Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Book Q&A

Now, I don't usually go in for these survey/questionnaire things, but when I saw that Michelle (aka Mizhenka - you should visit her blog, by the way) had tagged me in this one, I had to fill it in. I mean, it's about books! How could I possibly resist?

Favourite book cover This was a tough one to pick, but I'm going with the original cover of Lights Out in Wonderland by DBC Pierre (right). I like the style (I prefer covers featuring typography and illustrations rather than photographs) and colours, but I also think it matches the themes and feel of the story perfectly. I was SCANDALISED when I saw the smaller paperback version sporting this cover, which is a) horrible and b) does nothing at all to communicate the vibe of the book (it's brilliant, by the way. BRILLIANT. If the cover appeals to you, you will probably love it).

What are you reading right now? I'm about halfway through Every Contact Leaves a Trace by Elanor Dymott. It's unfortunately not quite what I hoped it would be, but it's still a pretty good read so far.

Do you have any idea what you’ll read when you’re done with that? I have a to-read list as long as my arm, but I try not to plan out my reading too rigorously, because I think that takes some of the excitement out of discovering an amazing new book. However, I have The Man Who Rained by Ali Shaw checked out of the library, so will probably give that a go next, and I also really want to read The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan very soon.

What 5 books have you always wanted to read but haven’t got round to? Oh, there are so many! Without cheating by looking at my 'to read one day' shelf on Goodreads, the ones that spring to mind immediately are: Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (yes, I know, it's a crime that I haven't read this, etc), The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (ditto), The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber and I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.

What magazines do you have in your bathroom/lounge right now? Vogue, Elle, InStyle, Marie Claire, Grazia and the magazines out of the Guardian at the weekend - I have to point out, however, that I do get most of these free through work. I wouldn't bother with fashion magazines on a regular basis if I didn't actually need to keep up-to-date with them (although Marie Claire is usually a decent read, and has a good books page!)

What’s the worst book you've ever read? This is a hard one to answer because if a book is that bad, I just won't finish it, and I don't count unfinished books as 'read'. There's one from years ago that I've always remembered because it was so bloody atrocious: Thin Skin by Emma Forrest. The White Queen by Philippa Gregory was definitely the most boring.

What book seems really popular but you actually hated? Room by Emma Donoghue - the praise heaped upon it is a continuous source of bewilderment to me. I also really disliked The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, a fact which always seems to horrify people.

What’s the one book you always recommend to just about everyone? The Secret History by Donna Tartt, of course!

What are your 3 favourite poems? I know very little about poetry, but I do have a favourite poem (just the one, but I do really love it), Acquainted with the Night by Robert Frost.

Where do you usually get your books? Amazon (for Kindle ebooks, special offers and cheap second-hand paperbacks), eBay, and the library.

Where do you usually read your books? Anywhere! In bed, on the couch, at my desk, in the car (er, obviously not while I'm driving the car), in cafes, in queues etc.

When you were little, did you have any particular reading habits? I can't remember. I think I did once fall asleep with a book on my head. I read absolutely voraciously when I was younger, but I wasn't particularly picky about what I read, so most of it wasn't exactly classic literature (think Sweet Valley Twins, Point Horror and various series with the word 'Club' in the title - Babysitters' Club, Mystery Club, Saddle Club, and so on).

What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn’t put it down? I quite often do this anyway because I'm an insomniac! But my most recent absolutely unputdownable book was Alys, Always by Harriet Lane. My review's here - it was excellent.

Have you ever “faked” reading a book? Probably some of the books I was supposed to read at university; I usually just skimmed them. Other than that, no.

Have you ever bought a book just because you liked the cover? Not as such. I'm often attracted to covers (and there are plenty of books I will automatically rule out because they have unappealing covers), but if I then read the plot summary and what the critics have to say and it doesn't sound like something I'd enjoy, I won't be any more likely to buy it.

