It’s Reading Ireland Month!

March is here, so that means Reading Ireland Month is here!

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Join myself and Niall at The Fluff is Raging as we celebrate all that is good about Irish books and culture.

It won’t be any fun without you, so grab our pin and add the link to your blog posts at the linky below. If you need any inspiration, you can check out my list of 100 Irish Novels, or watch our Begorrathon trailer and see if anything sparks your interest.

Remember everyone who posts during Reading Ireland will be entered into a draw to win a copy of the beautiful Irish literary journal The Winter Pages, edited by Kevin Barry.

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Join in the conversation on Facebook or on Twitter with our hashtags #readireland17 or #begorrathon17

Don’t forget to check in throughout the month as there will be great interviews, reviews and giveaways happening every week.

Ireland Month

 

When adding the link, please do add the subject matter of your post beside your name, so everyone knows who or what you’ve been writing about!

Let the fun begin!

The Books that Built the Blogger with Elena from Books and Reviews!

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Today on the blog I am delighted to welcome Elena from Books and Reviews, one of my favourite bloggers whose fantastic reviews cover mainly crime fiction. I love her insightful reviews and feminist critiques and hope you’ll check out her blog!

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I have been a voracious reader of crime fiction since I was 2. I am not kidding. Back in the early 1990’s there was an amazing book about a group of animals that lost a cake in the forest called The Lost Cake – although no pictures of said book survive. The plot centred on their quest, and the final finding of the cake to everyone’s happiness. My Mum always remembers how much I loved the story, and the joy I got from learning, once again, that the cake was found. So much so, that I wanted the book to be read aloud to me at least twice a day. Apparently, it was a nightmare for both my parents, although they now remember those nights with love. To their joy, I learned to read, I eventually grew out of the story.

I spent my childhood reading almost everything that I could lay my hands on. My parents would buy me as many books as they could afford, but I also browsed my grandparents’ and aunt’s libraries in search for my next read. I remember trying to read Tom Sawyer – and miserably failing! – when I was 8, just because I loved the cover from a collection aimed at young readers that my grandparents got as soon as they discovered my passion for books. Around this time, I also got my first library card, and tried – I still do – to use it as much as I can. Remember libraries count on us to stay alive, especially in times of economic crises, like the one Spain went through during my childhood. Despite the volume of books available to me, I must admit I spent a few years trapped between children’s literature and more adult stories. I lusted after covers of adults’ books and I used to browse the mystery and crime section at our local shop to no avail. Children’s literature did not appeal to me, and I was scared by adults’ books – after all I was an 8-year old pounding on the possibility of reading adult crime fiction.

And then I was handed a quick way out of that limbo: My aunt presented me her collection of comic books, though not the ones that you are imagining. These were two volumes of literary classics adapted to comic format that made it very easy to me to explore more adult narratives in a more approachable way. My 10-year old was in heaven! I would carefully explore both volumes before deciding on a story, always with a renewed desire to find a story that would make me feel like my lost cake. Even though these stories were – now I see it – mainly written by white, English/American men, they meant the key to a new world, or at least, a necessary rite of passage in Western literature. And one day, I found a story that excited me more than my lost cake:

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The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is the first Sherlock Holmes story that I read, but also the first adult novel that I allowed myself to read. Back then it took me a few attempts to go through the grotesque depiction of the hound in the comic, but everyone in my family kept encouraging me to keep reading. I did, and once I finished reading the story I asked my parents for the real deal: My first Sherlock Holmes book. Since I had always been a voracious reader, my parents looked at me with a mix of love and sadness knowing I was no longer a children’s books reader, and there was no way back. My adult book hauling had started.

I live in a small town and although the book was not available at our local bookshop, they requested it to the publisher for me. They promised they would call me, and I patiently waited by the phone for days. I’m actually still waiting, as they never called. Seeing how important the book was to me, my parents decided to take me to the City. I remember browsing the mystery section, which I saw with new eyes now that I was familiar with that formidable detective that I so much admired. I discovered them, as I squealed telling me parents, that he was famous, very famous, and there were so many books that I imagined I had a lifetime of crime stories to read. From that moment on, I would request a Sherlock Holmes book to anyone who offered to buy me a gift.

