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Kathryn Hughes shares her favourite books

How can I choose my favourite books, you may ask?   It is quite simple — every single one of these titles is still on my bookcase many years after I first read them.   I enjoyed these books so much that I have been unable to part with my copy.   Some of them have a sticker on the cover with my name on which means I have loaned them to friends but with a request that they are returned to me!   I’ve listed the titles in roughly the order I read them. If you’ve not yet discovered these wonderful books, I hope you will enjoy them too…

THE FOLK OF THE FARAWAY TREE  by Enid Blyton

If you had asked me as a young girl what my favourite book was, I would have had no hesitation in naming this one.   I read it dozens of times throughout my childhood and never tired of the adventures of Moon Face, Silky and Dame Washalot.   I was captivated by the ever-changing lands at the top of the tree and marvelled at the imagination of the author who was so adept at holding my attention.

ANIMAL FARM  by George Orwell

Can anybody really have just one favourite book?   I don’t think so but if I was forced to choose then this would be this one.   I was required to read it at school for O Level and our teacher would stand at the front and lead us all in a rendition of Beasts of England before the lesson began.   Boxer the horse is a tragic character and he even gets a mention in THE LETTER, when Jackie names his horse after him.   A political satire it may be, but it’s also a very entertaining yarn to be enjoyed on many levels.

KANE AND ABEL by Jeffrey Archer

There’s no doubt in my mind that Jeffrey Archer is a great storyteller and for me this is quite simply his best work.   I admit I read it years ago but I think it has stood the test of time and remains one of my favourites to this day.

MASTER OF THE GAME  by Sidney Sheldon

As a teenager I simply devoured all of Sidney Sheldon’s books.   I must have read all his early work dozens of times each.   It was as though no other author existed.   It was extremely hard for me to pick a favourite but I settled on this one.   It is a wonderful family saga spanning six generations with complex, not always likeable characters, but ones you nevertheless care about.   I absolutely love this book.

WILD SWANS  by Jung Chang

This is the only non-fiction book in my list and it is quite a tome.   It is an epic tale of three generations of Jung Chang’s family in China, which is both educational and thoroughly riveting. At nearly 680 pages it requires a huge investment of time but it is well worth it.

THE HORSE WHISPERER  by Nicholas Evans

From its breathlessly exciting opening to its shocking climax, this novel held me spellbound throughout.   The depiction of the Montana vista made we want to visit that State, the relationship Tom has with his horses made me want to own one, and the superbly crafted prose and evocative descriptions made me want to write a book.   Well, two out of three is not too bad.   I have yet to own a horse!

LIFE OF PI  by Yann Martel

This is a novel that requires more than one read but that is no bad thing as you get to enjoy the superb writing skills of the author for a second time.   Like ANIMAL FARM, it is also an allegory and you can choose what to believe — the animal story or the human story.   The writing is first-class and for me, well deserving of the Booker Prize it was awarded.

THE GIRLS  by Lori Lansens

This book tells the story of Siamese twins Rose and Ruby, who are joined at the head.   It reads like an autobiography rather than a work of fiction and this is down to the author’s remarkable ability to perfectly capture what it feels like to be a conjoined twin. It’s a truly heart-warming tale that I could not get out of my head for many weeks afterwards.

A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS  by Khaled Hosseini

I was worried that Khaled Hosseini would not be able to live up to THE KITE RUNNER  with his second book, but I think this one is even better. The story of Mariam, who is only fifteen when she is sent to Kabul and forced to marry a man who is thirty years her senior, is by turns horrific, compulsive and ultimately uplifting.

THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE  by Heather Gudenkauf

This story of the disappearance of two little girls is told from multiple viewpoints over a sixteen hour period.   I was hooked from the very first page and the tightly wound plot makes sure you keep turning the pages until it reaches its staggering climax.   It is a very accomplished debut.

Kathryn Hughes debut THE LETTER is out now in paperback.

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