It’s well known around these parts that the commenters on this blog are very intelligent, discerning types. It would therefore be extremely remiss of me if I were to glean valuable information from them and not pass it off as my own.
Last week I asked which books from the century or so previous to 2010 I absolutely should have read.
I asked this question because back in the 1990s, I borrowed great books. All of the big readers I knew – and I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by them – were sources of the most excellent reading material. Some of it was old, some new, but all in all, I’d a legibly great time of it altogether.
And then in the 2000s, I was that person on the bus you saw reading the latest book you heard someone talking about. Drunk on the heady thrill of earning actual cash which allowed me to buy actual books, I bought and read voraciously. I looked to the bestseller lists and the ‘3 for 2’ discount tables, and chose and purchased and devoured.
But somehow, after 2010, I just wasn’t feeling it any more. The bestseller lists no longer did it for me. Everything seemed the same. Every now and then, it’s true, a book came out which blew my mind a tiny bit, enticing my brain to pack its bags and go somewhere else for a spell. But then the lists for the following 12 months – or even 24 – were filled with poor imitations of that mind-blowing book. It felt like there was nothing new, nothing different. I grew very bored very quickly.
About 2 years ago I came to the conclusion that faddish genre fiction was my problem. I didn’t like books which were easily pigeon-holed. I liked books from older bestseller lists which, having become major blockbusters, usually led to authors giving interviews containing comments like “my publisher didn’t know where to pitch it” or “they packaged it as a [insert hopelessly narrow genre here], even though I didn’t think it was, but I couldn’t do anything about it”.
The Wish List
I liked well-drawn, quirky characters, who did unexpected things. I liked sweeping epics and sagas. I liked adventure stories or character-driven tales which segued easily from a battle to a drunken dinner to – as author Anne R. Allen put it – ‘deliciously vicious’ social commentary, peppered with comedy and tragedy and love and death and ambition and jealousy and obdurate weather. But all of a sudden, I couldn’t find them any more.
So I asked the beauteous and undeniably tasteful readers of this parish. And because their suggestions were bloody marvellous, I made a list of them. And because I am a nerd who loves spreadsheets, I took this list, and put it into a spreadsheet. And then sorted them by decade. And coloured them in. And maybe salivated a little bit. But that’s my problem.
The Actual List(s)
So, without (much) further ado, here is a list of classic books which will suit people who don’t like reading the same bloody thing all the time. Who don’t buy their books by “for people who liked Y, which was in itself a poor imitation of X” or “yet another Z” or “so homogenised it probably should be kept in the fridge”.
Where authors were recommended in general, but with no specific books, I’ve added either books I enjoyed, or whatever’s first on my own To Be Read list for them.
Where authors were recommended more than once, either for the same books or in a sort of “anything by ABC” fashion, they get a star. Not a gold star, but a star nonetheless. (I may be a nerd, but I am not easy to please.)
These authors I added to my own “Anything By” list, which includes John Irving, Diana Gabaldon, Ken Follett, Phillip Pullman, Amy Tan, Douglas Coupland, Dave Eggers, Sarah Waters, Anita Shreve, Winston Graham, Sally Beauman, and Marian Keyes.
And one book from 2010 snuck in there. But only because it seemed to deserve it.
If/when I get more, I will expand the list. But enough of my waffling. Get reading, and I’ll see you later.