Welcome to the next in our series of Curtis Brown 120 blog posts, these blogs include exclusive interviews with authors, agents and publishers; writing tips; industry insights – and much more besides.
For Valentine’s Day, we’re talking about the books we’re mad about #MadAbouttheBook. From Kate Atkinson and Nora Ephron to the Brontës, L.M. Montgomery and Philip Pullman, we asked our Curtis Brown colleagues to play a little game . . . Which book do you go mad for? Which book are you madly in love with? And which book just makes you mad?
Here is Snog, Marry, Avoid – The Book Edition!
Snog: I, Claudius by Robert Graves. Machinations, manipulation and marriage. (!). This book is a visceral deep dive into politics, personal betrayals and the architecture of an unlikely hero during the heady excesses of the Roman Empire. C-c-c-Claudius is my pin-up for all time.
Marry: Life after Life by Kate Atkinson. I begin again. And I begin again. All the versions of life, the potential losses, disasters, achievements. The causal effects. Everything is explored and becomes the symphony that is one woman’s potential. I would marry this book every day. Each day would end differently. Wow.
Avoid: Anna Karenina. Enough already.
Snog: My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh. Deliciously dark story about a woman who’s obsessed with sleeping. Made me want to curl up in bed and read non-stop, with the world firmly outside my closed door . . .
Marry: Almost everything by Edith Wharton. Blissful bitchiness of the highest order. Never grows old.
Avoid: Sons and Lovers by D H Lawrence. It’s like being trapped inside the head of my pretentious, dreadful first boyfriend.
Snog: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. How can you not feel passionate about this book? Scarlett! Rhett! Civil War drama! Dresses made out of Curtains! YES!
Marry: The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter. The weirdest and most wonderful world. I feel dizzy and on a tilt after reading this.
Avoid: On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Reminds me of every pretentious man I have ever met. So he wrote it in three weeks or whatever – YOU CAN TELL. Just slip out the back, Jack!
Snog: The House of Sleep by Jonathan Coe. Oh my goodness, I loved this book so much I inhaled it. A murder or suicide mystery, a cast of characters with such chronic sleep conditions that they don’t know if they’re awake or asleep and a time slip. Flipping great. I totally would…
Marry: The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I could talk about this book forever and have debated it with a lot of publishing people – one in particular who thought it was about a paedophile. It is NOT. It is romance at its best: with time travel: what’s not to love forever?
Avoid: All of Thomas Hardy, especially the Mayor of Casterbridge, whose bedside manner is about as romantic as a wet fish. Not a single character in the book who’d get a yes from me on a Tinder frankly.
Snog: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris. I devoured this book (excuse the pun) long before True Blood launched on TV and I was almost giddy with guilt at how deliciously entertaining it was. Swept away, nay, off my feet, by the characters, world and setting – this is just the most perfect escape. Gothic, fantasy, mystery, vampires plus the Deep South – irresistible.
Marry: Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. There’s so much in here you could spend a lifetime together and still not discover it all. There’d certainly be no awkward silent dinners on holiday. Dark, dramatic, so atmospheric and keenly observed with inimitable dialogue there’s an entire world here to linger in. I wouldn’t hesitate to say ‘I do’.
Avoid: In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. Still mourning the time I lost trying to read this. I can’t believe anyone has actually made it beyond the first page let alone the first book. Clearly not a fan of brevity and suffering from the lack of a decent editor. A novel in 7 parts – isn’t that just a 7-book series? I’m confused and that’s even without having read it.
Snog: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. There were a lot of contenders for this category. But no book makes me laugh more, or laugh harder, than CCF. Extra snog points for Rufus Sewell’s smouldering presence in the film adaptation.
Marry: His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. Is it polygamy to choose a trilogy?! For me these multi-layered, chameleonic books are a partner to grow old with – I must’ve read them at least twenty times and always found something new and wonderful.
Avoid: Howard’s End by E. M. Forster. Honestly, I would burn that house down.
Snog: Nigel Slater’s Toast and all its delicious, moreish, heart-breaking dishes. I’m on my second copy, the first having fallen to bits after so many reads. I’ll never be able to look at a marshmallow again without having a little cry.
Marry: I pledge a long and happy commitment to Bill Bryson’s travel writing, and most of all to A Walk in the Woods with its brilliantly ramshackle cast and dual wondrous appreciation and sheer terror of the Great Outdoors.
Avoid: Here’s vote #2 for Howard’s End. A truly tiresome book.
