“The person who would like to make his dreams come true MUST STAY AWAKE.”
— Richard Wheeler, Rotarian
Sometimes you don’t feel like doing anything.
When you find yourself not in the zone… what do you do?
How do you get things done when you don’t feel like doing anything?
Not Getting Anything Done
The other night I found myself unable to get anything done.
I was tired. Energy levels were low.
My mind just wanted to shut down for the day.
Yet, I had 2 hours of free time on my hands and a todo list a mile long.
I was having trouble getting motivated to do anything.
“When you least ‘want’ to do something, is often when you most ‘need’ to take action.”
Determined to get something done… (anything really)… I picked up one small task.
I figured if I couldn’t get anything else done, I would do just this one task.
Just One Task
I forced myself into doing that one task.
It was a low effort task. It could be done in a few minutes.
It involved scanning a 1-page receipt and emailing it to a colleague.
Within a few minutes it was done. Scanned, emailed, and finished.
It felt good to cross even one item off my todo list.
Glancing at my list, I soon found a few other items that I was interested in addressing.
I was soon doing some related tasks. An expense report. Answering several emails. And more.
You could say that once I got myself in motion, I stayed in motion.
One Thing Done, What’s Next?
When you find yourself unable to get anything done, try focusing on getting just one thing done.
Sometimes you can’t get it all done, but you can get one thing done.
One-at-a-time. That is how progress is made.
Question: What one thing can you get done today?
ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN (1884), MARK TWAIN
WHY The author uses authentically coarse and colourful language to weave a story that embodies man’s eternal quest for freedom – and to take a scathing look at entrenched attitudes, Twain’s speciality.
WHAT TO KNOW It’s the weightier successor to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, going far beyond its simple adventure tale with a critical examination of race, religion, class and moral conflict. While sometimes difficult to read, the rendering of the dialects, both white and black, of 19th-century rural America, is flawless.
HOW TO FAKE IT “Hemingway said it all, didn’t he? ‘All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.'”
THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (1920), EDITH WHARTON
WHY Unfulfilled love, the constraints of New York society and an almost inevitably tragic outcome combine to make this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel one of the most memorable love stories ever written.
WHAT TO KNOW Newland Archer and May Welland are a perfectly matched Upper East Side couple until the arrival of May’s cousin, the Countess Ellen Olenska (whom we all secretly long to be, if female, or run off with, if male).
HOW TO FAKE IT “I don’t want to give the plot away, but May is clearly more cunning than we all give her credit for, isn’t she? Telling Ellen what she did could only have one outcome.”
AMERICAN PASTORAL (1997), PHILIP ROTH
WHY Grief, bewilderment, rage – Roth fearlessly and seamlessly enters the minds of furious men to try to decipher the America of the 1960s and 1970s.
WHAT TO KNOW The author returns to his alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman, and uses the framing device of a high school reunion to weave the story of “Swede” Levov, whose fulfilled life is marred by his beloved daughter’s transformation into a teenage radical. Race riots, the Black Panthers, the sexual revolution, Vietnam and Watergate all make appearances.
HOW TO FAKE IT “You know the Levov character is based on a real ‘Swede’? A legendary high school athlete in Roth’s hometown of Newark, New Jersey.”
ANNA KARENINA (1878), LEO TOLSTOY
WHY The original desperate housewife, the tragic figure of Anna Karenina is one the most enduring in all of literature. The novel has been described as the best ever written and explores all those human themes we love to read about; passion, jealousy, desire and loss.
WHAT TO KNOW The first line is often quoted: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Thus begins the tale of Anna Karenina, a novel divided into eight parts, charting the course of the eponymous heroine and her ill-fated affair with the dashing and rather dastardly Vronsky.
HOW TO FAKE IT “The seventh section of the novel is such an obvious precursor to the stream-of-consciousness style of writing later adopted by Joyce and Woolf.”
THE BIG SLEEP (1939), RAYMOND CHANDLER
WHY For the beauty of the prose, tough and sinuous, and some of the finest descriptive writing in American literature. With beautiful girls, old millionaires and a hard-boiled detective, Los Angeles was never so devilish. And it begins: “It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid-October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.”
WHAT TO KNOW The plot is almost incomprehensible. When it was being filmed with Humphrey Bogart in the lead role, the director Howard Hawks phoned Chandler to ask him who killed one of the lead characters. No idea, replied Chandler.
