A few weeks ago I went to see David Mitchell in conversation at Foyles, Charing Cross Road. It was packed with a lot of young, hip yet serious folk, probably the best looking audience I’ve ever seen. The event went on for an hour and a half and David Mitchell was probably the most courteous and unassuming writer I’ve ever met. And he totally engaged his audience asking them to name their favourite books too. Seriously, he was soooo nice. And it was free!

I bought my copy of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet (pronounced Zoot) and got it signed together with my copy of Cloud Atlas, but I was so tongue-tied that all the things I was planning to say to him dried up the moment I said hello. Dammit, I’m such a wuss. But I’m terrible at talking to people I admire and never know what to say at signings. Any advice here?

He spoke about Ghostwritten, his time in Hiroshima teaching English where he was the only foreigner at an international engineering college with lots of spare time to hone his writing skills (his first attempt at a novel lies unpublished in a drawer), how he likes his characters to pop up in other novels as they bring their history thus adding to and changing the story, and the concept of ‘textual shoplifting’.

He discussed several writers and novels he admires: Nadeem Aslam’s Maps for Lost Lovers, Checkhov, Shusaku Endo’s Silence and Junichiro Tanizaki’s The Makioka Sisters (which wasn’t a favourite of his wife’s). He spoke of how Endo is considered the Japanese Greene and Tanizaki the Japanese Galsworthy although he feels it should be the other way around, and how he also admires Michel Faber and Joseph Conrad.

When asked about the mechanics of writing, Mitchell spoke of following a herringbone pattern when writing, the backbone being a plot time-line with little events branching out (what a great way of looking at a story) and how he used to write in a notebook while having lunch alone pretending to be a restaurant critic. It’s important to him to write for himself and he doesn’t know if he can write for commission, although fame is slowly changing that (he compares it to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle). And when he asked one of his friends (A.S. Byatt!) she advised him to think of his readers and just write.

If you ever have a chance to attend one of his talks, go and do it! David Mitchell is brilliant and inspiring. Now I’m itching to read Ghostwritten again and of course Black Swan Green which is nestling on my shelf before starting his newest novel. What to do?

Check out some of David Mitchell’s favourite books here. And you may also wish to read a couple of his articles here and here, and a wonderful interview by Asylum.

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

So I had a particularly stressful day at work yesterday and decided to treat myself to a visit to the library (as you do) and also pay off some fines (I like to keep a clean slate). As I already have a huge stack of books waiting to be read, I thought I’d just browse to clear my head, but no, I ended up spotting two new books I just had to grab.

The Angel With Two Faces by Nicola Upson – I enjoyed Upson’s first book, An Expert In Murder, featuring the crime writer Josephine Tey as a sleuth.

The Einstein Girl by Philip Sington – I have a weakness for books featuring the name Einstein. Can’t seem to shake it off. This looks like a mystery and love story set in the early 20th century delving into secrets about Einstein, relativity and murder.

Both books would be perfect for Nymeth’s The 1930s Mini-Challenge.

I’m trying to finish two books at the moment: To Live and To Write: Selections by Japanese Women Writers 1913-1938 edited by Yukiko Tanaka which is inspiring and Scarlett Thomas’ new book Our Tragic Universe. I had forgotten how much I like Thomas’ writing. And so far, her new book is as good as the amazing The End of Mr. Y, lots about writing, books and strange goings-on, and she’s not afraid of talking about science.

I seem to be the only book blogger who hasn’t received David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. But I’m not crying, because I’m going to go and see him talk at Foyles, Charing Cross Road on Wednesday May 5th at 6:30pm! Yay! He’s also signing at Waterstone’s, Gower Street on May 7th at 1pm. I just hope the volcanic ash doesn’t prevent him from coming down to London.

I think we are all waiting with abated breath for David Mitchell’s new novel A Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet which will be published in May 2010 in the UK. Cloud Atlas is one of my favourite books, and I’m determined to read Black Swan Green before May (I’ve had it since it was published but somehow ‘forgot’ to read it, aaagh!)

