Recommended Reading

Here are some favourites – the books I’d rescue if my library was on fire. You can buy all these through [the Old Rope Bookstore->]. Just go to [the recommended reading section->] and tell them I sent you.

John Crowley
I read this on our rather disastrous holiday this year and it shone a lot brighter than the weather. It’s almost impossible to describe this novel – a huge, sprawling epic of one family and their relationship with the land of faerie. It’s a grown-up fairy story, a beautiful reverie on change. If you like fantasy novels then you need to read this book. And even if you don’t you should still give it a try.
[Get it from our bookstore->]

Anne Lamott
Absolutely the best book on writing. Bird by bird is warm, moving, humane, extremely funny, deeply spiritual and the best introduction to writing and publishing that I’ve ever read. If you’re serious about writing fiction, then you must read this book. in fact, even if you never intend to write a single word, read the book anyway.
[Get it from our bookstore->]

Mark Dunn
A fantastic fable about religious and political zeolotry gone mad. On an island dedicated to the alphabet, the leaders decide that certain letters have fallen into divine disfavour and so order them banned. As the book goes on, more and more letters disappear, until only the resourceful Ella is left to fight for the truth.
[Get it from our bookstore->]

Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
The greatest comic book ever written – and one which redefined the genre and what it was capable of. The story of a disbanded super-team in a dystopian alternative world, what makes Watchment different is Moore’s multi-layered, finely detailed script – expertly brought to life by Gibbons’ artwork. Although Moore has done a lot of great work since — particularly on [The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen->], this was the template. There’s an annotated guide to the series here.
[Get it from our bookstore->]

John Livingstone Lowes
Subtitled ‘A Study in the Ways of the Imagination’, Lowes’ book is an investigation into the imagination of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. What distinguishes this book is not just that it’s a great piece of literary detective work, but that it’s so superbly written. This book comes from an era when literary critics expected the general reader to read their books and it shows just how the mind of Coleridge worked; how what he read and saw transmuted itself into some of the most stunning poetry ever written. (Now out of print, the cover image comes from my rather battered 1978 Picador edition.)

Austin Tappan Wright
Published in 1945, this huge utopian novel remains for me one of the great achievements of literature. Wright was not a great writer but his vision of this ideal country, this land of Islandia is a beguiling and entrancing picture. The land itself is the main character of this book and Wright presents us with a country and a way of life that is at once highly idealised and yet ultimately believable. You cannot read this book without wanting to go there, or without thinking that Islandia is the way life should be.
[Get it from our bookstore->]

Maurice Richardson
I was led to this book via Michael Moorcock’s ‘Fantasy: The 100 Best Books’ – and even then the book was difficult to find. Eventually I tracked down a copy on Bibliofind and it was the best $20 I’ve ever spent. The hero of the title is Englebrecht, Dwarf Surrealist Boxer, a plucky member of the Surrealist Sportsman’s Club. Engelbrecht’s opponents in this series of hilarious tales include fighting for the championship against a grandfather clock, playing surrealist Rugby against aliens on the moon (his side included Karl Marx and Salvador Dali at full-back) and winning an election by promising witches the right to vote. Hilarious, bizarre, outrageous, wonderful. The original version is superbly illustrated by James Boswell. It’s now back in print, or you can search for a second-hand copy. Be prepared to pay high prices, though.
Read the original blurb.
The Savoy Press have reissued this in an expanded version – you can read the reviews here and even download a sample chapter.
[Get it from our bookstore->]

Edward Gorey
“On November 18th of alternate years Mr Earbrass begins writing his ‘new novel’. Weeks ago he chose its title at random from a list of them he keeps in a little green note-book. It being tea-time of the 17th, he is alarmed not to have thought of a plot to which The Unstrung Harp might apply, but his mind will keep reverting to the last biscuit on the plate.”

Surreal humour, Gorey’s distinctive, quirky illustrations and a hilariously gloomy picture of the sheer pain of writing. Mr Earbrass, of course, is the well-known author of books like A Moral Dustbin, More Chains Than Clank and the Hipdeep Trilogy.
[Get it from our bookstore->]

George Orwell
The twentieth century’s greatest writer. Journalist, essayist, novelist, political commentator, George Orwell was a genius. In his many essays he covers topics as diverse as the seaside postcards of Donald McGill, the poetry of Kipling and what it means to be English.

This collection, published in 1957 brings together some of his best known essays, particularly Politics and the English Language, which remains one of the best guides on how to write good English prose that there has ever been.
[Get it from our bookstore->]

Trefor Jones
An exhilirating parade of legendary superheroes – and Perry Digweed. Favourites include Luther (of course), legendary goalie ‘Skilly’ Williams with his big cap, and ‘Bumper’ Saunders – a prolific scorer who once kept goal in an overcoat and smoking a pipe.

Fantastic. Profound, wise, illuminating, life-changing. A reflection on the afterlife that actually alters the way you live now. Which is what it’s all about, really. One of the few books on heaven that makes you actually want to go there.
[Get it from our bookstore->]

Palinurus [Cyril Connolly]
Connolly’s reflections on his life, loves and writing under the pseudonym of Palinurus – an obscure character from Virgil’s Aeneid. A cross between a commonplace book and a diary, it is wistful, profound, silly, revealing and thought-provoking in equal measures. But for all his egoism and indecipherable French quotes, the atmosphere of this book is like nothing else and his descriptions of the places he lived in France and England are achingly beautiful, and who would not wish to be a writer in places like those?
[Get it from our bookstore->]

Michael Pollan
Every now and then you read a book which seems to be about you. This is the story of a writer and editor who builds his own hut in the woods. Part Thoreau, part DIY manual, part essay on architectural theory, every page is full of insights. Were it not for the fact that he even tries out feng shui the book would be perfect.
[Get it from our bookstore->]

Ernest Hemingway
It’s difficult now to rediscover the real Hemingway beneath the layers of myth that have built up around him (and nobody was more prone to mythologising Hemingway than Ernest himself). Here is another set of myths to add to the collection, this time about Hemingway’s writing career in Paris in the twenties. Yet this remains compelling writing, perhaps because the real hero here is the city itself. And the seriousness with which Hemingway approaches the act of writing, the requirement to ‘write the truest thing you know’ is inspirational.
[Get it from our bookstore->]

Sven Lindqvist
In the guise of a travel diary, Lindqvist goes looking for the origins of European genocide, using the works of Conrad as his guide. The title of the book comes, of course, from Heart of Darkness, and the reader travels on a similar journey, back into a more brutal age, an age where thet true savages were the ones with the guns. Most of all, it is a book about what happens when we don’t really think about what is going on in the world. As Lindqvist writes, “You already know enough. So do I. It is not knowledge that we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions.”
[Get it from our bookstore->]

Kirsten Bakis
This is a haunting fantasy. The premise – talking dogs, dressed in Prussian costumes, who come to live in New York – is bizarre, and yet the author pulls you in completely. A beautiful book, a meditation on what it is to be human and what it is to love.
[Get it from our bookstore->]

I started reading Chesterton again while I was writing BLUE. A writer who, I think, was years ahead of his time. This is his first novel – a fantasy about a revolution in Notting Hill, which is about freedom, independence and the rights of individuals to control their own destinies. In a world ever more controlled by huge corporations, Chesterton’s is a voice that commands our attention.
[Get it from our bookstore->]