1) Wind-up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami
Reading this was a truly mind blowing experience. I can’t really say more about it beyond “wow!”, it really is the best thing I have ever read. I can’t really even begin to explain the plot as it meanders so much. A true experience.
2) The Werewolf and the Wormlord – Hugh Cook
Hugh Cook used to correspond with me after I first wrote fan-mail to him as a young teen raving about his books. He would send me letters from exotic locations as he was traveling around the globe and it was at that point when I saw his hand writing that the maps in his books were drawn by him. We kept in touch later on via email and I last contacted him in 2005 or so when he told me he was ill with cancer, he sadly passed away in 2008. I felt compelled to first contact him as his brand of fantasy was groundbreaking. Since then it’s a plot style adopted by others like Joe Abercrombie, and it’s been called “gritty fantasy” but back in the late 1980s it was totally original. From his 10 book decalogy (he meant meant to write even more and I recall him telling me about ‘The Walchop and The Wasp’ which I suspect he never got around to completing beyond the few scraps of notes he sent me) I like this one the best as structurally it’s the perfect novel not to mention very witty (as were the bulk of his books) and a proper page turner. His books never really caught on, poor sales meant they were pretty fringe and none of his books are in print anymore. Nevertheless, I take great pleasure still from re-reading his works. I think I’ve probably read this one at least x4 times and I always wish I could write something similar.
3) The Third Policeman – Flann O’Brien
A surreal, bizarre journey into what I am thinking is Hell. It’s a hard one to describe as there are so many strange things going on, but it really leaves its mark on you. It’s not an easy read this, you need all your powers of attention when reading it. I’ve read it x3 times and I discovered new things each subsequent read. A mix of funny and sad, uplifting and deflating, all rolled into beautiful prose. A true masterpiece.
4) The Long Goodbye – Raymond Chandler
This was probably my first true crime genre book. Before this I was getting my kicks for thrills from Enid Blyton, but that was very sedate fiction, and then aged 15 I read this one. Wow. It was a real eye opener. A great twisty novel featuring possible the best pulp hard-boiled L.A Investigator, Phillip Marlowe. After this one I went through the entire Marlowe range of books, I fancied myself as a tough-guy back then and was desperate to own a mackintosh type coat and fedora hat and solve some crimes, I used to make a point of trying to memorize random car registration plates in various streets in the hope that my knowledge would prove useful, however all that did was it used up precious RAM space in my brain and I did badly in my exams that year. This book was great in that afterwards it allowed me to start exploring other crime/thriller stories, which set me along the path to other authors like James Ellroy etc.
5) Death is a Lonely Business – Ray Bradbury
Bradbury has written some amazing short stories across a great many books. I can remember a fair few off the top of my head and I’ve had great pleasure reading the bulk of his work across the decades. This particular book is different in that it’s one of his novels as opposed to a collection of short stories. I read it first in the late 1980s as a teen, age perhaps 16 or 17 and it struck a cord. It’s got some wonderful moody descriptions and the right about of suspense and brings to life L.A in the 1950’s as it unfolds a dark tale of a young penniless writer trying to singlehandedly solve some murders. I re-read it again a few years ago with an more jaded adults eye and sadly it wasn’t as rivetting the 2nd time around. Nevertheless, purely for the memories I have of reading this on a rainy sunday afternoon one autumn, and on a bus journey or two through Hackney, it evokes a strong nostalgic emotion within me that transports me to a different place.
6) Flood -Stephen Baxter
This is genuinely the most depressing book I have ever read. Its so, so bleak. Theres no happiness at the end of the tunnel, just more tunnel. However, it’s also so fantastically written that its compulsive page turning stuff. I’ve read this book 3 times now, and I think about climate change, I think about the damage humankind has inflicted on this planet, people use the word recently “irreversible” when talking about environmental change, I dont buy into that.. it can be reversed and no doubt will be reversed, once humans cease to exist. Our planet will outlive the existence of our species, and after that the animals we haven’t already made extinct can inheret it. This book captures that sense of loss and futility.
7) Assassins Apprentice – Robin Hobb
I’ve only mentioned the first book of the series here, but I actually mean the entire full set.. so I’m cheating here… I’ve listed just a single book, but what I actually mean is : Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin, Assassin’s Quest, Ship of Magic ,The Mad Ship, Ship of Destiny, Fool’s Errand, The Golden Fool, Fool’s Fate, Dragon Keeper, Dragon Haven, City of Dragons, Blood of Dragons, Fool’s Assassin, Fool’s Quest, Assassin’s Fate. That’s what, 16 books? So even the quickest of readers, that’s probably a year nearer 2 or 3 years, to munch your way thru that lot. But I tell you, what a ride! What an epic saga! It starts off with a boy, aged 4 or 5.. and ends with that boy as a man in his 60’s. It’s not just about him however, some of the books relate to other people and other stories that eventually thread their ways back to the central character and I tell you something, after investing in these books, and finally reading the last book, and all that had unfolded, I cried like a baby at the final few chapters. It captures so much.. being a young person, first love, arrogance, parenthood, failed or failing relationships, family, justice, loyalty, friendship, sacrifice, death. It’s all there!
8) The Witchlord and the Weaponmaster – Hugh Cook
An epic romp. Its fun, its funny, its got exciting elements, its got wit, its a bit odd and sure, its not high art, or literature, but its damn enjoyable!
9) Lord of the Flies – William Golding
You already know it! I don’t need to say anything. You already know how great and clever it is!
10) Player of Games – Iain M Banks
A very interesting vision of the future that also alludes to politics and the differing types of government, just how far these ‘democracies’ go to do something, for example, in this book, we are presented the view that the ruling Culture is a very laissez faire society, just about anything goes, it’s all very liberal and fair, and yet it quite happily stitches up an innocent man and blackmails him to do something he doesnt want to. There’s a beauty about gaming and game playing that is also captured within its pages, it paints a vivid picture of the future that makes you a bit uneasy. Banks wrote several great books, I think this one is his best.