The easiest way to send a bibliophile into a meltdown: ask them to name their favourite book. I'm kidding, don't do that. They'll start foaming at the mouth and things will get ugly pretty quickly. Working in a bookstore, I get asked my favourite book a lot and no matter how much I think about it (and I think about it a lot) I'm still no closer to an answer. So I'm going to cheat my way out of it and offer you my #BurningBuildingBooks instead.
This tag is simple: your home is on fire (oh no!) and everything is burning to the ground. You get to go in and save ten books. Which do you choose?
Okay here we go! (For the record - these are in no particular order. That would truly be impossible!)
1. The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Raúf
This is a book that's super close to my heart and is, in my opinion, one of the most touching and powerful middle grade novels written in recent years. The world has been a pretty dark place for the past few years and this book is a ray of light filled with hope and compassion. It was the book I used to launch my children's book club and Onjali very kindly sent me out a copy with a beautiful personal note thanking me for choosing it. I've never known an author give so much back to the community as Onjali and I feel hopeful knowing that so many children are reading The Boy at the Back of the Class and taking away its messages of love and tolerance. Probably the easiest decision out of all my #BurningBuildingBooks.
2. Cirque du Freak by Darren Shan
As a kid I loved reading Captain Underpants, Geronimo Stilton and Goosebumps. But the one author I really credit for getting me into reading is Darren Shan - they don't call this guy the master of horror for nothing! I loved The Saga of Darren Shan and I very quickly progressed onto The Demonata series which is still one of my all-time favourites. I was fortunate enough to meet Darren at a signing in Waterstones Newcastle back in 2016 where he happily signed a whole bunch of books for me. And - he'll probably kill me for saying this - he was absolutely lovely. I've never met an author so patient with his fans - there were people showing up with entire series of books and he signed them all without complaint. I can't imagine anyone less suited to writing about vampires and demons! It was lovely to see and it's those kinds of interactions with authors that you remember. So for pure nostalgia reasons, Cirque du Freak makes the list.
3. Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
Another one chosen for nostalgia value, Alex Rider was a personal favourite growing up. I remember our school library had the full series and it was always a constant race to see who could get there first to get their hands on the volume they needed. These books were well-loved and it's testament to Anthony Horwitz's skill as a writer that he was able to capture the imagination of so many reluctant boy readers with his teenage version of James Bond. The series stayed with me long after I finished it and I even went on to write about Stormbreaker in my undergraduate dissertation. I got the chance to meet Anthony Horowitz at the Cheltenham Literature Festival last year and I told him about the research I'd done on his book. He was really lovely and seemed genuinely interested and even wrote me a little dedication inside my copy congratulating me on my First. So for obvious reasons, Stormbreaker makes it out of the burning building intact.
4. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
I'm pretty sure the tears I cry over this book would be enough to douse the flames, but just to be clear - yes, I would run into a burning building to rescue my copy of A Monster Calls. This book is a piece of art; the writing is just so raw and beautiful and the illustrations are so haunting. You've probably seen Jim Kay's illustrations before (he's responsible for those stunning hardback illustrated versions of Harry Potter) but the artwork in this book is something else. It's a truly heartbreaking book and one of those ones that reminds you of the power literature can have to make you feel. And as a huge Patrick Ness fan, I just had to get this one signed when he came to Newcastle. Patrick Ness is another author I studied at university and we had a great chat about my essay on posthumanism in More Than This (which is a great book btw - very Matrix-esque!). He wished me luck with my Masters and ever since this book has had pride of place on my shelf and has been my good luck charm. A wonderful book by two wonderfully talented guys.
5. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Ohhhh my gosh where do I even begin with this one?! Me and Simon go waaaay back - this is the book I wrote my Masters thesis on and I honestly think I know this book better than I know myself! This particular version of Simon vs. is the special edition US hardback and it's the second copy of this book I own because my first has been completely defaced with notes, annotations and highlights. As a teen I struggled for a long time with my sexuality and I can only imagine how much easier coming to terms with being gay might have been if I'd had access to this book back in school. Seeing yourself represented in literature is so important and when it comes to marginalised communities, it can literally save lives. This is one of the first books where I truly related to the protagonist and when I think of the countless stories I've heard about people finding the courage to come out after reading this book or seeing Love, Simon I feel such immense pride. To me, this book represents more than just a contemporary romance story - it's an entire movement. Love Simon was the first ever coming out film aimed at teens produced by a major Hollywood studio, and the book's overwhelming success has led to an influx of diverse teen literature being published in recent years meaning that everyone can find themselves represented in the books they read. Hooray! And this particular copy has had quite the journey! My dad very kindly bought it for me during his trip to New York after I saw that a bookshop called Books of Wonder had signed copies available. Once it made it safely to Newcastle, it then travelled with me to Manchester for the launch of What If It's Us where I got to meet Becky Albertalli (and Adam Silvera - see below!) who kindly personalised my pre-signed copy with my name. And yes, in case you were wondering, she really is as sweet and wholesome as you think. WE MUST PROTECT HER AT ALL COSTS. Suffice to say, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda definitely makes the #BurningBuildingBooks list.
