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.

 

No 598 Born Yesterday by Gordon Burn

 

 Just as early industrial capitalism moved the focus of existence from being to having, post-industrial culture has moved that focus from having to appearing.

Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle

Gordon Burn’s work has always occupied a grey area where fact and fiction, journalism and literature meet. His novels are reminiscent of those non-fiction pioneers Truman Capote and Norman Mailer, using fiction to illuminate and deepen real events. Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son (1984), was a re-creation of the life of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, while Happy like Murderers explored the lives and crimes of Fred and Rosemary West. Both were meticulously researched, but often allowed a fiction writer’s license to speculate on motive and guilt. His fictional novel Alma Cogan merged the two genres, by creating a fictional tale about a real life person, the 1950’s  singing star, and suggesting some kind of link between her and infamous killer Myra Hindley.

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It’s fair to say that Burn is interested in the darker side of human nature, and in Born Yesterday: The News as a Novel he creates a loose fiction out of the news headlines of the summer of 2007, a summer dominated by the image of Madeleine McCann, the toddler who went missing from her family’s holiday apartment in Praia de la Luz in Portugal.

This was proving to be a summer of disappearances, absences, some voluntary, other’s not; he was interested in the idea of absence, of erasure and self-erasure

The central character starts as ‘he’, becomes ‘I’ and eventually reveals himself as Burn, a Chelsea based journalist, originally from the North who, in charged and vivid prose explores the top stories of that summer from the headlining grabbing disappearance of Madeleine McCann; the floods and foot-and-mouth outbreak; the terrorist attack on Glasgow airport to the unveiling of Damien Hirst’s diamond encrusted skull. Burn wanders, Mrs Dalloway like, through his London suburbs, where he watches Margaret Thatcher take a walk in his local park, muses on Tony Blair’s recent departure as prime minister and weighs up Gordon Brown’s chances as the latest PM.

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Gordon Burn

 

On this loose structure – this tale of three Prime Ministers – Burn hangs a very thin narrative which takes in Wimbledon, Northern Rock and even ‘How Clean is Your House’. The effect is novel as rolling news where coincidence is not only a theme but part of the structure of a novel which suggests that we consume the news in fragments and create the whole as best we can.

The abundance of media images creates a screen between the individual and the world, and that this is the source of the feeling we all increasingly have of seeing everything but of being able to do nothing. The media gives us images of everything – but only images.

Opening with the pain of Madeleine McCann’s parents, the novel is filled with other absences. Flood waters wipe away streets while foot and mouth decimates the countryside. Empty houses dominate, from the room in the Ocean Club Resort in Praia de la Luz, to Tony Blair’s constituency home, still guarded by police officers, taped off like its own crime scene. Burn muses on the house where Fred and Rosemary West lived and killed and wonders if the fact of its bulldozing does anything to erase the pain it once held. Later in the book, Damien Hirst’s diamond encrusted skull is put under guard at night, despite having been removed from the building, and this piece of art serves as a neat metaphor for the blurring of glamour and death, celebrity and pain.

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Like Mrs Dalloway, Born Yesterday creates unexpected rhythms and coincidences that suggest a deeper meaning in the news that we consume. Like some kind of pattern analyst, Burn points out unexpected ways of looking at the news to create connections and patterns that we might otherwise not see. His is a world of celebrity, where, no matter who you are – grieving mother or incoming Prime Minister – there are rules and ways in which you are expected to behave. He is interested in how things appear and how we, as news consumers expect them to appear.

The media of real life. The murder leisure industry. Privacy is so last century, the headline read, but we need help to adjust.

Thus, Kate McCann is untrusted because she does not cry for the cameras. Online websites like gonetoosoon.com provide a realm of virtual communal mourning. Doctors become terrorists and terrorists are doctors. Despite having news all the time, we know so very little, we trust even less and we try to find the truth in our television news, when in fact, the truth is largely absent.

What does a mother look like when her child has been wrenched from her?

