Every once in a while I get an email from someone complaining about the length of my posts. But Marina’s guest post for the My Favourite Book series puts my own posts to shame. She’ll make you read people! I suggest you go make a large cup of coffee or tea now, and settle back for some enjoyable reading. There was no way I was going to cut down her deliciously lengthy book post, so enjoy every word.
Marina is one of my ‘real life’ friends. We did our PhD in the same university and we’re close friends. Her research interests are similar to my own, as we both love studying Film Adaptation, although Marina’s expertise lies in Shakespeare adaptations (particularly the way this translates into music and popular culture). She’s a knowledgeable Shakespeare buff, and runs the fabulous blog, Shake & Tumble. Marina is also the Newsletter Editor and Communications Officer for ANZAMEMS, as well as running their blog. So all in all, a pretty interesting person to ask about her favourite book, even if she did ‘cheat’ and name a bevy of them, rather than one (which I love). Thank you Marina!
When Hila first asked me to contribute a post on “My Favourite Book” for her blog I had a slight moment of panic. I half-sarcastically replied: “Now to narrow the list of favourites to just one”. But there is always a grain of truth in every joke, and mine was this: I don’t know how to choose! I read widely: novels, plays, poetry, biographies, non-fiction, comics and graphic novels, etc. How was I ever going to pick just one book?
You see, I’m a mood reader. In fact, my mood guides most of my choices when it comes to other art forms, like film and music. As such, I’m quite hopeless at those “desert island” lists. I always want to bring everything! So instead of writing a lot about just one book, I’m going to write a little about a few that I love:
Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next. (Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland)
My “warm blanket” books are Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice and Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass. I hesitate to call these guilty pleasures because I’m never ashamed of what I read. These three books I have read so many times that if I closed my eyes I could recite passages from memory. They’re what I read when I’m feeling down, or stressed, or want to read something easy on my mind, especially when I’m travelling. Their comfort comes from their subtle humour, and from their familiarity; I know the plot and characters like the back of my hand, I get all the jokes and references. Their warmth wraps around my mind and puts me at ease. Another reason I love them both is that I’m always drawn to strong women. While Alice and Elizabeth Bennet are both such utterly different protagonists, they’re both such amazingly witty, tough, resolute, feisty, and intelligent guides into their worlds; you can’t help but fall a little in love with them every time you read these books.
I took a wrong turn on the way to the bathroom and found myself in a beautifully proportioned room I had never seen before, containing a really rather magnificent collection of chamber pots. When I went back to investigate more closely, I discovered that the room had vanished. But I must keep an eye out for it. Possibly it is only accessible at five thirty in the morning. Or it may only appear at the quarter moon - or when the seeker has an exceptionally full bladder. (J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)
I am such a kid at heart. I love children’s literature; it’s one of my research interests so I get to read children’s books a lot! Most of the books I read when I was a child involved adventure (Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five series, Tamora Pierce’s The Immortals series, The Three Musketeers, Gulliver’s Travels etc.), so it seems I have always had a penchant for adventure. Reading these books makes me feel young at heart and feeds my inner child, who wanted nothing more than to become an explorer, or a detective, or a vet working in a zoo, or (according to my mum), a nurse! My favourite books I read when I want an adventure are Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Note: Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret almost made this list – so many good books!).
London is one of my favourite cities in the world. I could spend hours wandering around and exploring all the side-streets, all the off the beat weird and wonderful places that makes London so magical for me. Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere captures the London I imagine when I look out the corner of my eye. This is a London filled with darkness, secret passages in brick walls (before they were made fashionable by J.K. Rowling), floating night markets, abandoned Tube stations, sinister angels, mythology and fantasy, and an unassuming, reluctant (and frustrating!) hero on an epic journey to save heaven and earth. I’m not saying anymore, because to quote River Song (yes I’m a Whovian) – spoilers!
