Surviving Twenty Something

Author Library

Author Libraries: Donna Tartt

Books, Author LibraryDanna Rowan
Donna Tartt

Though you could say almost an endless amount about Donna Tartt and her slightly mysterious persona (recluse, hard-drinking Southerner, celibate Catholic, crevats and sharply angled bob), I'm much more interested in her writing than the outward presence she may or may not intentionally cultivate. 

Her debut novel The Secret History had a profound impact on my life— it spurred a renewed interest in the classics, and encourages my own writing to this day. But what poems, novels, and non-fiction collections were behind her own great works of fiction? Skim any interview with Donna Tartt and you'll see her latest novel The Goldfinch referred to as 'Dickensian'— but what beyond that?

Well, needless to say, I've added quite a few books to that ever growing list: To Be Read.

"To paraphrase Nabokov: all I want from a book is the tingle down the spine, for my hairs to stand on end." — Donna Tartt





1. The Difficulty of Being


I’ve always got a dozen books going, which is why my suitcases are always so heavy. At the moment: Am greatly enjoying the Neversink Library reissue of Jean Cocteau’s “Difficulty of Being,” since my copy from college is so torn up the pages are falling out.

By the time he published The Difficulty of Being in 1947, Jean Cocteau had produced some of the most respected films and literature of the twentieth century, and had worked with the foremost artists of his time, including Proust, Gide, Picasso and Stravinsky.

This memoir tells the inside account of those achievements and of his glittering social circle. Cocteau writes about his childhood, about his development as an artist, and the peculiarity of the artist’s life, about his dreams, friendships, pain, and laughter. He probes his motivations and explains his philosophies, giving intimate details in soaring prose. And sprinkled throughout are anecdotes about the elite and historic people he associated with.

Beyond illuminating a truly remarkable life, The Difficulty of Being is an inspiring homage to the belief that art matters.


2. The Big Sleep


I always have a comfort book going too, something I’ve read many times, and for me at the moment that comfort book is Raymond Chandler’s 'The Big Sleep.'

'I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.' 

Los Angeles PI Philip Marlowe is hired by wheelchair-bound General Sternwood to discover who is indulging in some petty blackmail. A weary, old man, Sternwood just wants the problem to go away. But Marlowe finds he has his work cut out just keeping Sternwood's wild, devil-may-care daughters out of trouble as they prowl LA's dirtiest and darkest streets. And pretty soon, he's up to his neck in hoodlums and corpses...



3. Peter Pan

J.M. Barrie

“I suppose in the end Peter Pan was such an important book to both of us because it is ultimately such a dark book, about change, loss, aging, mortality, death: the very questions that hung so heavy between us.”

One starry night, Peter Pan and Tinker Bell lead the three Darling children over the rooftops of London and away to Neverland — the island where lost boys play, mermaids splash and fairies make mischief. But a villainous-looking gang of pirates lurk in the docks, led by the terrifying Captain James Hook. Magic and excitement are in the air, but if Captain Hook has his way, before long, someone will be walking the plank and swimming with the crocodiles... 


4. Oliver Twist

Charles dickens

“I was in the third-fourth grade... My grandmother was reading it to me. I liked Nancy Drew, but I was really worried about Oliver Twist in a way I wasn't about Nancy Drew. I mean Oliver was in terrible danger, it was a novel with real blood, it was scarier than anything I'd ever seen on television. It was quite a frightening book and really got into my bloodstream in a way.”

The story of the orphan Oliver, who runs away from the workhouse only to be taken in by a den of thieves, shocked readers when it was first published. Dickens' tale of childhood innocence beset by evil depicts the dark criminal underworld of a London peopled by vivid and memorable characters — the arch-villain Fagin, the artful Dodger, the menacing Bill Sikes and the prostitute Nancy. Combining elements of Gothic Romance, the Newgate Novel and popular melodrama, Dickens created an entirely new kind of fiction, scathing in its indictment of a cruel society, and pervaded by an unforgettable sense of threat and mystery. 


