Category book muttering

Edinburgh International Book Festival Sally Magnusson Where Memories Go dementiaLisa is travelling around Scotland this week, and paid a visit to the Edinburgh International Book Festival to attend Sally Magnusson‘s event. Here’s her take:

Last night I attended Sally Magnusson‘s event at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Although I have read Sally’s book countless times and been to many many events, there was a particular magic to this one. Was it the rain drumming on the tent roof, the rapt attention of almost six hundred people, the expressive interpretation of the signer standing alongside or the magic of Sally’s words as she conducted us through her experience? All of the above of course.

As Sally spoke to each and every person in the quiet and patient signing queue for over an hour afterwards, the magic continued. Every person had something personal to share, something unique and yet universal. Where Memories Go has touched so many lives because dementia touches so many. As Sally says ‘ this is my story but it could be anybody’s’.

But last night, as Jim Naughtie and the Edinburgh Festival sound director said, ‘Wow, that was something …’

See a few pictures taken by Lisa below. Well done, Sally!

Find out more about Where Memories Go: why dementia changes everything here.

Edinburgh International Book Festival Sally Magnusson Where Memories Go dementia

Edinburgh International Book Festival Sally Magnusson Where Memories Go dementia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edinburgh International Book Festival Sally Magnusson Where Memories Go dementia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever your destination this summer, we’ve got you covered (well, almost…)

We’ve asked people i the office to share with us the best books to take with you on a trip abroad, and we’re happy to announce our first literary world tour, which includes France, ItalySpain, Greece, Ireland, Japan, Australia and California.

Time to book that plane ticket…

 

FRANCE, by Kate Craigie (Editorial Assistant at John Murray Press, @KateCraigie)

France. Where you’ll find the best wine in the world, a museum on every rue and where you can use the phrase ‘ooh la la’ without anyone batting an eyelid. Even the names of its cities and regions are evocative: Paris, Normandy, the Riviera, the Loire Valley, the Alps, Marseille; each has its own cuisine, its own unique landscape, its own charm.

If you’re spending a few days in the city of lights, you’ll find that there is no greater companion than E. H. Gombrich’s The Story of Art. Required reading for History of Art students, Gombrich’s book is a thorough yet accessible introduction the visual arts and is indispensable if you want to get the most out of Paris’s many museums.

If the museum-based tourist shuffle is getting you down and you want to sample  Paris’s spookier side with a trip to its famous cemetery, Pere Lachaise, or its subterranean passageways, Les Catacombes, Pure by Andrew Miller is perfect for setting the gothic mood. Set during the turbulent years before the revolution, provincial engineer Jean-Baptiste Baratte is ordered to exhume the vast cemetery of Les Innocents in the poor Parisian quarter of Les Halles and to demolish its church. But the cemetery becomes a kind of hell for Baratte; its overflowing bodies literally taint the air and Baratte begins to suspect that the destruction of the cemetery might bring about his own. This is a wonderful novel; unsettling, the perfect antidote to all  those Paris postcards featuring hearts and Mona Lisa smiles.

Escaping the capital and sampling France’s Riviera, Swimming Home by Deborah Levy is a mesmerising poolside read. This short novel is set in the summer house of Joe Jacobs, a poet, in the mid-nineties. The tranquillity is disrupted when a troubled fan turns up. The ensuing drama is delicately handled, and there’s a shock at the end. Alternatively, Bonjour Tristesse by Francois Sagan is a coming-of-age story set on the Riviera where teenager Cecile is holidaying with her father and his mistress. Vivid and poetic, this bittersweet novella has endured as an ode to burgeoning sexuality.

 

ITALY, by Federico Andornino (Editorial Assistant at Two Roads, @Due_Strade)

Let’s be honest: if you’re spending your holidays in Italy, there is going to be very little time to read at all. Most of your days will be spent visiting small medieval villages on top of the Tuscan hills, swimming in the crystal-blue waters of the sea off the Amalfi coast, drinking glorious wines in Puglia, eating delicious food in Sicily and trying to cure a terrible case of Stendhal syndrome in Rome. But let’s just assume for a second that you have visited Italy many many times and you actually want to do some proper reading while you explore the country on the ever-reliable (not) Ferrovie dello Stato trains. Let’s start from the top, shall we?