The problem with the Canon is that is extensive, except if you are a pre-teen who would only read Sherlock Holmes. In less than a year I was left with five Sherlock Holmes stories. I decided then I did not want to live in a world where there are no Holmes stories left for me to discover, and I have kept that childish promise to myself until the present day. Instead, I focused on compulsory readings at high school, learning English, and reading British, and American literature. Even though I am Spanish, I have always drifted towards English culture, a passion that everyone in my family still holds dear nowadays. During this period, I discovered three female sisters who died young but wrote dark novels in 19th century England. I discovered the power of the Mississippi and male friendship; and the cold winter in New England where four sisters gave away their Christmas breakfast to a family in need. I read as much as I can, already showing an interest for women authors, and thinking myself the Beth of my life story, even though I am clearly a Jo. For a while, I left crime fiction and instead abandoned myself to tales that resonated with the sometimes hard process of growing up.

When at 18, I had to decide what to study at university, I was caught up between Philosophy and Spanish Grammar. I was really good at both subjects in high school, and I thought I could pull off a degree in any of them without much effort. But, less than 24 hours before the deadline to apply ended, I looked at my bookshelves just in time to realise that they were crowded with books from the UK, and the States. What if I could make of my passion my profession? Could it be THAT easy? As I announced my decision to my family, they all sighted in relief: ‘We didn’t want to interfere with your decision, but it was so clear English Studies is your thing!’ So, English Studies it was for me! During my degree, I had amazing lecturers who taught me the classics, and even offered extra reading, sometimes lending me their own personal copies of books that were not in the programme. Back then I read two or three books a week, all related to the subjects I was studying. I loved every single literature class. I loved to study a text, and finding the structure. Mapping out the characters’ development. Deconstructing the hidden meanings of every line. It was hard work. I did not have much free time. And I was at my happiest. But I had no time for crime fiction, and needless to say, it was no included in the programme. Until I met MS.

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Just half an hour talking to MS in her office about my reading habits and my reading she knew I had a passion for crime fiction. She was the person who told me I could study crime fiction. And since she is an English Literature professor and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my English Degree, I believed her. But again, I found myself thinking: Could it be THAT easy? Can some of the hardest decisions in life be made this easily? This was 8 years ago, and I have never looked back. I have studied crime fiction under MS’s tutelage since then. I wrote my dissertation about the Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series. I wrote my MA dissertation about the television show Rizzoli & Isles, and I am currently writing my doctoral thesis about forensic crime fiction. Words cannot express how lucky I feel that I have found someone who understands why my bookshelves are crowded with crime novels.

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It was also under her advice that I discovered Patricia Cornwell and the Kay Scarpetta series. My inspiration! The reason I have decided to pursue a PhD in Humanities with no funding! The one person with whom I share lack of sleep and lots of coffee! After reading the first novels in the series, I decided to explore more contemporary crime fiction. What if there was a bunch of female forensic doctors out there who understand me better than some real people? Enter Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan series – and their television adaptation Bones – who have also taught me that it takes a lot of hard work to get to where you want to be. But can be made. So keep working! Do not never give up!

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I credit Dr. Maura Isles – from the TV adaptation of the Rizzoli & Isles series, I’m just discovering Tess Gerritsen’s novels! – with teaching me that you do not have to adhere to social constructions, and if you want to go to a crime scene with your new Louboutin’s, you can. And you should be proud. Even though they are fictional, these women have taught me more about resilience, ambition, and work ethic than any teacher did during elementary school.. I am constantly surprised by their power as fictional characters, but I am also honoured to have met them, and have them in my life. There is nothing I like more than a (fictional) morgue when I’m stressed!

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As I see it now, my life has just been a succession of realising my passion for books could be turned into something useful. Something similar has happened with my blog Books & Reviews, which I started inspired by a friend, and has now become a key part of my career and my online identity. However, I would not be here if it weren’t for the books mentioned here, and all the wonderful authors that made me discover that I can be a Humanities person and still love medicine and forensic science. Reading is an act of self-discovery, but it is also a rebellion against social, familiar and professional expectations that try to label us. Crime fiction has taught me that the status quo can be questioned, and that it is possible to get out of your comfort zone and come out of it triumphant.

What a fantastic post from Elena! It’s so interesting that Arthur Conan Doyle features frequently on crime writing fans lists, clearly an incredibly influential writer.

Are any of your favourites on this list?

It may be Reading Ireland Month here at 746 Books in a week, but The Books that Built the Blogger will continue, and next week I’m delighted to feature Susan from the brilliant A Life in Books!

