‘What’s your favourite book?’ It’s one of those ridiculous questions that you just should never have to answer. My favourite might be whatever I’m reading at that very moment, but tomorrow my favourite book might be the book my Dad read to me when I was seven. Then there are those oddments, that wonderful book by that author that I never read anything else by. That book of which you can remember nothing, only the feeling that you loved it. Or those books that you remember to be favourites but then on re-reading you find they’ve changed (it’s you…not them).
So, a favourite writer, perhaps? That’s certainly easier to talk about, I have many. Maybe even, there are some criteria that might make it possible to rank one above the other….and then I might be able to select one book by that author that it is VERY IMPORTANT THAT YOU READ and then…voila? But no, it would still feel wrong to make such a statement. I get nervous around favourites. So it won’t be favourite or ultimate or best. It’s just what it is…and here are some.
This week I read ‘Picture Me Gone’ by Meg Rosoff. I’ve been reading her books for nearly ten years; in fact I’ve read all of them at their time of publication (or in this instance – before! Perks of owning a bookshop) – I couldn’t wait to see what she did next; I knew it would be wonderful. I was never disappointed. A new release from Rosoff is a real event for me. It jumps straight to the top of the TBR pile. There is only one other writer who gets this special treatment, Curtis Sittenfeld, again it is a drop-everything type situation.
I guess this makes these two ladies my special writers. I can mark my history with these books – I know I bought ‘The Bride’s Farewell’ (MR) from the indie bookshop in the next town over, in a time when I desperately wanted a Saturday job there – owning my own bookshop wasn’t even a sprinkling of an inkling. I know I read ‘American Wife’ (CS) on a holiday with my parents when really I was too old to go on holiday with my parents but didn’t have a boyfriend anymore and they offered. I know I read it in three days and was very unsociable because of it.
I know ‘There Is No Dog’ (MR) was among the first few purchases I made in my own bookshop that was actually for me that I’d been desperately waiting for. When my next special event book came out, I didn’t have to go very far to purchase a copy. I posted my review one week after it was published and it was the first review I shared with an author where I was the fan and my heart went thump when she replied.
I’ve been lucky in that both Meg and Curtis have released books this year and they’ve both been unputdownable as always and fill me with future conversations. I suppose it could be another long wait for the next, it is worth it and I will there, ready.
These might be the only two writers for which I can claim to have read their entire works. Roald Dahl perhaps, though not by following his career, and more a hungry devouring of the whole lot in a fitful burst of reading during my junior years. Probably when I realised that going to bed wasn’t the end of the day, just the start of the night, and the time to read.
MJ Hyland and Scarlett Thomas could also be real contenders. I read all three of Hyland’s novels as new releases – I think she’s wonderful but I can’t honestly say how I’ll react to a new release – it could be a read-immediate or a put away treat for a rainy day. I won’t know until I’ve got it, but there’s no doubt I’ll buy it. Scarlett Thomas is another slightly different situation – I bought ‘The End of Mr Y.’, then became a poor student and borrowed ‘PopCo’ from the library (and now I don’t own it which makes me feel REALLY uncomfortable as it might have been the one I liked best) and then I was feeling flush again by the time ‘Our Tragic Universe’ came out and pre-ordered in hardback. I bought ‘Monkeys with Typewriters’ from my own shop and the Canongate re-release of ‘Going Out’ was practically scoffed in one sitting as soon as I got my mitts on it, but then, curiously I stored away the re-release of ‘Bright Young Things’. I intend to track down her earlier Lily Pascale novels at some point too (when will someone re-release those in matching jackets!) but I’m also starting to wonder if I crave owning them as much as I do reading them…
I have recently purchased Aidan Chambers’ entire back catalogue, after being delighted by ‘Dying To Know You’ and floored by ‘This Is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn’. I also greedily bought six novels and one short story collection by Richard Yates because after ‘The Easter Parade’ I just needed more. Believe me this is an unusual occurrence for me, most of the time I want different all the time. But Yates and Chambers gave me that Sittenfeld/Rosoff/Hyland/Thomas feeling of just not wanting to miss a thing. Queerly, rather tearing into the stacks I have filed them away; again the comfort of knowing I now own them has calmed my panic to have read them. Perhaps I will track my events inversely when I do decide to read them– as their publication cannot be the event, I will allow myself one when there is nothing else that will do to mark the occasion, be that a holiday or just a fresh set of bed linen.