Fly into Turin airport and spend a few days wandering around this beautiful city, the first capital of unified Italy. It’s home to one of the country’s most prestigious publishers, Einaudi, which has introduced the world to amazing writers like Italo Calvino: If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller, is an absolute classic. Hire a car and head to the wine region of the Langhe, where you can read local writer, translator and poet Cesare Pavese: I recommend his greatest novel, The Moon and the Bonfires, recently published by the New York Review of Books (probably easier to find online).

Now get on a train and head south. Yes, we are indeed going to Tuscany, the land of a million cliches. Skip Florence (you have been there before, after all, right?) and head to Siena. Home of one of the oldest universities in the world, and famous for its horse races, this is truly a gem. You don’t need a map: just get lost in the small medieval alleys and relax. While you’re there, read Enchantment by Pietro Grossi, one of the few young contemporary Italian writers being translated into English. His novel, about friendship and growing up, is set in Tuscany and it’s a heartbreaking, gripping read.

Finally, make your way to Puglia. Less well-known than other parts of Italy, this is truly a blessed land: beautiful beaches, extraordinary architecture, gorgeous food and oh-so-lovely wine. I recommend three stops: Lecce (fantastic baroque churches and sweet iced-coffee), Otranto (strong wines and picturesque countryside) and Gallipoli (truly spectacular beaches). All the while, read Gianrico Carofiglio’s series of detective novels, featuring Avvocato Guerrieri, a character I bet you’ll fall in love with: start with Involuntary Witness and work your way through.

 

SPAIN, by Lisa Highton (Publisher at Two Roads, @TwoRoadsBooks)

If I’m lucky, I can read a book a day on holiday and still deal with the big issues of food and siestas. I’ve only been to Barcelona and along the coast towards France so my Catalan-centric recommendations reflect that! I read about places after I’ve been there, they have more meaning that way. One day I’ll go exploring … but in the meantime can a list of books to read fail to include In The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon– not this list anyway. I loved this when I first read it well over 10 years ago, an old-fashioned story within a story set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. Wonderful romantic and heroic characters and, frankly, who doesn’t love a book about books? I’m surprised, and not a little relieved, that this hasn’t been made into a film.

From Zafon, it’s but a short step to Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, an account of his time fighting in the Spanish Civil War. This war can be as confusing to read about as it must have been to experience, but this is a wonderful piece of writing. ‘Curiously enough the whole experience has left me with not less but more belief in the decency of human beings.’ 1984 aside, he’s somewhat fallen out of favour but I remain a fan.

I’ve also got my eye on an art book, Barcelona and Modernity, an account of the extraordinary Catalan artists – Gaudi, Miro, Picasso (not Catalan I know!)  and Dali (his house is definitely on the itinerary this year).

Now go away please, I’m reading. I’ll see you for drinks by the pool later…

 

GREECE, by Rebecca Hilsdon (Work experience at John Murray Press, @rebecca_july)

Greek mythology echoes throughout the country from the legendary Peloponnesian caves to the ancient ruins of Athens and the sandy beaches of Rhodes. The Greek Myths by Robert Graves, author of I, Claudius, provides an exhaustive yet accessible account of these spellbinding stories which includes the tales of Icarus, Aphrodite and Troy. It is the perfect introduction to a country which was built on tales of mighty Gods, terrifying sea monsters and fearless heroes.

The Greek Cuisine Cookbook will ensure your Mediterranean culinary skills are up to scratch even before you hop onto the plane. It is packed with fifty quick and easy recipes from Spicy Chicken Burgers and Romano Cheese Pasta to more quintessentially Greek dishes such as Broiled Tilapia Fillets and Feta Cheese Casserole. Trying out the recipes will definitely put you in the holiday spirit and when you pop into the traditional tavernas you will know exactly what to order!

