The best book(s) you have ever read

The best book(s) you have ever read

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 This was prompted from a post on the e-book thread where someone said they never read fiction. I too read a lot of non-fiction but reading nirvana must be a well written novel that transports you somewhere else. So, no more than three - what's top for you?

1. The Road - Cormack McCarthy. You won't 'enjoy' it but you will never forget it either.

2. The Summer Book - Tove Jansson. I read it every year at about this time - just perfect.

3. The book Thief - Markus Zusak. Great story-telling and utterly unique.

Replies (85)

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By GaryMc
03rd Jun 2011 14:35

Good question

1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy - first read it as one book so counting it as one choice!  Only book I have ever read several times over.

2. The Green Mile - Steven King - great story and the only book that ever caused me to have some dust in my eye (so to speak)

3. Playground of the Gods - Ian Stafford - non-fiction but a brilliant read and insight into the life of top class sports people.  He trained with some of the worlds best teams and individuals including Redgrave and Pinsent, the Aussie cricket team, the Kenyan middle distance team and even went 3 rounds with Roy Jones Jr.


Bought The Road from a second hand shop a few weeks ago - so it is a good 30 books away from being read!

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By Becky Midgley
03rd Jun 2011 15:05

Great question!

Shantaram - Gregory David Roberts: Just finished reading it, epic novel but is a true story about an escaped convict on the run from Australia in Bombay. It's just fantastic reading! Bit of a commitment at 900+ pages, but you'll plough through it effortlessly, it's beautiful.

Lord of the Rings - Tolkien: Have to say this as well. I read it as a child and I too have returned to it many a time since.

Hmmm, number 3? Which should I pick..?

Island - Aldous Huxley: Huxley can be a bit hit and miss, but this is right on the money!

Oh I could go on! Three is too few! :)

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By mwngiol
03rd Jun 2011 15:33

How can you have a limit of 3?!

Lord of the Rings - Impossible not to pick it. Can't think of a better example of a perfectly formed story from start to finish. I was gutted when the film went with an alternative ending!

Slugs by Shawn Hutson - Shouldn't even be in a list of the top 1000 books but it's about killer flesh-eating slugs. I mean come on! I'll never forget that I read this book!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl - The book that got me addicted to books! Our primary school teacher used to read a chapter to us every Friday afternoon just before we went home and I had to beg my mum to buy it for me because I just couldn't wait to find out what happened. Within a few months I'd read all his books and had to move onto my older brother's collection of Dick Francis and Stephen King!!

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By JeremyNewman
03rd Jun 2011 15:43

The Forever War

Joe Haldeman's The Forever War - an excellent, if none too subtle, allegory about the Vietnam War and the futility of fighting an enemy you don't understand.

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By Sherlock
03rd Jun 2011 15:46

Contrasting publications

(1) The Snow Falcon - can't remember the writer. I left the book in Tunisia some years ago.

(2) The Grace Outpouring by Dave Roberts. An account of the revival of Celtic religion in West Wales.

(3) Bomber Harris by Henry Probert. An unbiased account of the 2nd World War bombing campaign. I was an usher at Henry's wedding.



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By vinylnobbynobbs
03rd Jun 2011 15:49

Best Books

I would recommend to everyone The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the two sequels.

The Forever War, indeed an excellent book but sadly the sequel was not!

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By mumpin
03rd Jun 2011 17:09

au courant...

A Visit from the Goon squad - hot and hip and good, impress people at dinner parties/speed dating/AA meetings

And maybe The Leopard

and also The Book of Disquiet

But I am a pretty interlectual highbrow geezer.


Who was it that said in another post that he had read some airport thriller/Gresham type book 3 times?


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By zarathustra
03rd Jun 2011 18:02

The main problem with the Kindle

Main kindle related problem is that the girl you fancy on the train can no longer see you are reading something by James Joyce or Victor Hugo!

Or maybe thats a plus point, I dont know :)

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By frustratedwithhmrc
03rd Jun 2011 19:05

Have to agree in principle

01. Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien

02. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams

03. 1984 - George Orwell (This was originally fiction, but now seems to be a government handbook)

04. Watership Down - Richard Adams

05. The Road - Cormac McCarthy

06. Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid - Douglas Hofstadter

07. The Second World War - Sir Winston Churchill

08. Longitude - Dava Sobel

09. The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco

10. The Day of the Jackal - Frederick Forsyth

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By ShirleyM
03rd Jun 2011 21:55

So difficult!