HOW TO FAKE IT “The Big Sleep is a euphemism for death. But there’s nothing deathless about this prose.”
THE BLIND ASSASSIN (2000), MARGARET ATWOOD
WHY Actually you could pick almost anything by this master of fiction, but this one stands out as particularly brilliant. That’s not only our opinion; it won the Booker Prize in 2000 and was named best novel of the year by Time magazine.
WHAT TO KNOW Atwood expertly juggles several plot lines to tell the story of the Chase family. Part historical, part novel-within-a-novel, The Blind Assassin is a little like a Russian doll, with each tale fitting perfectly into the other and propelling the action forward. A compelling read that keeps you guessing until the very end.
HOW TO FAKE IT “It is really The Handmaid’s Tale comes of age, wouldn’t you agree?”
BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY (1996), HELEN FIELDING
WHY Why not?
WHAT TO KNOW Next to Jilly Cooper’s Riders, the best chick lit ever written, with laugh-out-loud lines and great insight into life as a “singleton” (as opposed to a “smug married”) in London. Told in diary form, the plot centres on Bridget’s rather unreliable love life and attempts to snare her very own Mr Darcy.
HOW TO FAKE IT “Without doubt, the most amusing homage to Pride and Prejudice ever written.”
CATCH-22 (1961), JOSEPH HELLER
WHY It’s among the best anti-war novels ever and a wild romp through the life’s absurdities. It presages the “We had to destroy the village in order to save it” mentality of the US military during the Vietnam War.
WHAT TO KNOW Major Major, Milo Minderbender, Captain Aardvark, General Dreedle, Corporal Popinjay – Heller’s clever names of his characters rival Dickens. “Catch-22” refers to the self-contradictory circular logic that, for example, prevents a pilot from avoiding combat missions.
HOW TO FAKE IT “It’s like Rashomon, with the same event told from different points of view and taking on different interpretations.”
THE DAY OF THE LOCUST (1939), NATHANAEL WEST
WHY Alienation and life outside the fringe in a quintessentially American setting provide the platform for a radical challenge to Modernist literature. The author’s storytelling skills lift a tale about Hollywood “types” into a captivating fable about ennui, weltschmertz and an eventual apocalypse.
WHAT TO KNOW The oddball characters make for delightful entertainment. And note well that one locust is no problem, but that a swarm destroys everything in sight.
HOW TO FAKE IT “Of course, you can’t overlook the fact that West was also writing about his marginalised role as a Jew in America.”
THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (1951), JOHN WYNDHAM
WHY One of the best and scariest science-fiction novels ever. Established John Wyndham as a writer.
WHAT TO KNOW A comet shower blinds most of the world’s population, leaving a few sighted people to reconstruct society while fighting mobile, flesh-eating plants called Triffids. Our hero is Bill Masen, who guides us through the post-apocalyptic world.
HOW TO FAKE IT “Of course with the central theme of the genetic modification of plants, this novel is even more relevant today.”
DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1942), JAMES M CAIN
WHY The journalist-turned-author Cain was every bit the storytelling artist and wordsmith that Raymond Chandler was in hardboiled crime fiction. Albert Camus admired his stark writing.
WHAT TO KNOW An insurance salesmen falls under the spell of a wayward wife and plots with her the perfect murder of her husband in 1930s Los Angeles. Cain captures the sun-baked setting that seems to leech the morality out of his characters. He also excels at plot twists and turns, racing to a gripping, otherworldly climax.
HOW TO FAKE IT “The ending is positively eerie, isn’t it? ‘The moon.’ And how telling that none other than Chandler wrote the screenplay to the film version.”
FLASHMAN (1969), GEORGE MACDONALD FRASER
WHY The most rambunctious, caddish, yellow, mean-spirited, libidinous hero in literature.
WHAT TO KNOW Based on a fictitious minor character in Thomas Hughes’s Tom Brown’s Schooldays, he romps through many of the familiar episodes of British history causing murder and mayhem, while emerging heroic and victorious, through no help of his own.
HOW TO FAKE IT “Sir Harry Paget Flashman VC KCB KCIE. Only three talents, languages, horse-riding and seducing women. Dashed handy attributes, what?”
FRANKENSTEIN (1818), MARY SHELLEY
WHY The book that spawned a hundred films – possibly the most famous Gothic science-fiction novel ever. Written by Mary Shelley, the wife of the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, on a trip to visit Lord Byron on Lake Geneva after rain confined them to the house.
