Some all-time favourite books...

This page represents some of our all-time favourite books. They have not necessarily been reviewed on this site, since they may have been read years before the site was started. For each book we say what we like about the book and give an extract from the novel.

The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

I first read this book as a child, and fell in love with it. The idea of a garden that had been locked away for years but which continued to grow without care. A hidden place known only to the children, where even finding the concealed door was a challenge. This book was a pure enchantment to me. Reading it again as an adult – as a chapter a night to my children – I still loved the garden, but I got something new from it. About how Mary and Colin’s problems and behaviour came mainly from the way they’d been treated by the adults in their life, from the complete lack of love and care in their upbringing. Here is an extract that describes the garden from the book:

The Secret Garden was what Mary called it when she was thinking of it. She liked the name, and she liked still more the feeling that when its beautiful old walls shut her in no one knew where she was. It seemed almost like being shut out of the world in some fairy place. The few books she had read and liked had been fairy-story books, and she had read of secret gardens in some of the stories. Sometimes people went to sleep in them for a hundred years, which she had thought must be rather stupid. She had no intention of going to sleep, and, in fact, she was becoming wider awake every day which passed at Misselthwaite.

- Toriaz

Moby Dick

Moby Dick - Herman Melville

Moby Dick was never a book I planned to read, but it came as part of a set of leather bound books by an American company known as Easton Press (a useless fact: Denzel Washington’s character, Robert McCall, in the first Equalizer movie is working his way through this set of books. They are prominently displayed on his bookshelves). Moby Dick needs to be taken slowly, at its own pace and rhythm. It would be easy to come away from this book with a feeling that it is boring, otherwise. But the book provides an insight into another world, of the lives of the whalers in the mid-nineteenth century, with language that is rich and biblical in its tone. Its characters are tormented souls and Melville achieves an emotional intensity I have rarely found in another novel. The following extract, a conversation between Ahab and Starbuck, captures the tortured emotions of a man whose life has been destroyed by his own obsessions:

Oh, my Captain! my Captain! noble soul! grand old heart, after all! why should any one give chase to that hated fish! Away with me! let us fly these deadly waters! let us home! Wife and child, too, are Starbuck's- wife and child of his brotherly, sisterly, play-fellow youth; even as thine, sir, are the wife and child of thy loving, longing, paternal old age! Away! let us away!- this instant let me alter the course! How cheerily, how hilariously, O my Captain, would we bowl on our way to see old Nantucket again! I think, sir, they have some such mild blue days, even as this, in Nantucket.

They have, they have. I have seen them- some summer days in the morning. About this time- yes, it is his noon nap now- the boy vivaciously wakes; sits up in bed; and his mother tells him of me, of cannibal old me; how I am abroad upon the deep, but will yet come back to dance him again.

'Tis my Mary, my Mary herself! She promised that my boy, every morning, should be carried to the hill to catch the first glimpse of his father's sail! Yes, yes! no more! it is done! we head for Nantucket! Come, my Captain, study out the course, and let us away! See, see! the boy's face from the window! the boy's hand on the hill!

But Ahab's glance was averted; like a blighted fruit tree he shook, and cast his last, cindered apple to the soil.

What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; but is an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I. By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike. And all the time, lo! that smiling sky, and this unsounded sea! Look! see yon Albicore! who put it into him to chase and fang that flying-fish? Where do murderers go, man! Who's to doom, when the judge himself is dragged to the bar? But it is a mild, mild wind, and a mild looking sky; and the airs smells now, as if it blew from a far-away meadow; they have been making hay somewhere under the slopes of the Andes, Starbuck, and the mowers are sleeping among the new-mown hay. Sleeping? Aye, toil we how we may, we all sleep at last on the field. Sleep? Aye, and rust amid greenness; as last year's scythes flung down, and left in the half-cut swarths- Starbuck!

But blanched to a corpse's hue with despair, the Mate had stolen away.

- bikerbuddy


Catch-22 - Joseph Heller

I first read Catch-22 as a 17 year old travelling around New Zealand with my father. We travelled by car and there were long hours of sheep and rolling hills, so I read a lot of the book in the car, which is something I cannot do now. I was immediately struck by the wit of the book, laying bare the incongruities and madness of the characters, and in turn, the madness of the war. I remember being struck by how entertaining and funny the book was, which only made the climactic scene in the air craft so much more horrifying. This was a powerful book. Later, when I came to watch M*A*S*H on television – the feature film and the television series – I could see that Catch-22 may have been influential. However, I have always considered Heller’s novel one of the best examples of farce I have ever read. The following extract exemplifies the twisted logic and madness of the novel:

… will you speak up please? I still couldn’t hear you.

Yes, sir. I said that I didn’t say that you couldn’t punish me.

Just what the hell are you talking about?

I’m answering your question, sir.

What question?

Just what the hell did you mean, you bastard, when you said we couldn’t punish you’ said the corporal who could take shorthand, reading from his steno pad.

All right, said the colonel. Just what the hell did you mean?

I didn’t say you couldn’t punish me, sir.

When? asked the colonel.

When what, sir?

Now you’re asking me a question again.

I’m sorry, sir. I afraid I don’t understand your question.

When didn’t you say we couldn’t punish you? Don’t you understand my question?

No, sir. I don’t understand.

You’ve just told us that. Now suppose you answer my question.

But how can I answer it?

That’s another question you’re asking me.

I’m sorry, sir. But I don’t know how to answer it. I never said you couldn’t punish me.

Now you’re telling us when you did say it. I’m asking you to tell us when you didn’t say it.

Clevinger took a deep breath. I always didn’t say you couldn’t punish me, sir.

That’s much better, Mr Clevinger, even though it is a barefaced lie. Last night in the latrine. Didn’t you whisper that we couldn’t punish you to that other dirty son of a bitch we don’t like? What’s his name?

Yossarian, sir, Lieutenant Scheisskopf said.

Yes, Yossarian? What the hell kind of name is Yossarian? Is that his name? Yossarian? What the hell kind of name is Yossarian?

Lieutenant Scheisskopf had the facts at his finger tips. It’s Yossarian’s name, sir, he explained.

- bikerbuddy

Foucault's Pendulum

Foucault's Pendulum - Umberto Eco

I read Foucault’s Pendulum while I was at university and discovered that a novel could be both learned and a thriller. In my opinion, this is the kind of book people who find Dan Brown’s writing disappointing are looking for. From the first chapter Eco steeps the reader in mystery, history and danger. When you read this book, you begin to the get a deeper understanding not only of the footnotes of history, but why conspiracy theories have become so popular in our times. The following extract is from the book's opening in which the Pendulum is first seen, an object of perfection, wonder and mystery:

That was when I saw the pendulum

The sphere, hanging from a long wire set into the ceiling of the choir, swayed back and forth with isochronal majesty.

I knew – but anyone could have sensed it in the magic of that serene breathing – that the period was governed by the square root of the length of the wire and by π, that number which, however irrational to sublunar minds, through a higher rationality binds the circumference and diameter of all possible circles. The time it took the sphere to swing from end o end was determined by an arcane conspiracy between the most timeless of measures; the singularity of the point of suspension, the duality of the plane’s dimensions, the triadic beginning of π, the secret quadratic nature of the root, and the unnumbered perfection of the circle itself.

I also knew that a magnetic device centered in the floor beneath issued its command to a cylinder hidden in the heart of the sphere, thus assuring continual motion. This device, far from interfering with the law of the Pendulum, in fact permitted its manifestation, for in a vacuum any object hanging from a weightless and unstretchable wire free of air resistance and friction will oscillate for eternity.

- bikerbuddy