The Books that Built The Blogger with Melanie from Grab The Lapels

I’m delighted to have Melanie from Grab the Lapels on the blog today talking about the books that have shaped her reading and her blogging. Grab the Lapels is a fantastic site, focusing on works by women writers and featuring a great Meet The Writer series and some really in depth, knowledgeable reviews. It’s also always great to have a fellow Sweet Valley High fan on the blog! So, it’s over to Melanie…

There are three books I’ve read that I can really remember changing me in a deep way.

Early on, it was Sweet Valley Twins and Friends: Ghost in the Bell Tower (Super Chiller), a book by Francine Pascal—or one of her ghostwriters. There are hundreds of books about the twins. Before there was Team Jacob and Team Edward, there was Team Elizabeth and Team Jessica.

Were you more like studious Elizabeth, who had superb grades, one close friend, one “steady,” liked to read, and worked for the school newspaper? Or were you more like Jessica, who was rebellious, loved popularity and cheerleading, was daring and compelling, and had a new boyfriend every week? It was easy to change your team because the author never painted a clear “good twin.” In Ghost in the Bell Tower, a book for middle-school aged girls, the twins discovered a young man living in, yes, the bell tower, and investigated. Jessica was hysterical; Elizabeth was logical. My love of ghost stories deepened due to this book, and it made me think more about character traits in fiction.

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In grad school, I read Girl Imagined by Chance by Lance Olsen. It was a mix of memoir, fiction, art history, and social science. Basically, the author’s wife in real life (and as a character in the book) does not want to have children, but her family on the other side of the United States practically demand it. So she downloads pictures off the internet and slowly imagines a baby girl to life. How long can they keep it up? Why are the Olsens doing this? How do photography and death affect our feelings about family and representations of family?

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Melanie with Girl Imagined by Chance author Lance Olsen

 

Girl Imagined by Chance is considered experimental fiction because it does not follow a straight-up traditional narrative style, and it was the first book that showed me novels can do a lot of things at once in different ways, which affected my own writing (especially in my MFA program) for years to come.

Finally, The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley changed the way I felt about civil rights, the media, religion, ideas, and who tells us what the “truth” is.

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In schools in the U.S., we learn about Martin Luther King, Jr., his “I Have a Dream” speech, and the Letter from Birmingham Jail. The Civil Rights Movement is tidy according to public education. What we miss is the sheer violence, constant strategy planning, and utter fear felt by white and black communities alike. We’re also not told that MLK frequently cheated on his wife, sent children to get beat up (so it would get media attention), and the college students who worked for him while he stood back for much of it. Malcolm X boldly claims that black people should have their own state and separate from white communities because trying to integrate is demeaning, short-sighted, and a failure for several good reasons. His autobiography carefully lays out his history and motivations for his stance on black communities and white devils, and when he’s presented with new evidence throughout his life, he changes his mind—something I rarely see in politics these days, as changing one’s mind is seen as a weakness. Since my first reading, I’ve taught Malcolm X’s book for six semesters at different colleges. It’s a book that taught me to challenge what I think I know and read more to get a better perspective on history.

Many thanks to Melanie for taking part and for a fascinating choice of books. I read a lot of Sweet Valley High as a young teenager and was always an Elizabeth, although I secretly wished I was a Jessica…

I’m completely intrigued by Girl Imagined by Chance and it’s definitely one I’d look out for in the library.

Check back in next week when Elena from Books and Reviews shares her defining reads.

Announcing Reading Ireland Month!

 

It’s that time again! March is coming, my favourite month in my blogging calendar, because it’s Reading Ireland Month – will you be joining us?

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Ah, gwan, ya will!

Wherever they went the Irish brought with them their books, many unseen in Europe for centuries and tied to their waists as signs of triumph, just as Irish heroes had once tied to their waists their enemies’ heads. Where they went they brought their love of learning and their skills in bookmaking. In the bays and valleys of their exile, they re-established literacy and breathed new life into the exhausted literary culture of Europe. And that is how the Irish saved civilization.

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By now you’ll know that Ireland is about so much more than shamrocks, St. Patrick and leprechauns. For a country the same size as South Carolina, it packs a hefty cultural punch. Ireland has produced four Nobel Prize winners; five Booker Prize winners; some world dominating musicians; a host of Oscar winners (and another nominated for this year’s awards) and a leading action hero from Ballymena.

We have the best pint in the world and the most stunning coastline – you could even say it’s in a galaxy far, far away.

Last year we hosted a whopping 130 posts on all things relating to Irish culture. Books, food, travel, movies, theatre and favourite bookshops – your enthusiasm was boundless and so was your reading.

So this year we hope to be bigger and better.