1   Tolkien, tops for me too

and then I struggle as there are so many books I love and re-read but my most memorable (and re-read) are my childhood books, so ....

2  Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

3  White Fang by Jack London

just to sneak in a film or two, or three or four or ....

National Velvet, International Velvet, Phar Lap,  Sea Biscuit, The Incredible Journey (original version), Bambi, etc.


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By leicsred
03rd Jun 2011 22:11

1) any Flashman, especially the indian ones
2) redundancy of courage - Timothy Mo
3) Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

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By GaryMc
03rd Jun 2011 22:32

I was happy with my choices and...

then someone throws 1984 in to the mix!

And how could I forget The War of the Worlds?!

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By User deleted
04th Jun 2011 08:11

A big omission....

Enid Blyton of course!!!!!!!!! Though I couldn't pick a particular one. Pure escapism for five minutes and a happy ending guaranteed.

Val McDermid 'Killing the Shadows'

Tom Clancy's 'Patriot Games'

The Hobbit - so much shorter

I'll admit there's nothing remotely highbrow about my choices but I like to lose myself in a book and not have to think too much :)

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By Steve Holloway
04th Jun 2011 10:16

So Shirley ...

 you like animals then! I alomost added in Black Beauty to my list but then it so traumatised me at the age of nine that I've not been able to read it since!!

Some people have clearly cheated by having more than their share so:

All the Sherlock Holmes books - 'Look out Watson, there's games afoot'!

Fever Pitch - Footie fans bible (not to be confused with the film that had girls in it!)

Atonement - OK the film had Keira Knightly but the book is still so much better.

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By Richard Willis
04th Jun 2011 10:58

Difficult choice but...

For the oldies (like me), 'Tomorrow is too late', the autobiography of Ray Moore, written between diagnosis and death from throat cancer.  Hillarious if you listened to his R2 program (Bog eye'd jog etc.); not at all morbid.  I was forbidden to read it in bed as I kept bursting out laughing.

'Shogun' by ? - 2" thick in paperback and I have read it it TWO HITS, twice!

'The Children of the New Forest' by Capt. Maryott.  A true classic, read many times.

BTW:- The lack of any erudite tomes may be down to the fact that I was the first A stream boy in living memory (which went back a REALLY long way) to get Grade 9 English Lit at O level at my Grammar School!

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By Richard Willis
04th Jun 2011 11:05

One for luck for CD

'Arnhem' by Erquart.  How to [***] up a perfectly good strategy!

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By Paul Scholes
04th Jun 2011 11:49

This could run & run

Great question.  There are lots of suggestions above I'd also put in my top 3, so here's some others that I don't think have been suggested.  All three have made me stop running and look about me:

The Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins.  Originally written in 1976 but updated since a book to make you realise how insignifican't we gene transport vehicles are.

The Revenge of Gaia - James Lovelock.  This wise, out of the box, man, who sussed why we live whilst Mars & Venus don't, tells it like it might be but encourages us to enjoy life (while we can).  He's in his 90s so that's easy for him to say!

Oxygen (The molecule that made the World) - Nick Lane.  Another book that uncovers the reality of something we take for granted.  Really thought provoking.

Great that nobody's suggested anything by Tolleys or CCH (yet!)


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By Eve 2206
04th Jun 2011 12:26

here's a few more....


Some good titles mentioned, including some I will look up next time I'm book shopping.

I like these:

a) all Dan Brown's books - I know this is unspeakable in literary circles, but he's a great 'storyteller'

b) all Clive Cussler novels - great adventure stories and of course the hero always wins

c) Kate Mosse novels - her first two. Labyrinth and Sepulchre.  They are both time-slip novels with bits of magic and stuff, but absolutely riveting reads.

Also, someone already mentioned Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrill - I read this and loved it, very wierd book but great fun to read. Thought it was a bit of a slog at times though because of the length of the footnotes.


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By edward33
05th Jun 2011 17:36

top 3 books

1 To kill a mockingbird by Harper Lee.

She only wrote 1 book and it has sold over 40 million copies. I have given copies to all my nephews and neices who love it and would still dip in to it on a regular basis..

2 Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin.

The story behind the credit crisis. The egos of the guys at the heads of the banks were unreal

3 Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruis Zafon

A book within a book and a story within a story. I knew nothing about Barcelona until I read this book. A great read and I guarantee when you finish it you will go back to the start to read it again




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By chatman
06th Jun 2011 01:25

A bit different

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, by Robert Tressell. Widely regarded as a classic of working-class literature (per Wikipedia). Don't get the abridged version; the ending is too sad.

