Top 10 Books of all time?

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss, 1957

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss, 1957 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This list of the 100 Best Books of all Time in the world is interesting.  I’ve read 6 thanks mostly to Shakespeare, and 2 halves (100 Years of Solitude; which I’ve been reading for 21 years now and haven’t quite finished, and Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales). I have often laughed at the idea of creating a list of books that in some way ranked them.  There’s a fashion for lists, especially in blogs for all kinds of things.  I’ve tried in the past to name a top 10 of books and failed.

I’m just not able to wittle it down and order them.  So I’m not going to try to do that.  Instead I’m going to record a number of books that I think have changed my world view, stayed with me, or I read at important stages of my life.  I’m going to write this quickly and not think

about it too much, otherwise I’ll get all pretentious.  I might write another post, looking at it in more detail.  I’m really going to try to dredge them out here.  So I’m not numbering them, and I’m not counting them.  Let’s see where I end up.

The Cat in the HatDr Seuss: A book I remember blowing my mind during a “wet play”.  I’d never seen anything like it.

Pauline Baynes

Pauline Baynes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – C.S.Lewis:  Not strictly a book I read, I had it read to me and it changed my attitude towards reading and education.  So very important.

The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffeneger:  Probably would be top of the list if it was ordered.  An absolutely unbelievable

premise made believable.  So emotionally real.  A masterpiece (shame about the film, perhaps they should rename it so they aren’t connected)

The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown: A good story.  Sorry.

The Shadow of the WindCarlos Ruiz Zafon:  I read this after my brother died and I still really enjoyed it, so it must be good.

The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold:  How can this book be uplifting?

Wolf BrotherMichelle Paver:  This is one of those books that make you think you know about pre-history.  It’s so well imagined and researched.  So believable.  I read the whole series.

To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee:  A great story, very evocative of a place and time.

Jasper Jones – Criag Silvey:  A great story, very evocative of a place and time.

A Vision of Elena Silves – Nicholas Shakespeare:  It took me somewhere completely different when I was a teenager.

Chatterton – Peter Ackroyd:  A fantastic weaving together of many story lines, introducing me to some great British arty types.  I still find the painting The Death of Chatterton whenever I go to the Tate.

Wolf Brother

Wolf Brother (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte:  A tribute to my English teacher Mrs Seymour, who brought this book alive.  I still look back at those scary English lessons with enjoyment, I can’t remember much else from my Secondary schooling.

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen:  As above really, but Jane and I have been moving in the same circles (geographically speaking)

The Giggler Treatment – Roddy Doyle: I loved reading this with my children.  Just what children’s books should be, funny and a bit naughty/rude

Galore – Michael Crummey:  It feels like a load of village gossip and folktales woven together into a plausible history of a family and a place.

The Belgariad – David Eddings:  I can’t think of a reason why, but I loved it at the time.

Eragon – Christopher Paolini:  Some very original ideas here (magic with a cost).

Sandmouth People – Ronald Frame:  Original and a bit quirky, but captures a British town in a way I find believable.

Panic – Jeff Abbott:  Introduced me to a new style of high-octane thrillers.

Before I Go To Sleep – S.J.Watson:  A brilliant, clever story that kept me guessing to the end.  Actually I think I knew and that only made it more enjoyable.

Into the Darkest Corner – Elizabeth Haynes:  Scary but believable, taking me to a world of an obsessive compulsive and an abuse victim (I make it sound great, but it is well worth reading).

Crime ZeroMichael Cordy:  An excellent writer.  Far, far better than Michael Crichton.  A well imagined near future.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman – John Fowles: Not some soppy romance, but an analysis of image, stigma and the media.  Surprisingly recommended to me by a guy I worked with, until I read it.

Holes – Louis Sachar:  Symmetry.

Winter’s Tale – Mark Helprin:  An introduction to adult weirdness.

The World According To Garp – John Irving:  Gritty honest characters.

Phew.  I made it.  I had to stop myself writing Just Read It at the end of each one!

Is it just me, or is this compelling?


