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BOOK LIST: 5 Books that influenced Carolyn Turgeon, author of 'Fairest of them All'

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Today Carolyn Turgeon, the author of 'Fairest of The All', shares with us five books that helped influence her as a writer. Please welcome her! 

Five Books That Influenced Me

1. The Girl of the Sea of Cortez, Peter Benchley
I loved a lot of books when I was a kid—the Bobbsey Twins series, the Little House books, Nancy Drew, the Betsy-Tacy-Tibb series, the Encyclopedia Brown books, anything by S.E. Hinton, the shocking Clan of the Cave Bear—but The Girl of the Sea of Cortez stands out as one of the most vivid and magical. My grandparents lived in this tiny retirement community in the middle of Florida with a tiny volunteer-run library, and that’s where I found this sweet book in which a girl has a deep relationship with the ocean and swims with a manta ray. I described a scene from the book in a recent article I wrote for Allure, and was shocked when the fact-checker discovered that I’d completely conflated two scenes: one where the girl gets a leg cramp as bull sharks circle below and one where the manta ray comes and lets her ride on its back to safety. But it’s been burned that way in my head for over 30 years now! 

2. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I first read One Hundred Years of Solitude in an honors class in college. I remember how so many of the other books we read that semester were a chore to get through and then I opened this one and plunged into one of the most wonderful, beautiful and entrancing worlds I could imagine. It’s so sweeping and massive and yet feels like a story you’d hear while sitting around a fire under the moon. Pure pleasure. I love the very first page: the idea that the gypsies bring ice to Macondo and it’s the most astonishing thing anyone’s ever seen. It’s the kind of book that makes the everyday world seem brand new, and to this day I see magic in ice that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

3. CosmiComics, Italo Calvino

I love this whole collection but “The Distance of the Moon” is probably my favorite story, of any story I’ve read (you can read it here.) 

I love the mix of the absurd with the beautiful, and the crazy gorgeous melancholy and sense of loss that pervade the whole piece. From the moment it starts, we enter this beautiful world that’s already been lost irretrievably—a time when the moon was so close to us that we could row out to it in a boat, toss out a ladder and climb up. Before I read this story I’m not quite sure I realized that you could write something so silly, so fantastic, and yet do it so beautifully and with such intense feeling. The ending of the story kills me—so beautiful, so sad, so perfect.

4. The Decameron, Boccaccio 
I love the premise of The Decameron: that these are the stories told by a group of young people who’ve retreated to a villa outside of Florence to escape the plague. And that these stories are meant to delight and distract in the midst of such darkness (I always love that mixture of light and dark). The Decameron’s another classic that I was forced to read in college (I majored in Italian lit as well as English) and was surprised to find so full of life and humor and raunchiness and magic. Just wonder upon wonder, and stories that have been told and retold. I actually started my first novel at the same time that I had to write a report on the classic “three rings” story that appeared in several old Latin and Italian sources and made its way into The Decameron, too. The very first draft of my first novel incorporated that same three rings story; I loved the idea of stories so powerful that they survive for centuries.

5. Life in the Fields, Giovanni Verga
It was in an Italian literature class in college that I first read “La Lupa” (“The She-Wolf”) by the late nineteenth-century Sicilian writer Verga who was famous for his naturalist writing rooted to the harsh realities of peasant life in Sicily. I loved its drama: mothers crying over their dead sons; men losing their mind and crawling on their bellies in front of churches as penance; women stalking through the countryside in the burning afternoon, ravenous with lust; hot ax-wielding men covered in the grease of fermenting olives. I love that the title character Pina, “La Lupa,” is pure sensual ravenousness; I’ve often tried to imbue my characters with that same hunger. This story isn’t fantastic, but the emotions in it are so large that it feels fantastic, a world in which everything is heightened and strange and just a bit more wonderful, but still our own.

Carolyn's wonderful book THE FAIREST OF THEM ALL is on special at the moment as an e-book  - here are the links to Barnes & Noble and Kindle 


BOOK LIST: Kate Lord Brown - Favourite books set in Spain

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Spain is one of my favourite countries in the world. I actually spent my honeymoon there, and so I think of it as a gorgeous, romantic and sensual country. I drew upon the historical setting of the Spanish Civil War for my own novel FULL FATHOM FIVE and have been interested in both the place and the time ever since. (and yes, yes, I know! It was published under my maiden name, Kate Humphrey) 

Kate Lord Brown, the author of the wonderful books THE PERFUME GARDEN and THE BEAUTY CHORUS has kindly compiled a list of her favourite books set in Spain. 

