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My 10 favourite books - what are yours?

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Posted on 10 Nov 2013 19:33:53 GMT
In no particular order

Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
The Portrait of a Lady - Henry James
Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
The Siege of Krishnapur - J.G.Farrell
Gormenghast - Mervyn Peake
Nostromo - Joseph Conrad
A Case of Exploding Mangoes - Mohammed Hanif
The World According to Garp - John Irving
The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco
The Tin Drum - Gunter Grass

Posted on 11 Nov 2013 18:58:53 GMT
The first ten which come to mind are :

Deliverance / James Dickey
The Bonfire of the Vanities / Tom Wolfe
Hells Angels / Hunter S. Thompson
Tell No One / Harlan Coben
American Tabloid / James Ellroy
Toward the End of Time / John Updike
The Man in the High Castle / Philip K. Dick
Girl with the Pearl Earring / Tracy Chevalier
Less than Zero / Bret Easton Ellis
Libra / Don DeLillo

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Nov 2013 18:29:42 GMT
Last edited by the author on 19 Nov 2013 09:56:18 GMT
Sombrio says:
Ruth, Thanks for posting your list of favourites here. We shared so many overlaps of mutual interest that I was moved to get hold of a copy of the only unfamiliar title you put down, (Canada, by Richard Ford). I just finished it this morning,..... Absolutely spell-binding, from beginning to end !! I still find myself reluctant to slip entirely out of his story that I was so completely enmeshed in for the last two weeks and return to my more familiar daily norm. Thanks again for a great reading experience.

Posted on 20 Nov 2013 03:29:53 GMT
JV says:
I find strange that no one shows interest for writers whose first language is not English.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Nov 2013 08:58:30 GMT
Last edited by the author on 20 Nov 2013 12:31:40 GMT
I Readalot says:
Not true JV, 4 on my list are translations and around a dozen of the others have one or more including the likes of Kafka, Dostoevsky, Zafon, Haruki Murakami, Stieg Larsson, Knut Hamsun, Roberto Bolano and Umberto Eco. Remember as well that this is 'Top Tens', so far this year I have read 24 novels published in a language other than English and I know there are a few regulars who also read a lot of translated fiction.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Nov 2013 20:52:43 GMT
J.Yasimoto says:
I don't. Surely books aren't just about plot? There are good and bad translations, but even the good translations lose the word play (alliterations, puns etc.) cadence and rhythm of the native language.

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Nov 2013 08:44:10 GMT
El Massri says:
This is the first list that has many of my own favourites.

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Nov 2013 10:50:34 GMT
Last edited by the author on 27 Nov 2013 16:57:45 GMT
Sombrio says:
For me, that's a large part of what has made this thread so incredibly fruitful. Because everyone who contributed here has had to go through the interesting process of narrowing down to ten their favourites out of all the books they have read. Though it is the 'overlaps' with our own personal favourites which initially provides a kind of 'frisson' of agreement, a happy sense of meeting a compatriot in the world of reading for pleasure,.... nevertheless, it is the gaps between the overlaps where the 'fruit' lies.

Several times in this thread I have been attracted by these initial overlaps with other readers to the point where it pushed me to get off my backside and search out the other, unfamiliar ones they also listed and which I'd never previously heard of. From the titles provided, by then looking them up on Amazon and reading through their plot synopsis along with the reviews by other readers,.... I have come across several truly magical reading experiences. And not a single 'dud', yet

I think this thread is one of the very best, (in the sense of opening doors to unknown reading pleasure), that I have come across on this forum.

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Nov 2013 12:29:14 GMT
Last edited by the author on 25 Nov 2013 12:30:43 GMT
gille liath says:
Personally, some of my favourite books are translations. Just think how good the originals must be!!

On the other hand I haven't much patience with the idea that we *ought* to read foreign books - whether originally written in English or otherwise - just because they're there.

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Nov 2013 20:31:07 GMT
monica says:
In fiction though word-play is one means to an end; even the most Oulipan of works isn't about the word play.

And I think good translators can with a lot of painstaking work re-create the qualities you mention. I've just finished a contemporary translation of a Swiss-French novel with frequent and unsystematic changes of person (the narration shifts between 3rd-person omniscient, 1st person plural and even 1st person singular, sometimes within a paragraph) and of tense (sometimes within a sentence) and with a some truly bizarre metaphors. I've read another novel by the same author translated decades ago--and it's remarkable how similar the two translations read and feel and to me that strongly implies that even the most experimental of writing can be translated faithfully, else those novels wouldn't have seemed so like. (I'm reading as well a collection of musings by a Dada sorta guy that is ridden with puns and general wordplay; the translator has dealt with much of it by using explanatory footnotes.)

