Books Everyone Should Read at Least Once
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Books Everyone Should Read at Least Once

Welcome to the C&TH book club

Many people rediscovered a love for reading in lockdown (especially Bloomsbury, which reported its best profits since 2008), many people are rediscovering reading through TikTok, and many people never stopped loving picking up a fresh book (or re-reading an old one). Introducing the C&TH book club, our ultimate list of the books everyone should read at least once in their lives.

‘A book is not only a friend, it makes friends for you. When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold.’
Henry Miller

Books Everyone Should Read at Least Once

From The Secret History to Middlemarch, all-consuming YA romance to serious biographies, the C&TH team has varied opinions on what everyone should read once. Here are our picks…

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The Magus

The Magus by John Fowles

Chosen by Lucy Cleland, editorial director

Fifteen years later this evocative book still has the power to whisk me to a Greek island of otherworldly intrigue, mystery and tension. Part psychological thriller, part lesson in mythology and literature, with a good dose of highly charged eroticism thrown in, the transportative nature of Fowles’ 600-page novel stays with you like the lingering hazy heat. From £6.19, Vintage Classics

Heaven's Command

Heaven’s Command, Pax Britannica and Farewell The Trumpets, a trilogy by Jan Morris

Chosen by Richard Hopton, books editor

This trilogy remains the finest, most moving portrait of the now universally despised British Empire. This vivid history, packed with sparkling detail and telling anecdote, can be read time and again for the rich, joyful splendour of Morris’s prose alone. £12.99 each, Faber & Faber

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Chosen by Rebecca Cox, online editor

Young adult dystopian fiction is my guilty pleasure, but the teenage melodrama and end-of-the-world plots aside, never has a book so perfectly described the delicious, heart-wrenching pain of falling madly in love for the first time. From £4.19, Hodder

Lee Child

Anything by Lee Child

Chosen by Ed Vaizey, culture editor

I fell in love [with Lee] several years ago, and at one point the publishers used to send me advanced copies. I have met the great man, and thanks to him I also became friends with Tom Cruise – for a week.  I devour his books in 24 hours. Love, love, love.


Middlemarch by George Eliot

Chosen by Charlotte Metcalf, associate editor

Middlemarch is an immersive journey, rich with detail, to the heart of Victorian rural life, yet the love story is satisfyingly universal and contemporary – sensitive, creative woman trapped with a bloodless, repressed bully falls in love with a luminous artist. Eliot captures the essence of the female soul, which has not changed, even though thankfully our lives have. £8.27, Penguin

Seven pillars of wisdom

Seven Pillars of Wisdom by TE Lawrence

Chosen by Jeremy Taylor, motoring editor

When I was nine, my parents dragged me to the cinema to see Lawrence of Arabia, then visit his Dorset home Clouds Hill and later his grave – all on the same day! Seven Pillars is an epic story of deceit, folly and the making of the Middle East as it is today. £6.55, Wordsworth Editions

On Love

On Love by Charles Bukowski

Chosen by Amy Wakeham, managing editor

This collection of poems is, for me, the very best of Charles Bukowski. You wouldn’t think his coarse, colourful style would make for good love poems – but you’d be very wrong. On Love is a beautiful, begrimed meander through love in all its facets: tough love, romantic love, unrequited love, passionate love – and also paternal love, which emerges after Bukowski’s daughter is born. A book to keep on your bedside table for insomniac nights. £9.99, Canongate Books

War and peace

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Chosen by Peter Hughes, travel writer

To my disappointment, it was not about Spitfires. I was 12 when I spotted two volumes in the school library, obviously about aerial dogfights. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and Moscow high society came as a surprise. But chagrin became enthralment, and abiding love for Natasha Rostova. My daughter would be Natasha. She is. From £3.49, Wordsworth Classics


Heartburn by Norah Ephron

Chosen by Ellie Smith, junior online editor

A semi auto-biographical tale based on Ephron’s marriage to Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein, Heartburn tells the story of food writer Rachel Samstat, who, at seven months pregnant, discovers her husband Mark is in love with another woman. Yet Heartburn is as hilarious as it is heart-breaking: Ephron manages to turn her personal tragedy into one of the most relatable comedies of all time. It’s no surprise this is Nigella Lawson’s favourite book: cooking is one of the novel’s central themes, and there are recipes peppered throughout the narrative – a unique feature that adds to its charm. Bursting with quotes that demand to be underlined, Heartburn is the kind of book that yearns to be read in one sitting. £9.99, Virago Modern Classics

Never Let Me Go book cover

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Chosen by Olivia Emily, online writer

The Swedish Academy described the 2017 Nobel Laureate as achieving ‘great emotional force’ in his novels and ‘[uncovering] the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world’. Kazuo Ishiguro is one of the most accomplished and respected writers of our times, and for good reason. With eight novels and a short story collection under his belt, Salman Rushdie called The Remains of the Day Ishiguro’s masterpiece, but I think it’s this. The best piece of advice when it comes to reading Never Let Me Go is to avoid any and all information about it. Go in completely blind and trust Ishiguro to pull you through the other side. From £5.99, Faber & Faber

Caroline and her friends

Caroline and Her Friends by Pierre Probst

Chosen by Caroline Phillips, contributing editor

My godfather gave it to me in 1964 when I was five – and I read it (nearly) nightly for years. Caroline (that’s me) wears a pillar box red boiler suit and Converse high tops and bossily leads her friends – mischievous, literate, English-speaking bears, cats and dogs – on intrepid global adventures. Currently out of print – you’ll have to root around for a second-hand one.

