Spanish & English literary work by London-based translator and writer Fátima López Sevilla. (http://fatimalopezsevilla.com)

The 100 best novels in English?

Earlier this week I was asked to think of my favourite book in English. Well, at least I had a limitation: it had to be written originally in English, no translations allowed.

Still, as my friend and I thought and mumbled looking at each in other in horror: “It’s so hard!” How can you choose a favourite book?

I haven’t written in a very long time, and there is no excuse. I could talk about my change of jobs, my moving houses and other changes in my life during these months. The main reason is: there were other things always in the way of my writing. Either fiction or for the blog.

But here I am again. I have recently changed jobs again, I am working on normal hours after two years on night shift, and I can do stuff around London as I used to do during my first year here.

So this Thursday I brought a friend along to the presentation of the book “The 100 best novels in English”, by Robert McCrum, a recompilation of his articles published regularly in The Observer.

The 100 best novels in English - CoverAs the own Robert McCrum explained, this list was compiled with only four rules in mind:

– They had to be novels written in English, no translations allowed, as said above.

– They had to be presented in chronological order.

– He would stop at the year 2000, as to get some perspective on the books: you can’t really tell if a book is historically or literally that important with only 5-10 years of life.

– It would only feature one book per author, though it would be unfair to some great authors/novels.

So, which are the books featured in this book? You can find the full list here.

And now back to the author’s question: Which one is your favourite book in English?

For me, as I guess for most of you, this is a very difficult question, as it not only involves literary merit, but also the mood we are in at the moment, and the memories this or that book brings.

By the end of the evening, I narrowed my list to three:

Little women, by Louisa May Alcott. This one actually appears in the list.

When I was a kid, we had at home a collection of classics adapted for children: each short chapter was followed by a page where the chapter was summarised in comics format. I guess this is also why my love of comics involve anything from Asterix & Obelix, Tintin, Mortadelo y Filemón, Lucky Luke to Spiderman, The Watchmen, passing through more “literary” works. Comics are a good way to get into the pleasure of reading.

But back to Little women. Since I first read that children’s version of the novel, I fell in love with the story, and I so wanted to be like Jo when I grew up, if not having a friend like hers. Then came the movie with Susan Sarandon, Claire Danes, Christian Bale… I not only wanted to be Jo, I wanted Susan Sarandon as a mother. I wanted sisters.

Jo wanted to be a writer, she was tomboyish, she loved living life. I fell in love with her.

The only problem is, I have never read Little women in English. All my approaches to the book took place in Spanish. But now I have a Kindle and have the whole series in English, ready for me to go back to the March family.

It was one of the first classics I fell in love with.

Dracula, by Bram Stoker. Another one in the list. This one, I don’t think I ever read it in Spanish in its full version. I bought a Penguin paperback of it at Casa del Libro ages ago in Madrid, and since then I have browsed it, read and re-read it uncountable times. It is one of my favourite classic books, and one of my favourite myths, the vampire. It is also the book that introduced me to the classical gothic literature, and thanks to the count I met Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Frankenstein, Poe, Lovecraft… and fell in love with gothic England and, more specifically, London. It was the city to visit, to be.

Dracula is the first classic book I read in English, and the first book to show me that to be someone in literature you didn’t have to follow the rules or the schemes set before you. Dracula is such a good book because of its format. It is a compendium of bits of diaries and letters. It is not an orthodox novel, as it is not an orthodox subject, the one treated.

With Dracula it happens a bit like with Sherlock Holmes: I would take everything related to the man, as long as they respect him.

(By the way: if there is no Sherlock Holmes book in this list, is because a) I couldn’t choose one, b) I know there are better books and more important books for me in my life. Anyways, Sherlock Holmes is a very dear character and I will love him for ever, even if he doesn’t appear in every list.)

High fidelity, by Nick Hornby. This one was not in the list, but it follows the rules: it is a book from the 1990s. Nick Hornby is, easily, my favourite contemporary English author. In High fidelity he introduces us to Rob, who loves music and lists. Yes, he is the perfect match for me. And, to make things better, he is a literary character who actually feels real: he makes mistakes, he falls down, he is rude and inconsiderate… until he has a revelation via Bruce Springsteen’s music, where he realises that, if you love someone, it doesn’t mean it is going to be easier, because such is life. But it is worth fighting for, falling a bit more, getting punched… Even bad songs deserve a second opportunity.

I had got into Nick Hornby via About a boy, the movie. After watching it, I needed to read the book it was based on. Both of these introductions to Hornby’s work happened in English. I looked more of his books. The next one was High fidelity. Then, the movie came in. And then both again in English. From there, it’s been a bilingual relationship with his books and movies: A long way down (given by my dad one Christmas… in Spanish), Slam, Fever pitch… and from there into his other non-fiction. Even if About a boy was the first book of his I read, High fidelity thematic makes it stand out for me. And stay there for me for ever, to come and re-read it fully, or just on bits, to review the music lists and look for inspiration, any time I want to. And the fact that John Cusack plays Rob in the movie version made the relationship easier and nicer.

Even when I use it to analyse translations and cultural adaptations for uni projects.

So… which one(s) is/are your favourite book(s) in English?

2 comments on “The 100 best novels in English?

  1. fatimalopezsevilla
    November 22, 2015

    Reblogged this on Entre dos lenguas and commented:

    I am back, with difficult questions, such as… which one (s) is/are your favourite book(s) in English?

  2. Gabriela
    November 22, 2015

    My absolute favorite book written in English is To kill a mockingbird, by Harper Lee. And my favorite character is, of course, Mr. Atticus Finch. It’d be a hard task to name other 99 books in English, mostly because most of my reading is done in Spanish, both original texts in Spanish and translations from other languages.

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This entry was posted on November 22, 2015 by in 2015, English, Favourite books, November, Uncategorized.


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Literary work: HootWriting