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  • Tuesday Top Ten: Margaret Leroy

    Tue, 06 Apr 2010 02:47

    Photos by Nikki Gibbs | |

    Margaret Leroy grew up in the New Forest and studied music at St Hilda's College, Oxford. She has worked as a music therapist, teacher, and psychiatric social worker. For two years she wrote an agony aunt column for Options magazine, and her articles and short stories have been published in the Observer, the Sunday Express and the Mail on Sunday. She has written five novels and her books have been translated into ten languages. Margaret is married with two daughters and lives in Surrey.

    Margaret's latest novel, The Perfect Mother -- a New York Times notable book of the year -- is described as having "a premise familiar from some of Hitchcock's best movies: seemingly upright people, through no fault of their own, see their lives unravel before their eyes."(Seattle Times) and is available in February.

    Here is Margaret's Tuesday Top Ten:

    A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula le Guin

    I always go back to the Earthsea books when life gets difficult: there's something so healing about the slow, intricate rhythms of Ursula Le Guin's prose.

    The Siege by Helen Dunmore

    The siege of Leningrad, told from a female, domestic perspective. You really live this story when you read it -- you feel the hunger and the cold.

    The Mabinogion

    Dream-like Welsh stories, written down in the Middle Ages, and full of strange transformations. I love the story of Blodeuedd, a beautiful girl who is conjured up from the flowers of the oak and the broom and the meadowsweet.

    The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

    It's about a small group of people thrown together by war, worn down, somehow surviving. Ondaatje writes so lyrically about the desert and Renaissance angels and Tuscan gardens under rain.

    The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagan

    Musings and jottings and lots of lists from a court lady in 10th century Japan. Her writing is intimate, sensuous, and somehow very contemporary.

    Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

    An iconic psychological thriller. I've read it lots of times, but at certain twists in the plot, my heart still goes racing off.

    Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

    It's the simplest story, about two girls and their elusive aunt, who reluctantly abandons her life as a drifter to bring them up. Perhaps the most wonderfully written book I've ever read.

    The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

    Adult fairy tales -- sexy, savage, and gorgeous.

    Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

    This story of two wizards during the Napoleonic Wars is my favourite new book of recent years. When I got to the end -- page 782 -- I went straight back to the beginning and read it all again.

    The Mahabharata

    As one of the characters says as he starts to tell the story: "If you listen carefully, at the end you'll be someone else."

  • Tuesday Top Ten -- Nicola Davies

    Tue, 30 Mar 2010 06:20

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    Nicola Davies is a zoologist and has produced and presented radio and TV programmes, including The Really Wild Show. Her books for children include Poo, Extreme Animals and Ice Bear. She lives in Devon.

    Nicola says, "When I started writing this book I was pretty gloomy. Climate change was big and scary and I didn't think I or anyone else could make a difference. But I'm not gloomy any more. In fact, I'm quite excited because I've started to hear a sound, sometimes like a distant rumble of thunder, sometimes like a raindrop close to my ear. It's the sound of people changing. It's there in all the conversations I had with the people in this book; it's there in all the practical details about insulating houses or designing electric cars; it's there even in all the wrangling of UN climate negotiations. There's a shift happening in people's hearts and minds, not just towards the need to save our skins, but towards a more deeply respectful relationship with the planet that's given us life. It could be the sound of our species, finally, growing up."

    The Peregrine by J.A. Baker

    I read this book first when I was 17, and I've re read it in bits and whole, every few years ever since. It's about one man's relationship with the natural world -- peregrine falcons to be specific, which he follows and watches obsessively. The descriptions of the landscape, the birds, the other wildlife feel more like painting than writing, but are without any shred of sentimentality: accurate, beautiful, sort of pitiless in a way. Even thinking of this book now, I'm slipping into its atmosphere of dusk, and mist and blackbirds alarm calling on a late winter afternoon. Of all the books I've read, this is the one that makes me want to write most of all.

