Five Favourite Fiction Reads

I recall stumbling across Chalk the Sun and reading many of the posts, Julie had read many books I loved and many more that I aspired to read. The first review I read there was The Buddha in the Attic, the first time I had heard of both the book and its author Julie Otsuka. Since then, I have been an avid follower of Chalk the Sun. Not only is Julie a talented, observant, evocative writer and reader, she is working on her own book set in France, which many of us are waiting to read!

Photo0650Julie tagged me in the Five Favourite Reads challenge, a near impossible task, so I will share 5 favourites that come to mind spontaneously.

Kimberly, a Bostonian writer living in Rome, also nominated me in the Happy Booker Alternative Book Award and since she’s stretched the rules to choose outside the 2012-2013 year, I’m going to combine these two awards and exercise freedom in choosing.

Whenever I visit Kimberly’s blog, she’s either reading, visiting a European city (known to be inspired to write a short story as a result), winning prizes for those excellent short stories, or planning to go to the Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera, Italy. This is a blog to linger in and be inspired by.

Thanks also to writer Deborah Brasket of Living on the Edge of the World for nominating this blog for the Inspiring blog Award and to Red Headed Stitcher who has nominated me in the past for the Sisterhood of Bloggers award and more recently the Liebster Award. I’m not too good at participating in awards, but thank you to all those who passed them on to me, I appreciate every gesture.

First, five out of too many bloggers whose posts I look forward to reading, whose exchanges I appreciate and whose favourite books I’d love to know (no obligation though):

Five Great Blogs

ReadEng Didi’s Press – lives and works in the north of France, loves books and the English language, sound familiar?

Three Hundred Sixty Five – it’s an ambitious challenge guaranteed to improve your writing skills and Fransi is doing it, I’m reading it in awe.

JoV’s Book Pyramid – reading around the world, across genre, an eclectic collection of book gems to be found here.

PB Writes – poet, writer doing the NaMeSitDifStarDaiWri(expletive)Po check her out and be inspired, I was, I wrote 2 poems this week, first in 2 years!

Books Can Save a Life – thoughts on books and how they make us who we are, with an emphasis on the personally meaningful.

My Five Great Fiction Reads

010413_1256_TheIndustry1.jpgThe Industry of Souls, Martin Booth My first read on 2013 was a reread one of my all-time favourite books and one that has stayed with me over the years and stood the test of time. He wrote one other novel Islands of Silence which I also loved and a memoir which I have still to read, Gweilo: Memories Of A Hong Kong Childhood. Sadly, he died in 2004 just after finishing this memoir. My recent review here.

Astonishing GodsAstonishing the Gods, Ben Okri This was a real favourite from my twenties, when life was full of indecision and anything was possible. I love a good fable and this small volume was a surprise read after struggling through Okri’s more infamous, head spinning work The Famished Road.

Birds Without WingsBirds Without Wings, Louis de Bernières When this book was published Loius de Bernières had not published a book for 10 years, so it arrived amidst significant intrigue. He is something of a hit or miss author, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was a word of mouth sensation, even if was a struggle to get into, however this is his masterpiece. Birds without Wings is a book to read slowly and savour each word, each character, each facet of that tragic and bitter struggle between the Greeks and the Turks during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Epic and profoundly humane.

HummingbirdHummingbird, James George In 2006, three New Zealand writer’s, Elisabeth Knox, James George and Vincent O’Sullivan visited Aix-en-Provence and I listened to them read. I had read Knox’s Vintner’s Luck, I knew of Vincent O’Sullivan’s work, but wasn’t familiar with James George. He read from his book Hummingbird and I was entranced. Just those few pages and I knew it was a book I had to read.

Three strangers arrive at a camping ground on a part of the barren, isolated Ninety Mile Beach. They are a former prostitute, a young man just released from prison, and a retired Cambridge don, former Battle of Britain pilot and veteran of the Battle of Crete. Slowly we learn their stories as the author examines their past, lost souls who find solace in this endless sea, sand and sky. It is an incredibly moving, lyrical work from a little known but exceptionally talented writer and poet.

all the pretty horsesAll the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy I picked this up in the library, not realising it was the first in The Border Trilogy, and what a thrill it was to discover that McCarthy, though bleak in his subject writes such pure, lyrical prose.