The Lesser Bohemians

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride

Chosen by Tessa Dunthorne, features assistant

I come back to this book time after time. A gut-wrenching coming-of-age novel, following a young Irish actor, fresh from a move to London, as she falls in love with a much older man. It reads strikingly true to that feeling of first love, and follows as she navigates both her trauma and his across a passionate affair. Eimear McBridge deploys language with such command – she is a sort of rebel against form – and the way she spins character consciousness is beautiful, most of the prose a stream of consciousness. It’s also a great start if you’re interested in discovering more contemporary Irish literature. And it depicts London so well. £8.99, Faber & Faber

The Moon's a Balloon

The Moon’s A Balloon by David Niven

Chosen by Carole Annett, interiors editor

David Niven’s autobiography is a charming, intimate and gossipy gallavant through life in Hollywood for this quintessentially English actor. He charts working and partying with Elizabeth Taylor, James Stewart, Lauren Bacall and Noel Coward, at a time when stars really did shine and no-one had heard of the Kardashians. £10.99, Penguin

Where The Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Chosen by Camilla Hewitt, wellbeing writer

In a time when we are not seeing our loved ones this beautifully written book about solitude and isolation connected me to so many of mine through a shared love of Owens’ mesmerising ode to the natural world. There is a line in the book: ‘I wasn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full,’ and that is exactly what Owens does, fills every page with lyrical words that leave you completely absorbed in life on the marshlands North Carolina. £7.99, Little, Brown Book Group

The Secret History Donna Tartt

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Chosen by Charlotte Rickards, online writer

I picked this book up for 50p at a charity shop back at school, not thinking much of it, but it’s a novel that’s stayed with for years ever since. Tartt has that ability to immerse you completely with the characters that you forget what time of day it is. Set in the classics department of a prestigious university in America, you go into it assuming it’s one story, which is then flipped on its head in thrilling fashion. £9.99, Waterstones


Passionate Nomad

Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark by Jane Fletcher Geniesse

Chosen by Harriet Compston, contributing editor

A brilliant and balanced biography on the remarkable British explorer Freya Stark. The book charts Stark’s extraordinary Middle Eastern adventures in the early 20th century, from the forbidden territory of the Syrian Druze to the castles of the feared Assassins of Persia to becoming the first woman to explore Hadhramaut, now in southern Yemen. From £4.79, Modern Library Inc

Three Women

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

Chosen by Sofia Tindall, features assistant

Over an eight-year period, journalist Lisa Taddeo interviewed three real-life women about their love lives. The result is Three Women, her debut novel and Sunday Times No 1 bestseller. Disclaimer: if you’re looking for fairytale endings, this isn’t the book for you (real life, after all, has very few). But Taddeo’s exquisite writing dives into the tricky topic of love with unflinching honesty. The universal pains and agonies, ecstasies and crushing disappointments of love (all of which we will have at some point likely been acquainted), are uncompromisingly laid bare, and Taddeo leaves no facet of the human heart unexplored. This is a perfect read for a cosy evening by the fire on a windy night, the type of book which will stay with you for many weeks after you’ve turned the last page. £9.99, Bloomsbury

Normal People

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Chosen by Daniella Saunders, online assistant

This revered literary romance – ‘Best Novel’ winner at the 2018 Costa Book Awards – is utterly absorbing. Sally Rooney’s second book following her equally-as-sensational debut, Conversations With FriendsNormal People follows Sligo-born Marianne and Connell as they undergo a complex and all-consuming on-and-off-again relationship. Whilst this might appear a conventional tale of boy-meets-girl, the novel offers so much more, from its raw illustration of male depression and masochism, to the subtle depiction of social status and socio-economic inequalities. There is something about Connell and Marianne’s relationship that is so irresistibly intense, compellingly addictive and relatable to anyone who has experienced the kind of fervent romance which embodies young love. £7.99, Faber & Faber

Down and Out in Paris and London

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

Chosen by Dina Nagapetyants, online intern

Hunter S Thompson who? Gonzo journalism was perfected in Orwell’s autobiographical account of the author’s time living in abject poverty in the underbelly of the two cities. Part buddy comedy (the author’s loveable, hapless friend Boris is one of the book’s unforgettable characters), part scathing social commentary, it follows Orwell as he goes from working as aplongeur [French dishwasher] at a series of doomed Parisian establishments, to tramping around London in search of cigarette butts with his fellow down-and-outs. Both hilarious and gut-wrenching – often within the space of a few pages – my first read (incidentally, on a train from Paris to London) had me intermittently snorting with laughter and weeping. £9.99, Penguin

Featured image: GettyImages