    English Passengers by Matthew Kneale

    I think this could be my favourite novel of my last decade of reading. I've read it twice and now have it unabridged as an audio book in the car, for long journeys. I think Matthew Kneale is a writing god to have written a book with such extraordinary, believable characters -- even the baddies are kind of deliciously loathsome. I love Peevay almost as much as I love Stephen Maturin in Patrick O'Brian's books, and his wonderful catch phrase "piss-poor blunt spears" is now part of our family vocabulary.

    That They May Face the Rising Sun by John McGahern

    My editor at Walker books gave me this book and it's not an over statement to say that it blew me away. I felt ravished by it, changed. It's very slow, very gentle in a way. Nothing much happens and yet everything happens. The landscape and the characters in that landscape, the rhythm of the seasons, the beat of life itself come off the page and straight into your soul. It contains the most beautiful and comforting description of death that I've ever read. It's another one I'll need to re-read every so often.

    Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian

    Choosing this is really a bit of a cheat because of course what I mean is the whole series, all 20 of them. I've read the first ten in the series but I'm saving the last ten for when I really need them, so that, when the ravens leave the tower I'll have some comfort available. There are many, many reasons that I adore these gorgeously written, wonderfully constructed books, but the main one is the central relationship between Stephen Maturin, the ship's surgeon and the captain, Jack Aubrey. O'Brian paints the most moving portrait of this life-long friendship, so that you see the intimacy, the respect, the tenderness and the the humour. Of course, there's oodles of natural history too as Maturin is a kind of proto Darwin figure, and lots about the sea, including chillingly accurate descriptions of storms, which make me shudder. I was recently back at sea myself, working on a research vessel in the sea of Cortez with an old friend and O'Brian fan, and we spent at least 50 percent of our time talking about Stephen and Jack.

    Sacred Country by Rose Tremain

    Rose Tremain has a perfect eye for seeing into people, understanding them and showing you the one tiny thing that sums them up and makes you understand them too. Her characters are so real, so totally human, you love them and miss them when the book is done. She is a wonderful story teller, who just takes your hand and leads you into the world she's created. I read The Road Home last year which I loved and recommended to lots of people, but Sacred Country, which I've just finished might be my favourite Rose of all. It's the story of a girl growing up and discovering she wants to be a boy. As usual it's full of totally believable, lovable characters and it's set in Suffolk where I grew up, so I felt like I was going home.

    Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

    I was mad keen on "improving" literature when I was a student and ripped through Hardy, Eliot, Zola, Gide, Tolstoy, Sholokov, Camus, Dostoyevsky, etc... But I could never manage Dickens. Somehow he felt like being on a slow bus that you always wanted to get out and push. And then earlier this year (whilst I was on that boat in Mexico actually) I read Great Expectations and was hooked. I dived into Our Mutual Friend as soon as I got home and loved it. How did I think Dickens was slow? He's as fresh as paint, amazingly original, stylistically brave and innovative and marvelously rude about the english class system. All that, and you get a rollicking good story where all the baddies get their comeuppance, and the nice girl gets her bloke in the end.

    The Yearling by Majorie Kinnan Rawlings

    My dad read me the Reader's Digest abridged version of this in bed on Saturday mornings when I was about six. At that age all I wanted from life was to live with animals, so the idea of a pet wild deer was almost too lovely to cope with. The ending was devastating and I think I probably cried until lunchtime. I found the 50th anniversary edition in a second hand shop and read the unabridged version for the first time last year. I cried almost as much, but this time round I could see the terrible situation of the boy's parents and their enormous courage in the face of unimaginable poverty. The landscape and the feeling of running wild within it still thrilled me just as much as when I was little.

