Ed Wood's World Book Night Top 10

31/08/2011 by Ed Wood

It's the deadline for you to add your book choices for the second World Book Night at www.worldbooknight.org – here is the top 10 of We Love This Book's editor

The Age of Reason by Jean-Paul Sartre
The first part in Sartre's unfinished quadrilogy set around the Second World War is a grim masterpiece in which personal tragedies and crimes become subsumed into a national crisis.
 
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
The end of one era, the start of another, all wrapped up in a fantastic love story.
 
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
Because it's about me. And not in a good way.
 
The Ghost of Thomas Kempe by Penelope Lively
I had to pick one children's book and this, a funny, sometimes genuinely spooky ghost story, is not as well known as it should be. Like most magical children's books (Narnia, Tom's Midnight Garden) it places the child, James, outside the mainstream as he insists that the breakages and chaos occurring at home are the work of a ghost and not himself. But will the ghost prove friend or foe?
 
Chronicles: v. 1 by Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan is my hero. Or at least one of them. A true maverick who subverted the mainstream from within (because the mainstream insisted on chasing him around whether he wanted it to or not), he's always presented himself as something of an artistic polymath, with varying results. His novel, Tarantula, is awful, as is his art. But to my great surprise, this first volume of his autobiography is a masterpiece. Non-chronological but completely coherent, it's the place where the novel meets autobiography.
 
Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future by Friedrich Nietzsche
OK, so I'll admit to having been one of those students who felt awfully transgressive by getting into Nietzsche, as students had for decades before me, but several things stay with me. First, his fury not at the idea of deities per se but at the idea that man himself was automatically less than one of these deities and therefore limits himself; and second, that Beyond Good and Evil often refutes many of the methods by which the Nazis employed his thinking, as Nietzsche actually argues against the ghettoisation of the Jews. He was also the original Richard Dawkins, minus the science but with added poetry.
 
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A completely obvious choice, for which I apologise, but my God this is a wonderful book. The compact narrative, the cliffhangers, the way that Nick draws us into his world while also seeming to stand outside it – in that way we've all felt at uber-cool parties – and the tragic denouement, it's all so perfect that the quality of the prose itself slips by until, finally left to consider the spectacle after the book has finished, one is left slack-jawed at the man's skill.
 
The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
Like many boys, I stopped reading for a short period when there seemed to be nothing out there for me – ironically, that early teen age so well-served today. In the end, it was Wells that came to my rescue. I devoured his stories, but still get goosebumps when I think about The Invisible Man, which joins Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as the best sci-fi that isn't sci-fi, all about the corrupting of man's soul at the hand of his own ambition.
 
Ghostwritten by David Mitchell
Cloud Atlas was chosen for the first World Book Night, but for me Mitchell's debut trumps it (just) anyway. Mitchell is a magician who can get away with things that in the hands of other writers would seem silly, but his humanity and fascination with people shines through in this story of a restless soul moving from person to person.
 
The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster
Auster is one of my favourite novelists in the world. He seems to pull the reader back from their actual life and place them in a strange Auster-esque limbo where they can look down on themselves like the subjects of a fuzzy aged film, surrounded by Auster's disquieting characters and continually narrated by Auster's clipped prose. The New York Trilogy, his groundbreaking postmodern detective triptich would be the obvious choice, but The Book of Illusions has a delightful warmth and an almost nostalgic in Auster’s story of the life and death of a silent-film star.

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