For those of you who can’t wait, you can now read an excerpt (warning: it’s a little grotesque) on the book’s website (courtesy of Gnoe’s wonderful book and obento blog Graasland.) Enjoy!

can be found here. Mitchell will be publishing his new novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet next year. Can’t wait.

David Mitchell

Jacket Copy has an interesting piece about a conference dedicated to David Mitchell. And it’s ALL about David Mitchell. How amazing is that? Mitchell has published four books in the last ten years and he gets two whole days of academics discussing, dissecting and obsessing over his work. Incredible.

I have yet to read Black Swan Green, but I enjoyed Cloud Atlas sooooo much that I’m saving his latest book for a particularly rainy and depressing day. David Mitchell is really in a class of his own. Cloud Atlas really should have won the Booker Prize in 2004. Donna Tartt will always be my number one, but David Mitchell is a very close second. If you haven’t read any of his work, go beg, borrow or steal, because his writing is sublime.

Ghostwritten (1999)
Number9dream (2001)
Cloud Atlas (2004)
Black Swan Green (2006)

Favourite Writers: Fiction

15 August, 2009

Everytime I am confronted with articles or questionnaires about favourite books and writers, I decide to make my own list and give up after a few minutes. It’s not that I don’t have enough to fill a list, I have too many favourites and I fear that I have forgotten some of the ones I particularly loved. I want to do justice to that list. In author interviews, this is one of the most frequently asked questions and I can almost visualise their quavering when they have to announce to the world their favourite books and authors. They always start or end by saying that this is by no means absolute and it could change tomorrow. That is how I feel too. But there are a number of titles I will always love because of their impact on my thinking at a particular point in my life, and I thought it would be a good exercise to give it a try. Put it down on paper, so to speak.

I generally read a lot of mysteries, historical mysteries, science fiction and fantasy and general/literary fiction and of course, some classics, once in a while. When I was a student I went through a French phase where everything had to originate from the Latin Quarter: Sartre, Beauvouir and Camus. I grew up with the refrain ‘maman est morte’ as Albert Camus’ L’Etranger (The Stranger or The Outsider in English) is my father’s all time favourite book, a remnant of his student days at the Sorbonne in the late ’60s.

letranger theoutsider

I will be putting up lists divided by genre in the coming weeks but will start with the most general. It’s not a reflection of which is the most important genre for me. I’m open to and have favourites in all. I tend to mix my reading and have several books on the go, but sometimes I find that I need to concentrate on one book just to see it through and do it some justice.

So, let’s start with the following:

General/literary fiction

Donna Tartt (A Secret History)
David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas)
Tahmima Anam (A Golden Age)
Ann Patchett (Bel Canto, Patron Saint of Liars)
Michelle de Kretser (The Hamilton Case)
Sarah Waters (The Night Watch, The Little Stranger)
Romesh Gunasekara (The Match)
Shyam Selvadurai (Funny Boy, Cinnamon Gardens)
Douglas Coupland (Generation X)
Haruki Murakami (Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle)
Kaori Ekuni (Twinkle Twinkle, Calmi Cuori Appassionata – Red (in Japanese only))
Agota Kristof (The Notebook; The Proof; The Third Lie – Three Novels)
Michael Ondaatje (Running in the Family, The English Patient, Anil’s Ghost)

You will notice that I have quite a few Sri Lankan writers in the mix: Michelle de Kretser, Romesh Gunasekara and Shyam Selvadurai. Everytime I go back to Sri Lanka, I always feel a need to read about the country, to immerse myself in the culture and history of the place. And I also stock up on a lot of books there that aren’t available abroad. Perera Hussein Publishing House publishes Sri Lankan authors writing in English and their blog can be found here.

My favourite book of all time is Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. I first read it as I was revising for my first year undergrad exams. Even though my mind was busy trying to grasp the intricacies of maths and physics, Tartt’s novel gripped me from the start and I spent every moment I could away from my studies burrowed in her book. I haven’t read it in a while so I might give it a go when the mood takes me. Her second book The Little Friend was much anticipated but didn’t have as big an impact and took me a while to get into. There is something about her writing that invokes a feeling within me that I cannot find anywhere else. I finished it still believing she is a great writer even though I didn’t love it as much as The Secret History, and I can’t wait for her next book.