I had a very nice email from a reader of this blog:
“Could you share some of your all-time favorite books? I had to think hard about this; you might have to do the same. These are books that have moved you, ones you tell others about, ones that sadden you when you finish because you want there to be more, ones that give you joy. Maybe your readers will stop to think about this, too... Books are a great source of pleasure and really do make my life happier.”
What a wonderful question. And quite difficult to answer! When I think about my favourite books – especially novels – that I might recommend to others, the ones that appear are mainly from the last few years. Like, A Gentleman in Moscow, A Man Called Ove, To Kill a Mockingbird – these are books I absolutely didn’t want to end, which moved me enormously, and which I bought for other people.
(As for To Kill a Mockingbird, wow, I could write a post called ‘Atticus Finch changed my life’!)
But would I say they are my favourite books of all time? There have been so many! When I was in my teens, I read Kane and Abel by Jeffery Archer and thought it was the best read on planet earth, but probably wouldn’t buy it for anyone now! I thought the same about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Less than Zero when I was at university, favourites then because they were packed with themes that appealed at the time.
My first years in Spain were filled with Spain travelogues, like the wonderful South From Granada, that I thought was the best book I’d ever read and prompted me to write a version of my own, Errant in Iberia. And just before coming to Spain, I’d lie in the bath in London reading For Whom The Bell Tolls ’til the water got cold, dreaming of the pine forests of the Sierra of Madrid, that I now walk regularly at weekends – did that book help bring me here?
There are so many more favourite books, each accompanying me at the perfect time in my life – Walden, which along with Peace is Every Step started a tectonic shift in my way of seeing the world… Don Quijote (read in English) that helped my dive into the heart of Spain soon after arriving… Throwing ideas for this post into my notebook, I have Slaughterhouse-Five, Hard Times, The Shiralee, L’Etranger, Stig of the Dump, the Narnia series, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (in fact, the whole series of Maya Angelou’s autobiography), and many more Spain books that were immensely important to me in my first years here: Homage to Catalonia, Monsignor Quixote, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, Voices of the Old Sea… All complete happiness to me at the time (and surely now if I were to reread them).
Aren’t we lucky that ‘favourite books’ is such a shifting sand, that books come along just when we need them, that they accompany us where we are, or help us go where we need to go. Books are pure joy.
In the last few years, after finishing the perfect book, or reading everything by the perfect author, I might suddenly worry that I would never find anything as good again. But look how many authors, epochs and themes there are in the random and surely incomplete list of favourite books above – From Dickens to Vonnegut, from Spain to America’s deep south, Victorian England to Pre-Civil War Spain, via Sweden, Australia and Moscow. And Google tells me there are 140 million more books in the world, so I think I’ll be OK – how many more authors, places, epochs and themes are waiting within!
Thank you so much for the question S., it’s reminded me how incredibly important books have been and continue to be in my life. So many ideas and new ways of life revealed, so many places travelled, so many lives lived, so many helping hands guiding me along the way. And so many more favourites waiting to be read!