Look sharp – being well-read (or at least appearing well read) is an important part of your conversational kit. If you’ve not picked up a book or downloaded more than a mag onto your Kindle since you were forced to study The Great Gatsby for GCSE, don’t despair. We’re not suggesting you cheat by watching the film of the book and yes, you will have to get your nose into an actual book to gen up, however if you read nothing other than these five books you will be able to converse about literature with the best.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan
They said: ‘Beware Richard Flanagan’s new novel, “The Narrow Road to the Deep North.” His story about a group of Australian POWs during World War II will cast a shadow over your summer and draw you away from friends and family into dark contemplation the way only the most extraordinary books can. Nothing since Cormac McCarthy’s The Road has shaken me like this — all the more so because it’s based on recorded history, rather than apocalyptic speculation.The technique is both dizzying and heartbreaking; an entire life encapsulated in a page or two. “In the end all that was left was the heat and the clouds of rain, and insects and birds and animals and vegetation that neither knew nor cared. Humans are only one of many things and all these things long to live, and the highest form of living is freedom: a man to be a man, a cloud to be a cloud, bamboo to be bamboo.” Elegantly wrought, measured and without an ounce of melodrama, Flanagan’s novel is nothing short of a masterpiece.’ Washington Post.
We said: You might as well start with the book everyone’s talking about and this year’s winner of the Man Booker prize. It will touch your soul and you’ll be rushing home to lock the doors, turn off the mobile and avoid all human contact until you’ve finished it. It’s haunting, harrowing yet a love story that will touch even the most cynical of hearts. Lest we forget indeed.
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
They said: ‘ “This will not be a funny book,” says Christopher. “I cannot tell jokes because I do not understand them.” But it is a funny book, as well as a sad one. Christopher’s compulsive noting of mundane facts provides comedy reminiscent of the best of Adrian Mole, especially in his dealings with the police and his special-needs classmates. And Haddon’s inclusion of diagrams, timetables, maps, even maths problems, extends the normal scope of novel-writing and demonstrates the rich idiosyncrasies of the autistic brain. The Curious Incident is published simultaneously for adults and older children; despite its clarity and simplicity, it operates on several levels. I’d love to know what a reader with Asperger’s thinks of this book. I think it’s brilliant.’ The Guardian.
We said: Before this became a West End hit for The National Theatre which has just taken Broadway by storm, this was a novel. And what a novel it is. It’s a murder mystery but forget James Patterson, this is getting deep into the mind of the narrator, Christopher, a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome and it all starts with a dog called Wellington.
Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
They said: ‘Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.’ Good Reads.
We said: She’s one of the original feminists and one of the most widely read novelists ever. So if you’ve not gone there shame on you! Women will not only think you’re smart and well-read but will think you understand women too which is never a bad thing.