- 01 Apr 20
Warning: extreme nostalgia ahead.
One of the blessings of quarantine is that I have more time on my hands to read now then I've had since my first year of University (jury's still out on whether or not I can count required reading for my philosophy degree as "time spent reading"). The dreaded Coronavirus also has me – and I'm sure others – feeling extra nostalgic. Here are 15 books you can get lost in, to escape our current hellfire of a reality. You can thank me later.
Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling
Really, if you were born at any point in the 90s or you have children born at any point in the 90s, you know these books. (To those of you that don't, I suppose you'd better start reading). We had a rule in my house: one chapter a night, every night, until the book was finished. A rule frequently broken by my father, who we would find the morning after the book's release, snoring on the couch, reading glasses askew, Harry Potter and the whatever-book-was-newest turned down on his chest. The point being that the adventures of a certain boy wizard and his friends have the capacity to hook you no matter your age.
Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
For a laugh the other day, my mother (using her quarantine time for the Spring cleaning of my family home in Toronto), texted me a photo of my beautiful, battered copy of Louisa May Alcott's coming-of-age masterpiece with the caption "I think I'll throw this out, okay"? I had read Little Women twice before I turned ten years old. My family always says you can tell how well I've loved a book if you can find food on the pages – it means I couldn't even put it down to eat. My cloth-bound, M.E. Gray-illustrated, 1994 edition has a big purple stain running the length of a few water-damaged pages. No doubt berries were involved.
Lord of The Rings/The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkein
There is some debate about whether or not LOTR is actually a children's novel, although The Hobbit certainly is. The fantastic world, created by J.R.R. Tolkein, was so thoroughly realised in the books that Elvish became an official language. The best part is that the literature itself is challenging enough that you can re-read the series and find new things to enjoy.
Winnie The Pooh – A.A. Milne
Full of whimsy like "people say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day," A.A. Milne's tale about The Silly Old Bear in the Hundred Acre Wood is a perfect thing to read with your family, or if you're feeling extra nostalgic.
Peter Pan – J.M. Barrie
Neverland sounds pretty good right about now. J.M. Barrie's story about a boy who never grew up has been adapted many times (including a Disney version that – ironically – hasn't aged well). Its original version is often forgotten about. If you don't feel like reading the full novel, consider reading up on the novel's origins, which are significantly darker than you might think.
Watership Down – Richard Adams
Speaking of dark, Richard Adams' Watership Down, about a group of anthropomorphised rabbits who flee their home has long been thought of as sharing several themes with Homer's Odyssey or Virgil's Aeneid, but it's decidedly easier to read than the Greek and Latin epic poems.
The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis
Of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein wrote: “The unpayable debt that I owe to him was not influence but sheer encouragement". The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of The Rings authors met at Oxford in 1926, bonding over a love of language, poetry and myth. Lewis would, of course, go on to be one the most prominent theological writers of all time. The seven Narnia novels are even more daunting a series to undertake than the seven Harry Potter books. But if you've the time, you might as well start on the first: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
James and the Giant Peach – Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl's surrealist, fruit-filled (I'm sorry, I know) adventure about a boy who gets stuck in a giant, flying peach enchanted by magic worms makes for a great re-read. It was Dahl's first conscious attempt at writing for a younger audience. First published in 1961, it was an instant classic, and earmarked Dahl for a legacy as one of the greatest children's book writers of all time.
Where The Sidewalk Ends – Shel Silverstein
I recently purchased Silverstein's book of poems for an old friend's niece, who is five. And subsequently worried that some of the poems – namely the title work and a poem about a boy who's lost his head called 'The Loser' – would be too dark for someone that young. I was wrong, they apparently delighted her.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time – Mark Haddon
Mark Haddon's novel-turned-stage-play, written in the voice of a fifteen year old boy who is said to have many of the hallmarks of Asperger Syndrome, has been controversial from the get-go. Initially, the novel was hailed as an accurate portrayal, but Haddon later distanced himself from those claims. He never states the main character's condition, although there are blurbs on various edition book-jackets that mention mild forms of either AS, high-functioning autism or savant syndrome. Regardless of your opinion post-read, it is one of those books I feel everyone should know about. If you're interested, you can read a review of the book written in The Guardian, by a teenager living with Asperger Syndrome.
Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen
While perhaps too difficult a read for young children, this was a favourite of mine as a teenager. In Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Austen dreamed up a 19th century heroine who was a suitable role model for young women and broke the status quo of her time while remaining likeable enough for the book to be a financial success when first published in 1813, and enjoyed by both men and women (playwright Richard Sheridan called the novel one of the cleverest things he'd ever read).
To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
In most Canadian high schools, Harper Lee's Southern drama is required reading for students. The novel, once on a list of banned books in America, is a powerful story about perception, growing up, and race relations in the South. And sadly, it seems to be perpetually relevant.
Howl's Moving Castle – Diana Wynn Jones
You could read this, or you could watch the Studio Ghibli animated version. Either way, it's a delightful literary twist on the traditional fairy tale. Wynn Jones takes folk tale tropes of old and turns them on their heads.
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs
This children's classic (think X-Men but gothic and British), is about a group of kids who have special abilities, all housed in – you guessed it – Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.
The Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams
Margery Williams' 1922 classic about a stuffed rabbit that yearns to be real is truly touching, and a perfect re-read if you have young children. Or again, if you're feeling incredibly nostalgic.