Speaking of good old J.K., the fourth book of the Harry Potter series, The Goblet of Fire, is not only my favourite of the seven books about the boy wizard, but one of my favourite adventure books of all time. I love books about journeys and quests – it comes from my love of Greek mythology which is all about a hero’s journey, and their transformation in the process (Ovid’s Metamorphosis is a favourite). I think I should be pretty safe when it comes to spoiling Harry Potter since most people have read the series (or at least seen the film adaptations). Things I love about this book: the opening with the Quidditch World Cup – as a tragic football fan (soccer for all you non-European folks), this reminded me of the excitement of watching a fantastic football match, but with more evil wizards trying to kill people (or less depending on the match, some fans can be scary!). The “enchantingly nasty” Rita Skeeter and her deliciously nosey attempt as an exposé of Harry Potter’s personal life – such a well written critique of the sinister and absurd side of tabloid journalism. Draco Malfoy, the amazing bouncing ferret! The Triwizard Tournament - a semi-reluctant hero going through epic tasks that test various strengths; though only I could find the labyrinth-like maze more frightening than fighting a living, breathing dragon – I despise mazes (and also have a soft spot for dragons). Finally the ending, and what an ending it is. Betrayal, death, ghosts (sounds a bit like Hamlet) and the return of polyjuice potion (from The Chamber of Secrets). The irony of Mad-Eyed Moody’s catchphrase throughout the book “constant vigilance!” when Harry finds out that Moody, the coolest character in the book (and his favourite teacher, apart from Professor Lupin) is in fact really Barty Crouch Jr. in disguise, is so heartbreaking.
On my fifth trip to France I limited myself to the words and phrases that people actually use. From the dog owners I learned "Lie down," "Shut up," and "Who shit on this carpet?" The couple across the road taught me to ask questions correctly, and the grocer taught me to count. Things began to come together, and I went from speaking like an evil baby to speaking like a hillbilly. "Is thems the thoughts of cows?" I'd ask the butcher, pointing to the calves' brains displayed in the front window. "I want me some lamb chop with handles on 'em." (David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day)
I’ve been called funny, sarcastic, and quick-witted by many I know, so maybe I am actually funny in person? It’s no surprise then that I love others who are amazingly funny. Two of my favourite books that make me laugh out loud are Jasper Fforde’s Lost in a Good Book and David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day. In his Thursday Next series of novels (Lost in a Good Book is the second in this ongoing series) Jasper Fforde realises two dreams of mine-the power to jump into book worlds and to be a detective! Fforde creates a world where it’s possible to jump in and out of books and interact with the characters who are self-aware (they know they are characters in a book). Thursday Next is a literary detective, it is her job to keep all the characters in line and make sure the plot proceeds as planned (or should I say, written). In Lost in a Good Book Thursday is apprenticed to Miss Havisham who apart from being the somewhat crazy jilted bride from Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations is a senior literary special agent. I was never a fan of Miss Havisham in Dickens’ work, but here in the Thursday Next novels (she appears in this book and the next, Well of Lost Plots), she’s tough, stern, smart, and a character I love so utterly and completely and formed such an emotional connection to I literally sobbed (I’m an ugly crier so it wasn’t pretty) when she reached her inevitable tragic end in Well of Lost Plots. Lost in a Good Book is my favourite of the Thursday Next series (at the moment – the series in ongoing), as it shows Thursday learning the ropes, and the beginning of her friendship with Miss Havisham, the introduction of characters such as the Cheshire Cat (I love Alice in Wonderland), and finally because it has an Empire Strikes Back feel to it at the end-nothing better than an amazingly well-written cliff-hanger (see what I’ve written about Goblet of Fire above). Fforde’s writing style is hysterically funny, witty, and filled with so much silliness and literary allusions that I get such a feeling of joy when I get the references and in-jokes.
