My Top 10 Books



10 books that will always be on my shelf – these have all had a huge effect on me in how I think, live my life and appreciate things.

It was so hard to cull all of the possible choices down to 10 – but also fun. I had to be brutal and make hard choices.

So here goes in no particular order –

I studied this for A level English Literature and was my favourite

The Mayor Of Casterbridge

Love it for it’s fatalistic warnings of bad behaviour and the repercussions thereof plus it’s lush and tangible descriptions of the old English countryside and way of life



Love it as it encapsulates the microcosm of life in a small New England coastal town in the 70’s – the era in which I grew up – and all the drama of a town pitted against a monster shark.

My dad took me to see Jaws in 1977 and I couldn’t get in the bath for fear of sharks for weeks afterwards.


Future Shock

Love it for the way Toffler warns of humans living beyond their adaptive range due to the onset of technology in out daily lives. Written in the 70’s but as relevant today as it was then.


Harvest Home

Love it for the painterly way the author expresses life in a rural New England hamlet and the unfolding descent into a grisly tale of ritual horror.  The main character is a painter and when I first read this I aspired to be a full time artist too.


The Artist Spirit

Love it for it’s ability each time I read it to give me huge impetus in my creative work. Robert Henri is like a friendly art life coach to encourage you to indulge in whatever hunches attract you and to go with your GUT! A cult classic for all artists.

The Uses of Enchantment

Love it for Bettelheim’s laser sharp analysis of the mind of a child and the huge significance of fairy and folktales in their emotional development. A wonderful case put for reasons to read to young children at every opportunity to share this rich and safe form that allows them to explore their inner selves in the safety of a far removed tale.


Cider With Rosie

Love it for Lee’s poetic portrayal of a tiny Cotswold village and its life and people before the advent of steam or the motorcar. He cradles us in the reassuring descriptions of a life lived close to nature and at a more human pace.

I bought this particular copy from the amazing Elephant Bookstore in Barcelona while I was there for a year teaching English. I used to love escaping there amongst the shelves and aisles of English books in the heart of Catalonia and having tea and cake.

Three Men in a Boat

Love it for its hilarious account of 3 men taking leave of their strenuous city lives and embarking on a leisurely break on a river boat. It features a Jack Russell (always a plus!) and the tone of the author as he dryly describes human characteristics makes me laugh out loud.


The Case for Working with the Hands

Love it for the way the author puts into words what I feel about technology and its oftentimes damaging effect on quality of live and how we live and operate as humans. A must read for anyone who wants to find a balance between being master of one’s stuff or being overwhelmed by it and materialism.

The books also discusses the value of skilled manual crafts such as woodworking and mechanics as ways to connect in reality to the material world and do excellent work – always as the result of deep attention and understanding of one’s craft. He suggests that as technology works its way ever further into our daily lives that humans are getting less and less opportunity to use their brains – I couldn’t agree more.


The Witches of Eastwick

Love it for the brilliantly portrayed small town life in a Rhode Island harbour town. Updike studied art and you can tell – his descriptive passages are so rich and tangible that you can taste them!

I enjoyed reading about the potent creativity of 3 women who in their own way were artists of music, words and clay – and the effect of a stranger on their lives…be careful what you wish for!

Do you have a top 10 of books you would like to share? If so please do so in the comments box below!




10 thoughts on “My Top 10 Books

  1. My list of favorite books would change frequently, but How Green Was My Valley, which I first read in high school in the United States, would always be on it. (I’ve never seen the movie and don’t want to.) This book, evocative and tender, made my heart sing, and it made me cry, and it awakened in me an interest in Wales that has only grown and mellowed over the decades as I have learned more about the country. And it was one of the stepping-stones that led me to your art, Alison!

    1. Hi Jennie – no – you don’t want to see th efilm. It is way too sad and I was upset for weeks when I saw it as a 10 year old. My mother’s side of the family were all miners and my grampa was underground from age 14 to 60 and got buried alive on 2 occasions but survived, He lay in a seam of coal no more than 2.5 feet high all day – hacking away sideways. I cannot imagine how horrible and scary that must have been. I love where I live – it’s a small terraced house in an old mining village (the pit shut after 100 years of operation in 1988) and now it is quite a depressed area. But the walks are lovely with farmland and hills, woods all around. Where in the US are you?

  2. Hi Alison,
    I’m a painter too and have been watching your work and am interested in your story. Here are my top ten books. I’ll skip most of the reasons why I love them. All on my bookshelf!
    1. Pride and Prejudice (with or without Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle!)
    2. Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency by John Seymour (If I had an acre I’d have a cow…)
    3. Anything by Alexander McCall Smith especially No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series
    4. The Herb of Grace by Elizabeth Goudge and everything else she wrote. Underrated author.
    5. Jennings and Darbyshire by Anthony Buckeridge. Far better than JK Rowling, who copied him.
    6. Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. Essential young adult reading.
    7. The Bible. Don’t claim to have read it all, but there are lots of good bits.
    8. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome. The funniest book ever.
    9. The Forsyte Sage by John Galsworthy. The saddest love story I know.
    10. Big Brush Watercolour by Ron Ranson. Got me started in watercolour decades ago.
    There we are. Hope you are interested in following up a few of these too! Take care!
    Diane J Norman

    1. Hi Diane – lovely to connect with a fellow painter and wow – what a few blasts from the past your list contains! I read a lot of Goudge under the recommendation of my high school RE teacher and found them very calming and ethereal. I too love the Forsyte Saga – totally engaging. The self-sufficiency title has piqued my interest so I may get that and glad to see you love the 3 men too!

