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

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 writers 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: Love in the Time of Cholera
  • 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 Poems 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: 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? Add in your favourite band and TV show too. Please leave your comments and hopefully we can share some gems.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. for the moment, i second a good reading of love in the time of cholera. it’s a delicious love story at the heart of it, but a whole lot more. i love garcia marquez. have since i first read his short stories and 100 years of solitude in the mid 80s..

    in short stories, i highly rec esp, ggm’s very old man with enormous wings.

    for sheer packed full of myth and history references and imagination that turns them all inside out while remaining true to them, neil gaiman’s american gods.

    admittedly at the moment i am reading absolute junk. i will recommend a good romp through a grocery store book rack when you need a break from all your important literary reading. my mil loves nora roberts…not my usual flavor, but it’s fun with intrigue, murder and heaving bosoms – manly man sex.

    and then next in line is a reread of the lovely bones. haunted me when it first came out, now with movie release, i am curious how it holds up.

    and i love sue monk kidd. excellent women characters, nevermind the lifetime and oprah movies

    that’s my quick what jumps to mind list for the moment. i’m sure others will recommend better.

    January 18, 2010
  2. What inspiration! I always find myself drawn back to my literary love affair when I visit this blog ;o) Then I have to make all those hard choices between reading, writing, creating, designing . . . . and then I get lost in an ocean of activity and forget to come back here. I’m so glad you have the FB page to remind me how much I love it here ;o) Nina

    January 18, 2010
  3. Just last night finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – read it – ASAP. A gorgeous book about friends and reading books in the midst of adversity.

    The Elegance of the Hedgehog is waiting for me, my mother, who just finished it, says it is like eating really really good chocolate.

    For romps: Diana Gabaldon. She has so much fun writing and researching. I have a special place in my heart for 18th century historical Scotland and ships having lived/worked in/on both. She’s a wizard. Have read all of the Outlander series and her Lord John Grey series.

    I only read Mark Helprin’s Winters Tale last year and have subsequently learned that everyone I know and love read it when it came out…mid-80s. But in case you missed it, it is tremendous. NOT a short story. (Nor are Gabaldon’s for that matter.)

    The Bone People by Keri Plume (New Zealand woman artist hermit befriended by an 8 year old – remember adoring it)

    Pocketful of Names by Joe Coomer – (Maine woman artist hermit befriended by a dog and a boy…not the same author, but come to think of it remarkably similar stories)

    Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov!!! If you have any interest in Russians and The Devil this a marvelous novel. Very Magic Realism – fanciful, cinematic, yum.

    Do you know Kate Dicamillo – she’s great to read with kids. I ran a book club for 5-8 graders for 8 months – read a few good books for that. One called Codetalkers about the Navajo codetalkers of WWII. An amazing piece of history and storytelling. Don’t know how old your kids are…

    Short Stories:
    Anthony Doerr’s The Shell Collector is beautiful.
    Rick Bass’s Novellas: The Sky, The Stars, The Wilderness are haunting.
    Read Isak Dinsen’s: Winter’s Tales – and Out of Africa (nothing like the movie and artful) –

    Well, I’m putting of my Quickbooks tutorial to remember book titles…if only accounting were so inspiring!

    January 18, 2010
  4. Very timely post, Alison — thank you! I too recently realized that I could finally rededicate myself to reading. I’m now squeezing it in wherever I can. (And I think it’s great for the kids to see Mom walking around with her nose in a book, rather than staring at her laptop.)

    At the moment I have about eight books in progress, which is unusual. I’m usually a one-book-at-a-time kind of woman. But on several occasions last year I started reading a book for my book group, didn’t finish in time, and had to move on to the next one. On top of that, I’m doing a lot of reading for my client work, which adds a bunch of nonfiction into the mix.

    Recently finished The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, which was indeed a treat. I’m about to start The River Why by David James Duncan, the next selection for my book group. Last year I particularly enjoyed Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife (haven’t seen the movie) — I’m looking forward to her new novel, Her Fearful Symmetry. (Niffenegger’s graphic novels are also an inspiration.)

    Among the currently reading pile:
    * Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson
    * The Gravedigger, by Peter Grandbois
    * My Life in France, by Julia Child
    * The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, by by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
    * The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan
    * The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan

    A few of my favorite books of all time:
    * The Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner
    * A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
    * The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy
    * The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx
    * Love Medicine, by Louise Erdrich
    * The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas

    I’m currently doing projects for nonprofit clients working in Afghanistan, so I have a collection of books related to Afghanistan, humanitarian aid, and affecting social change in the region. Fascinating reading. Currently halfway through Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea, and right after that will read his new one, Stones Into Schools. Then moving on to Love and War in Afghanistan by Alex and Gluchin Klaits, and Women for Afghan Women edited by Sunita Mehta. There’s a second wave on standby.

    And then there is a wide shelf full of books related to creativity, art, and the craft of writing. Most of these I have at least dipped in to, but there are a bunch that I want to read cover to cover.

    Thanks for revving the reading engines, Alison! I’m pretty sure I could do nothing but read all day, every day, and live a completely satisfied life 🙂

    January 20, 2010
  5. to miranda’s last ‘cpouplet’: wholeheartedly agree.

    also loooove roy’s god of small things.

    January 20, 2010
  6. Gosh, this is a fabulous list. I can’t believe there are so many people I had not heard of before. It only goes to prove that my re-education must continue in full flight, although the number of books on the shelf above my bed is embarressing and also probably dangerous! I brought some to the book club the other day. As I took more and more out, I began to feel like a guilty addict! Finding the time to read is still a challenge. Even when I go to be relatively early, my eyes begin to close after a few pages. Nonetheless, I will keep your recommendations handy and get to them when I can. Thanks for all your comments, keep them coming!

    January 21, 2010

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