What was your favourite book when you were a child? I loved Watership Down and the earlier Adrian Mole books, and some of Jacqueline Wilson's, particularly The Suitcase Kid. The Tulip Touch by Anne Fine is a favourite from late childhood that's stayed a favourite even though I'm now way too old for it, it's just fantastic.

What book changed your life? I always find questions like this (about anything cultural) troublesome because how do you define 'life-changing'? Unless you've read something that made you completely change the course of your career, altered your political/religious beliefs or something, I can't see how this is possible... I don't think most people have really experienced it, and I can't say it's happened to me. I've read a number of books that have inspired me to write myself, but that's always been an interest and an ambition anyway.

What is your favourite passage from a book? This quote from Notes On a Scandal by Zoƫ Heller. It's so beautifully, bitterly expressed and painfully true.

What are your top five favourite authors? I'm going to leave the classics aside here, simply because I think it's more interesting to talk about current authors who others may not have heard of...
Scarlett Thomas is definitely my favourite modern author: she writes intelligent but accessible fiction bursting with ideas and I always end up wanting to be best mates with her characters. Recommended: Our Tragic Universe.
F.G. Cottam is my favourite author of ghost stories. His books are all genuinely chilling without being at all schlocky, beautifully constructed and, most importantly, subtle. Recommended: Dark Echo.
Okay, the next one is probably going to be an author everyone has heard of, but Paul Auster has to be mentioned here somewhere. While I haven't loved everything of his that I've read (Travels in the Scriptorium, for example, wasn't very good), I always adore his narrative voice, characters and themes, particularly the hint of strangeness present in all his novels. Recommended: Invisible.
Lucie Whitehouse has only written two novels so far, but they're both superb, with compelling plots and incredibly likeable, believable characters. Recommended: Both her books, The House at Midnight and The Bed I Made. They're both quick, sparky reads which are definitely worth your time.
Karen Maitland writes excellent historical fiction, mostly set in medieval England. She's brilliant at really making you feel like you're in the thick of the story, and her characters are wonderfully complex. Recommended: The Gallows Curse.

What book has no one heard about but should read? Tourist by Matt Thorne is a little gem worth looking out for, although I haven't been anywhere near as keen on anything else I've read by the same author.

What is your favourite book by a first-time author? I read a lot of debut fiction so it's difficult to pick, but... God's Own Country by Ross Raisin was a first novel from 2008 which I discovered last year and absolutely loved - it jumped straight onto my list of all-time favourites (review here).

What is your favourite classic book? Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. A perfect book, deservedly a classic.

5 other notable mentions? I have mentioned a lot of my favourites in response to the above questions, so here are some I haven't already referenced: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson.


  1. I'm so glad you filled this out, and you reminded me that someone on LJ sent me a copy of The Secret History and I must read it soon!

    I'm going to look up all the books you mentioned later. I love your recommendations!

  2. I've just scribbled down about five of the author's names you've mentioned and I'm really looking forward to heading to the library this weekend...! Thanks Blair.

    1. Just to follow up on this, I finally found books by some of these authors in my library at the weekend (it's a sparse collection...) and finihsed God's Own Country yesterday. What an incredible book, though I felt so devastated after it. Just started Our Tragic Universe today, so excited to get into it in the bath tonight!

      Thanks for all your recommendations, would be lost without them!


  3. Ha, big up the babysitters club books! I read almost all of them I reckon... I think Room has a 50/50 love/hate from people i've spoken to who have read it! I personally really liked it but it wasn't particularly well written I admit.
    I did the tag too, here:

  4. Hi Blair,
    I love your blog and trust your judgement in books completely. Could you recommend me any books that are similar to Tartt's Secret History, or Kostova's The Historian? Both are in my top 5 books and I'm looking for some that may be similar! Thank you,
    Katie! xx

    1. Sorry, couldn't help spotting as The Secret History is one of my faves! I always think of it as a darker 'Brideshead Revisited' as the backgrounds and prose are similar.

  5. Read The Crimson Petal. I LOVED it. An easy read but so engrossing.
    (PS Also Jane Eyre, and do try and cram in Gatsby before the film comes out.)