There are a lot of obvious books that I could include in this list, but because they’re already obvious, I thought I’d choose some that you might not typically see, along with some classics that are worth the read. If you want to pick up any of these books, you can click on their titles and be sent to the Waterstones website. (I would link amazon, but bookshops are scare and it’s important to support them in whatever way you can).
These are all books I’ve loved for a while. They’re all books that opened up a new world for me that I had yet to experience. And they’re all books that I couldn’t put down.
Let’s get started.
1. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Now, I know that you can look at any list anywhere in the world talking about books you need to read before you die and see Pride and Prejudice firmly in the top ten, but hear me out. You should not read Pride and Prejudice because it’s a classic. You should also not read it because it makes you look classy and well-read. You should read Pride and Prejudice because it’s a damn good book. Elizabeth Bennett is and always will be one of the greatest female characters ever to be written, and the story is completely timeless in its entertainment.
I first read this book when I was studying it at GSCE level, and by read I mean listened as my English teacher at the time read it to us page by page. I hated it in that context. He made it a long and arduous process, but coming back to it years later I found myself fall in love with it.
It’s not the clichéd, sexist mess you’d expect it to be. It’s a masterpiece. Elizabeth is headstrong and stubborn and not easily impressed, and Darcy struggles to come to terms with that.
You may already know the ending, but you have no idea about the story.
2. The Famous Five series, by Enid Blyton
My dad introduced me to these books when I was a child, and they were the perfect introduction into the story-telling world. There are twenty or so books, all with their own story, and you can pick up and start off anywhere. You can read one, or the full series, and I’d recommend the latter.
The books are simple and easy to read, with no more than a hundred or so pages per piece, and despite slightly antiquated stereotypes of women and men, the boyish George and the ever-impressive Anne are still enjoyable to read, even if they do just sit back and let the men do all the good stuff at times.
And sure, there are hundreds of parodies that might make you want to not take this book series seriously, but they inspired me to read and write and explore and the joy they bring is universal to everyone. So give one book a try, and if you hate it you can throw said book at me.
3. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
Ah, Gone Girl. Life-changing. Iconic. Ever-present. I read this book after the movie came out after hearing people rave about how crazy Amy Dunne is, and it didn’t disappoint. She’s fully fledged crazy, evil for the sake of being evil, and as someone who would happily die for a well written female antagonist, this book was everything I wanted it to be and more.
Not to mention the fact is has some of the greatest character monologues of all time. From the ‘cool girl’ speech to the line ‘I’m so much happier now that I’m dead’, Gone Girl is so quotable it’s almost annoying, except the quotes are far too good to ever be annoyed by.
Gone Girl is one of those books you can’t put down. It’s intense, unpredictable and completely not enough. The ending isn’t satisfying in the slightest, it’s necessary. And that’s why I love it, because the story wasn’t written to be loved, and that’s what makes me love it even more.
I’m a very character driven person. A plot can be terrible, but if the characters are well-written I will love them and the story regardless, and my God do I love Amy Dunne.
I’d happily die for her, and she’d happily let me, and that’s why you need to read this book.
4. The Inkheart Trilogy, by Cornelia Funke
These books fuelled my imagination to levels I didn’t even know existed. The mix of the modern world and the fantasy medieval-esque land sang to me in ways I never thought a book could.
I haven’t read this trilogy in a while, so my thoughts might be a little distant, but the idea of reading a book and being transported to a different land is one that in the real word exists in theory and in Inkheart just exists, and all the magic that comes from the idea of it fuels all my love for this trilogy.
To me, all I think of when I think of this series is beauty. There is something so beautiful about the way it is written, the things that happen, and the romanticism of it all that I can’t help but fall in love with. It transports you to a world that transports you to a world, and leaves you bitter that you can’t really do what they can do in the trilogy. You can’t read yourself into it, but you can definitely try.
That’s what a young me tried to do, and it’s what a present me is still attempting to this day.
5. Ayoade on Ayoade, by Richard Ayoade
Now, I’m not one for biographies or auto-biographies. My feet are very firmly planted in the fiction world of storytelling, but this book was a nice in-between.
The story focuses on Ayoade interviewing himself, and it works well. It captures his quirky sense of humour, and includes a fan fiction-esque escapade between the two Ayoade’s which was at times hilarious to read about.
As well as being hilarious, it’s also informative. You do actually learn about his life and the craft of film making, so if you’re interested in the man or the craft it’s a book you’d be silly not to pick up.
