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 Dean, who doesn’t have a blog but comments here (and elsewhere) regularly and always has wonderful insights to make about books and literature.
He collect books “pretty obsessively” and has a particular fondness for Canadian fiction and short stories.
When he’s not reading, David works as an illustrator. He has illustrated several books by Blue Peter Book Award-winner Lauren St John and provided covers for books by people such as Eleanor Updale, Siobhan Dowd, Mavis Cheek, Stella Duffy, Floella Benjamin and many others. Recently he illustrated the Barefoot
Books World Atlas, written by Nick Crane (from BBC’s Coast) which has also been turned into a best-selling App.
David lives in Cheshire with two cats. You can follow him on Goodreads.
Without further ado, here are David’s Triple Choice Tuesday selections:
I struggled for ages over what to pick for this — I rarely reread books so I’m never sure if a ‘favourite’ read 10 or 15 years ago would still be one today. I had a few frontrunners (Justin Cronin’s Mary & O’Neil, Ahdaf Soueif’s In the Eye of the Sun, Simon van Booy’s Everything Beautiful Began After, something by John Steinbeck…) but in the end I decided to go for this book by Joyce Carol Oates.
Ah, Joyce Carol Oates, the only author in my collection to have not just one, but almost two shelves entirely to herself. And I only have her books as far back as this one, published in 1996. But as she churns them out at the rate of two, three, sometimes four a year (two novels already this year with a collection of four novellas due in the autumn) they soon pile up. The first of hers I read was Broke Heart Blues which I enjoyed a great deal, but it was with We Were the Mulvaneys that I became a fan.
It is Oates at her very best, and it features many of the themes that run through much of her work: violence (usually to women), crime, tragedy, and the way people are perceived (often mythologised) versus the reality. Spanning over a decade in the lives of a seemingly perfect American family, the Mulvaneys of Mt. Ephraim, NY, and narrated by youngest son, Judd, the reader watches as one act of violence (the rape of cheerleader daughter Marianne) precipitates the disintegration and fall from grace of the whole clan. Oh, and there’s a cat called Muffin who must surely bring a tear to the eye of even the hardest-hearted.
Oates’ writing can be an acquired taste — lots of CAPITALS and exclamation marks!!! — but sometimes her style and the plot come together perfectly to create a story that crackles with an intensity and urgency that grabs you and doesn’t let you go. She isn’t for everybody — just look at the ratings for this novel on Amazon: you seldom see such an even spread, with 125 people rating it as five stars and 108 giving it just one — and for every reader who thinks she deserves the Nobel, there is another who thinks she is one of the worst writers around. Me, I think she’s brilliant. “We were the Mulvaneys, remember us?” asks the first line. I certainly do.
So this is probably an odd choice, and to be honest it doesn’t really matter that it is Ghost Ship or even that it is a Star Trek novel (well, it does a bit). Literary masterpiece it is not. What this choice is really about is the power of fiction to take you out of your day-to-day life and into a world of the imagination. You see, I hated school. Academically I did fine, but if anyone mentioned the S word at home I’d have to go and wash my hands (really).
Drawing was one escape route for me, the other came when, aged 13, I discovered in Hammicks the shelf of Star Trek books. This one was the first one I read, though by the time I stopped reading them when I was 18 I must have amassed well over a hundred of them. They offered a place I could run away to and that I’d look forward to all day, and made Monday to Friday a bit more bearable. And they also got me into the habit of reading every day, a habit I have never lost. I haven’t read a Star Trek novel since then, but I have fond memories of many of them, and they really did change my world.
A recent discovery for me, this 1952 novel is considered a modern classic in its native Canada but seems to be almost unknown internationally. Set in the years leading up to the Second World War in the Annapolis Valley, it tells the story of David Canaan from the age of 11 to 30.
In its simplest terms, it is the tale of a sensitive, artistic boy who is trying to find his place in the world, but what makes this truly exceptional is the quality of Buckler’s writing. He writes breathtakingly about the natural world, and in his depiction of David he writes about feelings (especially regarding a solitary life) that resonated deeply with me, putting into words thoughts and emotions that I had scarcely recognised I had myself entertained, much less sought to articulate.
Structurally the novel is perfect, the characters all seem to live and breathe, and the ending is incredibly moving. I must also mention a passage of maybe three chapters covering one Christmas in David’s youth, which is probably the best evocation of the season I have read outside of A Christmas Carol. A wonderful book, and one that I feel sure will stay with me for many years to come.
Thank you, David, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!
As I had expected from someone who reads so widely, these selections are intriguing — who knew you were a closet Star Trek fan! I’ve not read any of these, but I’m keen to try the Joyce Carol Oates, if only to see if she is really for me, and because I’ve also developed a taste for Canadian fiction in recent years, I really must track down The Mountains and the Valleys.
What do you think of David’s choices? Have you read any of these books?