Twenty books that should be on your reading list
BOOKS are deeply personal things. Each of us form unique bonds with the characters we read about, relate to storylines and personalities in different ways and enjoy all sorts of genres from crime to romance, gothic to fantasy.
We've had a long, hard think about the books that are closest to our hearts and together, we've come up with a list of 20 novels that mean the most to us, from the classics to less well-known stories deserving of a wider audience.
Take a look at our picks and see if any of them grab your fancy. Pour yourself a cuppa and enjoy.
1.The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
I have read it to three-year-olds who learn about friendship and confronting fear, to seven-year-olds who ponder about nature and wistfulness and for me, to reflect on other-worldliness and personal space. - Martin King
2.The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
I cried reading this book. Hemingway's story of the anguished, hopeless love affair between American war veteran Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley is set against the backdrop of the San Fermin bull festival in Pamplona, Spain. The writer is more present in this work than he is in any other, in Jake's cold, slightly bitter voice; in his friend and Brett's ex-loved Robert Cohn you can picture Hemingway's former boxing partner Harold Loeb. At the place of his first obsession, Hemingway succeeds in distilling the passion and life to be found there. - Roisin O'Connor
3.Naïve. Super by Erland Loe
I have lent this book to friends so many times that I've ended up having to buy 5+ copies. It is written from a child-like perspective and yet has this incredible profundity. A simple story of a Norwegian man trying to gather some sort of semblance of meaning in the world, it has a completely disarming honesty and truth like no other I have come across in literature. It also extols the simple joy of bouncing a ball against a wall, which I think is nice. It might be a cliche, but reading this will change your life. - Christopher Hooton
4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
I am infinitely astonished that English isn't Nabokov's first language given his absolute mastery of it. His language comes in such rich torrents and his ornate, stylish sentences are so enviable. If Lolita had been released today it would have been subject to 10,000 think pieces accusing it of, at best, insensitivity, at worst, paedophilia, so I'm glad it wasn't. Through its story of a pompous, middle-aged man's lust for a young girl, Lolita lays the burn of human desire completely bare.
- Christopher Hooton
5. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
One of the most heart-wrenching books I have read that transcends cultural gaps to touch the darker areas within us all. Betrayal, guilt and redemption are the strongest themes here, with Hosseini's second, mother-daughter novel A Thousand Splendid Suns also strongly recommended, so long as you're willing to let the tears keep falling. - Jess Denham
6. Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
Expect some hefty historical chapters about the Italian and German occupation of Cephalonia in World War II. Wade through these, interesting as they are, and you'll find many fascinating explorations of love, including my favourite passage about love in literature. "Love is a temporary madness..."
- Jess Denham
7. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Books 'staying with you long after the final page' might be a cliche but could not be truer in the case of Chad Harbach's all-consuming, all-American novel. Every fully-developed character slowly becomes a friend whether you love them, hate them or somewhere in between and it's hard not to empathise with the crippling self-doubt that threatens to destroy Henry's future. Prior baseball knowledge is not a necessity: The Art of Fielding sparked the most heated debate yet at my monthly Book Club and not one of us knew what a shortstop was before reading it. If the human condition fascinates you, turn to this one next. - Jess Denham
8. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Carroll's work is the greatest paradise for dreamers there is. Reading and re-reading Alice's adventures taught me, each time, that imagination is an infinite thing and the word 'impossible' belongs to the vocabulary of the uninspired.
- Clarisse Loughrey
9. Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Jr
An utterly depressing read but one that is necessary to understand no one is infallible to an addiction. Selby's descriptions are outstanding; you truly experience the harrowing lives of these four unfortunate New Yorkers. This book is a train crash - uncomfortable to read but gripped by its gruesome reality. - Ryan Ramgobin
10. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
This quintessential jazz age novel is about so much more than a shallow bunch of rich people hosting lavish parties. Fitzgerald explores crushed idealism, hopeless love and the elusiveness of the American Dream. The green light at the end of Daisy's dock will speak to everyone's unfulfilled dreams. - Jess Denham
11. Vanity Fair by William Thackery
I dearly love Austen, but she's forgivingly attached to her creations. She mocks them with a smiling nod and an effusive warmth. Not Thackeray though; Becky Sharp is despicable, calculating, and relentlessly cruel. And, boy, do I love her for it.
- Clarisse Loughrey
12. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
One of the most ambitious books ever written, a synopsis for which would itself take up most of a novella. Set in a very American dystopia and lurching from tennis academies to rehab centres, it skewers the sadness of capitalism just by looking blankly at it. Wallace possessed Pynchon-like wittiness no matter what the topic. He could literally spend three pages describing a paving slab and you'd be scintillated.
- Christopher Hooton
13. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
When I was a wee nipper my Dad gave me a copy of The Hobbit for my birthday, marking my first foray into the fantastical world of Middle Earth. Immediately, I fell in love with Bilbo's adventure into the Lonely Mountain, the characters being so loveable and, unlike The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien's writing was so easily accessible. Now, every time I return to the Shire it's like revisiting an old friend; I just wish I could forget about those awful film adaptations. - Jack Shepherd
14. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This classic was forced upon me as a 15-year-old as it was part of the GSCE syllabus. I'm very thankful it was. Where else would I have learnt so vividly about racial tension in the southern US and the importance of fighting injustice and prejudice? But told through the eyes of Scout, the trial of Tom Robinson got me hooked on American history and forever cemented the name Atticus Finch as a byword for moral decency. I still haven't read Go Set A Watchman, that shows a darker side to Atticus, as I really don't want to shatter my teenage illusions. - Sally Newall
15. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
A handsome, narcissistic young man enthralled by hedonism commits himself to indulging in every pleasure in life: both moral and immoral. - Roisin O'Connor
16. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The power of female relationships is at the heart of this Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the leading part sisterhood can play in encouraging women to be the best person they can be. Set mainly in rural Georgia in the 1930s, it follows the life of poor African-American girl Celie and the sexism, racism and violence she endures. Deeply troubling throughout, but inspirational and life-affirming too. - Jess Denham
17. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
This is one of those books which made me laugh out loud with its wordplay and witty dialogue. It all seems a bit absurd at first but it builds towards a clever conclusion. - Samuel Osborne
18. Middlemarch by George Eliot
A marathon of a book, it plods along until suddenly you are utterly gripped, involved and entertained to the last flourish of its finale. There's no Victorian epic with a better pay-off for those willing to persevere. - Adam Withnall
19. The Stand by Stephen King
The Stand is probably the only book that has made me cancel plans. Comprised of sections placing the microscope on survivors of a pandemic based in varying locations, the epic remains gripping throughout, achieving more tension across its 1,000 plus pages than most TV shows can muster in a single season. - Jacob Stolworthy
20. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
I wish every teenage girl could read The Virgin Suicides. Every woman, even. There's this strange quality to Eugenides' outsider perspective that captures, like otherworldly magic, the feminine experience as both the sublime dream and monstrous nightmare it's come to be. - Clarisse Loughrey