The Soul’s Re-education – who’s writing do you love?

Fuel for the soul

I will never be a literary critic. I say Wow. I say Yes. I feel a resonance inside, a plucked guitar string, light shifting, I find myself holding my breath. I feel a flicker of an idea, consciousness swirling, a pulse of feeling, a glimpse of memory that sets me ready to try to say…..something, something that might in turn touch and inspire others or provide them with a reflection of their emotions, or show them a new way of looking at the world.

Who are the writer’s that refill the well for you?

The last decade for me has been a decade of what I call ‘mud’. Not in a negative sense but in a hands-on, practical, prosaic, down in the thick of things kind of way. I have given birth to and raised four children with all the nappies and puree and wiping down and tidying up and cajoling and physical helping and emotional steering that that entailed. Something has to give, sometimes its ‘air’, what’s up there, the things that take us out of ourselves, music, words, exercise, theatre, new places, silence. The children are older now, the tiny baby stage has passed. I am about to start a new decade in age too. I want to begin to refuel in all the other things that I haven’t been able to get to. I still have the physical, the hugs, the squeaky noses, the lifting, the holding, the toddler insisting he can only be happy lying cheek to cheek with me but I want the breath as well, a little bit more than before.

This means catching up on old music videos I have never seen, bands that I hear fleetingly in the car between pickups but never hear the name of. It means, perhaps DVD box sets or catching re-runs of shows I missed like Madmen, The Mighty Boosh, The West Wing. It means getting to more music shows, more theatre, more galleries. (Even if its only 1 more!). And it means books and authors.

These are the books currently on my bedside table or in a tall pile beside it.

They are by writers who were recommended to me by others or are people that I have enjoyed in the past and want to continue to become more familiar with their work. In particular since I have begun to write so many short stories I have also become a voracious reader of short story collections.

  • Hanif Kureshami: The Body (Already in awe!)
  • J.G. Ballard: Kingdom Come
  • A.S Byatt: Possession
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Memories of My Melancholy Whores
  • Nabokov: Collected stories (His work is a wonderful revelation!)
  • Jeannette Winterson: The Stone Gods
  • Annie Proulx: Brokeback Mountain and Other Stories
  • Adam Foulds The Quickening Maze
  • Virginia Woolf: The Waves, To the Lighthouse
  • John Steinbeck: The Pearl, Sweet Thursday, The Wayward Bus
  • Ivy Bannister: The Magician (short stories)
  • Paul Durkan: Life is a Dream: 40 years reading poetry – 1967-2007
  • Sylvia Plath’s: Collected Poems

These are books I have enjoyed most in the past few years and highly recommend.

  • What was Lost: Catherine O’ Flynn
  • The Accidental and Hotel World: Ali Smith
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • To a God Unknown, Grapes of Wrath: John Steinbeck
  • The Gathering: Anne Enright
  • Postcards, The Shipping News: Annie Proulx
  • Map of Glass: Jane Urquart
  • The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen (An event of a book, great illustrations, notes in the margins. Beautiful to hold.)

Short Stories

  • How to Breathe Underwater: Julie Orringer
  • Constitutional: Helen Simpson
  • Lorrie Moore: The Collected Stories
  • A.S. Byatt: Little Black Book of Stories

I also hope to become acquainted with the stories of Raymond Carver and to read the first two available stories from The Chaos Walking Trilogy (teen fiction) by Patrick Ness The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer.

Help me with my re-education, my filling up of the soul and the well of inspiration.

Who are your favourite authors? What are your favourite books? Do you have any recommendations for us of authors we should become acquainted with? Are you an author we should become acquainted with? Let me know in the comments. Add in your favourite band and TV show too if you feel it deserves attention. Hopefully we can share some gems.

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18 comments

  1. Favourite authors, eh?

    I really enjoyed Sylvian Hamilton’s trilogy of novels (The Bone Peddlar, Pendragon Banner, The Gleemaiden), sadly Sylvian was taken from us before her fourth novel was finished.

    I also like all the Crowner John novels by Sir Bernard Knight, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, and Karen Maitland’s Company of Liars & The Owl Killers.

    Then there’s Bernard Cornwell’s Anglo Saxon series which begins with The Last Kingdom.

    And Katherine Jinks very funny and particularly well-written YA ‘Pagan’ series about a young lad who joins the Knights Templar and…well, no sense in spoiling it for you! 😉

    Finally, there’s Christopher Fowler’s novels Roofworld and Rune.

    Hope there are a few there you might like. 🙂

  2. My fav book of all time is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – multi layered, both a thriller and a romance, it has everything and resonates in your head long after you put it down. Must say I’m very impressed by your TBR pile!
    Vanessa

  3. Hi Alison, first, how lovely to see someone putting What Was Lost up where it deserves to be. I must say I was strangely disappointed last year when I read Love in the Time of Cholera – it’s one of those books I’d been waiting and waiting to read, saving up for years – and it felt a bit of a let down.

