Top Ten Tuesday: Things That Make Me Instantly Want to Read a Book

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Previous Top Ten Tuesday Topics

This is an interesting topic: I read so widely and eclectically (I think) that sometimes it’s hard to discern a pattern in my reading habits. And sometimes when I feel that there is a pattern, I consciously choose to read outside the pattern!

Genres? I like to think I read widely through all sorts of genres. Yes, of course I have some preferred ones – fantasy, crime, historical – but I also choose to read in those genres that I am less familiar with, so science fiction, espionage and romance have come to the fore.

Nor do I limit myself to genre fiction, anyway: I like to read the longlists of various book prizes – the Costa prize (until its recent demise, now apparently replaced by a Cafe Nero prize and who can disagree that a good coffee and a good book go together perfectly), the Women’s Prize, the Booker Prize, the Carnegie Medal – and they keep me abreast of some of the best writing in a range of genres, including the amorphous and nebulous creature, the literary genre.

Age? Whilst I try to read contemporary writers, I also adore the classics… we are reading poetry at school at the moment and introducing children to Paradise Lost and The Canterbury Tales and I am having to restrain my excitement at reading these… and my frustrations that we are only touching on the surface of both. One of my favourite stories? Gawaine and the Green Knight from the 1300s.

Target audience? I happily read adult, young adult, middle grade books. One of the series I am most looking forward to picking up with my daughter at the Murder Most Unladylike novels.

Covers? I’m not sure I could identify what draws me in on a cover. Most of my reading is on my kindle and digital, where the cover design loses its colour and its impact significantly. I do feel jealous of those beautiful bookshelves and Bookstagram posts with physical books, but the kindle works best for me.

But there are certainly some authors who draw me. So lets start there – and apologies if this list feels rather similar to others I have done recently: many of these “auto-buy” authors are authors of the booksI most often recommend too.

Auto-Buy Authors

Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson has never put a foot wrong for me: whether it be the wonderfully ironic and darkly comical Jackson Brodie, or her stand alone novels, Shrines of Gaiety exploring the interwar years, or the wonderful Transcription in the cold war era.

Kate Atkinson does wonderful things with dialogue and with characters and whilst her novels explore really thoughtful themes, her depiction of the history and the ideas that the novels are full of is so deft and light, and her erudition is worn to delicately they are a real pleasure to read.

Eleanor Catton

Eleanor Catton came onto my radar with the Booker Prize winning The Luminaries, a book that had an intellectual and a physical heft to it: it was a massive beast of a book – and also wonderful, tragic, humorous and humane. Rich with symbolism that I am sure I did not fully understand, the novel blew me away. And prompted me to pick up her previous book – and debut – The Rehearsal. I adored her characterisation of the saxophone teacher and found her wonderful, compelling, tragic and increasingly disturbing as the novel progresses. It is rich with comedy, sensuality and yearning, with the intensity of relationship and desire.

If her most recent novel, Birnam Wood, was less immediately gripping and suffered from a lot of heavy exposition, it still showcased Catton’s power to create compelling character and relationships. And as with her previous novels, those relationships are deeply troubled.

Max Porter

Max Porter’s novels are slim, poetic, wonderful masterpieces.I first stumbles across him with his debut, the searing Grief is the Thing With Feathers which is an exceptional study of grief – brutal, honest, challenging and uplifting. Lanny a few years later was a wonderful, folkloric, lyrical exploration of the English countryside and village – something reminiscent of Alan Garner’s Treacle Walker perhaps. And I have, literally in the last few days, bought his latest, Shy, the “story of a few strange hours in the life of a troubled teenage boy“.

