Posts from the ‘Our authors’ favourite novels’ Category
December 14, 2017
Forget Nancy Drew: Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise was my Christmas-gift light-bulb moment of finding a thriller series with a strong female lead, and inspiring my own heroine-driven novels for Betimes Books.
This is a big shout-out to my relatives back in Kerry who spoil me and my family in Japan at every Christmas and on birthdays. One of my favourites was a lovely edition of Possessed of a Past: A John Banville Reader, which my benevolent cousin, Martina, also got signed by the great writer. I’ve been a Banville admirer since first reading The Book of Evidence in 1989, and this anthology is a wonderful volume to occasionally dip into and savour the superb stylings of an Irish prose master.
Sam Hawken, author of La Frontera
Easily the best book gift I ever received was for Christmas in the mid-‘90s, when my girlfriend at the time gave me a copy of a first edition Ace paperback (1970) of Swords and Deviltry, signed by the late Fritz Leiber himself. What a treasure!
Richard Kalich, author of Central Park West Trilogy
The first US edition of Albert Camus’ The Fall (published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1957) given to me on no particular occasion by my twin brother. He bought it with his gambling winnings…
December 13, 2017
Patricia Ketola, author of Dirty Pictures
One Christmas, when I was about ten years old, I received a copy of R. L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The book was an unusual choice for a little girl, but I was so thrilled by the marvellous tale of adventure that I could not put it down. Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver captured my imagination and I wanted to join them on the high seas and participate in their quest for treasure. Treasure Island is such a vivid and stimulating work that it’s still with me after all these years.
Craig McDonald, author of the Hector Lassiter series
Many years ago, at the height of my book collecting period, my wife handled contact with Scorpion Press in the UK when I was ordering a signed and numbered edition of James Ellroy’s memoir, My Dark Places. That same Christmas, she surprised me with the far rarer lettered edition, of which only 15 were produced.
Kevin Stevens, author of Reach the Shining River
When I was eleven years old, my father gave me a beautifully illustrated leather-bound edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. I read the novel then, have read it many times since, and it remains for me a touchstone of wisdom and great storytelling.
Les Edgerton, author of The Death of Tarpons
The best book gift I’ve ever received, I’ve received perhaps two dozen times. Same book. I have a pile of hardcover copies of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, my favorite book. Most of my friends know it’s my favorite book and so for years I keep receiving various copies of it. And, I love each and every one of them!
Fionnuala Brennan, author of The Painter’s Women
It is not easy to choose the best book present I ever received as what was best then I might not regard as the best now. However, I have chosen a book which I received many years ago because I remember it well and think many of its lessons are relevant today. The book is Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly (Knopf, 1984). She writes of what she terms ‘follies’, the paradoxes of history, from the Trojan War to Vietnam. Tuchman (1917-1989) was not an academic historian and perhaps that is why her books, while they could be faulted for not being sufficiently rigorous, were widely read and won her two Pulitzer prizes.
To be continued…
December 12, 2017
Jackie Mallon, author of Silk for the Feed Dogs
It was a copy of The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy. A certain someone knew I’d appreciate the paperback’s many idiosyncrasies: the title, so goofy and slapstick-sounding, in direct contrast to the elegant Hitchcockian blond stretched out nude on the cover in an image by Erwin Blumenfeld, a fashion photographer of the 40s and 50s. Published in 1958, in the tradition of the Henry James/Edith Wharton ‘American abroad’ stories, it describes the Parisian exploits of a 21-year-old Missouri native, unleashed with reckless abandon on the bistros and champagne bars off the Champs-Élysées. And he was right. What’s not to love?
Sean Moncrieff, author of The Angel of the Streetlamps
I must have been thirteen or fourteen and I was given a copy of The Catcher in the Rye. I read it during the quiet days between Christmas and the New Year, and it was revelatory. There was no such thing as YA fiction back then, but here was a character not much older than me and who also seemed to feel that there was something ‘wrong’ with the world around them; or with themselves. Or both. I hadn’t known that fiction could do that: and I’ve been chasing that dragon ever since.
I was given a copy of Bruce Carter’s B Flight as a boy and have since returned to it numerous times and read it to both of my sons. An astonishing story of love and war that resonates with a deceptive simplicity, and a final sentence any author would kill for. A real lost gem well overdue for rediscovery.
