Biographies feature pretty heavily in my top reads, and if I’m honest that’s my most frequently read genre. I’ve mixed that up with some fiction here, and included a controversial graphic novel selection, courtesy of the one-and-only Alan Moore.
My Life by Fidel Castro and Ignacio Ramonet (2006)
Fidel Castro was one of the most divisive figures of the 20th century, yet steadfastly refused requests to tell his own story until he had stepped down from the Cuban presidency in 2008, after more than five decades in power. Based on more than 100 hours of interviews with the leader of the Cuban revolution, Le Monde journalist Ramonet gets the inside story on Castro’s family life, politics, relationships with Che Guevara and 10 US presidents, involvement in African post-colonial independence movements and much more in this weighty tome.
1984 by George Orwell (1948)
Orwell's political classic is doubtless not the most original book to feature on a top-5 list, but there's a reason it is held in such high regard by so many. How many books, religious texts aside, have given so much to everyday language? Words and phrases like "thoughtcrime" and "Big Brother" come directly from Orwell, and even the least literate soul would understand something being described as "a bit 1984". Orwell's vision of a surveillance society profoundly affected me when I first read it at school, and has continued to do so as CCTV, face recognition and insidious online algorithms creep into everyday life.
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (2012)
Starting with the unlikely premise of a rollicking comic-book-style action adventure with a centenarian as its main protagonist, Jonasson delivers one of the funniest, can’t-put-it-down books. Escaping the boredom of his retirement home with nothing but his dressing gown and slippers, Allan Karlsson finds himself in possession of a suitcase full of drug money and on the run from the dealers and police, who are concerned by the disappearance of the absent-minded pensioner who was a key influencer in the 20th century.
Lost in the Funhouse: The Life and Mind of Andy Kaufman by Bill Zehme (1999)
I knew Kaufman as "that bloke out of Taxi" when a friend accused my schtick as frontman of a not entirely successful rock band – adopting a fake persona and serving a buffet in lieu of the fourth song of a set, or ending our set with a treasure trail round central Manchester where treasure hunters could pick up chocolate goodies before being led to a different venue where the band were waiting to perform the last song. It turned out Kaufman had done all this. Here, Zehme gives a fascinating insight into the troubled life and mind of a comic genius from an earlier era.
The Watchmen by Alan Moore, 1986-87 (Single volume graphic novel published 1987)
Listed in Time's Best 100 Novels in the English Language, Alan Moore's anti-superhero novel was perhaps the moment at which comic books became literature. Moore constructs his superheroes to deconstruct them and ask what is a hero and do we need them? It's unlikely we'd have seen the more grown-up heroes of the Marvel and DC cinema universes without Moore's novel, although the author now bemoans the popularity of issue-based comics influenced by his work, and ended his relationship with DC after a rights dispute over the book.
Chris Newbould is a features writer for The National