When people tell me they never read books, I tend to get a very confused look on my face. Having read thousands of good books in my life, I just can’t understand why some people are withholding this pleasure from themselves. On the whole, I tend to try and ignore these comments as otherwise I might be rude and start throwing things and then the book haters would just say ‘Well if that’s what happens when you read too many books….’
As well as reading books, I also like to try and write them. Unfortunately I have discovered that writing a good book is actually a tad harder than reading one. Many an hour has been spent slaving over the laptop, only to return the following day to discover everything I’ve written is utter drivel. So this post is all about the writing I would love to have laid claim to…but can’t.
1. A Gathering Light – Jennifer Donnelly. This is a beautiful book about an American girl at the beginning of the twentieth century. She is struggling to put herself first and follow her dream of moving to New York to become a writer. This excerpt is a description of the guests at the hotel she works at.
“They leave things behind sometimes, the guests. A crumpled handkerchief. A pearl button that fell off a dress and rolled under a bed. And sometimes they leave other sorts of things. Things you can’t see. A sigh trapped in a corner. Memories tangled in the curtains. A sob fluttering against the windowpane like a bird that flew in and can’t get back out. I can feel these things. They dart and crouch and whisper.”
I love the image of the memories tangled in the curtains, as if they’re a moth trying to escape.
2. Chronicle of a Death Foretold – Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This man could do no wrong. I’ve loved everything I’ve ever read of his so I could have chosen a thousand quotes. This one is particularly stunning though.
“He was healthier than the rest of us, but when you listened with a stethoscope, you could hear the tears bubbling inside his heart.”
3. Talking Heads – Alan Bennett. A British institution. The man writes better characters than almost anybody else on the planet. If I could write like anybody then perhaps it would have to be this great man.
“My mother knew everybody in this street. She could reel off the occupants of every single house. Everybody could, once upon a time. Now, they come and they go. That’s why these tragedies happen. Nobody watching. If they knew they were being watched they might behave. I’d talk to next door’s about it only there hasn’t been any contact since the business over the dustbins. And this other side’s Asians so they won’t know what’s normal and what isn’t. Though I’ve a feeling he’s been educated and their kiddies are always beautifully turned out. I just wish they’d do something about their privet.
4. A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters – Julian Barnes. Occasionally Barnes can be a little too clever for me but he does write some beautiful, funny and wonderfully gross things so I’ll let him away with it. This particular book is a collection of short stories.
“‘I love you.’ For a start, we’d better put those words on a high shelf; in a square box behind glass which we have to break with our elbow; in the bank. We shouldn’t leave them lying around the house like a tube of vitamin C. If the words come too easily to hand, we’ll use them without thought; we won’t be able to resist. Oh, we say we won’t, but we will. We’ll get drunk, or lonely, or likeliest of all – plain damn hopeful, and there are the words gone, used up, grubbied.”
Why the tube of vitamin C, my writer self wonders?
5. What a Carve Up – Jonathan Coe. Back in the day, when I went to a local book club and it was FINALLY my turn to choose a book, I chose this one. This was what I wanted people to read. Although anything else by Coe would be great too. The book is about society changing for the worse but it’s carefully wrapped up in a funny tale with great characters, so I’d recommend it to anyone. This passage is from the perspective of a banker.
“Watching his foreign exchange dealers as they stared feverishly at their flickering screens, Thomas came as close as he would ever come to feeling paternal love. They were the sons he had never had. This was during the happiest time of his life, the early to mid 1980s, when Mrs Thatcher had transformed the image of the City and turned the currency speculators into national heroes by describing them as ‘wealth creators’, alchemists who could conjure unimaginable fortunes out of thin air. The fact that these fortunes went straight into their own pockets, or those of their employers, was quietly overlooked. The nation, for a brief, heady period, was in awe of them.”
6. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernieres. One of the best books in the world ever. One of the worst film adaptations. I’ll never understand why de Bernieres signed off on that terrible film, but the fella sure can right. I don’t think many books could turn you against war like this one can.
“They gave us nine thousand untrained reservists to bring us up to strength, and two hundred officers with no experience, plus some old retired officers who have forgotten their tactics and who do not understand the working of their weapons. These old warhorses huff their way up the slopes and die the same as anyone, coughing to death, face down in the mud, red bubbles frothing at their lips. The Greeks are fanatical but cool, wild yet full of purpose. They take the Golico, Monastry Hill, and Mt Scialesit, but we stop them before they invest Tepelini. The Duce comes to visit us and receives the acclaim that has been demanded of us. I sit with Francisco and do not come out to cheer him. An offensive is begun which has the express purpose of forming a spectacle for our Duce, who stands at Komarit and preens himself whilst he watches his soldiers being sent, wave by wave, towards certain death.”
The image of Mussolini preening himself is just right.
7. Adrian Mole: The Prostate Years – Sue Townsend. Townsend may never have won the Booker prize or other similarly boring prizes, but she sure knew how to make people laugh. And where would we be without that? In her last AM book, Adrian describes his wife Daisy.
“As she bent over to light a cigarette, I couldn’t help but notice that she now has three chins. I have also noticed recently that she has tampered with our ‘speak your weight’ bathroom scales, so they no longer speak…Even my friend Nigel, who is blind but can see shapes, said recently, ‘By Christ, Daisy’s piling on the pounds. She came to see me the other day and I thought it was my garden shed on the move.'”
8. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole. Published after Toole’s death, this book should be better known. So hey, read it. But hopefully don’t think you have to die to get published.
“Patrolman Mancuso enjoyed riding the motorcycle up St. Charles Avenue. At the precinct he had borrowed a large and loud one that was all chromium and baby blue, and at the touch of a switch it could become a pinball machine of flashing, winking, blinking red and white lights. The siren, a cacophany of twelve crazed bobcats, was enough to make suspicious characters within a half-mile radius defecate in panic and rush for cover. Patrolman Mancusco’s love for the motorcycle was platonically intense.”
I like a man who knows when to use the word defecate.
9. Neither Here Nor There – Bill Bryson. I love Bill Bryson, but I’m going to semi controversial now and say I really do prefer his earlier books. Sorry Bill. It’s not just you though, I feel the same way about Stephen King too. Sorry Stephen. This excerpt describes a trip he made to Paris as a young man.
“You would go into a bakery and be greeted by some vast slug-like creature with a look that told you you would never be friends. In halting french you would ask for a small loaf of bread. The woman would give you a long, cold stare and then put a dead beaver on the counter. ‘No, no,’ you would say, hands aflutter, ‘not a dead beaver. A loaf of bread.’ The slug like creature would stare at you in patent disbelief, then turn to the other customers and address them in French at much too high a speed for you to follow, but the drift of which clearly was that this person here, this American tourist, had come in and asked for a dead beaver and she had given him a dead beaver and now he was saying that he didn’t want a dead beaver at all, he wanted a loaf of bread. The other customers would look at you as if you had tried to fart in their handbags, and you would have no choice but to slink away and console yourself with the thought that in another four days you would be in Brussels and probably able to eat again.”
Phew, that was a long quote, but bloody worth it, I say.
10. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen. For me, a list like this, couldn’t exist without Jane Austen. The woman knew how to write good characters and a darn good love story. For all those people out there, who can’t be bothered to get used to the language, I say pffttt! This excerpt is when Mrs Bennet is discussing her eldest daughter’s disappointment in love.
“Well, my comfort is, I am sure Jane will die of a broken heart, and then he will be sorry for what he has done.”
Mrs Bennet at her finest.
So, if any of these quotations have had you chuckling, wondering or even a tad confused, why don’t you go out and buy the books. If you really must, you could also download them onto your electronic reading devices, but if you do do this, don’t tell me.