10 of my favourite books of all time

I like reading, it’s the whole story thing which we’ve established I’m a big fan of, I not quite as prolific as I was when I was younger when I’d pretty much always be reading something, these days I tend to go through phases where I’ll read through a few books at a time. I thought it’d be interesting to chat a little about a few of my favourite books, I may wind up discussing certain plot points but I’ll try to avoid spoiling anything as much as I can

Nimona – This one may be seen as a little bit of a cheat as this started life as a webcomic and the book was just the collection of everything from that. I’m including though because I honestly love it, it manages to combine moments of sweetness and quite dark storytelling while also being incredibly funny. It was also how I discovered Noelle Stevenson and turns out I’m a huge fan as I’ve since gotten very into the reboot of She-Ra and a comic called Lumberjanes. I love the art style and the fact that it’s able to make me feel many different emotions, I think it was also the first piece of media I experienced with a gay main character, and especially where the character in question didn’t play into some kind of stereotype which was nice and very much helped open me up to storytelling which features characters that don’t necessarily represent me and this seems to be becoming much more normalised these days which is definitely a good thing.

World War Z – I’m obviously very familiar with zombies as they’re pretty much a horror staple like vampires at this point. Max Brooks took what was a pretty shite monster when you think about the shambling creature usually depicted and put a really interesting spin on it. It’s set in the aftermath of what was a global struggle against the zombie, the author is chronicling  prior events by interviewing survivors. I love the way it’s structured and how it takes in the time periods where things start to go wrong, where humanity is nearly made extinct and then where they start to fight back and fall back on ingenuity. It’s things like the grounded tone, the fact that it’s hugely focussed on the humans of the story and how the zombie outbreak is kept deliberately mysterious that make it work for me but I honestly love it. The audiobook is exceptional too as it takes the format of the book and uses different actors for different characters rather than just having one person read it, I would definitely recommend checking it out. 

Jurassic Park – I did this the wrong way round as I watched the film first (as a kid naturally) and at the time didn’t realise it was based on a book. I obviously found that out when I was a bit older so obviously wanted to read it as there’s dinosaurs. It’s actually a very different beast to the film though actually a lot of the characters are quite close to the film personality wise with the exception of John Hammond, who is much more of an arsehole than in the film, and actually I think he’s a much more interesting character as a result. There’s certain things that I think would have worked brilliantly in the film, like a set piece involving a river, a raft and a the T-Rex that I think would have been superb though I guess it would have been harder to work in to the film without changing things. The book is definitely well worth a read if you liked the film, it’s suitably different that you don’t know exactly how it’s going to go while also having very clear parallels too, and it’s quite interesting to be able to compare the two.

Mythos – This was recommended to me by a friend who’d enjoyed this and thought I would too. She was right, I’m a big fan of Stephen Fry anyway but I especially enjoyed the way he wrote this as it’s pretty much impossible to read and not hear his voice in your head narrating. He makes the stories he’s telling incredibly accessible and easy to follow, he also manages to ensure there’s a decent amount of humour on offer which is to be expected. Reading it made me realise that while I know the more obvious bits of Greek mythology there was a hell of a lot that I didn’t know too so it was interesting to be learning things that I didn’t really know going in. I think what I like best about the book though is the tone, there’s a warmth there which radiates off the pages and it’s really obvious how much Fry cares about the stories he’s telling and that enthusiasm is infectious, you can kind of sense the twinkle in the eye that Fry had while writing this. I’ve also enjoyed the subsequent follow ups Heroes and Troy which he’s done, the only issue is that it’s made the more traditionally dry mythology re-tellings a bit harder to read.

Legend – The first David Gemmell book that I ever read, I’d been eyeing up a few in the bookshop at a point when I was trying books that seemed interesting. I love Legend because it’s a fantasy book that doesn’t follow the typical story tropes and the main hero Druss is well past his prime, though still formidable  he is fundamentally an old man. It’s an interesting pitch that has a decent story to back it up and a likeable cast of characters that provide interesting counterpoints to Druss, who is quite a straightforward character. As was Gemmell’s debut novel it’s a little raw in places but I actually think that adds to the overall charm. What I think Gemmell writes especially well are the action scenes, they tend to be suitably brutal and exciting which is just as well as there are a fair few battles in here with the sense of peril escalating with each one. This was one of the first books I read that I’d class as being of a more traditional fantasy type story and because I enjoyed it so much I was much more willing to stick with it, it also got me interested in further books of his, some of which were set in the same world as this one which I’ve always found interesting. I’d especially recommend the Drenai series Gemmell did (of which this is part of).

