Librarians are Writers’ Greatest Allies in their Ability to Influence the Joy of Reading
It gives me great pleasure, today, to introduce you to Fiona Sharman who has kindly shared her passion for her favourite books. One of Fiona’s favourite quotes is from ‘Pride and Prejudice’, when Mr. Bennet says, ‘for what do we live but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in turn?’
Fiona works as a Teacher-Librarian at an all-girls’ school in Sydney but her friends think this is a cover for her slight obsession with reading and the beauty of well-crafted language. She came to librarianship by way of a background spent teaching English and History. Fiona is a passionate educator who loves working with and supporting young women but horse riding, sailing, traveling and generally seeking new adventures are what she enjoys when she’s not at work. Actually, books frequently accompany her on these adventures (except the horse riding) and her memories of great reads are interwoven with memories of great travel experiences – Lucky Jim (Vietnam), The Blind Assassin (India), The Fishing Fleet (sailing in Burma)… you get the idea. The historian in her is committed to non-fiction especially biography, the nature-lover is devoted to landscape memoirs, the feminist loves strong female protagonists, and the English teacher appreciates beautiful prose in whatever form it may come.
Here are ten of her all-time favourite reads and why she loves them.
1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The original, timeless, strong female protagonist. Bronte’s use of narrative voice captivates the reader from the first page, be they 14 or 40 years of age. Anyone who has ever felt like an outsider can relate to Jane and will champion her independent spirit.
2.The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
I LOVE this book. Atwood is a genius but it’s also the time period, characters, split narrative, suspense and tightly controlled plot-line that won me over hook, line, and sinker.
3. The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks
This is so much more than a memoir account of a Lake District farmer’s life. Rebanks captures the history and beauty of the Lake District, the relationship between those who live on the fells and their environment, and contemporary conservation issues. Beyond this, Rebanks celebrates the richness of cultural traditions and humanity’s deep connection to the cycles of the natural world. He positions readers to ponder the value of informal education and knowledge in relation to more formal education systems. Pheww…
4. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
I once read a review of this book where the reviewer exclaimed that they ‘felt sorry for anyone who hasn’t read this book’. I am not sure I can top that. Without spoiling the story, the title is a nod to the invisible line between hope and despair and it is a deeply humane story. It’s beautifully controlled narrative is set against the backdrop of the ‘Emergency Act’ of Indira Gandhi in 1970s India. Personally, I genuinely enjoy and have studied Indian history (which clearly helps) but this is a stunning book without needing to know its political context.
5. The Human Stain by Phillip Roth
A compelling story set against the background of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal of the 1990s. While Roth’s characters are clearly flawed, it is his deeper commentary on the prejudices of the broader society that are exposed and questioned in this book. The title is also fabulous as it works on so many levels, literal and metaphorical, throughout the story. A very thought-provoking read about individuals and the societies that determine their fate.
6. The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham
When people ask me what I mean by ‘beautiful prose’ I usually say “Somerset Maugham”. I ADORE this man’s ability to capture in a few words or lines an entire era, its values, prejudices or (merely) the essence of human experience. I love that Maugham created female characters (like Kitty) who expose the injustices of patriarchy in real but subtle ways. I read this book (not all of it) curled up in the gorgeously excessive Victorian style Hopetoun Tea Rooms in Melbourne’s Block Arcade. The staff was so lovely that I was able to keep my table for lunch through until afternoon tea (this place usually has a queue outside all day every day). It was a total sensory indulgence – between the food, the décor and this exquisite novel. Bliss.
7. Six Degrees of Separation by Paul Guare
This play is profound in its simplicity. Inspired by true events it uses a dual-sided Kandinsky painting to expose the superficiality of an extremely affluent family in New York. Metaphorically, I’ve come across a number of ( the main character) Ouisa’s in my life but she is the most aptly drawn example that I’ve seen on the page. Constantly over-dramatising her own existence whilst simultaneously diminishing the real suffering of others, Guare uses Ouisa to show readers the starkness of the socio-economic divide and the misplacement of Western materialistic values.
8. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
No ‘best’ list of mine could be complete without acknowledging Evelyn Waugh. His satirical style is a delight as he captures the excesses of the 1920s and the Bright Young Things. Irreverent and fun.
9. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith
This contemporary novel asks the moral question of whether mistakes made early in life should be paid for later, regardless of how much the individual has striven to make amends for their misjudgement. Set against the world of art, Smith’s narrative cleverly links Renaissance Europe to 1960s New York to contemporary Sydney. An engaging and suspenseful read.
10. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
I wanted to give a ‘shout out’ to this very talented Australian author. It is not so much the subject matter that draws you in, rather it is Kent’s keen ability to evoke a foreign time, place and cultural context in such a way that the reader truly loses themselves in the story. I liked that this work was inspired by true events and that it so cleverly builds suspense and drama, right until the final chapter.
I wish you many happy hours of reading and encourage you to take a pick from Fiona’s generous sharing of her favourite books.
Please leave a comment in the message box below to start the conversation on your favourite books or add your thoughts on Fiona Sharman’s book selection.