    The Encyclopedia Of Mammals by David Macdonald

    This does just what it says on the packet. It tells you (almost) all you could ever want to know about mammals. It's a wonderful resource for me, that I turn to constantly for clear, accurate information. But that's not why it's in my top ten. It is my comfort blanket. Whenever I'm feeling miserable about life or the state of the world, I curl up with this book (which is a challenge, 'cos it's big as a breeze block), and I read about pangolins or look at pictures of armadillos, or giant anteaters. It renews me, and renews my resolve to fight the good fight, because I don't want to live in a world without pangolins.

    Collected Poems by Charles Causley

    I used to read poetry all the time. I have several shelves of collections and anthologies but somehow I don't pick them up like I used to. But this is the one that I still go back to and that lives, mostly, by my bed. Charles Causley's use of rhyme is effortless and never gets in the way, he weaves the magic and mystery into his lines so they feel as if they connect to something very old and very deep. My favourite poem of all is Tell Me Tell Me Sarah Jane, which a conversation between a worried mother and her estranged daughter, whose heart has been stolen away by the sea. It ends like this:

    I taste the salt upon my tongue,
    As sweet as sweet can be.
    Tell my dear, whose voice do you hear?
    It is the sea, the sea.

    Gives me the shivvers every time.

    The Red Tree by Shaun Tan

    I would sooner write a great picture book than win the Booker Prize, but however close I might get to writing a great picture book, I'll never be a genius like Shaun Tan and be able to create images that haunt you forever. His book The Arrival is a masterpiece, and I've bought it as a present for several people, but this much smaller book is my first Tan-love. It does what only great picture books can do, it speaks directly to your heart and soul. I have to be terribly careful about picking it up in bookshops as it usually makes me cry. It's about depression and it's about hope, its about finding the good in the world and carrying on. Recommended reading for all of us I think.

  • |

    Thomas Trofimuk is a Canadian writer of poetry and fiction. He's been published in literary magazines across Canada, and on CBC radio. His first novel, The 52nd Poem won the George Bugnet Novel of the Year Award and the City of Edmonton Book Prize at the 2003 Alberta Book Awards. His second novel, the critically acclaimed Doubting Yourself to the Bone, was named as one of the Globe and Mail's top 100 must-read books for 2006. His third book is Waiting for Columbus...

    Thomas is a founding member of Edmonton's Raving Poets movement, a weekly open-stage poetry series that combines performance poetry with improvised music, in a lounge. Thomas writes on a regular basis for his own website: "writer, gardener, failed Buddhist". He lives (and writes) in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with his wife and daughter, and a small annoying black cat.

    Here is Thomas's Tuesday Top Ten:

    Shibumi by Trevanian

    This book was a wonderful exploration of the anti-hero. Nicholai Hel is the perfect anti-hero, a man who holds fast to ideas like honour, integrity, loyalty, friendship and "shibumi" before any of the "isms". Loved this book when it first came out and recently bought a first edition. This is a philosophical, espionage thriller like none other. Though it was first published in 1979, it holds up very well today.

    The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

    This book is like training wheels for a lifetime of serious reading. Its length is not intimidating. The language is Hemingway at his pithy best. The story, deceptively simple and powerful -- a down-on-his-luck Cuban fisherman in an excruciating battle with a huge marlin in the Gulf Stream.

    Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban

    The guy invented a new language, a new mythology, and a new religion. It was not an easy read but I'm still thinking about it years beyond my reading. This post-apocalyptical speculative adventure in understanding your own past so you don't make the same mistakes was a delight.

    Salamander by Thomas Wharton

    I started reading this book a couple days before going on a backpacking trip into the Rocky Mountains. When it came time to pull the pack on and head into the back country for six days, this book went with me. I couldn't leave it behind. Yes, it was a heavy luxury, but worth it. The book opens in a burned-out bookstore in Quebec City just prior to Wolfe and Montcalm's clash on the Plains of Abraham. It moves us back to the Battle of Belgrade in 1717 and then plunks readers inside a castle on the Hungarian border that's been as a labyrinth -- a labyrinth that is cleverly designed to be perpetually in motion. Enter one Nicholas Flood, a young English printer of novelty books who's been summoned for a seemingly impossible assignment -- to create an infinite book, a tome with no end. A beautiful book about reading.

