Triple Choice Tuesday

Triple Choice Tuesday: Paula McGrath

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 the Irish writer Paula McGrath, who lives in Dublin.

Paula has a background in English Literature and is currently a doctoral student at the University of Limerick.

Her first novel, Generation, was published in 2015. Her latest novel, A History of Running Away, has just been published in hardback by John Murray. I read it while on holiday a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it. Watch out for my review coming very soon.

Without further ado, here are Paula’s choices:

A favourite book: The Lover by Marguerite Duras

Ulysses (see below), and The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino are strong contenders, but every few years I return to another favourite, The Lover, by Marguerite Duras. Set in pre-war Indochina of Duras’ childhood, this novel (novella, really) tells the unsettling story of a 15 year old girl and her wealthy Chinese lover. I first read it when I was in my early twenties, and it intrigued and alienated me in equal measure; as much as I was fascinated by its protagonist, I could not relate to experiences which were just too far removed from my own. But something curious has happened in the intervening years: with each reread, my world-view seems, if not quite to converge, at least to draw closer to that of Duras’s protagonist. But there is something about the book which I suspect will always remain a puzzle, and I can’t help thinking that Duras, who rewrote her story over and over, in different guises, felt the same.

A  book that changed my world: Ulysses by James Joyce

I read Ulysses first at 18 and though most of it went over my head I was hooked. I studied it a couple of years later with then Trinity College lecturer, now Senator David Norris, a brilliant entertainer and teacher, who brought the book to life. Once you’ve heard his “shite and onions” rendition you can never unhear it. In the nineties, I was back worrying it again, comparing the Penelope/Molly Bloom episode with Edna O’Brien’s Night for a Master’s degree. Later, I bought the audio version and I listen to bits of it often. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of it.

I fought against it when I began writing, as every Irish writer must. I wince when I look over something I’ve just written and find unintentional stream-of-conscious sentences or composite words – a section of my novel, A History of Running Away, had to be prised gently from my Joyce-stained fingers and properly punctuated – but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A book that deserves wider audience: Gods & Angels by David Park

Otherwise well-read people often admit not having read, or even heard of, David Park. I wouldn’t be surprised if I were to learn that he’s not particularly interested in reaching a wider audience, but I can’t recommend his short story collection, Gods & Angels, enough. It takes its title from Hamlet’s “What a piece of work is man” speech, and aptly encompasses the book’s dominant theme of masculinity. Fear, inadequacy, and isolation hover just beneath the surface for most of the predominately male protagonists. Park is a consummate stylist, and this collection flows and startles by turn, its language ever-attuned to the requirements of the given moment. Sometimes these moments can seem hopeless, but for all the failings of its protagonists, the stories in this collection ultimately offer plenty of reasons for optimism.

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

This is such a great selection of books. I’m a big fan of The Lover, which I read and reviewed a few years ago. It’s one of those books that really sticks with you, it’s so evocative and sensual. 

I’ve also read Ulysses (though never reviewed it) and regard it as one of the most amazing novels I’ve ever read. No, I didn’t understand every word, but the playful use of language, the way each chapter is written in a different style and genre, the evocative atmospheres and emotions of it all, are really something to behold.

And while I’ve not read David Park’s short story collection, I’m pleased to say I’ve read two of his novels — The Light of Amsterdam and The Truth Commissioner — and enjoyed them both.

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

Triple Choice Tuesday

Triple Choice Tuesday: Joy Rhoades

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 the Australian writer Joy Rhodes.

Joy, a lawyer, was born in a small town in rural Queensland, Australia, but has worked all around the world, including Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and New York. She now lives in London with her husband and their two young children.

Her debut novel, The Woolgrower’s Companion, was published in Australia earlier this year and will be published in the UK later this week. Set on a sheep station in the Australian outback during the Second World War, the story draws on the experiences of Joy’s paternal grandmother who spent much of her life on a farm in rural New South Wales.

Without further ado, here are Joy’s choices:

A favourite book: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I find I’m a bit disloyal to my favourite books, in that there’s some moving on that’s a feature of the list. I’ve loved The Great Gatsby since I was a kid. I still do. And it does everything in a book I’d love to do: a strong sense of place and time; characters who are complex and whose imperfections drive the gripping story but make it no less tragic. Plus great moral questions about life and choices. Magic.

I loved Sula by Toni Morrison for the writing, and for drawing me to its world. It’s a remarkable book. And I’m currently a big fan of Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See. I loved the story — and the writing craft! I’m in awe.