You could also follow in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor who became particularly taken with Greece. His book The Broken Road is an account of the final part of his journey through Europe in the 1930’s and the final chapters are devoted to Greece. It is a wonderful letter to a country of outstanding natural beauty, history and food written by one of the great travel writers and adventurers.

 

IRELAND, by Becky Walsh (Editorial Assistant at John Murray, @BeckyAWalsh)

You’re off on holidays to Ireland: the land of green fields, potatoes, leprechauns, St Patrick, seven-time winner of the Eurovision, renowned for the céad míle fáilte and home to some of the greatest authors, playwrights and poets in the world. I could mention James Joyce and W. B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett, Edna O’Brien, Maeve Binchy and Anne Enright. There are so many gems to choose from but what would I recommend to you to read while there?

Firstly, some poetry. Try a collection from Nobel-Prize winner Seamus Heaney. Maybe read ‘Digging’, a meandering, metaphorical journey through generations or, my favourite, ‘Midterm Break’, a deceptively simple poem about the loss of a loved one.

Move on to something by Colm Tóibín. I’d suggest Brooklyn, the story of Eilis, a young girl from rural Ireland who moves to New York in the 1950s. Emigration is at the heart of the Irish story; to understand Ireland in 2014 you need to understand all those who have left and why they chose to do so.

Finally, something more contemporary: Young Skins by Colin Barrett, a debut collection of vivid short stories that sparkle with life and crackle with truth. After that you probably deserve a Guinness!

 

JAPAN, by Kristin Bradley (Sales and Marketing Executive at Hodder Faith)

In between practising your bows and learning which variant of ‘thank you’ is the correct level of formality for most situations (arigato gosaimasu should get you by), you may want to read a few books that offer deeper insight into the culture you’re about to step in to.

If you’ve got a particularly long flight, try Shōgun by James Clavell. Inspired by the true story of an English man who went to Japan and became a samurai, this 1000+ page book will tell you all you could want to know about feudal Japan through a page-turning plot that has been credited with drastically increasing the English-speaking world’s awareness and interest about Japan.

Another book that will help you understand the intricacies of the Japanese culture is The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd. This is the story of a Scottish woman in the early 20th century who has an affair with a Japanese nobleman and finds herself having to forge her own way in Japan after being cut off from the European community. The author was born and raised in Japan to Scottish parents and as a result understands Japanese culture in a way that few gaigin (foreigners) could hope to.

Once you get there, enjoy all the food, take in the culture and relish in the wide variety of weird and wonderful things you’ll find in vending machines.

 

AUSTRALIA, by Lisa Highton

If you’re planning to go to Australia for any length of time, here’s the first marvellous fact. From Europe or the US, it’ll take over 20 hours – so plenty of time to read (hey, you’ve seen all the movies and you’re down to that last episode of The Big Bang Theory). Here are my recommendations – I’ve cut it down to five modern and five classic but frankly, I could add two zeroes to each of those.

Five Modern Novels to Read now

The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan. Recently long-listed for the Booker – a soldier surgeon, a hero of Changi and how difficult it is to live after survival. Brilliant.

Dirt Music – Tim Winton. Shortlisted for the Booker – set on Winton’s beloved West Australian coast, a man survives a terrible car crash and struggles to put his life back together. If that sounds trite , it isn’t. When this was first released the Australian publishers produced a CD of the actual music – still one of my favourites

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak. Don’t let the film put you off.

True History of The Kelly Gang – Peter Carey. A classic outlaw tale of an Australian icon (Ned Kelly not Peter Carey)

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion. Oh go on, it’s a bit like BBT – perfect holiday reading

Five Classics

The Man Who Loved Children – Christina Stead

My Brilliant Career – Miles Franklin

Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay

The Tree of Man – Patrick White

Unreliable Memoirs – Clive James

 

CALIFORNIA, by Jo Davey (Editor at Hodder Faith, @JoannaLDavey)

Of the handful of screensavers on my Kindle, the image of John Steinbeck has always been my favourite. It’s the sultry mystery of his expression in the drawing and tilt of his head – he’s listening to you, whisky and cigarette in hand, on the brink of a poetic interjection. But, I shamefacedly admit I know little of him or his work.