Me Talk Pretty One Day is a collection of essays by humourist David Sedaris. The first half features stories about Sedaris’ often quirky early life including stories about growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina, and his somewhat crazy family (Sedaris’ sister is comedian Amy Sedaris). The second half, features vignettes about his life after his move to France, especially his attempts to master the language; Sedaris moved to France not knowing the language at all. The title of the book comes from one of his frustrating attempts to master French: “Much work and someday you talk pretty. People start love you soon. Maybe tomorrow, okay.” This book was actually the first book by Sedaris that I picked up after reading one of his short stories (about Christmas, called “Six to Eight Black Men”, look it up, you’ll be thanking me soon) and laughing so hard I physically hurt. I fell in love with his self-deprecating, quirky, dark, cynical humour. It felt like home! So of course I went and bought all his other work. Me Talk Pretty One Day holds a special place in my heart as I come from a non-English speaking background. Sedaris’ stories about trying to learn another language strike a chord with me – I’ve heard similar stories from my mother (who also moved to a country without knowing the language), and I’ve experienced David’s frustrations myself, when learning my parents’ mother tongue.
Travellers at least have a choice. Those who set sail know that things will not be the same as at home. Explorers are prepared. But for us, who travel along the blood vessels, who come to the cities of the interior by chance, there is no preparation. We who were fluent find life is a foreign language. Somewhere between the swamp and the mountains. Somewhere between fear and sex. Somewhere between God and the Devil passion is and the way there is sudden and the way back is worse. (Jeanette Winterson, The Passion)
The following two books are what I read when my body feels like it can’t contain all my thoughts and emotions. It’s as if my whole being is vibrating, I have this inner turmoil that I just can’t seem to quell. I need something to read that feeds both my inquisitive mind, and my unquiet, romantic soul. Usually I turn to poetry (the works of ee. cummings, Pablo Neruda, and Mary Oliver…and more) at times like this. They challenge me, help me understand myself, and are just such amazing writers that make my soul sing. But there are two other authors who I also turn to. I’ll start with William Shakespeare, because as a researcher and academic who studies the Bard, how can I not? As a Shakespearean people always ask me what my favourite work by Shakespeare is. I answer, “It changes over time, but I’m currently head-over-heels in love with Hamlet”. 400 years later and this play is still utterly contemporary. Sex, life, death, hope, revenge, despair. Whatever I’m feeling at the time, I find it in Hamlet. Like my “warm blanket” books my love for Hamlet comes partially from its familiarity, I know it back to front, inside out (I wrote about it in my doctoral thesis, and continue to write about it in my postdoctoral research), and yet, every time I re-read it, I find something new. I believe it was Dorothy Parker who said, “I go to see Hamlet every 10 years and I find that Shakespeare has rewritten it in my absence”. How right she was. While I will always prefer to see Shakespeare’s plays live in performance, there’s something introspective about Hamlet that I keep coming back to. I’ll flip to a scene and read it in my head, or if no one is around, greedily recite a passage out aloud to get a sense of the rhythm and beauty of the poetry.
My second choice is a book from one of my favourite writers, Jeanette Winterson. I own everything she has ever written, and love her writing style immensely (she writes how I think – if I was a little more verbose that is!) so my opinion of her is often driven by my heart. The world Winterson creates in The Passion has its basis in real places and events. The canals of Venice, the bitter winters felt at the battle front during Napoleon’s war against the Russians (etc.) are so vividly described that you feel like you’re actually there. At the same time the book is imbued with a sense of the magical, of shape-shifting characters born under strange circumstances, of unlikely people meeting. The Passion is a book where the logical and the fantastic happily co-exist. The Passion is also a book about journeys, journeys of love, from first love to eventual heartbreak, political journeys, a soldier going off to fight in a war for a leader he idolises, and journeys of self-discovery, finding out who you are (to yourself and to others). I see myself in both Villanelle’s mysteriousness and passion and Henri’s innocence and fragility, and by the end of the novel, bitterness.
Image source: Get Back In Your Book by Lissy Elle Laricchia. Thank you Lissy for giving me permission to feature the image here. View more of her work here. And thank you again Marina!