My 34 favourite books (probably)


I admit it: this is a completely self-indulgent post. Forgive me. I shall beat myself with copies of War and Peace, in penance.

One of the guys on my writing retreat asked the rest of us to choose our three favourite books for him to add to his reading list. Really? How am I supposed to pick only three? I thought I’d give it a go by writing down all of my favourite books with the aim of choosing three from there – and this is what I came up with.

I haven’t given any rationale or explanation for any of the choices here (but I’m more than happy to chat away for hours about any of them) and sure, I’ve probably accidentally missed some books off the list (but this ‘assembled-in-an-hour’ compilation is what I’m sticking with for now).

This is them in alphabetical order. Remember: ‘my favourite’ not ‘The Greatest™’. Be enraged, be dumbfounded, be supportive…

Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman (1983)

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (1995)

A Little History of the World by E. H. Gombrich (1935)

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877)

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (1985)

Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe (1987)

Brilliant Orange by David Winner (2000)

But Beautiful by Geoff Dyer (1991)

Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold (2001)

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)

D-Day by Anthony Beevor (2009)

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby (1992)

I Am Legend by Richard Mattheson (1954)

If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor (2002)

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)

Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (2003)

Notes: The Making of Apocalypse Now by Eleanor Coppola (1995)

One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest by Ken Kesey (1962)


One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1967)

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (2000)

The Book of Dave by Will Self (2006)

The Crow Road by Ian Banks (1992)

The Dark Knight Returns by Mark Miller (1986)

The Kennedy Tapes by Ernest May, Philip Zelikow (1997)

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (2009)

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (1998)

The Princess Bride by William Goldman (1973)

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe (1979)

The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)

The Sportswriter by Richard Ford (1986)

The Stand by Stephen King (1978)

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (2010)

The Wrench by Primo Levi (1978)

World’s End by T. C. Boyle (1987)


46 thoughts on “My 34 favourite books (probably)

    1. beautifulorange Post author

      Ha. I actually already feel bad about only listing 34. But like I said, I’m accepting this as a ‘moment in time’ thing. It’s the only way to stay sane about it!

      1. maedez

        It is definitely a tempting thing to try, but I have to respect my limits. I think. Who knows? Perhaps I will end up spending the next 2 weeks adding to an ever-growing list, which will keep me up nights. No, I think it is best that I step away from the idea. Maybe.

    1. beautifulorange Post author

      Charles! I won’t let you be down about that this week! Ha, the two that you mention are absolutely two of my favourites. Have you ever tried to compile a list?… would it be heavily fantasy-based?

      1. Charles Yallowitz

        Then I have a job to do . . . after I finish my toddler bedtime chores. The 5 minutes I have before he’s done with his bath and his to find my hiding place isn’t enough time.

  1. Jessica

    Self-indulgent for me, too. I’m glad to know what others are reading so I know what I need to add to my list. I like yours. Definitely haven’t read them all. I found Catch-22 to be a bit tedious, though funny, and worth it. I find it’s always worth it to read the “classics.” There are so many references to them everywhere that add so much depth to one’s understanding of things.

    Thanks for sharing!

      1. Jessica

        I have not read nearly enough in recent years. I was a book worm as a kid, but as I grew older, it seems life has been filled with too many other important things, all vying for my time and attention. Alas, I am trying to change that. Trying to make reading a priority again.

  2. lyriquediscorde

    Also, how how HOW could someone only choose THREE books?

    My questions – can you tell me a bit about this one – Adventures in the Screen Trade? and also Brilliant Orange (Is it connected to your blog name?)

    So many on their that I love…Fever Pitch is the one that is sticking out the most and making me smile.

    1. beautifulorange Post author

      Ha, yeah those two are probably the two most random choices from an outside perpective.

      Adventures in the Screen Trade is written by William Goldman, who is a legendary screenwriter (wrote Butch Cassidy among others). It’s half about his experiences in Hollywood and half a screenwriting help book. It’s a classic in the industry – and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to be a screenwriter or anyone who’s interested in the way Hollywood works.

      Brilliant Orange is… and stick with me here… about the history of dutch football (soccer). About how football has mirrored a nation’s history, mindset, personality and even geography. It’s partly a philosophical musing and partly a passionate out pouring. Blah. I lost you at ‘football’?