    My “get to know” list
    Haruki Murakami (the most exquisite, lyrical, magical, heartbreaking prose you’ll ever read) – start with Kafka on the Shore, Norwegian Wood, Sputnik Sweetheart, South of the Border West of the Sun

    Banana Yoshimoto – absolutely stripped back writing but utterly utterly extraordinarily powerful “Kitchen” is the most famous, but “np” is best

    Tom McCarthy – always in the shadow of the more famous Cormac, but infinitely better – “Men in Space” is one of the best books about Eastern Europe written by a westerner

    Dubravka Ugresic – the very best of writers about modern Europe. “Ministry of Pain” is her masterpiece

    Marie Darrieussecq – writes extended prose poems and fables quite unlike anything else Mal de Mer is the best thing ever written about the sea – beats Melville and Banville and Murdoch and Coleridge hands down

    Josephine Hart – the most brutally sparse prose you’ll ever read. “Damage” is almost unreadable – but will repay every second.

    I have to plug one of our authors at Year Zero, not jut because she’s one of ours, but because she’s one of the best writers of the century so far. Daisy Anne Gree’s Babylon is like a white chocolate souffle laced with cyanide.

    I have to add some bands too because music is my thing. In the “bands you may have heard of but should hear more of” category, all new on the scene last year, I’d put The Joy Formidable, White Lies, and The Big Pink – respectively post punk melancholy; the darkest industrial New Romantic sound and lyrics imaginable; hard-edged electro. In the “you haven’t heard of them but you really really should” category, the wonderful, beautifully orchestrated InLight.

    A lovely thread to bookmark 🙂
    Dan

  4. Hi Alison
    I love recommending books; delighted that your post is affording me another opportunity!

    Completely agree with Dan, Haruki Murakami will always be one of my first recommendations. ‘Norwegian Wood’ is in my ‘top three’…not only beautiful prose but also a heart tugging story that encapsulates the choices between the past and the future, lost love and the love of the here and now; and all with characters that you recognise and care about.

    I’m sure you don’t need me to recommend Margaret Atwood but ‘Robber Bride’ is up there as one of my top three too. I absolutely felt like I was each of the characters as I read it; that’s the skill she has in abundance. Also she is one of the few writers I’ve read that really pulls off the multi-narrator perspective. I think she does it better in this novel than any other.

    ‘The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint’ by Brady Udall is an incredible (first!) novel. It has my favourite ever opening passage. It also has one of the most loveable protaganists of any book I’ve read.

    There are so many more but I will be clogging up your blog so I’ll leave it there…I’m sure there’ll be many more avid readers/writers sharing their favourites too…

    Happy reading!

    Take care,
    Kelly

  5. Love the first paragraph of this blog entry. Beautiful.

    “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” and “Kafka By the Shore” by Haruki Murakami — love both of these novels!

    “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer — changed me.

    “The Lizard Cage” by Karen Connelly — taught me & reminded me.

    1. Thanks Sam, Vanessa, Dan, Kelly, Kristin for your wonderful recommendations. I am getting so excited just hearing about all these authors. I absolutely love Margaret Atwood as well, The Robber Bride, The Handmaids Tale, The Blind Assassin in particular. There is another duo of books I loved in the past: So Many Ways to Begin and If No-body Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor. Also Claire Morrall’s Astonishing Splashes of Colour was wonderful. Brian Aldiss has some wonderful short stories (among his monumental body of work). I especially love ‘Supertoys last all summer long’, the short story on which Spielburg’s film A.I. was based. (AND we didn’t even mention films…..). Literary taste is personal but also situational. Sometimes I am in a time of my life, a level of energy or mood that makes a book work perfectly where at other times I might find it tough going. I cried at Dicken’s Dombey and Son at the age of 13 but haven’t read it since. I wonder how it would affect me now.

  6. Just reading these posts is getting me excited about the many books I’ve yet to discover and also the possibility that maybe, one day, something I write will have a fraction of the same impact on someone else.

    ‘If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things’ – I actually typed that out in response to your post as my 4th recommendation and thought I was being greedy. His prose is like nothing I have read before.

    I agree with what you say about timing. I don’t think it a coincidence that when asked to pick my favourite books they are the ones I was reading at significant points in my life… Just like hearing a song on the radio and it reminding you of your first love, your last days at university or losing someone close.