WHAT TO KNOW The young and ambitious Victor Frankenstein, consumed by the desire to find the secret of life, creates a monster and is powerless to do anything as it destroys everything he holds most dear.
HOW TO FAKE IT “Of course it is all about the pursuit of dangerous knowledge.”
GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1861), CHARLES DICKENS
WHY This is Dickens at his best; who can ever forget the character of Miss Haversham, forever the seething bride, and Pip, who triumphs against all odds?
WHAT TO KNOW Written in the first person from the point of view of the orphan Pip, the novel charts the fortunes and misfortunes of the young man, from his humble beginnings and the eerie graveyard meeting with Magwitch to his love for the cruel and cold Estella and his subsequent self-improvement.
HOW TO FAKE IT “I prefer the original ending where Estella finally understands the meaning of love.”
THE GREAT GATSBY (1925), F SCOTT FITZGERALD
WHY It’s the definitive American novel, with its theme of class, longing, reinvention and unrequited love. The romantic excesses of the Jazz Age have never been more lyrically presented.
WHAT TO KNOW The autobiographical narrator Nick Carraway’s powers of observation and analysis, and his disdain for selfishness and boorishness, are spot-on gripping. The characters, even the minor ones, are fully developed and effortlessly visualised.
HOW TO FAKE IT “The eyes of Dr TJ Eckleburg are every bit as powerful a symbol as the green light at the end of the dock, aren’t they?”
IN COLD BLOOD (1966), TRUMAN CAPOTE
WHY If not the first it’s certainly the most famous “non-fiction novel”, and it broke historic “New Journalism” ground in that regard. The author took poetic licence to create his internal monologues and descriptive details, but that’s the whole point of the you-are-there genre.
WHAT TO KNOW It’s the true story of how two small-time criminals mercilessly slaughtered a farm family in the US Midwest – but also a compelling read-between-the-lines tale of their psychological conflict, and of a police investigator’s relentless pursuit of justice.
HOW TO FAKE IT “He couldn’t have done it without Harper Lee as his researcher, you realise. And he never wrote anything better, did he?”
JANE EYRE (1847), CHARLOTTE BRONTË
WHY Worth it just for the moody Mr Rochester, who is second only to Emily Brontë’s Healthcliff in the Byronic hero stakes.
WHAT TO KNOW The young orphan Jane is sent to live with her wicked aunt, then to the notorious Lowood School (based on a real school in Yorkshire the novelist sisters went to) that is even worse than her aunt’s home. Things improve once she gets a job as a governess at Thornfield Hall and meets the grumpy Mr Rochester. The rest, dear reader, is history…
HOW TO FAKE IT “This is the first feminist novel. When she wrote that ‘women feel just as men feel’ and talked about their need for intellectual stimulation and suffering from restraint, Charlotte Brontë opened up a whole new world.”
THE LEOPARD (1958), GIUESEPPE TOMASI DI LAMPEDUSA
WHY One of the finest Italian novels ever written, a haunting tale of decline and decay in Sicily at the time of the Risorgimento.
WHAT TO KNOW Di Lampedusa wrote only one book, published posthumously after being rejected by a number of publishing houses. Went on to be one of the most acclaimed and best-selling novels in Italian history.
HOW TO FAKE IT “As Tancredi says: ‘If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change’.”
LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES (1782), CHODERLOS DE LACLOS
WHY Seduction, revenge and malice – what else do you need in a book?
WHAT TO KNOW An epistolary novel that centres on the relationship between the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont and their use of sex to humiliate and avenge not only each other, but also those around them, with tragic consequences.
HOW TO FAKE IT “To quote the Vicomte de Valmont, ‘It is beyond my control’.”
THE LITTLE PRINCE (1943), ANTOINE de SAINT-EXUPERY
WHY One of the best-selling books ever, with over 200 million copies sold across the world.
WHAT TO KNOW While ostensibly a children’s book about a pilot crash-landing in the desert and meeting the little prince, the novella deals with many issues linked to human nature, such as the fact that adults tend to miss what is truly obvious, such as a boa constrictor eating an elephant, assuming instead that it is an everyday object such as a hat.
HOW TO FAKE IT “‘One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.'”
LOLITA (1955), VLADIMIR NABOKOV
WHY “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.”
WHAT TO KNOW Caused as big a scandal as James Joyce’s Ulysses three decades earlier.
