Top Ten Books

I am creating an entirely unrealistic list. It is absolutely impossible to have only ten favourite books.

But if there were an extinction level event and it was just gonna be me and ten books I would try to grab these before the cockroaches got in the dust jackets. Only survivor meant me alone buddy!! I hate cockroaches!!

1. Pilgrim State – Jacqueline Walker

A phenomenal book about the tension of immigration. The displacement is more visceral than Small Island (and no disrespect intended Ms. Levy cause you do smith your words well). And the mother daughter dynamic hits closer to home than you would rather.

2. The Serpent & the Staff – Franklyn Yerby

They say good things can come out of bad. In my adolescence I spent time with my father and his wife and in that hell there was a balm. A bookcase which had too many books by Yerby, hard cover and paperback. This particular one had a picture of the hero Duncan Childers & his long suffering soon to be one true love on the cover, he was staunching the blood flow from a bullet to her shoulder and don’t ask me how a picture of her breast ended up there too. But what I do know is while I had no business reading that book at 11 or thereabouts I read it some 20 or so times after that. It is the South, sweltering heat, racial tensions and good old fashioned human generated steam makes the South dreamy and distancing. My delight when it turned out that Yerby was black is still one of the best gifts I have ever had as a reader.

3. How to Be A Woman – Caitlin Moran

This is where the phrase instant classic becomes apt. Who is this woman? Who stole into my head bundled up all my little thoughts, most of them awful and paraded them across pages of randomly shouty block letters and made me bark with laughter over her definition of a shrug? A funny feminist from Wolverhampton with a weird skunklike hairstyle ( not sure about the black with grey/white streak there Cathy but do you) who is not just a woman but a human being. P.S. ” a shrunken cardigan made by a fool”. Tell me that is not funny? I dare you.

4. The Temple of My Familiar – Alice Walker

I am easy in this way. Once you have me you have me for life. Alice had me at Colour Purple as she did everyone else. But this one is my favourite. I love its mysticalness and possibilities. I love what it says about love and how she describes it. She finally made me understand Virginia Woolf.

5. The Girl from Harvey River – Lorna Goodison

The writer is Jamaican which means everything and nothing because the writing has to be good. And it is. It is so important to write our own stories. The female dominant nature of Jamaican culture is a norm which fascinates. Each story is different yet still the same.

6. Half of a Yellow Sun|Purple Hibiscus|The Thing Around Your Neck – Chimamanda Adiche

Clearly I have shot the list straight to hell with this trifecta. But how could I possibly choose one? I have great love for the elders, Soyinka et al. Then along comes this young woman who speaks in an ordinary voice and says these extraordinary things just by keeping it simple. Her commitment to telling other stories inspires.

7.  The Completed Works of Shakespeare – ?

This is not really cheating since the works are indeed found in a compendium and therefore single unit. The man is the grandfather of this thing. And elders get their due (see note 6 above). His use of internal rhyme in words will never be old. The characters he has put before us are eternal. Every so often there is a rumour that some other body was actually the writer. The question is who cares?

8. What Every Young Woman Should know About Sex – Unknown

So in the age of the internet I am sure I could find out who wrote this sex education manual for teenagers but I prefer for it to remain anonymous. My mother gave me this book when I was about ten years old, I was a precocious child. It was a lime green hard back with a blond couple on the cover, her hair long and sun-dappled in that Joni Mitchell 70s way and the guy was on his back in what was clearly a meadow. How far away that meadow was from Spanish Town Jamaica is as proximate as the sun is to our orb but I felt all grown up when I read this book. There were diagrams of everything and I mean everything. There were scenarios and situations and in the final analysis there was no need for me to be having sex but sneaking it out of the house and taking it to school made me a minor superstar. Have been searching for the glow of that adulation since. But seriously after reading this book-pregnancy no. Damn Mother and her nefarious plan!

9. The Dragon Can’t Dance – Earl Lovelace

A member of the Caribbean tribe of writers who stayed home. This book of Trinidad magic and mas’ and just trying to be a man came to me through compulsory reading in school but years later I re-read and it is still fresh and alive to the pain and pleasure of our way of life. I met him at the now defunct be really priceless Calabash and he was beautiful, twinkly mischevious eyes, sparkly wit and a shirt haphazardly buttoned. That sing song Trini accent that beguiles and which you hear though each page of the book should be seperated from him at the gate.

10. The Lunatic – Anthony Winkler

This book is hilarious and the film version of it worked too. I do not doubt our talent. In fact I trust it implicitly.

So there you have it, no Buxton Spice by Oonya Kempadoo, no Toni Morrisons, no Maya Angelous, no Hardy, Tolstoy, Solzynitzen, Baldwin, Wright, Waugh, no too many to be cited here. Enough exclusions to make it plain that there is no such thing as a top ten list, that each is favourite at the time. Each book carries its own memory. You come to it as one person and when you close the back cover you are someone different, even if it is a “bad” book. They teach you and the truth is no matter how much I love these books and I do, should that E.L.E. pop up I will be looking for ten brand new ones I am willing to take that risk and I might need a copy of that How to Survive An Extinction Level Event and 50 Other Important Party Tips.


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