While researching my upcoming trip around California, Steinbeck came up as the author whose upbringing in the Golden State imbued his writing with a distinct flavour of the region. In ‘Cannery Row’ his irresistible description of Monterey – a town on my trail – as ‘a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream’ had me transfixed.

Will you be my Rough Guide to California, Mr Steinbeck? I hope so.

 

 

…yes, authors are just like us: they too look forward to the summer to finally read the books that have been sitting on their bedside table for weeks.

Now Two Roads has an exclusive (!) look at what some of our writers are reading this summer

Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Remember Me Like This (out now)

Bret Anthony Johnston’s summer reading pile

 

I tend to read in the morning before starting a day’s work and then again in the evening before bed, and I tend to read from a different book in each session. Fiction usually comes first, and I’m excited about the fiction I’m reading now or soon to read. Rene Steinke’s forthcoming novel Friendswood, Lea Carpenter’s novel Eleven Days (find out more here), some Chekhov stories, and a collection of strange and beautiful fiction called Nature Stories by Jules Renard. The Renard book might serve as something as bridge between my current fiction and nonfiction tastes, as I’m reading a lot about animals right now. One of the things I’m currently working on is a weird, nonlinear short story involving horses, and this book on horse psychology continues to prove invaluable to me in countless ways. Future projects may include the mythical (or is it?) chupacbra and the siege in Waco, Texas in 1993. This summer I’ve also been spending time with Emily Rapp’s heart-rending memoir The Still Point of the Turning World (find out more here). As for the book on iPhones, well, let’s just say I’ve recently gotten my first one and the transition hasn’t been easy or smooth. That book will probably be the most helpful, and it’s the one I’m looking forward to the least. Maybe there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

 

Jamie Kornegay, author of Soil (spring 2015)

Jamie Kornegay’s summer reading pile

As a full-time bookseller, my reading tends toward the new and upcoming – a merchant must test his wares, after all – and hence my summer stack is a blend of some of this season’s best, including startling debuts from Smith Henderson and a Mississippi friend, Lisa Howorth, as well as stories from the fiercely talented John Brandon, and what must surely be James Lee Burke’s masterpiece; and forthcoming fall titles, including one of my favorite writers, Richard Flanagan, whose new novel I’m currently loving, along with the reliably strange Michel Faber, history from Hampton Sides, and one of the U.S. South’s most popular writers, Rick Bragg, on one of the South’s most notorious rock-n-rollers. Sandwiched in the middle is something for the writer…

 

Sally Magnusson, author of Where Memories Go: why dementia changes everything (out now)

Sally Magnusson’s summer reading pile

 

Later this

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month I’ll be hosting the James Tait Black prize-giving ceremony at the Edinburgh Book Festival, so my holiday in Tuscany is a great time to devour the shortlist. The biographies were a bit large for my suitcase but the four novels are just right. Have just finished Jim Crace’s Harvest – a stunning read. The bottom two books are background reading for programmes I’m doing on the First World War.

 

 

Carrie Snyder, author of Girl Runner (spring 2015)

Carrie Snyder’s summer reading pile

 

Here’s the tour, from bottom to top, starting with the books I keep meaning to read, and do delve into on occasion, but have yet to finish: two library books, The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture, volume 1, and The Girl and the Game: A History of Women’s Sport in Canada (which I’ve already read, ages ago, but figure I should brush up on again in advance of my book coming out). Next is Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. I did intend to become a better person this summer. I regret to say I’ve stalled on step two. But I did read all through Matilda, by Roald Dahl, with my two youngest (ages 6 and 8). We loved it, although did note that Dahl seems to have a strong animus for the imposing female athlete, who is the villain in the piece. I whipped through Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, kept staying up late to read, which is what summer really should be for. Yes, that’s my own Girl Runner, the American uncorrected proof, which I confess I started reading the evening it arrived and just kept on. It’s homework, though. I’ve got a lot of readings booked this fall and I need to find and rehearse sections that would make for good drama. Just above is Anita Lahey’s essay collection The Mystery Shopping Cart, only available in Canada, and a very Canadian book of literary critique. Finally, the book I’m currently marching through: A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard, the second in the series; I loved the first, but am finding this one a little less moving, with its focus so far on raising small children while trying to find time to write, which is basically my life and has been for the past 13 years. This is hardly an original observation, but I keep wondering if anyone would be interested had a woman written it instead.