Someone in Singapore bought The Jolly Postman

Whilst following Black Friday deals I came across The Book Depository (it ran quite an interesting sale).  But what really got me interest was this..Book Depository Live.

It shows you which books are being bought by its customers on a world map

Someone in the UK bought Illywacker

Is it just me?  I love seeing which books are being bought.  Little stories go through my head as to who is buying and why.  It’s also great to see books in active selling.  Like being in a bookshop and seeing what people buy.  This is a worldwide customer base, so you get some curve balls in there, not just the latest top seller.

This might be a great way to choose/not choose a BIB.

Someone in Switzerland bought On Becoming Fearless

I think I should point out that I am not a Book Depository employee.



I give up!

I’ve agonised over this, but I’m just not enjoying this book!  So I’m giving up on it.  In my earlier life I would never have done this, I used to have to read a book to the end no matter what.  Now, for some reason, it seems unnecessary to put myself through something I’m just not enjoying (I’ve got the dentist and performance related pay for that kind of thing).


How did I arrive at this decision?  It’s not a bad book, it’s a bit quirky and interesting.  It seems to be going somewhere in a meandering kind of way.  If I continued, and this is what kept me going this long, it might be a great book, but I don’t hold out much hope.  The final reason, and probably the single most common reason why I give up reading a book, is I just don’t like any of the characters.  Which is surprising, because I will quite happily read novels about murders and terrible acts by one person to another, but the author normally includes one person who you like, or have sympathy for, or identify with.  I wonder if you have to like at least one character in a book to enjoy it?  In this book I’m not sure I found the characters particularly believable and certainly not likeable.  I didn’t dislike them, I am just indifferent to them.   Or perhaps you don’t have to like them but you have to feel strongly about them, like or dislike, you want to see them win or lose, to get a reward or their comeuppance.

“So what?” I found myself thinking as I was trying to concentrate and failing.

I’d describe the book as Forest Gump meets Thelma and Louise meets The Old Devils.  That sounds quite interesting but  it’s told in a kind of Grimms Fairy Tale style.

Other books I can remember bailing out on for this reason are Before They Are HangedJoe Abercrombie, and Catch 22Joseph Heller.  Both are well regarded books, but not for me.  There are others, but I’ve forgotten them.


Catch-22 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cover of "Before They are Hanged (First L...

Cover of Before They are Hanged (First Law)

Anyway, I’m off now to read Gone GirlGillian Flynn, which I am assured is fantastic.  Not a BIB I’m afraid, I chose it.  But so far I seem to be enjoying BIBs more than my chosen books.

I’m also considering treating myself to the entire current list from Richard and Judy’s Book Club, as a Christmas present as I have found some fantastic books on there in the past, in preparation as BIBs I’m avoiding them in book shops!

Does reading fiction make you a better person?

This is a "thought bubble". It is an...

This is a “thought bubble”. It is an illustration depicting thought. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I instinctively answer yes to this question and that got me thinking!  Do I have any basis for this view?

I thought it was obvious.  The biggy for me is

Empathy: if I think of how many people’s heads I’ve been in and how many eyes I’ve looked at the world through; that must mean I am more tolerant and empathic?

Knowledge:  I must have learnt some things from reading as long as the authors did their research properly and haven’t just made it up.  Even if they have, they must have got some of the experiential stuff right (what it feels like to gut a fish, riding a motor bike, first love etc).

Tolerance:  Seeing things from a wide range of viewpoints must make you tolerant.

But what about reading books that underline your prejudices and give justification to the unjustifiable.  I have read a few things that I fundamentally disagreed with but which because they are written down and well structured almost had me convinced.  Print carries weight.

I was prompted by an article on the BBC which stated that people who read books are better learners.  So I thought I’d have a quick look around at what evidence based findings were available.  Studies I could find focussed on measuring the impact of reading on intelligence and educational outcomes.  Tolerance and empathy are harder to measure.  It’s not like we have a world of history where all the percieved baddies are illiterate.  Far from it in fact.  It would appear that very few world leaders have had little education, irrespective of whether they were good or bad!

