novels - because you will want to read the rest after you've finished with this one!

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This is the answer I give to that little question 'what is your favourite novel?' Nobody else who I've asked has ever given this answer to this before, and I await the day when I meet someone else who does. 

I did Mockingbird for GCSE English and I fell in love with the book head over heels (and Gregory Peck from the movie too!). Harper Lee only wrote one novel but she made sure the one she did write was a stormer. After everything I've said about American Literature, this American novel is my favourite of all the ones I've read so far. The way I felt reading this book made me realise I wanted to do Literature at university. 

The story follows lawyer Atticus Finch in the Deep South of America and deals with courage, family, gender roles, compassion, rape and more importantly racial prejudice. 

In a recent poll this book was ranked ahead of the Bible in a list of books that "every adult should read before they die". I'll say no more!

I've loved writing this post and I might do a few more book recommendations in the future! Let me know what you favourite books are.


  1. Rebecca was certainly one of the most important books to me that i've read to date, it's also one of the few books that I can actually sit and reread too.

    1. It's wonderful isn't it. You know you've found a brilliant book when you keep going back to it again and again!

  2. I really didn't enjoy To Kill a Mockingbird when I read it at school :( Rebecca is on my to-read list very soon though x

    1. Oh really! That's a shame :( I had a wonderful teacher who taught it to me, that may have had something to do with it! I really hope you enjoy Rebecca