books

I love reading.

I should say that I love reading good books. And a good book is one that teaches me something, or makes me look at the world in a new way, or takes me to a place I hadn’t imagined before.

Good novels can do the last two of those criteria. Good biographies can do the first two. Good SF can do the last two. Exceptional books can do all three.  But, even if a book does only one of the above, I will still enjoy reading it.

I became a reader in my early teens, and the book that tipped me over into being a book-worm was “All Quiet On the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque. This was required school reading, and frankly, I’d rather have been outside playing football, than reading boring school stuff. But, at that time there was this thing called the Vietnam War, and I had cousins and school friends who were involved. Something in this book made me realise there was a dimension to life that I hadn’t considered, and that it could affect me and those around me, despite the fifty years that had elapsed. Why hadn’t we learnt?

Why could someone write a book like this, and no-one take any notice and allow things to happen just like they had before?

I discovered teenage idealism. I discovered that the human condition was what drove most of the authors I read to writing what they did.

The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.

Mark Twain

I then started to devour books.

Some years earlier I had done a speed reading course which taught me remarkable reading skills. It took a desire to read to make what I had been taught into something useful. Today, some large fraction of a century later, I still read at around one hundred pages an hour – and can quote you from the book afterwards, if you think I am just skimming at that pace.

I will read anything that anybody suggests. Until recently I never left a book unfinished, working on the belief that if an author went to all that trouble to write it, the least I could do was finish it before passing judgement. Unfortunately, my Kindle does seem to recommend crap, and most of the unfinished books have come in the last few years when I have paid attention to their recommendations. But they are few, luckily.

Here are some of my favourite bookst.

favourites

A vicious fifteen-year-old droog is the central character of this 1963 classic. In Anthony Burgess's nightmare vision of the future, where criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends' social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. And when the state undertakes to reform Alex to "redeem" him, the novel asks, "At what cost?"

This edition includes the controversial last chapter not published in the first edition and Burgess's introduction "A Clockwork Orange Resucked."

Seven Types of Ambiguity is a psychological thriller and a literary adventure of breathtaking scope. Celebrated as a novelist in the tradition of Jonathan Franzen and Philip Roth, Elliot Perlman writes of impulse and paralysis, empty marriages, lovers, gambling, and the stock market; of adult children and their parents; of poetry and prostitution, psychiatry and the law. Comic, poetic, and full of satiric insight, Seven Types of Ambiguity is, above all, a deeply romantic novel that speaks with unforgettable force about the redemptive power of love.

The story is told in seven parts, by six different narrators, whose lives are entangled in unexpected ways. Following years of unrequited love, an out-of-work schoolteacher decides to take matters into his own hands, triggering a chain of events that neither he nor his psychiatrist could have anticipated. Brimming with emotional, intellectual, and moral dilemmas, this novel-reminiscent of the richest fiction of the nineteenth century in its labyrinthine complexity-unfolds at a rapid-fire pace to reveal the full extent to which these people have been affected by one another and by the insecure and uncertain times in which they live. Our times, now.

This daring literary thriller, rich with eroticism and suspense, is one of John Fowles's best-loved and bestselling novels and has contributed significantly to his international reputation as a writer of the first degree. At the center of The Magus is Nicholas Urfe, a young Englishman who accepts a teaching position on a remote Greek island, where he befriends a local millionaire. The friendship soon evolves into a deadly game, in which reality and fantasy are deliberately manipulated, and Nicholas finds that he must fight not only for his sanity but for his very survival.

In his uproarious first novel Martin Amis, author of the bestselling London Fields, gave us one of the most noxiously believable -- and curiously touching -- adolescents ever to sniffle and lust his way through the pages of contemporary fiction. On the brink of twenty, Charles High-way preps desultorily for Oxford, cheerfully loathes his father, and meticulously plots the seduction of a girl named Rachel -- a girl who sorely tests the mettle of his cynicism when he finds himself falling in love with her.

Fred Scully waits at the arrival gate of an international airport, anxious to see his wife and seven-year-old daughter. After two years in Europe they are finally settling down. He sees a new life before them, a stable outlook, and a cottage in the Irish countryside that he's renovated by hand. He's waited, sweated on this reunion. He does not like to be alone - he's that kind of man. The flight lands, the glass doors hiss open, and Scully's life begins to go down in flames.

