Tuesday, December 16, 2014

GIFT suggestions from the WRITERS' WORKSHOP

Stephanie Dowrick offered a new course in 2014 for the Faber Writing Academy in Sydney called "The Writers' Workshop". It was so successful that the class extended...and is now continuing independently and highly productively. (Stephanie will take a new Writers' Workshop in 2015, 20 April- 20 June.) Nine writers - including Stephanie - are offering suggestions here of truly terrific books they will give - or would like to receive - and not at Christmas only. Book gifts are welcome at any time. We know you will enjoy these prompts. And, when it comes to books, lavish gifts for "self" are totally acceptable!  (Wherever possible we have given you POSTAGE FREE purchase links.)

Juliette O'Brien
Just one book that I’d like to give for Christmas? I can’t and won’t stop there. Harold Bloom’s The Best Poems of the English Language for a friend of my father’s who lost his wife. Simon Schama’s colourful history of the French revolution, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, for my non-fiction-loving papa. Romulus My Father, by Raimond Gaita, for close friends who seem receptive to my emphatic recommendations. And, for myself, Bryce Courtenay’s The Silver Moon: Reflections on Life, Death and Writing. Oh, how I love to give books for Christmas. It’s a precious present that reveals more about the relationship between giver and receiver than most things that money can buy. But how generous is it of me to take such delight? I meander through the bookstore and glance surreptitiously left and right, before opening a book - any book - from its centre. I lift it to my nose and draw in a deep breath. I buy it, and become a little high as dopamine surges into my brain's reward centre. It is a gloriously selfish exercise to buy books as gifts. Why would anyone give just one?

April Murdoch of the Faber Writing Academy (Sydney) 
The book I’d most like to give this Christmas is We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. I loved this book so much that I want to share the pleasure it gave me with as many people as possible! The book was published earlier this year to critical acclaim – and shortlisted for the Booker Prize – and for me it lived up to the hype. I can’t tell you much about what happens without giving away a major plot twist but I can tell you that it’s about sibling loyalty, memory, parental deception, animal rights and more. It’s highly original, a total page-turner and I laughed (a lot) as well as cried. The ending was breathtaking. Other writers share my opinion. Khaled Hosseini called it ‘Gripping and surreptitiously intelligent’ and Ruth Ozeki said, ‘I wept, woke up the next morning, reread the ending, and cried all over again.’ It was definitely one of my favourite books of the year.
[It was also one of Stephanie Dowrick's absolute favourites this year - clever and poigant.]

Penelope Ransby
My pick both to give or to receive, so I could re-read (and re-read again), is The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: Stories by Hilary Mantel, published 2014.
 This is a collection of short stories with the eye-catching title being just one of them. Hilary Mantel is as superb at creating interesting and plausible characters in the space of a short story as she is in a major novel. Setting and location are vividly created. Sometimes the plot is almost incidental. The characters gradually evolve for the reader so that what happens seems entirely natural even though it is totally outside the reader's experience.

There is a wide and eclectic range of locations and occasions. One of the best stories is about a writer visiting a drab depressing English town. Another is about a couple on holiday in Greece, another about an expatriate corporate wife living in Saudi Arabia - and yet another is set in a prestigious Harley Street medical practice. The title story has a middle-aged woman living alone and a young man she assumes to be a plumber. And the punchline to the title story is brilliant.
A "must-read" for aspiring writers wanting to see how an accomplished story-teller creates unusual but believable characters.

 Jenny Levy
I would dearly like to give as a present the latest book I’ve read: The Color of Water. It’s subtitled "A black man’s tribute to his white mother" and is a beautiful memoir. The author, James McBride, gently unfolds his mother’s story, using her voice, while at the same time he layers his own tale. I can’t help but think the author is in search of longing, and in the first instance believed it could be found in his mothers lineage; she was originally an Orthodox Jew. His sense of self is revealed through discovering his mother over the eight-year process of writing the book. He reminds us the gift of mothering is a woman's imperfection. He demonstrates racial categories are designed to both separate and create belonging. And, with subtle care, he lets us know the answer is greater than us all.

Sarah Menary
The book I’d most like to give this Christmas is I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (first published in 1948 and available today at all major online retailers, including via this postage free LINK). My father gave it to me when I was thirteen and he had been given it when he was a teenager himself. I still love reading it now. It’s an idiosyncratic coming-of age-story. It was Dodie Smith’s first book after being a successful playwright and she struggled for nine years to finish it to her satisfaction. All that struggling produced a unique book. I admire the fine detail which makes the reader live in the story, the authenticity of the protagonist Cassandra and her contrasting sister; the comedy scene involving them, their inherited fur coats and a train carriage (which always makes me chuckle when I remember it), and the vivid depiction of 1930s London and East Anglia before the war changed so much. This book would appeal to anyone who is over twelve years old and a bit romantic in nature (in terms of the Romantic poets). It has one of the most quoted first lines ever written: "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink."

