Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Was “Forced” to Read!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

This week’s topic is a Freebie and I have chosen a past TTT topic from October 2013 which was before I took part in TTT – Top Ten Books I was Forced’ to Read. The definition of this topic was described thus: ‘Obviously, in most cases, you weren’t LITERALLY forced to read it but you know what we are getting at here. Those required reading books, book club picks, books for your job or those books that it simply feels like other readers were going to tie you down until you read it!!’

I’ve chosen books that were ones I read at my local book group. They are all books I would probably never have read if they hadn’t been for the book club – some of them I loved, some I disliked and some that I thought were OK, neither very good or very bad.

First the ones I loved:

The Help by Kathryn Stockett, which I loved even more than the film. It takes place in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962 during the Civil Rights Movement. Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter are the three narrators and it is through their eyes that the book comes to life as they take turns telling their stories. It’s touching, poignant, funny, compelling and definitely thought-provoking. I loved the film too.

Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski – the story of Hilary Wainwright, who is searching for his son, lost five years earlier in the Second World War. Hilary had left France just after his wife, Lisa, had given birth to John. Lisa, unable to leave France, worked for the Resistance, but was killed by the Gestapo and her son disappeared. It is emotional, heart-wrenching and nerve-wracking, full of tension, but never sentimental.

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck – it has everything I like, rich descriptions of locations, wonderful characters and a storyline, that grabs my attention and makes me want to know more. There is humour and tragedy, meanness and generosity, life and death all within Cannery Row‘s 148 pages. After reading this I went on to read more of Steinbeck’s books, The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Of Mice and Men and Sweet Thursday.

The Long Song by Andrea Levy. It’s brutal, savage, and unrelenting in depicting the lives of the slaves in Jamaica just as slavery was coming to an end and both the slaves and their former owners were adjusting to their freedom. The narrator is July, at the beginning a spirited young woman, born in a sugar-cane field, telling her story at her son’s suggestion. It’s beautifully written too.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee set in the Deep South of  America in the 1930s. Scout (Jean Louise Finch) is the narrator, as she looks back as an adult to the Depression, the years when with her older brother, Jem, and their friend, Dill, she witnessed the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white girl. Scout’s father, Atticus, a lawyer defends Tom. It’s also the story of Boo Radley, their neighbour, a man who is never seen, who is said to only come out at night.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday by Paul Torday. The conditions in the Yemen are completely wrong for salmon fishing and that is the conundrum that Dr Alfred Jones has to solve when Sheikh Muhammad wants scientific advice on how best to introduce it into the Yemen. The sheikh has an estate in Scotland where he pursues his great love of fly fishing. This a light comic novel, much of it complete but enjoyable nonsense and I was actually hoping the project would be successful and that salmon would run up the waters of the Wadi Aleyn in the heart of the mountains of Heraz. I haven’t seen the film of the book.

Then the books I enjoyed, although I didn’t actually love them:

The Man on a Donkey by H F M Prescott, written in the form of a chronicle, from the various characters’ viewpoints. It’s as much about the ordinary people as the rich and powerful, and based on documentary evidence relating to the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 led by Robert Aske, a lawyer. It was a protest against Henry VIII‘s break with the Roman Catholic Church, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and the policies of the King’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell. It transported me back to that time, with lyrical descriptions of the settings, both of the countryside and of the towns, of Marrick Priory and of the king’s court, of the people, and the mood of the times, both religious and political. 

I found Westwood by Stella Gibbons a slightly disappointing book. I liked it, but didn’t love it, as I’d hoped I would. I do enjoy descriptive writing, and there are some beautiful descriptive passages, particularly of London just after the Blitz. Margaret Steggles, a plain young woman finds a ration book on Hampstead Heath which provides her with an introduction into the lives of Gerard Challis and his family, his beautiful wife, Seraphina, his self-absorbed daughter Hebe and her spoilt children and Zita the family’s maid. Margaret idolises Gerard, who is a playwright. He in turn falls under the spell of her best friend, Hilda.