Tana French

I’ve written so often about Tana French! She writes the fantastic Dublin Murder Squad series where our point of view changes from book to book within the murder squad so that a secondary character in book on becomes a point of view character in book 2. It avoids the staleness we sometimes might feel with ongoing series, but retains the palpable sense of Ireland and of Dublin – and is a series shot through with both great humour and a dark gothic streak, French excels at two aspects of the crime genre for me: the interview scenes are exceptional and her dialogue is exquisite; and her depiction of intense relationships, whether that be between the detectives of the suspects, is sublime. And alongside the Dublin Murder Squad series, we have had stand alones in both The Wych Elm and The Searcher.

Akwaeke Emezi

Emezi is an extraordinary writer who seems to have experimented with practically every genre available to her… and written genuinely outstanding novels in each of them. They have not put a foot wrong! From the Igbo mythology of their powerfully honest partially autobiographical Frashwater, to the YA Pet exploring the monstrous and monsters in our communities; from the contemporary literary novel, and heart breaking The Death of Vivek Oji to the wonderfully entitled romantic novel (which I have still to read) You Made A Fool of Death with Your Beauty.

And do I hear that they have a new novel planned called Son of the Morning which is nothing if not intriguing and highly ambitious from the summary “Black Southern Gothic speculative romance, weaves together folklore and magic with Black-centered fantasy, about a woman raised by a clan of women in the American South and struggling with her new feelings for none other than Lucifer himself.” Wow! Roll on 2025!

Erin Morgenstern

Morgenstern’s The Night Circus was all over social media at one point and simply for that reason I probably avoided it a little bit, but once I did pick it up it was a sheer and unadulterated joy! Whether it be Celia and Marco’s characterisation and their developing relationship, the dreamy atmosphere of Le Cirque des Rêves, the magic that she geenerates, Morgenstern did not put a foot wrong with it.

Her follow-up was equally astounding if very different, taking us from the black and white Victoriana of The Night Circus to modern day America, university courses on gaming, and hidden mythical libraries beneath or between or behind the ‘real’ world where every story every conceived, thought, said or recorded reside… Whilst the introduction to the library did recreate in some way the same dreamy atmosphere, the novel became darker and deeper as Zachary delves into the library’s deepest, oldest layers. Rich with imagery, Morgenstern’s writing is a real pleasure.

Susanna Clark

Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell crept into my consciousness about the same time as Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and there are clear similarities: an alternate historical setting in which real magic lives and breathes, in a way that feels credible and organic, vivid and compelling characters…

Clarke’s novel, however, felt deeply embedded in something mythical and strangely folkloric: the Puckish gentleman with the thistledown hair, the mythical John Uskglass seem to connect to something deeply English somehow… and Piranesi was something else: an entire world, a pocket universe, contained in a sprawling House, and our narrator’s efforts to understand, commune with and almost incidentally to escape from that House and the malign influence of the Other, his only friend there. A book that chimed perhaps with lockdown experiences as we all became trapped in our houses.

T. J. Klune

T. J. Klune was an author I came across during lockdown and via social media. He is not perhaps an author whom I would naturally have read and I came to him for the fantasy of The House in the Cerulean Sea, but I stayed with him for the male-male romance, for the found families, for the incredibly touching ways in which he creates characters who are so different to us – phoenixes gnomes, the satanic, Death and its ferrymen – and yet also so deeply and touchingly human.

One aspect of his novels which is also sometimes perhaps overlooked is the fantastic, biting comedy he brings to his depiction of the tiresome, the mundane, the ordinary lives of those who have yet to enter his magical places. The administratively labyrinthine Department for Magical Youth, Wallace’s hard heartedness before his death were all deliciously and delightfully funny,

Francis Hardinge

Frances Hardinge is an absolute gem of a writer – the self-confessed writer of “weird” stories, I adored the novels Cuckoo Song and The Lie Tree and A Skinful of Shadows – novels that are all set in very specific and pivotal historical moments: the post war years, Victorian England, the English Civil War… but behind these historical moments is a folkloric, fairytale world of otherness, of fairies and the Underbelly of the world, of trees who consume your lies and whose fruit reveals truths, of children who can absorb the ghosts of the dead. Personally, these three novels are exceptional and, whilst I enjoyed Hardinge’s more high fantasy writing as well, the historical grounding really brought these to life. But The Unraveller, Hardinge’s most recent, is a high fantasy novel set in its own unique world of curses, or dark fairytale woods, of sinister forces weaponising others’ grief and pain and it was exceptional.