      1. Hi Alison,
        Maybe there’s something about the independent painterly spirit that draws us towards certain books – and I’m pleased to see that my daughter and I aren’t the only people who have enjoyed Elizabeth Goudge ! I have a little bit of land around my house in France where I live nowadays, so that’s why I have John Seymour’s book on my coffee table. I’ll never, ever reach his heights of self sufficiency, but it’s fun to read about occasionally, and I do grow a few soft fruits and vegetables (with a lot of help from my Workawayers!)
        I came across you and your work a few years ago and have seen you grow! I want to say I admire what you have achieved with your paintings and marketing them as prints. I know how much work goes into becoming known online, and you have done a very good job of it. And although I have a small business selling my paintings too, I devote nothing like the amount of time in terms of online marketing which it needs in order to become a real success. I also don’t really have the knowledge of how to do it. But I enjoy painting almost every day!
        Do you have a Facebook page? I’d be interested to link up with you via that if you liked.
        Happy Sunday, and take care,

      2. How lovely to live in France Diane – whereabouts are you? I worked in Charente and the Dordogne plus I lived in Alsace-Lorraine for a year. I am flattered that you see an improvement in my work – thank you fo rthat. Do you have a weblink to your gallery? I would love to see it. As for marketing – well I am just feeling my way as I know nothing either. I just follow what I see others doing and the selling tips from Etsy. Google articles help too but I find putting my work on Pinterest gets a lot of traffic to my shop. I came off Facebook as I found it way too time-consuming and distracting but I am on here every day. Speak soon – Alison

  3. A pleasure to be of help Alison! and thanks for accepting my cheats! If you hadn’t put 3 Men in a Boat on your list, I would have put it on mine, it has one of the funniest opening chapters in the English language. I lived for over 20 years in the same village as Jerome Klapka(!) Jerome (Ewelme, Oxfordshire, but not at the same time as him!) and he is buried in the churchyard there. I also had a boat on the nearby Thames and have a copy of the book signed by myself and my two brothers when on my boat…hence we were also 3 Men etc etc! Small world.

    1. I totally agree – that book always brings me up with its wit and hilarity – my favourite line has to be the one where they manage to “land (the dog) with the frying pan!” I didn’t know what the “K” stood for so thanks and that is interesting that you lived and boated there.

  4. Alison, You set an impossible but intriguing task, but here goes, like yours my list is in no particular order.
    Obviously, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, 220 years old and still one of the best books in the English language. Who doesn’t fall in love with Lizzie Bennett (or Mr Darcy, depending upon your taste)
    Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy, the best books written about the second world war. (If this is disallowed by the referee as it is 3 books. then substitute Brideshead Revisited, like P&P above, shares top billing as a TV adaptation. Superb writing, characterisation and storytelling.

    Another cheat, the Collected Short Stories of Thomas Hardy, timeless classics, as relevant today as when they were (beautifully) written. Transports you back to a time of rural simplicity.

    Perfume, by Patrick Suskind, a deeply disturbing tale of a feral child who becomes the world’s greatest perfume ‘Nose’ in France. Fabulous period descriptions and storytelling of murder,excess, violence, and decline. Unputdownable.
    A Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde, a semi autobiographical story also of excess and decline, I read this in one session and missed two meals!

    Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (I’m clearly addicted to continental stories of excess debauchery and decline!) Caused a sensation in France, banned, Author tried in court etc etc, the Lady Chatterley of its day, but so much better written (so I’m told!)

    L’Oevre (The Masterpiece as it’s often called) by Emile Zola, more continental madness and decline, this time of an obsessive Artist. What other kind is there? An exhausting masterpiece in itself. Will leave you stunned and reeling. Zola was always controversial, was a national hero in France, and eventually murdered for his outspoken beliefs.

    Let’s lighten up a bit, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin by David Nobbs who sadly died last year. One of the funniest books ever written, which last time I read it, helped me through 8 hours of waiting in a hospital waiting room for an operation.Reggie would have approved! I sent a note to the author afterwards in appreciation, and I treasure his reply. Only two books to go now.

    Ernst Hemingway wrote some of the best stories since Dickens, and under duress, I have to choose For Whom The Bell Tolls, a gripping tale of war in Spain building on some of the author’s personal experience of being an ambulance driver in World War 1. My copy is tear stained on the last few pages.

    And Finally….Under Milk Wood…A Play for Voices (and best read out loud). I spent my formative College years around Cwmdonkin Park near to Dylan’s birthplace, and have done large pieces of the ‘Thomas Trail’ following his haunts around Wales, London, and New York, and am boastful enough to admit I own an author signed copy of one of his books of Poetry from when he lived near Oxford.
    I look forward to seeing other people’s lists, and no Alison, you cannot borrow all of the books on my list!

    1. Wonderful Graham! I am glad this post inspired you to whittle down your 10 faves and yes – the adjudicator says we can accept the 3 in 1 item! I am going to read some of your recommendations and isn’t it funny how common themes for fave books are evident. After I had done mine I realised that yes – I am obsessed with small town New England and life before technology! I am very, very worried about your personal magnets but am sure that allotment work will stave off and counteract their effect:) I now have Chuckling Goat safe and sound ready to return to you and the kefir is having a marvellous effect on my mum, my friend Anne (now ordering a second course) and me! So thank you very much for lending it to me.

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