If You Like This, You’ll Love That

A couple of weeks ago, I received two copies of Is There a Book in You? by Alison Baverstock through the post. However, I have no memory or record of ordering them. They were professionally packaged in a grey polythene envelope with a printed address, but had no other identifying features.

Did you send me these books, or do you know who did? None of my friends have claimed responsibility, even the ones who are liable to such jolly japes.

There is one possible explanation. I’m a subscriber to Writing Magazine, and I ordered two extra copies of the September edition because it featured my release The Purple Spotlights EP. Perhaps whoever put the order through accidentally marked it as a new subscription and it triggered off a welcome gift. If it is, they’re not getting them back, because it’s a lovely surprise, and when I’m ready to edit my novel again, I’ll be sure to dip in.

This year alone, I’ve really enjoyed books I’ve been lent by friends. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro was a prime example, and the similar The Girl with All the Gifts by M R Carey. I would group these two books thematically with the P D James classic The Children of Men, although I bought that one for myself and didn’t find it quite as entertaining as the other two.

English: Stack of books in Gould's Book Arcade...
English: Stack of books in Gould’s Book Arcade, Newtown, New South Wales (NSW), Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Girl with All the Gifts has now been turned into a film, and I’m curious to see how well it’s been done. Ditto the Paula Hawkins novel The Girl on the Train.

Poetry-wise, it’s been a strong year of lending as well. I was given Tonguit by Harry Giles and What They Say About You by Eddie Gibbons. The former collection gave me lots to chew upon, especially in the poems Piercings and Your Strengths; the latter volume had me laughing right past the poems to the endnotes.

Word-of-mouth is always a strong marketing tool. The people who recommended all these books are good friends, and by extension, I trust what they recommend. By and large, this trust is well placed.

In fact, there has been only one recommended book where I didn’t enjoy it: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. The main character is Don Tillman, a professor with autism, and that’s shown extremely well through the narrative. However, he’s at the peak of his career with a packed schedule that’s timed to the minute, so I felt he lacked a strong motivation for wanting to find a partner. There was a time I would have persisted with a disappointing book, but I stopped reading at page 41.

That said, I’m a strong believer that people should make up their own minds about which books they like and don’t like. Plenty of people love the novel, but it’s not for me. By the way, that referral came from my boss, so you can’t tell anyone I’ve admitted all this.

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The league of extraordinary books.

I was recently given the book Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I never normally hurry through books, but I enjoyed this one so much – despite a few plot holes – that I finished it in 48 hours.

It’s usually an annoyance when I know an author is withholding information, but Ishiguro has the main character Kathy drip-feed us as she remembers. At times, it was hard to remember there’s a male author behind the words, as her voice is spot-on.

At some point during this 48 hours, I decided to contact the author to give my thoughts. Here’s where I hit a wall. He has an official Facebook profile, but my message was rather long and few people on the site read lengthy posts. There was also a danger that it would be buried under other comments. So I decided to look for an e-mail address.

The e-mail address on his profile, however, was for Random House, but the book was published by Faber & Faber. So I visited the publisher’s website and looked for an official way to contact Ishiguro. Rather quaintly, Faber & Faber insist that readers must contact their authors by post. The picture shows my envelope ready to be posted.image

Yet as I was writing, I realised the power of a physical letter. As more communication becomes electronic, it becomes harder to ignore the few envelopes dropping through your door, just as receiving an e-mail in the late 1990s would have stood out a mile.

The last time I really enjoyed a book, it was The House That Groaned by Karrie Fransman. Some of the twists actually made me gasp out loud, and she incrementally sets up the explosive ending throughout the story, but the reader only snaps together the pieces in the last few pages. I sent her a Twitter message to say I’d enjoyed it so much I’d finished the whole thing in one sitting.

There was a chance she might not have seen this message among tons of others, or she could have easily forgotten about it. However, Fransman did reply, and wisely took the opportunity to tell me about her next book Death of the Artist. Incidentally, I spoke to her briefly at a launch of Death of the Artist, and she jokingly told me not to finish it in one sitting as her books take so long to craft.

I’m always upfront in saying I’m not a lifelong writer, at least not of fiction and poetry. So when I read Starter for Ten by David Nicholls, it didn’t occur to me to write to him. You might know it from the inferior 2006 film.

There’s a chance I enjoyed this book so much because it’s set in a university, and either I was coming to the end of my first time in tertiary education or had recently graduated – I can’t remember which. But even aside from that, the main character Brian Jackson is someone who’s oblivious of his own stupidity, yet painted in such a way that the reader can’t help but feel sorry for him. Indeed, it’s one of the few books I’ve read twice.

Alas, I’m unable to write to the author of my final extraordinary book as Ella Cheever Thayer died in 1925. Her 1880 novel Wired Love was a real eye-opener for me. It tells the story of a young telegraph operator called Nattie Rogers who begins chatting to a mysterious male operator at another station and develops a crush on him. Just like today’s online dating, Nattie reads his messages and tries to second-guess what he really means and wants.

The novel also feels contemporary with its proto-feminist feel. Throughout the story, Nattie remains the one in control of the relationship. All the main characters are female too, with the men portrayed as slightly dimwitted, though both genders appear to run the telegraph network on an equal footing.

The best part is that the novel is now in the public domain so can be read free of charge as an e-book. This website provides more analysis and links to the book.