Some people are list people and some are not, I dare to put out there. By list people, I mean there are some, such as my husband, Neil, who will enthusiastically and sometimes rather annoyingly start a conversation around the dinner table, the pub table or just the plain old kitchen table with, “What are your top ten books of all time?”
Often amongst the favourites on these occasions are the time-tested classics, like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, by Harper Lee; anything by the Brontë sisters or Boris Pasternak; Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ (a favourite of mine); ‘The Goldfinch’, by Donna Tartt; or ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’, by John Kennedy Toole.
However, settling on an ultimate list is always a challenge, and for me, my list changes over time. So to get us going, here are Neil’s top five favourite reads of all time.
‘The Moon’s a Balloon’, an autobiography, charts the life of David Niven, English actor and Hollywood star of the Golden Age of film. Niven tells the story of his traumatic childhood and school days from the safe distance of age, reflecting on the past with that blend of unique humour and cheekiness that landed him his first part in Hollywood against the odds. He hung out with all the greats, Lauren Bacall and Elizabeth Taylor amongst them. The book is laugh out loud at times and is the perfect antidote during Covid.
‘Foundation’, by Isaac Asimov, is probably the best science-fiction ever written, and the least known – although Apple TV are currently making a series of the seven books in Troy studios in Limerick. Mankind has colonised the galaxy way into the future and is ruled by an Emperor on the planet of Trantor. The galaxy is deemed to be in a state of decay. Mathematician and psychohistorian Hari Seldon has been tasked with setting up a foundation to reverse this decline. The reader is taken on an epic journey into the future of mankind and the galaxy.
‘Persian Fire’, by Tom Holland, captures the historic story from 480BC when the troublesome Greeks challenged the might of the Persian Empire. One day, the King of Persia asks a courtier “Tell me who are the Spartans?” Soon he regrets having ever heard their mention. This is about the struggle for Greece and for democracy, an epic story told in a way that anyone can read.
‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’, by Laurie Lee, tells the story of a young man from England in the 1930s who leaves his home to walk to London and board a boat to Spain, not knowing if he will ever come back. He travels the length of Spain by foot, with just a fiddle and desire for adventure. He tells of the poverty, corruption and woes of a feudal system just about to implode before the Spanish Civil War. The book is history, travel and memoir all in one, and is told in the beautiful and lyrical style of Laurie Lee.
‘Solar Bones’, by Mike McCormack, is set in the village of Louisburgh, where we live. It tells the story of Marcus Conway, a council engineer, who returns from the dead on All Soul’s Day to reveal, over the course of that one day, his life’s experience. It is a story with no full stops or chapters, a story where nothing happens, yet everything happens.
With the last year having truly been a social desert, I think it is time we all started back on our top ten lists, to have them ready for the day when we can have those gloriously annoying conversations around a dinner table once more.
Bríd Conroy and her husband Neil Paul run Tertulia – A Bookshop Like No Other at The Quay, Westport.