Tag Archives: Byatt

Influence, what is this influence?

Ten Influential Books:

My friend Slick tagged me on her list of 10 influential books. Slick managed to squeeze in 12 or so by using letters with some numbers. I have kept it to ten. I’m not sure these are THE ten, but they are the ten that I can think of right now. I’ve avoided putting the Bible first; take that as underlying the rest – possibly it is the zeroth entry. I am, after all, a PK who could recite Luke 2 (King James Version) from a very early age. (The recitation of Luke 2 is an excellent Christmas party trick. My RABrother pulls it out from time to time.)

  1. The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis: Gateway Narnia book for me.
  2. The Gauntlet by Ronald Welch: Time travel is a (fictional) possibility. Time Travel!
  3. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie: First grown-up mystery book I read, assigned reading in Grade 10, got me hooked on mysteries for good.
  4. Loving God by Charles Colson: First venture into reading Christian theology-type books.
  5. Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood: Hmm, literary fiction is interesting – Canadian literary fiction no less.
  6. The Call of Stories by Robert Coles: Pulled together a theory I had lurking in my head about teaching and stories. I’d tried something with science fiction when teaching high school physics, and reading Coles convinced me I was on to something.
  7. The Book of Margery Kempe by Margery Kempe: Writing a paper on Kempe convinced me that I could be a scholar. It also got me into the women.
  8. Possession by A.S. Byatt: I connect with this book. It is the Best Book Ever – IMHO, of course.
  9. Mystical Paths by Susan Howatch: I also connect with this book, in a different way than Possession, but definitely there are connections.
  10. Room by Emma Donoghue: This book is so interesting and suspenseful and it was also the first book 1Mom passed me to read. We both thought it was great.

What are your ten influential books? What do you mean by influence?

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I found a couple of new lists of books on the web this week. In case you need reading suggestions for July, here they are:

  • The Top 20 Novels Set in Toronto. Local Literature! How exciting. I’ve read five from this list, including the Fionavar Trilogy, which is actually three books. In this case “top” means popular, which explains the breadth of the list. It includes fantasy (the Fionavar Trilogy), graphic novels (Scott Pilgrim), and books by CanLit icons (Atwood, Ondaatje). (5/20 = 25% of this list I’ve read)
  • 100 Greatest American Novels. 100 years, 100 novels, “American” novels, though some of the USAians listed work abroad (ex. Plath, Hemingway), and buddy who wrote the list includes William Gibson (born in the USA works in Canada) but not Carol Shields (same pedigree) which I find a tiny bit odd. His criteria are clear, and he invites revisions to the list with the rule being to add something you must eliminate something else. I’ve read 8/100 or 8% of this list. I tend to prefer British or Canadian writers I think, which may skew these results.
  • Time 100 Best Novels since 1923 (the beginning of TIME, haha.) I’ve read 19% of this list. Lev Grossman was involved in making the list, so he included Possession, a critical inclusion in my books.
  • Modern Library 100 best novels list includes two lists on one page, how handy. One list is the Modern Library Board’s list, the other is a Reader’s list. I’ve read 12% of the Board’s list and 26% of the Reader’s list. The Reader’s list is oddly skewed toward science fiction, which may indicate that somewhere someone was stuffing the ballot box in some way, or that only scifi fans found a way to participate in making the list.

So there you go, handy dandy reading lists for this July weekend.

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A Dozen Books of Influence

Karen Swallow Prior recently wrote an article called “Classic literary works to challenge the thinking Christian” in which she lists 12 + 1 (a baker’s dozen) works she recommends because they are challenging but rewarding, and all have helped her “to love the Lord my God with all my soul, all my strength, and all my mind—and to be a better steward of this world in which God has placed us.”

It is a good list. I’ve nothing against Prior’s list. So far I’ve read 2 of her 13, and have at least three others on my shelf. I agree that the list is challenging. I started one of the books she lists, and was not able to go on after about a page. I’ve not had the courage to try again, though everyone raves about Beloved. (Does this count as a true confession? Probably.) Though Prior’s list is good, it isn’t my list. So I’ve come up with a list of my own, not to replace hers, and not with exactly the same criteria. I made a list of books, works of fiction, that have in some way shaped my spiritual life and thinking. Often a particular author has been a spiritual guide in many works, but I have only chosen one work by any author.

Disclaimer: These are all works of fiction, and I don’t think any of them is classified as “Christian Fiction” anywhere. Some come closer to actually being that than others. Just because a novel is on Prior’s list, or on my list, you shouldn’t think it is “safe” or happy-clappy or filled with people going to church. These books gave me some kind of positive spiritual insight, but they are not in the least preachy.

