Wednesday 6 November 2019

40 at 40: My Favourite Books

I needed something easy to write about while I was feeling a little brain dead and stuck and this felt like an easy list to make. Forty of my favourite books by the age of forty.

1.     The Sealed Nectar by Sheikh Safi-ur-Rahman al-Mubarakpuri – an important and easy to read biography of the beloved Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), covering all of the important thing you need to know.
2.     Life of the Prophet in Makkah: The Makkan Crucible by Zakaria Bashier – some details I had not seen anywhere else.  The part where the Kaaba was rebuilt and green stone found under the foundations gave me goose bumps
3.     The Autobiography of Malcom X – brutally honest, brave, eye-opening and inspiring
4.     Dracula by Bram Stoker – creepy, interesting and just a cracking good story
5.     The Chrysalids by John Wyndham – absolutely love this book: the characters, the setting, the way even the villains stayed with me long after and of course the brilliant story. Unlike any of his other books in tone or style.
6.     The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham – walking plants in a dystopian/utopian future – a favourite genre
7.     The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien – old fashion story-telling peopled with wonderful characters, who couldn’t love the hobbits?
8.     Cannery Row by John Steinbeck – unexpectedly funny book by a writer of usually grim novels.
9.     Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck – I find inspiration every time I open one of her books:
“The way to find your own North Star is not to think or feel your way forward but to dissolve the thoughts and feeling that make you miserable. You don't have to learn your destiny - you already know it; you just have to unlearn the thoughts that blind you to what you know.”
10. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini – sisterly love and sacrifice in a society that has no place for women, This one had me sobbing.
11. The Red Tent – an interesting re-telling of one of the bible stories from the point of view of one of the women. I loved the opening lines in this book:
"I am so grateful that you have come. I will pour out everything inside me so you may leave this table satisfied and fortified. Blessings on your eyes. Blessings on your children. Blessings on the ground beneath you. My heart is a ladle of sweet water, brimming over.
12. The Rice Mother by Rani Manicka – a heart-breaking, painful read set in a beautifully imagined place.
13. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell – expansive, mysterious, satisfying
14. Kiss Kiss by Roald dahl – deliciously wicked stories for grown-ups by one of my favourite children's writers.
15. Beloved by Toni Morrison (and just about everything else she has written)
16. Cold Comfort farm by Stella Gibbons – had me laughing out loud.
17. That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx (and all of her other books of short stories) – just such a good writer.
18. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty – this scared me god when I read it in my early teens – as much because I was looking over my shoulder for moy parents who would never have let me read it as how scary the book actually was.  I think I am due to re-read this one to see which.
19. From the Holy Mountain by William Dalrymple - I wouldn't have expected a travel book to be so fascinating and Dalrymple's writing has a lovely humour (worth reading other travel books by him including White Mughals and City of Djinns)
20. The Olive Readers by Christine Aziz – didn't get the best reviews and the feel of the book changed abruptly midway, but I remember finding it quite satisfying.
21. Women who Run with Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes– paradigm shifting for me, made me rethink my approach to ageing:
“To take the world into one's arms and act towards it in a soul-filled and soul-strengthening manner is a powerful act of wildish spirit.”
22. Lightening by Dean Koontz – I'm not sure what it is about this book that stuck in my mind when I read it as a teen, but it always stayed with me.  I re-read it as an adult and enjoyed it, and it is still the archetypical Koontz book to me, but perhaps not the impact the first reading had (His The Taking had the most impact as an adult).
23. Zorro by Isabel Allende – so much fun.
24. Daughter of the Forest by Juliette Marillier – I love a good retelling of a fairy or folk tale and once you get started, you will want to tear through the Sevenwaters series.
25. The Handmaids Tale by Margret Atwood – cracking story, ramps up the tension.
26. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – I rarely have patience for surrealism and other literary pretentions, but in this case the writer is justified, writing under a brutal regime of things that can't be said out loud.
27. Zen and the Art of making a Living by Laurence G Boldt – probably my favourite self-help book of all and one I still enjoy randomly dipping into.
28. Dune by Frank Herbert – fun, creative, dramatic space saga
29.  I Could do Anything if Only I knew What it Was by Barbara Sher – Read this at an impressionably young age and found it profound and eye-opening at the time, particularly how your future is laid out by the views and wishes of others.
30. Eucalyptus by Murray Bail – poignant story that stayed with me after closing the last page.
31. The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville – heart breaking love story or commentary on colonialism. No easy answers here.
32. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon, mystery, romance, humour, a secret library, lovable characters, all the ingredients you need and well written too.
33. The Help by Kathryn Stockett – worth it just for the chocolate cake scene 😊
34. Tommy Knockers by Stephen King – creepy, archetypical Stephen King, I still have to read the Stand, but sounds like just my kind of book.
35. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz – some good ideas to live by.
36. The Bees by Laline Paul – I didn't think I would like this, the characters are bees...but I loved it.
37. Toxic Childhood: How the Modern World is Damaging Our Children and What We Can Do About It by Sue Palmer – a must read parenting book.
38. The Underground Railroad by Coulson Whitehead – moving book on a difficult subject, loved the main character.  Also interesting insight into elements of slavery in America I had not known about before.
39. Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity: The Search for Saladin by Akbar S Ahmed – well written, accessible and insightful.
40. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey – such a useful book.

I thought that would be a tough list to get to 40, but my brain is fizzing over with more to add 😊. Ones I loved but didn't make the list include:

Delirium by Lauren Oliver - a dystopian love story
The Grishaverse books Leigh Bardugo (the Six of Crows duology and the Shadow and Bone trilogy)
The Hannibal series of books by Thomas Harris
The Road by Cormac McCarthy – but too harrowing to include it in a favourites list
The King Killer Chronicles (Trilogy) by Patrick Rothfuss
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa
The Giver by Louis Lowry
Big Magic by Elizabth Gilbert

Ok I better stop now...

On my wish list going forward for the coming year are:
More Islamic books including tafsir and seerah
The Stand by Stephen King
Something by Martha Beck to get me feeling inspired.
Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo, then King of Scars by her
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver (a sequel to Delirium which I didn’t realise until now existed).

What are you favourite books? What would you recommend me to read next? What’s on your reading wishlist?


  1. You might like this one: Queens of the Kingdom! I really enjoyed it. It was a refreshing look at the lives of women in Saudi Arabia.

  2. As-Salaamu 'alaikum,

    I actually studied The Chrysalids at school (at least in year 9, so before I was studying for any exam) and it made quite an impression on me as well. It's interesting that you recommend The Handmaid's Tale as well; I regard that as a feminist take on post-apocalyptic fiction such as The Chrysalids which is set in Canada. Orwell's 1984 belongs to the same genre. A lot of people treat Handmaid's Tale as purely a feminist work of speculative fiction, but I don't think it can be understood properly outside the context of that genre.