Excuse my language here, but there is no other way to say it – books are the shit. I mean that in a good way. Books are my greatest joy, apart from carbs and my dog Chewie. For three years, I studied BA English Literature & Drama at the University of Winchester; I basically did a degree in books. However, doing a degree in books means that you have to read and you more than likely don’t get a choice of what you read. When you do get a choice, you quickly learn to regret that choice (don’t pick a favourite book for a dissertation topic, it will soon no longer be a favourite, at least for your final year). Reading becomes graded and regimented, and the joy of reading can sometimes fade (especially when you look at texts through psychoanalytic lenses. Thanks for that, Freud). However, university is now complete, I never have to look at Lacan again, and my love of reading has returned! Less sitting in a hot study room, banging my head on the table, more sitting down with a cuppa with a good book. Riding off the back of my renewed love of reading, here are my top six books (so far). Let me know in the comments below what you think of my choices, and what your favourite books are.
6. Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, 1911
Ah, that childhood classic. Well for me, the book was not a childhood classic. The 1953 Disney move certainly was. I remember young Rosie putting the VHS in and singing along to ‘We’re Following the Leader’, only to rewind it to sing it again. Looking back, the film was certainly not very politically correct, but young Rosie had no care for that; she just had a desire to sing and an odd crush on Peter Pan. It was when I was older, in my early teens, that I discovered Peter Pan was a book. In my early teens, I was going through an ‘elitism’ phase. I had a side fringe, a studded belt, and an attitude that shouted ‘the only real music is classic rock’. Yeah, I was one of those. That elitism seeped its way into my reading habits, and I started reading classics because ‘they are the only real literature (followed by a teenage grunt and sassy hair flick)’. I remember reading it in bed, feeling ridiculously proud of myself for ‘being cooler than the other girls’ because I was reading a classic book. However, it elicited something more. It was the first book that ever truly struck a chord with me. It pulled me back into childhood wonder and totally absorbed me into the world within its pages. I read it in one sitting, and swiftly read it again the next night. As a teenager, it brought me back to being a child. As an adult, it’s a book that makes me happy in its simplicity, something I have yet to find in another book.
5. Voyage in the Dark by Jeans Rhys, 1934
This was a book introduced to me by The Modern Age module in my second year. I had never heard of it or Jean Rhys before, nor had I ever been really invested in Modernist literature. I mean, I liked a bit, but that was all. I did something that you should never do in university (please learn from me and my mistakes), and that is read the book at 1am the night before the module. I thought I would do a little skim read, maybe check out Shmoop.com for the book’s themes, but I became instantly invested in the text. It’s about a young woman, a chorus girl, who moves away from her home and has to support herself in rainy England. It’s a simple premise, but incredibly enticing. The text deals with taboo subjects of the time, notably female sexuality, race issues, abortion, and the crushing of the darn patriarchy. Feminist and ground breaking? Hit me up. This is the book that really turned me into reading Modernist literature, and turned me into an accidental Modernist scholar. If you like feminism, modernism, and aren’t afraid of bluntness, give this book a go.
4. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, 2005
I’m not normally a dystopia kind of gal. All of the dystopian fiction I have tried to read was too violent or too regressive for my taste e.g. too many alien slave girls. That is, until I read Never Let Me Go. This books follows the character of Kathy as she grows up in a specialist English boarding school and how she deals with love, loss, and life. Very simple, very lovely. Oh, and a large group of humans are bred as clones to serve the purpose of being a donor. Ah.
I’ve managed to put my finger on two points as to why Never Let Me Go is one of my favourite books. Firstly, it’s just a good, easy, heartfelt read. I took it on holiday with me to Dubai and read it sat by the pool. It is the perfect holiday read. It’s also easy to read because the characters are easy to understand and to relate to (that is, apart from being bred as a clone). Personally, I believe these characters are the most realistically written of any book I have read so far. Secondly, it has an underlying socialist message that questions human morality and ethics. That’s right, lull the audience into a false sense of warmth and then strike them with the Orwellian messages. I have always admired books that can entertain and make you think, and this book made me question the notion of morality and identity for days. In fact, I haven’t read it in about a year and it’s still making me question what I thought I knew.
3. Ten Years in an Open Neck Shirt by John Cooper Clarke, 2014
A-Level English crushed my love of poetry. We seemed to only study Romanticism, Blake, Bysshe, Byron; all self-important men with whiny words that bored me to death. I decided poetry was not for me, except for good ol’ Shakespeare’s sonnets. That’s until I discovered John Cooper Clarke. I was meandering my local Waterstones, and came upon this book in the poetry section. I loved the fantastical Rolling Stones-esque cover, opened it up to page 49 and was sold. Page 49 was a poem entitled ‘Evidently Chicken Town’ and it was like nothing I had ever read before. It was rude and rhythmic and real. It was intelligent and silly and garish and all encompassingly punk. After buying the book, I fell in love with one of the poems called ‘I Wanna Be Yours’, which was made famous by the Arctic Monkeys. For me, Ten Years, upholds everything I like about poetry. The musicality, the brashness, the honesty, the creativity. I tell you, I would pay good money to read John Cooper Clarke’s rewriting of the Romantics.
2. Just Kids by Patti Smith, 2010
My enjoyment of Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids came as a big surprise to me. I had heard such marvellous things about the writing of the book, but I had never listen to any of Patti Smith’s music before. I just assumed she was your usual nineteen-seventies punk rocker, all loudness, sex, drugs, and rock n roll. Hand on heart, Just Kids is the most beautiful book I have ever read. It is so incredibly descriptive, you can feel her emotions dripping off the page. It documents the struggles she and others like her went through, the rise to fame, the high and the low points. What impressed me the most, is that you can hear Smith’s voice throughout. She has such a distinctive way of writing, whether that be poetry, lyrics, or her books, and she unashamedly keeps her voice. I would recommend Just Kids to anyone for the sheer beauty of it, but I would highly recommend it to my friends trying to make their way in the arts. She documents that endeavour perfectly, but also inspires.
1. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, 1963
This is the book that made me me. I would not be the Rosie Lewis I am today without it. I first read this book when I was about fifteen, when I knew that I wanted to study Literature. I was starved for influential female writers, so I made it my mission to read as many books by female authors as I could. When I read The Bell Jar at that young age, I could feel the importance of the book. I could tell it was ground-breaking and daring but I couldn’t really relate to it. I enjoyed it and put it back on the shelf and in the back of my mind. I re-read it again when I was eighteen, and I broke down sobbing on a train because it affected me that much. The story follows Esther Greenwood as she tries to be successful whilst struggling with mental health problems. Every theme, every interaction, every thought Esther had had felt like mine. Every struggle and joy she had, I had a variant in my life. I have read this book more than ten times in the last two years and it has gotten me through my worst depressive period. I can genuinely say what pulled me through was anti-depressants, love from my family and friends, and The Bell Jar. For a book written by Sylvia Plath about depression, treatment, and oppression, it’s a surprisingly uplifting book. Every time I read The Bell Jar, I find something new and resonant within it. It has made me, changed me, and inspired me; that is why it is my favourite ever book.
Thank you for reading! Let me know what you think of the post, and what your favourite books are in the comments. I’m all about that conversation.