The Best Books in the World...Ever!
This is a self-indulgent, Nick-Hornbyesque list of my Top 10 favourite books (with no Nick Hornby books on it).
1. Donna Tartt/The Secret History
If I read a book a week for the next 50 years then compile another list of my top books, I bet this will still be No 1. A group of Ancient Greek students accidentally murder someone then kill one of their own to cover up the crime. Then they have to deal with their guilt. Astonishingly atmospheric, funny, involving and moving. This book made me want to be a writer. It took Donna Tartt forever to write her next book, and it was nowhere near as good.
2. Haruki Murakami/The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
A Japanese everyman loses his cat then his wife, meets a strange young girl, wanders around a lot, sits at the bottom of a well, meets more strange people and hears some gruesome stories about the Second World War. The best book from the best writer in the world - who is lucky enough to have found some great translators. The World War II scenes are horrific and powerful; the Tokyo scenes made me want to move to Japan.
3. Philip Pullman/His Dark Materials
It's fantasy and it was written for kids, but this trilogy smashed all my prejudices about those genres. Quite simply, these books are the most moving I've ever read, and I spent most of the third book, The Amber Spyglass, in a state of dread, culminating in a crying fit. The daemon is the greatest invention in modern literature. I want one!
4. Bret Easton Ellis/Less Than Zero
People are afraid to merge... The first line of this book says it all. Bleak, chilly and violent - though nowhere near as stomach-churning as American Psycho - Less Than Zero is a video nasty about the rich, spoilt, f*cked-up MTV generation. I still can't believe he was only 19 when he wrote it. And no subsequent teen novels have come close to this.
5. Michel Faber/Under the Skin
In which an alien with a boob job picks up male hitch-hikers in the wilds of Scotland. And eats them. Brilliantly-written, dark, clever and great for veggies, this is a unique book. God knows what the film will be like. Michel Faber's latest book, The Crimson Petal and the White is brilliant too, making him by far the best Dutch-Australian writer working in Scotland today.
6. Toby Litt/Beatniks
Toby Litt has the gift of writing books that are incredibly easy and fast to read but also moving and serious. Beatniks is about a trio of Bob Dylan fans and a cat who travel from Bedforshire to California via Brighton. It's very funny and has a great 3P sex scene. It also has the WORST ending ever - but that didn't stop it making my Top 10. Litt is the most deserving of Granta's best young novelists, along with David Mitchell.
7. Banana Yoshimoto/Kitchen
Banana - not her real name - Yoshimoto is the daughter of a famous radical philosopher. She writes about the sad, sleepy lives of young people in Tokyo. Kitchen is actually two novellas: Kitchen and Moonlight Shadow. Only Banana, who comes across as being the sweetest person in the world, could get away with naming a story after the Mike Oldfield 'classic'. A beautiful, strange little book about love and ghosts.
8. James Ellroy/The Black Dahlia
From the sweetest writer in the world to the maddest. Or the most intense, at least. The Black Dahlia is a fictional investigation into a real murder, with more twists than a bucketful of snakes. It's quite horrific in places and the first 40 pages are a bit dull. But once you get into it, you won't be able to put it down. Or ever forget it. The next book in the LA Quartet, The Big Nowhere, is even nastier.
9. David Mitchell/Ghostwritten
Hugely ambitious, and by no means flawless (the Ireland chapter is dull), Ghostwritten roams the world, from Japan to the States, east to west, taking in cult members, holy mountains, spirits and DJs. The energy of Mitchell's prose is amazing. Actually, this book is so clever that it makes me feel a bit sick with envy. His second novel, number9dream is set wholly in Tokyo and is also worth reading, but it will take him a long time to write anything better than Ghostwritten.
10. Ian McEwan/The Child in Time
It's very difficult choosing a favourite McEwan book. Atonement is equally good; his short stories are masterpieces. But The Child in Time is a wonderful book about despair and desperation that also manages to be erotic and hopeful. Ian McEwan can do no wrong in my eyes - although this book has contributed to my fear of having kids.
It's been incredibly hard getting my list down to 10 books. It doesn't seem right that this list doesn't contain anything by Douglas Coupland, Stephen King, Michael Connelly, George Orwell, Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, Geoff Dyer, Scarlett Thomas, Ben Richards, Jay McInerney or Alex Garland. Or Nick Hornby.