To celebrate the wealth and breadth and general awesomeness of Irish cultural life, 746 Books and Raging Fluff are co-hosting a month long celebration of all things Irish.

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Reading Ireland Month (or The Begorrathon as it is affectionately known) will feature book and film reviews, poems, music, interviews, giveaways and much, much more. This year I’ll be looking at female Irish Crime Writers, celebrating World Poetry Day with some new Irish Poets and compiling a list of 100 Novels by Irish Woman Writers.

We’d love for you to join us!

To be Irish is to know that in the end the world will break your heart.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Grab our new badge and put it in your sidebar and get planning your Ireland themed reading or viewing. Like our Facebook page here and then between 1 and 31 March, post as much as you like about any aspect of Irish literature and culture – anything at all!

Read this year’s One City One Book choice Echoland by Joe Joyce. Post your wheaten bread recipe. Make a list of your favourite Irish books or movies. Eat a packet of Tayto crisps. Read a book by a female writer from Northern Ireland to support Women Aloud NI.

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Watch Game of Thrones and marvel at our countryside. Read some of last year’s award winning new fiction from Mike McCormick (Solar Bones) and Lisa McInerney (The Glorious Heresies). If you’re feeling brave, read Ulysses. Dress up as Mrs Doyle from Father Ted and take a selfie, whatever it is we don’t mind!

 

As an added incentive, everyone who posts during Reading Ireland Month will be entered into a draw to win a copy of the beautiful Irish literary journal The Winter Pages, edited by Kevin Barry.

We’re not big on rules so the ones we have are pretty straightforward:

  • Put a link to your post on our Facebook page and we’ll be sure to share it
  • Link to our master post on either of our blogs: FOR POSTS ABOUT POETS, PLAYWRIGHTS and AUTHORS, link back to Cathy at 746 Books
  • FOR POSTS ABOUT FILMS, MUSIC, TV or ANYTHING ELSE, link back to Niall at Raging Fluff
  • Watch our Reading Ireland Month trailer to give you some ideas for what to watch, read, eat or drink
  • Join the craic on Facebook
  • Check out the list of 100 Irish Novels on 746 Books blog in case you need some help choosing a book
  • Don’t forget to tweet about your post using the hashtags #readireland17 or #begorrathon17

We can’t wait to hear what you are planning. Have you any books or movies lined up? Any new authors or old favourites you might visit during March?

It’s going to be some craic….

 

More than loud acclaim,

I love Books, silence, thought, my alcove.

Pangur Bán Poem by Anon Irish Monk, Translated by Seamus Heaney

The Books That Built the Blogger with Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings!

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This week on The Books That Built the Blogger, I’m delighted to welcome Karen from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings! Her blog has long been one of my favourites, with a fantastic mix of classics, poetry and works in translation. I was so intrigued to hear about the books that made her the reader, and blogger, she is today!

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If you’ve been reading books as long as I have, and you think of yourself as a voracious reader (I certainly am!) then it can be hard to pick out favourites. However, when Cathy asked me to contribute to her ‘Books That Built the Blogger’ series, I thought I would have a go at pinpointing some books that are particularly significant.

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As a child I was always reading, more often than not Enid Blytons, or basically anything I could get my hands on. We didn’t have much money for books, so the library was an essential port of call, and in our lovely little local one I came across Dr. Seuss’s I Had Trouble In Getting to Solla Sollew. This was completely unlike anything I usually read but I loved its combination of rhyming words and images, and the latter were particularly stunning – colourful and surreal, they took me far away from the dull everyday routine, and when I was grown up and had an income of my own for books, I soon picked up my own copy.

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Another series of books featuring strange characters and landscapes came in the form of the Gormenghast books by Melvyn Peake. I was gifted a set of these for Christmas 1978 and spent the whole of the festive period absorbed in their wonderful narrative. I still believe Peake was a genius, with his many talents from painting, book illustration poetry and novels, but his Gormenghast stories were his crowning achievement. Not only did the books affect me emotionally, but they got me involved with the Mervyn Peake Society, and I ended up helping to run this for some time.

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In my twenties I began to explore more widely 20th century women’s literature. One highly recommended author was Virginia Woolf, and the local book shop had Mrs. Dalloway, which was therefore the first Woolf I read. I loved it then and I love it still – I’d never come across anyone who played with language like she did and took the reader on such a breathtaking journey. I spent some time after discovering this book in reading all of her novels, essays, letters and diaries… 

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Another book that holds great emotional significance for me is one that was gifted by OH around the same time, on the recommendation of a friend of his. That book was Italo Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night a Traveller and reading it was revelatory. If I thought Woolf played with language, here was someone who turned it on its head! I was hooked from the very start, when Calvino described the words of the page you were reading as being obscured by the smoke of the train in the story. As with Woolf, I went on to read all of his works, developing a huge obsession with his books, and I still return to them with great joy.