      And yes, it’s connected to my blog name – but for no good reason!

      1. lyriquediscorde

        I love that I picked out two very different choices…as I have contemplated screen writing, and/or trying to get my self inside a “writer’s room” someday I will take a look see for “Adventures…”

        And now, you did not lose me at football..I was cheering on Fever Pitch, and one of my best friends is a huge football fan (Man City fan, to be precise)….though I am not a fevered fan, it does sound like an interesting read.

      2. beautifulorange Post author

        I’ve read 3 or 4 of his books and really enjoyed them all – just not quite enough to make the final list. There’s probably another list of 34 that fits just behind this one…

      3. beautifulorange Post author

        Off the top of my head, I’d say All Families are Psychotic and Girlfriend in a Coma.

        And I adore T C Boyle – although I only have World’s End in this list. I was actually thinking of dedicating a whole blog post to him soon

      4. lyriquediscorde

        Love T.C. Boyle…of Coupland’s, All Families are Psychotic and Girlfriend in a Coma are my favorites…do you shy away from reading while you are in serious writing mode, or not?

        …look forward to your T.C. Boyle post.

      5. beautifulorange Post author

        I don’t intentionally shy away from reading – but I have been reading a lot less since I’ve been properly stuck in to my writing. I’m only on my second book since the start of the year. The first one was one of the best thrillers I’ve ever read, called Child 44. The one I’m on now is Canada by Richard Ford and the langage is beautiful. I’m only 100 pages in but it’s a contender to join my top 34 already.

  3. Eric~

    Impressive list. I’ve only read The Princess Bride from this list. I’ve been asked to narrow my list of favorites down to five before and it too so much deliberation I gave up. There will always be a Vonnegut (conspicuously absent from your list. Not a fan?) book in my top five list. Timequake being my current fave, or is it Slaughterhous 5. no wait….Cat’s Cradle…uhhh no, Slapstick..agh…Brakfast of Champions!…No..agh!. Jeffrey Eugenides and Chuck Palahniuk are edging out the rest of the pack for top spots. This list makes me want to rank all the books I’ve read now. Thanks a lot.

    1. beautifulorange Post author

      Well, as long as this list is food for thought for other people then I’ve done my job. Really funny, you should mention Vonnegut in particular – if this list was 35 books then Slaughterhouse 5 would be the extra book. I’ve always liked Eugenides but he’s never quite been one of my favourites and Palahniuk is someone who I’ve inexplicably never read. I need to rectify that. Would love to see your list if you ever get round to it!

      By the way, have you ever read Richard Ford – I find his style (in the best of his books) beautiful – elegant and laid-back and wise. I’m reading Canada at the moment and just love the prose.

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  5. georginaguthrie

    Oh, my! I’ve only read about two from this list….and I’m a literature graduate, shame on me! I like how you have a lot of contemporary lit on there, i tend to err on the side of caution and go for the old classics. Great post, i’ll have to give some of these a look.

    1. beautifulorange Post author

      It is a very contemporary list – I thought I might get some stick for that! But yep, do check out anything that looks interesting… I really love these books.

  6. alicelucie

    this is such a great idea – so fascinating and interestingly telling to know what your favourite books are. And I think it’s definitely important to get rid of that ‘greatest’ book label – notions of what is culturally ‘great’, though sometimes useful, can be so narrow-minded and stifling. Perhaps that’s fodder for a blog post…! My favourite of your favourites is ‘In Cold Blood’ – by far. I remember being so terrified and gripped by it that I gave it to all my friends to read too. Excellent post!

    1. beautifulorange Post author

      Glad you like it! And yes, it feels like all too often people include certain books on their lists to fit in. I’ve tried to be honest in my choices… read in to them what you will! Cold Blood is a stunning book. Like you, it terrified me.

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  8. WyndyDee

    ummm….yeah, not happening and definitely not in the same stratosphere as those…call me a sappy, vampire lovin’, erotica editing/reading, feel-good-in-the-moment reader! When I actually get to read for fun, that is.

    1. beautifulorange Post author

      Ha, you sappy, vampire lovin’, erotica editing/reading, feel-good-in-the-moment reader! I read all-sorts but those are the books that have left me in awe over the years. A lot of them are pretty easy reads tbh.

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