HOW TO FAKE IT “Nabokov was a lepidopterist, you know.”
MADAME BOVARY (1856), GUSTAVE FLAUBERT
WHY One of the most influential novels ever.
WHAT TO KNOW Emma Bovary, a provincial doctor’s wife, lives beyond her means and has affairs to escape the banality of her life.
HOW TO FAKE IT “The French word bovarysme means a tendency to romanticise reality as a way of escaping the limitations of one’s own existence.”
THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA (1952), ERNEST HEMINGWAY
WHY While many would argue for the inclusion on this list of the author’s more complex A Farewell to Arms or The Sun Also Rises, this slim tale of Man versus Nature shows the power of his short sentences and strong nouns and verbs. It should be taught in every writing class.
WHAT TO KNOW Just try to find an adjective or an adverb in the novel’s 128 pages. The story moves along like a freight train. You can’t help but read it in one sitting, and be caught up by Santiago’s epic battle against the elements.
HOW TO FAKE IT “It’s Sisyphean, isn’t it, with the struggle doomed to failure but ultimately ennobling in and of itself?”
THE MASTER AND MARGARITA (1973), MIKHAIL BULGAKOV
WHY Surreal madness in Moscow, with the devil, a chess-playing black cat and the sexiest heroine in literature. Oh, and Pontius Pilate.
WHAT TO KNOW Bulgakov wrote this at the height of Stalin’s terror and it conveys the horror of totalitarianism – and how an artist can overcome it, with the help of a beautiful muse.
HOW TO FAKE IT “Remove the document – and you remove the man.”
MIDDLEMARCH (1871), GEORGE ELIOT
WHY According to Virginia Woolf it is a “magnificent book that, with all its imperfections, is one of the few English novels written for grown-up people”.
WHAT TO KNOW Too much to summarise here; it is a vast book, not only in size, but in its scope of themes, such as political reform, the status of women, the nature of marriage and religion, as well as its cast of characters.
HOW TO FAKE IT Be sure you don’t refer to the author as a “he”. George Eliot was a woman named Mary Ann Evans who wrote under a pseudonym because she wanted to be taken seriously in male-dominated Victorian England.
MRS DALLOWAY (1925), VIRGINIA WOOLF
WHY This is Virginia Woolf at her very best, the novel in which, many critics say, she found her writer’s voice and transformed the novel as an art form. No task (buying flowers, planning a party) was too menial for Woolf’s prose.
WHAT TO KNOW The external action all takes part on one day in June. But what’s really important is the internal action of the main characters, who struggle to come to terms with their own past, regrets and future in post-war Britain.
HOW TO FAKE IT “Septimus Smith really is Mrs Dalloway’s double, and to some extent, the author’s.”
MONEY (1984), MARTIN AMIS
WHY Amis Jr may be the most irritating little twerp in literature, but this is his finest hour, a tour de force of 1980s excess.
WHAT TO KNOW The novel was based partly on Amis’s experience working as a scriptwriter on the film Saturn 3. It anticipated the world’s obsession with money – and celebrity.
HOW TO FAKE IT “‘John Self? He was based on my brother. Or perhaps it was me.'”
THE NAME OF THE ROSE (1980), UMBERTO ECO
WHY Forget The Da Vinci Code, this is historical murder-mystery at its best. It sold 50 million copies worldwide and was made into a blockbuster film starring Sean Connery.
WHAT TO KNOW Set in a Benedictine monastery in Italy in 1327, the novel tells the story of a series of murders. Friar William of Baskerville efforts to uncover the culprit using semiotics, cunning and books.
HOW TO FAKE IT “I much prefer the original title, Il nome della rosa. Don’t you?”
1984 (1949), GEORGE ORWELL
WHY If only to know where the term Big Brother comes from. A classic novel in the social science-fiction genre, portraying the dangers of totalitarianism in all its forms, even if it’s a bit of a clunky tale.
WHAT TO KNOW Winston Smith, an intellectual, rebels against the party and also has the temerity to fall in love. Neither will be tolerated.
HOW TO FAKE IT “‘He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.'”
100 YEARS OF SOLITUDE (1967), GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ
WHY Mainly so you can say that you have. Sometimes it feels like it takes longer to read.
WHAT TO KNOW The novel has sold 20 million-plus copies. It centres on seven generations of one family and is told via different time frames.
HOW TO FAKE IT “Magic realism; it’s so captivating, don’t you think?”
