My favourite books, from top to bottom (and in some kind of vague chronological order): Evelina by Frances Burney, Maria: Or, the Wrongs of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Jude the Obscure and Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, The Adventures and the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse, Room at the Top by John Braine, 26a by Diana Evans, and In Other Rooms Other Wonders, by Daniyal Mueenuddin. (I am actually quite devastated that another of my absolute favourites seems to have disappeared into the depths of my house – The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde. I am going to go on a manhunt for it – I am very precious about my books. They are my babies.)
As you can see, I have a thing for tragedy, and the gothic – basically, the genre known as Fin de siècle, which is the stream of books written in the 1890s. At the turn of the Victorian century, people got paranoid and scared about the future, and what resulted were classics by Hardy, Conan Doyle and Wilde – books obsessed with disease, degeneration, crime, and decay. Totally depressing, chilling stuff. I love it.
Apart from that, I am a massive fan of the Victorian (Dickens and the Brontës, especially), and prior to that, the eighteenth century, which I am quite obsessed with as a period in general. I love strong women (Woolf and Wollstonecraft) and the angry young men of the 1960s (Braine and Waterhouse). I also like contemporary black and Asian writing, such as Diana Evans, and Daniyal Mueenuddin.
I’m obsessed with Oxford Classics – Penguins will not do. Oxfords are white, and they always have the best covers (i.e. the Woolf, Burney, and Hardy above). Penguins are black, and the spine always gets cracked and they end up looking shit after a few weeks (again, you can see that above. I didn’t buy those Penguins. I wouldn’t ever buy Penguins).
My English degree and really opened my eyes to literature. One of my favourite things about reading, apart from the feeling of peace and calm I get I lose myself in a book, is identifying parts of my life with certain books – I’ll always associate reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles with a magazine internship I once did, for example, as I’ve been reading it again over the last few weeks. And Jude the Obscure reminds me of winter: it’s a thoroughly depressing book, and I read it in January, when it was snowing and London was at a standstill. It was very eerie. I really feel like I’m living my life more when I’m loving a book.