  1. Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale. I’ve set this as an option for an intro to the OT class I taught. I have enjoyed students’ thoughts on this as well, and learned from them.
  2. John Wyndham, The Chrysalids. I’ve also set this for that OT intro class. This has some striking ideas about what it means to be created Imago Dei.
  3. P.D. James, The Children of Men. You may notice a speculative/science fiction bent to this list so far. Yes, that is true. Sometimes by writing about worlds askew somehow from reality, writers are better able to comment on lived reality.
  4. Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion. And a fantasy novel?? Yes. See above remark. Also see the works of C.S. Lewis, who I have not included on this list anywhere.
  5. Guy Gavriel Kay, Tigana. More fantasy. Don’t worry, I’ll turn to more “serious” fiction next. If, however, you think that the speculative/science fiction and/or fantasy is less serious than other kinds of fiction, I refer you again to that guy Lewis.
  6. John Grisham, The Last Juror. Yes, this could be classified as genre fiction of a certain kind (Thriller? Mystery?). Grisham is, however, a good story-teller, and his stories can pack a punch. You don’t need to go to the classics for the possibility of life-change.
  7. Leo Tolstoy, Resurrection. At last! A canonical writer! Bet you’ve never heard of this Tolstoy though. You should check it out. It is his last novel.
  8. Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory. More solid recognized fiction, even recognized as Christian. I read Resurrection and The Power and the Glory this year. The timing was good for me on both of them. If you don’t find them appealing now, try again some other time.
  9. Susan Howatch, Mystical Paths. Again, Howatch’s Church of England series is pretty churchy, but not in a conventional way. I picked this one out of all of them because it was the one that resonated with me most when I read it.
  10. Chaim Potok, In the Beginning. All of Potok’s books belong on this list, as with Howatch above. Let’s just leave it there. With Potok we end the obviously religious books.
  11. Emma Donoghue, Room. This is a life-altering book. I’ve heard lots of people say so. I don’t think anyone who says that has exactly the same experience reading the book. You should try it.
  12. A.S. Byatt, Possession. I debated putting this book on this list. It could also be on a list of books that have influenced my personal life, or resonated with me personally/emotionally/intellectually. It does all those things, but it also has spiritual resonance.

And now the plus one for the baker’s dozen. Ready for it?

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I’ll just leave it there for you to ponder.

What about you? Books that have influenced your spiritual life in some way?

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Sunday, Sunday

Time for another excursus, the weekly rabbit trail, a break from our alphabetic ways.

This week I read Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie. This is a LOST book and I can see why it was referenced on that island-centric show. The murder takes place at a hotel on an island which is connected to the mainland by a causeway, which is underwater at high tide. The people at the hotel at the time of the murder all, of course, have previous, off-island lives, which play into the investigation. It is all very LOST-like in many ways. You should check it out.

I’ve also just finished re-reading Possession, Best Book Ever. The language play is phenomenal. Haven’t read it? You should. It is a literary read, there are poems, but that is part of the fun. Look at the language and the way Byatt plays with words. So Good.

Since I just closed Possession, I’m in that between-book haze where I’m still in the world of literary scholars and poets and unpublished manuscripts. I’m not quite in a place where I can even think of what I’m going to read next.

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Weekend Links and William Faulkner

I’ve found some interesting lists for a foggy Saturday.

Apparently there are a lot of movies based on books coming out in 2014. Who knew? Obviously I’m out of touch with movie-land. Of the sixteen book-based movies listed in that linked article I’ve only read two: Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin, and A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby. I enjoyed both of those books and would recommend them. I’m not at all sure Winter’s Tale can be made into a movie without hurting the book. It will be an interesting problem. Of the other 14, I intend to read The Giver sometime; the others I’m not sure yet. Also Gillian Flynn appears to have won the author adaptation prize for the year — she’s got two books on the list. Further, is anyone surprised that The Fault in Our Stars is being made into a movie? Anyone? No? I thought not.

Sometimes books contain other books that don’t exist. Possession and The Blind Assassin are my two favourite examples of books nested in books. Now there is a list of Best Books That Don’t Exist because authors made them up. Such a great list.

In other news, I’m reading Light in August by William Faulkner. The Constant Reader told me that this would be light reading compared to The Sound and the Fury. I’m not there with her. I found The Sound and The Fury readable and followed the story — Light in August is tortured and twisted in comparison. Maybe it is just the weird January weather. Maybe my brain can’t take the polar vortices followed by what appear to be chinooks.

What are you reading?

