Book List

Being a librarian and an avid reader, it's a little hard for me to whittle down my favourite books but I quite often get asked for my recommendations. Obviously, I have no way of knowing what your preferences are book wise (although by all means get in contact and I'll do my best to point you in the right direction), but these are my all time favourites that I've recommended over and over to many people or that have been significant reads for me. I've limited myself to one book by each author, but essentially anything by Neil Gaiman, China Mieville or Terry Pratchett is worth checking out!

Of all the classics I've read, or more often been made to read, this is the only one which I have read more than once and the film with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender is also wonderful. Jane Eyre is the sassiest heroine in a classic novel that you will ever find, a modern woman and in so many ways an inspiration to me in tough times. Jane demands of Rochester what every woman should demand, respect and honesty alongside love. At times the novel is in danger of straying into Pamela territory, an innocent woman persued by a man whilst trying to preserve her chastity. Luckily though, Jane is so fiesty that it is never in doubt that she is in every way Rochester's equal. I heartily recommend this to any woman who feels like they are not 100% enough, in and of themselves. There are endless quotes that I could leave here but these are a few of my favourites:
“Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you." 
“I can live alone, if self-respect, and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld, or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.” 
And lastly ... so sassy, so, so sassy.
"Do you know where the wicked go after death?" 
"They go to hell," was my ready and orthodox answer. 
"And what is hell? Can you tell me that?" 
"A pit full of fire." 
"And should you like to fall into that pit, and to be burning there for ever?" 
"No, sir." 
"What must you do to avoid it?" 
I deliberated a moment: my answer, when it did come was objectionable: "I must keep in good health and not die.”

I enjoy poetry, but it is only in recent years that I have particularly begun to collect pooks of poetry. I include Rupi Kaur in particular because I enjoyed her poetry so much that I actually copied out one of her poems and it is now pinned to my noticeboard at work, for whenever I forget that I am worth more than being someone's passing bit of entertainment. Here is an excerpt, although I also recommend you check out Rupi on instagram.
i am not a hotel room. i am home.
i am not the whiskey you want
i am the water you need
don't come here with expectations
and try to make a vacation out of me
While we're at it, check out Lang Leav and Nayirrah Waheed too! Even better, buy their books! They're beautiful things to own and to have on hand when you're feeling a little lost, buy them too for any woman or girl in your life who needs to be reminded that they are strong. 

I confess, as much as I would never ever be able to live in London, that little fish in an infinite pond feeling is far too overwhelming for me, I do enjoy visiting and soaking up the atmosphere for a couple of days. When you've read Neverwhere though even the most mundane moments become slightly magical, like taking the tube. I can't go through Barons Court, Earls Court or Angel Islington now without having a small smile to myself. I also wonder how many others who pass through those stations have the same little smile. At the very least you will begin to notice things you never noticed before, like the people on the edges that everyone else ignores. That's the wonderful thing about fantasy writing, it broadens your mind and makes you accept what is impossible so that when you step back into real life, everything is more vivid and everywhere there is potential.

Aside from giving a select few access to a whole other side of London, Neil Gaiman's writing is also beautiful, the characters are so vivid and every other line he will write something so perfect that you just have to stop and pay it some respect. I picked Neverwhere because it's pertinent to my life, since I'm in London a few times a year but honestly I have devoured everything he's ever written and I've never been disappointed.
“Young man," he said, "understand this: there are two Londons. There's London Above―that's where you lived―and then there's London Below―the Underside―inhabited by the people who fell through the cracks in the world. Now you're one of them. Good night.” 
He has also written a short story called The Price, which you can find in his anthology Smoke and Mirrors and which has also been animated, with narration from Neil. It's absolutely worth reading but a warning, it is one of few stories that has ever really creeped me out, in the best way of course but I am not easily shaken. (The only other story that has affected me in the same way is The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, also definitely worth reading!)

If Neverwhere is like peeking behind the curtain of London, Un Lun Dun is like tripping and falling down the rabbit hole (or perhaps down a drain in this case). If you like Gaiman I would put money on you liking Mieville, and Un Lun Dun, or King Rat even, would be excellent places to start. There is definitely a scale of readability when it comes to Mieville though, I would start there, then move up to The City and The CityRailsea, and Kraken. Personally I'm saving Perdido Street Station and the other New Crobuzon novels for when I have finished Embassaytown. I struggle a little with his more Sci-Fi, less fantasy, novels but it's a struggle I'm enjoying nonetheless!
I'm Margarita Staples." She bowed in her harness. 'Extreme librarian. Bookaneer.” …  
“My job is never boring," Staples said. "There's nuts-and-bolts stuff like getting the tarpaulin over the shaft when it rains, and so on. Cataloging and reshelving. The shelves are in a shocking state. And when you've got everything ever written or lost to keep track of, it's quite a job. And there's fetching books.  
"I used to really look forward to requests for books way down in the abyss. We'd all rope up, follow our lines down for miles. The order falls apart a way down but you learn to sniff out class-marks. Sometimes we'd be gone for weeks, fetching volumes.' She spoke with a faraway voice.  
"There are risks. Hunters, animals, and accidents. Ropes that snap. Sometimes someone gets separated. Twenty years ago, I was in a group looking for a book someone had requested. I remember, it was called 'Oh, All Right Then': Bartleby Returns. We were led by Ptolemy Yes. He was the man taught me. Best librarian there's ever been, some say." Anyway, after weeks of searching, we ran out of food and had to turn back. No one likes it when we fail, so none of us were feeling great.  
"We felt that much worse when we realized that we'd lost Ptolemy.  
"Some people say he went off deliberately. That he couldn't bear not to find the book. That he's out there still in the Wordhoard Abyss, living off shelf-monkeys, looking. And that he'll be back one day, book in his hand.”

