I thought it would be fun to do a few posts on the books I’ve read since 2003, and hopefully I’ll keep going with new book reviews as I read more. I’ll start off easy with my ten favourite fiction books. I love these books for different reasons: from an emotional connection, to the quality of the writing, to the richness of the narrative. You’ve likely have already read some of these classics, but if you haven’t, well… I recommend you do! I’m not going to rank them, but I can tell you that The Giver and The Hobbit are still my favourites.
Here’s a fun fact few people know about me – I’ve been keeping a list of every book I’ve read since 2003! My friend Natalie gave me a journal for my 15th birthday and I decided that this journal would be where I wrote down the books I’ve read. Helpfully, I also rank the books out of ten so that I can remember which ones I enjoyed the most, and can recommend them to others. My book lists have changed considerably over the years, from reading young adult works, to mainly non-fiction during my degrees, to not reading at all (a.k.a. only one book completed in 2017 ☹️).
Thankfully, I’ve got a bit more free time to read these days on my lunch breaks and on the bus, and I actually enjoy reading again! Anyone who has spent a long time in school or is still in academia will likely be familiar with the feeling of HAVING to read sucking the life out of you (especially if you’re rushing, or have too much reading to get through). Combine this with staring at a computer screen all day and it’s no wonder it took me until 2019 to really get back into reading recreationally!
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
I probably don’t need to bother with a synopsis of this fantasy work, since most people are familiar with the story. I will say that why I like The Hobbit more than The Lord of The Rings is the accessibility of the writing. It’s not too long and you get tastes of the mythology and fantasy without being weighed down by Tolkien’s diatribes on lore. Themes of bravery, obsession, tradition, and kinship make this book a must read for anyone, even if you’re reading it to kids from maybe the age of 7.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
This YA novel was assigned reading in elementary school and it’s such a beautiful, yet haunting story. The Giver is set in a dystopian community where everything is in black and white and lacking in emotion. The protagonist is a boy named Jonas who develops a relationship with a community elder, and together they struggle as the individuals responsible for retaining memories on the community’s behalf. I’ve read this book a few times and I cry every time. Whatever you do, don’t watch the film over reading the book.
1984 by George Orwell
Another dystopian favourite where the government (and the Thought Police) control everything. The protagonist Winston is responsible for editing historical documents so that they fit with the Party line, but Winston doesn’t like the Party and wants to rebel. Part political commentary, part love story, this book is a classic. In these uncertain political and environmental times, it’s a must read.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Another classic I read as assigned reading. Themes of racism, prejudice, and morality make this commentary on the American South during the Great Depression an instrumental work of fiction for understanding society and American history.
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
I enjoy some of the Harry Potter books more than others, with The Philosopher’s Stone, and The Prisoner of Azkaban being my favourites. The writing is not mind-blowing, and at times annoyingly repetitive, but it is the series that saw me through my teens and I anticipated new releases immensely. I brought The Order of the Phoenix with me on a school trip to Europe (it’s massive!), and I cried when I didn’t manage to get one of the books the day it was released. I’ve also listened to the audiobooks, which got me through a dull summer working as an archivist, and long bus commutes. I have a lot of fond memories staying up late to finish the latest installment.
Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel
This is the first book of the Earth’s Children series, and Natalie recommended it to me! It’s such a unique story set in prehistoric times and focuses on relationships between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon humans. The protagonist Ayla ends up joining a clan of Neanderthals and is trained as a medicine woman. It’s a fairly convoluted story line with many characters, and I didn’t enjoy the subsequent books as much, but this novel has stayed with me as it was the first historical series I read that wasn’t ancient Egypt or Tudor.
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
I read this book in English class and had to make a 3D book report on it, so I muddied an old boot and wrote some letters to symbolise a soldier writing in the trenches. Reading this book was one of the few ways I could begin to understand the horror and bloodshed of the First World War. Especially as the story is from a German soldier’s perspective about the physical and mental stresses of war, it’s such an important book to comprehend the inhumanity of warfare, rather than statistics, military strategies, and ‘victories’.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This historical fiction is set in the Second World War and has two narratives of a German boy and a blind French girl and how their lives connect. It’s a beautiful and heart-wrenching story, but what I enjoyed most about it is Doerr’s writing. His language — both descriptions and metaphors — are so perfect that quite a few times I though “damn, I wish I could write this well”. It’s a somewhat dense read that you need to take your time with, but it’s worth it.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
If I remember correctly, I decided to read this because I enjoyed The Simpsons spoof episode. It’s a fascinating social commentary in terms of governance and human impulse. I bet anyone who has ever read it is still haunted by the ending.
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Okay, I cheat a bit on this one because this is a published version of a comic/ web blog, not fiction. However, this book is a contender for being my favourite of all time. Brosh’s child-like drawings are hilarious and the comic versions of her life will make you laugh, and cry. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it. Brosh struggles with depression and when I was going through a tough time, I related so much to this book. It was my therapy. If I could recommend one book to anyone, it wouldn’t be a Pulitzer winner, or classic, it would be this comic about the struggles of everyday life when life is getting you down.
At some point, I will write a post about books written by Canadian authors that I recommend, but I thought I should give special mention here to Stuart McLean. McLean was (still is) a Canadian treasure — he passed away in 2017. His show The Vinyl Cafe on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Cooperation) featured his short stories that mainly revolved around the quirky lives of Dave and Morley. These collections are also published and are a delight to read. My favourite stories, purely based on hilarity, are “Dave Cooks the Turkey” and one where Dave has to protect the Christmas pudding from a squirrel who chases him down the street.
So, there you have it, my ten favourite fiction books (so far). I’m always on the lookout for new favourites so feel free to share your recommendations!
For more posts on books see: