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 Michelle McLaren, who blogs at Book to the Future.
Based in Sydney, Australia, Michelle has set herself a challenge to read (and review) a book from every year of the 20th century in chronological order, but she also reads contemporary novels and occasionally writes about them for The Newtown Review of Books.
She tweets @BooktotheFuture.
Without further ado, here are Michelle’s choices:
There was a list of the Best Novellas Ever Written or something like that floating around on Twitter recently, and, like so many of those annoying Buzzfeed-style lists of books you find doing the rounds online, the focus was on American authors. Helen Garner’s The Children’s Bach rightfully belongs on any list of great novellas — and right near the top, too.
But even though it’s criminally underrated, I’m actually kind of happy to let The Children’s Bach pass under the radar. Like a favourite cafe or out-of-the-way swimming spot, it’s almost as if we Australians have silently agreed to let Garner’s masterpiece remain our little secret. What a secret. What a novella! With just 96 pages, The Children’s Bach is the literary equivalent of the perfect, three-minute pop song. Like so many pop songs, it’s the story of love floundering and falling to pieces. But that’s where the similarities end, because Garner’s characters, Dexter and Athena, are nothing like the crazy-in-love young couple you usually hear songs about on the radio. And, unlike your average pop song, there’s nothing vacuous or cloying about The Children’s Bach. Garner has so much to say, and with unflinching assurance, she simply steps up to the mic and lets it all out. The Children’s Bach is utter brilliance. Let’s keep this one to ourselves…
I was 12, and I’d read pretty much everything my primary school library had to offer. This isn’t boasting — it was a tiny school and I was a big reader. My library teacher recommended Obernewtyn, and I remember being a little insulted. I had the vague impression that fantasy and sci-fi books were for children. As far as I was concerned, I had more refined, adult tastes — like the Babysitters’ Club books I’d been consuming voraciously for the last year or so.
The radioactive wasteland of Carmody’s Obernewtyn is a long, long way from Stoneybrook, Connecticut. This was my first taste of dystopian fiction, and my 12-year-old self fell in love at first sight. Obernewtyn might be the first book in a long, still unfinished series, but it stands up convincingly on its own. There’s no real need to tackle the rest of the series: the first book is by far the best. Unlike the later books in the series, Carmody doesn’t over-explain things, leaving just the right amount of space in her narrative to allow her young readers to realise that the post-apocalyptic world she’s describing is, in fact, their own. There’s a moodiness about Obernewtyn that, even re-reading the novel later in life, I found compelling. It’s so dark and enticing…frankly, I’m surprised it hasn’t been made into a hugely successful movie yet.
I realise that I’m selecting a novel that’s already relatively well-known and loved, but, the thing is, I made it through a four-year university literature degree, including a subject specialising in Australian literature, without ever having read Christina Stead — or even hearing of her, for that matter. How does that happen? Even on the basis of this one novel, Stead’s name should be shouted from the rooftops. She should be as widely known as Winton or Keneally. Admittedly, The Man Who Loved Children is a difficult book to love. Perhaps it’s a good thing I didn’t encounter Stead in my university days, when I was young and impatient?
The Man Who Loved Children is a big, impossible, doorstop of a thing, dense and difficult, with scenes that some readers might find unnecessary. It’s purposefully overwhelming; exhausting. It will smash you up and spit out the pieces — but in a way that will, inexplicably, leave you wanting more. I haven’t yet found the time to read any of Stead’s other books. They’re sitting on my shelf, waiting patiently for my attention. I daydream of a coastal road trip with a suitcase filled with Christina Stead’s books. Road trip or not, I’m looking forward to the day I finally pluck House of All Nations or Letty Fox from the shelf and immerse myself. I hope it’s soon.
Thank you, Michelle, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!
I have to admit that I have not read any of these books, although I have the first and the third on my shelves, where they have sitting for longer than I care to remember. This post has now urged me to bump The Man Who Loved Children a little higher up my list of reading priorities.
What do you think of Michelle’s choices? Have you read any of these books?