Posted on 26 Nov 2013 12:56:20 GMT
Last edited by the author on 26 Nov 2013 12:57:10 GMT
J.Yasimoto says:
"And I think good translators can with a lot of painstaking work re-create the qualities you mention."

Well this is true but if you're looking for a great read in English, the only requirement is that it is.. a good book. If you already have a good book in, say, Russian, it further requires a gifted translation to remain a good book. I've read two different translations of the same book and they were miles apart in meaning and readability. So when counting classics, most will be in English. And therefore top 10 book lists will be predominantly native English books.

I guess the opposite will be true in Russia. All the Russian classics will remain classic but Dickens for instance, could well be at the mercy of the translators. And Dickens in Mandarin? The mind boggles!

At this point I will have to confess my ignorance. When I first picked up and read The Name of the Rose, I didn't even realise it was a translation. I bet there are some people out there who unknowingly have a translation in their top 10! (The flip side of that story is Christopher Paolini. When I first read Eragon I was convinced it was a translation. Sadly, no.)

Posted on 27 Nov 2013 12:59:06 GMT
Diana Loos says:
An absolutely fascinating thread which I have been following with great interest. Here my selection from the thousands of books I've read in my lifetime:

To start off with - Several cheats:
The Harry Potter books Joanna K. Rowling
A Horseman riding by R. L. Delderfield
Cadfael Ellis Peters
The Once and Future King (incl. The Book of Merlyn) T.H. White
To kill a mockingbird Harper Lee
Gaudy Night Dorothy Sayers
Busman's Honeymoon Dorothy Sayers
Momo Michael Ende
The Domesday Book Connie Willis
To say nothing of the dog Connie Willis

Altogether it's a lot more than 10 - but if it provides an Inspiration for other people's reading Habits - !

Posted on 28 Nov 2013 16:49:40 GMT
Anita says:
Monica and J.Yasimoto,

both of yours posts made me smile, actually, because I'm on the opposite side of the fence. I'm very bad in compiling any lists of favourites, but thinking of books I really liked, I do think *only* of translations. I may think of one or two in my own language, but not more. And so, even if I do have several English language entries (and I do read in English), I'd add quite a lot from other languages. No list of mine could be complete without:

62: A Model Kit (New Directions Classics)
The Magic Mountain
The Master And Margarita (Penguin Classics) [ ;) for gl ]
The Woman in the Dunes (Penguin Classics)
The Three Musketeers (Vintage Classics) (an absolute must!!)

And whatever else I forget at the moment.

However - even the best of the books can be totally ruined by bad translation. I'm an unhappy witness of this happening.

Monica - footnotes is a tricky thing. If a book is to be read as fun *and* you have to deal with endless footnotes, if every joke has to be explained - well, no fun anymore. And to find some kind of equivalents for puns and such is hell. (And it changes the book somewhat.) I've heard a story a while back about translators from various countries sharing experience (and cursing) about the mouse who's tale/tail was long (from Alice). It just doesn't work in any other language! And footnotes in a book like that won't work too...

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Nov 2013 16:51:38 GMT
Anita says:
Diana - nice to see someone mentioning Connie Willis... personally I saw lots of logical gaps in Doomsday Book, still, it was a good read.

(Haven't read the other one)

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Nov 2013 20:23:59 GMT
J.Yasimoto says:
"Monica - footnotes is a tricky thing. If a book is to be read as fun *and* you have to deal with endless footnotes, if every joke has to be explained - well, no fun anymore."

Unless you're reading Terry Pratchett!

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Nov 2013 22:26:25 GMT
monica says:
I should have mentioned that footnotes were in a non-fiction work, one verbally playful but of earnest intent. And actually you're on my side of the fence: my favourite books are mostly translated ones. Not *because* they're translated ones, though.

I've just remembered that my copy of Alice is this very good one: The Annotated Alice. Bit of a fudge, that, as I think the book would be best read the first time without glosses, but still--footnotes. (That's too much fudging, in fact, but I'm distracted by attempts to find conte/queue words that work in French. I can't, but, given time, I might come up with a not-a-hundred-miles-away equivalent that worked.)

Posted on 1 Dec 2013 13:34:01 GMT
CARTER says:
Have been attempting to make a list of my top 10 for weeks and I simply cannot do it!!!!!!!!!!!

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Dec 2013 14:11:42 GMT
Sombrio says:
I think sometimes we can get ourselves stuck through trying too hard to be absolutely precise,... and forgetting that things like our lists of ten favourite "anythings", will always be just a fleeting snapshot of a moment in time. The lists each one of us might have will change from day to day, month to month, year to year.