This coming of age novel and it’s sequel The Crossing are something of the best a book can offer someone like me, a great story, exceptional visual writing, inspiring awe. It’s like unlocking another door to that mystery of what makes us tick, it remains something of a mystery true, but I know that Cormac McCarthy’s way of expressing and describing in words is one of my keys.

So, what are the first books that spontaneously come to mind as your favourites?

The Industry of Souls by Martin Booth

010413_1256_TheIndustry1.jpgI’ve given away numerous copies of Martin Booth’s The Industry of Souls over the years and repurchased it for my bookshelf, just in case I wished to reread it.

But the truth is, I am not a rereader. I never go back, not even for this book which I’ve always named as my all-time favourite book. Until now. Could I continue to say this is my favourite book, when so many reading years have passed and it becomes nothing more than a nostalgic memory of being uplifted by something I can no longer quite define?

So on the first day of the New Year I decided to reread it to see. 010413_1256_TheIndustry2.jpgAnd felt all the discomfort of why that activity is not for me, glances at the bookshelf seeing all those titles I’ve neglected and not yet read, feeling the fear of this highly praised book no longer living up to my own expectations, the scepticism of being transported a second time when I knew what would pass, the memory of that paragraph about the soporific wasp, trapped in a spider’s web, snipped free by its wise eight-legged captor, a paragraph that I cut and paste and send to appreciative friends, long before the convenience of a blog, wondering if I would now view it with less than the perfection status I had granted it when first encountered.

CIMG3662It is true, there is nothing like gazing at a splendid view, arriving in a new city, country, or place, reading a book or meeting someone for the very first time and experiencing that element of the unknown. It’s the sense of adventure, the openness to being shocked, moved, delighted, surprised, uplifted, disappointed or merely comfortable with a familiar voice telling a new story. It reminds me of a quote (now those snippets I do reread) from one of my travel journals during a three month back-packing sojourn around India, Nepal, Vietnam and Thailand, daily living in the face of the unknown.

“In the face of the unknown, man is adventurous. It is a quality of the unknown to give us a sense of hope and happiness. Man feels robust, exhilarated. Even the apprehension that it arouses is very fulfilling. The new seers saw that man is at his best in the face of the unknown.”

An extract from The Fire From Within by Carlos Castaneda

Reading is unique in that it allows us to rest in the safety of our environment, yet allows us to visit such extraordinary places and/or observe the heights, the depths and the edge of humanity. Primo Levi does it in If This is a Man: The Truce, Vaddey Ratner In the Shadow of the Banyan and Jackie Kay in Red Dust Road to name just a few.

The Industry of Souls takes place on the 80th birthday of Alexander Bayliss, a British citizen arrested for spying in the Soviet Union in the early 1950’s, who after 20 years in a Soviet labour camp, the gulag, settles in the small Russian village of Myshkino, with no inclination to return to his roots.

It was all a part of the process of rehabilitation, of making us come to appreciate that Mother Communism, that buxom, grinning, snag-toothed wench dressed in a pair of dark blue overalls, with a scarf around her head and biceps like Popeye the Sailorman, would provide for us. She was our succour and our saviour as well as our slave-mistress and superintendent.

On this day as he makes his round of the village and his friends, he remembers both his time in the village over the years and significant events of that period in the gulag, including with his friend Kirill, to whose village he returned in fulfilment of a promise. And at the end of today he will receive another visitor, a connection from that past, he long ago left behind.

For now, there is much to offer in the reading present, but having reread this favourite, I have no regrets and I hope to have encouraged a few of you to seek it out, it is well worth sinking into its depths.

It is the industry of the soul, to love and to hate;

To seek after the beautiful and to recognise the ugly,

To honour friends and wreak vengeance upon enemies;

Yet, above all, it is the work of the soul to prove

It can be steadfast in these matters…