Laura Page’s blog post has inspired me to sort out who is my favourite author.
It’s difficult enough trying to decide what my favourite book of all time might be, making the choice of an author instead quite daunting. Do most people think of things being written by a particular author or type of author, or dwell more on the type of book or genre? – I’m definitely a genre person. Maybe not a conventional genre like crime or historical romance but “believable character” stories.
I like novels where the characters are richly drawn, with plenty of psychological insight into what makes them tick. Books about rich, beautiful people who seem to have no antecedents or childhoods just make me grind my teeth! I need to read about good, meaty characters who have experienced some struggles in growing up and who are at least somewhat self-reflective. The odd quite insightless and “surface-living” character is OK as a supporting actor, but the main ones need to be realistic for me. Mind you, other people might find these characters unappealing, and that’s fine- I don’t read books because I might want to recommend them.
I started reading quite early in life compared with many other kids- at about three and a half. I figured out how to read from having all sorts of stories read to me, not only typical children’s stories, but anything readable my parents had lying around, like the newspaper or whatever. My father didn’t believe in buying special things for children like a lot of toys or children’s books! The book I learnt to read first contained the poem by Edward Lear “The Owl and the Pussycat” and that was my key to reading. The words were pointed out to me, I learnt how to say them and recited the poem, and off I went into the world of the printed word!
The Owl and the Pussycat
by Edward Lear (1812 – 1888)
The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are, you are, you are,
What a beautiful Pussy you are.”
Pussy said to the Owl “You elegant fowl,
How charmingly sweet you sing.
O let us be married, too long we have tarried;
But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows,
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose, his nose, his nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.
“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling your ring?”
Said the Piggy, “I will”
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon.
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand.
They danced by the light of the moon, the moon, the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
I thought the expression “runcible spoon” sounded very “tasty” as a word, so certain words have always had sensory experiences attached to them for me. I thought the runcible spoon was one of those little teaspoons with an apostles head or bishop on the handle. Only recently I discovered it is more like a “Splade”- a three-pronged, curved fork with one cutting edge. That isn’t nearly so poetic as my conception of runcibleness!
After starting on the Edward Lear poems- I really liked the cat poems, like “McCavity, the Mystery Cat”- I read a few traditional children’s books, instantly disliking “Winnie the Pooh” and his poncey little friend, Christopher Robin! We only had a few children’s books in the house and no more seemed forthcoming except Christmas presents of picture books and pop-ups like “Snow White” and “The Sleeping Beauty” with her cellophane casket lid! They didn’t interest me much as there wasn’t much reading so I started reading the scary story of The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley, which had some shocking illustrations as well! This book gave me nightmares, but I insisted on reading it. I wanted to know how some of the characters got their odd names, such as “Mrs Do as You Would be Done By”. Apparently it was a philosophical and political satire; moral tale meant for adults, but it was just a complex, mysterious and scary tale to me. “Mother Carey” was a horrible old crone who was about as motherly as a blackberry bush, while the saving grace of the book was the beautiful Ellie, trapped in the watery world forever. I loved the illustrations of Ellie with her floating hair and filmy garments under the water- she was so pretty!
By the age of 8, I had read “A Tale of Two Cities” and started to explore Charles Dickens other books, but didn’t like any of them. Obviously, I was too young to appreciate the historical and moral references in the Tale, but I think this book started my preference for complex characters. It also whetted my appetite for discovering how people lived their everyday lives in former times and in other countries. It may seem ironic that I completely rejected the study of history and refused to take it in high school because it didn’t tell me anything about ordinary people’s lives, only warlords and princes!
So Charles Dickens got me started, but he’s not my favourite author. My favourite comes from amongst the many Canadian writers I’ve become fond of. I love Annie Proulx of “The Shipping News” fame, David Guterson who wrote “Snow Falling on Cedars” and Ann-Marie MacDonald of the superb “Fall on Your Knees”. My absolute favourite is Robertson Davies who wrote prolifically throughout his life, as a journalist, playwright and novelist. His “Deptford Trilogy” is my top-ranking book, and it is composed from three separate books which he wrote over several years. “Fifth Business” is the favourite within this trilogy, with it’s deep psychological insights into some quite damaged, yet ultimately robust characters. The Jungian psychology which pervades this book struck a chord with me, because I had been fascinated with Jung when studying personality in Psychology at university. I love Robertson Davies other books too. The “Salterton Trilogy” and the “Cornish Trilogy” are each composed of 3 books each and they are packed with interesting characters, intertwined lives, mythology and mystery. There was a really engrossing tale of a gypsy violinist who advised a talented young woman to have her violin treated in a special way to make it sound like the finest in existence… by “embalming” it in dried moss and poo for a year!! I can’t find any reference to this practice in real life although it is rumoured that the Stradivari family treated wood in a solution of various chemicals, salt and feces before drying it and forging violins! Robertson Davies own life seems almost as interesting as one of his novels and I would have loved to have him to dinner for a chat- but he died in 1995, so that dream was dashed.
Of course I love other authors as well, but usually just for a few of their books, rather than their whole corpus. For instance Kazuo Ishiguro, Japanese but lived in Britain from age 6, who wrote “The Remains of the Day” (what a beautiful movie) and “Never Let Me Go”; Richard Russo, USA: “Empire Falls”, “That Old Cape Magic”; Susanna Clarke, UK: “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell”; Christopher Priest, UK: “A Dream of Wessex”, “Fugue for a Darkening Island”; George R.R. Martin, USA: “A Song for Lya”, “Dying of the Light”; John Varley, USA: “The Ophiuchi Hotline”, “Steel Beach”; Amitav Ghosh, Indian: “The Glass Palace”, “The Hungry Tide”; Geraldine Brooks, Australian: “Year of Wonders”; Haruki Murakami, Japanese: “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle”, “Norwegian Wood”. In fact the more I list, the more I find to love!
Perhaps someone else would like to continue this little trend and convert it to a meme!