Was there a beginning of time? Could time run backwards? Is the universe infinite or does it have boundaries? These are just some of the questions considered in an internationally acclaimed masterpiece by one of the world's greatest thinkers. It begins by reviewing the great theories of the cosmos from Newton to Einstein, before delving into the secrets which still lie at the heart of space and time, from the Big Bang to black holes, via spiral galaxies and strong theory. To this day A Brief History of Time remains a staple of the scientific canon, and its succinct and clear language continues to introduce millions to the universe and its wonders.

A superlative and lively account of a fascinating, complex continent whose first settlers were criminals. Australia's social, cultural and political growth is traced through its many stages, along with a look at some future prospects for the "land down under". A Mentor edition.

A modern classic in which John le Carré expertly creates a total vision of a secret world, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy begins George Smiley's chess match of wills and wits with Karla, his Soviet counterpart.

It is now beyond a doubt that a mole, implanted decades ago by Moscow Centre, has burrowed his way into the highest echelons of British Intelligence. His treachery has already blown some of its most vital operations and its best networks. It is clear that the double agent is one of its own kind. But which one? George Smiley is assigned to identify him. And once identified, the traitor must be destroyed.

Acclaimed by many as the world's greatest novel, Anna Karenina provides a vast panorama of contemporary life in Russia and of humanity in general. In it Tolstoy uses his intense imaginative insight to create some of the most memorable characters in all of literature. Anna is a sophisticated woman who abandons her empty existence as the wife of Karenin and turns to Count Vronsky to fulfil her passionate nature - with tragic consequences. Levin is a reflection of Tolstoy himself, often expressing the author's own views and convictions.

Throughout, Tolstoy points no moral, merely inviting us not to judge but to watch. As Rosemary Edmonds comments, 'He leaves the shifting patterns of the kaleidoscope to bring home the meaning of the brooding words following the title, 'Vengeance is mine, and I will repay.

From a tormented orphan with a clubfoot, Philip Carey grows into an impressionable young man with a voracious appetite for adventure and knowledge. His cravings take him to Paris at age eighteen to try his hand at art, then back to London to study medicine. But even so, nothing can sate his nagging hunger for experience. Then he falls obsessively in love, embarking on a disastrous relationship that will change his life forever.…

Marked by countless similarities to Maugham’s own life, his masterpiece is “not an autobiography,” as the author himself once contended, “but an autobiographical novel; fact and fiction are inexorably mingled; the emotions are my own.”

'In what may be Dickens's best novel, humble, orphaned Pip is apprenticed to the dirty work of the forge but dares to dream of becoming a gentleman — and one day, under sudden and enigmatic circumstances, he finds himself in possession of "great expectations." In this gripping tale of crime and guilt, revenge and reward, the compelling characters include Magwitch, the fearful and fearsome convict; Estella, whose beauty is excelled only by her haughtiness; and the embittered Miss Havisham, an eccentric jilted bride

An ingenious tour de force: an utterly compelling historical mystery with a plot that twists and turns and keeps the reader guessing until the very last page.

We are in England in the 1660s. Charles II has been restored to the throne following years of civil war and Cromwell's short-lived republic. Oxford is the intellectual seat of the country, a place of great scientific, religious, and political ferment. A fellow of New College is found dead in suspicious circumstances. A young woman is accused of his murder. We hear the story of the death from four witnesses: an Italian physician intent on claiming credit for the invention of blood transfusion; the son of an alleged Royalist traitor; a master cryptographer who has worked for both Cromwell and the king; and a renowned Oxford antiquarian. Each tells his own version of what happened. Only one reveals the extraordinary truth.

With rights sold for record-breaking sums around the world, An Instance of the Fingerpost is destined to become a major international publishing event. Deserving of comparison to the works of John Fowles and Umberto Eco, Iain Pears's novel is an ingenious tour de force: an utterly compelling historical mystery with a plot that twists and turns and keeps the reader guessing until the very last page.

An accesible version of Einstein's masterpiece of theory, written by the genius himself

According to Einstein himself, this book is intended "to give an exact insight into the theory of Relativity to those readers who, from a general scientific and philosophical point of view, are interested in the theory, but who are not conversant with the mathematical apparatus of theoretical physics." When he wrote the book in 1916, Einstein's name was scarcely known outside the physics institutes. Having just completed his masterpiece, The General Theory of Relativity—which provided a brand-new theory of gravity and promised a new perspective on the cosmos as a whole—he set out at once to share his excitement with as wide a public as possible in this popular and accessible book.

Here published for the first time as a Penguin Classic, this edition of Relativity features a new introduction by bestselling science author Nigel Calder.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

One by one the boys begin to fall…

In 1914 a room full of German schoolboys, fresh-faced and idealistic, are goaded by their schoolmaster to troop off to the ‘glorious war’. With the fire and patriotism of youth they sign up. What follows is the moving story of a young ‘unknown soldier’ experiencing the horror and disillusionment of life in the trenches.

Winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Awards

Case was the sharpest data thief in the Matrix, until an ex-employer crippled his nervous system. Now a new employer has recruited him for a last-chance run against an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence. With a mirror-eyed girl street-samurai riding shotgun, he's ready for the silicon-quick, bleakly prophetic adventure that upped the ante on an entire genre of fiction.

Alternate cover for ISBN: 9780441569595

Written in 1914 but not published until 1925, a year after Kafka’s death, The Trial is the terrifying tale of Josef K., a respectable bank officer who is suddenly and inexplicably arrested and must defend himself against a charge about which he can get no information. Whether read as an existential tale, a parable, or a prophecy of the excesses of modern bureaucracy wedded to the madness of totalitarianism, The Trial has resonated with chilling truth for generations of readers.

Stephen Hawking was recognized as one of the greatest minds of our time and a figure of inspiration after defying his ALS diagnosis at age twenty-one. He is known for both his breakthroughs in theoretical physics as well as his ability to make complex concepts accessible for all, and was beloved for his mischievous sense of humor. At the time of his death, Hawking was working on a final project: a book compiling his answers to the "big" questions that he was so often posed--questions that ranged beyond his academic field.

Within these pages, he provides his personal views on our biggest challenges as a human race, and where we, as a planet, are heading next. Each section will be introduced by a leading thinker offering his or her own insight into Professor Hawking's contribution to our understanding.

An acclaimed bestseller and international sensation, Patrick Suskind's classic novel provokes a terrifying examination of what happens when one man's indulgence in his greatest passion—his sense of smell—leads to murder.

In the slums of eighteenth-century France, the infant Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with one sublime gift—an absolute sense of smell. As a boy, he lives to decipher the odors of Paris, and apprentices himself to a prominent perfumer who teaches him the ancient art of mixing precious oils and herbs. But Grenouille's genius is such that he is not satisfied to stop there, and he becomes obsessed with capturing the smells of objects such as brass doorknobs and fresh-cut wood. Then one day he catches a hint of a scent that will drive him on an ever-more-terrifying quest to create the "ultimate perfume"—the scent of a beautiful young virgin. Told with dazzling narrative brilliance, Perfume is a hauntingly powerful tale of murder and sensual depravity.

Alternate cover edition of ISBN 9780679783268

Since its immediate success in 1813, Pride and Prejudice has remained one of the most popular novels in the English language. Jane Austen called this brilliant work "her own darling child" and its vivacious heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, "as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print." The romantic clash between the opinionated Elizabeth and her proud beau, Mr. Darcy, is a splendid performance of civilized sparring. And Jane Austen's radiant wit sparkles as her characters dance a delicate quadrille of flirtation and intrigue, making this book the most superb comedy of manners of Regency England.

The year is 1327. Benedictines in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate. When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns detective. His tools are the logic of Aristotle, the theology of Aquinas, the empirical insights of Roger Bacon—all sharpened to a glistening edge by wry humor and a ferocious curiosity. He collects evidence, deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts, and digs into the eerie labyrinth of the abbey, where “the most interesting things happen at night.”

The novel is set during World War II, from 1942 to 1944. It mainly follows the life of Captain John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier. Most of the events in the book occur while the fictional 256th Squadron is based on the island of Pianosa, in the Mediterranean Sea, west of Italy. The novel looks into the experiences of Yossarian and the other airmen in the camp, who attempt to maintain their sanity while fulfilling their service requirements so that they may return home.

Brave New World is a dystopian novel by English author Aldous Huxley, written in 1931 and published in 1932. Largely set in a futuristic World State, inhabited by genetically modified citizens and an intelligence-based social hierarchy, the novel anticipates huge scientific advancements in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation and classical conditioning that are combined to make a dystopian society which is challenged by only a single individual: the story's protagonist.

The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic.

Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior - to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos. Now with over 18 million copies in print and translated into forty languages, this regional story by a young Alabama woman claims universal appeal. Harper Lee always considered her book to be a simple love story. Today it is regarded as a masterpiece of American literature.

Alternate cover edition of ISBN 9780141439594.

When Tess Durbeyfield is driven by family poverty to claim kinship with the wealthy D'Urbervilles and seek a portion of their family fortune, meeting her 'cousin' Alec proves to be her downfall. A very different man, Angel Clare, seems to offer her love and salvation, but Tess must choose whether to reveal her past or remain silent in the hope of a peaceful future.