Books are really the foundation of my life. Some of my earliest memories revolve around certain stories and I have friendships that have been forged through a shared love of reading. The books are also deep personal things. Whilst I could read a story and fall in love with a character, someone else may loathe them. We all relate to storylines and personalities in different ways and all have individual preferences.
Last year, I endeavoured to read 52 books and although I succeeded in my aim I was left feeling really underwhelmed. I’ve been slow to return to reading and I’ve come to the realisation it was because none of them really set my world alight. None of them really brought me the depth of feeling that other books have done in the past.
I recently decided to have a clear out at home and resolved to only keep the books that really are close to my heart. The ones that I will re-read time and time again. Some are well known classics whereas others are a little more unknown. What they all have in common is a happy memory, an evoked emotion or are just blooming good reads! I’d love to know what you think of my list and what would be on yours.
15 books by J.K. Rowling
- Harry Potter and The Philosophers Stone
- Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets
- Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban
- Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire
- Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix
- Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince
- Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
- Quidditch Through the Ages
- The Tales of Beedle The Bard
- Harry Potter and The Cursed Child – Parts One and Two
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them – the Original Screen Play
- The Cuckoos Calling
- The Silkworm
- Career of Evil
Obviously, as a huge Harry Potter fan my shelves are rather dominated by J.K. Rowling books. The books really did fill my teen years as I devoured each book after often YEARS of waiting. I’m not sure if I envy the current generations of readers or not – they can so easily just binge read the series but obviously miss out on all the built up suspense. I would spend hours with my best friend theorises over possible plot lines or wondering what hints had been hidden within the books. The time between the publication of each book whilst painful in so many ways equally brought many moments of joy and laughter together. Whilst the stories are wonderful, the dimension it brought to my friendship was immeasurable.
That same friend managed to secure tickets to the first preview of The Cursed Child and to be able to watch it together, after all those years of enjoying the Harry Potter world together really made for an unforgettable experience. The play has it’s pride of play on my shelf, but because it’s an amazing read (you really need to see it in person) but because of the memory attached to that day. The script to ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ has it’s place in the hope that we’ll watch the film together and equally enjoy all the references to the world we know so well.
I haven’t included The Casual Vacancy because I found it so very sad. Although I’d recommend it as a read, it’s not one I’d like to return to because it doesn’t have a good feeling attached to it. On the flip side, I’ve heard great things about ‘Very Good Lives’ – J.K. Rowling’s 2008 Harvard commencement speech – the sales of which feed into various charities. I just haven’t got round to reading it yet!
11 books by Alexander McCall Smith
16. 44 Scotland Street
17. Espresso Tales
18. Love Over Scotland
19. The World According to Bertie
20. The Unbearable Lightness of Scones
21. The Importance of Being Seven
22. Bertie Plays the Blues
23. Sunshine on Scotland Street
24. Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers
25. The Revolving Door of Life
26. The Bertie Project
27. Trains and Lovers
I was recently asked what I would suggest as ‘background’ reading for someone visiting Edinburgh. Without hesitation I recommended The Scotland Street series. Still published in episodic form in the Scotsman newspaper every year over a period of three weeks, it remains the most astute (and hilarious) observation of Edinburgh and it’s residents.
For me it takes on an extra dimension in that my Dad also really enjoyed the series. He would often buy the books first before handing them on to me. Or often, would buy it, lend it to me to read first and then demand it back so he could read at a more leisurely pace. We each developed the habit of dipping back into the books at regularly moments but only reading the sections we enjoyed the most – those focused on the character Bertie. Although each character is special, that wee boy will always have a place in my heart.
I’ve included Trains and Lovers not because it fits into the Scotland Street series in any way but because it was the last book I bought my Dad – and then took back after he had read it!
28. I am Charlotte Simmons – by Tom Wolfe
The story of a college student Charlotte Simmons at her first term at University, ‘I am Charlotte Siimmons’ in all honesty is fairly ‘teen angst’ dominated with a world of sex and difficult relationships to boot. I’m not sure why I have a fondness for it – but it’s been on my shelf since universe and it’s an easy book to escape into.
29. A Good Year – by Peter Mayle
This is another one that I’m fairly sure was originally my parents and I simply ‘acquired’ it. As a family who is fond of wine – the theme of this one really appeals. To me, it’s also a happy book – the first time I read this one I was on holiday with a good bottle of wine and a nice pile of cheese. I would heartily recommend it as the way to read it!
3 books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
30. Little House in the Big Woods
31. On the Banks of Plum Creek
32. The First Four Years
All three of these books were originally my Mum’s when she was a child – I think she probably still has the rest in the series although they were in a pretty delicate condition when I read them as a child. I enjoy these books partly because Laura paints such a vivid picture of her life. I have the whole series on Kindle and they are often books that I return to. Although my parents both liked the name, Laura Ingalls Wilder is part of the reason my Mum liked the name to begin with. As a fierce woman of her time – I’m glad to share my name with her.
Low brow Historical Fiction
33. The Other Boleyn Girl – by Phillipa Gregory
34. The Lady Elizabeth – by Alison Weir
35. Innocent Traitor – by Alison Weir
I really enjoy historical fiction as I just find it great escapism – but the Tudor period has to be my absolute favourite. It’s perhaps no surprise that both my kids have names from this era as well; although Katie has the spelling of Henry VIII’s last wife – the survivor!