The study What Reading Does for the Mind showed two main findings of the benefits of reading in children.

  1. Early acquisition of reading opened doors to further learning (positive feedback and building the ability to think)
  2. All children benefit from reading, whatever their level of achievement.

This article The Powers of Reading is quite interesting, if a little politically motivated!

So, there’s a library of stuff out there, which lean towards the positive benefits on the individual but I would say a there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that it isn’t a guarantee that it will make you good.  (Good is a hard concept to tie down too).  I would like to think that I am far better for the books I’ve read and I think BIBs in particular must be even better for you, because you aren’t reinforcing your viewpoint with books you have chosen.

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared


I’m 19% of the way through this book that I chose in complete awareness.

I chose it because I thought it sounded unusual, with my recent interest in older people, it’s certainly unique to find a main character who is a centenarian.  It was also a bestseller and I like the quirky cover.  The blurb seemed promising.

At this point however I am a bit indifferent to the book, I’d give it a rating of 50%.  The style of the narrative is a bit sing-song and as yet I am constantly asking myself “Why?”  I’m hoping that the author, Jonas Jonasson, has something up their sleeves.

This is the first book I’ve chosen and read since starting this blog, and having greatly enjoyed the BIBs, I don’t want to find out that my ability to choose a book is pants!

Looking this up on Amazon, I’m very intrigued by this book! 100 Facts about the 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared That Even the CIA Doesn’t Know – Christian Hacker.  Perhaps there is more to this book after all, or a new genre of pseudo conspiracy theory books about popular fiction a ploy to gain a wider audience.  What next?  Pride & Prejudice and the plot to Assassinate Kennedy, A Tale of Two Cities and the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Da Vinci Code and… oh no that is one isn’t it?  It’s a spoof about reviews of this book apparently, how disappointing.

I Am Pilgrim – completed.


I’ve finished this excellent book.  I highly recommend it.  Either as a BIB or go and read all about it, but read it anyway.

I would have finished this sooner, but life got in the way.  I had hit my tipping point (about 80% of the way through) about a week ago, but there were things that needed doing and I just couldn’t get back to the book.  I knew that if I found some time it would have to be significant enough for me to finish it.  It was there in the back of my mind ticking away, building up my anticipation, and prolonging the agony and ecstacy of finishing a good book.


Did it live up to all my expectations.  I would say yes mostly.  As you can see from the Bibliograph, it took a little dive at the end, but then it’s difficult to maintain a book this good.  In no way was the end disappointing, just not as great as the rest.  The story was so well thought out that most of the trail of breadcrumbs were gathered in, and even though the book is 700 dead tree pages long, it had the feel of a very well edited book.  Not much is wasted in there.

Interestingly I like the main character.  Which given surprises me as I haven’t normally found this kind of character sympathetic.  He has the feeling of being a whole person (even if not with your average life story).  His protagonist too (as I have mentioned before) has depth and I found myself having some sympathy with him too.

Where does this book belong in my top 10?  Definitely in there.  I’m not sure if I’m damning this book with this but..  I’d put it alongside and above “The Da Vinci Code”.  Definitely better because it’s more relevant.  It was very believable (mostly) and topical.  I’d almost be able to find a news story a day that was relevant to it.

You can also see from the bibliograph that my enjoyment of the book was high all the way through, and the pace of progress was pretty constant.  I think Terry Hayes will have a hard job coming up with a follow up to the same standard, but I for one am a convert and will eagerly await his next novel.  (I hope he’s going to write one, I’ll have to go and look him up now).

I almost missed my stop!







It’s been a long time since I nearly missed my bus stop because of a book!  But it happened today with I Am Pilgrim.  And yesterday, on the way home, I got off a stop later because I had to know the outcome.  It was very exciting.







