Anyone familiar with High Fidelity by Nick Hornby will know compiling lists can be painful. In this case, it was an effort to weed out all the embarrassing stuff I've read. And consider what that might be like, since a lot of what's listed here doesn't exactly show a towering intellect.
A House For Mr Biswas by VS Naipaul (1961)
This is the story of a man who struggles to free himself from the entanglements of family, custom and convention. If that sounds heavy, bear in mind the individual in question, Mohun Biswas, is funny, resourceful and quarrelsome, veering at times into almost Basil Fawlty-esque behaviour. My UK home turf in darkest Hampshire couldn’t have been more different to Mohun’s Port-of-Spain in Trinidad & Tobago, but our relatives sound equally alarming.
Down With Skool by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle (1953)
Nigel Molesworth relates life at a cheap boarding school, penned with enough spelling mistakes and grammatical howlers to make the most tolerant teacher take up skydiving without a parachute. Disgraceful. I laughed until I cried. My mum found my copy and called the library to complain about minors being allowed access to it owing to the potentially ruinous effect on literacy and attitudes to education. She may have had a point.
The Truth About Lorin Jones by Alison Lurie (1988)
Polly Alter is writing a biography of deceased artist Lorin Jones, but her research just seems to uncover one riddle after another. Meanwhile, Polly’s own life spirals out of control in a way that seems to echo her subject’s existence. A review of this book indicated you’d look at yourself and your friends more carefully after finishing it. Quite. Mulder and Scully might believe the truth is out there, but Polly may well disagree.
Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons (1989)
The concept of this horror tale has plenty of life (or death) in it. A group of people have the ability to force others to commit actions through mental agility alone. It goes pear-shaped fast and the body count skyrockets from the off – don’t read this if you find Wallace and Gromit a bit hairy. Aged 17, I realised I didn’t have this power of persuasion. Nothing on Earth was going to cajole my dad into buying a sports car for me to use at the weekend.
Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis (1954)
Anyone who sees The Inbetweeners as more a documentary of their own formative years than a fictional comedy will be happy to catch up with dysfunctional university lecturer Jim Dixon, who seems to be a 1950s version of each of the four hapless screen teens combined. I once knew a teacher who experienced similar problems to Jim. Quite how neither of them got sacked is still one of life’s great mysteries.
Simon Wilgress-Pipe is home page editor for The National