World Book Day last Friday prompted my reflection of books I read before hitting the landmark age of 18—what lingering impact did certain novels have on my life, books that packed a literary punch I have yet to shake (and likely never will) and I pondered the everlasting question of ‘why’ those novels and not others.
Lionel Shriver once again upped the Radio 4 listening stakes on Valentine’s Day when she appeared on Harriett Gilbert’s A Good Read slot. Shriver’s choice of a good read? A Separate Peace by John Knowles, promoted as ‘an intense story of adolescent friendship and betrayal’. It had been decades since I read A Separate Peace but, just as Shriver highlighted and the panel agreed: this is a clever coming-of-age novel (Knowles’ first) that ‘wrong-foots’ the reader and is well worth the read whatever the reader’s age.
This is a novel that embeds beneath the skin. The decades elapsed since its 1959 publication have not diminished nor dated this story. Being reminded of its plot, characters and twists by the BBC last week triggered my teenage self to float reluctantly to the surface. I felt nostalgic and teary-eye for that teenage girl I was when I first read Fowles’ novel, but I also felt grief for this story of two distinctly different boys who cascade down a waterfall of adolescent descent together.
Are there homoerotic undertones to this book? The reader is left to intuit what they wish; what is clear, however, is that A Separate Peace can still rattle the bones of its audience and is relevant today.
Looking for a book to share with a teenager or seeking a novel to engage your adult self—this is a mighty fine choice. If my recommendation isn’t enough, Lionel Shriver apparently knows a thing or two about what makes an enduring, captivating classic.
Check it out:
Astounding books! Books that rattle the soul, that linger since childhood, that propel children into a world of reading. Adventures of fantasy on the page (yes, a big tip of wizard hat to Rowling), biographies that intrigue us about lives that are not our own. And then there are the fictional tomes that draw readers into ‘ordinary’ families bracing themselves against catalyst events (Ann Tyler being the High Priestess of such books) which stack up on our bookshelves. My shelves have Seuss competing for space with Kafka, dusty Nancy Drew mysteries wedged between Dexter’s Morse. What books engrossed your imagination as a child, what authors continue to captivate you as adults? Happy World Book Day to this global community!
This morning I drove past three primary schools before 9am. By contrast to usual grey winter mornings, the environmental dullness of the landscape sparked alive with costumes: trails of glittery princess gowns cut through dried brown leaves on the footpaths, a gaggle of red and white striped tees made it doubly-difficult to discover exactly where was Wally. I manoevered the roads and traffic lights, gawking at the bold colours, the eclectic choices, the incredible creativity invested in these costumes. I admit to being slightly disappointed not to glimpse any boy brave enough to concoct a costume-salute to Dennis, the truly progressive revelation created by David Walliams in his brilliant Boy in the Dress (cue couture organza frock accessorised with a football) but books have a habit of encouraging change in attitudes as time thrusts forward…perhaps Dennis will make an appearance next year.
Three schools I past this morning, each of them buzzing with costumes of children aged four to eleven declaring their visual love for literary characters who springboard excitement and escapism into their to-date short lives. What folly but also what a brilliant concept for capturing imagination!
Are you adults celebrating World Book Day? Are you donning a Jane Eyre pinafore or purple Willy Wonka top hat? Enquiring minds want to know.
Here are some fantastic shots of inspiration from children around the UK:
Tough love meets the sharp prickles of a monkey puzzle tree in today’s five-minute poetry writing task. A few lines here, surely this poem shall expand:
I can’t fix you
The broken boy crying out for a mend
The tall monkey puzzle from where you descend
Firing critical bullets, unable to bend
I can only fix me
Are you sitting comfortably? Are you reading this on iPhone against the throng of a crowded street or are you lying supine on sofa, feet up and perusing the internet for daydreamy nuggets related to Austen?
Do you write? Where do you write–at a desk, on a coffee-stained formica table in a cafe, or tucked away in a library nook? Being a mobile writer is one strong perk of this trade. I have an office with expansive windows which always cheer me as I observe people striding footpaths below; but I also love the weight of my mobile office adjusted from left to right hand as I heft my MacBook from various public seats. Right now, I am typing this propped up with pillows in bed, coffee at my right, notepad at my left. I’ve already been out of the house this morning, now I return for a twenty-minute reviving rest before the day goes full-throttle.
This drawing of Jane Austen’s desk never fails to elicit my smile. It is, of course, peppered with hints about her personal and writing life, but it also makes me reflect on what objects both physically and metaphorically I would place around me to represent my life and my life in words. So, what does your writing space look like? What inspires you?
I’m off shortly to my office to nab space and solace to tap out a few words. I’m thinking of mimicking this Austenesque drawing for inspiration today so I may prop on my desk a framed photo of Dorothy Parker (nudging wit to come out to play), sharp scissors (office necessity), a candlestick or two (blunt instrument to aid my writing of a crime thriller), lavender (just like Austen’s and it may help induce a well-earned afternoon nap) and a pile of my manuscripts (so I am reminded I actually accomplish something at a keyboard).
Pull up a chair–we are writing today!