So I’m fond of all three of these books purely because I find them enjoyable reads but The Other Boleyn Girl has a specific journey attached to it. Many years ago now, I spent a summer travelling across America by train. To cope with this form of travel in the States you have to be utterly unbothered about delays and be able to cope with sleeping at unusual times. For some stretches of the journey we didn’t both with hotel rooms but just stayed on the train for a couple of days. The seats reclined and were massive and one route we even were treated to an upgrade to a room with beds! One carriage had a transparent roof and was fitted out with sofas and there was a whole traditional dining carriage complete with china plates! It really was a grand way to travel and something I’d like to do again when the kids are older.
We had been due to leave Denver at about 9pm at night, but of course the train was delayed which necessitated a long wait around the station. Thankfully, there was a cheesecake factory within a stones throw and the most AMAZING bookshop. It was there I found The Other Boleyn Girl and the slow journey that followed gave me the chance to really escape into the book.
36. Recipe for Life – by Mary Berry
Whilst I enjoyed watching bake off, I won’t watch it without Mary Berry. I absolutely adored her last series on the BBC in which she visited different stately homes and I really admire the way she just navigates life. Her auto biography is just a great read and unlocked a whole background that many people of my age just would not be aware of. In short, it resulted in my admiring her more. Which I hadn’t thought possible. On a very random side note – I love that Blue Peter gave her a Golden Badge and love even more that my kids watched the footage on repeat. They too, get that Mary Berry is remarkable.
37. Salmon Fishing in Yemen – by Paul Torday
I couldn’t really tell you what this book is about. I read it quite some time ago and it’s kept it’s place on my shelf purely because I can remember laughing out loud. It’s not something I often find myself doing with books and I can’t remotely what amused me – but I hope that it will again one day.
38. The Night Before Christmas – by Clement C Moore
My Mum always read me this poem on Christmas Eve and a couple of years ago she gifted me my own copy to read to my kids. I can’t really imagine a Christmas without Mum reading it to us, but should that day ever arrive – I’ll be equipped.
39. Saturday – by Ian McEwan
This isn’t a book that is particularly happy but I think of it very often. There’s a single line that really stuck with me. One of the main characters is preparing dinner for his family and there’s a phrase that describes him cutting an onion ‘laying waste to the layers of the skin’. I now can’t actually cut an onion without remembering that phrase. So even though the book is one that’s pretty chilling – it’ll stay on my shelf until I can cook without thinking of it!
40. Dead Tomorrow – by Peter James
I’m not a massive crime fiction fan but for some reason – this book is signed with a dedication to me. I have a vague recollection that this actually came from my Grandmother but that equally seems to implausible I’m not sure how that can be! Either way, it amuses me that it’s a crime book that contains a puzzle even before I read it.
41. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying – by Marie Kondo
I don’t think I’ve ever really read the whole of this book but I like the concept of only keeping things that ‘bring joy’. My Mum made the point that if she only had items in her wardrobe that truly brought joy then she would be very poor. But I still like the concept.
I think part of the reason we generate so much rubbish is because we buy things too easily. A lot of fashion is thought of as disposable and it’s so easy to just pick things up on a whim. This book encourages you to think a little bit more. Don’t buy things to begin with unless they really bring joy – and don’t keep them if they don’t continue to bring that feeling. It’s certainly an idea that helps with our clutter!
A Duo to Help with Style
42. Elegance – by Kathleen Tassaro
43. A Guide to Elegance – by Genevieve Antooine-Deariaux
Elegance by Kathleen Tassaro is the story of a woman who has kind of lost her way. She’s unhappy in her marriage but equally hasn’t shown herself enough love either. She discovers a rather out of fashion ‘Guide to Elegance’ and begins to rebuild her life.
I really enjoyed this book the first time I read it because I felt a similar need to have an overhaul. I think I was later gifted the Guide to Elegance for Christmas one year and honestly found some good advice within it. Whilst some of it feels very out of date – I’m never going to dress Katie in plain white dresses! – other snippets have stayed with me and I’m sure I’ll find myself turning to it again when stuck with what to wear on certain occasions. Some advice is undoubtably timeless.
44. The Summer Book – by Tove Jansson
This one was given to me by one my of best friends who generally has excellent taste in reading. She described the descriptions in this book as ‘like poetry’ and I love the images that it conjures. It’s not a read that comes easily to me but one I enjoy working with.
45. We are all completely beside ourselves – by Karen Joy Fowler
I think this book is actually another friends and was leant to me a few years ago. I’m hoping she hasn’t got some unannounced resentment that I still have it as I actually really enjoy it. I think it’s probably a ‘marmite’ book as I know some people couldn’t connect with the characters but I think it’s a easy read but complex at the same time.
46. The Girls of Slender Means – by Muriel Spark
Originally published in 1963, The Girls of Slender Means is set in post-war London and follows the lives of three women in their early 20s and whilst it’s written in an amusing, light style it equally has death and intrigue within it’s pages. My copy of this book identifies it as my ‘bath’ book. It has been dried out a few times and it’s pages certainly will never be smooth again. But as a novella, it’s the perfect book for me to soak away for an hour whilst getting lost in the story time and time again.
Whilst I’m sure I could add four books to the shelf to end up with a nice round number – why should I? Perhaps I will discover four more that set my world alight this year – I’ve recently been gifted a book by a friend that’s awaiting my attention – but equally I may find less or even more. I’m hoping though, that by focusing my attention on these 46 that I have a more fulfilled reading adventure this year!