Where is the love?

On Tuesday we talked about how reading like a writer can spoil your enjoyment of books. If you”re anything like me, you are constantly analysing and dissecting, instead of immersing yourself in the novel”s world. (Even worse, I find myself angered by bad writing, particularly if it”s commercially successful, and jealous of really good writing… neither is a pleasant emotion.) As suggested by Steph, let”s rekindle our love of reading. You are invited to post the titles of three books you love – not books you think are clever, or challenging, or well written, but which fill you with the simple joy of being told a story. (Which is not to say that they can”t also be clever, challenging and well written!) Feel free to tell us why you love them, but remember that it”s appreciation, not critique, that we”re looking for.

23 thoughts on “Where is the love?

  1. AK says:

    I’ll go first then:

    This was harder than I thought. Many of the books that first came to mind were children’s books- The Jungle Book, Watership Down, A Wizard of Earthsea. In the end though I tried to pick books which, read as an adult, induced the same feeling of warmth, absorption and joy. If you’d asked me on a different day you’d probably have got three different books, so honourable mentions to Dostoyevsky, Iain Banks and the Flashman novels.

    In Yana, the Touch of Undying, by Michael Shea
    Utterly original fantasy, sly and satirical, which still haunts my imagination.

    Summer Lightning, by PG Wodehouse
    Riotous, hilarious and warm hearted.

    War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
    This isn’t showing off- I genuinely adore this book and have read it twice.

    • Sofia Kokolaki-Hall says:

      I loved war and peace too, though I read it many years ago and would love to read it again some time. By the way it was hard work selecting three books, and (oi!) you totally cheated by managing to squeeze another dozen books/authors in your comment. I should have done the same!

  2. Mary Ellen Flynn says:

    When I read this I immediately thought of The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy. I’ve never been interested in books about war but on a holiday a friend of mine lent it to me. Despite being the size of a brick I read it very quickly and it was delicious.

    The other author I thought of was Mario Puzo who’s novel Fortunate Pilgrim I read just because I found it in a youth hostel. He is cinematic in his description, and that is what pulled me through the novel. I ended up reading several of his other novels but still have never read The Godfather.

    Recently, I just read The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor. Again this was another serendipitous find that I bought in a charity shop. In this one I was pulled along by the outrageous situation she and her family were in as well as the history in the background. I keep thinking of more–The Sisters Brothers is another good simple story that takes place in the American west.

  3. Am I allowed Jane Austen as a freebie, just cos it’s such a cliche to say so?

    Other books I love include ‘Starter for Ten’ by David Nicholls which makes me laugh, ‘After You’d Gone’ by Maggie O’Farrell which makes me cry and, for the stories & characters, the Jackson Brodie books by Kate Atkinson (1st one is Case Histories) and a book by Margaret Forster called ‘Keeping the World Away’.

    My honourable mentions go to Iain Banks and Alexander McCall Smith.

    • Sofia Kokolaki-Hall says:

      Katharine, you cheated too! Starter for ten is brilliant, so fresh, so simple, so funny. I remember reading it when we had gone to live back in Athens for a couple of years and it made me really miss the UK.

  4. Louise Palfreyman says:

    The first one that comes to mind is Ben Okri’s Incidents At The Shrine, for the sheer power behind the storytelling. It’s always stayed with me. One of the most striking books I’ve ever read, mainly for the pictures he paints of Nigeria and his brilliant use of magical realism. And it’s a collection of short stories (pertinent…) I do like a bit of magical realism…
    Which brings me neatly onto Kundera. Anything by him, but especially The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Slowness. I like the broad sweep of his work, how he manages to take the Ronseal approach to delivering big themes. Slowness in particular does exactly what it says on the tin. He sets out to write on a theme, and he does so brilliantly and thought-provokingly. If we ever did big ideas/themes as a topic again, I’d raise him as a good example of how to bring a fresh perspective to your readers. Not everyone likes how he uses the authorial voice in his work, but I love it. It’s like having your hand held through life by the most wonderful teacher.
    Doris Lessing has had a huge impact on me over the years. I loved The Story of a Non-Marrying Man and Other Stories, and The Grass is Singing, for it’s intense realism and claustrophobic edginess. She writes with great vigour, and isn’t afraid to unsettle or provoke. So there you go. Three authors, slightly more than three books.