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I realise that all of these books are ones I’ve read quite some time ago, so my final pick is a book I came across more recently which had a huge impact and sent me off on one of my regular bookish obsessions – “Life: A User’s Manual” by Georges Perec. I picked this up on a whim in a charity shop, having a vague memory of reading something interesting about it online, and it was one of those serendipitous finds that any bookaholic will recognise. I discovered that Perec was a part of the OuLiPo group, of which Calvino had also been a member, a group who were dedicated to playing with language. “Life” is a brilliant piece of work: long and complex, full of dazzling stories, even if you don’t get the underlying structure and constraints employed to write it, it’s still a masterpiece and utterly compelling. And needless to say I feel the need to read everything by Perec and have amassed quite a collection of his works…

So those are some of the books that made me the reader and blogger I am. Of course, if you asked me next week I might well come up with other titles – that’s the joy of reading and the joy of all the books in the world. You never know what you’ll stumble across next!

Thanks so much to Karen for taking part – what fantastic choices! I adore Mrs Dalloway, which I only read last year. I know if I had read Woolf earlier in life she would have had a profound effect on my reading. The Calvino is in the 746 so I’m looking forward to that one at some point and the George Perec sounds amazing!

Have any of these books had an influence on your reading? Don’t forget, if you’d like to take part, drop me an email to cmac2708@yahoo.co.uk

The Books that Built the Blogger with Rachel from Confessions of a Book Geek!

 

 

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This week on The Books that Built the Blogger, I have the fantastic Rachel from Confessions of a Book Geek. I had been following Rachel for a while before we realised that we both live in the same town in Northern Ireland! She is a font of all YA knowledge and I love her enthusiasm and insight.

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Hi! I’m Rachel from Confessions of a Book Geek, and I’m here to share with you five books that have shaped my reading, or had an impact on the kind of books I tend to gravitate towards. As a kind-of millennial (I think I’m just a little too old to be considered a “proper” one), it’s so tempting to shout “Harry Potter!” for any and all questions relating to my favourite books, books that made me, books that shaped me, books I’m obsessed with, etc. I’m not sure if it counts as a book that has shaped my reading… but it’s a book that has shaped my life, and that has to count for something, right? I’ve decided to challenge myself with this post though, so I’m not including HP in the official five (though do you like how I still snuck it in there? Had to be done).

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This is a massively under-rated YA novel, set in London, telling the story of four teens; Brie is in love with her best friend, Charlie, who is gay. Charlie lusts after Walker (a bit of a bad-boy), who is obsessed with Daisy, a lesbian. I read this when I was about 15 or 16, and it was the first time I’d ever read anything with LGBT characters. I read a lot of books, and all these years later, I remember the characters and story vividly. It doesn’t feel like that long ago, but the past ten years have made a big difference to LGBT awareness, and back then, this book pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me want to read more books that represent diverse communities.

 

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I always enjoyed History as a subject in school, but I never really engaged with how it was taught, or the fact that we had to memorise lists of names and dates for exams. It made History dull, and often boring. I fell in love with The Tudors TV series, and then The White Queen TV series, so when I realised it was based on Gregory’s books, I HAD to get my hands on them. I fell IN LOVE instantly, and my experience made me chase down more fantastic historical fiction reads. Ones based on true stories are even better (such as my favourite book of 2016, The Double Life of Mistress Kit Kavanagh, *hint hint*).

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This was the first Picoult book I ever read (I’ve since gone on to collect many books by this author), and it introduced me to the world of family sagas/dramas, or “issues” books, as I like to call them. I bawled my eyes out to this book, and I’m not a crier. Picoult led me to Diane Chamberlain (who I got to interview on my blog!), and now if any book is compared to either of these authors’ work, I’m interested. These books are typically very well researched, and focus on a key family dynamic, illness, or struggle, that broadens the reader’s horizons and gives you a new perspective on life.

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This was recommended reading in my school Book Club when I was 17. When I read it, I was surprised our teacher was allowing us to read this, let alone recommending it, but I’m so glad she did. It’s dark, gritty, and incredibly complex. A fantastic novel that recounts a school shooting and mass murder, told from the point-of-view of the perpetrator’s mother, which really examines the “nature v nurture” debate. Not only has this particular book stayed with me, but it opened my eyes to psychological thrillers, and also started my interest in true crime.