David Hogan, author of The Last Island
Maybe it was because the novels had to do with the decadent and entitled British upper class, which I generally have less interest in than a sloth’s synaptic processes. Or perhaps it was the author’s name: Could the so-called Edward St. Aubyn be expected to write prose that was any less burdensome? So I resisted, despite myself, and despite the reviews and awards and the fact that time after time the books were recommended and prominently displayed at my local bookstore. I was strangely conflicted, however. I wanted to read them, and talked about reading them, and once or twice perused a page or two, but dared no further until one fine day my wife slapped Never Mind on the kitchen table and said, “Maybe this will finally shut you up.” It did. I tore through the other four Patrick Melrose novels in quick succession and wondered what had caused my great resistance in the first place. I now think it was the ‘St.’ in his name, which seems the height of pretension.
To be continued…
March 4, 2015
“A writer’s public persona is one thing; the solitary craftsman who lives in his head, and works very much alone, is another creature entirely.”
Happy birthday to the great James Ellroy!
Read Craig McDonald’s tribute here: http://crimespreemag.com/ellroy-grand-master/
January 3, 2015
The book I read the most often might not necessarily be my favorite book, but it is the book which speaks to me the most: No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy. When I first read the book in 2005, I knew I’d found the key to unlocking my own voice in writing. Up until that point I’d been floundering around trying to figure out who I was on paper, but the clarity and purpose of McCarthy’s writing in No Country was so compelling that I just knew with an absolute certainty what I needed to write and how I needed to write it.
After that time I have come back to the book at least once a year to recharge my batteries. I won’t say it’s a new experience every time, as I know the book very well by now, but I will say that it never fails to set me on my way again whenever I feel myself faltering. And that’s more than enough to ask from any book.
Sam Hawken is the author of LA FRONTERA
January 2, 2015
There is a passage from classic literature so vividly macabre yet fantastically romantic that it seared itself into my girlhood brain. Nothing Hollywood’s big budget pyrotechnics or CGI wizardry has ever produced has come close to replicating it: the image of Miss Havisham catching fire in Great Expectations.
Unlike some little girls I didn’t grow up cultivating my own great expectations of stepping regally in a white frothy frock while draped on the arm of an unidentified Prince Charming. No, this anti-wedding day captured my imagination with its symbols of tradition all twisted.
When Miss Havisham offers Pip nine hundred pounds to help Herbert, there’s the dowry. Then there is, of course, the consummation. Pip demonstrates some major throw-down when he flings her to the ground and rolls on top of her trying to extinguish the “whirl of fire blazing all about her.” The wedding banquet or “heap of rottenness” is finally consumed by flames not guests. Confetti? The tinder and ashes raining down on them in a “black shower.” Post-activity there follows the tender newlywed kiss when Pip leans over and touches Miss Havisham’s lips gently with his own as she lies loosely wrapped in a white sheet.
Great blazing bones and scuttling beetles!
I’ve been betrothed to Dickens ever since.
Jackie Mallon is the author of SILK FOR THE FEED DOGS
December 30, 2014
Anyone doubting the enduring power of the social realist novel need look no further than Tom Wolfe‘s 1987 masterpiece, still as relevant today as it was almost 30 years ago. Set on Wall Street in the midst of the 1980s boom, it charts the downfall of Sherman McCoy, star bond salesman who struggled to make ends meet on a million dollars a year.
Elegantly written and with a cast of characters that manages to get under the skin of everyone from Manhattan socialites to down and outs, The Bonfire of the Vanities is one of those rare books I find myself returning to every few years. With the fall out from bank bailouts still pervading our major financial capitals, and inequalities of wealth on the rise, I can feel its pages beckoning once more.
Donald Finnaeus Mayo is the author of FRANCESCA
December 29, 2014
The book that changed my life was a humble, second-hand paperback reprint of an old pulp magazine story written at the height of the Great Depression.
On a cold autumn day, my maternal grandfather handed me the second Doc Savage novel, The Land of Terror. I was always a reader, always had one or more books going. My granddad—the man to whom I dedicated my first-published novel, Head Games—often gave me books in that manner. Some interested me; most frankly didn’t.
This one grabbed me by the young scruff like no other, before or since. It was pure pulp-lit and the story moved like lightning. I was, I think, all of eight, and I read the book cover-to-cover at a sitting, another first for me. I sat on the floor with my back to a wall register, sucking up the heat and that first-season furnace smell of charred dust in the heating ducts, but I was really just lost in that crazy thriller about a globetrotting, latter-day knight errant and his band of scrappy, quirky aides. When I finished the novel, I read it again, and a third time after that. I started a years-long quest after the myriad Bantam reprints of Doc Savage pulp magazines with their moody, hyper-realistic James Bama covers (alas, Bama didn’t provide The Land of Terror’s cover).
