10 Must-Read Books

‘R’ is for ‘Recommendations’

1   Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig

“What does it mean to feel truly alive?

This is the true story of how Matt Haig came through crisis, triumphed over an illness that almost destroyed him and learned to live again.

A moving, funny and joyous exploration of how to live better, love better and feel more alive, Reasons to Stay Alive is more than a memoir. It is a book about making the most of your time on earth.”

(Blurb, Canongate Books)

2   Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson

“Only Bill Bryson could make a book about the English language so entertaining. With his boundless enthusiasm and restless eye for the absurd, this is his astonishing tour of English.

From its mongrel origins to its status as the world’s most-spoken tongue; its apparent simplicity to its deceptive complexity; its vibrant swearing to its uncertain spelling and pronunciation; Bryson covers all this as well as the many curious eccentricities that make it as maddening to learn as it is flexible to use.

Bill Bryson’s classic Mother Tongue is a highly readable and hilarious tale of how English came to be the world’s language.”

(Blurb, Penguin)

3   His Dark Materials Trilogy, Philip Pullman

Northern Lights introduces Lyra, an orphan, who lives in a parallel universe in which science, theology and magic are entwined. Lyra’s search for a kidnapped friend uncovers a sinister plot involving stolen children and turns into a quest to understand a mysterious phenomenon called Dust.

In The Subtle Knife she is joined on her journey by Will, a boy who possesses a knife that can cut windows between worlds. As Lyra learns the truth about her parents and her prophesied destiny, the two young people are caught up in a war against celestial powers that ranges across many worlds and leads to a thrilling conclusion in The Amber Spyglass.

The epic story Pullman tells is not only a spellbinding adventure featuring armoured polar bears, magical devices, witches and daemons, it is also an audacious and profound re-imagining of Milton’s Paradise Lost. An utterly entrancing blend of metaphysical speculation and bravura storytelling, HIS DARK MATERIALS is a monumental and enduring achievement.

(Blurb, Everyman)

4   Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down, Nicey & Wifey

“Put a cup of tea in your hand, and what else can you do but sit down? This wonderful new book is a celebration of that most British of life’s cornerstones: taking a break, putting your feet up and having a breather. There is, however, a third element that any perfect sit down requires and it is this: biscuits. As Nicey so rightly points out, a cup of tea without a biscuit is a missed opportunity. Finding the right biscuit for the right occasion is as much an art as it is a science, and it is a task that Nicey has selflessly worked on for most of his tea drinking life.

From dunking to the Digestive, the Iced Gem to the Garibaldi, everything you’ll ever need to know about biscuits is in this book, and quite a lot more besides. Is the Jaffa Cake a cake or a biscuit? And have Wagon Wheels really got smaller since your childhood, or have you just got bigger? Unstintingly researched, Nicey and Wifey’s Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down does exactly what it says on the biscuit tin. So go on. Take a weight off, put the kettle on, and enjoy.”

(Blurb, Sphere)

5   To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee

“‘Shoot all the Bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird.’

A lawyer’s advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic novel – a black man charged with the rape of a white girl in the Deep South of the 1930s. Compassionate, dramatic and deeply moving, To Kill a Mockingbird takes the reader to the roots of human behaviour – to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humour and pathos.”

(Blurb, Vintage Future Classics)

6   Flatland, Edwin A Abbott

“This masterpiece of science (and mathematical) fiction is a delightfully unique and highly entertaining satire that has charmed readers for more than 100 years The work of English clergyman, educator and Shakespearean scholar Edwin A. Abbott (1838-1926), it describes the journeys of A. Square, a mathematician and resident of the two-dimensional Flatland, where women – thin, straight lines – are the lowliest of shapes, and where men may have any number of sides, depending on their social status. Through strange occurrences that bring him into contact with a host of geometric forms, Square has adventures in Spaceland (three dimensions), Lineland (one dimension) and Pointland (no dimensions) and ultimately entertains thoughts of visiting a land of four dimensions a revolutionary idea for which he is returned to his two-dimensional world. Charmingly illustrated by the author, Flatland is not only fascinating reading, it is still a first-rate fictional introduction to the concept of the multiple dimensions of space.”