This notion that there are two types of lives, the one you are living and the one that people believe you are living is the dominant theme throughout Born Yesterday and Burn suggests that once you are ‘ famous’, a celebrity, the disparity between these two lives widens. He looks for connections and coincidences between people who have chosen fame and people who have become famous through being on television. Both Madeleine McCann and Gordon Brown have a distinctive eye; Paul McCartney once holidayed at Praia de La Luz; the McCann’s legal team also defended The Thick of It star Chris Langham on his charges of child pornography. There is a bravura set piece where Burn bumps into Kate Middleton at his local Tesco Metro and watches her look at the very magazines whose pages she graces, before exiting to the glare of the paparazzi.

It was like Kate Middleton’s appearance on the street was the cue for special effects to turn the rain machine on, for the music to be brought up high and the smokers, taciturn and sullen to that point, to become animated into a jostling crowd scene.

The melding of fact and fiction, brought about by our insatiable desire for round the clock news, leaves us, suggests Burn, knowing everything and nothing. Rolling news gives us the pieces of a collage and it is up to us to create the overall picture. Despite its title, I hesitate to call Born Yesterday a novel. It is, in some ways, indefinable, much like the news it explores but it is a fascinating and enthralling look at the point where fact and fiction collide. Given what Burn has created out of the events of 2007, it is interesting to wonder just what he would have made of 2017…

Read on: iBook

Number Read: 149

Number Remaining: 597

 

 

 

The Books that Built the Blogger with FictionFan!

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This week on The Books that Built the Blogger, I am delighted to welcome FictionFan – one of my favourite bloggers thanks to her great reviews, irreverent posts and witty banter! Do check out her blog, it’s fab.

I do have a bone to pick with her though as she has chosen one from my list for her list too, but I’ll forgive that. This time….

Here are her great choices!

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

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 I read this when I was perhaps seven or eight, and fell under the spell of the language. While the story of Mr Toad is fun, it was the chapters where Grahame lets rip with some delicious descriptive writing that taught me that I love beautiful prose for its own sake, and that any thought seems doubly profound when carefully crafted and expressed in an original and memorable way. I also loved (without really being aware of it at the time) that Grahame makes no compromise in terms of vocabulary for the age of his reader – he assumes that a child will look up unfamiliar words in a dictionary. Learning this habit young has stood me in good stead all through my reading life.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

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I was about thirteen when a school friend and I read this and answered an essay question on it, much to the annoyance of our teacher who declared that we were too young for it and shouldn’t have read it till the following year; but then had to admit that, based on our essays, we’d understood it pretty well despite our presumptuous precocity. It influenced me in two distinct ways: firstly, to ignore silly restrictions on what ages books are considered suitable for (and silly English teachers who set such rigid rules that reading becomes a prescribed chore rather than an experimental pleasure); and secondly, to realise that I love books which present and explore political and philosophical ideas within a strong plot – a thing that has become almost a benchmark of good fiction for me.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens (representing 19th century classics)

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I don’t in truth remember what my first 19th century classic was, but I read my way through dozens, maybe hundreds, of them in my late teens and early twenties. They influenced me to expect good quality, well-crafted writing as a given, leaving me entirely impatient of lazy, unpolished writing. One of the things I most often complain about when reviewing contemporary fiction is the repeated use of foul language. This really isn’t because I’m prudish – it’s because I believe writers should, like the 19th century writers did, lead and inspire us to explore our wonderfully rich language rather than following the multitude down the path to a restricted and tediously repetitive vocabulary. (The classics also very much influenced my own rather pedantic and convoluted writing style, and my almost obsessive use of parentheses, not to mention my use of phrases like “presumptuous precocity”… 😏 )

The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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So, given that all of the above shows I was well on the way to total book snobbery, thank goodness for my love of crime fiction. Like so many of us, Enid Blyton’s mysteries were my first venture into crime, but the really influential moment for me was when Santa Claus gave me the complete Sherlock Holmes stories when I was about ten. My love for the stories has never wavered, though my reaction to them has changed over the years. As a child it was the mystery and adventure that I loved, and that led me on later to reading other mystery writers, especially Agatha Christie and the other Queens of Crime; and then in later years to more modern styles of crime fiction – police procedurals and thrillers. I still return to the Holmes stories frequently though, and find now it’s the descriptive writing, of London and Victorian life, and the friendship between Holmes and faithful old Watson that draw me back.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

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This is the book that indirectly led to me becoming a book blogger. After being blown away by it back in 2010, I read some of the critical reviews on Amazon and became so incensed I just had to get it out of my system! So I became “FictionFan” and posted my first Amazon review – and boy, is it embarrassingly bad! No way am I linking to it – not even if you offer me cake! However, while I was in the mood, I posted two other reviews to promote old books I loved which at that time had no reviews. For some obscure reason, this was enough for Amazon to invite me to join their Vine programme, which back then was mainly for books. A bit like NetGalley, they would send us ARCs in return for reviews, and that’s how I got into the reviewing habit. Then I was approached by a publisher to offer me a review copy because I had raved about the author’s previous book, and the publisher suggested I should start a blog – a thing I’d never thought of. And so I did. If, back when I did that first review, I’d known I’d still be reviewing seven years later, though, I’d have tried to come up with a better nom de plume…

Thanks, Cathy, for giving me the opportunity to talk about myself – cheaper than therapy and much more fun!

What great choices! As mentioned, I have Brave New World on my list of the books that built me – great minds clearly! I am currently reading The Wind in the Willows to my 6 year old twins and can attest to the fact that they are mesmerised by the story. Are any of your favourites on this list? I would imagine that Sherlock Holmes could be a popular choice!

Thanks to FictionFan and remember, if you’d like to take part, just drop me an email to cmac2708@yahoo.co.uk

 

The Books that Built the Blogger: The Twelfth Day of July by Joan Lingard

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The book I have chosen for this week’s The Book That Built the Blogger is Joan Lingard’s 1970 book The Twelfth Day of July – another book that would probably be considered YA today but which opened my eyes to the possibilities of where books could go – and more imp

The Twelfth Day of July was first published in 1970 when I was 9 years old, however I think I was at least 13 when I read it.

Written by Joan Lingard, who spent her teenage years in Northern Ireland, The Twelfth Day of July is the first in a quintet of books, often known as the ‘Kevin and Sadie’ series. Acting as a kind of retelling of the Romeo & Juliet tale, the books follow the lives of Kevin, a Catholic and Sadie a Protestant as they grow up in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, meeting as teenagers and following them until they become adults with children of their own.

Despite living in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, The Twelfth Day of July struck a chord with me for one main reason. It had never occurred to me that someone could write a book about where I came from. Up until that point, I believed that everyone I wanted to read about either went to boarding school in England or high school in America. The idea that the experience of living in Northern Ireland was valid material for a book – and not a history book! – was beyond me.

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Joan Lingard also manages a great balancing act with this novel. She does not take sides. The books two opening chapters focus on the same dinner time in two separate households. One Protestant and one Catholic and the first thing that strikes the reader is the similarities between the two rather than the differences. This probably seems like a sensible approach nowadays, but writing in the 1970s with the actual Troubles as the backdrop makes it all the more striking.

She also created a fantastic female protagonist in the character of Sadie – brash, ballsy and smart, she never sees herself as being anything but equal to any of the men in her life. As the book opens, Sadie and her brother Tommy are getting ready for the biggest day in the Protestant calendar – the 12th of July. A few streets down, Kevin and his mates are planning to deface a mural of ‘King Billy’ – William of Orange – however Sadie catches them in the act and starts a feud between the two which eventually goes horribly wrong, before bringing them closer together.

The Twelfth Day of July could also have gone horribly wrong, by becoming preachy or strident. However Lingard has a sure touch and the books are realistic in depicting both the difficulties of having a relationship with someone from ‘the other side’ and in how ordinary, everyday life carries on even in the middle of conflict. She tells a difficult story with humour and a light touch, but also doesn’t skirt away from the real issues that faced the population of Northern Ireland during those years.

I grew up with Kevin and Sadie, recognised the situation they were living in and relished a book that explored my home country with all its beauty and all its flaws. Although it might read like history now, it wasn’t history when it was written or when I was reading it

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Joan Lingard

 

The books in the ‘Kevin and Sadie’ Quintet, comprise of: The Twelfth Day of July (1970); Across the Barricades (1972); Into Exile (1973); A Proper Place (1975); and Hostages to Fortune (1976) – and they follow Kevin and Sadie as they fall in love, move to England and raise a family, all under the shadow of where they have been born and the religions they have been born into. The effect these books had on me was to make me realise that literature can spring from anywhere and that all experiences, even ones like my own are stories in their own right.

Did anyone else read these books? I wonder if they were just popular in Northern Ireland? It would be great to know if they were read anywhere else.

Join me tomorrow when the fantastic FictionFan will share the books that made her the blogger she is today!

 

 

The Books that Built the Blogger with Naomi Frisby

I’m delighted to welcome Naomi Frisby to kick off The Books That Built the Blogger with her list of five books that have influenced her reading and her blogging.

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Naomi blogs at The Writes of Woman and I love her insightful reviews of books by women writers, her work with championing more diverse reading and her fortnightly feature In The Media, which has a round up of fascinating links to women and women’s literature happening in the media. Here are her choices:

The Busconductor Hines – James Kelman

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The Busconductor Hines changed my life. I was 17, studying for my A Levels in a town described by the media as a ‘Northern wasteland’. I read a lot and listened to music and these two things had brought me, via The NME and Select, to the then recently published Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. I taped a Channel 4 documentary on three Scottish writers – Irvine Welsh, Janice Galloway and James Kelman – watching each episode at home in ‘free periods’ when everyone else was out. It was Kelman who interested me the most. The next time I was in the town centre, I took myself to Barnsley Library and searched for his name. They had three books by him, two short story collections and a novel. I took the novel.

The Busconductor Hines taught me that you can write about ordinary people and you can do so in their accent. It was the first time I’d seen someone like me represented on the page. It began a lifelong love affair not only with working class literature but also with the work of Scottish and Irish writers and the places they hail from too.

The Electric Michelangelo – Sarah Hall

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When I was at university, I began reading the books shortlisted for The Booker Prize each year. It was a conscious decision to read more contemporary literary fiction and, as I had no other guide as to what or who to read, reading the list seemed as good as any. The Electric Michelangelo was shortlisted in 2004 by which time I was back in the ‘Northern wasteland’ teaching English to secondary school students. This book provided an unusual link between my past, present and future. Past: we used to go to on a family day out to Morecambe in the summer holidays, which is where the first part of the book is set. Present: I was (and still am) obsessed with New York City and its outer boroughs. The second part of the book is set in Coney Island. Future: It would spark an obsession with sideshows and lead to me undertaking a Ph.D. in Creative Writing, the thesis element of which looks at female bodies in circus literature.

Citizen: An American Lyric – Claudia Rankine

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At the end of 2014, I saw a tweet from Nikesh Shukla calling on people doing their end of year reading round-ups to look at the number of books by writers of colour they’d read that year. Mine was an appalling 10%. I decided to do something about it, consciously choosing books by women of colour to read and review on my blog. Citizen: An American Lyric was the first. What I didn’t know then was that the year would end with me co-running #diversedecember with Dan Lipscombe, a reaction to an all-white World Book Night list, and that the campaign would make the front cover of The Guardian Review. Reading Citizen was the beginning of a permanent change in my reading habits and it’s taken me to so many excellent books I might otherwise never have read.

The House in Smyrna – Tatiana Salem Levy

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Like The Busconductor Hines, The House in Smyrna made me realise what’s possible in literature. It wasn’t the first piece of experimental fiction I read but it was the first that I think I really understood; I could see how its seemingly disparate parts fit together to create a complete picture. It’s also the story of a woman and I think I spent so long reading books by and about men that I hadn’t considered the possibilities when it comes to telling women’s stories. Not long after reading this, I sought out more experimental fiction by and about women and I started writing my own.

Homesick for Another World – Ottessa Moshfegh

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Homesick for Another World has only recently been published but it’s on my list because it made me realise just how powerful short story collections can be. Not only does every story in this collection stand-alone but the book, as a whole, creates a picture of current society and finds it hypocritical. It made me take the neglected short story collections (of which there were quite a number) off my shelves and begin to work my way through them. I’ve discovered some real gems so far and am hoping for more as I brush the rest of the dust away.

Many thanks to Naomi for that fantastic list. I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t read any of these! I did read How Late it Was, How Late by James Kelman and marvelled at his use of language and I read Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh last year and loved it and always welcome a new short story collection!

Have you read any of Naomi’s choices?

Remember, if you’d like to take part in The Books That Built the Blogger, just drop me an email at cmac2708@yahoo.co.uk. I’d love to hear from you!

 

The Books That Built the Blogger

Today on the blog, I am starting a new feature called The Books that Built the Blogger.

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I follow a great number of blogs and am always struck by the different styles and genres of books that people read. It started me wondering how we come to be the readers we are today. What books were key in influencing and signposting us to further reading?

This is not necessarily about favourite books, it is more about the books that have had an effect on us as readers, books that opened up genres, introduced new authors, or brought about new ways of thinking.

I sometimes like to say that if I hadn’t read the ‘Adventure’ series by Enid Blyton as a child I wouldn’t be a fan of crime writing today. That may be a little simplistic, but I think it has a kernel of truth. For me, books don’t exist on their own, they open up my mind to new ideas, new writers and new worlds and there are specific books that I know changed my reading habits and made me the reader I am today.

So, every Sunday, I am going to talk a bit about a book that has built me as a reader and a blogger and then I have invited some of my favourite bloggers to talk about the books that have built them and I’ll explore their lists on a Monday.

Tomorrow you can read about the books that built the fantastic Naomi Frisby who blogs at The Writes of Woman, where she reviews books written by women and publishes the fantastic In The Media.

To kick off my list of influential books, I’m going to talk about Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume.

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“You have sad eyes, Tiger,” he says. “A bright smile but sad eyes.”

When I was young (long, long ago!) YA didn’t exist in the manner it does today. Basically, there were children’s books, then the Sweet Dreams series, then adult books. I can remember visiting the local library with my Dad and realising that I had pretty much read everything in the children’s section and not having a clue where to start in the main part of the library.

Looking back now I can see that Judy Blume was writing Young Adult fiction, but to me, she was just writing really great books, books that made me realise that there was a world of literature out there beyond the romances and school set dramas of Sweet Valley High. Between the ages of 11 to 14, I read all of Judy Blume’s books. From the humour of Starring Sally J Friedman as Herself through to the eye-opening Forever, her books were my constant companions.

It was Tiger Eyes though that had the greatest influence on me and gave me my first taste of the pleasures of good characterisation, open-ended narratives and multi-layered plots.

Tiger Eyes follows Davey, who is just fifteen years old when her father is murdered during a robbery at their family store in Atlanta. Unable to cope, her mother moves the family to stay with her Aunt and Uncle in Los Alamos. Uprooted, alone and with no adult support, Davey is unable to face the trauma she has experienced and is befriended by a boy named Wolf, who is also dealing with his own family problems.

Tiger Eyes, at first glance, is a typical coming-of –age story. There is the outsider trying to settle into a new environment, a tentative romance and the cathartic power of self-awareness. However, Tiger Eyes was a revelation to me for several reasons. Firstly, the themes of loss and grief are beautifully examined. Nothing here feels forced or shoe-horned in, there is an organic nature to way in which Judy Blume marries theme and plot.

Secondly, I don’t think I had read a book prior to this that so convincingly placed itself inside the head of one character. Not that there aren’t a great range of characters here – from Jane, Davey’s friend who has a reliance on alcohol to the mysterious love-interest Wolf – but Blume is clever enough never to take the focus away from Davey, as the reader explores her attempts to make sense of the world, when the foundations of that world have crumbled beneath her.

What also struck me when I read Tiger Eyes was the importance of a sense of place. The wide open desert spaces of Los Alamos echo Davey’s feelings that she has nowhere to hide, that she is vulnerable and open with nothing to anchor herself to.

In some ways, Tiger Eyes was the first character led, quiet novel I had read. There is no big moment of catharsis here. There is romance, but it is never the focus and the ending is far from resolved. There is, instead, a quiet understanding and a belief that even the worst pain can be surmounted.

Some changes happen deep down inside of you. And the truth is, only you know about them. Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Davey stayed with me for a long time. I admired her strength, her intelligence and her willingness to stand on her own and not rely on parents, friends or a boyfriend. Along with Deenie, Blume’s other novel about a teenage girl overcoming a traumatic experience, Tiger Eyes showed me that there was more to literature than good plots and happy endings and that is something to be grateful for!

Are there any other Judy Blume fans out there? I’d love to hear if her work had the same effect on you.

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