5. The portable edgar allen poe

Edgar Allen Poe

Although I've always liked Tennessee Williams, and grew to love Flannery O'Connor in college, I've not been as influenced by Southern writers as one might think. Poe is the great exception."

Even if you don’t like Poe—he invented the detective story. And science fiction. In essence, he invented a huge part of the twentieth century.”

A masquerade ball in a secluded abbey; a vendetta settled in the wine cellars of an Italian palazzo; a gloomy castle in a desolated landscape; the beating of a heart beneath the floorboards: the plots and settings of Poe’s dark, mysterious tales continue to haunt the popular imagination. This new selection introduces the greatest Gothic fiction from one of the most deranged and deliciously weird writers of the 19th century.


6. The Iliad


“And I know I don’t love “Ulysses” as much as I am supposed to — but then again, I never cared even one-tenth so much for the “Odyssey” as I do for the ‘Iliad.’

Dating to the ninth century B.C., Homer’s timeless poem still vividly conveys the horror and heroism of men and gods wrestling with towering emotions and battling amidst devastation and destruction, as it moves inexorably to the wrenching, tragic conclusion of the Trojan War. Renowned classicist Bernard Knox observes in his superb introduction that although the violence of the Iliad is grim and relentless, it coexists with both images of civilized life and a poignant yearning for peace.


7. The year of magical thinking

joan didion

Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill. At first they thought it was flu, then pneumonia, then complete sceptic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later - the night before New Year's Eve -the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of 40 years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LA airport, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Centre to relieve a massive hematoma.

This powerful book is Didion's attempt to make sense of the weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness ... about marriage and children and memory ... about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself'. The result is an exploration of an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage, and a life, in good times and bad.


8. THe plays, poems, and writings of oscar wilde

oscar wilde

Oscar Wilde has been acknowledged as the wittiest writer in the English language. This collection proves that he was also one of the most versatile. Effortlessly achieved, each revealing a different aspect of his brilliance, all of the plays, prose writings, and poems gathered here support Wilde’s belief that entertainment provides the best kind of edification. The works gathered here include Wilde’s once-controversial and now classic novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, the riotously comic plays “The Importance of Being Earnest” and “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” and the famous poem he wrote after being released from prison, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” This expanded new edition now includes the complete version of Wilde’s moving letter from prison, De Profundis, and his teasing parable about Shakespeare, The Portrait of Mr. W. H. Other notable included writings are the semi-comic mystery story “Lord Arthur’s Savile’s Crime” and the essay The Soul of Man Under Socialism.


9. Poets in a landscape

gilbert highet

Am also loving Gilbert Highet’s “Poets in a Landscape,” a charming appreciation of Catullus and Propertius and the Latin poets.

Gilbert Highet was a legendary teacher at Columbia University, admired both for his scholarship and his charisma as a lecturer. Poets in a Landscape is his delightful exploration of Latin literature and the Italian landscape. As Highet writes in his introduction, “I have endeavored to recall some of the greatest Roman poets by describing the places were they lived, recreating their characters and evoking the essence of their work.” The poets are Catullus, Vergil, Propertius, Horace, Tibullus, Ovid, and Juvenal. Highet brings them life, setting them in their historical context and locating them in the physical world, while also offering crisp modern translations of the poets’ finest work. The result is an entirely sui generis amalgam of travel writing, biography, criticism, and pure poetry—altogether an unexcelled introduction to the world of the classics.



10. The unquiet grave

cyril connolly

I certainly haven’t enjoyed anything more than “The Unquiet Grave,” by Cyril Connolly, which I went back and reread sometime early this year. I’ve loved it since I was a teenager and like always to have it to hand; when I lived in France, years ago, it was one of only six books I carried with me — but because of its aphoristic nature, usually I only read bits and pieces of it, and it’s been many years since I read the whole thing start to finish.