6. The Skulduggery Pleasant series, by Derek Landy
This series is ongoing. There’s a tenth book coming out within a month and I cannot wait. It’s got a brilliant story line, brilliant characters and brilliant jokes, and is full of magic and world-saving and a teenage girl who changes the world.
I love teenage girls who change the world.
The teenage girl in question, Stephanie Edgley, better known as Valkyrie, is perfect in every sense of the word. She throws herself in, allows herself to fail and to succeed and remains strong without ever being annoying about it. Things have an effect on her. The stuff she experiences makes her life hard to live, but she strives to overcome and succeeds spectacularly.
The ninth book in this series was meant to be a finale, which felt necessary. It was their biggest adventure yet, complete with an epilogue taking place years in the future, so when I found out there was going to be a tenth one I pretty much exploded.
Every character is well-loved, every character feels familiar and well-written. You can root for any of them, or all of them, and there’s no clear line between who is good and who is evil. They are all both, and it makes for some great reading.
So pick up the first book, get addicted, and get ready for the next instalment, because if it’s anything like the previous books, it’s going to be fantastic.
7. Grief is the Thing with Feathers, by Max Porter
This is a book that weaves the line between story-writing and poetry into the same world. It’s about a family with two children where the mother has just died and they work through dealing with it, changing the perspectives between the two children and the father, and a crow that seems to manifest itself into the lives of the family of three.
It’s never said whether or not the crow is real, only that it exists to deal with their grief and leaves once they’ve healed, and it’s less of a story than it is a collection of poems and think-pieces inspired by Emily Dickinson, but it’s a great way to fall into the world of poetry, and despite the fact that the story and the way it was told was at times clunky and odd, I loved it nonetheless, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking to explore poetry without wanting to dive straight in.
8. The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis
A classic that people seem to have only watched rather than read, and by reading it you just get a lot more out of it.
The movies only tell the stories of Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter, whereas with the books you get a lot more about the world of Narnia as a whole, including the origin story about how it all came to be and a myriad of new characters that the movies completely missed out.
These books are a way of getting back into the movies that you used to watch constantly and recaptures the magic without it being too infantile or trivial. It’s different enough so that you’ll feel like it’s something fresh and new, and familiar enough so that the story feels safe and comforting.
Reading these books feels like coming back to your family home to visit after having moved out. It’s a world you fall back into, where everything is the same except for you, and it’s well worth the slightly difficult to read text in order to unleash the story within.
9. When We Were Alive, by C. J. Fisher
This book is one of the first literary books I’ve ever read. It sets up three different stories in history, all of which are connected in various different ways that is revealed at the end, and all of the stories tackle different hurdles in life, all focusing around World War Two and the effects it had on these people’s lives.
My favourite of the stories is the kid who wants to be a magician, just because I love seeing stories in which kids grow up to become something spectacular and great, and although the kid in question doesn’t quite get the firework ending, it’s a great story nonetheless, set firmly in the confines of reality without being boring.
The only thing that’s a drawback for me is that I don’t particularly like stories surrounding the war. There’s something about it that’s just a little off-putting to me, but this story deals with the effects of the war rather than the war itself, making it something that I can still enjoy regardless.
It’s just an all around great story. I know I’ve said that about every one of these stories, but that’s kind of the point of this list. It’s great. Wonderful. Brilliant. You should read it.
10. The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
In times like this with the rise of the alt-right and terrible heinous crimes being committed by governments across the world, it’s nice to be reminded that things could be a hell of a lot worse, and the Hunger Games does just that.
We all know what it’s about. Twenty-four kids go into an arena, one comes out alive, until one girl stands up and dares to say no. It’s an epic story, one which anyone of any age can enjoy, and it’s once again, brilliantly written.
Katniss Everdeen is not a perfect character by any means. She’s annoying to read at times. She says the wrong things and thinks things that make you want to fight her, but she’s so human you forgive her. She’s yet another character that expertly breaks down and falls apart but remains strong.
And, as the original pointless love triangle story, I feel like you have to read it to see where it all comes from. There’s no point in a love story in this story, but it’s still worth reading, and the love story is good enough for me to not roll my eyes bitterly at any mention of Peeta or Gale.
You’ve probably already read it, but if you haven’t it deserves a place on your shelf as one of the greatest young-adult trilogies of all time.