#AtoZofBooks: Some favourites from the past

Simon Thomas from Stuck in a Book threw down the gauntlet a few days ago when he started  the #AtoZofBooks series of Twitter messages, choosing an author for every letter of the alphabet.

Oh HI book twitter!

I’ve decided I’m going to share 26 brilliant books – an author for every letter of the alphabet. It’ll be a gradual thread. It’ll be fun.

Share your own #AToZofBooks!— Simon Thomas (@stuck_inabook) May 22, 2019

Who could resist that invitation to join him in his alphabet quest. Not me.

Over the last two days my Twitter feed has chirping merrily as I worked my way through the alphabet. I tried to select authors and books that have been my favourites though it got a bit tricky with some letters.

This is the result. Let me know if you agree/disagree or have an alternative


If it’s A it has to be AUSTEN? Definitely a favourite author but it’s rather too obvious. So I chose Margaret Atwood and Hag Seed. I don’t usually care for prequels/sequels/re-tellings of already famous books/plays but this was such a  brilliantly imaginative re-imagining of The Tempest that it deserves to be on my list.


My choice for B is a classic author that I’d not read until a few years ago.  Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac is  a hard hitting indictment of greed in Parisienne society and a masterclass in realism.  



Moving onto C we have a book that I read back in the day when I was so enthusiastic about the Booker Prize that I would rush to get the longlisted titles as soon as they were announced. Harvest by Jim Crace, is a book about man’s connection to the land that reads like poetry. It didn’t win the Booker Prize but it should have. 


Another letter with an obvious candidate and many options for the choice of book. This one isn’t my favourite (that place goes to Dombey and Son) but I still enjoyed  The Old Curiosity Shop (and no I didn’t cry over the demise of Little Nell).


I make no apologies for choosing George Eliot to represent the letter E. Middlemarch is my all time favourite. It’s a book I’ve read at least six times and have found something new to appreciate in it each time.



My choice for is one of the lesser known Booker prize winners:  J G Farrell  The Siege of Krishnapur has some dark humour but is also a disturbing story about the British in India whose rule is threatened with a native rebellion  


It would be remiss of me to choose anyone other than Graham Greene and my favourite novel of his: The Heart of the Matter. It’s a fascinating exploration of a crisis of conscience .  


After a clutch of classics and writers from the past, I thought it was time to highlight a more modern author. I’m selecting Emma Healey whose novel Elizabeth is Missing was a rare thing – a novel about an elderly person suffering from dementia that is written in a thoughtful manner while still being entertaining. 


Nordic Noir has been one of the big literary stories of recent years. It’s not a genre I read much. Some of the authors I’ve read been to my taste at all.  Arnaldur Indriðason is the exception because of his strong characterisation and atmospheric setting .


I couldn’t possibly do an A-Z of authors and not include at least one from Wales. I’m  choosing Cyan Jones and his novella Cove. One man alone in a kayak. His arm damaged by a storm. All he wants is to get back to the cove and to his partner. Will he succeed?


This brings me to one of the strangest books I’ve read in years: The  Vegetarian by the Korean author Han Kang.


Another Booker favourite: Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively.  It’s one those books where the protagonist is quite objectionable for much of the time but you still love the book.



It has to be Hilary Mantel. Bring Up the Bodies took historical biographical fiction into a whole new dimension Roll on March 2020 when the end of her trilogy about Thomas Cromwell is published. We’ve waited so long for this…..


Amelie Nothomb is an author I would not have discovered but for my former work colleagues in Belgium. Fear and Trembling is actually set in Japan and gives a great insight into the work culture in those big corporate companies. 


We’ve reached one of my top 3 Booker Prize winners: The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje is a beautifully paced tale of four people who are physically, emotionally and mentally damaged by war. https://bookertalk.com/2016/04/27/the-english-patient-by-michael-ondaatje/


I have Anne at Cafe Society to thank for introducing me to Louise Penny and her magical community of Three Pines in Quebec. Penny’s books featuring the head of homicide Armand Gamache is the only crime series I read. I’m choosing the first book I read (though it’s not the first in the series): The Beautiful Mystery.



I thought this letter would be a challenge. I’m not spoiled for choice so am going for an author from Ghana: Kwei Quartey . Fortunately his novel The Wife of the Gods was a good read and introduced me to some of the cultural practices of his country.


There are many Irish authors I’ve enjoyed but one of the more recent finds was Donal Ryan.   The Spinning Heart is a beautifully constructed novel of connected tales about people in one community that is hit by the collapse of the Irish economy.


My choice for S demonstrates the influence of book clubs and podcasts on my reading habits. I tried John Steinbeck as an adolescent but couldn’t get into Grapes of Wrath or East of Eden. It wasn’t until a book club chose Of Mice and Men that I found something of his I enjoyed. My favourite so far however is Cannery Row, that I heard discussed in a Radio 4 book podcast. https://bookertalk.com/2014/08/27/cannery-row-by-john-steinbeck-2/


We’re moving to Canada for my next choice: Madeleine Thien.  Do Not Say We Have Nothing takes us to China and the effect of the Cultural Revolution on musicians. It’s a good companion to Wild Swans by Jung Chang.   


Sacred hunger-1

I’ve read only one author whose surname begins with U, Barry Unsworth.  His novel Sacred Hunger tackles the slave trade and the way it brought out the worst in men.  


There are just two authors I’ve read whose surnames begin with V. Neither was particularly enjoyable but Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 was at least well written which is more than can be said for Sally Vickers’ The Cleaner of Chartres 


My choice for W is the author I’ve only just finished reading: The Salt Path by Raynor Winn. This is a moving account of a couple who lose their home and their business and then get a bleak health diagnosis. What do they do – they walk 600miles of the British coast and camp in the wild.


I thought I’d have to miss this one but then remembered I had read the Chinese author and broadcaster Xinran. I wish I could be more positive about her book The Good Women of China which is a non fiction account of the problems faced by women in that country including sexual abuse and forced marriages whttps://bookertalk.com/2017/07/18/chinese-women-book-review/


Looking at my review archive I seem to have a few Japanese authors that could fit this letter. I’m choosing Banana Yoshimoto whose novella Goodbye Tsugumi is a moving tale about an enduring friendship between two girls. 


There is no contest for which author to select for this letter. It has to be Zola. Only question is really which novel? After much internal debate I’m choosing Germinal. I know it’s one of his best known works but it was the first of his I read.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

8 thoughts on “#AtoZofBooks: Some favourites from the past

  • May 27, 2019 at 9:36 pm

    Well done! I would definitely have stumbled at X and Q. And for J would have gone Irish – Joyce, rather than Welsh.

    • May 27, 2019 at 10:14 pm

      He’s not one of my favourites. Supremely innovative of course but I find him too challenging to be enjoyable

  • May 26, 2019 at 4:09 am

    I enjoyed following your tweets about this!

    • May 27, 2019 at 10:12 pm

      Thanks Judy. It was great fun to do if rather challenging with one or two letters

  • May 25, 2019 at 11:58 pm

    I love this idea and might attempt my own list (which will also feature Xinran, but a different book). My struggle will be for the letter Q…

    • May 27, 2019 at 10:11 pm

      It was good fun to look back on past reviews and remind myself about books I enjoyed

  • May 25, 2019 at 5:43 pm

    Interesting list! (and I agree with several of your choices, although I could never do a list myself as I would keep changing my mind….)

    • May 27, 2019 at 10:10 pm

      I’ve already changed my mind about some of those choices….


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