Friday, August 15, 2008

Summer Reading List (Part Three - Odds and sods and odd sods)

Hola Senoritas!

Since last we talked I've become a platinum blonde (I went from black to brassy blonde a couple of months ago,) had a birthday and started my next teen opus. It only has a working title but it's a standalone and I'm very excited about it. I love my heroine and it feels so good to write in the first person again. Also, not to be writing a series, because I'm never doing one of them again. Not ever. You hear me? Not ever!

Anyways, here's the last lot of recommended reads for your viewing pleasure. These are some of my favourite books that I've come back to again and again. Old friends, if you will.

1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I've lost count of the number of times I've read this book, but every time I do, I get something completely different from it. It's the story of six Classic students at a small college in Vermont who, when they're not immersing themselves in the book learning, accidentally murder someone. This sets them on a path of more murder and mayhem as they try to cover their tracks. It's not so much a thriller as a wonderfully written study of six really diverse people. I'm not explaining it so well, but it's one of those books that drags you into its world and doesn't let you go until it's good and ready. But I would say maybe not suitable for under 16's, not because it's really rude but you might not get it. I could be wrong though - I usually am!

2. Girlfriend In A Coma by Douglas Coupland

Douglas Coupland is one of my favourite writers. I've read all of his books but he can be a bit patchy so some of them I love (it was a toss up between this and Microserfs) and some of them, I'm all like, "Oh Douglas, you can do so much better than this!" Not only is Girlfriend In A Coma named after a Smith's song, it's another book that imprints itself into your psyche while you're reading it. The book is narrated by a boy whose pregnant teenage girlfriend slips into a mysterious coma and doesn't come out of it for many years later to a world that's changed beyond all recognition. I guess loosely it's sci-fi but actually I hate sci-fi so there's no robots or spaceships or vampires that sparkle in sunlight. The first time I read this book, I dreamt about it every night and that's not to be underestimated!

3. The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The first time I read this book as soon as I finished it, I started re-reading it. Yup, it's really that good. I nearly didn't buy it because I can't be doing with time travel and I do really hate sci-fi but it was nothing like that at all. The Time Travellers has some weirdy genetic mutation that hurtles him in and out of hs own timeline so he first meets his wife when she's a little girl and he's married to her in the future. It's really sad because you know what's going to happen to him but the people around him don't. And FYI, time travel isn't much fun when you hurtle through the time space continuum and arrive at some unspecified place in the future or the past butt naked and bruised. God, this is such a bloody good book!

4. The Wolves Of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

Yes, I know this is a book for little kids but if you haven't read it, you must. Now. Right away! Run to your nearest bookshop! This had all my bulletproof kinks when I was a kidlet. The heroine is an orphan. There are really wicked villains who get right up in her grill like the evil Miss Slighcarp. It's set in a boarding school. And there's triumph over adversity in the end. Y'know, all the good stuff!

5. The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

I thought I'd finish with something a little different so this is a book I haven't actually read but it's on my teetering pile of books I want to read. It's about a flighty, funny, fiercely witty American girl who goes to Paris in the 50's so she can drink brandy in Left Bank cafes and meet unsuitable men. What's not to love?

This isn't a complete list. There are books I love that are out of print, or that I couldn't tell you to read in good conscience because they're not suitable for teenagers (not that that ever stopped me!) or because even though I love them it's because of where and when I was in my life at the time and they probably wouldn't mean as much to anyone else.

And there are also much loved books I've already recced
and here
and here
And for some really amazing old skool teen books (or YA fiction as you Americans call it), I heartily recommend's Fine Lines feature on a Friday afternoon. Actually, I just love because it reminds me of Sassy and Jane when it was really good and all the things I loved about writing for magazines in the days when we were pretty much allowed to do what we wanted. Sigh. You can find all of Jezebl's Fine Lines columns here. As they would say, I'm not afraid to be service-y!

OK, that's all from me for now. And yes, you can still vote me for in the Queen Of Teen competition if you so desire.

Live on

Sarra x

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Summer Reading List (Part Two - Difficult women)

Is anyone even reading my humble blog offerings anymore or are you all sunning yourself in foreign climes?

Anyways, on Friday I delivered my first grown-up book, except today I decided there were at least two chapters that needed to be completely rewritten. But mostly it's done and as Dusty once sang, I just don't know what to do with myself. Tomorrow I will probably start my next teen book as I don't believe in taking writing breaks; it's a heady combination of an over-developed work ethic, credit crunch hysteria and Jewish guilt. Be very glad you're not me!

So, I finally have time to post the second part of my reading recs. There will be other parts to come, but this time I wanted to focus on my favourite female writers. In fact, with a few notable exceptions, all my favourite writers are women. People can be quite sniffy about writing for women and the themes women writers explore, but I want to read about relationships, shopping, food, sex, friendships, clothes and life and death and everything in between. I don't like reading about people blowing each other up, anything too sci-fi-ish or fantasy and crime. But that's just a personal preference and really? The only difference between female writing and male writing is that they're written by different sexes. Neither one is less or more than the other, but the writers I mostly come back to are stubborn, difficult women who write about other stubborn, difficult women, because I am one. So, here we go:

1. The Collected Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker was a noted wit in the 1920's, who was thwarted in love, drank too much and hung out with the likes of F Scott Fitzgerald. She never wrote a full-length novel, but all her short stories, poems and book reviews are gathered in this compendium. You probably already know of her as she wrote the famous epiphet, "Men never makes passes/At girls in glasses," but she's so much more than that. Her stories are always funny, but have this black edge running through them and actually the New York of her 1920's in very similar to the New York of Gossip Girl in that underneath all the style and shallowness, there's something sad and unhappy lurking underneath. God, Blair Waldorf is the spiritual great-grand-daughter of Dottie P!

2. The Pursuit Of Love and Love In A Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford

I'm absolutely obsessed with the Mitford Sisters, six debutantes who shocked England with their antics. Though I have no time for Unity Mitford, who was in love with Hitler, or Diana Mitford, who married Oswald Moseley leader of the British fascists. But I love Jessica Mitford who eloped with her Communist cousin when she was 17 and I adore Nancy who wrote two of my favourite novels, The Pursuit Of Love and Love In A Cold Climate. These are not sappy romances, but mannered, elegant stories about love and the upper classes and are full of wit and acid observations but, as usual, have this core of hopeful sadness running through them.

3. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

A shy, timid slip of a girl meets a much older, rich man and marries him, as you do. He takes her back to his big, creepy house, Manderlay, which is managed by his equally creepy housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, and the second Mrs De Winter (we never discover her first name!) starts to piece together how his first wife, Rebecca died. You should also check out the film, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, which is just as spooky and atmospheric as this book.

4. Edie: An American Biography by Jean Stein

When I was 17, I was besotted with Edie Sedgwick, a superstar created by pop artist, Andy Warhol. Edie came from a really wealthy, completely bonkers East Coast family, did a spell in a psychiatric hospital and came to New York. She cut and died her hair silver to match Andy Warhol's, starred in his pretentious movies, had an affair with Bob Dylan (his album Blonde On Blonde is rumoured to be about Edie)and did copious amounts of drugs. She was a doomed, tragic little girl lost and I thought she was wonderful! This biography tells the story of Edie's life through the anecdotes and
memories of the people who knew her. And let's not mention the film, Factory Girl, OK?

There may be more. I'm sure there's more, but my brain currently feels like blancmange (it's been a rather erm, alcoholic weekend!) so I'm going to post and be damned and maybe come back to this in a day or so.

And don't forget to vote for me in the Queen Of Teen thingy.

Live on

S x