What do your books say about you?


There’s a lovely book challenge going around on Facebook at the moment—you know, that thing where you tag a bunch of people and “challenge” them to list their 10 top books. And yes, it’s a challenge because to name only 10, is like asking a parent to name her favourite child.

So I did my list and because I am loathe to tag people for things like this, just left it  for anyone else to take up and share on, with their own lists. Also been peeking in on everyone else’s list, like it’s looking a bit into their hearts, because that’s what books are really, aren’t they? Like little souls, entire beings bound up in delicious smelling paper. To see which ones people have adopted as lifelong friends, is always a fascination.

Then, about a week, a friend told me she’s packing up life and home here in KL and going on an adventure around the world (amazing!) so was looking for new homes for her books. She emailed me this beautiful list, alphabetically listed in groups of fiction, poetry and non-fiction—and oh, what a list! I must have ran through it at least a dozen times that evening she emailed it over, reading through the titles with equal parts admiration for her incredible collection and drooling envy.

I picked out a giant list of books I wanted to adopt and picked them up within the week, so they’re sitting pretty in my little world now (that’s me in the photo above, surrounded by this gathering of new friends. Look at all of them smiling, waving up at you).

So that’s also got me thinking about what my list would look like, if I had ever had to compile a list of books to send to new homes (and goodness, I hope that never happens unless I’m dead, and someone else does it for me). What would it look like? What would it say about me? Would I be proud of the list myself? I even allowed myself that most shallow, indulgent of thoughts: what would other people think?!

A book lover will never be fully satisfied nor fully proud of her book collection. She always dithers halfway between a sort of desperation to collect all the books in the world and a terror that she might die before she has to chance to read all the books on her shelf.

If I could take a year off and do nothing but languish on a sofa with a book, I would—I don’t even think there’s anything idle or lazy in this. It is to expose your mind and thoughts and language—for what is living without language?—to the infinite number of other minds and thoughts and language out there in the world, in all the worlds.

I look at kids today (no, not even kids; almost every adult I meet in this part of the world) with their noses stuck in their tablets, being busy about everything else in the world but reading—and I feel my heart cry a little. I’ve met people, even dated some of them, who have declared, in no uncertain terms and with a kind of relish as if it’s something to be proud of, that they don’t read.

I don’t understand this. What do you mean you don’t read? So, where do you dream? Where do you learn and tell and imagine stories? Where do you go to understand what it means to just be human—to love and fear and desire and live and die? And I mean, really understand, because I think that no matter how close-up you get to someone, it still cannot compare to thetruth-thewholetruth-nothingbutthetruth that you find, on the inked, written page. Or sometimes, paradoxically, in fiction where entire made-up worlds reveal more about people that any of this crude new gimmick of reality TV.

Perhaps I’m biased. Perhaps it’s because four of the best years of my life were shaped by books, during two literature degrees. Perhaps I’m so partial to this big, slim, thick, soft, warm volumes because they have been unchanging, loyal friends for so much of my life when it seemed just too difficult or bothersome to be around real people.

But anyway, I’m waxing a bit too fanatical about all this now. This post was about book lists, wasn’t it? So okay, it’s not (yet) the perfect collection, it’s always, always a work in progress. And I’m not about to limit myself to only 10, but here are some of must-have, die-so-hard favourites (and in no particular order, because you know, parent-favourite-child dilemma).

Tell me what yours are in the comments too—I would love love love to know!

  • We need to talk about Kevin, Lionel Shriver (top of the list only because I’m reading it now and it is incredible)
  • Everything Sarah Waters
  • Philippa Gregory’s The Cousins’ War series
  • Being Happy, Tal Ben-Shahar
  • Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed
  • Wild, Cheryl Strayed
  • Spirit Junkie, Gabrielle Bernstein
  • At Swim, Two Boys, Jamie O’Neill
  • Disturbance, Jamie O’Neill
  • Things fall apart, Chinua Achebe
  • King Lear, Shakespeare
  • The Firestarter Sessions, Danielle LaPorte
  • No one belongs here more than you, Miranda July
  • Are Men Necessary? Maureen Dowd
  • The body of the world, Eve Ensler
  • Sexing the Cherry, Jeanette Winterson
  • A streetcar named desire, Tennessee Williams
  • The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • The Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri
  • The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Salman Rushdie
  • Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
  • In pursuit of love, Nancy Mitford
  • In the line of beauty, Alan Hollinghurst
  • South of the border, west of the sun & Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami
  • The BFG, Roald Dahl
  • On the road, Jack Kerouac
  • The 18th Century Tatler, Steele & Addison
  • Moll Flanders, Daniel DeFoe
  • The plays of Racine & Moliere
  • The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
  • The Awakening, Kate Chopin
  • The sound the fury, William Faulkner
  • American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis
  • The tenant of Wildfell hall, Anne Bronte
  • Far from the madding crowd, Thomas Hardy
  • Perfume, Patrick Suskind
  • The Bride Stripped Bare, Nicki Gemmell

2 thoughts on “What do your books say about you?

  1. Hi Jamie – thanks for sharing your book list. I realised that I hadn’t been reading anything like as much as I had pre tablet! So I started a book club and everyone I speak to says the same thing – they have stopped reading and need a push. So tonight is the first meeting and the participants have all just read The girl who saved the king of Sweden. I will then give them Driving over Lemons. I will use your book list to give us ideas for subsequent books . So big thankyou! hugs Anne xxx

  2. Hi! Found you in the writer’s group! I love your list. You have some of my favourites of all time (The God of Small Things, Wild, We Need To Talk About Kevin, The Bride Stripped Bare)!! I haven’t heard of a few of the others so will definitely check them out. Have you read any Zadie Smith? She is amazing. I also like a few from Ian McEwan. Also, for some razor sharp wit, David Sedaris, “When You Are Engulfed in Flames,’ is one of my all time favourites. Happy reading!

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