Snuff – This was the last book that Terry Pratchett wrote which featured Sam Vimes who is comfortably my favourite Discworld character. I know people have bitched about a drop in quality on the later Discworld books due to Pratchett’s Alzheimers but it’s not something I’ve personally ever noticed, this one feels a little different to previous Vimes books but I think that[s natural due to the evolution of the character over the various books he appears in. What I love most about Snuff is that it takes a little while for the more typical story beats to kick in, what you get is a decent amount of build up and during this you get to see more of Vimes outside his comfort zone and also just getting to spend more time with his son which are some of the funniest and sweetest parts of the book. It’s become a comfort book for me, whenever my depression is especially bad and I need a bit of a pick me up this is one of the books I tend to go for as it never fails to make me smile, it’s the reading equivalent of a bloody big hug and sometimes that’s exactly what you need.

Eye of the World – I picked this up during my random book phase in my late teens and early twenties, I’d been tempted by it for ages and gave it a go. It’s the first in 15 book Wheel of Time series and while as a series it was occasionally a bit too ambitious for it’s own good the first book was excellent in my opinion. It goes a great job of establishing the main characters, everyone is sympathetic on some level which is good for how much they change over the series, and does well in establishing a lot of the world that the series will take place it. It was one of my first fantasy books and as such has very much helped to establish what I look for when I’m choosing something from the genre that I’m not overly familiar with. The action scenes are particularly well written and exciting, there’s a genuine sense of danger at times as you realise more of the nature of the various enemies and it does a really good job of setting the scene of what’s to come, I’d say it’s the strongest book of the series and works very well as the opening part of a frankly huge saga.

A Cavern of Black Ice – Another fantasy book bought by randomly reading the blurb on the back in a bookshop, this one initially appealed to me as the characters came across as very human and therefore very relatable to me. It’s one of the more grim books I’ve read in terms of tone, it’s very serious and very quite dark. Main character Raif Sevrance has the ability to strike the heart of any creature and kill them, and you learn this is significant relating to a supernatural threat to the world while establishing most of the other characters are largely only concerned with their own interests. Raif is possibly one of my favourite characters ever as there’s a complexity there combined with a naivety (certainly in the first book) that makes for a sympathetic and engaging main character. I also picked the book up at a point where I was particularly struggling with my mental health and it was stories like this that I tended to try and get lost in as a coping mechanism of sorts so it’ll have a pretty special place in any book discussions for me.

Mort – This was the book that got me into Terry Pratchett in the first place, I got it from the library when I was a much younger lad and was pretty much instantly hooked by the humour and the the world the story exists in (the Discworld naturally). The basic concept is what if Death were a person (or a skeleton with a personality at least) and ushering people on to whatever comes next after they die was a job, and what if he got himself an apprentice to help with the workload.  I think it was the first humorous book I read as a young adult and what I always liked about to was that it really resonated with my sense of humour and I really loved the characters. Death was one of those characters where you can just immediately hear his voice in your head as you read (he had what turned out to be Christopher Lee’s voice in my head though I couldn’t identify it as such at the time), and it helped that he liked things like cats and curry which did alot to humanise him. I also appreciated that you didn’t need to have read the previous Discworld books to enjoy this, it’s essentially a standalone story within a shared world.

The Hobbit – As things stand this is probably my favourite book of all time and I’d go so far as to say it’s the most important book to me personally as I’d credit it as being the book that got me into reading in the first place. I remember reading in class at school when I was about 10 and we’d read a certain amount in each lesson, I got properly into it and would take the book home and read more of the book in my own time, something that my teacher clearly knew about as she gave me a copy of the book at the end of the year and I still have that copy of the book nearly 30 years on, it’s a bit beat up now but it’s still treasured. I loved the sense of adventure it brought out in me and there’s a definite sense of wonder at things like Smaug the dragon and the final battle which have always stuck in my head. I read it again recently and while it’s little more raw than I remember being it was no less enjoyable, and actually I think I enjoyed certain parts more now as I have more of an understanding story structure and character development than me as a kid would ever have had.

I definitely have something of a comfort zone when it comes to reading, I know the sorts of things I like and historically I’ve been more adverse to trying things outside of that sphere. I’ve got friends who have started giving me recommendations which I’ve enjoyed and some of those books may appear on one of these in the future. One friend has given me a few suggestions which I’m looking into and will probably pick up some of when I next get paid, there’s definitely advantages to having friends with opinions that you trust.

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