If you had to ask me to name some standalone novels that I love chances are I’d always include Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’ and Marisha Pessl’s ‘Special Topics in Calamity Physics’ so to have both ‘The Goldfinch’ (DT) and ‘Night Film’ (MP) to look forward to this autumn is beyond exciting. I’ve been lucky enough to acquire both pre-publication and not only have I put them with the ‘waiting for a special time’ pile, I’ve given them their own very special pile – as if I don’t want them to mingle with the other books in case they get the idea that they’re in the same league of anticipation. Perhaps if I hadn’t just had a Christmas come early with ‘Sisterland’ (CS) and ‘Picture Me Gone’ (MR) I would have dived into one of the other already, but there is something telling me to wait.
I’m moving into my own house later this year and my library/study room is currently being decorated. My books will all be re-housed in this room of one’s own and I am trying to work out how I will organise my shelves. I certainly don’t want to arrange my library by favourite and different-favourite…especially as I’ve now rendered the word personally redundant. I think when it comes down to it I’ll do it the way I do everything…find a favourite that fits for that day.
Is there a disease that makes people draw things out to the point of long, stringy boredom. Is it greed? Is it lack of imagination or too much? I’m going to contradict myself continually from this point with the countless examples of where more has been a good thing (The Sopranos!) but I think, in general, I get bored after the first one.
It’s like cups of tea from the same pot - the first is the one I want. The second I drink because it’s a waste not to, it’s still hot - the third because I feel I should finish it. I mention it because I’m currently reading, and greatly enjoying, The Hunger Games. A trilogy. I like the characters and I’m genuinely gripped to see what happens despite there being the potential for only one ending really, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens along the way. All you HG addicts out there can smile smugly at me now because you know what happens and maybe I’m totally wrong but at the moment I’m assuming Katniss and Peeta will win the game at the end of the first book. Which is great and I hope it happens…
So what can happen in the second book? And the third? I’m guessing a love triangle will occur and it will be difficult to simply go back to the life she craves so much in the arena. Things will have changed, Peeta is important now. What about Gale. And so the story will have to go beyond district 12 in the third book - maybe some sort of anti-Capitol revolution and ultimate overthrow of the government. Gale or Peeta will die. All sounds very exciting really, but at the same time…doesn’t.
I know I can’t judge books I haven’t read yet so forgive me this generalisation - its just an example. I find the same in so much continuation - why is that early seasons of Buffy and the X files were so brilliant and varied with single episode cases - the mystery had to be solved by the end of the episode and it could end with a sassy comment or a little joke. Perfect. Then it all spins out of control and the stories need to last longer, more and more episodes feature The Smoking Man/The Initiative until the cases were all on-going and the odd episode that featured a single case was a special treat in a dull series - everyone remembers The Gentlemen because by that point Buffy et al had wrapped themselves up in too many messy subplots and nothing was shocking until they appeared at the door, smiling.
At least THG is a trilogy and the last book, filled with all the fiddly loose ends, will not double as a doorstop. Maybe it’s different. I’m going to read the whole thing anyway but I can already feel the contained excitement of the neat arena slipping away from me. Will I care about the bigger picture? I’ll let you know.
I read Blood Red Road earlier this year too, recent winner of the Costa Book Award in the Children’s category. I liked it, in fact it was the first dystopian novel I’ve really enjoyed and it got to the end and I felt very satisfied - until I turned the back cover and saw news of the impending sequel… is it only me who feels that despite enjoying the first one, I don’t really want to hear any more? There are other characters out there that I want to meet, other adventures I want to have.
I’m also going to try the Chaos Walking trilogy, in an attempt to undo my unfair lack of enthusiasm for books that continue. It’s ongoing therapy, but it’s difficult to motivate myself to undertake series, of which there are more and more piling up around me, when I find so many standalone novels absolutely floor me in a way I have never experienced with anything serialised.
I’ll name some I do like, for balance- Louise Rennison’s Georgia Nicholson’s diaries, that were as funny in book one as they were at the end, Six Feet Under, the tv show that never disappointed me, Toy Story 1 - 3.
This feels like a very bratty post. I’m heading back to the arena now. I’ll come back and say sorry when my mind is changed and I declare THG part 3 to the best thing in the history of all time.
The decision of the council was final. We buried all of the hatchets at once, a field was purchased for their specific burial. They didn’t go in boxes or anything so I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised us when they started sprouting.
The plot was getting pretty busy. I guess some of the roots got tangled under the ground because when the new handles started poking through the soil some of the old problems started to arise back in the village, though it seemed they had grown more complex.
The blades began to pierce the soil when the handles were at full height. That field was treacherous and a few of the puppies nicked their paws. The new hatchets were more troublesome than the old ones, which had gone in to the ground blunt and rusted at least.
The new council’s decision was final and the field was harvested. Everyone had to reclaim their originals and it was decided that the new hatchets would be given to the children of the village, who would pass them on to their own someday.