I completely skipped the Hardy Boys and the usual kids-level series my peers devoured—I found such books drivel compared to the Doc novels.
Inspiration comes from the strangest of places and drives our lives in new directions. For me, for better or worse, it all started in that little house on Woodlawn Avenue with this teaser on the back cover that spurred me to open that book and read on:
“A vile greenish vapor was all that remained of the first victim of the monstrous Smoke of Eternity…”
December 28, 2014
“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for?” Franz Kafka
In an alternative translation of the above Kafka quote, “wound” and “stab” are written as “bite” and “sting”, Sheepshagger by Niall Griffiths does all these things to the reader, and then some.
In ecstatic prose and with raw energy and furious rhythms Griffiths brings you on a wild ride in the Welsh countryside with the unhinged “scruffy skinny spotty” Ianto, an almost mute, feral savant-ish youth who roams the mountains intoxicated not only with drink/drugs but with his own feverish imaginings. This is quite possibly the best British novel in the last twenty years, an exhilarating ride, and an unforgettable read.
You can have your Jonathan Franzens with their mild social comedies, but anyone who craves for their servings of viscera, then this is the real daring deal. Like all the best writers writing today (Banville, Delillo, Ford) he makes you care about sentences. In fact he makes you want to do two contradictory things: he makes you want to pick up a pen and try out your own rich metaphors (the purple-ness can be utterly inspiring), and he also makes you want to never pick up a pen again, because you can never do it this well.
Confrontational, often outrageous, criminally ignored (too dangerous for the Booker?), this is the kind of novel Kafka meant, so take a jaunt on the wild side.
It might have been lazily billed the Welsh Blood Meridian by some, but Sheepshagger stands singular in its own right, and it set the standard for writing excellence at the beginning of the new millennium.
Colin O’Sullivan is the author of KILLARNEY BLUES
December 27, 2014
Not one of my three sisters is a loud, dirty, boozy girl. That’s probably a good thing for them — as well as me. But if one or two or all of them were, I would give them this book if only because Dylan Thomas, that loud, dirty, boozy poet, said I should. Even without that recommendation, how can anyone resist a novel that reflects on the humanity of kangaroos, including “the kangaroolity of women and your wife beside you”? Or one that offers an occasional “summary of what has gone before, for the benefit of new readers.” Or one where an author sleeps with one of his own characters and conceives a child who then goes on to write a book about what a terrible writer his father is? Joyce loved it, so did Beckett and Graham Greene and Jorge Luis Borges, and Brendan Gleeson is trying to turn it into a movie. It’s Flann O’Brien’s ‘At Swim-Two-Birds’ and one of my favorite novels. Go on, find yourself a loud, dirty, boozy girl and give it to her.
David Hogan is the author of THE LAST ISLAND
December 26, 2014
Reading The Fall was a life-changing experience. But let the novel speak for itself:
“Don’t lies eventually lead to the truth? And don’t all my stories, true or false, tend toward the same conclusion? Don’t they all have the same meaning? So what does it matter whether they are true or false if, in both cases, they are significant of what I have been and what I am? Sometimes it is easier to see clearly into the liar than into the man who tells the truth. Truth, like light, blinds. Falsehood, on the contrary, is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object.”
“Freedom is not a reward or a decoration that you toast in champagne. On the contrary, it’s hard graft and a long-distance run, all alone, very exhausting. Alone in a dreary room, alone in the dock before the judges, and alone to make up your mind, before yourself and before the judgement of others. At the end of every freedom there is a sentence, which is why freedom is too heavy to bear.”
“Thus I progressed on the surface of life, in the realm of worlds as it were, never in reality. All those books, barely read, those friends barely loved, those cities barely visited, those women barely possessed. I went through the gestures of boredom and absentmindedness. Then came human beings’ they wanted to cling, but there was nothing to cling too, and that was unfortunate for them. As for me, I forgot. I never remembered anything but myself.”
“A single sentence will suffice for modern man. He fornicated and read the papers. After that vigorous definition, the subject will be, if I may say so, exhausted.”
Richard Kalich is the author of CENTRAL PARK WEST TRILOGY (currently on promotion on Amazon UK and Amazon Australia)