Is it just me, or are books about scientifically gifted people who are emotionally somewhat inept and incapable of understanding societal norms a bit of a fad at the moment?
If so, then it’s a fad I wholeheartedly support. I’ve read several books in recent years where I’ve related strongly to the protagonist for this reason: The Humans by Matt Haig, The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion. x+y, a film I watched which had a similar theme.
As several of you probably know from my constant tweets and general recommendations, I am a huge fan of The Rosie Project. Its sequel, The Rosie Effect, dropped through my door a few weeks ago and, from the opening line – “Orange juice was not scheduled for Wednesdays.” – I was hooked. Predictably wonderful, beautifully funny and movingly poignant, The Rosie Effect is in my top three books of the year. 2014 seems to be a good year for books. This pleases me.
The wonderful people at Penguin asked me if I’d like to be part of Simsion’s blog tour, and of course I accepted voraciously. Can you accept something voraciously? You can now. Below is Graeme Simsion’s ‘writing room’ – a description of where and how he writes. Enjoy. And remember to buy The Rosie Effect, and its predecessor if you haven’t yet read it. You’ll enjoy them both, I promise.
My Writer’s Room
Do I have a special place to write? It’s one of the most frequently-asked questions, and I suspect that behind it there’s the belief that there’s some ‘secret’ to writing – a place, a time of day, a ritual – other than actually putting in the time and learning the craft.
Before I was a writer, I worked in information technology and management. Much of the work that I did was genuinely creative, but nobody ever asked if I had a special place where I liked to do database design.
In any case, I spend much of my life on the road. Before I was a full-time writer, I was delivering seminars around the world, and since the publication of The Rosie Project in Australia in January 2013, I’ve been travelling pretty constantly, including five or six trips to the UK. So if I did have a special place, I wouldn’t be able to get to it most of the time. And I had a book to write.
So my ‘Writer’s Room’ is wherever my notebook PC is – on a plane, in any room of the house at home, on the Camino de Santiago. Much of The Rosie Effect was written on holiday in New York, the location of the book, in the apartment we’d rented. But to escape the box, I’d sometimes take it to the public library and work there.
There are a couple of places I don’t like to work. My office, with the desktop computer, would be the sensible choice in many ways but I associate it with doing administration and it sucks the joy out of writing. I’d use it if I had to, but it’s only a few paces to the living room… And, unlike Hemingway, I don’t like working in cafes, despite being surrounded by them in my inner-suburban neighbourhood. Just not the right vibe, sadly.
Okay: if I could choose anywhere… My wife and I have a little shack up country about an hour from Melbourne. Both of us love to write there and when we’re at home, that’s where we go. And if one of us is on a roll, the other has to cook dinner.
1:What is your favorite book? Just one?! Bastard. I refuse to follow your rules. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, because it was my teenage bible. Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, because he’s an amazing writer and I swear he’s read every book in the world. Twice. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, because it’s funny and moving and wonderful. And The Humans by Matt Haig, because it describes how I see the world.
2:What was the last book you read? The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.
3:What is the worst book you’ve ever read? Love That Dog by Sharon Creech.
4:Top 7 book characters. Stargirl from Stargirl, Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, Kinsey Millhone from Sue Grafton’s alphabet series, John Rebus from Ian Rankin’s books, Don Tillman from The Rosie Project, Catherine Cordell from The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen, Dumbledore from Harry Potter.
5:What is your favorite genre? Crime fiction.
6:Book you cried the hardest reading? I read The Love Verb by Jane Green at a point that was very poignant, so it broke me a bit. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes was also pretty heart-rending.
7:Book you laughed the hardest reading? The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, because Don Tillman sums up my world view so very perfectly.
8:Which book character(s) do you most relate to? See above! Don Tillmann, Andrew Martin from The Humans, Lisbeth Salander from TGWTDT, Stargirl.
9:Favorite author(s)? Umberto Eco, Hermann Hesse. I also can’t resist new releases from Ian Rankin, Karen Rose, Tess Gerritsen, and Jane Green.