PERSEPOLIS (2000), MARJANE SATRAPI
WHY Originally written in French, this is an autobiographical comic, describing Marjene’s childhood during and after the Islamic revolution in Iran. It is drawn in black and white, was an immediate hit on publication and was translated into several languages. A must-read, especially if you live in the region.
WHAT TO KNOW Subtitled The Story of a Childhood, the novel features Satrapi, who is nine years old when fundamentalist rebels overthrow the Shah. Her radical parents initially welcome the change, but they soon discover another kind of totalitarianism is taking over. Satrapi’s art is minimal and stark, almost understated, but always charming and humorous as it describes the madness around her. The drawings are almost more effective and powerful than her words.
HOW TO FAKE IT “She is a direct descendant of the last Emperor of Iran, which rather enhances the veracity.”
THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (1890), OSCAR WILDE
WHY This little Faustian Gothic horror gem is Wilde’s only published novel.
WHAT TO KNOW The beautiful young Dorian is painted by the artist Basil Hallward. Shortly afterwards, Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil’s, and becomes enthralled with his hedonistic philosophy and his view that beauty is all. Realising he will age, he jokingly says he will sell his soul to remain as beautiful as he is in the portrait.
HOW TO FAKE IT “Be careful what you wish for.”
THE PLAGUE, ALBERT CAMUS (1947)
WHY Even more than Camus’s The Stranger, it’s a seminal examination of the human condition of isolation, estrangement and longing in the 20th century – and of how the simple act of doing one’s duty can help man overcome such existential alienation.
WHAT TO KNOW The Plague is classically structured in five even parts. It is the story of a siege of plague in the town of Oran, Algeria, in the 1940s. Its mass deaths, petty bureaucracies and denial of and escape from horror – all the more powerful for the author’s use of irony and understatement – are metaphors for what occurred under Adolf Hitler.
HOW TO FAKE IT “It’s obvious from the beginning that Dr Rieux is the narrator, isn’t it?”
POSSESSION (1990), AS BYATT
WHY Won the Man Booker Prize in 1990. Part historical, part contemporary fiction, it uses a combination of diaries, letters, poems and third-person narrative to tell the story.
WHAT TO KNOW A literary love story from the past and present, centering on two academics who race to discover the truth about their literary obsessions.
HOW TO FAKE IT “This is surely the most faux-brow novel one has ever read.”
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1813), JANE AUSTEN
WHY If you haven’t read this already then please do not speak to us until you have.
WHAT TO KNOW OK, so we all know this is really 19th-century chick lit, but who cares? The dashing Darcy is there to be devoured. Even if you know what happens in the end, it is still a great read and beautifully written.
HOW TO FAKE IT “‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.'”
THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE (1961), MURIEL SPARK
WHY A small but gloriously rebellious and sexy novel that makes for compulsive reading. A Dead Poets Society of its era.
WHAT TO KNOW Miss Jean Brodie, a teacher in a girls’ school, believes that education is at its most effective in the Latin sense of the word, educere, to lead out.
HOW TO FAKE IT “Of course Miss Brodie is in part based on an old teacher of Muriel Spark’s called Christina Kay.”
THE QUIET AMERICAN (1955), GRAHAM GREENE
WHY Greene was the best English writer of his generation, and this is his finest hour. He anticipates the entanglement of America in Vietnam.
WHAT TO KNOW Draws on Greene’s experiences as a spy during World War II.
HOW TO FAKE IT “Saigon, Haiphong, and Hanoi, names as beautiful as Vietnamese women. I always read this book whenever I stay at the Continental in Saigon, as Greene did.”
REBECCA (1938), DAPHNE DU MAURIER
WHY Spooky and masterful, and that’s just the dashing hero.
WHAT TO KNOW “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” is the often-quoted first line. The house is almost a character in this gripping yarn.
HOW TO FAKE IT “She wrote most of the book while she was living in Egypt, you know.”
A ROOM WITH A VIEW (1908), EM FORSTER
WHY Florence, young love, the English countryside and society – what’s not to like?
WHAT TO KNOW The romantic story of the young Lucy Honeychurch and the social constraints that surround her, partly in the form of her irritating cousin Charlotte Bartlett.
HOW TO FAKE IT “It’s the sexually repressed English versus the liberated and carefree Italians.”
THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES (1998), ROBERTO BOLAÑO
WHY A rare talent wrestles South American literature from the iron vice of the magical realists.