A book that changed my life: My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

My brilliant careerMy Brilliant Career was a very important book to me when I was a teenager. I grew up in a small country town in western Queensland, and I had a wonderful childhood: a stable, loving family in a true community. But I knew early on I didn’t want to stay; I wanted to see the world that was out beyond the horizon. And that was a bit unusual, then. Seeing Sibylla feel those same urges to get away, to see places and do things, was a great and secret validation of what I was feeling. So that story hooked me completely.

As I get older, I can see too, it’s a beautifully crafted book, made all the more remarkable given it was published when Miles Franklin was 21.

A book that deserves a wider audience: Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko

MullumbimbyMelissa is an award-winning Aboriginal writer of Goorie heritage. Mullumbimby is a novel of belonging, and of identity. The beautiful prose cuts deep. Jo Breen buys a piece of land in Bundjalung country, returning to the country of her forefathers. It’s set in a fictional town in the hinterland of northern NSW, and Jo attempts to tame her land — to fight the lantana—while trying to stay out of competing claims for native title. The book puts you right there. I could see and smell the lantana, and the rich, green of those lush hills. And it’s funny and poignant, too.

Melissa recently won the Copyright Agency Author Fellowship, adding to a list of earlier prizes. She’s a remarkable writer whose beautiful and compelling writing deserves a wide audience.

Thanks, Joy, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday.

I, too, love The Great Gatsby, and My Brilliant Career, which I only read a few years ago, impressed me with its strong feminist streak, despite being written in 1901. While I haven’t read Mullumbimby it has been on my wishlist for quite a while. I saw Melissa Lucashenko speak in London a couple of years ago and loved her forthright attitude.

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

Triple Choice Tuesday

Triple Choice Tuesday: Suzanne Leal

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 the author Suzanne Leal.

Suzanne — a lawyer experienced in child protection, criminal law and refugee law — lives in Sydney with her husband and four children.

Her critically acclaimed first novel, Border Street, was published in her native Australia in 2006. Her second novel, The Teacher’s Secret, was a bestseller in Oz, where it was compared withThe Slap and Big Little Lies. The story explores good and evil in schools and is billed as a big-hearted book about a small community and the search for grace, dignity and love in the midst of dishonour, humiliation, grief and uncertainty.

It has just been published in the UK by Legend Press, and I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing it very soon.

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

A favourite book: The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride 

I’ve come to Eimear McBride only recently and read her recent novel The Lesser Bohemians before embarking on her much-lauded first novel, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing.

The Lesser Bohemians took me completely by surprise.  I am not generally a fan of stream of consciousness writing but once I was into the rhythm of the narrative, I was completely captivated.  I’ve always been pretty rule based – never a wild child, although sometimes I wish I was – and The Lesser Bohemians is for me a writing wild child. In The Lesser Bohemians, McBride throws all the rules of grammar and punctuation out the window.   But rather than making the book indecipherable, as I had feared, McBride’s grammatical lawlessness gives to the narrative a passion and a rhythm that is absolutely intoxicating. Like Ulysses by James Joyce, it is a book that needs your time and your attention and rewards being read aloud.

A book that changed my world: The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton

I thought and I thought about this one but I can’t go past The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton. Enid Blyton did for me what J. K. Rowling has done for my children: she taught me that magical worlds are to be found in between the covers of books and that in themselves, words on a page can provide an escape from ordinary life. As a child, I felt that Enid Blyton was writing just for me and that The Enchanted Wood was my special book. I mark my lifelong love of reading and writing from this point.

A book that deserves a wider audience: The Full Ridiculous by Mark Lamprell

I do a lot of interviewing at writers’ festivals and literary functions and I first came across Mark Lamprell in this context, following the publication of his first novel, The Full Ridiculous. To be honest, I was a bit disconcerted when I began reading it because rather than being written in the first person or the third person, Lamprell chose to write the novel in the second person. For a page or so, this felt a bit odd. After that, it was completely liberating. The story of a man whose life is spiralling out of control, Lamprell’s writing is crisp and funny and insightful and compassionate and always honest.


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

This is a nice reminder for me to read The Lesser Bohemians because I, too, loved A Girl is a Half-formed Thing.

Enid Blyton is, of course, an old favourite of mine, having grown up with the Noddy books, the Magic Faraway books and both the Famous Five and Secret Seven series. (My favourite Blyton book, however, is The Children of Cherry Tree Farm.

Finally, I love the sound of The Full Ridiculous: I do quite like it when people write in the second person. It’s so rarely done, probably because it’s so hard to get right. But when it’s done properly it can be brilliant.

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

Triple Choice Tuesday

Triple Choice Tuesday: A Fiction Habit

Triple-Choice-TuesdayWelcome 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 Sarah, who blogs at A Fiction Habit.

Sarah started blogging in 2012 to record her thoughts on the various books she read when she was a stay-at-home mother. When she returned to work in 2013 as an HR manager for a large IT consulting business she found it difficult to blog as much, but it hasn’t stopped her reading.

“My reading preferences are varied,” she explains. “But I like off-beat, non-mainstream titles and translated fiction. There’s a stubbornness about me that steers clear of best sellers — I’m probably missing something because of it!”

While Sarah says reading is an essential form of escape for her, she also does a lot of cycling, some running and a bit of swimming. She also likes drinking gin — and has a collection from 14 different distillers.

She lives in Surrey with her husband and two children, aged 13 and 11.

Without further ado, here are Sarah’s choices:

Heart of Darkness by Joseph ConradA favourite book: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad 

If you ask my husband to name his favourite book he will almost certainly tell you it is the last book he read.  This is indicative of the volume he reads rather than an indecisive nature.  It’s not a bad answer when you think of it, after all a favourite anything is dependant upon your reason for and mood at the time of digesting it.  In that case, I have several favourites; classics; contemporary; whole backlists of some authors. There are many books dear to me.

If you really pushed me for an answer I’d reluctantly tell you how much I enjoy Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (actually, I rate the slightly shorter Youth just as highly, but I think this is regarded as a short story, so not sure it really counts here).  There are a few things I admire about this compact tale of a journey into the jungle of Congo.  I love the framing of the narrative; told by the protagonist to a rapt audience years after the event, there is a feeling of anticipation mirrored in the journey itself.  There’s a wistfulness as the memory reveals the tale yet a feeling of wanting to forget the awful events.  Conrad’s description of the horrors of the journey and what the characters find is astonishing, more so when you consider he wrote in his third choice language.

Regeneration by Pat BarkerA book that changed my world: Regeneration by Pat Barker

Countless books have sent me on literary oddyssies; the post-apocolyptic teen novel that sent me back to the library week after week to seek out more of the same; the cold-war fiction on my parents’ shelves that kept me entertained through drizzly school holidays as I worked my way through the bookcase; Animal Farm, which I read at school and made me realise literature didn’t have to be literal to put across its point.

I’ve thought about this quite hard.  The book that changed my reading world was Regeneration by Pat Barker, the fictional account of a psychiatrist treating First World War soldiers for shell shock. Amongst his patients are poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. I read it shortly after its publication and having never studied war literature at school, it sent me on a journey of discovery that took in poetry, fiction and memoir — most moving amongst these being Vera Brittain’s Testament of YouthRegeneration energised me to read around and explore this subject to the enrichment of my reading life and as a human being.

Trumpet by Jackie KayA book that deserves a wider audience: Trumpet by Jackie Kay

I’m guessing I can’t chose three books here? Oddly, two of the books I want to nominate are works of fiction by female poets and one is by a Pulitzer Prize-winning male author — I’m guessing he probably has a large readership, but maybe not so much here in the UK…

On balance, although all three deserve a wider audience; I’ve gone for Trumpet by Jackie Kay.  This is the story of the life and death of fictional jazz artist Joss Moody told from the perspective of his friends and family.  It focuses on the revelation of his secret only coming to light after his death.  It is a book about race, gender and national identity all wrapped in a beautiful jazz-like prose.

Written almost 20 years ago, I was in my mid-20s when I first read it and it was a real eye opener; I’d read nothing like it in terms of the themes.  It was a literary moment of discovery and made me  realise that not everything you see is as it seems and assumption is a tricky road to travel down. You can also tell Jackie Kay is a poet when you read her fiction.  Her words are well thought through, sequenced and ordered until you are left in no doubt of her talent. Definitely deserving of a wider audience; still totally relevant 20 years on.

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

Some great choices here: I loved Heart of Darkness when I read it in my early 20s; one day I will get around to reading the Regeneration trilogy (it’s been on my wishlist for an embarrassingly long time); and Trumpet, which is a new name for me, sounds amazing, and slightly reminiscent of Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues, a story that I loved.

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

Triple Choice Tuesday

Triple Choice Tuesday: the Australian Legend

Triple-Choice-TuesdayWelcome 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 Bill, who blogs at The Australian Legend.

His blog looks at the way literature represents Australians, and at alternatives to the myth of the laconic, independent bushman.

Bill dropped out of uni (Engineering) in 1970 to become a truck driver and has never looked back. He has owned trucks, gone broke, driven all round Australia, gone back to uni seven times over 40 years — for degrees in accountancy, logistics and most recently, literature.

He currently lives in Perth, WA, where he swims, blogs, drives road trains out into the desert, and does handyman stuff at the homes of his ex-wife and youngest daughter.

Without further ado, here are Bill’s choices:

My Career Goes Bung by Miles FranklinA favourite book: My Career Goes Bung by Miles Franklin

I could easily have chosen Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, which I read repeatedly as a child, and which when I last read it before making a gift of my old copy to a grandchild, still had the power to make me cry; or Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in which I always find something new; but My Career Goes Bung, published in 1946 but written in 1902, is a special book for me.

Franklin wrote it as a “corrective” to the popular view that the very successful My Brilliant Career was autobiography. It is cleverly written as the mock autobiography of a mock autobiography writer, and as a (young) adult with some experience of the Sydney literary and suffragist scene, Franklin is much more clearly able to articulate her passionate feminism than in the earlier attempt which she wrote as a teenager. Sadly, her savage portrayals of prominent figures were too easily recognisable and no publisher would touch it. The two books together are stunningly “post-modern” in their questioning of ‘who is the author’ and may have been the stepping-stone to a glittering career. Alas, it was not to be.

An Australian Girl by Catherine MartinA book that changed my world: An Australian Girl by Catherine Martin

In the 1990s my then local library, Nunawading, in Melbourne created a special section for early Australian women writers. This arose directly out of the pioneering work of Dale Spender who wrote Writing a New World: Two Centuries of Australian Women Writers (1988) and who was the editor behind the republishing around that time of early Australian women novelists by Pandora and Penguin. So, I was introduced to a whole world of writing which is still largely ignored by Australian literary history.

The Bulletin ruled the 1890s with writers like Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson and Steele Rudd, but in the years immediately prior, in which we are generally told the only writers were Marcus Clarke and Rolf Boldrewood, the most popular and prolific writers were all women – Catherine Helen Spence, Ada Cambridge, Rosa Praed, “Tasma” (Jessie Couvreur), Mary Gaunt,  Catherine Martin.

I have selected An Australian Girl (1890) — which is both a story of love gone wrong and a long dissertation on marriage, independence and the beauty of the Australian bush — because it marks the beginning of the reading which led eventually to my M.Litt thesis, The Independent Woman in Australian Literature.

The Pea-PickersA book that deserves a wider audience: The Pea Pickers by Eve Langley

Patrick White carried The Pea Pickers with him during WWII because it “reminded him of Australia”. I studied The Pea Pickers, and its sequel White Topee, because its heroines Eve and June – calling themselves Steve and Blue – are the very archetypes of the Independent Woman. But I re-read them because Eve Langley’s is the most beautiful prose in Australian literature.

Steve, the narrator, is torn between her need as a woman to find love, and her need as a person and a poet to assert her independence, to be a Lawson-esque lone hand in the Australian bush. The two dress in men’s clothes, not because they are asexual but because that was the only practical way to live as itinerant farm workers in the 1920s. When a police sergeant bails them up for being dressed as men (which was illegal at the time) Steve is defiant: “You ask … are we masquerading as boys. No, we are masquerading as life. We are in search of a country … the promised land …” Their fellows have no doubt they are women – they often dress ironically, mixing items of women’s clothing with their boots and trousers, and in any case are “amply feminine” – and treat them with respect and affection in what is a period of often terrible poverty.

Over the course of two years they journey around Gippsland and north-eastern Victoria, picking peas and hops, “ready, as the picker is always, to leap out of our tailored clothes and mutilate anything in exchange for a hut and a few shillings a week.” Steve falls in love with the gawky “Macca”, but keeps him at arm’s length, and when the novel ends, Blue has gone home, Macca is off in the Alps, droving, and as for Steve, “I was alone.”

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

This is such an interesting trio of books, probably the most intriguing selection ever chosen here. The last two are new names to me, but I’ve been able to buy both An Australian Girl by Catherine Martin (who also uses the pseudonym Mrs Alick MacLeod) and The Pea Pickers by Eve Langley on Kindle for £1.99 and £5.99 respectively. I’m looking forward to reading them!

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

Triple Choice Tuesday

Triple Choice Tuesday: Book Around The Corner


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 Emma, who blogs at Book Around The Corner.

Emma is French but decided to write her blog in English because she wanted to be in contact with readers outside of the Francophone world. “It worked beyond my expectations,” she tells me. “I also love the English language and its different yet familiar way to put our world into words.”

Emma says she has always loved reading but hated literature classes: “This explains why I’m a corporate executive and why I don’t have a degree in literature. To sum it up: I write about books without any academic baggage in literature or any writing skills and in a language that is not my native tongue. Yes, I’m cheeky.”

Without further ado, here are Emma’s choices:


pride-and-prejudiceA favourite book: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I’m not much into re-reading books even if reading Madame Bovary again as an adult has proven to be a fascinating experience. I had totally missed out on how Flaubert makes fun of society. I think that Pride and Prejudice is the only one I’ve read several times. It’s not a very original choice, I know. Why this one?

Pride and Prejudice is a rose. It’s lovely, it smells good and not offensive but it has thorns. Pride and Prejudice unveils the fate of women in Austen’s society. I love her feminism. I love that she created female characters who do not faint, cry or go into hysterics when things go tough. I admire her for showing to the world how limited a girl’s options were. And she’s had a witty sense of humour and incredible observation skills.

your-ticket-is-no-longer-validA book that changed my world: Your Ticket Is No Longer Valid by Romain Gary

I was 17 and something clicked between him and me. I fell in love with his prose, his turn of mind and his sense of humour. He always thinks out of the box and looks at things through a different prism. He was a humanist and his personal story influenced his writing. He was Jewish and emigrated to France in his teens. He was a diplomat and lived in different countries. His first wife was British and his second one American. He was truly a citizen of the world and assessed our world with amazing lucidity.

I would not recommend starting reading Gary with this one but with Promise at Dawn. There is more about this excellent French writer on my Reading Romain Gary page.

Going to meet the manA book that deserves a wider audience: Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin

Writing about Baldwin after writing about Gary makes me think that they have things in common. They know the feeling of being outsiders and being judged for it. Both lived in France and in America. Both remain kind towards humanity without ignoring the horror and its flaws. Both are lucid but hopeful.

No one I’ve read describes better the inner damages of racism than Baldwin.

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

But I’m not sure that my ever-growing TBR pile feels the same way. I need to add both Gary and Baldwin to the list asap. As for Jane Austen, what can I say? Lots of people have chosen this one as their favourite book ever since Triple Choice Tuesday began back in 2010, but I’ve yet to read it myself. I know. I know. I’ll go crawl back under my rock right now…

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

Triple Choice Tuesday

Triple Choice Tuesday: Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

Triple-Choice-TuesdayWelcome 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 Caroline, who blogs at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat.

Caroline is Franco-Italian and lives in the German-speaking part of Switzerland and the UK with her British partner and their two black cats.

She is a writer, translator, copy-editor, proofreader and Bach Flower Practitioner.

Without further ado, here are Caroline’s selections:

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio BassaniA favourite book: The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani

Surprisingly, this wasn’t a difficult choice. Giorgio Bassani’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis is such a melancholic, mournful story. When we look back on an enchanted time that’s long gone, on people we loved, but don’t see any more, we’re often filled with a mix of sorrow, regret and joy. Now imagine a narrator looking back on exactly that – enchanted moments and first love, insecurities and hesitation – and add to that the Holocaust. It makes the narrator’s past so much more tragic and irretrievable. And the uncanny thing is the reader knows from the beginning that the characters in the story are doomed. We know the whole time that they will die. Set InFerrrara, in the late thirties, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis tells the story of an aristocratic Jewish family.

My life by Isadora DuncanA book that changed my world: My Life by Isadora Duncan

I could have picked many titles here but I decided to choose Isadora Duncan’s autobiography My Life. It definitely has changed my life because it made me discover my love for a genre — memoir — and also because it showed me what it is like to live a life according to your own rules. Isadora was ahead of her time in so many ways. She didn’t only revolutionise dance, she also lived an unconventional life. She was such an original, such an eccentric. What I loved best is how enthusiastic she was about her projects and how infectious that was. She just swiped along everyone — her family, her friends, her lovers. I think it was this enthusiasm that helped her survive the tragedies that befell her. It’s unbelievable what she had to endure. Her death, like her life, was out of the ordinary and when you read her memoir, it makes you shiver to think that the one thing she was famous for — the scarves she used in her dances — led to her death.

How to make love to a negro without getting tiredA book that deserves a wider audience: Comment faire l’amour avec unnègre sans se fatiguer (How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired) by Dany Laferrière

Another category that wasn’t easy. Dany Laferrière’s  Comment faire l’amour avec unnègre sans se fatiguerHow to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired was my first by this author and it made a huge impression. When I read it in the 90s nobody would have thought a Haitian author would become a member of the Académie Française [the pre-eminent French council for matters pertaining to the French language]. But it happened. He was elected in 2013.

Sadly, most of his books haven’t been translated, just like most Haitian literature hasn’t been translated. The few authors English-speaking people get to read mostly write in English. However, Laferrière’s very first novel, the hilarious, irreverent, naughty and clever How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired has been translated. I’ve never seen it mentioned anywhere and really hope people would pick it up and read it. Maybe that way his other novels would be translated as well.

How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired is such an exuberant novel. Very autobiographical. It tells the story of a young Haitian man who has moved to Canada where he doesn’t exactly feel welcome. It’s a rant and a hoot and like nothing I’ve ever read by any other author.

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

There’s some really interesting choices here. I’ve had The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani in my TBR for, oh, about 10 years! Now I’m eager to pluck it from my shelves for a read. Memoir is one of my favourite genres, too, so I like the sound of Isadora Duncan’s My Life. And thanks for recommending such an interesting book that deserves a wider audience: I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by a Haitian writer before, so this sounds like a great place to start.

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

Triple Choice Tuesday

Triple Choice Tuesday: Poppy Peacock Pens

Triple-Choice-TuesdayWelcome 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 Poppy, who blogs at Poppy Peacock Pens.

Poppy describes herself as “a limited, sporadic reader, and talker not writer”.  Then severe illness all but silenced her. For cognitive rehabilitation – and sanity – she began studying Creative Writing & Literature with the Open University and discovered a much broader literary world.

“After graduating, I revelled in reading and writing to my own whims; whims fed and nurtured by the bookish folk on Twitter,” Poppy tells me. “With so much to read, so much to write, so much to ruminate over I recently started to blog to keep track. Now writing more, including my first novel, reading widely plays an integral part.”

Without further ado, here are Poppy’s choices:

A favourite book: The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky

One of the biggest delights of expanding my reading repertoire has been discovering far more interesting female protagonists; discovering women who challenge the societal norms and offer far more than the archaic stereotypical – and often secondary – roles that, with hindsight, seemed to dominate the books I read. I have particularly been taken by the anti-heroines of Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge and Lucy Barton, Jennifer Tseng’s Mayumi, Elena Ferrante’s leading ladies in her novellas The Last Days of Abandonment, Troubling Love and The Lost Daughter, but my hands-down favourite is Rosa Achmetowna from The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky published by Europa Editions.

Rosa is at best delusional, at worst devious and despicable yet utterly compelling and at times highly comedic. Her story – not just because it’s first person narrative, it is always all about her – is how she strives to improve life for herself, her daughter and her grand-daughter, ultimately getting them out of Russia to Germany. It is so well nuanced by Bronsky, that while we obviously hear and witness her good intentions, we also see her flaws, which in turn can both repel and charm. And see that she kind of means well, no matter how deluded that may be.

She came to stay by Simone de BeauvoirA book that changed my world: She Came To Stay by Simone de Beauvoir

I’ve always enjoyed biographical tales from foreign countries but in the past two years another delight has been exploring the world of translated fiction; more specifically, texts I had always presumed were way out my league. Studying literature has given me the confidence – and to a degree an improved aptitude – to tackle texts I would normally have body swerved. One such story is She Came To Stay by Simone de Beauvoir; classed as autobiographical fiction, as it is her literary revenge on younger adversary Olga Kosakievicz who almost derailed her legendary relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre.

Based in Paris in the late 1930s, the story revolves around the established, loving relationship between Pierre and Françoise when the much younger and beautiful Xavière enters their lives and is determined to come between them. It is a quiet book – in the sense it is more observational than action-packed – but the tension intensifies; the suspense of how the relationships will play out and specifically how Françoise will react is palpable.

Aware, and in awe, of de Beauvoir’s work developing post-war feminism I found this both accessible and compelling, which boosted my confidence enough to blow away the self-imposed reading restrictions. My copy was published by Harper Perennial Modern Classics and has some great contextual essays in the back too.

The woman next doorA book that deserves a wider audience: The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso

Combining my love of anti-heroines and quiet books with finely nuanced relationships, The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso, published by Chatto & Windus in May this year is one I am surprised hasn’t attracted more attention. Of course, it’s impossible for me to know for sure what readership it has attained but judging by only being able to find a handful of reviews post-publication I really want to encourage more people to read it.

Set in Cape Town, the story revolves around two retired widows – one black, one white – who, having had successful careers of their own, live next door in the wealthy suburb of Constantia. They are ‘sworn enemies, sharing hedge and hostility which they prune with a zeal that belies the fact they are both over eighty.’ When an incident forces the women together – and they discover they share common circumstances both past and present – their relationship gradually, very gradually, evolves from antipathy to acceptance.

Deftly handled during current events and recollections Omotoso ensures we are privy to how themes of love, marriage, employment, health, dependency, race and prejudice have affected both ladies which make their stories compelling. Having spent some time in South Africa I certainly recognised their portrayal. But the icing on the cake is the astute characterisation and observations which often lead to hilarious exchanges and events. This book isn’t just an arresting and informative insight into one aspect of post-apartheid South Africa and women’s relationships, it’s very entertaining!

