Today is World Book Day. I’ve got a lot of mates who are now teachers, and have gone to school today in various states of literary-themed fancy dress… Including one who took the tram to work dressed as Where’s Wally. Now there’s dedication!
I however work in an office, where fancy dress isn’t really called for all that often. So, as I am well-known for being a bit of a book worm, I have decided to mark the occasion by hosting the first annual World Book Day awards! (And you’ll be surprised to hear, no, Harry Potter isn’t on it! Though JK Rowling is still top of my “Imaginary Dinner Party Guests” list…)
They’re not exactly the Booker prize, but I hope fellow bookworms reading this will find some inspiration for their “To Read” list.
Best Non-Fiction: How To Be A Woman, by Caitlin Moran
I don’t usually go for non-fiction; I like stories, adventures, to be taken somewhere or sometime else. But I’m very pleased I finally got round to reading this, only a million years after the rest of the world. Part memoir and part feminist essay, it takes in all manner of ideas and experiences that come to make someone “a woman” these days. I’ve puzzled over the idea of “feminism” for a long time, feeling the meaning of it needs to be reclaimed from the angry, man-hating stereotype it has come to suggest. And, reading this, Moran espouses just the same. It’s like a chat with your coolest auntie, and I’m no longer embarassed / confused to call myself a feminist, by Moran’s definition!
Best Classic: Tess of the D’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy
This category was going to be called “Best in School”, and it was a close toss up between Tess and The French Lieutenant’s Woman. But I only really came to admire (I’m not going to say “like”; it’s complicated, but it is brilliant and it deserves respect) FLW when I did it again in Uni. I love Tess. I carry her around in my heart to this day. I can vividly remember how I felt reading this as an 18-year-old, and understanding her naivety, and am looking forward to reading it again with a few more years’ life experience. Recommend this to everyone.
Most Read: Helen of Troy, by Margaret George
Hmm, for someone who struggled with the idea of feminism, the fairer sex is certainly quite well-represented here! I remember taking this off the shelf in Waterstones. I was just looking for something to read, didn’t really mind what, and this just had a tingle about it… I’ve always been captured by Greek history and mythology, the mix of poetry and myth and fact, and would love to learn more about it one day, particular the snippets and stories that are hinted and drawn upon here. I’ve read it so many times – it’s an achingly broad, swooping, chunk of a read, perfect for summer holidays. Not in a trashy-beach-read kind of way – I must have read it in the garden the first time as that’s the mood I always associate it with. If something catches at your heart every time you read it, like this one does for me, you’re on to something special.
The Page Turner Award: Another World, by Pat Barker
There haven’t been many times where I’ve literally let out a gasp when reading. But this fantastic little book has a twist in it that I just did not see coming. I love being that caught up in a story. I’ve since pressed this on a few friends, explaining that it’s not just the heart-rending “Oh!” nature of the twist, it’s that you literally don’t see it coming – you race to the bottom, flip the page and there it is, the first line. I hate it when you accidentally skim something in a paragraph you haven’t quite got to yet and ruin it for yourself. None of that here. I’ve had a soft spot for World War 1 literature since my A Level synoptic unit, and this is just such a perfect example of the canon. Pulsating, emotional and very, very human.
[Another runner-up mention: not quite a page turner but definitely a slow burning realisation of “Oh my God!”: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. You’re never overtly told what it’s about, and when you get it, the sheer horrendousness (to our minds) of it just isn’t acknowledged. Quietly and beautifully shocking.)
The “My Favourite Book” Award: Atonement, by Ian McEwan
As you can see, I like lots of different books, for lots of different reasons. But whenever I’m asked what my “favourite book” is, I always pick this one. Oh, Robbie. This follows Briony and her older sister Cecilia in the lead up (and aftermath – emotional at least) of World War 2, and will make you think twice when you’re next asked how sure you are you saw something. If you’ve seen the film, read the book. If you haven’t seen the film, read the book first.
The Lifetime Achievement Award: Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
Jane Eyre. Jane bloomin’ Eyre! The funny thing is – I love this story! And every time I started to read it, I loved it. But I’d always get to the same point and just… stop. So when it turned up on the reading list of one of my third year modules, I thought, right. Now I have to finish it. And, just like I knew I would, I really, really enjoyed it. I’m very glad to have this one under my literary belt, as it’s one of those novels that has seeped into our culture in so many ways. I now enjoy picking up those inferences, rather than feeling guilty that I was an English Lit student who’d never read Jane Eyre…. (Vanity Fair, you’re next!).
So there we have it. Six excellent reads that I hope you might pick up yourself one day. Happy World Book Day!