Strumpet City, by James Plunkett (set to the backdrop of the Dublin dock workers' strike)

To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee (only thought of this because someone else, above, thought of it first) beautifully written. I am surprised it had any success in such a racist country though, given that it came out when the civil rights movement had only just started.

The invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein. Nothing deep but, again, beautifully written.

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By chatman
06th Jun 2011 01:36

Lord of the Rings

Yes, very good, although Tolkein was accused of copying a lot from various myths around the world.  The reason I didn't list it is because the greatest, wisest and kindest people in the book are all kings, queens and "noble" people, who seem to gain all this greatness simply by birth; a myth that is regularly peddled to us by our powerful owners in the real world. I feel that the book simply furthers the state/Murdoch propaganda to which we are subject every day in the world outside of Middle Earth, and leads to a society run and owned by public schoolboys and the like who also inherited their powers.

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By Steve Holloway
06th Jun 2011 09:53

To Kill a Mockingbird ...

 was published well in to the civil rights movement in America (it was accused at the time of cashing in!). By the early 60's America was not ' a racist country' per se and Alabama & Mississippie were very much pariah states. Its success is really down to the fact that it has been the school book of choice to cover issues such a fairness and equality for most of the world for the last 50 years. Personally, I don't like it but then I had to study it!

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By flurrymc
06th Jun 2011 13:09

Authors, rather than individual books
Terry Pratchett, always good for a laugh.

G.A.Henty, I read when young and, I admit, occasionally re read. I introduced him to my son, who is dyslexic, when he was about ten, took him from reading age of 8 to a reading age of 12 in about two months. Tales of derring-do and entirely not PC, but good yarns.

P.G.Wodehouse, though, Psmith rather than Jeeves and Wooster.

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By mwngiol
06th Jun 2011 13:56


"Yes, very good, although Tolkein was accused of copying a lot from various myths around the world.  The reason I didn't list it is because the greatest, wisest and kindest people in the book are all kings, queens and "noble" people, who seem to gain all this greatness simply by birth"

Not sure about that! The greatest and kindest characters are probably the Hobbits, who certainly aren't "nobles". The wisest person is probably Gandalf, who again isn't a "noble". Aragorn gained his reputation and greatness by his deeds rather than by his ancestry. In fact the King of Rohan and the Steward of Gondor, the main "nobles", both showed distinct signs of weakness at various points.

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By andrew.hyde
06th Jun 2011 14:01

Chatman - I'm not sure I agree with you totally about LotR. Surely the real hero of the book is Sam, who puts his life on the line for his friends and for the things they believe in. And Sam is clearly a peasant like you and me.

Anyway here's my three

1. Lord of the Rings, for all the reasons already advanced. I read it at a single stretch, interrupted by meals and naps, after I'd just done my A level exams
2. Day of the Jackal. I read this at a time I'd gotten out of the habit of reading novels. I bought it on a whim, then it sat on a table for a few weeks, and finally when I picked it up I literally couldn't put it down. Since then I've never been without a novel 'on the go'
3. The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce. Witty and deliciously cynical. I can always delve into this when I need a laugh. For a lighter and more modern counterpart I have The Meaning of Liffe by Douglas Adams (warning - don't read this in public unless you are unembarrassed by sitting on your own chortling out loud)

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By chatman
06th Jun 2011 14:05

To Kill a Mockingbird and the Civil Rights Movement

Whilst 1960, the year of publication, was five years into the civil rights movement, the US was still a racist country. Blacks were still not being allowed into universities and the civil rights movement continued for many years.  Even now the proportion of blacks in US universities is far lower than that of whites, in stark contrast to the numbers in US prisons. By the way, I am not saying the UK is any better.

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By chatman
06th Jun 2011 14:23

Lord of the Rings

The role of the Hobbits in Lord of the Rings is to obey their superiors, work as hard as they can, be faithfull to their masters and not to lead. We even see Sam recognising his place in the strict social heirarchy of  the hobbits.  The steward of Gondor was not a king, merely the steward. I accept the King of Rohan was at fault but he was got to by Saruman, and there we get into all the religious good angel/fallen angel rubbish that we get from another section of our real society telling us to do as we are told, and not question authority, in this life in order to to be rewarded in the next (non-existent) one.

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By Steve Holloway
06th Jun 2011 14:34

Well you can't be in prison ....

 and at university. I guess you have to choose which way you want to go at some point.

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By cymraeg_draig
06th Jun 2011 14:34


Even now the proportion of blacks in US universities is far lower than that of whites, in stark contrast to the numbers in US prisons. By the way, I am not saying the UK is any better.