Full Tilt: Dunkirk to Delhi on a Bicycle, by Dervla Murphy, first published in 1965, this  is an account of her journey in 1963, which took her through Europe, Persia (Iran), Afghanistan, over the Himalayas to Pakistan and into India. She travelled on her own, with a revolver in her saddle bag. It’s very much a personal account, but not so much about the actual cycling. I enjoyed it as much for her descriptions of the places she visited as for her thoughts along the way. I’m not sure that I would find her easy company though!

And finally a book that I disliked:

The Church of Dead Girls by Stephen Dobyns about the disappearance and murders of three young teenage girls. It’s far too detailed and drawn out. I had trouble with the narrator, wondering how he  could possibly know all the detail of what other characters were thinking and doing. Described on Amazon thus ‘One after another, three girls disappear from a small American town. As the sleepy town awakens to a horrific nightmare, no one is safe from the rising epidemic of suspicion. Dobyn’s chilling novel is superbly written portrait of a little place seemingly at home with itself. The suspense builds to a magnificent climax.’ I did not like it at all.

18 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Was “Forced” to Read!

  1. What a good choice of topic. I thought you were going to talk about forced school reads but the book club angle is interesting. Those clubs do push you to read books you wouldn’t otherwise know of or think you’d enjoy. But there are also ones that have been complete failures for me. What do you do if you don’t like that months choice – finish it anyway? Or abandon it but still go to the meeting ?

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    1. I did think about talking about forced school reads, but then I thought I’d written about them before, although I couldn’t find where! I don’t still go to the book group, mainly because it had got to the stage where there were too many books chosen that I didn’t enjoy and I ended up reading them when I had plenty of other books I really wanted to read. I couldn’t fit them all in!!! And I began to resent that. I did finish the books I didn’t enjoy as I felt I couldn’t go to the meeting without being able to contribute something.


  2. I love books that you probably never would have picked up yourself, get forced to read and then you love them! Yes to the Help! Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is on my TBR, I actually have a physical copy, but haven’t read it yet.

    Happy TTT and thanks for stopping by!


  3. A very interesting post! I also loved To Kill a Mockingbird and will now put Salmon Fishing in the Yemen on my TBR! Full Tilt sounds interesting. Even though I do support Eland publications’ aim of reviving older travel accounts, their books are hit-or-miss for me. For example, although I loved A Visit to Don Otavio: A Mexican Odyssey by Sybille Bedford, I didn’t get along with A Year in Marrakesh by Peter Mayne.


  4. Book club choices are always a bit of a lottery but sometimes you get a winning ticket! As a result of your list I may just be “forced” to read Little Boy Lost (gorgeous cover) and The Long Song. In fact, I feel a bookshop visit coming on…


  5. What a nice angle for a post–I enjoyed it very much. I love situations where I really don’t expect much from a book and then am happily surprised, which is the best outcome for those novels pushed on you by friends or read as a result of book club meetings.
    Although I’m familiar with severral authors on your list (Gibbons, Levy, Steinbeck & Laski) the only one of these novels that I’ve actually read is Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird (at the risk of eternal infamy I’ll admit that I’m in the distinct minority of not particularly liking it!)


  6. This is a really interesting choice of TTT, Margaret! That’s the thing about reading books chosen by the book club. Sometimes they’re absolute gems; that’s happened to me, too. Sometimes they’re ‘so-so’ (but I’ve still been glad I read them). Sometimes….not. But a book club does expand the reading horizons, and I think that’s a good thing.


  7. I’ve read just one of these, The Help, and agree with you whole heartedly that it’s superb. I have seen the film of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (Ewan McGregor starred I think) and enjoyed it a lot. But you’ve reminded me that it’s high time I read To Kill a Mockingbird. I saw the film eons ago and remember very little and I’m sure the book would feel completely new. I also rather like the sound of Westwood.


  8. Oh, this is an interesting choice, I like it! And I’m adding Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and The Help to my TBR, they sound like books I might love.


  9. Good list. I LOVED Salmon Fishing in Yemen–the bureaucratic “humor”. I loved it. I haven’t seen the movie but my son loved it [he hasn’t read the book]. Even though I SWORE, after Tortilla Flats that I was done with Steinbeck, Cannery Row might make the cut for Novellas in November due to your review. I won’t hold you at all responsible if I hate it! lol. Good post!


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