Wednesday 4 December 2013

Books Are Amazing... November Edition!

Welcome to the latest edition of Books Are Amazing! I think this month's post is probably the most beautifully written one I've ever featured. Sally has pure passion for the books she's mentioned, and I love how she's included her favourite quotes. I'm going to be adding all of these to my reading list asap, because they all sound absolutely stunning. I'm a little ashamed I haven't read any of them, to be honest.

Anyway. Over to you, Sally!

Helloo, I'm Sally from Queenie and the Dew. I'm very excited to be sharing some of my favourite books with you today! I was one of those little girls who sat under the duvet armed with a torch and scouring the pages of my favourite books long after lights out. Since then, my love of books has never really let up, and I'm always on the look out for great new literary treats.

When the lovely Sarah asked me to take part in her Books Are Amazing series, I naively thought that picking 5 books would be a breeze. In reality I wound up with about 20 books that 'had' to make the list, and whittling it down to a mere 5 was quite a slog. After a lot of sighing, brow furrowing, chopping and changing, I eventually settled on these beauties. Some I first read years ago and have stood the test of time, while others are new discoveries. I always think the love of a book grows from a context: a physical or mental place that nestles in your brain and reminds you why you loved that particular book at a particular time. Hopefully you'll see what I mean.

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
I picked up this book when longing for the sea. I spent my whole childhood near the ocean, and once I'd moved to the city I could never quite shake off the smell of salty air or the screech of seagulls. This book is exquisitely written. Quoyle, our hapless, bubbling protagonist, moves to a stark Atlantic shipping community as a newspaper hack, joined by his two renegade daughters and larger than life aunt. Proulx's use of similes is like nothing I've ever read. Deeply moving, dark, powerful and beautifully crafted, the refreshing narrative style of this book challenged me to be a better writer. But whatever you do avoid the movie, which doesn't do it justice at all.

"For if Jack Buggit could escape from the pickle jar, if a bird with a broken neck could fly away, what else might be possible? Water may be older than light, diamonds crack in hot goat's blood, mountaintops give off cold fire, forests appear in mid-ocean, it may happen that a crab is caught with the shadow of a hand on its back, and that the wind be imprisoned in a bit of knotted string. And it may be that love sometimes occurs without pain or misery.”

Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda
The first time I heard a Pablo Neruda poem was in 2008. I was hurtling through Cairo in a battered taxi, Islamic music blaring out of the radio, horns beeping, while my Egyptian friend haggled with the taxi driver in guttural, raspy Arabic that sounded like sand paper and made me want to cry. I was working out there with a human rights charity and was exhausted by the pollution, the chaos and the noise, which constantly pounded my brain. My Turkish friend, an academic and writer, started reciting something so beautiful it soothed me almost instantly. It was Pablo Neruda, and to this day, nothing or no one has expressed the purity, depth and despair of love so eloquently in my eyes.

"And I watch my words from a long way off.
They are more yours than mine.
They climb on my old suffering like ivy."

Charlotte's Web by EB White
No childhood bookshelf would be complete without Charlotte's Web. It came back on my radar recently when I spotted the exact edition I'd had as a little girl. I promptly bought it, reread it, and devoured this beautiful and tragic friendship between Wilbur and Charlotte. It had lost none of its magic, and for the first time in months my eyes flooded with tears as I got to the final pages. If you've never read it, you must. If you read it as a child, you must read it again. If you have children, buy it for their bookshelves. As dear old Meg Ryan said in You've Got Mail, "When you read a book as a child, it becomes part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does."

"I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die. A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that.”

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
I visited Paris in 2005, and spent my time lazing in cafes with a carafe of wine and mooching about the second hand book stalls. This autobiographical book, set in the 1920s Paris jazz scene, features a young Hemingway setting up home with his wife, sipping wine with Ezra Pound and James Joyce and slurping oysters from the shells. It's a startlingly raw and honest account, written with a beautiful sense of nostalgia which sets your heart alight.

"You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason."

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
I picked up this book when I first moved to London. I was alone in the flat, feeling apprehensive and a little vulnerable about my new life in the city. I was recovering from a divorce, a brief period of depression and was looking for complete and utter absorption. Enter Sugar, an assertive yet sensitive Victorian prostitute with literary ambitions that has your adoration from the first page. A little bit smutty, a little bit comical, this book will have your nose embedded in the page long after lights out. A bit of a tome, but an utterly compelling read.

"Sugar leans her chin against the knuckles of the hand that holds the pen. Glistening on the page between her silk-shrouded elbows lies an unfinished sentence. The heroine of her novel has just slashed the throat of a man. The problem is how, precisely, the blood will flow. Flow is too gentle a word; spill implies carelessness; spurt is out of the question because she has used the word already, in another context, a few lines earlier. Pour out implies that the man has some control over the matter, which he most emphatically doesn’t; leak is too feeble for the savagery of the injury she has inflicted upon him. Sugar closes her eyes and watches, in the lurid theatre of her mind, the blood issue from the slit neck. When Mrs Castaway’s warning bell sounds, she jerks in surprise.

Hastily, she scrutinises her bedroom. Everything is neat and tidy. All her papers are hidden away, except for this single sheet on her writing-desk.

Spew, she writes, having finally been given, by tardy Providence, the needful word."

And that's it! I hope you enjoyed my choices. If you've read these, I'd love to hear your thoughts, and if not, I hope I've inspired you to try something new!


  1. I'm totally going to reread Charlotte's Web, it's been years.

  2. I loved the Crimson Petal and the White!

  3. From your list I really enjoyed "Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair" - touching and beautiful. I can see that you don't pick books my accident :-) My longtime favourite is still Gone with the Wind. Classic story.


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