In 2017, I followed Jillian’s example* and, after much deliberation, wrote out a list of my fifty favourite novels. I always said I would revisit it a few years later and see what had changed, and I decided it was about time. I wrote this list (mostly) without referencing the old one, and I will be interested to see what has changed. By my estimate, I’ve read roughly 130 new-to-me books since the original list, so it would be rather sad if I had no new favourites. I then had a look back at my old list, and, as if this were chart listings rather than an extremely self-indulgent way to spend an evening, I’ve indicated which ones have moved, and which entries are new.

  1. Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien (no change)
  2. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (no change)
  3. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (+2)
  4. Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers (-1)
  5. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding (+5)
  6. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte (+5)
  7. Middlemarch by George Eliot (-3)
  8. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (new entry)
  9. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome (no change)
  10. Excellent Women by Barbara Pym (new entry)
  11. The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene (-5)
  12. We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome (new entry)
  13. Have His Carcase by Dorothy L Sayers (+17)
  14. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis (+24)
  15. Hogfather by Terry Pratchett (+5)
  16. Anne of the Island by Lucy Maud Montgomery (-8)
  17. The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O’Connor (-2)
  18. Dragon’s Green by Scarlett Thomas (new entry)
  19. Jeeves and Wooster series by PG Wodehouse (+3)
  20. Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott (+23)
  21. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (-4)
  22. The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis (-15)
  23. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (new entry)
  24. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (new entry)
  25. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (+8)
  26. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene (+10)
  27. Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe (-13)
  28. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth E Wein (new entry)
  29. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (-8)
  30. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (+9)
  31. Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier (new entry)
  32. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (+14)
  33. Fanny Herself by Edna Ferber (-21)
  34. What Katy Did at School by Susan Coolidge (+14)
  35. The Spy who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré (-10) 
  36. Ballet Twins by Jean Estoril (+11)
  37. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling (-19)
  38. The Black Sheep by Honore de Balzac (+2)
  39. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (new entry)
  40. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (-3)
  41. My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal (new entry)
  42. Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett (-29)
  43. Uneasy Money by PG Wodehouse (new entry)
  44. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (new entry)
  45. Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks (-1)
  46. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (new entry)
  47. The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas (new entry)
  48. The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham (new entry)
  49. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (-33)
  50. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (-27)

I realise this is an entirely self-indulgent thing to do, but it is fascinating for me to see how my reading tastes have changed (and stayed the same) over just a couple of years. For example, there are a few books included here that I haven’t read since I was a teenager, but that I left off the last list – The Secret Garden and Vanity Fair, for instance. I’ve found myself thinking about both of them a lot recently – the former because I have missed my garden terribly after having to temporarily move flats, and it has brought home to me that “a bit of earth” really can be magical; the latter, because I have been thinking about what a fascinating character Becky Sharp is. Similarly, Code Name Verity made it onto my list this time, even though I actively disliked it after the first time I read it – it just followed me around and would not let me go, and I’ve ended up loving it.

There are also a lot of things that are the same or similar. My favourite Swallows and Amazons and Chronicles of Narnia books will always be whichever ones I read most recently. I am still very drawn to friendship and kindness in books – of all the books on this list, there are only about five which are not kind at their hearts. I just love watching people in books being friends. The two new books that most clearly got hold of my heart, Doomsday Book and Excellent Women, are both filled with kindness. They also both deal with questions of faith in interesting ways, as is the case for several of the books in my top ten – clearly this is important to me as well.

The last thing about these two lists that I find interesting is the presence of books on the old list – just a couple of years ago – that I don’t remember liking at all. The Word Exchange? I remember that, now, as being an absolute drag to get through – but obviously I didn’t think so when I first read it. It’s fascinating to me how quickly my opinion of a book can change without me even noticing it.

These posts are extremely naval-gazing and largely for my own amusement, but if you have read the whole way through, thank you! I am curious to know if you have noticed any trends in what you most love to read – not in terms of genre, but more themes and ideas?

*I can’t link to Jillian’s blog, which is no longer active, but it was one of my very favourite places to spend bookish time when I first started up this blog.