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

What great choices. I’ve not read any of them, but they all sound intriguing. I think my wish list just grew by three more titles!

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

Triple Choice Tuesday

Triple Choice Tuesday: Vishy’s Blog

Triple-Choice-TuesdayWelcome 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 Vishy from Vishy’s Blog.

Vishy used to work in the technology industry managing projects, but these days he spends his time mostly in reading great literature, expanding his horizons in new areas (his current areas of interest are Law, Israeli/Jewish history, culture and literature, Abstract Mathematics and Energy), watching his favourite TV shows and  the occasional movie and following his favourite sports, tennis and cricket.

Without further ado, here are Vishy’s choices:

The WallA favourite book: The Wall by Marlen Haushofer

This is one of my all-time favourite books. The story goes like this. A 40-something-year-old woman is trapped in the countryside. It looks like she has been separated from the rest of the world by a transparent wall or dome. On the other side everyone is dead. The woman has a dog, a cat and a cow for company.

With this minimalistic setting, Marlen Haushofer creates literary magic weaving in all the grand themes — the relationship between humans and animals and the environment, the relationship between parents and children, between men and women, and the idea of freedom, love, loss and death — in beautiful, gorgeous prose. Haushofer is Austrian and only three of her novels have been translated into English, which is unfortunate, because she is one of the greats. She deserves to be more well-known. The Wall is a masterpiece and deserves to be more well read.

Ex LibrisA book that changed my world: Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman

This is my favourite collection of essays ever. In this book, Anne Fadiman takes all the things that delight booklovers and writes an essay about each of them. Topics covered include how to treat a book (whether dog-earing a page is okay), second-hand bookshops, reading a book together with our favourite person, the hidden-but-favourite part of our bookshelf and other delightful bookish topics. This book is a book lover’s delight.

Why is this a book that changed my world? Harold Bloom says this about poetry — that it augments our consciousness. This book, Fadiman’s collection of bookish essays, augments my consciousness, sharpens my bookish vision, enriches the way I look at things. I used to think that I was the only person who thought about dog-earing pages, or spilling coffee on a book, or having a secret part of my bookshelf which I treasure, but which I don’t want others to see. Fadiman made me realise that there are other readers like her who think about these things, who are as bookish as I am. This makes me happy, this makes my heart glow with pleasure, this enriches the way I look at bookish things, and in that way this book has changed my bookish world and life.

Yesterday at the hotelA book that deserves a wider audience: Yesterday, at the Hotel Clarendon by Nicole Brossard

Nicole Brossard is virtually unknown outside her native Canada and even there she is known only among a select group of readers. When it is assumed by default that Canadian literature is written in English (Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro), it is forgotten that there is a beautiful part of Canadian literature written in French. Unfortunately, even Canadian readers ignore the French literary treasures from their country. Nicole Brossard is Canadian and writes in French and she has been doing that for more than fifty years. She is a poet, novelist and essayist and the beauty of her poetry flows into her prose.

In this novel, Brossard’s prose is sublime, gorgeous, intoxicating. It is the kind of intoxication that one gets while listening to classical music, the kind which is pleasurable and exhilarating and delightful but on which one never gets drunk. Brossard deserves to be more well-known and more people should be reading her works. I highly recommend this book.

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

This is why I love asking bloggers to name three books that are important to them, because you’ve chosen three titles that I have never heard of and which I want to buy and read immediately!

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

Triple Choice Tuesday

Triple Choice Tuesday: 746 Books

Triple-Choice-TuesdayWelcome 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 Cathy Brown, who blogs at 746 Books and tweets @cathy746books.

Cathy is based in Northern Ireland, where she works as an arts programmer at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy.

Her blog chronicles her efforts to whittle down her To Be Read pile, which totalled 746 books when she started (hence the name). She’s passionate about Irish literature and hosts the annual Reading Ireland Month in March.

Without further ado, here are Cathy’s choices:

Tales of the cityA favourite book: Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

In 1997, I quit my job and headed off to the States with my best friend to travel for six months. First stop? San Francisco. My work colleagues clubbed together to give me a leaving present of cold hard dollars and a copy of Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin. This started a love affair with the complicated, hilarious and emotional lives of a motley group of characters living in 28 Barbary Lane under the support and love of their landlady, Anna Madrigal.

Set in 1970s San Francisco, the story is told through the eyes of Mary-Ann Singleton, the naïve and innocent Mid-Western secretary who has come to start a new life in a new city. Renting a room in Barbary Lane, she meets Michael ‘Mouse’ Tolliver, the first gay man she has ever encountered; the tough but vulnerable Mona and the beating heart of them all, the non-conforming, pot-smoking Anna Madrigal.