Hardinge may be marketed at the young adult shelves, but her books are simply wonderful for any reader.

Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers was another discovery during lockdown for me, along with T. J. Klune and Casey McQuiston. Her Wayfarers series, The Long Way to a Small Angy Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit and its sequels, and her Monk and Robot series that begins with A Psalm for the Wild Built are wonderful, humane, thoughtful and delicate explorations of what it means to be human, to have identity, to know yourself. They are a long way from the phasers and adventure that you might expect in a space opera (although there are a few of those tropes in the Wayfarers), but instead revolve around found families, the importance of human connection and love – the different ways in which it is possible to be a person, regardless of the species or form that personhood takes.

Brandon Sanderson

Prolific describes Sanderson – incredibly prolific, mind blowingly prolific. I have to be honest, that whilst his books are well crafted and plotted and his magical systems within the Cosmere and beyond are unique, intricate and complex, there is perhaps less depth to his books than other authors on the list.

What he does offer, consistently and reliably, is good fun, escapism, entertainment. And there’s nothing wrong with that! I first came across him through the Mistborn series, but I’ve also enjoyed the Stormlight Archive, the Skyward series and am looking forward to Tress of the Emerald Sea.

So considering that selection, what sort of phrases am I using time and again? Are these the features that make me want to buy a book? Perhaps if we look at a wordcloud…

  • Character and Relationship– absolutely, the reason I rave about books and writers is often for the characters and their relationships
  • World – yes, credible and rich world building, those are critical
  • Magic – surprised to see I’ve used that so often, but there are a number of fantasy novels here so…
  • Folklore and Mythic– absolutely, those novels that feel folkloric or mythic have always been ones I have been drawn to.
  • Human – books that explore what it is to be human, or perhaps to be a person whether we identify that as a human person or otherwise. Yes, I absolutely agree.
  • Grief and Death – this sounds rather dark, and even where my reading does touch on those, it is often done with humour or with deep compassion – and with another word from the list, honesty.
  • English – feels uncomfortable but I am in fact English and exploring what that means – which is not at all uncomplicated with our history – seems valid. There are other settings that I have always been drawn to as well: West Africa, particularly Nigeria and the Caribbean – areas that were horrifically affected, blighted by European imperial ambition and the horrors of the slave trade.
  • Pleasure – of course, it is critical to any reading that it is a pleasure, isn’t it?

Upcoming Top Ten Tuesday Themes

May 30: Things That Make Me Instantly NOT Want to Read a Book (what are your immediate turn-offs or dealbreakers when it comes to books?)
June 6: Books or Covers that Feel/Look Like Summer (You can interpret this in a number of ways. Maybe the covers or titles are obviously summer themed, but maybe the feeling the book gives you is all warm and summery. Maybe the book cover colors look summery or the story itself takes place in the summertime. Or maybe the titles you select are favorites that you re-read every summer when you were on break from school.)
June 13: Bookish Wishes (I host this topic twice a year (around Christmas and again in June), and people love it! List the top 10 books you’d love to own and include a link to your wishlist so that people can grant your wish. Make sure you link your wishlist to your mailing address [here’s how to do it on Amazon] or include the email address associated with your ereader in the list description so people know how to get the book to you. After you post, jump around the Linky and grant a wish or two if you’d like. Please don’t feel obligated to send anything to anyone!)
June 20: Books on My Summer 2023 to-Read List
June 27: Most Anticipated Books Releasing During the Second Half of 2023
July 4: Book Covers In the Colors of My Country’s Flag (It’s the 4th of July in the USA today, so tell us what country you live in and share book covers that match the colors of your country’s flag!)

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