10:Do you judge books by their covers? Yes.
11:What is your favorite quote from a book? Again, fuck you with your ‘just one’.
“Anonymity in the world of men is better than fame in heaven, for what’s heaven? What’s earth? All in the mind.” – On The Road, Jack Kerouac
“…he was a night prowler. The morning was a bad time of day for him. He feared it and it never brought him any good. On no morning of his life has he ever been in good spirits nor done any good before midday, nor devised any pleasure for himself or others. By degrees during the afternoon he warmed and became alive, and only towards evening, on his good days, was he productive, active and, sometimes, aglow with joy… There was never a man with a deeper and more passionate craving for independence than he. In his youth when he was poor and had difficulty in earning his bread, he preferred to go hungry and in torn clothes only to preserve a tiny bit of independence.” – Steppenwolf, Hermann Hesse
“I now saw that I had, strangely, taken both Bardia’s explanation and the Fox’s (each while it lasted) for certain truth. Yet one must be false. And I could not find out which, for each was well rooted in its own soil… But I could not find out whether the doctrines of Glome or the wisdom of Greece were right. I was the child of Glome and the pupil of the Fox; I saw that for years my life had been lived in two halves, never fitted together.” – Til We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis
“”So much focus on the egg – it is life, it is food, it is answer to a hundred riddles – but look at its shell. The secrets are writ on its walls. Secrets lie in the entrails of things, in the dregs.” – Tithe, Holly Black
12:Which book do you recommend to friends and family most? The Rosie Project. Anything by Eco.
13:Which book is so special to you that you don’t share it with others? Stargirl.
14:Do you have any signed books? Yes, one signed by Tess Gerritsen (The Silent Girl), which my friend gave me, and a copy of The Rosie Project that’s been double-signed by Graeme Simsion.
15:Have you met any authors? Graeme Simsion.
16:Buy books new, used, or go to the library? All of the above! Most often, I buy them used, though.
17:Where is your favorite place to read? I’ve been known to read pretty much everywhere, but there’s nothing quite like my favourite two places: in a bubbly bath surrounded by candles, or finishing a book in bed late at night by lamplight.
18:Prefer books set in the past or the future? Future.
19:What 5 elements would your ideal book have? A strong protagonist who does what they think is right despite putting themselves in jeopardy; a lack of romance/sex; a touch of humour; a really strong friendship; a realistic ending.
20:Do you ever hope to publish your own book? Yes.
21:Prefer stand alone or series? Don’t mind.
22:Do you mark/highlight/dog ear your books or keep them in perfect condition? I used to be a perfectionist about this, but I have been known to turn down a page corner when there’s something I really want to be able to return to.
23:Hardbacks or paperbacks? Paperbacks, they’re easier to transport and they’re less heavy to hold up in the bath.
24:Do you watch any booktubers? No.
25:Have you read The Hunger Games? Yes
26:Do you like twist endings? Yes
27:Do you reread books? Only the most special ones.
28:E-readers or physical copies of books? Physical copies. I just can’t bring myself to try ebooks.
29:A book that makes you feel comforted? The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot. It was one of my favourite books as a child and reading it feels like hot chocolate and fireplaces.
30:Would you rather read any ending that makes you feel happy or sad? I tend to like endings that are realistic, and often that doesn’t mean things working out perfectly.
31:Favorite villain in a book? The surgeon from The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen.
32:Do you like to write reviews when you finish a book? Yes, if it’s good.
33:Do you experience “book hangovers”? Oh hell yes.
This morning, when I got back from my run, my phone was flashing. The message was from Elizabeth, my old school librarian. “Happy World Book Day!”, it read. It made me smile that my friends know not to text me “Happy Birthday!” or “Happy Xmas!” but they will text me about books, because books are the best thing.
I know everyone has different tastes, and mine tend to cover quite a few genres, so I thought I’d put together a list of books I love, and try to find something for everyone.