    • Hazel Neal says:

      Kipling’s Just So Stories for their glorious A Priori logic, though I ought to have Beatrix Potter too for having taught me the expression “on the contrary”.
      Gormenghast by Mervin Peake, and probably Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday

    • Sofia Kokolaki-Hall says:

      I also love Milan Kundera Louise, especially the unbearable lightness of being. It may be a cliche to say this, but I read it as a teenager, during a very formative time, and I think it partly made me who I am today.

  5. Nico J says:

    Mary Ellen – I loved the Sisters Brothers! Such lean, mean writing.

    My picks…deliberately fairly recent…

    Stephen King – 11.23.63
    Like Back to the Future for adults. The way he sets up his time-travel rules and uses them to slowly, relentlessly crank up pressure and heartbreak on the hero is just unforgettable, all while evoking such an incredibly vivid image of the past.

    Sarah Waters – Fingersmith
    A filthy, foggy, immersive homage to Dickens, angled around a central twist which is luxuriously dissected at length, turning the second half into a big conspiratorial afterglow I’ve never felt before or since.

    Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
    The first and second time I read this, it just nailed my heart to its pages; I loved it so much. I tried to read it again more recently and it seemed so clunky and roundabout that I had to stop 2 chapters in. On my shelf it remains, a lonely testament to the lasting damage of seeing behind the writer’s curtain…

  6. David Wake says:

    A friend gave me three books for my birthday, the books that had most influenced him, so I feel this is how I should answer the question and then buy those books for his birthday.

    Curtain by Agatha Christie. I love Poirot books and I’ve not read this one (no spoilers please), so obviously the anticipation has been delicious. Peter Ustinov, who played Poirot, was once asked what, out of all his film, was his favourite. “The next one,” he replied.

    The Policeman’s Beard is Half-Constructed by Racter, a computer program, came out in 1983. I’ve only just managed to get a copy recently, but the last piece, “I was thinking as you entered the room…” is something that I read back in the day and can still quote, mostly. It had a profound influence on my thinking and led to Inveigle, a play wot I wrote.

    I’m tempted for the third book to include Andy’s just to be cheeky, or something by Douglas Adams, or even, and this is ego talking, my own I, Phone ;-). I’ll go with a doorstop, Anathem by Neal Stephenson (although his Diamond Age may have been more enjoyable).

    Actually, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code was a good romp.

  7. Kate Mascarenhas says:

    We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson: Arsenic poisoning, village scandal, and sisterly love, all narrated in vivid detail by Merricat Blackwood, one of literature’s most terrifying teenage girls.

    Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld: Sittendfeld creates an intricate, fully realised society in this coming-of-age novel set at a New England boarding school.

    Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones: Cyberpunk for children. Wynne Jones uses the conventions of 90s computer games to depict characters with shifting identities in a non-linear plot. There are dragons, cyborgs, knights, and a particularly heart-rending story of an executioner seeking redemption.

  8. Jenny Heap says:

    I’m not really part of Pow Wow as distance and family commitments conspire to keep me from your meetings, but, having been part of the Cityscape project, I read your goings on with interest and hope it’s ok if I contribute. Here are my 3.

    No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith for sheer warm loveliness with an occasional unexpected bite of wisdom. (just the first few as the series is beginning to look a bit stretched now)

    The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark because I came across it in my teens in the 70s and it was the first one I read that went against the styles and rules of all the classics they’d taught us at school and it made me want to write too.

    Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantell – because I read it despite it being: 1) a historical novel a genre I don’t usually enjoy; 2) a Booker Prize winner; 3) huge; 4) by Hilary Mantell as I’d tried to read her books before and always failed. And I was absorbed from the first few pages, reading snatches while cooking tea or doing the ironing, and putting my own writing firmly on hold to finish it. (I loved Bring up the Bodies too.)

    PS – glad someone else mentioned Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels, love them too.

  9. AK says:

    Jenny, you’re very welcome to the discussion.