She says: 

"We arrived in Spain in the winter of 2001 at the end of several months travelling around the world, with just a battered silver trunk in the back of our small convertible. 

I had never visited the country that was to be our home for the next few years, and had no idea what to expect. In my imagination, it was a combination of austere, beautiful hilltop castles, dazzling bougainvillea, whitewashed mountain villages – and the blowsy high rise resorts on the coast so beloved by European tourists. In imagination it was sunny, hot. The drive through the drizzly Pyrenees, across the sweeping plains to Madrid and ochre hills to Valencia surprised me.

There have been some good ‘Year In Provence’ style books published since – notably Chris Stewart’s ‘Driving Over Lemons’, which is a good start if you are planning to visit or live in Spain. 

When we moved there, I was relying on my copy of the Rough Guide to Spain, Spanish for Dummies, and a general admiration for Spanish literature. There’s nothing like youthful gung-ho enthusiasm. 

I had always loved the work of Spanish writers – the influence of authors like Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez was responsible for the not entirely successful magic realism of my early stories. If you like Allende’s novels, I recommend her cook book/memoir ‘Aphrodite’ which I packed in the trunk when we moved to Spain, and cooked my way through over the months. 

I love Spanish language poets too, Lorca and Neruda particularly. I began to immerse myself in Spanish culture and history as we travelled – everything from the basics of the Spanish Civil War, to Hemingway’s evocative, macho ‘Death In the Afternoon’. 

In Spain, I read Washington Irving’s ‘Tales of the Alhambra’ during a memorable trip south to Granada (So did I, Kate LB!). If you ever get the chance to visit the Alhambra – go. It’s a magical, fairytale place, just as beautiful in reality as in imagination. As the idea of writing a novel about Spain came together thirteen years ago, I started reading more deeply – the photo illustrating today’s post is just one shelf at home. 

There are boxes of Spanish history books and novels, stored with the early notes for ‘The Perfume Garden’ in England. These are just a few of the very best books I came across:

‘Homage to Catalonia’ by George Orwell, and ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’ by Laurie Lee are two classics that transport you back in time and into the shoes of two writers who fought during the Spanish Civil War.

‘Battle for Spain’ by Beevor and ‘Doves of War’ by Preston were the two most useful histories of the Civil War.

‘South from Granada’ by Brennan (in fact anything by Brennan on Spain), is a wonderful account by one of the Bloomsbury set of his time in Spain. Worth reading for the account of Virginia Woolf on a mule alone.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Earlier this week, trying to define the new book by Australian author Jaclyn Moriarty, I called it fantastical magic realism. 

Although ‘A Corner of White’ was set in both our world and an imaginary secondary world, a common trope of fantasy fiction, it was not really fantasy, I said, partly because, ‘the book is truly concerned with the inner lives of its two protagonists.’ 

A few people have challenged me on that, asking ‘what exactly IS magic realism, then?’

Being a brave soul, I thought I’d try, at least, to express what I think it’s all about. 

Magic realism is, I think, a genre of fiction set in our own world, in which strange, uncanny, or magical things happen in the midst of everyday events. The protagonists do not change their world, as is the case in most fantasy novels; rather, they themselves are changed as a consequence of the magic. The line between real and unreal, possible and impossible, is blurred. Life is shown to be filled with mystery and the inexplicable.

Here is one quote I found that I like, by the Mexican-American writer, Luis Leal:

‘In magical realism the writer confronts reality and tries to untangle it, to discover what is mysterious in things, in life, in human acts. The principle thing is not the creation of imaginary beings or worlds but the discovery of the mysterious relationship between man and his circumstances. In magical realism key events have no logical or psychological explanation. The magical realist does not try to copy the surrounding reality or to wound it but to seize the mystery that breathes behind things.’

A few books that I have read and loved, and that I would call ‘magic realism’:

'House of the Spirits' by Isabel Allende 

'Like Water for Chocolate' by Laura Esquivel 

'Garden Spells' by Sarah Addison Allen 

'Love in the Time of Cholera ' by Gabriel García Márquez 

'The Night Circus' by Erin Morgenstern 

'The Time Traveler's Wife' by Audrey Niffenegger 

'Chocolat' by Joanne Harris 

'Practical Magic' by Alice Hoffman 

'The Shadow of the Wind' by Carlos Ruiz Zafón 

'The Snow Child' by Eowyn Ivey 

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