Title says it all, stop what you’re doing and read these books right now. Do it.
1. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. The titular character Kevin is an evil little f*ck. We know this because his mother despised him from the moment he was born and because one day he took his bow and arrow to school and shot six of his classmates, a cafeteria worker and a teacher. Whilst reading I was convinced this was a true story and spent a long time trying to match it to one of the (horrifically large amount of) school shootings that Google told me about, but it’s not real. Don’t look this book up before you read it, there’s a fantastic (I’m going to say twist but it’s not exactly a twist) twist along the way which just makes it ten thousand times better. Go out and buy We Need To Talk About Kevin immediately, don’t you dare go another minute of your life without reading it!
2. World War Z by Max Brooks. Zombies! Walkers! Zeds! Z’s! Call them what you will, we all know what they are (except apparently anybody who lives in the fictional universes that they inhabit). Set ten years after the ‘resolution’ of the Zombie War each chapter of World War Z is a story from the point of view of someone who survived it, be they military, a member of the government, civilians or celebrities, each one is treated with equal merit and importance. This is not your standard normal-man-turns-hero story (which seems to be what Brad Pitt has butchered the film version into), this book highlights very real issues which could arise should this become a reality. In fact if zombies ever do become a real thing then we just need World War Z as a reference guide on how to act and what not to do. It’s utterly fantastic.
3. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Not naming your main characters is a stroke of genius, as is not having any speech marks at any point in your book (confusing at first, but then so liberating and fabulous), as is not telling your audience the reason the world is in its current apocalyptic state. The Man and The Boy are travelling South to the coast, because apparently that’s what you do when ‘winter is coming’ (yes, intentional Game of Thrones reference), scavenging what they can along the way (most other people have resorted to cannibalism at this point, but not our protagonists – they’re honourable/stupid). This journey is the driving force of the book, but of course they encounter several obstacles and some disturbing sights along the way, dead babies and so on, the usual. Bitterly depressing, heart-wrenching and frustrating this book is an inspiration.
4. Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. Fantasy gets a lot of stick, I just did a whole module on it and the general consensus is that people just don’t respect the genre. Lord of the Rings however is a work of genius, an epic novel split into three parts – because we apparently can’t cope with one 1000 page book. Who doesn’t adore Lord of the Rings? Lots of people, but that’s not the point. These books are the foundation of my love for literature and all things geeky. Overly descriptive, full of excruciating detail after excruciating detail. Not just an epic story, Lord of the Rings is a way for Tolkien to present the many years he spent creating complex languages, universes, maps, runes and much more. If you want to learn more about Middle-Earth read The Silmarillion it’s an extensive history of the creation of the world and the species, pretty much the Bible for this universe (and arguably much better thought out than the actual Bible.)
Bonus: For any future pub quizzes you may attend, the JRR stands for John Ronald Reuel… you’re welcome.
5. I desperately wanted to put Harry Potter on this list, but in an effort to avoid being cliché I’ve decided to go with the significantly less well-known The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. A collection of short stories which were published separately and later compiled to make this book, they tell the utterly original tale of the human colonisation of Mars. Some amusing failed attempts to make peace with the Martians are followed by some which are far more sinister, with the ending leaving you feeling lost and ever so slightly depressed. Written during the Cold War thinly veiled political messages and commentary on the social climate of the time are rife throughout, but Bradbury doesn’t shove them down your throat he does it with an elegance that so many writers just cannot accomplish. If your interests include space travel, the Cold War, nuclear weaponry, aliens or great literature don’t miss out on reading this, and if they don’t, read it anyway.