Cyril Connolly (1903-1974) was one of the most influential book reviewers and critics in England, contributing regularly to The New Statesmen, The Observer, and The Sunday Times. His essays have been collected in book form and published to wide acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. The Unquiet Grave is considered by many to be his most enduring work. It is a highly personal journal written during the devastation of World War II, filled with reflective passages that deal with aging, the break-up of a long term relationship, and the horrors of the war around him. It is also a wonderfully varied intellectual feast: a collection of aphorisms, epigrams, and quotations from such masters of European literature as Horace, Baudelaire, Sainte-Beuve, Flaubert, and Goethe. Dazzlingly original in both form and content, The Unquiet Grave has continued to influence generations of writers.


AUTHOR LIBRARIES: NEIL GAIMAN // Explore your favourite authors most beloved books, and the books that have had the greatest impact on their life and writing in the new Author Libraries series. It's no secret that Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors, a person whose books I come back to over and over again each year. So when I decided I was going to start the Author Libraries series— well, there wasn't any question about where I was going to start.

Author Libraries: Neil Gaiman

Books, Author LibraryDanna Rowan
Photo 2018-05-17, 2 47 27 PM.jpg

It's no secret that Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors, a person whose books I come back to over and over again each year. So when I decided I was going to start the Author Libraries series— well, there wasn't any question about where I was going to start.

In each Author Libraries post, I'm sharing 10 favourite or recommended books by a particular author, so you can get to know a little bit about what they love, and which writers inspire their own practise.

Neil Gaiman is always recommending reads, but I've done my best here to narrow it to ten of his most recommended, or those which have had the most influence on his writing and career.






1. The Man Who Was Thursday

G.K. Chesterton

“It was in the same school library that had the two volumes of Lord of the Rings that I discovered Chesterton... I was always aware, reading Chesterton, that there was someone writing this who rejoiced in words, who deployed them on the page as an artist deploys his paints upon his palette. Behind every Chesterton sentence there was someone painting with words, and it seemed to me that at the end of any particularly good sentence or any perfectly-put paradox, you could hear the author, somewhere behind the scenes, giggling with delight.”


The Central Anarchist Council is a secret society sworn to destroy the world. The council is governed by seven men, who hide their identities behind the names of the days of the week. Yet one of their number — Thursday — is not the revolutionary he claims to be, but a Scotland Yard detective named Gabriel Syme, sworn to infiltrate the organisation and bring the architects of chaos to justice. But when he discovers another undercover policeman on the Council, Syme begins to question his role in their operations. And as a desperate chase across Europe begins, his confusion grows, as well as his confidence in his ability to outwit his enemies, unravelling the mysteries of human behaviour and belief in a thrilling contest of wits. But he has still to face the greatest terror that the Council has: a man named Sunday, whose true nature is worse than Syme could ever have imagined.


2. Charmed Life

Dianna Wynne Jones

“Diana's  been my friend since about 1985, but I was a fan of hers since I read  Charmed Life in about 1978, aged 17. I've loved being her friend, and  I'm pretty sure she loved being my friend. She was the funniest, wisest,  fiercest, sharpest person I've known, a witchy and wonderful woman,  intensely practical, filled with opinions, who wrote the best books  about magic, who wrote the finest and most perceptive letters, who hated  the telephone but would still talk to me on it if I called, albeit, always, nervously, as if she expected the phone she was holding to  explode.”

Cat doesn't mind living in the shadow of his sister, Gwendolen, the most promising young witch ever seen on Coven Street. But trouble starts brewing the moment the two orphans are summoned to live in Chrestomanci Castle. Frustrated that the witches of the castle refuse to acknowledge her talents, Gwendolen conjures up a scheme that could throw whole worlds out of whack.



3. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Susanna Clarke

I took my daughters on holiday to the Cayman Islands, and while they romped and swam in the surf, I was hundreds of years and thousands of miles away, in Regency York and in London and on the continent, experiencing nothing but the purest pleasure, wandering through the words and the things they brought with them, and eventually noticing that the paths and lanes of the story, with its footnotes and its fine phrases, had become a huge road, and it was taking me with it: 782 pages, and I enjoyed every page, and when the book was done I could happily have read 782 more. I loved the things she said and the things she did not say. I loved crabbed Norrell and, less feckless than he seems, Strange, and John Uskglass the Raven King, who is not in the title of the book unless he hides behind the ampersand, but who hovers there anyhow.

At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England's history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England--until the reclusive Mr. Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight.

Yet the cautious, fussy Norrell is challenged by the emergence of another magician, the brilliant novice Jonathan Strange. Young, handsome, and daring, Strange is the very opposite of Norrell. He becomes Norrell's student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership with Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear.


4. The Chronicles of Narnia

C.S. Lewis

“I went home to Sussex and saved my meagre pocket money until I was able to buy a copy of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe of my own. I read it, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the other book I could find, over and over, and when my seventh birthday arrived I had dropped enough hints that my birthday present was a boxed set of the complete Narnia books. And I remember what I did on my seventh birthday — I lay on my bed and I read the books all through, from the first to the last. For the next four or five years I continued to read them. I would read other books, of course, but in my heart I knew that I read them only because there wasn’t an infinite number of Narnia books to read.”


Narnia . . . 

The land beyond the wardrobe, sung into life by the Great Lion Aslan, where animals talk, witches walk, magic abounds, and adventure surely awaits. 

The Chronicles of Narnia will take you on a journey of destiny and discovery to places you never dreamed existed. From the lamppost to Cair Paravel, from the Easter Islands to the Ends of the World, Narnia brims with mystery, excitement, and danger. 


5. Myths of the Norsemen

Roger Lancelyn Green

“I remember finding a copy, as a small boy, of a paperback Tales of the Norsemen and delighting in it as a treasure, reading it until the binding broke and the pages flew apart like leaves. I remember the sheer rightness of those stories. They felt right. They felt, to my seven-year-old mind, familiar.”

Norse myths and legends introduced by bestselling author Michelle Paver, creator of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness collection and Gods and Warriors, her epic new Greek Bronze Age series for Puffin. The great Norse sagas are full of magic and heroic deeds. Odin’s wanderings, Thor’s hammer, the death of Bakkur, the vision of Ragnarok – tales which have been told since time immemorial – are given a fresh life in this version, written as one continuous exciting adventure story.


6. The Stories of Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury

I encountered Ray Bradbury's stories as a boy. Some authors I read and loved as a boy disappointed me as I aged. Bradbury never did. His horror stories remained as chilling, his dark fantasies as darkly fantastic, his science fiction (he never cared about the science, only about the people, which was why the stories worked so well) as much of an exploration of the sense of wonder, as they had when I was a child.

*Neil loves so much of Ray Bradbury I could't pick just one. So here's a whole collection, with something for everyone. 

One hundred of Ray Bradbury’s remarkable stories which have, together with his classic novelsearned him an immense international audience and his place among the most imaginative and enduring writers of our time.

Here are the Martian stories, tales that vividly animate the red planet, with its brittle cities and double-mooned sky. Here are the stories that speak of a special nostalgia for Green Town, Illinois, the perfect setting for a seemingly cloudless childhood—except for the unknown terror lurking in the ravine. Here are the Irish stories and the Mexican stories, linked across their separate geographies by Bradbury’s astonishing inventiveness. Here, too, are thrilling, terrifying stories—including “The Veldt” and “The Fog Horn”—perfect for reading under the covers.


7. London Labor & The London Poor

Henry Mayhew

“...Mayhew's wonderful "London Labour and the London Poor" (one of my favourite books in the whole world. Like a non-fiction Dickens novel that goes on forever in all directions.)”

