Welcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers, writers and readers 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, new authors and new bloggers.
Today’s guest is David Hebblethwaite from Follow the Thread, a blog filled with an eclectic mix of book reviews and the occasional foray into music and film.
David is originally from Yorkshire but now lives in the south of England. He has been reviewing books online since 2004 and blogging seriously since 2009.
“Above all, I like well-crafted books — of most sorts,” he tells me. “But I do enjoy the quirky and unusual.”
Without further ado, here’s David’s Triple Choice Tuesday selections:
When I think back to the books I’ve most loved reading, I find that many of them are strongly tied to particular times in my life. Most of them, I haven’t re-read; some, I don’t even want to, because I have a nagging sense that I wouldn’t find them as good second time around. I’m not going to choose any of those books here, because I feel that a book I nominate as a favourite should be one that stands the test of personal time — one I can go back to and still enjoy as much as I did on the first reading.
The Prestige is the story of two feuding Victorian stage magicians, each of whose lives is shaped to an extraordinary degree by the secret of his signature illusion. The book is something of a magic trick itself, full of misdirection and uncertainty, only gradually revealing the truth, which may not be (indeed, probably isn’t) everything you expect. I first read it some time in the early 2000s, polished it off in a weekend, and absolutely loved it.
Fast-forward to 2006, when Christopher Nolan’s film adaptation of The Prestige was released (as an aside, the movie is good in its own right, but very different; I’d recommend reading the book first). I chose it for my then reading group and had to face the possibility that it would not be as good as I had remembered it. Well, I needn’t have been concerned; if anything, I read it even quicker the second time, and enjoyed it even more. And the reading group? I don’t think there was a more animated discussion of a book in all the time I was a member.
Christopher Priest was on Granta’s original list of Best Young British Novelists back in 1983, but I think he’s much less well known than he deserves to be. I should catch up on more of his books myself — I’ve read both The Affirmation and The Separation, and found both to be as good as The Prestige — and I’d be delighted if this post encouraged more people to search out Priest’s work.
I was working on an A Level English coursework project about fantasy literature when I came across a cheap copy of The Encyclopedia of Fantasy at a book sale on holiday. The book had been published only a year or so before; a full-price copy would have been well out of my budget, but I could afford to take a chance on the sale copy — and it turned out to be one of the best purchases I ever made.
It’s difficult to put into words just what it felt like to read The Encyclopedia of Fantasy and be swept away by its enthusiasm and knowledge. For one thing, the book is incredibly wide-ranging: it has entries on individual authors, artists, films and TV series; different types of fantasy; “motifs” used in fantasy stories, and more besides (flick through the pages around the entry on Tolkien, for example, and you’ll also find entries on tall tales, three wishes, Mark Twain, tricksters, Time Bandits, trains…); and it’s great for browsing, because there’s always something else interesting nearby. And the Encyclopedia is great for discovery, because it brings together so many different things, and finds links where one wouldn’t necessarily expect to see them — I’ve certainly found plenty in its pages that I wanted to investigate (including, as it happens, The Prestige), and I still have a lot of investigating to do.
Something else I particularly like about The Encyclopedia of Fantasy is that it’s not just descriptive; it has its own idea of what makes good fantasy (it should “release or even…catapult the reader into new areas of the imagination,” as John Grant puts it in one entry), one that doesn’t map neatly on to the published category. When I started reading it, I found that the Encyclopedia’s way of thinking chimed pretty well with my own developing taste; I also appreciated its prose style, which managed to sound knowledgeable without being stuffy. These became strong influences on the way I think and write about books, and some of that influence is still there today. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy did more to shape me as a reader than just about any book before or since, and that’s why I’ve chosen it as a book that changed my world.
You never know where the next great read will come from, and I just love it when a book about which I know nothing turns out to be brilliant. I bought The Rehearsal on a whim when I was visiting Cambridge; I hadn’t heard of it, but the synopsis was intriguing, and I like to read books by young writers (I’m interested to hear what my generation has to say in its literature), so I decided to take a chance. On the surface, The Rehearsal is the story of a scandal involving a teacher and student at a girls’ school, and a play based on the scandal that’s being staged by students from the local drama college; matters are complicated for one of the drama students when he unwittingly embarks on a relationship with the sister of the girl involved in the scandal. Yet there’s so much more going on underneath that in the novel.
It took me a while to get into the book, as much of the dialogue is written in a deliberately florid and mannered style. It wasn’t until about a hundred pages in that I realised what Catton was doing: the whole book is about performance of one kind or another — not just theatrical performance, but pretending to be something you’re not (in school and in life), placing different interpretations on events, and so on — and the text of The Rehearsal is itself a performance, with many scenes written as theatrical reconstructions of events. This is one of the things that impressed me most about the book: the way its main theme is reflected so completely in so many of its different aspects.
On top of all this, I found the novel immensely enjoyable to read. The Rehearsal is the best book I’ve read in the past couple of years; I expect it’ll become a lifelong favourite. I can’t wait to see what Eleanor Catton writes next; for now, though, I’d recommend her debut as a book that deserves to be read more widely.
Thanks, David, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!
I’ve not read any of them, but I have heard a lot of good things about The Prestige in the past. Interestingly, The Rehearsal has been nominated in the “books that deserve a wider audience” category once before — by Steph from Steph & Tony Investigate — so clearly it’s a book that has garnered a few dedicated fans…
What do you think of David’s choices? Have you read any of these books?