the 3 books you MUST read. or else

Much as I love those lists of 100 books you must read before you die, they’re always a bit…well, let’s just say I’m convinced the only purpose these lists serve is to make literary snobs (among which yours truly) feel 70% smug about how many books on the list they’ve already read, and 30% disappointed with themselves for not having read them all.

So here is A Different Daylight’s guide to the only three books you’ll ever need. If you’ve read 100% of them, I will love you forever and also come round to your house and bake a cake for you. Any cake you want*.

*actually I won’t.

In no particular order, then:

um, like, now. srsly. we NEED to talk

This is it. The big one. The book that changed forever (not that I wish to fall into the trap of journalistic clichés, but still) the way we look at children.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is very well written. But that’s not why you should read it. It’s a whodunnit murder mystery with a horrifying ending. But that’s not why you should read it. It’s got more twists than a Welsh road, and you should cancel everything in your diary because you’ll need to read right through to the end once you’ve started. But that’s not why you should read it.

You should read it because, at some point in your life, you have met a short (and growing taller) person. Perhaps you have some of them running around the house. Perhaps you think you might one day want to create some of them. You must, you absolutely imperatively must, read this book. (Even if it gets covered in baby sick.) The painful, searching analysis of exactly why anyone thinks they should have children is some of the most extraordinary writing I’ve ever read. Get those words inside your head now.

is for bad people

Do you think you should be drinking more water than you do? Probably. Do you think fruit and vegetables are good for you? I bet you do.

Do you think pregnant women should avoid alcohol completely? Maybe. Do you think it’s ok for a pregnant woman to have a glass of wine occasionally? Possibly.

And why do you think all these things? Because you read them in the newspaper. And did you check the newspaper’s sources, did you email the journalist to see where they got the facts they built their story around? (People who did do this need not reply.) Nope. Because you took it on trust.

Here’s the thing: we get the vast majority of our understanding about science from newspapers. Which are not written by scientists. This results in the breaking loose of all hell. 

Homeopathy is available on the NHS (ie, funded by taxpayers), despite a committee of government-appointed scientists doing some serious research and saying it shouldn’t be. (The government fired the committee.) Young children are taught complete lies in school. You don’t know whether red wine is going to give you cancer or make you live to bore people well into your second century. And anyone’s dead cat can order online the same ‘medical qualification’ (insert heavy sarcasm here) that gives a random bonkers woman the aura of scienceyness she needs to tell the nation what they should and shouldn’t eat.

You know those books that make you want to read bits of them out loud to anyone you’ll listen, and plenty who won’t? This is one of them. Order this book, and while you’re waiting for it to arrive, warn your friends, neighbours and colleagues that you’re about to become single-minded and evangelistic about the ridiculousness of the world. Buy this book and become a Pub Bore! With a few jokes to lighten the mood. One of my favourite lines from Bad Science:

Gillian McKeith – or, to give her her full medical title, Gillian McKeith…

Here’s the final chapter of Bad Science, available for free. Yup, the whole thing, on the author’s website. BOOM.

first edition cover

I hesitated about including this book, because I know that a lot of it won’t be to everyone’s taste. But, I thought, I Do. Not. Care. t’s still required reading for anyone who has ever thought about Life. 

Free Fall is narrated by an artist. He recalls the devastating, humiliating tortures of obsessive love. He remembers the wake up call of falling in love with someone who was much more real to him. He describes his experience of psychological torture as a prisoner of war (those chapters should not be read in the dark), and his constant questioning of his need to create art. At the end, he wonders what it has all been for: after everything he has been through, what can or should he believe in? Religion, science, philosophy?

On writing:

My darkness reaches out and fumbles at a typewriter with its tongs. Your darkness reaches out with your tongs and grasps a book. There are twenty modes of change, filter and translation between us. What an extravagant coincidence it would be if the exact quality of the translucent sweetness of her cheek, the very living curve of her bone between the eyebrow and hair should survive the passage! 
On obsessive love:

‘Does everyone fall in love like this? Is so much of their love a desperation? Then love is nothing but madness.’

And I do not want to hate her. Part of me could kneel down, could say…that if she would only be and meward, if she would be by me and for me and for nothing else, I wanted to do nothing but adore her…

You are the most mysterious and beautiful thing in the universe. I want you and your altar and your friends and your thoughts and your world. I am so jealousy-maddened I could kill the air for touching you. Help me. I have gone mad. Have mercy. I want to be you.

On war:

The shattered houses, the refugees, the deaths and torture – accept them as a pattern of the world and one’s own behaviour is little enough disease. Why bother to murder in a private capacity when you can shoot men publicly and be congratulated publicly for it? Why bother about one savaged girl when girls are blown to pieces by the thousand? There is no peace for the wicked but war with its waste and lust and irresponsibility is a very good substitute.
I don’t need to tell you how horrible it was for me (sympathy, please) trying to limit myself to just three books. They’re not necessarily my personal favourites – but they’re the ones that I think are most important for everyone in the world to read. And I’m a bit scared now that I’ve committed myself to these ones.. What are your three?
(In other news, my most highly esteemed and excellent father has given me Just My Type (handily subtitled ‘A Book About Fonts’) which is already turning into one of those books mentioned above that makes you want to grab passing strangers and read bits out to them.)

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “the 3 books you MUST read. or else

  1. I loved loved loved “We Need to Talk about Kevin”. Just picked it up randomly at the local 2nd hand store about 2 years ago. Now I want to read it again.

  2. The last book seems like a nice book to add to my “to-read” book list – thank you for sharing =)

  3. Pingback: the universe is watching you. possibly? | a different daylight

  4. Whoa!! Freefall is one of my favourite books of all time, see here,http://amonikabyanyuvva.wordpress.com/2011/08/30/finding-golding/
    I love Ben Goldacres forums, which I joined after reading the book Bad Science.
    I thought Lionel Shrivers book was stunningly good. It actually scared me a bit when I read it, not because of the shocking narrative, which it was, but because she sees into the soul. Honest doesn’t cover it.
    Sisters?

    • WHOA!!! i just read your blog post. I’ve never met anyone else who loves free fall as much as i do. ❤

      and yes – the way she follows every train of uncomfortable thought to its awful conclusion is painful to read. but for me, that's part of the essence of good writing (and other art) – to provoke such strong emotion in the reader.

      sisters – for definite =D

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