The Belvedere Journal
Six Unmissable Books I Read Last Year
It would really be cruel of me to ruin any element of the plot for anyone, but I urge you, out of all of the books on this list, this is the one you should read the most.
Last year, I set myself a goal. I’d been in a reading slump since the start of my teenage years with the excuse of school stress and work. However, the truth was that I'd nurtured a disinterest for literature and a greater interest for the boring online lives of my peers. FOMO mocked me more than the unturned pages on my familial bookshelf, leading me to a startling revelation - it was me who had became boring.
I honestly think that, apart from the obvious doers of downright evil acts, there is nothing worse a person can do than spend their whole lives being boring. And by ‘boring’, no, I don’t mean any of your teachers (who I greet kindly if they take interest in reading this. Please don’t hate me.) I mean people who never pursue a true and honest interest due to downright fear, who have no stories to tell, not even ones they are unwilling to share. And, admittedly, forcing myself to become a bookish person and read those 55 books in 2019 may seem really, really boring to some people, but at least I can say “I did that.”
In one year, I read nearly twice as many books for pleasure as most people will read in their secondary school career (averaging at around 28), and now I have the (often pretentious, I can acknowledge that) ability to discuss anyone of these novels at an interested and engaged level. I have my own story, and 55 more from each fable, fact and chapter I read.
(Now, I might point out that due to extensive studying, this year, I’ve gotten about two books finished front to back, but now is not the time to discuss how GSCEs create citizens with photocopied knowledge and specialisms, which is going to create a major gap in society in the future, or, in the worst case scenario, a lot of boring people.)
Maybe you have no interest in reading, and that’s fine. But the average a CEO reads 50 books for pleasure per year, and they seem to be flourishing a lot better than the average Joe. We’re also very fortunate to live in a country where we have the privilege of access to a multitude of books, so I heartily encourage you to be kind to your bank account and give your local or school library a visit if any of the books below spark you interest.
In fact, here is a list on how to get books for free or very little money:
The aforementioned library: I write for the Belvedere Journal at present time, and therefore, the majority of people reading this will be students or staff, both of which have access to our library and can take out books at any time. Furthermore, just a five minute walk from school, we have Sefton Park Library, and for those situated near or in the city centre, there is the lovely Central Library. It’s completely free to get a card and take a book out of any of these locations, and I encourage you to look up libraries near you.
Worldofbooks.com: I found out last year that I love, almost more than anything, the feeling of finishing a book and putting it on my shelf. If you believe you share this feeling, but don’t want to hurt your wallet too much with frequent visits to Waterstones, I strongly recommend World of Books. The site has (mostly) second hand books going for greatly reduced prices (I recently acquired a £2 copy of Dante’s Inferno on there, retail price £12). It can be hit or miss, but really great for the majority of classics and ‘on trend’ books.
Charity Shops: You can never count on a book being in a charity shop, but often, this is a good thing. Doors can be opened here for you that you never would have thought were there. For example, a short time ago, I found a leather bound edition of Bram Stocker’s Dracula, mint condition, at my local animal rescue aid shop. I got it for £1.
I’ve went on for far too long now, so here are the six books I believe will get anyone to start reading again:
The Alchemist: Paulo Coelho
This is one of those books that you see scattered all over those ‘100 Books to Read Before You Die’ lists and, to me, it is no surprise why. Published in 1998 and translated from Portuguese to English, the dream-like writing style steal gleams brightly. The main character, Santaigo, is not one of the complex famous main characters like Dorian Gray or the unnamed Invisible Man as the plot does not extend to such areas of darkness, but this book is still as adult as any. I find it a quintessential read for any teenager: Santaigo’s journey to find his Personal Legend, though much more exciting than my own as of present, still resonates strongly. It’s just a masterpiece and there is so much feeling from Cohelo’s ink. Please read this so I have someone else to talk about it to (apart from my dad and English teachers.). A must for anyone wanting a spiritual awakening or simply the motivation to run away and not have to sit any more exams.
A Little History of The World: E.H Gombrich
Not at all related to Donna Tartt’s cult classic ‘The Secret History’, but we’ll get to her later. Gombrich’s tone throughout the book is one of a bedtime story, but instead of becoming condescending in voice, it remains respectful, charming, and educational. The book weaves a narrative from pre-history to the mid twentieth century, continually addressing the reader to the point where I felt Gombrich, a decorated historian, was in the room with me teaching about the Macedonians and the Crusades.
Originally written in German in the 1920s, Gombrich translated it to English himself after the Second World War. The 40th and final chapter he added to this English addition- ‘The Small Part of History of The World I Have Lived Through Myself: Looking Back’ made such an intense impact on me, and serves as a constant reminder that I must question history as it is created, and never remain wilfully complacent to any wrongs. Needless to mention, a must for any history buffs.
Popism: Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett
If you plan to read any celebrity autobiography anytime soon, read this one.
Andy Warhol was absolutely crazy. This book probably has a more biased narrator than Gone Girl (I am NOT talking about Gone Girl) as Andy bounces off any allegations that he had anything to do with everyone around him getting hooked on concoctions of the sixties best psychedelics and downers. But it’s brilliant: the nonchalant ways he describes his shooting and near death and the vast number of parties and gigs described with such underhandedness has me both falling in love with the Soup Guy and wondering if he was a peaceful psycho. It is, obviously, a bit dated, but for me, this just added to the obscure hilarity of the book, as Pop as you can get in itself. Really brilliant. A must if you like modern art (or oddballs).
The Goldfinch: Donna Tartt
Upon closing this book, I just sat for a while mulling it over. Only one other book had such an effect on me last year, Flowers for Algernon, as only one other book took me on such an extensive emotional journey. This is a long book, but not one single page is unnecessary in the overall craft.
Fans of Stranger Things may recognise the novel’s name from the film adaptation Finn Wolfhard starred in, but, I plead of you, do not allow that to be your basis knowledge of the novel. It was really bad.
It would really be cruel of me to ruin any element of the plot for anyone, but I urge you, out of all of the books on this list, this is the one you should read the most. A must if you like thrillers or a good cry.
Flowers for Algernon: Daniel Keyes
This is the other book that made me feel very empty inside, but in a good way.
This book plays with language in such a beautiful way, with Charly, the first human to have undergone surgery to increase his intelligence. A sci-fi novel, yes, but not in the traditional sense of eighties pulp or The Hitchhiker’s Guide. Themes of morality and ethics are interwoven throughout and whilst they are arguably to close to the surface of the book, nevertheless, it bought many questions to the table for me which I had never considered before, whilst also making me cry to a degree I had never cried before.
Another must if you want a good cry, or a check-up to see if you can still feel empathy.
Invisible Man: Ralph Ellison
Not the Invisible Man of the upcoming movie, but a complex look into African-American life in the early 20th century. However, to quote TIME magazine, this is not a "race novel, or even a bildungsroman,” but "the quintessential American picaresque of the 20th century.” No hate to F. Scott Fitzgerald, but I would choose this over The Great Gatsby any day.
I do love an impactful finish to a novel, and Invisible Man provides just this, in my opinion. I see a reoccurrence in all the books I have recommended here today- most end with a moment of reflection by the author of the motives of the tale they have told. And what is reading, if not a time to reflect on the stories of others, and how that affects the stories of our own lives?
Invisible Man is a must for the politically minded, and those interested in any form of civil rights.