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Ideal Bookshelf part 2

I said that I’d come back to the idea of an ideal bookshelf later in the week after I thought a little. I’ve thought some. If this is a bookshelf for me in the Swan station, I’m allowed 10 books, because according to all the LOST lists, there are ten books on the Swan shelf in the LOST show. I’ve already chosen two books, Possession and an unspecified reference work. Let me specify the reference work: The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Thought edited by Alistair E. McGrath. To these let me add the following:

The New Oxford Annotated Bible (4th Ed’n) hardcover, NRSV with Apocrypha. This and the theological reference listed above are for the theologian in me.

A single volume translation of The Divine Comedy by Dante, I’d like the Sayers translation but am not sure if that comes in a single volume or not. This is on my to be read list, and there’s nothing like a desert island to get you to read Dante, right?

Talking about Detective Fiction by P.D. James. There is no point to bringing mysteries to the Island, I might as well bring Baroness James’s thoughts on writing mysteries and attempt to write my own.

I’m still working on the final five (no Battlestar Galactica reference intended). Stay tuned.

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Movies before Books?

Sometimes a movie points me to a book. On the weekend I watched “The Hours” which I quite enjoyed. I know the movie is based on a book (The Hours by Michael Cunningham) which is based on a book (Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf). So many layers. Anyhow, I’ve read neither The Hours, nor Mrs. Dallowaybut now I’m much more likely to read both. I watched “Possession” before even realizing there was a book called Possession by A.S. Byatt, and now I think that is the Best Book Ever. The BBC serial adaptation of Pride and Prejudice helped me re-read the book by Jane Austen which I’d initially thought tedious. That book gets better every time I read it.

Which movies enhance your enjoyment of books or introduced you to books?


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10 Books I think should be on any Top 100

That “100 Novels Everyone Should Read” list got in my head a little bit. Not in a bad way — I’m not worried about my lack of numbers on the list — it got me thinking about the criteria for making such a list. The Telegraph list that I linked to the other day doesn’t give any reasons for the books on the list, or reasons for the existence of the list. That has lots of people around the blog-o-sphere scratching their heads. Search on 100 novels everyone should read and check out the posts!

Back to my thinking about the list. I decided that a book should be read by lots of people if it gets in my head and resonates in my imagination, if I remember it without difficulty long after I’ve finished it, and if it calls me back for a re-read now and again. With those criteria in mind, here is a list of 10 books that meet them, from my reading experience. After 1 and 2, these are in no particular order.

1. Possession by A.S. Byatt. Are you surprised? If so, read this. I think about this book a lot because I do research on 19th-century writers. The book is about academics who read and research 19th-century poets. It resonates. It is also well-written (won the Booker Prize), has loads of layers, and plays on the title word. Byatt is brilliant.

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. This book hits most top 100 lists. It is a well-told tale that withstands re-reading. It can be an acquired taste, but once the taste is acquired, it is an addiction.

3. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. What? by Who? I hear you saying. Seriously, this Stephenson book has been in my head since I first read it. It is a cyberpunk novel, the first one I read. Mind-blowing experience.

4. Tigana by Guy Gavrel Kay. I’ve talked about Tigana before I think — it is an historical fantasy that deals with memory and the loss of memory/history and so the loss of identity for a people. I couldn’t stop thinking about it after I read it.

5. Runaway Jury by John Grisham. Really? A Grisham book? This one I liked because of the moral ambiguity in the characters, and the means-end conflict. The setting also spins around in my head, along with the way the characters hide and re-make themselves.

6. Snow by Orhan Pamuk. (No more titles with snow in them, promise.) The structure of the story and the poetry of language in this one blew me away.

7. Room by Emma Donoghue. How does this one not get in your head with the five-year-old narrator who has never been outside the room of the title?

8. Mystical Paths by Susan Howatch. Ok, all of Howatch’s Church of England books get in my head, but this one sticks out to me. All about spiritual gifts and their use and abuse, clearly a theological connection.

9. Children of Men by P.D. James. The mystery books are good, but this one is great. James portrays humanity on the brink of extinction very vividly. There are clear theological overtones in this book too.

10. Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher. I hesitated over this one, but it meets the criteria. The theme given in the title echoes through the book in lots of ways. This one sticks in my head.

You are not me. What are your top ten books that meet the criteria listed? Remember the criteria are: the book resonates in your imagination, you remember the story long after you are done, you want to re-read the book. Top ten. Or five even. With all of us together, maybe we can collaborate on a new top 100 list!

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What to Read Next? I is for Internet

Today’s post, brought to you by the letter

is all about finding books on the Internet — because I is for Internet.

Obviously, I write this blog about books thinking that people might find it helpful in figuring out what to read next, and this blog is on the internet, so the internet MUST be a helpful source of information to figure out what to read next, right? Yes and no.

Let’s start with No so we move in a positive direction. In the past when I’ve followed advice from internet-people-I-don’t-know, I’ve been disappointed. In a usenet group I read a positive comparison between Codex, by Lev Grossman to Possession (which is my selection for The Best Book Ever). It turns out the comparison between Codex and Possession was made in the New York Times Book Review and did not originate with the person who continued the comparison in the usenet group. All I have to say to the reviewer is You Must Be Joking. And: Have You Read Possession? Possession has a depth to it that Codex certainly does not have. Codex barely sustained one reading let alone the multiple readings I’ve subjected Possession to. There are some similarities in subject matter, but there the similarities end. I was thoroughly disappointed in Codex and am surprised it is still in print. This bad experience means a few things. (a) I’m suspicious of recommendations from people I don’t know in usenet groups. (b) I’m really conflicted about trying Grossman’s later books — which look interesting — because of the bad earlier work. (c) No one should ever compare books with Possession. IMHO of course.

On the other hand, Yes, I’ve found the internet helpful in figuring out what to read next. I use the fantastic fiction site regularly to keep up with favourite authors, and to find out which book comes next in the series I just found. This is the website that alerted me to the fact that Margaret Atwood and Kate Atkinson contributed stories to the same collection called Crimespotters. I ran out and read Crimespotters and quite enjoyed it. I also use the LibraryThing recommendation lists. I think there are flaws in the recommendation algorithm at LibraryThing and you do have to be a member with some books entered for this to work (I think) but it gives me a sense of what people-with-books-like-mine have in their collections. Then there are social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Last year the Toronto Public Library FB page offered to recommend books if people sent them three books they really liked a lot. I did this. It took a while for the TPL staffers to get back to me — I think they probably got flooded with requests — but the list they sent was helpful. And I liked the books they recommended.

What about right now? Has the Internet recommended any books to me lately? Yes. And I’m of two minds about the recommendation. On the NPR site is a new blog post by Lev Grossman recommending books for one’s inner geek. I classify myself as a geek. I’m suspicious of Lev Grossman (see above). Reading a blog post isn’t too much of a commitment, so I clicked on the short link in Twitter. Grossman recommends three books: Possession (which I love), Snow Crash (which I also love, but which is so different from Possession), and Fifth Business by Robertson Davies, which is on my to-be-read shelf. Rats. I think I might take Grossman’s advice and read Fifth Business. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

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Other Books I’ve re-read

It might sound like I’ve only read and re-read two books — Possession (which isn’t about demons by the way) and An Experiment in Criticism (which isn’t about science). In fact I’ve read many other books, and also re-read lots of those other books. For your Friday reading, here is a list of Some Books I’ve Read 3 or More Times (other than the two already mentioned).

Some Books I’ve Read 3 Times (or more)

1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

3. Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy

<Eek, I just noticed I’ve read Possession 9 times since 2004. That might explain why I keep talking about it.>

4. Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy (Just in case you thought you spotted a pattern developing above!)

5. Jurrasic Park by Michael Crichton

6. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

7. Proof by Dick Francis

8. The Runaway Jury by John Grisham (IMHO the best of Grisham’s oeuvre so far)

9. About A Boy by Nick Hornby

10. Children of Men by P.D. James

11. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

12. All 7 of the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis

13. Killing the Shadows by Val McDermid

14. Houses of Stone by Barbara Michaels

15. Take and Read: Spiritual Reading An Annotated List by Eugene Peterson

16. Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher

17. 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing by Gary Provost

18. In A Dry Season by Peter Robinson

19. All the Harry Potter books except book 7, which I’ve only read twice so far. By J.K. Rowling

20. Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

21. How To Read Slowly by James W. Sire

22. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

23. The Twilight of Courage by Brock and Brodie Thoene

24. The Ice House by Minette Walters

25. Girl Meets God by Lauren F. Winner

You may notice that this list is alphabetical by author’s last name. I made it by running through the database I have of Books I Have Read. I’m a little obsessive about keeping track of all the books I read cover-to-cover. And how many times I’ve read them. And when. I might have a problem.

I did notice that the first six of my repeat reads all had movie versions. I got a little worried — though I do know that when a movie version of a book I like comes out, I go and see it. Then I re-read the book, usually to get the movie out of my head. Not all of my repeats have movie versions though, so that is not the only reason I read things more than once. I usually re-read to revisit an imaginary world. Why do you re-read? Or why not?

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