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
What is it? Teen fiction.
What’s the story?
From the day she arrives at quiet Mica High in a burst of color and sound, the hallways hum with the murmur of “Stargirl, Stargirl.” She captures Leo Borlock’s heart with just one smile. She sparks a school-spirit revolution with just one cheer. The students of Mica High are enchanted. At first.
Then they turn on her. Stargirl is suddenly shunned for everything that makes her different, and Leo, panicked and desperate, urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her: normal. In this celebration of nonconformity, Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli weaves a tense, emotional tale about the perils of popularity and the thrill and inspiration of first love.
You’ll love it if… you like strong, quirky leading characters who refuse to conform.
Foucault’s Pendulum /
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
by Umberto Eco
…or anything by Eco, really, but these are two of my favourites.
What is it? Adult literary fiction. The kind of book where, when you’re reading it, you wonder if the author has actually read every other book that has ever been written.
What’s the story?
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana – Yambo, a sixtyish rare-book dealer who lives in Milan, has suffered a loss of memory-he can remember the plot of every book he has ever read, every line of poetry, but he no longer knows his own name, doesn’t recognize his wife or his daughters, and remembers nothing about his parents or his childhood. In an effort to retrieve his past, he withdraws to the family home somewhere in the hills between Milan and Turin. There, in the sprawling attic, he searches through boxes of old newspapers, comics, records, photo albums, and adolescent diaries. And so Yambo relives the story of his generation: Mussolini, Catholic education and guilt, Josephine Baker, Flash Gordon, Fred Astaire. His memories run wild, and the life racing before his eyes takes the form of a graphic novel. Yambo struggles through the frames to capture one simple, innocent image: that of his first love.
Foucault’s Pendulum – Bored with their work, three Milanese editors cook up “the Plan,” a hoax that connects the medieval Knights Templar with other occult groups from ancient to modern times. This produces a map indicating the geographical point from which all the powers of the earth can be controlled—a point located in Paris, France, at Foucault’s Pendulum. But in a fateful turn the joke becomes all too real, and when occult groups get wind of the Plan, they go so far as murder in their quest to gain control of the earth.
You’ll love it if… you enjoy books that make your brain chew.
Fear & Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard
What is it? Philosophy.
What’s the story?
Kierkegaard discusses the problem of faith and its relation to humanity, through the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. Dealing with issues of ethics, despair and the human condition, Fear & Trembling holds up a mirror to who we are and asks us to question our values and how they were conceived.
You’ll love it if… you enjoy reading philosophy that sometimes gets a bit knotty.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
What is it? Romantic comedy with a twist.
What’s the story?
Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially challenged professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. And so, in the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers.
Rosie Jarman is all these things. She also is strangely beguiling, fiery, and intelligent. And while Don quickly disqualifies her as a candidate for the Wife Project, as a DNA expert Don is particularly suited to help Rosie on her own quest: identifying her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on the Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realisation that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you.
You’ll love it if… you like novels that tell an excellent story and make you laugh out loud.
The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen
What is it? Tense crime fiction.
What’s the story?
He slips into homes at night and walks silently into bedrooms where women lie sleeping, about to awaken to a living nightmare. The precision of his methods suggests that he is a deranged man of medicine, prompting the Boston newspapers to dub him “The Surgeon.” Led by Detectives Thomas Moore and Jane Rizzoli, the cops must consult the victim of a nearly identical crime: two years ago, Dr. Catherine Cordell fought back and killed an attacker before he could complete his assault. Now this new killer is re-creating, with chilling accuracy, the details of Cordell’s ordeal. With every new murder he seems to be taunting her, cutting ever closer, from her hospital to her home. And neither Moore nor Rizzoli can protect Cordell from a ruthless hunter who somehow understands—and savors—the secret fears of every woman he kills.
You’ll love it if… you like thrilling crime novels that stay with you after you’ve read them.
The Mathematical Experience
by Phillip J. Davis and Reuben Hersh
What is it? A discussion of the history of mathematics.