 

Aylet Waldman, author of Love and Treasure (out now)

Ayelet Waldman’s summer reading pile

 

This summer is all about the French Riviera and Hollywood in the 1940s. I have begun work on

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my new novel and by far the most exciting part of that is delving into a new area of research. Research is my joy. It’s the actual writing part that kicks my ass.

 

 

 

 

 

Our Independent Booksellers Week project has come to an end! Day 6 sees Lisa visit Watermark Books, in London King’s Cross Station, very close to Platform Nine and Three Quarters (see a map here).
Here’s her take:

‘Right next to Platform 9 3/4 (and hordes of tourists lining up for photos is one of the treasure of the new Kings Cross Station!). A great indie shop with lovely staff: the perfect stop before boarding your train…’

Keep up with our #IBW2014 project here on our blog, on Twitter and Facebook and visit your local bookshop today (the Booksellers Association has a very handy map here)!

A few steps from King’s Cross Platform 9 3/4

 

 

Celebrating Independent Booksellers Week at Watermark books

 

 

Inside Watermark Books

 

 

Lisa bought two books recommended by the staff at Watermark Books: Chloe Hopper’s THE ENGAGEMENT and Gwendoline Riley’s OPPOSED POSITIONS (plus, she got another tote bag to add to her collection)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Independent

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Booksellers Week project continues! Day 5 takes us to theatre bookshop and cultural landmark Samuel French, just a few steps away from our office (find the bookshop on the map here).
Read more about Fede’s visit:

Samuel French Theatre Bookshop is literally a few seconds away from our office on Euston road and it’s filled with all sorts of theatre-related books: from Shakespeare, to the American greats, to local up-and-coming playwrights. Interestingly Samuel French functions as a bookshop, as a publishers of stage scripts, and as a licencing agency. The staff is very passionate and recommended two plays: a classic (Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, the longest-running play in the world) and a bright new thing (Penelope Skinner’s Eigengrau, which premiered at the Bush Theatre in 2010)

Keep up with our #IBW2014 project here on our blog, on Twitter and Facebook and visit your local bookshop today (the Booksellers Association has a very handy map here)!

The sun is shining and we’re visiting a bookshop!

Can you tell it’s a theatre bookshop?

Everything you need to become a theatre star

The two recommendations bought by Fede: Agatha Christie’s THE MOUSETRAP and Penelope Skinner’s EIGENGRAU

Another busy morning for Two Roads! On Day 3 of our week-long tour of some of our favourite indies, Fede has ventured out of the office for a sunny walk in Primrose Hill, where he visited the charming Primrose Hill Books, run by Jessica and Marek, on one of London’s most beautiful streets, Regent’s Park Road (have a look at

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the map here).

Here’s Fede’s take:

A truly special place: Primrose Hill Books might be tiny, but it’s packed with a fine selection of titles. Jessica and Marek are simply the loveliest booksellers I’ve ever met and they are truly part of the community: the locals trust their recommendations and so did I, buying two books they raved about… They run lots of well-attended events with both local authors and bestselling writers, and publish a catalogue of their favourite reads twice a year: a Christmas selection of beautiful gift hardbacks, and a summer reading list filled with the latest must-reads in paperback. Their customers trust their judgement so much that they often receive orders via email pre-Christmas just based on those lists…

Keep up with our #IBW2014 project here on our blog, on Twitter and Facebook and visit your local bookshop today (the Booksellers Association has a very handy map here)!

