The one book you absolutely must read, according to our readers

The best books of all time, chosen by people who love reading

Kat Brown
Penguin readers suggest one book they would recomment: from The Book Thief to One Hundred Years of Solitude
Image: Victoria Ford / Penguin

When you're looking for a good book, who better to ask than people who love reading?

Penguin readers are a voracious lot who enjoy sharing their opinions – and we love to hear about them. Boiling down literature to a single book is a daunting prospect, and one that throws up interesting results. What one book (or series) would you recommend to someone who was in a reading rut, or who didn't usually devote time to books, in print or audio?

Follow Penguin on Facebook and Twitter to share your own opinions, and you might feature into our next recommendations round-up. In the meantime, let us know which one book you think everyone should read – and enjoy!

You say: "My mum bought me a copy when I was 9 and still have it 30 years later." @skafozz

"There are so many to choose from, but for me it has to be Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte." @musketeer_mum

We say: Like many classics, Jane Eyre's edge is dulled through too much proximity to school set texts. If you can get past the association with A-levels, however, you'll find it as sparkling and richly detailed (and compulsively readable) a story as you could ever hope to read. A brilliant novel that covers the discovery of purpose and self as well as a nuanced love story.

Key quote: "Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton? - a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! I have as much soul as you, and full as much heart!"

You say: "Wonderful prose creating emotion and drawing a reader into a different era." @DEDNaive

We say: From one of the most atmospheric first lines in literature, the reader is left repeatedly on edge as the unnamed narrator recounts memories of her marriage to the aristocratic widower, Maxim de Winter, and the shadow left by his charismatic, capricious first wife at the family seat, Manderley.

Key quote: "'If only there could be an invention,' I said impulsively, 'that bottled up a memory, like a scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again.' I looked up at him, to see what he would say. He did not turn to me, he went on watching the road ahead."

You say: "I love everything about it…the language, the story…untouchable." @PennieRab

We say: A sharp, savage examination of society that skewers the age-old divide between young and old for a satire that stays as fresh as speculative fiction can. Burgess's book is a brilliant gift for teenagers, and even more so for the adult who has never read it but may have pre-judged it anyway.

Key quote: “'Choice,' rumbled a rich deep goloss. I viddied it belonged to the prison charlie. 'He has no real choice, has he? Self-interest, fear of physical pain, drove him to that grotesque act of self-abasement. Its insincerity was clearly to be seen. He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.'"

You say: "Read it every year since covering it for an exam in high school." @MDonnaP

We say: Another classic whose near permanent position in the school system means it's hugely worth picking up again to read with fresh eyes. Lee brought her own upbringing to bear (and friendship with Truman Capote, an inspiration for young Dill) on the characters of Scout and Jem Finch, and their lawyer father, Atticus, while the viewpoints of adult Scout and young Scout make for a shrewd and ironic narrative that forces you to examine how far society has come, and to what extent inaction is enabling racist attitudes.

Key quote:

"'Atticus, you must be wrong....'

'How's that?'

'Well, most folks seem to think they're right and you're wrong....'

'They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions,' said Atticus, 'but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience.'"

You say: "Almost impossible to pick just one, but the book that profoundly impacted the younger me was The Moon and Sixpence by Somerset Maugham." @Linda_Ravenhill

We say: Of Human Bondage might take the limelight (Maugham even got this title from a review of that book in the Times Literary Supplement) but this ravishing novel, inspired by the life of Paul Gauguin, is just as full of memorable lines and observations on human nature. If you ever wondered where the pub name came from, it's here.

Key quote: "There is no cruelty greater than a woman's to a man who loves her and whom she does not love; she has no kindness then, no tolerance even, she has only an insane irritation."

You say: "Won the Booker Prize in 1985. Endlessly beautiful, devastating and uplifting." @JCMacRae

We say: Packed with poetry, evocative writing and power, once you adjust to the rhythms of Hulme's debut (her only novel) it carries you through. It has become a must-read for anyone visiting New Zealand. Hulme was also the first New Zealander to win the Booker Prize, and wrote one of the all-time great lines about readers and their books.

Key quote: "'You know what, my friend Gillayley? A family can be the bane of one's existence. A family can also be most of the meaning of one's existence. I don't know whether my family is bane or meaning but they have surely gone away and left a large hole in my heart.'"

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