Snog: The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford. A witty romp from the first page until an ending that feels like a punch in the gut. Young love was never funnier.
Marry: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. This brilliant, weird, upsetting epic is one I return to and think about often. Alas, it also put me on to Rushdie’s other endlessly frustrating and disappointing work, which I hope isn’t a symbol for marriage.
Avoid: The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. To quote Elaine from Seinfeld (admittedly about the big screen version rather than the book): ‘JUST DIE ALREADY! DIE!’
Snog: Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang. I can’t explain why I had to go back to this book so many times but I found it revelatory every time I read it, and as a teenager it blew my mind to read about this REAL WORLD outside of my safe little upbringing.
Marry: Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. Yes it’s for children, but I can return to this book endless times and still feel endlessly uplifted and safe. The number of times I’ve imagined myself in that caravan. I think now I’m a Grown Up I want to marry his dad (I’ll have to divorce existing husband first).
Avoid:The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan. Bored out of my mind. I think this unfortunately says more about me than about the book!
Snog: Bluets by Maggie Nelson. I adored this poetic hybrid book, part essay and part ode to the colour blue. I read this quickly and passionately, falling deeper and deeper into the blue.
Marry: Never let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. Haunting, heart-wrenching and timeless.
Avoid: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This novel can beat on ceaselessly into the past (where it should remain, followed by the echoes of students’ pens scribbling rapidly about unreliable narrators . . .) If you’re going to read a Fitzgerald, read Zelda.
Snog: The Last Silk Dress by Ann Rinaldi. I loved this book as a teen, it’s set during the Civil War – it has southern belles, a dashing Yankee, and descriptions of silk dresses.
Marry: The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. Probably one of my favourite books to curl up with, it always makes me feel better. It’s the happiest book I can think of. It’s like a grown-up’s Anne Shirley.
Avoid: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. I just can’t . . .
Snog: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. Georgette Heyer regency romance meets wizards. There is nothing about this I don’t like.
Marry: More wizards. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin. Fearless, imaginative fantasy, probing deep questions about human nature and our place in the world, with a double helping of dragons. I would marry any of her sci-fi too.
Avoid: Ian McEwan. No wizards.
Snog: The Good People by Hannah Kent. I finished this book last week and I feel haunted by it! It’s about land, water, magic, womanhood, hunger, grief, life, and death. It’s dark, earthy, and extremely snoggable.
Marry: The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman. ‘I will love you forever; whatever happens. Till I die and after I die, and when I find my way out of the land of the dead, I’ll drift about forever, all my atoms, till I find you again . . .’ These books are my ultimate lifetime loves, apart from maybe The Lord of the Rings, but somehow I just can’t bring myself to marry Tolkein.
Avoid: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I spent way too much time trying to enjoy this and worrying I wasn’t clever enough to ‘get it’, because it’s obviously meant to be Great Literature. See also anything by James Joyce.
Snog: The Secret History by Donna Tartt. A whirlwind love affair that definitely lived up to the all the hype.
Marry: The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Yes, the whole series (is that technically polygamy?)! What can I say, it was my first love and has stood the test of time.
Avoid: Moby Dick by Herman Melville. The kind of book where you have to reread each page several times … and still have no idea what is going on.
Snog: Familiar by J Robert Lennon. This mind-bending, multi-dimensional thriller contains one of the most captivating opening chapters I’ve ever read. It’s best read hungrily in one sitting across a wintery Sunday afternoon.
Marry: The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s final novel, published when she was 79, is a fictional account of the life of the German Romantic poet Novalis. It captures the sheer strangeness of the past, in all its violence and beauty and sadness. It’s the work of a master.
Avoid: All of Ernest Hemingway. I know he’s adored by many, but I’ve tried and failed to engage with his stripped back prose style, and his vision of masculinity. It’s not me, it’s him.
Snog: There are just so many… ? But I’ll go with Nora Ephron’s Heartburn – three-dry-martini, under-the-host, with-a-twist bliss.
Marry: The Complete Works of Anthony Trollope. Literary equivalent of coming home on a rainy Wednesday night after a long day to discover that the candles are lit, dinner is on the table and there’s a bottle of good wine already open.
Avoid: The Brontë Family. Like drinking too much cheap Prosecco, having a cry, and regretting it the next morning. They make me cross and headachy. Too much nervy over-feeling of emotions.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
We’d love to hear from you, too – tweet @CBGBooks and tell us which books drive you crazy.