A pretty bookshop on one of London’s most charming streets

A tiny shop, packed with a great selection of books

 

 

Even more books!

 

 

Jessica and Marek’s recommendations for Fede’s summer reading

 

 

Primrose Hill books’ catalogues: packed with tips and recommendations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A busy morning for Two Roads! On Day 2 of our week-long tour of some of our favourite indies, Lisa has paid a visit to Lutyens & Rubinstein, the beautiful shop on Kensington Park Road (find it on a map here). The brilliant staff had dozens of fantastic recommendations: take a look at our pictures below for more.

Here’s Lisa’s take on L&R…

I am lucky enough to have Lutyens & Rubinstein as my local bookshop. I’m always coming out of there with great recommendations (I may have the largest collection of L&R bags ever). Chatting to Claire Harris today, I came out with these fabulous books for my summer reading, complete discoveries for me – and oh, another bag…

Keep up with our #IBW2014 project here on our blog, on Twitter and Facebook and visit your local bookshop today (the Booksellers Association has a very handy map here)!

Claire, Lutyens & Rubinstein’s shop manager

Isn’t this shop pretty?

A selection of L&R tote bags

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Claire recommended. Lisa bought.

 

 

 

 

 

Hampstead Ponds. Summer. Costa shortlist.

 

 

 

Iconic. Creepy. Brilliant.

Starting with this one: there was a chorus of ‘Oh, you’ve never read? You will LOVE …’

 

 

Clever. Moving. Frightening. Discovery.

 

 

Also recommended (part I)…

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Also recommended (part II)…

 

 

Also recommended (part III)…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To celebrate Independent Booksellers Week, the two roads of Two Roads have embarked on a week long tour of some of their favourite indies, in the hope of meeting passionate, inspired booksellers who would recommend new books to treasure and share.
Today Lisa visited the brand new Foyles shop and was greeted by a bright, welcoming space, a huge selection of books, an inviting cafe and an intriguing new read: Mark Forsyth’s THE UNKNOWN UNKNOWN. Check out the pictures below and come back tomorrow for more indie love…

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Today we celebrate the beautiful debut novel by Bret Anthony Johnston, REMEMBER ME LIKE THIS, out now in hardback.

Four years have passed since Justin Campbell’s disappearance, a tragedy that rocked the small town of Southport, Texas. Did he run away? Was he kidnapped? Did he drown in the bay? As the Campbells search for answers, they struggle to hold what’s left of their family together.

Then one afternoon, the impossible happens. The police call to report that Justin has been found only miles away in a nearby town, and most important, he appears to be fine. And though the reunion is a miracle, Justin’s homecoming exposes the deep rifts that have diminished his family, the wounds they all carry that may never fully heal. Trying to return to normal, his parents do their best to ease Justin back into his old life. But as thick summer heat takes hold, violent storms churn in the Gulf and in the Campbells’ hearts. When a reversal of fortune lays bare the family’s greatest fears – and offers perhaps their only hope for recovery – each of them must fight to keep the ties that bind them from permanently tearing apart.

A gripping literary novel with the pace of a thriller, Remember Me Like This introduces Bret Anthony Johnston as a gifted storyteller. With his sophisticated and emotionally taut plot Johnston reveals how only in caring for each other, can we save ourselves.

You can listen to extracts of the book on BBC Radio 4 Book at Bedtime beginning on June 23rd. The novel will be read by Clarke Peters, aka Lester Freamon from hit show The Wire (yup, that Lester!)

Find out more about the author and the book on Bret’s Facebook page: facebook.com/bajbooks

Earlier this month the people behind the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction launched a wonderful campaign to get readers to share the one book, written by a female author, that has had the most impact on their life. Called #thisbook, the call to arms has seen many familiar faces involved, from journalist Grace Dent to author Joanna Trollope and Olympic medalist Katherine Grainger, and you can find out more on their website: thisbook.com.