    Hazel- Gormenghast! Can’t believe I forgot it. Loved the first two like crazy, the third book less so (but then it was never intended to be a trilogy- classic case of Author Existence Failure.

    Kate- Diana Wynne Jones was a genius. Haven’t read Hexwood though, looking forward to it now.

    David- Da Vinci Code? Really???

    Katharine- Starter for Ten, seconded.

    Mary Ellen- I loved The Godfather, even though it’s trash compared to the movie. But it’s top quality trash.

    • David Wake says:

      The Da Vinci Code: I couldn’t put it down. I know, I know, irritated the hell out of the writer-reader in me, but the reader-reader was hooked.

      • AK says:

        Oh, I know, I couldn’t put it down either, it’s incredibly compulsive. But love? nah. Much annoyance at the clunky writing, and a need to scratch the itch of “what happens next”, that’s all.

        • David Wake says:

          I always think this is a book that writing groups ought to discuss, because, despite it’s many flaws, there’s something within it that really, really works.

          • AK says:

            Totally agree. We’ve done a couple of sessions on Dan Brown and Jeffrey Archer, and what makes their books work in spite of their paper characters and leaden prose. Anyone who sells that many books definitely has something to teach us.

  10. Elaine Moxon says:

    This is great! So Many wonderful books in one list. It’s marvellous to see people’s preferences and influences. When Steph mentioned the idea 2 books sprang immediately to mind. Unfortunately I had to peruse my bookshelves for the 3rd. Anyway, here goes…

    1) Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner – this is about Edith, a writer who evades her wedding day to a man she does not love because she is having an affair with a friend’s husband. Set in a lakeside Swiss hotel in autumn, it is a character driven book. We meet all the obscure guests through Edith’s eyes, all the while immersed in her emotional angst through the love letters she sends home to her lover. I read this initially when I was 14 and so it had an immense effect on my writing. I cannot read this book enough times.

    2) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – a famous book and for all the right reasons. Again this was an early read for me while at school and I was instantly captivated by Boo’s world and what she experiences. The characters are so vividly painted and the childhood innocence of Boo contrasts sharply with the evil that surrounds her. It is funny, frightening, heartwarming and sinister and I have read it at least 4 times (not always without crying!).

    3) This last one was difficult to find. I have had to have a joint 3rd place. Both are books I have only read once, however I felt they merited inclusion for the impact they had on me and my writing.
    3A – Avalon by Anya Seton – I found this in a second-hand book shop, drawn in by the female in medieval dress on the cover. Seton is admired by many historical fiction writers. The prose is rich in research and historical accuracies, although it often weighed down the action. It is also a long story where very little occurs for ages at a time. However, it is once more a character-driven book and you cannot help being drawn into Merewyn’s journey and her knight Rumon.
    3B – Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz – I had a serious Koontz phase about 2 years ago, starting with Odd Thomas. Odd is as his name suggests; he begins to see dead people and they lead him to the discovery of a terrorist plot, which seems to be seething with a dark and evil energy. Odd attempts to thwart the plot and the twist at the end was quite good. Although I read about 7 other Koontz books, this remains my favourite.

    I was talking to a friend on twitter and she recommended the following book in respect of last tuesday’s topic. It is called “Reading Like a Writer” by Francine Prose. Has anyone read this?


  11. Sarah Bartlett says:

    1. Anna Karenina by Tolstoy. Like tucking into a box of the finest chocolates in the world.
    2. Special topics in calamity physics – Marisha Pessl. For being the funniest novel I’ve ever read (as well as being terrifyingly well written for a first novel).
    3. Tom’s midnight garden – A Philippa Pearce – I’ve been rereading it regularly since I was a child and it’s the best time travel story ever written (imo).

  12. Rosie Pocklington says:

    Two books by the writer Gordon Burn stand out – Alma Cogan and Fullalove. Both books look at a post modern world moulded by the cult of celebrity and the mass media. Burns is compelling, dark, moving and revealling.

    One of the few books I have read more than once is The Godfather by Mario Puzo. It offers a viceral story of America and embraces, to quote Henry Kisinger, the pornography of power.

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