    I am already taken with the sound of ‘Damage’, recommended by Dan, ‘Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close’recommended by Kristin and also your own Hanif Kureishi recommendation. I absolutely loved ‘Intimacy’ so am sure ‘The Body’ is something I’ll adore too.

    thanks!
    Kelly

  7. Hi Alison,
    Definitely agree on your recommended list of books, particularly “The Gathering.” I’m with Vanessa too and Daphne Du Maurier’s “Rebecca” I remember reading it in school and I was blown away by it. Definitely is still one of my favourites:)
    Olive

  8. My favorite authors are Jorge Luis Borges, Umberto Eco, Dorothy Sayers, Pierre Loti, Terry Pratchett. There are always new ones to enjoy. If you’re looking for something different and a quick, engrossing read, please take a look at my new release, Angela 1: Starting Over. To learn more about the book, please follow the link to my website. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for your comments and recommendations, Olive and David and its great to get a link to someone’s own material as well. I hope to take a look at the earliest opportunity. Hope the comments keep rolling in!

  9. Very excited about these recommendations. Will be adding to the pile next to my bed!! Daphne Du Maurier is also a favorite of mine. I enjoyed D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover this summer. I can read any of Jane Austin’s over and over. I really enjoyed Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Again thanks for the recommendations. Happy reading to all.

  10. Alison – I think your way of writing, the style, and the feeling that resonates in your posts, your kind, humourous, brave, wise, thoughtful persona that permeates your words, is extraordinary; and this decade I want to read YOUR stories and novels more than any writer on your or any one else’s list! I’m over all of them – you are the here and now. Love, W

  11. Hi Alison – found your blog via Inkpots n’Quills by Ann. Not quite familiar with WordPress blogs so I don’t know how to follow your blog – but I hope you’ll drop by mine! You are evidently well on your way to becoming a writer if you are already a veteran of Sunday Miscellany and the Tribune – well done. I blog for relaxation and read a lot – on my blog is a list of fave books and also my reading list is fairly updated on Library Thing which is in the sidebar.
    http://www.librarything.com/catalog/CatherineRM
    is the link to my Library list – books I’ve read, want to read and some reviews. Hope you enjoy it. I got to this via the iRead/weRead app on Facebook as a handy archive for my books and my reviews – if you use Facebook you can see I have a lot of books on that app with a lot of reviews
    http://apps.facebook.com/ireadit/redirect.php?next=force_profile_update.php%3Fprofilerefresh%3Dtrue&src=nprofile
    is the link to that list. I think there’s quite an overlap.
    We are reading The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls for our book club – just finished it, pretty amazing autobiography – a misery memoir by a forgiving adult – the American Angela’s Ashes? Not quite sure what to make of it but it was very disturbing. I read a lovely book I got for Christmas from the States – The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay – a debut novel, different but enjoyable nonetheless. Reminded me a bit of The Shadow of The Wind, with the bookshop setting. I would love to have more time for reading but work gets in the way!
    Catherine.

  12. Hi Alison, I read this post on studiomothers the other day via a sneaky RSS feed I have to my work email… so I didn’t see who wrote it but I loved it. Then I just visited the actual site and see it is you! I thought it was an American I didn’t know.

    Thanks, Sarah (freelancemam)

    1. Hello Sarah,

      Now that is a compliment! I’m delighted you enjoyed it. Lots of great comments on both sites which I will definately be following up. Talk to you on twitter. All the best, Alison

  13. Just wanted to say thanks for this post. Because of it I have read 2 new books that are the best things I’ve read for a long time…

    Firstly The Body by Kureishi. His perception is incredible…

    And secondly (and mostly) Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I am still reading it but I can’t remember the last time I cried and laughed so much reading a book…Very awestruck by all the things he has managed to achieve in it. Feels like the achievements of 3 books in 1!

    Thanks again, this is why getting recommendations is so important!

    Kelly (still wiping eyes…)

  14. Hey Alison, the mind blowing Murakami is “Hard Boiled Wonderland and The End Of The World” how he manipulates its twin narrative structures is revolutionary.

    “Cosmopolis” by Don Delillo is an extraordinary book both in it language detonations, but also the scalpel it takes to contemporary US life.

    “American Pastoral” by Philip Roth is the epic American novel, covering the 60’s onwards.

    “Karoo” by Steve Tesich is one of the funniest novels I’ve ever read. A laugh on every page.

    “The Sacred Book Of The Werewolf” by Victor Pelevin is curiously effective and has little to do with fantasy werewolves (or I wouldn’t have read it).

    “Motherless Brooklyn” is an extraordinary feat of writing, as through the eyes of its Tourettes sufferer MC, amazing things are done with language, while still managing to tell a story

    I would echo Dan’s recommendation of the Ugresic.

    I really enjoyed “Extremely Loud” – one of the few instances (along with “Curious Incident Of The Dog” where an adult carries off doing a young narrator’s voice with aplomb & credibility. But a lot of people slate Foer. I would defend him against all comers.

    Finally a wonderful little book written by a scientist of the mind called David Eagleman, “Sum – 40 tales of the afterlife”. I know this book will be right up your street! 40 fictive meditations on scale, life, death, the universe, divinity and humanity. Each no more than about 5 pages. Sublime.

    Me, I’ve got “House Of Leaves” coming up – looking forward to it

    Marc Nash

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