What’s the story?
The Mathematical Experience discusses the practice of modern mathematics from a historical and philosophical perspective. It is frequently cited by mathematicians as a book that was influential in their decision to continue their studies in graduate school and has been hailed as a classic of mathematical literature.
In accordance with its title, it attempts to describe, in light of the turbulent history and philosophy of mathematics, the experience of being a mathematician. It focuses on the proof, without going fully into the rigorous how-to details, gives examples of some famous proofs, as well as the outstanding problems of mathematics, and goes on to speculate on what a proof really means, in relationship to actual truth.
You’ll love it if… you’ve always secretly loved mathematics even though you’re an arts major.
The White Goddess by Robert Graves
What is it? An alternate history of sorts; a new look at poetry and myth.
What’s the story?
This labyrinthine and extraordinary book, first published more than sixty years ago, was the outcome of Robert Graves’s vast reading and curious research into strange territories of folklore, mythology, religion, and magic. Erudite and impassioned, it is a scholar-poet’s quest for the meaning of European myths, a polemic about the relations between man and woman, and also an intensely personal document in which Graves explores the sources of his own inspiration and, as he believed, all true poetry.
You’ll love it if… you enjoy poetry, mythology and folklore, or if you’re interested in the history of magic.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
What is it? Young adult romance.
What’s the story?
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
You’ll love it if… you like your protagonists raw and realistic, and you don’t mind crying in public.
Shadows of the Mind
by Roger Penrose
What is it? Popular science / philosophy of mind.
What’s the story?
Penrose contends that some aspects of the human mind lie beyond computation. This is not a religious argument (that the mind is something other than physical) nor is it based on the brain’s vast complexity (the weather is immensely complex, says Penrose, but it is still a computable thing, at least in theory). Instead, he provides powerful arguments to support his conclusion that there is something in the conscious activity of the brain that transcends computation, and will find no explanation in terms of present-day science. To illuminate what he believes this “something” might be, and to suggest where a new physics must proceed so that we may understand it, Penrose cuts a wide swathe through modern science, providing penetrating looks at everything from Turing machines to the implications of Gödel’s theorem maintaining that conscious thinking must indeed involve ingredients that cannot adequately be stimulated by mere computation.
Of particular interest is Penrose’s extensive examination of quantum mechanics, which introduces some new ideas that differ markedly from those advanced in his earlier work, especially concerning the mysterious interface where classical and quantum physics meet. Furthermore, he contends that in consciousness some kind of global quantum state must take place across large areas of the brain, and that it is within microtubules that these collective quantum effects are most likely to reside.
You’ll love it if… you’re fascinated by quantum physics, artificial intelligence or philosophy of mind, but haven’t necessarily studied any of them.
Gypsies Stop tHere / No Gypsies Served by Miriam Wakerly
What is it? Two novels about an important issue in today’s society.
What’s the story?
Gypsies Stop tHere – A modern novel set in an English village. Kay moves to the countryside to escape guilt-ridden memories of her husband’s death. Once there, she becomes embroiled in an age-old conflict between the locals and Romany Gypsy Travellers. This book provides an entertaining way to find out more about an important and topical social issue.
No Gypsies Served – Two years have passed since Kay successfully campaigned for the Appley Green Gypsy Site, and four years since her husband was murdered. Life in the village was going so well, until the phone call and letter. Then comes the disastrous site opening. Worst of all, Dunstan, who she realises is her best friend and ally, is giving her the cold shoulder for some unknown reason.
Dunstan is taking an emotional trip down memory lane, into childhood as a Gypsy on the road, and his eventual break from his people. Why is he so angry with Kay that he keeps away from her? Chances of a longed-for reconciliation look slim…
You’ll love it if… you’re interested in Romany culture and the issues faced by Travelling communities.
Bookends by Jane Green
What is it? Chick lit.
What’s the story?
