Best books 2018: The best classic books to read this year
1 March marks the official World Book Day, a day designed to encourage more people – especially children – to get into reading, and an event which parents dread as they have to come up with costumes to send their little ones to school in.
In the spirit of getting more people reading, or at least expanding their book list, we’ve selected a handful of our favourite books to inspire you.
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Alphr book recommendations
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson
Alan Martin: Deputy Editor, Alphr
Remember when Twitter was a force for good? If somebody did something wrong, the whole world could tell them why in no uncertain times. Nuance be damned – justice was instant, succinct and brutal.
But while you could see that as a good thing for punching up at those using their status to spread poison (the earliest Twitterstorm I can remember involved a homophobic opinion piece), it became a careless addiction. Jon Ronson’s book explores the consequences of social media’s thirst for justice on ordinary people, flattened by the force of social media judgement. Surprisingly often, lives are destroyed over simple 140 character mistakes – and Ronson meets the men and women behind the social media bogeymen.
Before social media, most people were powerless. Now we have power in numbers, but no sense of proportion. It’s a thought provoking read that will make you think twice before joining a future internet pile-on.
Something Happened – Joseph Heller
Vaughn Highfield, Senior Staff Writer, Alphr
Joseph Heller may be better known for Catch 22, but his second novel Something Happened captured my heart on the first read. Having stumbled upon it completely by chance, and having not particularly enjoyed Catch 22, I decided to give Heller a second chance.
Written from the viewpoint of middle-American businessman Bob Slocum, Heller takes us on an amusing stream of consciousness journey about Bob’s life. He talks about his family, his job, his childhood, his sex life and his own psyche. It’s a journey that seems to trundle on and, more often than not, you’ll see a lot of yourself in Bob and his view on 1960s life.
I can also guarantee that you’ll finish your first read without even realising when that something happened.
Nocilla Dream by Agustín Fernández Mallo
Thomas McMullan, Features Editor, Alphr
A number of critics have compared the act of reading Agustín Fernández Mallo’s brilliant Nocilla Dream to having multiple browser tabs open at the same time. The action here dances between Las Vegas, Singapore International Airport, and a handful of other locations and characters – all branching from a central image of a poplar tree in the Nevada Desert, covered in shoes.
Spliced between glimpses into characters’ lives are quotes and passages from other sources, and it’s never really clear how much of this is authentic and how much has been fabricated by the author. The lines between fiction and non-fiction are hazy borders, broken into a murmur of short, elliptical but frequently hilarious chapters. Fans of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return will find a lot to love here, as will readers of Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar.
The Box Man by Kōbō Abe
Thomas McMullan, Features Editor, Alphr
I could pick any number of the handful of wonderful novels and plays written by Japanese writer Kōbō Abe, from the erotic nightmare of The Woman in the Dune to the postmodern detective story The Ruined Map. I’ve opted for The Box Man as it seems particularly pertinent for our society of personalised screens.
Abe’s novel, written in 1973, follows a nameless man who decides to give up his identity to live in a large cardboard box: “A cardboard box that reaches just to my hips when I put it on over my head.” He wanders the streets of Tokyo, watching the world through a slit in his container. It is a surreal, seductive fable, both about modern society and how we construct our own identity.
Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
Sasha Muller, Senior Editor, Alphr and Expert Reviews
Bulgakov weaves a supernatural, multi-layered tale as Satan and a cast of followers cause havoc in 1930s Moscow. Stunningly inventive, and shot through with the most deliciously biting satire, this is one of those novels I keep coming back to again and again.
The King’s English – Kingsley Amis
Tim Gee, Senior Content Strategist
While your average style guide is dryer than the bottom of a sandal after a long walk through a desert to a cream cracker-eating competition, this guide to writing is so wonderfully written you’ll almost forget you’re essentially reading a dictionary.
What is most impressive about this “Guide to modern usage” is how relevant it still is; despite being written by a 75-year-old and published posthumously 20 years ago. He is as anti-pretension as anyone and no matter your level of writing you will learn something – if nothing more than that this kind of guide can actually be interesting to read.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari
Abby Beall, freelancer
You could be forgiven for thinking of our species as the only humans that matter; of course, we are the only human species on the planet now. But it wasn’t always like this. Humans have been around for over 2 million years – if that time were a 90-minute football match our 150,000-year existence would only take up the last five minutes of play.
In Sapiens, Harari explores what led us to be who we are now through a unique combination of history and biology. He answers the questions of what happened to the other species of humans, why we dominate the world today, and what one-day might happen to our species.
The book will give you a completely new perspective on the rise of Homo sapiens, and our impact on other species.
The Witches – Roald Dahl
Victoria Woollaston, Group Editorial Director, Alphr and Expert Reviews
I grew up reading anything and everything by Roald Dahl. The dark tone he brought to children’s books went by unnoticed as a child but now, as I attempt to pass on the legacy by reading them to my seven-year-old step-son, I realise how much the subtleties of Dahl’s writing style influenced me. Not only how I write and what I now enjoy reading, but also my humour and outlook on life.
To choose a favourite is difficult, so I’ve narrowed it down to The Witches or The Twits. The former probably takes a marginal lead as I’ve read it countless times and have stayed in the hotel featured in the film adaptation, but both take me back to being a child full of wonder, and fear!
If this is a Man – Primo Levi
Jon Bray, Reviews Editor, Alphr and Expert Reviews
It may not be the cheeriest of subjects, and it might seem out of place in a “favourite books” list, but Primo Levi’s account of his time as a prisoner at Auschwitz during World War II is the book that has had the most impact on me.
Written with immense humanity and humility, Levi’s at-times matter-of-fact recounting of his 11-month incarceration at the hands of the Nazi regime is as uplifting as it is depressing. It’s a retelling that’s simultaneously harrowing and queerly quotidian, and it leaves a lasting impression.
If This is a Man is not particularly political or strident in tone, but it strikes at the subject with clarity and honesty. A ring of the bell on a cold, misty morning. It’s a book that, assuming you have the bravery to tackle it, you will never, ever forget.
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Nathan Spendelow, Senior Staff Writer, Expert Reviews
The Handmaid’s Tale is feminist dystopian literature at its finest. The harrowing tale of Offred, one of many unfortunate subjects of a male-dominated totalitarian societal takeover isn’t an easy, comfortable read, but an insightful one.
A novel exploring female subjugation, while also taking drastic turns to highlight individualism and sexual liberation rings throughout, with Margaret Atwood’s unique style of writing being some of the best I’ve ever experienced. It says a lot that I’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale more times than I can count, despite it being forced on me during the dark days of A-level English Literature.
Just do us a favour: read the book before binging the – equally excellent – Hulu TV series. You’ll see why.