Posted by chatman on Mon, 06/06/2011 - 14:05


Have a look at the comparisons for prisoners given death sentences - and at the comparisons for death sentences subsequently commuted to life.  They make grim reading.


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By kdbr
06th Jun 2011 14:45

Three's Just Not Enough

As Friday afternoon has passed me by and we're now well into Monday, a few more to ponder over, in no particular order:

Apsley Cherry-Garrard  The Worst Journey in the World

Laurie Lee  As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning

Stephen Donaldson  The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant

William Horwood  The Duncton Chronicles

Chrstopher Rush  To Travel Hopefully

Gavin Maxwell  A Reed Shaken by the Wind

Nicolas Bouvier  The Way of the World

Bruce Chatwin  In Patagonia

Jason Elliot  An Unexpected Light

Manda Scott  Boudicca Chronciles

and finally, but by no means least

Robert Louis Stevenson  Treasure Island


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By chatman
06th Jun 2011 14:46

"you have to choose which way you want to go at some point."

I assume that is a joke. If it is, it is funny.

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By MarionMorrison
06th Jun 2011 15:17

Three more

Good call with both The Book Thief from the OP and Ian McEwan's Atonement a book with best ending I know.

My third would have to be The Crow Road by Iain Banks.  

Atonement as a film was inevitably compromised by the nature of its ending and was merely good.  The TV adaptation of The Crow Road was excellent.  And if anyone can ever figure how on earth you could film The Book Thief, I'd be amazed.

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By rhewitt296
06th Jun 2011 16:00


1) Journey To The West (Monkey) by Wu Ceng'en

2) The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

3) Diary by Chuck Palahnuik

Three amazing books right there. I agree with a lot of other peoples choices of top books but these are the ones I have read more than a few times.

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By Steve Holloway
06th Jun 2011 16:47

Choices .....

.... life is full of them. I appreciate we don't all have the same choices and some peoples choices may appear more appetising but we have choices all the same. The choices we make dictate what happens to us.

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By nogammonsinanundoubledgame
06th Jun 2011 16:52

Almost certainly not my all time favourites, but spring to mind

in no particular order

Stephen Saylor's "Gordianus the Finder" series

Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey/Maturin series

Most of the pulp stuff written by Lois McMaster Bujold.

Most of Raymond Chandler's stuff.

Several of the books by Arturo Perez-Reverte, ie The Fencing Master, but before he started using americans to translate his novels

From the modern genre I am quite impressed by books by Mark Mills (ie The Whaleboat House)

Oh, and just finished reading The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W E Bowman.  Heartily recommended.

Books by Connie Willis tend to go down well.

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh - AARGH it is the start of a series.  Can't stand that when I get to the end and the rest of the trilogy has not been written.

With kind regards

Clint Westwood

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By chatman
06th Jun 2011 18:21

Journey To The West (Monkey)

The TV series was brilliant when I was a kid, but I wonder if I would like it so much now. 

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By chatman
06th Jun 2011 18:25

Steven Holloway

Are you saying that the black incarceration rate is higher than the white rate because of the choices black people make?

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By taxhound
06th Jun 2011 19:12

Can't remember

I am rubbish at remembering the titles of books I have read, so these may not be my favourites, but two books everyone should read are:

"We Need To Talk About Kevin" by Lionel Shriver, - very thought provoking - and I was also thrilled to see Becky mention "Shantaram" because I had forgotten all about that book, but I read it a couple of years ago and it was fantastic.

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By annep@compcl
06th Jun 2011 19:46

Votes to.........

When heading on hols a few years ago I pottered around WH's at the airport and came across a book (City of Thieves) which had an addition dust jacket stating that if you didn't love the book you could return it and have two new books free of charge.  The marketing concept was great; customer believes there is nothing to lose, but most likely anyone who didn't enjoy it would either have forgotten the fact by the end of the holiday/trip, lost the majority of pages in the heat of a summer holiday or couldn't be bothered packing it on a return journey (call me a cynic).  It was however brilliant - author is David Benioff.  

No 2 would be Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon - actually anything of his is well worth a read.

It's hard to restrict it to three but another decent read is Alone in Berin by Hans Fallada......made all the more interesting by the fact the author had such a difficult life. 


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By Rebecca Benneyworth
06th Jun 2011 20:01

Here's my twopennyworth

All quite light really, as I get my serious kicks from the Finance Act 2009, SI 2007/ 1004 etc etc.