Now we come to a couple of recommendations that are a little more sobering, the first of which is Matt Haig's Reasons to Stay Alive. Sometimes an author reaches out to you from the pages and it is as if they can see inside your mind, for me this was one of those books. At the time of reading I was actually pretty happy but that was all about to change, and now I'm glad that I read it and took in what he had to say before I was so far gone that I couldn't even bring myself to read. I quoted Haig in my first ever blog post and it is one of those quotes that will stay with me for life. The true nature of depression, anxiety and all other feelings so perfectly expressed:
"Depression is also smaller than you. Always it's smaller than you, even when it feels vast. It operates within you. You don't operate within it. It may be a dark cloud passing across the sky, but if that's the metaphor, you are the sky. You were there before it and the cloud can't exist without the sky. But the sky can exist without the cloud."
The solutions that worked for him may not work for you but at the very least the sense of calm I found, with regards to the fact that depression is not neccesarily permanent, was a help to me.

Jenny's book is a Whole.Other.Story. At times grotesquely funny, this is one of the only books that has had me laughing to myself on the bus, in coffee shops, anywhere and everywhere. I've bought it for others and if anyone needs a pick me up it's almost always the first book I recommend. I'd already been following Jenny's blog for a while before this was published and she and her readers are honestly as close to "my people" as I think I'm ever going to find online. For anyone who has ever tuned back into a conversation to concerned stares, having going off on some odd strain of thought, this book (and blog) are for you. She also deals with anxiety and depression in such an uplifting and hopeful way that it's like having the best psychiatrist in the world for a friend. It's impossible to pick out the best quote, I just peed myself laughing, or felt like I totally understood what she was saying, every other page, but here's a taster:
“I know other people who are like me... They are brilliant and amazing and forever broken. I'm lucky that although Victor doesn't understand it, he tries to understand, telling me, "Relax. There's absolutely nothing to panic about." I smile gratefully at him and pretend that's all I needed to hear and that this is just a silly phase that will pass one day. I know there's nothing to panic about. And that's exactly what makes it so much worse.” 
“Once, we came home to find Rambo in the sink, washing a tiny sliver of soap that had been a new bath-size bar that morning. He looked exhausted, and like he wanted someone to stop him and put him to bed, but when we tried to take away the last bit of soap he growled at us, and so we let him finish, because at that point I guess it was like a vendetta, if raccoons had vendettas.”  
“I rocked in silence, and realized for the first time that 'home' wasn't this place anymore. It was wherever Victor was. It was both a terrifying and an enlightening realization, and I took a deep breath and thought carefully before I answered. 'Yes. I'm ready to go home.'
It was like saying hello and good-bye at the same time.”

Last of all a mention must go to Terry Pratchett, I put him here and not up there with Mieville and Gaiman because for me, his writing encompasses so much more than a fantasy world of clever jokes and beautiful writing. There's truth in his words and I have still not finished reading his Long Earth series because I am not ready to have read all of his works. The last book of the Long Earth series that I read was The Long Mars and I actually cried at the end. To know that he was dying as he wrote it was too much, but I will be forever grateful that he gave us as much as he could and will savour the remaining books. 

The Long Earth series is not what he'll be primarily remembered for of course, that would be the Discworld series which is fantastic. I first picked up a discworld book, Truckers I think, when I was about 11. I remember thinking at the time that I knew it was supposed to be funny, but it was just boring to me. In retrospect I think I was far too innocent to pick up on Pratchett's humour. When I came back to them as a slightly jaded 16 year old they were perfect, so if you had a similar experience I'd definitely advise giving them another try. They're funny and beautiful and full of perfect observations of human nature and it'd be impossible for me to recommend one, but the DEATH arc is by far my favourite. My advice is to start at the beginning and carry on til the end, then read everything else he's ever written ... that'll keep you busy!

“‘And what would humans be without love?’ RARE, said Death.” — Sourcery

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