I read on the bus, with my head down and being partially sighted I need to pay attention to what I’m reading.  You would think that this causes me to nearly miss my stop a lot.  However, I have learnt that I have a subconscious awareness of where I am on the journey.  I expect I am monitoring the turns subconscously and, when I look up I know where we are before I’ve seen.  It works very well.  Except on a few notable occassions where I have been so engrossed in my book that only a fortuitous glance, moments before the stop, has prevented me from missing it entirely.  I think if I did I’d just carry on reading and have a day out!


English: Agatha Christie Bus Tour bus (reg. AH...

English: Agatha Christie Bus Tour bus (reg. AHL 694), a 1947 Leyland Tiger PS1/1 single-decker with Barnaby bodywork. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


But this morning was one of those mornings.  This is a special book indeed.  It is very well paced, with the author dropping breadcrumbs, leaving you to gather them up at a satisfying pace.  None of your Agatha Christie “I want everyone in the library where I shall reveal the murderer” here, where all the breadcrumbs are gathered in an overwhelming handful.  If I had any criticism, and I think this is an anti-criticism (like “My only fault is I’m too hard working”) it would be that everything, although chaotic, is a bit too perfect.  Our hero’s hunches pay off.  But perhaps I’m being a bit harsh and just caught up in the story and not noticing the blind alleys he runs up.




The other great thing about this great book is that it’s long and well paced.  So you can keep reading in great swathes without worrying about running out of story.  Like your favourite biscuits coming in a big enough packet that you can’t eat them in one sitting.

So read it!








Racist or just interested?

I’m going to break one of my rules now (I know!  They didn’t last long did they?) and talk a little about the BIB I’m reading.  So if you want to read I Am Pilgrim as a BIB (I would recommend it) read no further.

English: No racism Lietuvių: Ne rasizmui

English: No racism Lietuvių: Ne rasizmui (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cards on the table.  Talking about racism is hard.  We can’t understand it or our own attitudes better without talking about it, and saying things that make us uncomfortable.

I had a long conversation with a good friend at work about racism that he had experienced, and it was excruciating for me.  I think he found it equally difficult.  He’s Indian.  We’ve had lots of conversations about family, children and looking after your parents as they need you, and I think we’ve both enjoyed those conversations and learnt a lot from each other.  We didn’t shy away from differences in attitude acquired from our culturally different backgrouds, but these were obliquely approached.  This particular conversation was overtly about racism, no getting away from it.  I wanted to know so I could empathise and be more informed.  I was practically silent because I didn’t want to make any racist statement, give offence, make assumptions or upset him.  But in the end we came to the conclusion that in order to think about racism on a personal basis you can’t pussyfoot around.  You just have to say these things that make you uncomfortable like “Has anyone called you a paki?”, otherwise you’re in danger of trying to deal with the unpleasantness of being a human by ignoring it and hoping it will just go away.  We agreed that we’re all different and that the extent of differences had little to do with race, we could both find people from our home towns who were far different to us than we were to each other, and that differences between any two people were far fewer than the similarities.

So back to the book.  Similar to What do I know about anything?  Help me please! I would like to know what to think of this book.  This book is partly about a Muslim radical, and I would really like to get a view of a Muslim on it.  I’d like to know whether this book offers any insight into a Muslim world (it’s not all about muslim radicalism, parts are set in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Turkey), does it present a world that my colleagues at work and Muslims in my community would recognise.  Is this book offensive?  Is it patronising?  Is it worrying?  Does it make you mad?

But I’m uncomfortable about this.  Is that patronising?  Am I being racist?  I’ve talked about books with my friend before, but what would I say if I handed this book to him?

I tried to think about it the other way around.

I’ve read thousands of books set in a world I recognise with characters who have a similar cultural background and they’ve been serial killers, murderers, lovers, heroes, brave, arseholes, fun and average people.  If someone came up to me and said

“Read this book about a mass murderer, he’s from your religion, does this ring true?”

how would I feel?  It probably depends how they were portrayed, with sympathy or as an embodiment of evil.