(Blurb, Dover Thrift Editions)

Just to add: This book obviously reflects attitudes of the time it was written, where men were automatically of a higher social class than women. As such, this is a social document as well as a fictional story. Not only a fascinating story of science-fiction, maths, love, and an exploration of dimensional spaces – but also an interesting insight into, and portrayal of, Victorian values and approaches towards the issues of gender.

7   The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien

“Bilbo Baggins enjoys a quiet and contented life, with no desire to travel far from the comforts of home; then one day the wizard Gandalf and a band of dwarves arrive unexpectedly and enlist his services – as a burglar – on a dangerous expedition to raid the treasure-hoard of Smaug the dragon. Bilbo’s life is never to be the same again.

Seldom has any book been so widely read and loved as J. R.R. Tolkien’s classic tale, ‘The Hobbit’. Since its first publication in 1937 it has remained in print to delight each new generation of readers all over the world, and its hero, Bilbo Baggins, has taken his place among the ranks of the immortals of fiction.”

(Blurb, HarperCollins)

8   Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

“Is Mr. Heathcliff a man? If so, is he mad? And if not, is he a devil?

Set on the bleak moors of Yorkshire, Lockwood is forced to seek shelter at Wuthering Heights, the home of his new landlord, Heathcliff. The intense and wildly passionate Heathcliff tells the story of his life, his all-consuming love for Catherine Earnshaw and the doomed outcome of that relationship, leading to his revenge. Poetic, complex and grand in its scope, Emily Bronte’s masterpiece is considered one of the most unique gothic novels of its time.”

(Blurb, Collins Classics)

9   Animal Farm, George Orwell

“Having got rid of their human master, the animals of Manor Farm look forward to a life of freedom and plenty. But as a clever, ruthless elite among them takes control, the other animals find themselves hopelessly ensnared in the old ways.

Orwell’s chilling story of the betrayal of idealism through tyranny and corruption is as fresh and relevant today as when it was first published in 1945.”

(Blurb, Penguin.)

10  Harry Potter Series, JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Harry Potter thinks he is an ordinary boy – until he is rescued by a beetle-eyed giant of a man, enrols at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, learns to play Quidditch and does battle in a deadly duel. The Reason … Harry Potter is a Wizard!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Harry Potter is a wizard. He is in his second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Little does he know that this year will be just as eventful as the last …

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Harry Potter is a wizard! Along with Ron and Hermione, his best friends, Harry is in his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Who know what will happen this year?

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire The summer holidays are dragging on and Harry Potter can’t wait for the start of the school year. It is his fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and there are spells to be learnt, potions to be brewed and Divination lessons (sigh) to be attended. Harry is expecting these: however, other quite unexpected events are already on the march …

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix It is the middle of the summer, but there is an unseasonal mist pressing against the windowpanes. Harry Potter is waiting nervously in his bedroom at the Dursleys’ house in Privet Drive for a visit from Professor Dumbledore himself. One of the last times he saw the Headmaster was in a fierce one-to-one duel with Lord Voldemort, and Harry can’t quite believe that Professor Dumbledore will actually appear at the Dursleys’ of all places. Why is the Professor coming to visit him now? What is it that cannot wait until Harry returns to Hogwarts in a few weeks’ time? Harry’s sixth year at Hogwarts has already got off to an unusual start, as the worlds of Muggle and magic start to intertwine …

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Harry Potter is due to start his fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He is desperate to get back to school and find out why his friends Ron and Hermione have been so secretive all summer. However, what Harry is about to discover in his new year at Hogwarts will turn his world upside down …

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Harry is waiting in Privet Drive. The Order of the Phoenix is coming to escort him safely away without Voldemort and his supporters knowing – if they can. But what will Harry do then? How can he fulfil the momentous and seemingly impossible task that Professor Dumbledore has left him?”

(Blurb, Bloomsbury)

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