6. History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera
This is another signed US hardback that my dad brought back for me from New and one of the four versions of History Is All You Left Me I own (the others include the UK paperback, the ARC, and the Zoella book club edition - ew Zoella, but ooh pretty metallic turquoise foil!). If you've ever spoken to me (or read my blog post on Infinity Son!) you'll know I'm a massive Silvera stan, and while all of his books hold a special place in my heart, History Is All You Left Me is definitely my favourite. It's a truly heartbreaking story about love and loss, and it's unflinchingly honest. One of the things I love about Adam's books is that his characters are never perfect. They're teens: they make mistakes and sometimes their lives are messy. That's definitely the case in this book and there's this real authenticity to Griffin and Theo's voices. It's a book I think everyone should read but it definitely needs to come with a warning because THIS BOOK WILL DESTROY YOU. Like seriously. It's been two and a half years since I've read this book and I'm still not over it. So don't say I didn't warn you!
7. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Honestly, I don't even think I need to explain why this book makes the list. This book should be on everyone's #BurningBuildingBooks list and if it isn't then quite frankly I'm ashamed of you and we can't be friends. Like Simon vs., this book is politically charged and speaks to so many people. It will make you angry, it will make you cry, and it will make you want to do something. There's a reason this book has been on the NYT bestseller list for 131 weeks straight. If you've not read it yet, you need to read it. Angie Thomas is one of the best writers of our generation and while I'm sad that this book resonates with so many people, I think it's crucial that young people are having these conversations about gun violence, racial profiling and police brutality because, let's face it, these problems aren't going away any time soon. This is another US hardcover that I got from America and until a few weeks ago I hadn't even noticed it's a first edition! 😱 I was fortunate enough to get to meet Angie Thomas in person at a book signing in Newcastle where she was promoting her second book, On The Come Up (it's brilliant and just as good as THUG which I didn't even think was possible so you definitely need to add it to your TBR). Listening to her talk was incredible and it's easily the best author event I've ever attended. She was eloquent, funny and DAMN THIS LADY KNOWS HOW TO RAP. Seriously, go watch her on YouTube. And then go read her books and come talk to me. I'll be here waiting.
8. Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend
Okay I'm ashamed to say that I haven't actually got round to reading Wundersmith yet! I KNOW I'M SORRY. But I love Nevermoor and I got the chance to meet Jessica Townsend back when I was working at the Cheltenham Literature Festival last year and was able to bag myself a signed hardback copy of Wundersmith. And kudos to Orion because WOW the Nevermoor hardbacks are truly a work of art. If you're able to get your hands on one have a peek under the dust jacket because the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous! If you're not familiar with Nevermoor, it's about a girl called Morrigan Crow who is cursed and destined to die on her eleventh birthday. But when Morrigan finds out she has a special gift and can cheat death by escaping to the secret city of Nevermoor, she sets out on a magical adventure with the remarkable Jupiter North. The only catch: Morrigan can only stay in Nevermoor if she passes four magical trials to become a member of the Wundrous Society. I honestly believe that Nevermoor is going to be the next Harry Potter and with a movie already in the works, I definitely think Morrigan Crow has a bright future ahead of her!
9. We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen
Obviously my #BurningBuildingBooks list wouldn't be complete without a Jon Klassen picture book and even though it's impossible to choose between them, I had to go with We Found A Hat. Admittedly, this isn't my favourite of the hat trilogy books (in case you were wondering, it's I Want My Hat Back) but this one means the most to me because it's a signed copy that my boyfriend got specially shipped over from America for my birthday - accompanied by three limited edition prints! What a keeper! I love the ombre tones in this one and the two derpy looking tortoises are just the cutest. And for the responsible parents out there, this book is the only one out of the three hat books that has an unequivocally wholesome, positive message behind it! No murderous subtext to this one, no siree!
10. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling
I'm not the biggest Harry Potter fan (controversial, I know!) but I am a massive fan of Chris Riddell's illustrations and this is another book I was able to get signed last year during my time working at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. Chris Riddell is possibly the nicest man I've ever met. He looks a little like Santa Claus and there's a part of me that really thinks that Chris Riddell is just his undercover author persona. Also, can we look at this guy's handwriting. WHO SIGNS BOOKS THAT NEAT!? If I hadn't stood and watched him do it, I'd have sworn his signature was printed on. My favourite thing about getting to meet Chris Ridell at this signing was that there was a little girl in front of me who had came along with her copy of Goth Girl to get signed and a picture she had drawn for him. Chris thanked the girl for her picture and in exchange drew one for her on the spot! He asked for her name and then got his publicist to write it down for him because he wanted to name one of the characters in his next book after her. The little girl was over the moon and it was genuinely one of the sweetest things I've ever seen. I swear children's authors are too good for this world.
So those are my 10 #BurningBuildingBooks. What do you reckon? And what are yours? Feel free to use the tag on your own blog and leave a comment with a link to your post.
And as promised on Twitter, I nominate: