Triple Choice Tuesday: Hungry Like the Woolf

Triple-Choice-TuesdayWelcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers and other bookish bods to share the names of three books that mean a lot to them. The idea is that it might raise the profile of certain books and introduce you to new titles and new bloggers.

Today’s guest is Kerry, from Hungry Like the Woolf.

Kerry, who is an attorney, grew up in rural North Carolina but now resides in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. with his partner and their daughter.

His favourite writers include Virginia Woolf, Milan Kundera, Mark Twain, Jon Dos Passos, Leo Tolstoy, Albert Camus, Jeannette Winterson, J.M. Coetzee and, as we will see below, Gina Berriault and Vladamir Nabokov.

Without further ado, here’s Kerry’s Triple Choice Tuesday selections:

 

LightsofEarth A favorite book: The Lights of Earth by Gina Berriault

Part of this book’s appeal to me is that I feel like I discovered it, as if her works are more my own than Nabokov’s or Woolf’s or Coetzee’s.

Gina Berriault gained some late-life fame as a short story writer, winning the PEN/Faulkner Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Women in Their Beds, but few people had read Gina Berriault’s novels (novellas, technically). With her books going out of print, even fewer likely read them now. I imagine myself as one of the select, a keeper of the secret of her exceptional novelistic talents. The obscurity of Berriault’s novels raises their esteem in my eyes.

This book could not have become a favorite on obscurity alone, of course. Plenty of authors deserve to be forgotten or never to have been known in the first place. Gina Berriault is not one of those.

She writes with a melancholic truth, the sting of sorrow salved by her exquisitely artful prose. While ostensibly about the death of an affair, this novel is as much about the suffering of the artist.

Berriault did not achieve much recognition until quite late in her life. Women in Their Beds was published in 1996 and she died in 1999. The fear of being forgotten permeates this book and dominates the thoughts of the main character, Ilona Lewis, whose married lover is ending their relationship. The book is more than that, too, though. It is an examination of what it means to live and die. Berriault captures the struggle for meaning and some sense of permanence in a brutally dismissive world.

“If some persons were in the light, like the ones up there on the small screen, like Martin, like the woman he loved, like all those who were embraced wherever they went, it didn’t follow that all the rest were lost to the dark.”

PaleFire A book that changed my world: Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

While this might not be the best place to start with Nabokov, it is where I started. My view of literature has never been the same. Each time I first read one of the unquestioned geniuses of literature, the standouts of their generation, it changes my world. That’s why we call them geniuses, I suppose.

I have chosen Pale Fire because it is so uniquely brilliant and because it so thoroughly reordered my literary conceptions. Nabokov wrote a 999-word poem and then, in the footnotes to that poem, presents a novel. It works so much more smoothly than it sounds like it could. The poem itself has such lightly sparkling beauty that scholars still argue over whether it was written tongue-in-cheek or in earnest.

It begins: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain By the false azure of the window pane”

The footnote novel is packed with mysteries to ponder, prose to admire, and humor to thrill. Altogether, Pale Fire has created impossible standards by which I now judge other literary works. I want my books intriguing. I want them funny. I want them dark. And I want them beautiful. Pale Fire is one of the greatest literary achievements I have ever had the fortune to experience. Words have never been the same for me.

Mischief A book that deserves a wider audience: Mischief by Chris Wilson

I have no idea where things went wrong for this novel, but it never seems to have built the sustaining audience it deserves.

The novel begins with an intriguing idea. Dr. Robert Jay Duckworth, a zoologist traveling in Brazil and researching amphibians, finds an abandoned infant from a forgotten tribe, the Xique Xique. None of the locals wants anything to do with baby and Dr. Duckworth, without intending it, is named the child’s legal guardian. He returns to England and raises the boy as his son, Charlie.

Charlie narrates the book, telling the story of his life as he has learned of it and experienced it, not to a general reader, but to a specific “you.”

The technique is interesting and happily engaging. But the joy comes from the fact that Charlie is fundamentally different from the English who surround him. He has no guile. He is honest, caring, sensitive, and earnest. He embodies every admirable quality we try to instill in our children.

Chris Wilson brilliantly examines the consequences for Charlie and, in doing so, provides delightful insight into human nature and the reality of social relations.

I am surprised the book never gained traction because, while it does have a lurking darkness, it is cleverly funny. I do not want to dissuade by comparisons to “popular” fiction, but I would have thought that, if nothing else, Mischief would have gained some of that affection the public lavishes on works like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time with its sweetly entrancing, first person narrator. It is a joy to spend time with Charlie. He is a character you will not forget. He is too original, too likable, and too much of a challenge to our conception of ourselves to fade from memory.

Thanks, Kerry, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!

I have to say I’m intrigued by all three, particular the Nabokov which I have picked up in bookstores countless times but never actually bought nor read. Perhaps it’s time to rectify that…

What do you think of Kerry’s choices? Have you read any of these books?

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13 thoughts on “Triple Choice Tuesday: Hungry Like the Woolf

  1. I haven’t read a single book from Kerrys list, and they all sound like books I should have read. So I guess thats three more books to pop on the ‘keep my eye on’ list before they are added to the wish list.
    I always thought Lolita was were people said you should start with Nabokov, maybe as its the most renowned, so its interesting and refreshing to hear someone say another book.

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  2. Intriguing choices. The only one I have read is Pale Fire, many years ago (I honestly cannot remember whether I read this before or after Lolita); I love Nabokov’s writing and I really should read more of his work, starting with Ada or Ador, which has been whispering my name for years.

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  3. An interesting list. Mischief sounds appealing. I’m going to look at it.
    I love your Triple Choice Tuesday. I often find something I think is worth pursuing.

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  4. Like Simon – I’ve never even heard of any of these books. The Nabokov is not the obvious choice from this fine author – it sounds a rather challenging read

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  5. I am particularly intrugued by Mischief – enough to go and check it out further.
    I have read Lolita years ago and loved it so it’s strange that I haven’t picked up anything else by him yet – I have heard good things about Pale Fire though – another for the Mt.TBR!
    Thanks for sharing, Kerry.

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  6. Kerry, we are more like-minded than I knew:
    “I want my books intriguing. I want them funny. I want them dark. And I want them beautiful”
    Me too!
    Lisa
    PS Will hunt out that Nabokov, all I’ve ever read of his is Lolita…

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  7. Kim,
    Thank you for the opportunity to share some of my favorite books with your readers.
    For all those who are intrigued by Mischief, it really is quite good. You needn’t only take my word for it, The Complete Review gave it the very rare, jealously coveted “A+” rating. “marvelous satire, extremely well written”
    I know, double dipping. But it IS worth finding. Unfortunately, it is very hard to find in the U.S. I actually ordered a copy from the U.K. based on The Complete Review’s recommendation (this is several years ago), but I am happy I did. Excellent book.
    And, yes, Pale Fire is my favorite Nabokov and, therefore, my favorite book (unless it is a Virginia Woolf day, or a Camus day).
    You are all more than welcome. I thank you all, and Kim, for the opportunity to proselytize on behalf of some of my cherished titles.
    Cheers.

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  8. Oh, Lisa beat me to it. I was going to say the same: “I want my books intriguing. I want them funny. I want them dark. And I want them beautiful.” I wish I’d said that. It also makes me realise why you, like I do, include JM Coetzee among your favourites. I’m not sure each book meets all four criteria he is certainly intriguing and dark!
    I haven’t heard of Gina Merriault but we have many women writers in Australia who were “discovered” late in their lives. Too bad. Anyhow, I must check her out.

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  9. Thanks Lisa and Kim for the compliment/comment on the quote. That IS how I like my books and, because you guys do too, that’s probably why enjoy both of your blogs so much.
    Yes, Coetzee is not typically funny (though sometimes), but he generally ticks the other three boxes (in my fairly limited; Disgrace and the trilogy) experience. I am eager to read more of his novels.
    The good thing about Berriault is that she writes short stories and novellas, so she does not demand an inordinate amount of your time. I believe the return on investment is AAA grade, but would love to hear your thoughts.

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  10. I’ve heard many people preferring Pale Fire to Lolita when picking their favourite books. I’ve only read the latter and have been a little intimidated about reading the former even though I’ve been meaning to for a while. But since you think it’s one of literature’s best works, I think I’ll have to go and look for it.

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