If you’ve never read anything by these ten authors, then these are the ten books that I suggest you start with (Top Ten prompt from The Broke and the Bookish).
1. Terry Pratchett – Feet of Clay
“If a golem is a thing then it can’t commit murder, and I’ll still try to find out why all this is happening. If a golem can commit murder, then you are people, and what is being done to you is terrible and must be stopped.”
Although it is possible to start just about anywhere in the Discworld series as each book can be read as a standalone, I’d advise against the very early ones (The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic etc.) as they can get a little slow in places and benefit from familiarity with the world and Pratchett’s writing style. Feet of Clay is the 19th in the series, is part of the City Watch story arc, and is located within the sprawling metropolis of Ankh-Morpork, which is an added bonus for any fan of city-building and locations acting almost as another character. While any Discworld book has multiple, intersecting narratives, the main story line here is the question of whether a golem, a man made of clay and brought to life with magic, can be guilty of murder.
Charles Dickens – Bleak House
My Lady, whose chronic malady of boredom has been sadly aggravated by Volumnia this evening, glances wearily towards the candlesticks and heaves a noiseless sigh.
While I have so far only read two Dickens novels, for me Bleak House was vastly more interesting than Great Expectations. Bleak House sprawls through London with a vast cast of disparate characters, like Lady Dedlock and her crushing ennui, the gentlemanly Mr Turveydrop and Miss Flite and her birds. It’s a hefty read, but very satisfying.
Jeff Vandermeer – City of Saints and Madmen
“The cage was always open,” the woman said, her voice gravelly, something stuck in her throat. “We had a bird. We always let it fly around. It was a pretty bird. It flew high through the rooms. It – No one could find the bird. After.”… “We’ve never had a cage,” the boy said, the dark green suitcase swaying. “We’ve never had a bird. They left it here. They left it.” – ‘The Cage’
Short stories are an excellent way to try out an author, and with City of Saints and Madmen, if the short stories take your fancy they are conveniently followed by two sequels in the form of novels (Shriek: An Afterword and Finch). The stories are presented like a portfolio of found documents, all related in some way to the city of Ambergris (more for the city-building fans), and include histories, tales, letters, a glossary and a chapter in code. A book that gets better each time you read it as the sections build on each other and you slowly begin to understand what has happened to Ambergris, as well as what is still to come. An example of the New Weird.
If you don’t like short stories, try Veniss Underground instead.
Agatha Christie – Evil Under the Sun
“It is romantic, yes,” agreed Hercule Poirot. “It is peaceful. The sun shines. The sea is blue. But you forget, Miss Brewster, there is evil everywhere under the sun.”
A Hercule Poirot mystery. Having a fixed location stops this story from wandering off, as Agatha Christie’s mysteries sometimes do, and prevents extraneous characters from clogging up the narrative. A clever twist to the murder makes it hard to guess and is not so out of the blue that it overshadows the book (à la Murder on the Orient Express). A sunny setting makes it good winter reading as well.
P.G. Wodehouse – Right Ho, Jeeves
I shall have to hark back a bit. And taking it for all in all, and weighing this against that, I suppose the affair may be said to have had its inception, if inception is the word I want, with that visit of mine to Cannes. If I hadn’t gone to Cannes, I shouldn’t have met the Bassett or bought that white mess jacket, and Angela wouldn’t have met her shark, and Aunt Dahlia wouldn’t have played baccarat.
Like Discworld books, you could read any Jeeves novel as a standalone. The plot is almost secondary to Wodehouse’s writing style, which dithers, bounces back and forth and uses 15 words where most authors would use two. It’s marvellous. Right Ho, Jeeves is where such ridiculous plot points as Bertie’s first encounter with Madeline ‘the stars are God’s daisy chain’ Bassett, Tuppy and Angela’s colossal falling out over whether or not Angela saw a shark, and Jeeves’ passive aggressive campaign against the white mess jacket are to be found.
The white mess jacket makes it’s first appearance at 1:42 in this episode of Jeeves and Wooster, based on Right Ho, Jeeves.
Nevil Shute – On the Beach
‘Why must it come to us? Can’t anything be done to stop it?’ He shook his head. ‘Not a thing. It’s the winds. It’s mighty difficult to dodge what’s carried on the wind. You just can’t do it. You’ve got to take what’s coming to you, and make the best of it.’
Not a book to read on public transport if you’re prone to getting a little teary. A nuclear war in the northern hemisphere has released radioactive particles into the atmosphere, which are slowly spreading south. Only a few pockets of life remain, with the story set in 1950s Melbourne, as the survivors decide what to do in their last months.
If you don’t like apocalyptic tales, try A Town Like Alice instead.
Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice
When the ladies returned to the drawing room, there was little to be done but to hear Lady Catherine talk, which she did without any intermission until the coffee came in, delivering her opinion on every subject in so decisive a manner as proved that she was not used to have her judgement controverted… Elizabeth found that nothing was beneath this great Lady’s attention, which could furnish her with an occasion of dictating to others.
What can I say about Pride and Prejudice that hasn’t already been said? Like Wodehouse, Austen’s writing style contributes greatly to enjoyment of her novels. Everyone has their favourite Austen, but I can’t go past Lizzie’s verbal sparring with Lady Catherine and Mr Collins’ ridiculous proposal.
Haruki Murakami – The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
She took off her red vinyl hat and placed it over the bag, covering it from view. I had the feeling she was about to perform a magic trick: when she lifted the hat, the bag would have vanished.
This is an odd one, as I can’t really express why I like it. A relatively straightforward narrative is interwoven with surrealist elements and diversions. Two subsidiary characters, Nutmeg and Cinnamon, are among my favourite and most memorable characters for reasons I also don’t quite understand. The novel is more rounded and seems more complete than Kafka on the Shore.
China Miéville – Looking for Jake and Other Stories
I moved my head slowly to one side, watching the moon. It moved slowly out of the old starburst window and past the dividing frame. It did not appear in the right-hand pane. When I moved my head quickly back, it returned, to vanish again on the opposite side. The new panes and the old looked out over different skies. – ‘Different Skies’
Short stories again, this time about wildly different topics. My favourites are those that lurk around in the New Weird genre, but there is also the shocking ‘Foundation’, based on actual events during the Gulf War. China Miéville has a particular fascination with cities, particularly London (see ‘Looking for Jake’, as well as Kraken and King Rat).