Sheridan Rogers
The book I’d like to give for Christmas - or at any time - to my heart friends is The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, edited and translated by Stephen Mitchell, a book I pulled from my bookshelf this year and re-read avidly after visiting Duino Castle in Italy, the inspiration for his magnificent Duino Elegies.
Rilke’s poetry communicates to me at a visceral level.  Even if, at times, I don’t fully understand the meaning of a poem, I am often swept up and transported elsewhere by the music of his poetry.
 Great art often communicates before it is understood and this is very true for me with Rilke. Often it’s as though he’s speaking to me, and to me alone, whispering in my ear.

Yes – the springtimes needed you. Often a star
 was waiting for you to notice it.  A wave rolled towards you 
out of the distant past, or as you walked
 under an open window, a violin
 yielded itself to your hearing. All this was mission. 
But could you accomplish it? - The First Elegy
“Look at how he bores into us,” says Robert Hass in his insightful introduction. “That solitary voice seems to be speaking to the solitary walker in each of us who is moved by springtimes, stars, oceans, the sound of music... Then, with another question, he brings us to his intimacy with our deeper hunger...the huge nakedness and poverty of human longing.”

Rilke’s is not an easy path, but one truly well worth traveling.

Wendy Ashton
My recommendation for holiday reading is A Tale for the Time Being     
by Ruth Ozeki.  It was "un-put-downable" for me, at the same time being very beautifully written.  It was published by Text in 2013 and nominated for the Booker Prize 2013 (short list).  Ruth Ozeki is a
Japanese American writer who lives on an island off  the coast of western  Canada.  It is clearly a mixture of reality and fiction. The narrative moves between a teenage character in Japan and Ruth on her island.  It is 432 pages, but doesn't seem the least bit long.

Katy Morgan
The book I'd like to give is Love Over Hate: Finding Life by the Wayside.  It is written by Graham Long, the pastor of The Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross, Sydney.  'Part-memoir, part-philosophical journey, Love Over Hate is Graham's gift to humanity - a book about life's foibles and the joy of living.'  One Saturday morning in October my book club met at The Wayside Chapel cafe to discuss Love Over Hate.  Graham Long happened to pop into the cafe and proceeded to join our discussion and give us a tour of the Chapel. He is a master storyteller: very witty, wise and real. I have not been so moved by a book or a person in a long time. Long's stories made me laugh out loud as well as weep. In a community of suffering people living on the fringes, Long is a light as well as a source of comfort and grace. I admire his passion, generosity, love for others and courage despite his own journey through suffering following the death of his son James in 2009.  Love Over Hate is a "must read", especially suited to those who wrestle with the big questions about life and faith and are inspired to live a life of love in a suffering world.  

Stephanie Dowrick
I'm going to give multiple copies of a very thoughtful prayer/poetry anthology that's gloriously enriching to give not just at Christmas but at any time. It's the work of Ivan M Granger who hosts a wonderful spiritual poetry email list and website called Poetry Chaikhana. The link is poetry-chaikhana.com. I have enjoyed his emails for years and am hugely grateful for the insights and treasures they have brought me. His new book is The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World. What makes Ivan's work so special are the commentaries that accompany the poetry selections: he is a humble, insightful, very genuine universal spiritual teacher (who would probably think of himself more as "guide" than "teacher"). It's a very special book. And to receive? I plan to read two exceptionally highly praised Australian novels: Joan London's The Golden Age and Richard Flanagan's Booker-prize winning The Narrow Road to the Far North.

We do urge you to support your local bookstores - or support this BOOK CLUB by using our links (above right). Local bookstores are an endangered species. It is up to us to ensure that they will continue. And that writers can keep writing! Your comments below are always welcome. Or you can comment on Stephanie Dowrick's public Facebook page.

1 comment:

  1. Some wonderful suggestions here!
    I read Mantel's short stories the other day and, despite not being overly fond of short stories, ended up on the sofa unable to take my nose out of the book. They are all quite barbed and just a little unsettling - great examples of a wonderful writer at her peak.
    Also loved "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves", which I picked up just because of the excellent title - and was thrilled to find that the title wasn't all it had going for it.
    Ditto for "A Tale for the Time Being" - another absorbing, intelligent read.