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Until Colleen Hoover, I didn’t know “New Adult” fiction was even a thing. In case you’re not familiar with New Adult, check out a guest post I wrote for Dani Reviews Things that goes in to more detail. New Adult essentially focuses on protagonists aged 20-30, who are dealing with all sorts of new experiences as they transition from adolescence, into being adults. At 26 years of age, as you can imagine, these stories are usually pretty relatable for me (even if the romance plots are not!). As with all genres, there are some crappy NA books out there, but when you find a good’un (Hoover is my QUEEN), they could open your eyes to a whole new category of books for you to devour.

What a great list from Rachel and I am delighted to see We Need to Talk About Kevin on there, such a fantastic book. Are any of your favourites on Rachel’s list?

 

 

The Books that Built the Blogger: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.

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When I was in my final year at Queens University in Belfast, my reading habit really took hold. My modules meant that the style of books I was reading was expanding and I really started buying books in earnest. Most days saw me browsing in the University Bookshop near my student flat, buying books because I liked the name, or the cover, or had heard of the author but hadn’t read their work yet.

I can’t remember what drew me to The Secret History by Donna Tartt – the cover was austere, verging on the dull and I had never heard of the author, but something about the title and the premise appealed to me so I bought it on a whim. When at last I read it, it was more than I could have hoped for and it has become the book I have reread most; the book I have lent to friends most and oddly, my comfort read. The Secret History is the book I credit with sparking my interest in crime fiction and it contains themes that have become my favourite in literature – from the campus setting to the unreliable narrator. I have loved Tartt’s other books, but for me, nothing comes close to the power of The Secret History.

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The story is the perfect blend of intellectual pursuit and page-turning thrills as it tells the story of a close knit group of classics students at a private college in Vermont, who, under the influence of their charismatic tutor Julian, kill a man during a Bacchanalian rite and then are forced to turn on one of their own. Taking the themes and atmospheres of classical literature, the book is a brooding, menacing, wildly intelligent tale told in fresh and vibrant prose.

This was my first introduction to the ‘campus novel’ and I was intrigued by the golden glow of this Vermont world, the picturesque setting and the fiercely intelligent students. The campus novel also intrigues because it captures that moment in time when you are set free to learn and play and experiment and work out who you really are. While reading The Secret History, I was planning the next stage of my life – moving to a new city on my own to do a Masters and I could relate to this idea that I was teetering on the edge of new horizons where anything might be possible.

It is easy to see things in retrospect. But I was ignorant then of everything but my own happiness, and I don’t know what else to say except that life itself seemed very magical in those days: a web of symbol, coincidence, premonition, omen. Everything, somehow, fit together; some sly and benevolent Providence was revealing itself by degrees and I felt myself trembling on the brink of a fabulous discovery, as though any morning it was all going to come together–my future, my past, the whole of my life–and I was going to sit up in bed like a thunderbolt and say oh! oh! oh!

The Secret History also introduced me to the narrator as outsider, as potentially unreliable and questionable. Richard, in the prologue, tells us of a murder ‘for which I was partly responsible’ and the joy of the book comes from the apprehension of the ‘why’ rather than the surprise of the ‘what’. Richard, like the reader, is perfectly suited to be entranced by this group of students. He has no other friends, is not close with his family and is ready to create a new narrative for his life. He becomes subsumed in this smart, conceited group and like Nick in The Great Gatsby, he is drawn to their beauty until he cannot look away.

It’s a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves?

This is Richard’s fatal flaw – like all great Greek heroes, he has one – he feels ordinary against the beauty of his friends. He never quite feels deserving. All his hopes are projected on to them and the fact of being a member of their group is enough for him to go along with whatever they say. I have often thought of The Secret History as a companion piece to Lord of the Flies where the isolation of the group is not geographical, but intellectual, and where left to their own devices, the group will eventually turn on itself.

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Donna Tartt

 

By aligning the reader with Richard, Tartt invites us, like him, to join this charismatic, elegant select group, to be a witness to their secret history and keep it close. We are in her confidence and we are in awe. She takes you back to that time where everything felt possible and everything seemed perfect and where the idea of growing up and growing apart was impossible to bear.

The Secret History is 25 years old this year and in my mind has become a classic novel and an unforgettable novel, one that I plan on reading again and again.