I think the way to cut through the Gordian knot when we find ourself unable to commit oneself to some type of action through the desire to get it absolutely perfect, without error,... is simply to write down the FIRST ten that come to mind. Let the books spontaneously speak for themselves. They'll be a perfect representation of the moment you do it, and moreover, will be more fun for those of us on this forum who are following this thread.

Good luck with your logjam !

(If all else fails remember, " There are very few personal problems that cannot be solved with a suitable application of explosives.")


In reply to an earlier post on 1 Dec 2013 16:09:29 GMT
Last edited by the author on 1 Dec 2013 16:10:24 GMT
Diana Loos says:
Anita: I don't read books like this for logic or historical accuracy, but for other reasons - my mother, who gave me the Domesday Book, loved it very much and said it was "full of loving kindness". And I can really highly recommend "To say nothing of the dog" if only because it represents exactly the opposite extreme of Connie Willis' writing spectrum!

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Dec 2013 20:27:14 GMT
gille liath says:
I suppose faults in history and logic are fine as long as you don't notice them.

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Dec 2013 20:54:03 GMT
Chris says:
I thought it made things a little easier to pick different types of books. That way you don't have to dither over whether this or that sci-fi is better than this or that historical. Trying to choose between books that satisfy different needs seemed to make things even harder.

Posted on 1 Dec 2013 21:22:06 GMT
Last edited by the author on 1 Dec 2013 21:23:37 GMT
Sombrio says:
Yes, I remembered your post way back near the beginning of this thread. I've just scrolled back to refresh my memory. It was a good idea choosing ten sub-categories, and your choice of categories also covered most of the bases quite thoroughly.

However, only listing one out of each category loses the advantage that this current thread's wider list of ten does as is now stands. There's a definite advantage to seeing a wider selection of choices, with some you know and some you don't. As I said somewhere above, it's the shared 'likes' that provide the attraction, while it's the 'strangers' that entice us to take a step into the unknown.

Thinking about it now with this new wrinkle you've just added,... I think that an even more helpful format for this thread might be to use the same sub categories you've devised, but list three books for each. That would then give a maximum total of thirty books for everyone, (and possibly satisfy the many contributors who feel that ten was simply not enough).

Anyway, just a thought. For anyone who's hung around internet forums any length of time at all , one becomes pretty quickly aware that thread topics have a life of their own and where they end up going, and the length of time they last, all depend on the momentum provided through individual contributors. That's the only thing that drives them. Stick around long enough and we could find ourselves discussing everyone's suggestions about what to do with our surplus supply of courgettes when they all ripen at the same time every autumn.

Any ideas ?

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Dec 2013 00:11:11 GMT
Last edited by the author on 3 Dec 2013 00:53:41 GMT
Chris says:
I'm sure everyone who posted could easily do another 10 without it feeling like a B list. And another after that. Then you start to wonder just how many you could do before you start adding books that aren't true favourites.
Don't think I've ever had a courgette in my life. Tells you a lot.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Dec 2013 10:28:54 GMT
Last edited by the author on 3 Dec 2013 10:29:32 GMT
Sombrio says:
I don't think your lack of courgette experience says much about anything, really, (so don't worry that you've unwittingly let all those dusty skeletons out of your family closet.) The cause may also simply be another of those trans-Atlantic vocabulary twists - courgettes in the UK became 'zucchinis' when they voyaged across the ocean to North America. Who know how a 'bonnet' became a 'hood', a boot became a trunk, a lift turned into an elevator, petrol transmogrified into gasoline, etc, etc.

You do raise an interesting point however when you pointed out that any listing exercise MUST have a ceiling limit.Without the artificial necessity of rules forcing us to condense, discard, discriminate,.... the fruits of this honing-down process, would probably just dissipate into a vague cloud of 'enjoyable-books-I-have-known'.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Dec 2013 19:53:56 GMT
I Readalot says:
Chris I, interesting point so decided to try it:

Blue Hour - Alonso Cueto
Some Kind of Fairy Tale - Graham Joyce
Alone in Berlin - Hans Fallada
Of Bees and Mist - Erik Setiawan
Candide - Voltaire
Shades of Grey - Jasper Fforde
Ripley's Game - Patricia Highsmith
The Gone-Away-World - Nick Harkaway
The Hands of Fatima - Ildefonso Falcones
Salem's Lot - Stephen King

Feels a bit odd Shadow of the Wind and Cloud Atlas not being there but any of them could easily have appeared in my original top 10.
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