    The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell

    To pick up Durrell after reading Hemingway was, for me, jarring. Durrell's lush descriptions -- so loaded up with luxurious images on top of impossibly rich images, intersecting with this dark exploration of love -- really resonated with me. There were times while reading this quartet when the smells and sounds and tastes came into the room with me... Amazing.

    Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut

    I was thrilled when I heard about this quasi-memoir from Vonnegut, a writer I've been reading all my life. I scooped up an advance reading copy from a friend at a book store and Vonnegut certainly did not let me down. This writing is intimate, tender, funny, articulate and rip-your-heart-out sad. It's Vonnegut shining his sharp, witty light on the human condition. Profoundly human and moving.

    The Trouble With Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith by Irshad Manji

    Not just a book for Muslims. This is a book for anyone who wants to take a stab at understanding Islam. This is a thoughtful, articulate exploration of one woman's courageous journey toward coming to terms with her own faith. You know those questions about if you could pick three people living or dead to have dinner with, who would you pick? Well, Irshad Manji is on my list.

    The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

    Loved this book for its for the scene in which the main character, Tomas, is faced with a decision about a woman, and wishes for three distinct lives; the first two to live both alternative decisions and the third, to observe those two lives and choose the best one. An unrealistic wish but I totally understood that desire. Set in the time frame of the Prague Spring to the USSR's August 1968 invasion and its aftermath.

    The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

    This is a beautiful and disquieting novel -- more a sutra of four damaged lives thrown together in an Italian monastery at the end of WWII. An eloquent lesson in what lyrical prose can be. A haunting, poetic novel.

    Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen

    Erotic, humorous, and provocative poems combined with equally fascinating line drawings makes this one of my favourite books of poetry. Cohen is at times so beautifully self-effacing. These pieces are gorgeous intaglios from an absolute master.

  • |

    Thomas Trofimuk is a Canadian writer of poetry and fiction. He's been published in literary magazines across Canada, and on CBC radio. His first novel, The 52nd Poem won the George Bugnet Novel of the Year Award and the City of Edmonton Book Prize at the 2003 Alberta Book Awards. His second novel, the critically acclaimed Doubting Yourself to the Bone, was named as one of the Globe and Mail's top 100 must-read books for 2006. His third book is Waiting for Columbus...

    Thomas is a founding member of Edmonton's Raving Poets movement, a weekly open-stage poetry series that combines performance poetry with improvised music, in a lounge. Thomas writes on a regular basis for his own website: "writer, gardener, failed Buddhist". He lives (and writes) in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with his wife and daughter, and a small annoying black cat.

    Here is Thomas's Tuesday Top Ten:

    Shibumi by Trevanian

    This book was a wonderful exploration of the anti-hero. Nicholai Hel is the perfect anti-hero, a man who holds fast to ideas like honour, integrity, loyalty, friendship and "shibumi" before any of the "isms". Loved this book when it first came out and recently bought a first edition. This is a philosophical, espionage thriller like none other. Though it was first published in 1979, it holds up very well today.

    The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

    This book is like training wheels for a lifetime of serious reading. Its length is not intimidating. The language is Hemingway at his pithy best. The story, deceptively simple and powerful -- a down-on-his-luck Cuban fisherman in an excruciating battle with a huge marlin in the Gulf Stream.

    Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban

    The guy invented a new language, a new mythology, and a new religion. It was not an easy read but I'm still thinking about it years beyond my reading. This post-apocalyptical speculative adventure in understanding your own past so you don't make the same mistakes was a delight.