First - anything by Jasper FForde, but mainly the Thursday Next series. Absolutely hilarious

Next - a recent convert - all C J Sansom's books. You can really smell Tudor London!

Three - so hard to choose..Probably more history.. Sharon Penman's epic series on Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II. Wonderful political insight.

Special mention to "The five people you meet in heaven" recommended by my daughter, and the Mike Pannett books - the James Herriot of the North Yorks police force.

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By Steve Holloway
07th Jun 2011 08:59

@ Chatman

 No, I am saying that to end up in prison comes as a result of choices a person makes (miscarriages of justice aside). Accident of birth is not a good enough excuse otherwise everyone born in a ghetto would join a gang and deal drugs and noone who goes to public school would end up in prison. 

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By Becky Midgley
07th Jun 2011 09:50


'Five people you meet in Heaven' is an awesome book, have you read 'Tuesdays with Morrie' by the same author? Bit of a tear-jerker and I think the better of the two books.

Will have to check out the book about Eleanor of Aquitaine, I'm currently reading 'Adventure of English' by Melvyn Bragg and he attributes much of the preservation of Old English and the pursuit of poetry and prose to her! So we have a lot to be thankful to this maiden for.

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By jpcc1
07th Jun 2011 11:41

How can you choose just three

In equal first place I'd have to put "Kim" and "The Light That Failed", both by Rudyard Kipling, surely the best English language author ever (undisputedly), even if he's not widely read now, presumably because he's so non-PC

Third place  is too close to call between many books :-

"The Third Man" or "The Quiet American" by Graham Greene;

"All the Pretty Horses" by Cormac McCarthy;

"Cry the Beloved Country" by Alan Paton

"Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha" by Roddy Doyle

and how come no-one's mentioned Charles Dickens or John Steinbeck or Earnest Hemingway or Alexander Solzenitzyn or Tolstoy Or Jack London or Marilynne Robinson

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By andrew.hyde
07th Jun 2011 12:25

Desert Island Discs
I'm assuming that, like the castaways on DID, you get the Bible and Complete Works of Shakespeare 'thrown in' as it were. So perhaps you could substitute Complete Works of Dickens for one of those.

Which gives me an idea for the next time we get bored with tax - 8 tracks you'd take to entertain you while marooned on a distant featureless island far from civilisation with hostile natives (Canvey for example).

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By Becky Midgley
07th Jun 2011 12:23

You're all cheating!

You were only allowed three! :)

I'm resisting the urge to pile in the ones that... no, can't!  Have to throw in another three!

Frankenstein - Mary Shelley: I first read this book when I was a teenager, and I then read it as part of my English A-Level which opened up a whole new world of enjoyment for me.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Milan Kundera: Such a tragic story really, probably strikes a chord or two into the heart of many a married person, but a fantastic exploration of what it is to be human, and the way we make our decisions and justify them.

The Dice Man - Luke Reinhart: Blew my mind.

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By GaryMc
07th Jun 2011 12:41

If Becky can cheat
Throw in Dracula and I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Also lob in the Pendragon Cycle books by Stephen Lawhead

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By ShirleyM
07th Jun 2011 12:56

I'll cheat, too

My family and other animals - Gerald Durrell

All creatures great & small - James Herriot

Any book by Dick Francis or John Francome

Horror: Stephen King (The Green Mile is also a tear jerker), Dean Koontz, James Herbert, etc.

I'll admit it ....... I'll read anything and everything, fiction or non-fiction, but I read for pleasure, not for education or enlightenment.

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By Steve Holloway
07th Jun 2011 13:58

Dice man -- really?

 Had 14 hours on a train last weekend (should have been 10!) so I took the Diceman with me. To be honest I wish I'd taken the East Coast timetable ... both a work of fiction but at least the latter would have provided more entertainment. I'm afraid I won't be finishing the second half of the book any time soon.

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By chatman
07th Jun 2011 14:03

My family and Other Animals

What did you like about it Shirley? 

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By chatman
07th Jun 2011 14:10

Choices made by black people

Steve, your reasoning does not make sense; disadvantage at birth makes it more likely, not 100% certain, that you will not achieve what an advantaged person achieves, so it would not result in no public school kids going to prison or everyone from ghettoes dealing drugs, but it would result in lower proportions of public school kids going to prison and higher proportions of black people going to prison (which is what happens in reality).

In any case, if it is not "accident of birth" as you call it, it must be down to the choices people make, as you say. This would imply that you believe black people are more likely to make choices that end up with them going to prison. Or have I misunderstood you?

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