books

'I read a lot of books for work. Here are my top 10 fiction books of all time.'

When you read a lot of books, you soon begin to categorise them in your mind. 

There are the books you read because you think you should, but ultimately you don't get what all the fuss is about. 

There are the books that you thoroughly enjoy. You race to the final page but rarely give them a second thought after you've finished them. 

And then there are the books that stay with you, months, years, decades after you've read them. 

These are your books. Your favourites. The ones you hold close to your heart.

For me, these are the books which took me on a journey that I never wanted to end. They made me laugh. Gasp out loud. Bawl my eyes out. They taught me about myself and the world around me. And they were ultimately life-affirming. 

Here are my 10 favourite books of all time: 

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens 

Image: Hachette Australia/Mamamia.  

Kya Clark's story is one that snuck up on me. 

I didn't go into Where The Crawdads Sing thinking I would love it. That it would soon become one of my favourite books. 

But about a third of the way in, I became deeply invested in Kya's journey. I needed to know that things were going to work out for her. 

Delia Owens' debut novel is both an epic drama set over an entire life and a coming of age story for every age. 

It's a story so unique that its lessons can be applied universally. 

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And ultimately, it's uplifting and life-affirming. 

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro 

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What Never Let Me Go does so brilliantly is take the ordinary feelings and experiences we all go through in our teenage years and put them in an extraordinary setting. 

Its dystopian science fiction for those of us who just really want to feel things. 

The 2005 novel follows the story of Kathy, Tommy and Ruth who grow up in Hailsham, a boarding school in the English countryside. 

It's only when they graduate and leave Hailsham that they learn what was really going on there. 

Never Let Me Go is a beautiful love story, a gripping mystery, a study of the human condition, and a reflection of how we treat those we deem "different".

One Day by David Nicholls 

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Gosh this one got me good. 

This is the book that made David Nicholls the household name he is today and it's easy to see why. 

On July 15, 1988, Emma and Dexter meet for the first time on the night of their university graduation. 

They spend one brilliant night together but the next day they must go their separate ways. 

The book then follows their story and where they are on the same day, each year. 

Do they end up together and get their happily ever after? Or is theirs a love story destined to end in tragedy? 

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

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Whenever a friend tells me they're not sure whether they want to have children, I always jokingly (kind of) respond: "Have you read We Need To Talk About Kevin?"

When Lionel Shriver's book first came out, it went the 2003 version of viral. Women would bike around the streets of New York with it in their baskets so they could pass it onto their friends. 

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It captured an entire generation who were living in the aftermath of Columbine and other mass school shootings, and questioning the role of nature versus nurture in those tragedies. 

The book follows the story of Eva, an American woman who never really wanted to be a mother. 

After her son Kevin is born, she struggles to bond with him and begins to wonder whether there's something wrong with him. 

Years later, after Kevin commits an unspeakable crime, Eva is left to pick up the pieces and to reflect on how Kevin became such a monster.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Image: Hachette Australia/Mamamia.  

Ok, hear me out. 

Gone Girl is bloody brilliant. 

Gillian Flynn pulled off the ultimate mid-book twist and I still remember the feeling of absolute shock and excitement I had when I got to that part. 

She created one of the best 'villains' of modern fiction and took a true crime/literary trope and turned it on its head. 

Many have tried to recreate Gone Girl (honestly at this point we just need to ban books with 'Girl' in the title) but none have come close. 

This is because Flynn combined a killer twist, with really clever observations about marriage and the fine line between love and hate. 

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller 

Image: Penguin Australia/Mamamia.  

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This is a book so beautifully written and so expertly plotted out, it's destined for a HBO series starring Meryl Streep and Reese Witherspoon (seriously HBO, we need to watch this, pick it up). 

The Paper Palace follows the story of New Yorker Elle Bishop, who was raised by eccentric, divorced parents in the 1960s and 1970s. 

After her parents divorced, a string of step-parents and step-siblings and step-grandparents came in and out of her life, causing all sorts of childhood trauma. 

The one constant in her life was her mother's family holiday home - a rundown house and collection of cabins they called 'The Paper Palace', on the banks of a pond at Cape Cod. 

Elle's family spent every summer there, and that's where she met her best friend Jonas. 

Although they are destined to be together, a traumatic experience from Elle's childhood and a secret keeps them apart for decades. 

Until the night of the party. 

In The Paper Palace, Miranda Cowley Heller creates a world you never want to leave and characters who you become genuinely invested in. 

It's an epic love story, a coming-of-age story, and a tale that explores the impact of childhood trauma and the power secrets hold over us. 

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara 

Image: Pan MacMillan/Mamamia. 

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I can't even think about A Little Life without feeling a little bit... traumatised. 

The epic drama follows the story of four friends - Willem, JB, Malcolm and Jude - who move from their small Massachusetts college to New York City to chase their dreams. 

The book follows them from their broke and desperate twenties, and through the decades, as their relationships deepen and darken, and their lives are impacted by success, loss, addiction, heartbreak and childhood trauma. 

The group's greatest challenge is Jude - a talented litigator, who by middle age becomes an increasingly broken man, haunted by childhood trauma which he fears he will never be able to escape. 

A Little Life is a book about the enduring love of friendship, the hard road to success, the impact of childhood trauma and how one little life can have a huge impact on so many people. 

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

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I avoided reading The Midnight Library for a long time because it felt almost too close to home. 

For years, I've wished that I could go back and redo a large chunk of my life. Make the right decisions. Pick myself up after the failures and turn them into something better. 

In The Midnight Library, Nora Seed gets to do just that. Haunted by her past mistakes and missed opportunities, and feeling isolated from the rest of the world, 35-year-old Nora ends her own life. 

She wakes up in 'The Midnight Library', a place between life and death where she gets the chance to live all the lives she missed out on. 

The Midnight Library is a life-affirming novel about the choices we make, the little moments that make a big life, and the realisation that it's never too late to start over. 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Image: Penguin Australia/Mamamia.  

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a book about a boy trying to make sense of a senseless act. 

After his father is killed in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre, nine-year-old Oskar Schell sets out to solve the mystery of a key he found in his father's closet. 

His search takes him through the five boroughs of New York City, into the lives of strangers, and into history and the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima. 

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In the end, Oskar finds peace and understanding in the pain and stories of others. 

Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes

Image: Penguin/Mamamia.  

Marian Keyes made me want to be a writer. 

I devoured her books in my teens and early 20s. She made me laugh out loud and her words reminded me that everyone goes through sh*tty times. 

I particularly loved the books focused on the Walsh sisters. Anybody Out There? and Watermelon are two of my favourites, but Rachel's Holiday is the story that has stuck with me for decades. 

The novel follows the story of 27-year-old Rachel Walsh, whose family has admitted her to Cloisters – Dublin’s answer to the Betty Ford Clinic.

During her time at Cloisters, Rachel learns to face her demons and finally get her sh*t together. She's Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Fleabag, but 20 years earlier and Irish. 

It's a funny, intimate, clever look at what it feels like when you think you've f*cked your whole life and how you can slowly piece it back together.

Keryn Donnelly is Mamamia's Pop Culture Editor. For more of her TV, film and book recommendations and to see photos of her dog, follow her on Instagram

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The 11 books every woman should read in their 20s.

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