Catherine Warner and Simon Nelson are best friends: total opposites, always together, and both unlucky in love. Cath is scatterbrained, messy, and — since she had her heart broken a few years back — emotionally closed off. Si is impossibly tidy, bitchy, and desperate for a man of his own. They live in London’s West Hampstead along with their lifelong friends, Josh and Lucy, who are happily married with a devil-spawn child and a terrifying Swedish nanny, Ingrid.
All’s well (sort of) until the sudden arrival of a college friend — the stunningly beautiful Portia, who’s known for breaking hearts. Though they’ve grown up and grown apart from Portia, the four friends welcome her back into the fold. But does Portia have a hidden agenda or is she merely looking to reconnect with old friends? Her reappearance soon unleashes a rollicking series of events that tests the foursome’s friendships to the limit and leaves them wondering if a happy ending is in store.
Fortunately, Cath has plenty to take her mind off Portia’s schemes — like her gutsy decision to leave her job in advertising to fulfill her dream of opening a bookstore. And then there’s James, the sexy real-estate agent who keeps dropping by even after the bookstore deal is done. With his irresistible smile and boyish charm could he be the one to melt Cath’s heart?
You’ll love it if… you secretly dream of opening your own bookshop.
Addition by Toni Jordan
What is it? Romantic comedy with a chilling twist.
What’s the story?
Grace Lisa Vandenburg counts. The letters in her name (19). The steps she takes every morning to the local café (920). The number of poppy seeds on her orange cake, which dictates the number of bites she’ll take to eat it. Grace counts everything, because that way there are no unpleasant surprises.
Seamus Joseph O’Reilly (also a 19) thinks she might be better off without the counting. If she could hold down a job, say. Or open her cupboards without conducting an inventory, or leave her flat without measuring the walls.
Grace’s problem is that Seamus doesn’t count. Her other problem is . . . he does.
As Grace struggles to balance a new relationship with old habits, to find a way to change while staying true to herself, she realises that nothing is more chaotic than love.
You’ll love it if… you count things. Or if you love a nice unusual romance. Or if you like the kind of book that has you looking over your shoulder for the next three days.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Series by Stieg Larsson
(My favourite is actually the second book in the series, The Girl who Played with Fire. But they’re all great.)
What is it? Crime fiction.
What’s the story?
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found, yet her uncle is convinced it was murder – and that the killer is a member of his own tightly knit but dysfunctional family. He employs disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed, truculent computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate. When the pair link Harriet’s disappearance to a number of grotesque murders from forty years ago, they begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history. But the Vangers are a secretive clan, and Blomkvist and Salander are about to find out just how far they are prepared to go to protect themselves.
The Girl who Played with Fire – Lisbeth Salander is a wanted woman. Two Millennium journalists about to expose the truth about sex trafficking in Sweden are murdered, and Salander’s prints are on the weapon. Her history of unpredictable and vengeful behaviour makes her an official danger to society – but no-one can find her. Mikael Blomkvist, editor-in-chief of Millennium, does not believe the police. Using all his magazine staff and resources to prove Salander’s innocence, Blomkvist also uncovers her terrible past, spent in criminally corrupt institutions. Yet Salander is more avenging angel than helpless victim. She may be an expert at staying out of sight – but she has ways of tracking down her most elusive enemies.
The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest – Salander is plotting her revenge – against the man who tried to kill her, and against the government institutions that very nearly destroyed her life. But it is not going to be a straightforward campaign. After taking a bullet to the head, Salander is under close supervision in Intensive Care, and is set to face trial for three murders and one attempted murder on her eventual release. With the help of journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his researchers at Millennium magazine, Salander must not only prove her innocence, but identify and denounce the corrupt politicians that have allowed the vulnerable to become victims of abuse and violence. Once a victim herself, Salander is now ready to fight back.
You’ll love it if… you enjoy tense thrillers with strong protagonists. Oh, and you’ll need a strong stomach, too.
I could go on forever, probably. But these are the ones I recommend to people the most often.
What are your must-reads? Have I missed anything amazing?