To celebrate the Baileys Prize, awarded later tonight, we’ve asked some of our Two Roads authors to share their favourite book written by a female author. See their picks below…

I read To Kill A Mockingbird in school, like most of us. Emotionally, it struck chords, even as its larger themes – racism, justice, courage – were likely lost on me, as larger themes often are when we encounter them via assignment, not experience. Years later, when my father died, a federal judge gave a eulogy comparing him to Atticus Finch. I’d never made that connection, though the links were there: my father fought for social justice. He wasn’t afraid to do the right thing, even courting controversy. He took a role in civil rights. That judge ended that eulogy by riffing on a line from Lee’s novel: “Stand up; a great man is passing.” It’s what’s said to Jean Louise (Scout) as her father exits the courtroom. “Stand up; your father is passing”. And so she stands. She probably stands for reasons it will take her a long time to understand, though the reader knows immediately: that day will be one of the most meaningful of that little girl’s life.

We may not choose our experiences. In a way, though, we play a critical editorial role in our memories. We may not choose what we read the first time we read something but once a book becomes part of our sense of ourselves, click: a match is struck; something’s illuminated. I had that experience with To Kill A Mockingbird. I had that experience with Scout.

Lea Carpenter graduated from Princeton and has an MBA from Harvard. She was one of the original editors at Francis Ford Coppola’s literary magazine, Zoetrope, and later served as Deputy Publisher for The Paris Review. Her debut novel, Eleven Days, was longlisted for the Baileys Prize for Fiction 2014. She lives in New York with her husband and their two sons.

Not long ago, an Advanced Readers Copy of a novel called Half the Kingdom by Lore Segal arrived at my door. Over my morning cup of Earl Grey, I somewhat lackadaisically opened it. My expectations were not high. I’d never heard of this “Lore,” and the publisher was not one of the major houses. I assumed the novelist was yet another young graduate of an MFA program. And then I read the first two sentences:

‘The doctors, nurses, and patients in the overcrowded, too-brightly lit Emergency Room turned toward the commotion. It was the very old woman, thrashing about her with improbably strength and agility. “You do not,” she shouted, “you do not tell me to relax. I will not relax.” ‘

Two hours later, as I turned the last page (it’s a short book and I’m a fast reader), I lay back, stunned. The novel was masterful. Concise and incisive. The prose assured and confident. The subject matter complex, transcendent of genre. Mordant and wise, and terribly sad without being maudlin. There was no way this book was written by a twenty-three year old.

A quick Google search revealed the depth of my ignorance and my hubris in imagining I knew anything at all about who really matters in contemporary American fiction. Lore Segal is not 23. She is 86 years old. Her previous novel, Shakespeare’s Kitchen, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Within a week I had not only read that book, but two others, Her First American, and Other People’s Houses. How could it be that I had missed the work of Lore Segal until now? Please, I beseech you, if you suffer from the same literary deficit as I, do yourself the favor of remedying it right now.

Ayelet Waldman is the author of Love and TreasureRed Hook Road and the New York Times bestseller Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace. Her novel Love and Other Impossible Pursuits was made into a film starring Natalie Portman. Her personal essays have been published in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, Vogue, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. She and her husband, the novelist Michael Chabon, live in Berkeley, California, with their four children.

Any book by a woman about a woman’s fight with life compels me to dive into the story. For years I believed I was bad at it, this living of life, because each day felt like a big bruiser out to knock me down. Mudbound by Hillary Jordan tells of a woman following her husband into the wilderness, trusting and loyal, strong and determined to make good. Just like me.  Gradually the work load and the loneliness and the deprivations take their toll, until something breaks. Just like me. And, in reading how she rises from the depths of despair into a new light, I also found strength. Without books like Mudbound, I’m not sure I would have found that strength. I read and read, to realise I was not alone, yes, but more, to feed my own hungry soul and to find the guts to keep going.  Mudbound, and other great stories, were and are my daily bread.

Judy Fairbairns has lived on her Scottish island with her husband since 1978. Married now for 40 years, she has five children, all grown up – one of whom runs the whale watching business she and her husband started. Island Wife, a memoir about living on a remote Scottish island, is her first book. She paints, takes wild walks and is working on a novel.

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