Apparently Marie Kondo has said that you don’t need to keep more than thirty books. To which some people replied, “on the bedside table?” which sort of sums up my attitude. I mean, by the end of March this year I had already read more than thirty books. Her point being, of course, that you read a book and then give it away. What torture. But let’s just say you’re only allowed to keep thirty books. Maybe when oil prices make it impossible to heat our houses and we have to burn all our books to stay warm… Which ones would you choose? They’re going have to be books that you would want to read again and again. Here are mine.

  1. Bleak House by Charles Dickens. There has to be at least one Dickens on the list, and this is my favourite. It’s also the longest, which is handy if I’m limited to thirty books. But seriously, if you forgive things like his overuse of coincidence and using spontaneous combustion to get rid of a character, there is so much going on in this book, it deserves to be read over and over. Amazing to think he was writing it as he went along. How scary would that be? Bleak House was published in 20 monthly instalments, each containing 32 pages of text and two illustrations. Each cost one shilling, except for the final double issue, which cost two shillings.
  2. Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. I’d have to buy a new edition so I could cheat and include, as he described it, all five of “the increasingly inaccurately named trilogy.” I have indeed read all five of these books so many times that my own editions are falling apart, but there is always something new to discover, and I never fail to laugh out loud or find myself in awe of his imagination.
  3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Again it would be handy to cheat and include her complete works because they all deserve to be read over and over (which is presumably why none of them have ever gone out of print in the two hundred years of their existence). If forced to choose one, it has to be P&P though.
  4. Foundation by Isaac Asimov. Very hard to choose one Asimov to keep, but the Foundation series has such amazing world building, it has to be number one. I’d have to sneak in the rest of the series though, and I’d also like the Robot series as well, which you can do because they overlap a bit. It’s amazing to think these were written seventy years ago! A window into our world’s past aspirations.
  5. Small Island by Andrea Levy. I loved this warm, funny, poignant novel about the Windrush generation (written and published long before that term became well known for such terrible reasons.) I have not read it again since it first came out in 2004, but it’s definitely coming to the top of the ‘to be read again’ pile.
  6. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Yes I know this is a problematic book, but it was one that I read dozens of times growing up, and it never failed to grip me with that vast sweep of time and the portrayal of a woman trying to survive a civil war and huge cultural changes, all on her own. It is a classic and a masterpiece of storytelling.
  7. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. One of my childhood favourites, it’s also one of those books that works on so many levels, and is equally entertaining for adult readers. I love it so much I have Alice painted onto my shoes and my ‘sit up in bed to read’ cushion features the Mad Hatter.
  8. And the Land Lay Still by James Robertson. I’ve only read this once so I’m longing for the excuse to read again this epic tale of recent Scottish history.
  9. Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. This one should be required reading for any writer. It is a masterclass of POV.  Cracking good read as well.
  10. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. It was hard to choose between this book and Never Let Me Go, and maybe I should’ve kept both, but Remains just gets the vote. Such an amazing study in repression, and how did he remain in Stevens’s head so well and so long?
  11. Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne. Have you read any AA Milne recently? He is soooo good. Whether you’re reading a poem or a piece of dialogue between Pooh and Piglet, or reflecting on the contrasting characters of Tigger and Eeyore, there is so much to take away from this. A masterclass in the philosophy of life.
  12. Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I’ve only recently discovered this amazing writer, and still have Americanah to read and am relishing the prospect.
  13. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. Not many ‘whodunnits’ would make it onto a list of books you would want to read over and over, but And Then There Were None is so clever, it does deserve several readings. It was hard to choose between this and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, for sheer pleasure of the craft.
  14. His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. When I first read this at the same time as my ten year old son, I was completely blown away. I’ve re-read them all recently in anticipation of the prequels and once again found the worlds so absorbing and intricate. Who wouldn’t love the concept of daemons and parallel universes, the challenges to religion? I know that these are books to return to again and again.
  15. The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. A bit of a marmite book this one but then I love marmite. I have read it dozens of times and it always pleases me.
  16. Affinity by Sarah Waters. A least one of Sarah Waters’ books has to make it onto the shelf, and it’s hard to choose between this one and Fingersmith. Both have amazing structure and plot which will take your breath away.