    Salamander by Thomas Wharton

    I started reading this book a couple days before going on a backpacking trip into the Rocky Mountains. When it came time to pull the pack on and head into the back country for six days, this book went with me. I couldn't leave it behind. Yes, it was a heavy luxury, but worth it. The book opens in a burned-out bookstore in Quebec City just prior to Wolfe and Montcalm's clash on the Plains of Abraham. It moves us back to the Battle of Belgrade in 1717 and then plunks readers inside a castle on the Hungarian border that's been as a labyrinth -- a labyrinth that is cleverly designed to be perpetually in motion. Enter one Nicholas Flood, a young English printer of novelty books who's been summoned for a seemingly impossible assignment -- to create an infinite book, a tome with no end. A beautiful book about reading.

    The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell

    To pick up Durrell after reading Hemingway was, for me, jarring. Durrell's lush descriptions -- so loaded up with luxurious images on top of impossibly rich images, intersecting with this dark exploration of love -- really resonated with me. There were times while reading this quartet when the smells and sounds and tastes came into the room with me... Amazing.

    Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut

    I was thrilled when I heard about this quasi-memoir from Vonnegut, a writer I've been reading all my life. I scooped up an advance reading copy from a friend at a book store and Vonnegut certainly did not let me down. This writing is intimate, tender, funny, articulate and rip-your-heart-out sad. It's Vonnegut shining his sharp, witty light on the human condition. Profoundly human and moving.

    The Trouble With Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith by Irshad Manji

    Not just a book for Muslims. This is a book for anyone who wants to take a stab at understanding Islam. This is a thoughtful, articulate exploration of one woman's courageous journey toward coming to terms with her own faith. You know those questions about if you could pick three people living or dead to have dinner with, who would you pick? Well, Irshad Manji is on my list.

    The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

    Loved this book for its for the scene in which the main character, Tomas, is faced with a decision about a woman, and wishes for three distinct lives; the first two to live both alternative decisions and the third, to observe those two lives and choose the best one. An unrealistic wish but I totally understood that desire. Set in the time frame of the Prague Spring to the USSR's August 1968 invasion and its aftermath.

    The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

    This is a beautiful and disquieting novel -- more a sutra of four damaged lives thrown together in an Italian monastery at the end of WWII. An eloquent lesson in what lyrical prose can be. A haunting, poetic novel.

    Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen

    Erotic, humorous, and provocative poems combined with equally fascinating line drawings makes this one of my favourite books of poetry. Cohen is at times so beautifully self-effacing. These pieces are gorgeous intaglios from an absolute master.

  • | |

    Diane Chamberlain is an award-winning author and prior to her writing career, she was a psychotherapist in private practice in Virginia, working primarily with adolescents. Diane's background in psychology and her work in hospitals has given her a keen interest in understanding the way people tick, as well as the background necessary to create real, living, breathing characters. The Lost Daughter and The Bay at Midnight are available now.

    Here is Diane's Tuesday Top Ten:

    Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

    Not only a great read, but an eye opener for me into the twentieth century history of the Congo.

    Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

    This is because of its connection to the sea and beach and because of its exploration of a very real marriage.

    White Horses by Alice Hoffman

    It was the first book of hers that I read, and it inspired my early writing. When I re-read my first novel, Private Relations, I can recognise the passages that were written during my "Alice Hoffman phase."

    Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

    Because it's beautifully told and a fantastic, gripping story about a wildly dysfunctional family -- my favourite kind.

    The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

    It's so inventive and so very touching.

    The Color Purple by Alice Walker

    Because I started sobbing on page one.

    The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh

    Because it keeps me centered.

    I Know this Much is True by Wally Lamb

    It's an amazing story, wonderfully told. I reread it when I want to write from a male character's point of view. It helps me understand how a man thinks and feels.

    Beloved by Toni Morrison

    I didn't love it until I had to re-read it for a book club. Then it suddenly came together for me, and I've re-read it several times since.

    Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

    It's about three of my favourite things: food, spirituality, and relationships.

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