These are a few of my favourite novels

A colleague is flying out from the USA to England tomorrow, and asked for recommendations of novels for the flight. Here’s what I suggested.

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (John Le Carre): hard-edged, fascinating, realistic. Sparse, sparkling prose. Justly rated a classic.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis): written for children, but still the most moving book I know.

The Silmarillion (J. R. R. Tolkien): brutally difficult, but so full of goodness. Absolutely fascinating. If you liked The Lord of the Rings and have the discipline to get through the first 20 pages of near-poetry, it’s endlessly rewarding.

Carry On, Jeeves (P. G. Wodehouse): absolutely frivolous, and utterly delightful

Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen): a restrained, brittle comedy that’s consistently misinterpreted even by people who love it.

Ringworld (Larry Niven): a truly amazing amount of invention in such a slim SF story.

Rendezvous with Rama (Arthur C. Clarke): a completely different take on broadly similar SF premise. Very believable.

The Owl Service (Alan Garner): profound, bewildering, engaging, rewards re-reading but remains somewhat baffling even then.

Watchmen (Alan Moore, illustrated by Dave Gibbons): fully deserving its reputation as the greatest superhero story ever told, and the only graphic novel to make the New York Times list of the top novels of the 20th Century.

The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (David Nobbs): a light comedy with disturbing undertones and perfectly drawn characters that live in the memory.

The Once and Future King (T. H. White): unbearably lovely and truly unique

The Man who was Thursday (G. K. Chesterton): the kind of book where you only figure out what it’s about as you’re reading it. Constantly surprising, forever delightful.

There are many more, but those are the ones I mentioned. The only conclusion I can draw from this list is that I really like books by authors who use initials instead of first names.

15 responses to “These are a few of my favourite novels

  1. Gerard Taylor

    Silmarillion was just too tough for me, I gave up on it but read through the 3 volumes of Lord of the Rings several times and while some hard editing could improve it (imho) as the first of the modern swords and sorcery gene it deserves respect.

    Amazed to see something from Douglas Adams missing from that list however short.

    In terms of books I have read (listened to, because I don’t read much anymore) I have really enjoyed.

    Ready player One by Ernest Cline
    Off to be the Wizard by Scott Meyer

    Both light-hearted but really hit my culture and the things I grew up with and I think you would enjoy them a lot.


  2. If you try The Silmarillion again (which I’d recommend, it’s great), I think your best bet would be to skip straight over the two shortish poetic sections that start the book, Ainulindalë and Valaquenta, and start straight into the Quenta Silmarillion.

    Douglas Adams: I did wonder about including one of his books, but which to choose?

    As it happens, I’ve read both Ready Player One (on Myles Kelvin’s recommendation) and Off to Be the Wizard in the last couple of years. Thoroughly enjoyed both, and will buy the Wizard sequel the next time it’s discounted.

  3. Gerard Taylor

    I got the sequel it’s called “Spell or High Water” and while it is good all sequels suffer from being based in the same world and having less surprise to us. That being said there was still enough there to enjoy.

    I assume you have also read “The Martian” by Andy Weir, it’s now been made in to a very good (but different) film starring Matt Damon, it’s an excellent read.

    So many books, so little time, btw my audible collection is now at over 150+ books.

  4. Yes: read and loved The Martian: it totally should have been on my list!

  5. David Brain

    That’s an amazing list. I’d pick Emma over P&P, and I’m a Blandings Castle man, but that’s just me. Everything on that list is fabulous. (As for Adams, I’m a strong advocate that his best work is Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency which reveals new secrets to me every time I read it.)

  6. Emma vs. P&P is a tough choice, but P&P shades it for me because it’s so adaptable: the BBC one with Colin Firth, the completely different Keira Knightley movie, Bridget Jones, Lost in Austen, P&P and Zombies, etc. But I do love Emma, which is by some distance my second favourite Austen.

    I also agree on Dirk Gently. But I have never understood how Dirk saves humanity from never having existed at the end: have you? What does the Man From Porlock have to do with anything?

  7. Ended up reading “The Golden Compass.” Talk about the polar opposite of “The Lion the Witch and the Wardobe,” eh?

    Also read part of “The Last Dragonslayer” by Jasper Fforde. Enjoyed books from his Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series, so thought I’d give this one a try.

  8. Jasper Fforde is new to me. Worth searching out? (Right now, I am re-reading The Martian.)

    I think Pullman’s trilogy is superbly written, and gripping, but basically mean-spirited and with a very narrow view of the universe. It’s a shame that such great gifts have been spent in that way. Abigail Nussbum wrote a very fine short summary of His Dark Materials. Someone (anonymous) in the comment wrote “Philip Pullman is a talentless hack”. They couldn’t be more wrong: he’s a talented artist. But I can’t perceive any greatness of soul. So, yes, polar opposite of Lewis (and Chesterton).

  9. Fforde is a lot of fun. I’d recommend “The Eyre Affair.” He plays fast and loose with genre bending, and works in an awful lot of literary references — I probably missed half of the inside jokes. Still, he spins a very good yarn and builds a hysterical and fascinating world.

  10. You’ve never read Fforde?! I am genuinely surprised. Yes, definitely start at the beginning with The Eyre Affair – and then admire the glorious retconning as he develops the series.
    In the same “uniquely British comic sensibilities” category I’ll put in a good word for Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway (son of John Le Carré) – it’s fantastic in every sense of the word.

    (As for Dirk, isn’t the point that the “proper” version of Kublai Khan was supposed to contain some information that was needed by the aliens, so by distracting Coleridge long enough for him to forget it, the aliens couldn’t find it out? I mean, obviously this is nonsense but frankly, who cares?!)

  11. I downloaded The Eyre Affair — thanks to both of you who recommended it.

    Interesting that Le Carré’s son is writing. I do think Le Carré is an absolutely magnificent writer, but of course not at all in the “uniquely British comic sensibilities” category, so I’m intrigued to see how that works out.

    On Dirk: I think you’re broadly right, but Coleridge was supposed to get the information from the alien’s ghost, so who was the information intended for?

  12. David Brain

    Re: Dirk – that’s a fair point. I think the assumption of the ghost here is that, because things do not have to happen one after another, the information can be taken “back” to them by someone later, just not by it because it assumed that, as a ghost, it was stuck in linear time. So it found a conduit to get the information out there (via Coleridge) with the expectation that, at some point, it would also find a way to send that information back. Dirk then resolves the problem at the source (Coleridge) rather than trying to prevent the information transmission itself, since, once the information was “out there”, there would be a lot more opportunities for it to be transmitted. So when the ghost finally manages to get into a position to transmit it, the solution isn’t to interfere with that (because thwarting that would just stop the one incident and not necessarily any future ones) but to stop the information from getting out at the source.
    At least, that’s my reading of it at the moment. I might read it again and change my mind. I think I need to go away and listen to some Bach.

  13. Not sure I follow this … you think that the ghost in 1797, having remembered for a billion years everything it needed to know to fix the exploding ship, forgot it all between then and 1987?

  14. David Brain

    It’s possible that it hadn’t remembered everything it needed at all, and that whatever happened, it would have messed up. It’s just that it was more likely to mess up if it didn’t have some sort of printed reference to at least start from. So taking that away pretty much guaranteed failure.
    Or something. :)

  15. Pingback: What I’ve been reading lately, part 33 | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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