I was reading a book that I wasn’t really reading in as much as I was 50 pages in with no clue who any of the characters were in relation to any of the other anonymities. I kept going, staring at the shapes on the pages hoping they’d suddenly fall into place and some semblance, relativity and the word-world would fall into place.
It wasn’t that the book was bad or uninteresting but my poor reading skills seemed to become attached to this particular book. I read several things at once, they’re all in different places (bedside, deskside, breakfastside etc) but no matter where I took this particular book I couldn’t shake my total inability to read the thing.
Can you read it at your work, can you read it in the dark, no I can’t Sam you are, I can’t read it anywharrrgh.
I had to shut the book. I took out the bookmark and I put the book in a bag in the corner of my room, I don’t know what this says about me. Now I’m anxious about it.
It’s from the library and I face the terrible dilemma of deciding whether to return the book unfinished (unstarted?) with the intent to re-borrow it when I’m ready to listen, or give it another go after I finish one of the texts currently residing in the previously mentioned locations. Maybe a new location altogether is required for this particular book, with no bad reading habits lurking…
Is it ever right to really give up on a book? It’s really only frustrating when you realise there’s so many other things you could be reading and you’ve wasted time on this text that you weren’t even getting anything out of. Like those hours on the internet, lost in a place where few minutes become solid hours of what is essentially advertising, and the local mundanity of some idiots you went to school with seems to hold more interest than just about anything else and ohhellwhatamidoing suddenly it’s Christmas again I’d better update my status and check to see if my amazon wish list has changed…
For no reason at all my home has always featured an inflatable. In the house I grew up in we had a shark in the bathroom, then when the shark met his saggy ending he was replaced by a space shuttle from NASA.
We moved house and and the shuttle came too.
When I went to university my parents bought me my own inflatable shark, I found it in my bed. I kept it on top of my wardrobe, he extended over the edge, looming menacingly over the arm chair, next to the Jaws poster. It was idiotic of me to put a lamp there anyway, but the arm chair became the reading chair and it seemed necessary. I left the room for too many hours and left the light on. The bulb burnt a hole straight through the sharks underbelly and seared through the top, I literally returned to find poor shark impaled and alight.
I bought my mum a life-size emperor penguin for Mother’s Day. He lived in the dining room for many years, an extra guest at several Christmases and parties. He now resides in my parents en-suite bathroom. Just, y’know, hanging out.
The shuttle remains, having not learnt anything from my chargrilled shark experience it has been attached to the light in the breakfast room. It hangs much lower than the bulbs so whilst it’s avoided becoming a fire hazard it has actually become THE BAIN OF MY TABLE-BASED LIFE.
The air circulating in that room (is there a door open? a window? no, oh it’ll just be the unsourceable/unblockable chill of a 100-year old house) disrupts the shuttle. It sends it into a gentle spin, it’s always moving. So slowly you might not even be able to tell, unless, for example, you’re me.
The table it hovers above is the table we eat/read at. These things are synonymous. Dad takes the paper or magazine (Q or Empire), Mum has the G2, specifically for the quick crossword for which she will only use black biro pen despite often getting the very first answer wrong and subsequently having to do a lot of scribbling out. I usually have a novel there but might take the Weekend, Review or the LRB if my book is proving too difficult to prop open on the table. And then the shuttle moves. It’s a bloody eclipse. The shadows fall across the text and no amount of shifting in the chair or holding the book at a different angle can stop it dropping the night on you when it makes its next move. Its incessant. I’m not going to get up, mid-sentence, mid-plate and chop the thing down. I have to admit it looks good in the room (that’s the thing about our inflatables, they’re unexpected but pleasantly surprising) but it has to go.
My optician asked me once if I see ‘floaters’; the strange lights that appear on your vision. Yes, I do, I know exactly what you mean, I said.
Well, it’s nothing to worry about really, he reassured me, it only matters if what you see is like a shadow.
Apparently if it seems like a dark shadow is falling slowly across your vision, like a curtain, or a slow space shuttle across a novel, it’s your retinas detaching.
You need to get to A+E ASAP.
I’m trying to write a paradox.
I’m trying to think about writing a paradox.
I’m trying to paradoxically think about writing.
I’m trying to write about thinking paradoxically.
Am I there yet?
you should be a novel, some
novels, a library - one per face or slight
of brow. There’s too much
of you for anything but
a poem that could mention your
hair - which is crazy who has hair
like you and those teeth
how did you get them working
for you like that? I can see them now
I’m watching Snake Eyes.
The point is you’re billboard
but only a poem could know that.