This multi-plot narrative follows their complicated lives through a maze of sex, drugs and longing. The narratives can at times seem far-fetched, featuring serial killers, kidnappings, cults and whore houses, but Maupin always returns to the relationships between his characters, focusing on the nature of family and the pain of human frailty and the cost of emotional freedom.

The Tales of the City series became a real treat read for me. I would save starting a new one until I was sure I had the time to fully enjoy the experience. Over the past 20 years I’ve read and loved the full series – Tales of the City, More Tales of the City, Further Tales of the City, Babycakes, Significant Others and Sure of You. Maupin’s following trilogy, Michael Tolliver Lives, Mary Ann in Autumn and finally The Days of Anna Madrigal are a fitting end to a wonderful collection, although I have to admit that despite being bought The Days of Anna Madrigal last Christmas by my husband, I have yet to read it. I’m not ready to say goodbye to the gang just yet.

 The Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullersA book that changed my world: The Ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers

In my second year at university studying English, I impulsively took a course on Novels of the American South. Focusing mainly on Faulkner, the course also looked at the work of Flannery O’Connor and Carson McCullers and I can safely say that McCullers changed my view completely about what women writers could be and could write about.

Looking back at my literary education up to that point, I can see that the majority of the set texts had been by men. At school, we read Wuthering Heights and that was about it. In a module on the Contemporary British Novel, all texts were by men. Carson McCullers’ The Ballad of the Sad Café (and the equally wonderful The Heart is a Lonely Hunter), opened up a world of writers to me and took my reading in new and wonderful directions.

Miss Amelia Evans, tall, foreboding and fiercely independent runs a small-town store.  She has always looked after herself, bar a disastrous ten-day marriage but when a hunchback cousin, Lymon, appears from nowhere, Amelia opens her heart and her doors, transforming her store into a popular café where the locals come to meet. Lymon has a strange hold on Amelia and any chance of happiness between them is doomed, when Marvin Macy, Amelia’s ex-husband returns from jail to create a bizarre love triangle destined to bring violence, betrayal and pain.

The Ballad of the Sad Café is a moving meditation on love told through clear, poetic prose. Through this southern Gothic tale of misfits and eccentrics, McCullers creates a mythic tapestry of life,  exploring themes of isolation – the isolation of the individual and the shared isolation of a community;  the value of life and the pain of unreciprocated love.

But though the outward facts of this love are indeed sad and ridiculous, it must be remembered that the real story was that which took place in the soul of the lover himself. So who but God can be the final judge of this or any other love?

In McCullers writing I always sense an acute awareness of the folly of the human condition and this is most pronounced in The Ballad of the Sad Café, which, despite the foreshadowing and sense of impending disaster still produces an ending with the ability to shock, a mystery to ponder and a coda to give hope.

If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregorA book that deserves a wider audience: If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor

You must always look with both of your eyes and listen with both of your ears. He says this is a very big world and there are many many things you could miss if you are not careful. There are remarkable things all the time, right in front of us, but our eyes have like the clouds over the sun and our lives are paler and poorer if we do not see them for what they are. If nobody speaks of remarkable things, how can they be called remarkable?

Seamus Heaney has a lovely phrase in his collection Seeing Things, where he tries to ‘credit marvels’. Jon McGregor does the same thing is this beautiful, subtle book that tells the story of one street, a street where life is happening in all its minutiae. In this street, an ordinary street, a multiplicity of stories are being acted out and those stories connect and influence each other, often without knowing it. If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things isn’t so much about anything as about everything.

In some ways it reminds me a little of Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (high praise, I know!) as it charts the emotional moments that can bring a seismic shift in a life. It is a poetic novel, slow-moving, emotional and affecting.

If you listen, you can hear it.
The city, it sings.
If you stand quietly, at the foot of a garden, in the middle of the street, on the roof of a house.
It’s clearest at night, when the sound cuts more sharply across the surface of things, when the song reaches out to a place inside you.
It’s a wordless song, for the most, but it’s a song all the same, and nobody hearing it could doubt what it sings. And the song sings the loudest when you pick out each note

It almost feels like a modest book, a book that focuses on the note and not the song, but by exploring on the seemingly mundane, McGregor succeeds in illuminating the mystical.

Thank you, Cathy, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!

I remember loving the Tales of the City mini-series when it was screened on Australian TV in the mid-1990s, but I’ve not read the book. Nor have I read Ballad of the Sad Cafe, although I have read (and loved) Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. And Jon McGregor’s novel has been sitting in my TBR for several years: time for me to bump it up the pile by the sound of things.

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