London Labour and the London Poor is an extraordinary work of investigative journalism, a work of literature, and a groundbreaking work of sociology. It originated in a series of articles for a London newspaper and grew into a massive record of the daily life of Victorian London's underclass. Mayhew conducted hundreds of interviews with the city's street traders, entertainers, thieves and beggars which revealed that the 'two nations' of rich and poor were much closer than many people thought. By turns alarming, touching, and funny, the pages of London Labour and the London Poor exposed a previously hidden world to view. The first-hand accounts of costermongers and street-sellers, of sewer-scavenger and chimney-sweep, are intimate and detailed and provide an unprecedented insight into their day-to-day struggle for survival. Combined with Mayhew's obsessive data gathering, these stories have an immediacy that owes much to his sympathetic understanding and highly effective literary style. In its imaginative power the work can justly be regarded as the greatest Victorian novel never written.


8. The Jungle Books

Rudyard Kipling

“Kipling's politics are not mine. Kipling was many things that I am not, and I like that in my authors. I learned from Kipling. At least two stories of mine (and a children's book I am currently writing) would not exist had he not written. Kipling wrote about people, and his people feel very real. His tales of the fantastic are chilling, or illuminating or remarkable or sad, because his people breathe and dream. They were alive before the story started, and many of them live on once the last line has been read.”

 Adored by readers of all ages, these classic stories in two volumes spin the unforgettable story of Mowgli—a boy raised by a pack of wolves—as he learns indelible lessons about the laws of the jungle as well as the needs of the heart. Through Mowgli’s journey, readers also meet the tiger Shere Khan, who stalks man and beast alike, the rock python Kaa, who dispenses wisdom, and the aging wolf Akela, who struggles as his leadership of the pack is challenged. Set in India, Kipling’s great masterpiece is an allegory for Britain’s imperialism, filled with high adventure and extraordinary characters. The mythic tale of a boy looking for where he truly belongs— either with the man-pack of the village or the wolf-pack of the wild— The Jungle Books touch both our intellect and our emotions, while Kipling’s dazzling storytelling makes them the timeless archetype for popular tales to come.


9. Dhalgren

Samuel R. Delany

“I learned that my favourite SF author was black, and understood now who the various characters were based upon, and, from the extracts from the author's notebooks, I learned that fiction was mutable. I discovered that the idea of a book and the book itself were two different things. I also enjoyed and appreciated how much the author doesn't tell you: it's in the place that readers bring themselves to the book that the magic occurs... And I found myself grateful, once again, for the brilliance of Delany, and the narrative urge that drove him to write.”

Bellona is a city at the dead center of the United States. Something has happened there…. The population has fled. Madmen and criminals wander the streets. Strange portents appear in the cloud-covered sky. And into this disaster zone comes a young man–poet, lover, and adventurer–known only as the Kid. Tackling questions of race, gender, and sexuality, Dhalgren is a literary marvel and groundbreaking work of American magical realism.



10. The Hitchhiker's Guide TO THE GALAxY

Douglas Adams

“And Adams, according to Gaiman, was a genius. “I haven’t known many geniuses in my life. Some brilliantly smart people, but only a tiny handful would I class as geniuses. I would class Douglas, because he saw things differently, and he was capable of communicating the way he saw things, and once he explained things the way he saw them, it was almost impossible to see them the way you used to see them.””

Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor. Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker's Guide and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers. 

Where are these pens? Why are we born? Why do we die? Why do we spend so much time between wearing digital watches? For all the answers stick your thumb to the stars. And don't forget to bring a towel!


AUTHOR LIBRARIES: NEIL GAIMAN // Explore your favourite authors most beloved books, and the books that have had the greatest impact on their life and writing in the new Author Libraries series. It's no secret that Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors, a person whose books I come back to over and over again each year. So when I decided I was going to start the Author Libraries series— well, there wasn't any question about where I was going to start.