I have good intentions when it comes to reading across a diverse range of genres, but I can’t deny that the bulk of my bookcase consists of fantasy and historical fiction. I have already declared my allegiances with the former (see here), and figured it was about time to do the same with my other favourite genre, so here goes…
5. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
I used to absolutely adore this book. I read it as a teenager, and thought it was so subtle and beautiful that I couldn’t imagine myself ever reading something that would top it. I do still really rate it, but reflecting as a slightly older, wiser person, I admit it does have a cinematic theatricality which Mineko Iwasaki, the geisha on whom the protagonist is based, found abhorrent. That being said, Memoirs of a Geisha is still well worth reading as an introduction to this hidden pocket of history.
4. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
Do you like books with interesting narrators? If so, this is a book for you. This book is about Liesel, a nine-year-old girl growing up in Nazi Germany, where Death, the narrator, has a lot of work to do. Heartbreaking, a little odd, and in places even quite funny, this is the only book I have read as an adult which has made me cry.
3. The Clan of the Cave Bear – Jean M. Auel
There is historical, and there is historical. The Earth’s Children series follows a young homo sapien girl through the experience of being raised by a group of less-evolved creatures known as the Clan. It is a rough book, crude-hewn and in places extremely violent, but also an inspiring story about courage and survival. It is researched within an inch of its life, and the main theme, of the new effacing the old, is explored with poignant depth.
2. All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
The saddest book I have ever read, but also on the shortlist for the best. This book is a harrowing portrait of World War I, written by a German veteran. It was the book that showed me the power that words have to draw the past up from its grave, and I emerged from it feeling that I had not only been changed as a writer, but as a person.
1. Empress Orchid – Anchee Min
Interesting, masterful, and my preference: short. Call yourself a reader, Deanna? It’s awful, but sometimes long books are off-putting because they represent a challenge. That being said, I often find short books equally repellent because of their simplicity. At a mere 350 pages, Empress Orchid is what I’m looking for: a short book which reads with the scope of an epic. Chronicling the rise of the last empress of China, this book explores the lavishness of the Forbidden City, and its horrors. A compelling read.