WHAT TO KNOW A rough, bleak, funny and picaresque tale of two poets, Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano, in the 1970s.
HOW TO FAKE IT “We’re all visceral realists now.”
THE RED AND THE BLACK (1830), STENDAHL
WHY Could be called a French take on Great Expectations; but being French, the hero, Julien Sorel, is, of course, handsome, sensitive, romantic and troubled.
WHAT TO KNOW Julien tries to elevate himself from his poor family background and finds France’s strict social rules thwart him despite his intellect and personal charm.
HOW TO FAKE IT “If any novel can be called a precursor to the French Revolution, this is it.”
SCOOP (1938), EVELYN WAUGH
WHY One of the funniest novels ever written, as relevant a satire on the great British institution of tabloid journalism today as it was back then.
WHAT TO KNOW The story features the hapless William Boot, a war correspondent for a Fleet Street newspaper who is sent to a fictional African state where civil war is about to erupt.
HOW TO FAKE IT “Boot is modelled on Bill Deedes, whom Waugh met in Addis Ababa in 1936.”
SEASON OF MIGRATION TO THE NORTH (1966), TAYEB SALIH
WHY The classic post-colonial Sudanese novel. Sounds boring? Wrong. It’s brilliant.
WHAT TO KNOW The unnamed narrator tells a tale as dark as Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. There’s love, lust, death, despair and of course, the River Nile.
HOW TO FAKE IT “Based partly on Othello, it’s quite clear, although in this case she dropped the handkerchief deliberately.”
THE SIEGE OF KRISHNAPUR (1973), JG FARRELL
WHY The British overseers stiff-upper-lipping it under siege in India during the 1857 Rebellion are hilarious.
WHAT TO KNOW The Brits indulge all whims, then are forced to eat dogs, horses and beetles.
HOW TO FAKE IT “You’ve read the unfinished The Hill Station, haven’t you? Pity he went into the drink at such a young age, isn’t it?”
TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES (1891), THOMAS HARDY
WHY Quite apart from anything else, it is an absolutely ripping yarn; with love, seduction, betrayal, murder, revenge and just about everything else you need for a good read.
WHAT TO KNOW Once you know the subtitle, A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented, you understand everything. This is Hardy’s criticism of the double standards and notions of female purity in Victorian England.
HOW TO FAKE IT “The ‘I am ready’ quote from Tess is one of the most powerful quotes in literature, isn’t it?”
TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY (1974), JOHN LE CARRE
WHY Had to have a spy novel. Love the title.
WHAT TO KNOW A British agent tries to track down and expose a high-ranking Soviet mole within the British secret service.
HOW TO FAKE IT “Truth is stranger than fiction. You realise it’s based on the unmasking of the Cambridge Five traitors?”
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1960), HARPER LEE
WHY The Southern Gothic novel about a lawyer defending a black man falsely accused of rape is a classic of American literature.
WHAT TO KNOW It’s warm and humourous, deceptively well-written and full of characters who leap off the page and into your mind.
HOW TO FAKE IT “The Dill character was based on Truman Capote.”
UNDER THE VOLCANO (1947), MALCOLM LOWRY
WHY Suffering and self-destruction have never been more readable than in this novel about the last 24 hours of a former British consul in a small town in Mexico.
WHAT TO KNOW Ambitious, audacious, intellectual and inventive, this is by no means an easy read – but the concentration required will make the story all the more rewarding.
HOW TO FAKE IT “It’s pretty much a faithful retelling of the time Lowry spent in the American colony in Cuernavaca.”
WIDE SARGASSO SEA (1966), JEAN RHYS
WHY The best title ever.
WHAT TO KNOW A prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, it tells the story of the first Mrs Rochester, who is the madwoman in the attic of the Brontë novel. Here though, Antoinette Mason is a lively, vulnerable and real woman, not just some lunatic.
HOW TO FAKE IT “Such a great post-colonial novel.”
WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1846), EMILY BRONTË
WHY Passionate love, betrayal, lust and revenge intertwined with the cruel landscape and harsh climate of the north of England create one of the most memorable love stories ever written.
WHAT TO KNOW A Yorkshire spinster had the imagination to come up with one of the cruellest and most passionate novels of all time. A story that stays with you for life and makes you wonder if you have ever really been in love.
HOW TO FAKE IT “The question of whether Heathcliff is a hero or a villain is so last week. Clearly he is a hero.”