I’m also visually impaired.  I initially thought I’d really like to read a book about a visually impaired character, but then, the one’s I’ve come across haven’t been serial killers or murderers (If you know of any visually impaired characters in books I’d love to know, don’t worry I’ve got Blind Pew from Treasure Island).  So again it depends how they are depicted.  I loved Rhubarb – Craig Silvey, which made me want to march up to a blind person and ask them whether this is what it’s like to be blind?  I thought the depiction in Rhubarb was very convincing.

So the character in I Am Pilgrim, the Saracen (which is probably offensive in itself), how is he depicted?  I haven’t read the whole book yet, but so far from my position of ignorance, his story seems to have been treated with some sympathy.  There are credible incidents that lead to his acts in the book and I am at some level convinced that he is a real character, not some archetypal baddie with only one dimension.

So what should I do?  I feel like I’m on thin ice with this?  I feel like I need to say something and then end it with “don’t take it that way” or “I don’t mean it like it just sounded”.  But I want to know, I want to get more out of this book than entertainment.  I want to understand more.  Discretion, on the other hand tells me to keep my mouth shut, sweep it under the carpet and try to remember it’s only a fiction book and not to read too much into it.

Readability of the web?

Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My wife came across this in the The Times (Oct 19, 2013) under the headline Beowuluf? It’s not as epic as Google’s rules.

Apparently researchers at the University of Nottingham have incorporated a standard literacy level test used by teachers (using only word and sentence length) into a browser plug in called Literatin and compare internet texts to established literary works.

Then using this tool to look at terms and conditions of various websites they found…

Google’s are more complex than Beowulf!

Facebook’s are worse and similar in complexity to The Prince by Machiavelli!

Scottish Power tops the list with its comparable to Beyond Good and Evil by Nietzsche!

No wonder we just whizz through them and click accept.

It amazes me that we tolerate this given that so much of the development effort put into these web services and sites is around usability and the user experience, Google is popular because it’s got one box and knows what you are thinking, and yet they can’t put their terms and conditions into plain English. I’m not a conspiracy theorist but I think I know why.
Update: I wonder if their new customer pages have the same readability as 50 Shades of Grey?



“This is an excellent book” – I couldn’t stop myself saying it out loud. You have to read it, it’s great as just a book or a Blissfully Ignorant Book (BIB). It has the feeling of being extremely well constructed and worked on, so either Terry Hayes is a genius or is a very good editor of his own work. Just read it. I am Pilgrim

Do we need a new genre?

mobile phone download Dec 2011 025

I’ve been spending a lot of time talking to my Nan.  She’s 95 you know?  And still going strong, even if she doesn’t think she is.  I’ve been working hard trying to get her to remember what she’s achieved in her life and and to help us youngsters to understand ours.  I’ve also been trying to get her to be more outward looking.

My Nan was born in 1918.  When she was growing up she learnt the Charleston.  She worked in a munitions factory during WWII.  She was one of the first to enjoy package holidays to Spain and Italy.  She travelled on steam trains and had siblings die in their infancy from things that today wouldn’t even warrant hospitalisation.  When young all her clothes were hand made and she spent an entire day having her hair permed.  Perhaps she should write her own book!

She reads historical fiction and things like Barbara Taylor Bradford.  But it did get me thinking.  As we are living in an ever ageing population do we need a  new genre?  We have children’s books, teen books, young adult books, coming of age books… do we have old age books?  Is there such a thing?  I’m talking about fiction here.

If there was, what would distinguish it?  What would it be about?  If I ask my Nan she’d just talk in terms of existing genres.  I don’t want to be patronising but from my experience what would make a good book for my Nan would be.. happy, uplifting, life affirming, about her generation but in a realistic way that presents old age as a valued thing where individuals value themselves, look for what they can do and act on it.  (I’m trying really hard to be positive here as I have quite strong views about the poisonous attitude to old age that we have in the UK and other western countries).

Are there any books that fall into this category?  I can only think of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple books which have this positive attitude, but having not read any I can only attest to what I’ve seen on television.

Age UK have some great resources if you’re interested in supporting an older friend or relative.  I thought this article on Growing Old in the 21st Century was very interesting.