  17. Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. Another author with such a great oeuvre, it is hard to choose, but I think this one just gets the top vote, but I’d love to sneak in The Chrysalis 
  18. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. I’m keeping this one because it’s long and full of rich detail and also a gripping read. I haven’t read a more moving account of the First World War before or since.
  19. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. I was put off reading this book for a long time, it won so many accolades and as far as I could tell the story – a school shooting – would not be my thing, but when I finally did get around to reading it, could absolutely see it deserved every bit of praise. This is a book which definitely merits more than one read, even though it is harrowing.
  20. The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis. Ok I don’t need to have all seven to be honest, you can keep The Horse and His Boy, and The Last Battle, but the other five? Yes, I have to have them, even though I probably almost know them off by heart.
  21. Canopus in Argos by Doris Lessing. Most of Doris Lessing’s books deserve several readings, but especially her science fiction series. Like the Foundation novels by Asimov, these books offer a look at a society through aeons of time. I’d also love to re-read her Children of Violence series and her short stories, and… Oh I’m just keeping them all, OK?
  22. The Dispossessed by Ursula K Le Guin. I need to find time to re-read some Le Guin, especially her speculative fiction set in her Hainish universe (including the Left Hand of Darkness). I remember being absorbed by it at the time, but also, having remembered that it was hard work, I feared my brain would be less tolerant these days, but having re-read the Earthsea book, I was reminded how an eloquent writer she was.
  23. After You’d Gone by Maggie o’Farrell. Actually if we have to get rid of all our books, I’m just going to kidnap Maggie and keep her in my basement. She already lives in Edinburgh so I’m sure she won’t mind. She is my all time favourite author (and I wrote about why for Words and Pictures.)
  24. Harry Potter by JK Rowling. I’m afraid I need all seven books. There is no way round that. Ok, well if you force me, then I guess The Prisoner of Azkaban is the keeper.
  25. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeannette Winterson. I only started reading her books recently, and had not realise how funny she is. Dark, yes, but above all, funny. Definitely want to read this one again.
  26. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham. it’s interesting that my keep list is disproportionately dominated by books I read as a child or young person. A testament to the power of children’s book writers. I guess, like first love, books read when young have a deeper impact than those read later. But Wind in the Willows, like Alice in Wonderland, is one of those books which is so timeless and can be read and enjoyed by all ages. Who can’t weep even now, for Mole, in his innocence and homesickness? Who can’t marvel at the outrageous behaviour of Toad, and still want things to turn out ok for him? Incidentally there were several other children’s books I sincerely wanted to keep – Charlotte’s Web by EB White, for instance. There is also a lovely complete collection of Hans Christian Anderson Fairy Tales which I love to look at now and then – he seems to be a bit out of favour compared to the Grimms brothers, and I have no idea, as his stories are infinitely better.
  27. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo. A recently read book, this joint winner of the 2019 Booker Prize and the Woman’s Prize for Fiction, I loved it so much I definitely want to read it again.
  28. The Once and Future King by TH White. The classic and the best King Arthur story (although I did love The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley which tells the story from the POV of the women of Camelot – but I guess I wouldn’t re-read it now after the allegations of Bradley’s child abuse)
  29. Jeeves and Wooster by PG Wodehouse. What would Marie Kondo make of PG Wodehouse who wrote 71 novels, as well as numerous plays and scripts? I guess it would be a stretch to keep all 71 of them, but at least some of the Jeeves and Wooster would keep me very happy.
  30. Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris. I loved the psychological thrillers set in a boys’ school, and as the latest one is released, I have decided to re-read them all from this first one. And I’m happy to do so. Joanne Harris is definitely an author who deserves to be read and re-read.

Boy that was hard! There were so many more I would’ve liked to have spared from the bonfire. I couldn’t choose any one Stephen King novel so in the end I’ve let them all burn, though I would like to sneak in On Writing. (Incidentally, I blogged last year about my top ten Stephen King novels– my only blog to focus on just one author).  Secret History by Donna Tartt. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. Atonement by Ian McEwan. Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon. To Kill A Mockbird. What about George Orwell? Daphne du Maurier! Peter Pan! Argh! And then there are all the non fiction books which deserve several reads. Bill Bryson! Oh no, I cannot have a world without Bill Bryson. Maybe Marie meant only 30 novels? Somehow I don’t think so. Honestly, I think I’ll stick to the clutter of books and love it.

(PS I have since seen articles in which she claims never to have said ‘only 30 books.’ But it’s out there as an idea. Beware!)


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