The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
I know, I’m woefully behind the times because I haven't quite finished them. But I still wake up sometimes hoping Katniss is okay. That’s the mark of a great book. Cut down to its most basic, fiction is supposed to remove the reader into another place and another time, and this surreal and utterly engrossing removal is what makes The Hunger Games stand out. What's most impressive too is the way there is a parallel between today's obsession with reality television programs, and the Hunger Games themselves -- and the meta-level that makes all of us who enjoy the books just as guilty as those who, in the fictional world, watch the Games.
The Paper Bag Princess
by Robert Munsch, Michael Martchenko
This is the book I used to read to my daughter, Sammy, when she was tiny. In it, a princess named Elizabeth winds up rescuing her beloved Prince Ronald from a fierce dragon who kidnaps him and burns the entire kingdom - leaving her nothing to wear but a paper bag. She manages to best the dragon, not with force, but with the power of her wits. And yet, when she does find Ronald and he disparages her for being dirty and dressed in a paper bag and not like a princess at all -- she chooses to tell him to take a hike, and walks off into the sunset herself. It's a girl-power happy ending, and exactly what I wanted to convey to my daughter to grow up strong and confident.
A Sunburned Country
by Bill Bryson
Bill used to live in my hometown and this is the first book I ever read by him. I was about to visit Australia for the first time, and figured I should know something about the place. Well, I didn't count on laughing so hard. Bryson is just brilliant at painting pictures, and his descriptions are fantastic. I will never forget that image of the prime minister walking into the ocean, never to be seen again; and I took his words to heart -- the best way to get to know Australia is indeed to have a beer with as many natives as you can.
by Alice Hoffman
Turtle Moon is the first novel by this unbelieveably talented author that I read and it is the first book I recall reading for pleasure after college. Immediately, I was a fan, taken by her magical realism and her descriptions of love. Alice makes writing look easy - and it's never easy. I used to nearly stalk her - I was that much of a fan - and then one day I actually did an event with her. And - are you sitting down? Now we are friends! I have her email and her phone number and have even had tea at her house.
The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
This book's brilliantly unreliable narrator has talked his way out of copyright, and this year will see a flood of new versions - stage and film and so on - of Gatsbys. In all seriousness, though, this was the first book I read with such an unreliable narrator, and I was really taken with that concept -- to the point where I wanted to try it myself in a novel. By now I've done that multiple times. I love the idea of the narrator misleading the reader, when he or she is the only way for the reader to learn about the story. One of my favorite unreliable narrators is Mariah in Keeping Faith -- she's lying to herself, which the reader finds out after she's misled them for 35 pages.
The Sun Also Rises
by Ernest Hemingway
Because unrequited love is the greatest story of all. There's something that breaks my heart about that last moment with Brett and Jake in the back of the taxi -- talking about the love that might have been, if they had been different people. In addition, the story is set against the backdrop of a recent war, and even though the world is a very different place, the recurrent themes of what it's like to be adrift in the aftermath of that, and what it's like to be a victim of prejudice -- well, it all feels very timely even today. A book like this reminds me of the power of fiction - even novels that set very temporally still have the power to resonate with whatever issues are choking current society.
Gone with the Wind
by Margaret Mitchell
I memorized huge passages when I was 12 and pretended to be both Rhett and Scarlett - hence I had no boyfriend till I was 15. I loved that Margaret Mitchell had created a world out of words, and I wanted to do the same thing. I remember reading it and being able to completely see the trauma that overtook Atlanta during the Civil War; the famine at Tara; the fall Scarlett took down the staircase. In a way this book reminds me of The Sun Also Rises - you have two characters who should desperately wind up together, but you just know that's never going to happen, because although they love each other, they can't live together. When the sequel to Gone With The Wind came out I didn't read it. I couldn't. I worried it would ruin one of my all time favorites.
To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
Because it has the best characters, and a healthy dose of controversy; and I would have loved to meet Scout, who has to be one of the great child characters in literature. She is wise beyond her years and has a double dose of spunk. This is a wonderful example of how race and religion -- issues that still have a stranglehold on the American public - can be addressed sensitively in fiction. Keep in mind, when it was written, civil rights had not yet swept my nation -- to have a lawyer championing equality between whites and blacks back then was pretty remarkable. I love, too, how enduring this book is in spite of the fact that Harper Lee herself is a virtual recluse. In a world of book tours and constant social media, knowing that a woman can be remembered in perpetuity simply because she told a good story is a wonderful thing.
The Life of Pi
by Yann Martel
Sometimes I read a book and close it and think 'darn, why didn't I think of that?' The Life of Pi was one of those. When I read it at first I had no idea where the author was headed - a boy and tiger in a boat? But as the story unfolded and revealed it self to be about the very power of a story -- and at the shocking conclusion that drives home exactly what happened in that boat (not to mention the strength of extended metaphor) I was sold hook, line, and sinker. I go back to that book often as an illustration of fiction done right. When the reader things he or she is following one story - only to realize in retrospect the story was something else entirely -- well, that's almost like the sleight of hand you see sometimes with magicians.
Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer is published by Hodder & Stoughton, out 5 July.