Faber Academy Recommends: The books that shaped our writing
3 minutes read
The Faber Academy team share recommendations of books that have had a profound impact on their writing practice, in this new feature series.
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Whenever I read something that resonates with me, it helps me to think differently about my own writing. Recently, Carol Shields’s The Stone Diaries showed me how a protagonist can be built through fragments, True Story by Kate Reed Perry made me reconsider the relationship between form and story, and Michael Chambon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay challenged me think more about world-building. But I return to Lorrie Moore’s Self-Help again and again. In particular, the way Moore’s uses the second-person narrative perspective to satirise the instructional tone of women’s media to speak to their audience.
Autumn Journal combines the personal and political. MacNiece is bold and ambitious in the scope he aims for the book to cover. Its verses swing from the anxiety of war to his own, sometimes petty, personal grievances, and, it affected me because, compared to his contemporaries (Auden, Spender), he doesn’t shy away from writing about his own temperament in plain, naked language. While still formal, structured, and lyrical, there’s a conversational tone which is friendly and inviting: Now we are back to normal, now the mind is Back to the even tenor of the usual day. I think it gives hope to anyone who thinks their own day-to-day journal could also be turned into a fantastic piece of writing that stands the test of time.
I’m deeply interested in the ways we tell cultural or collective stories through intimate, personal encounters. Hisham Matar’s work, but Anatomy of a Disappearance in particular, is a masterclass in striking that fine balance – it should be on every writer’s shelf!
I’m going to be greedy and choose two books: Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement but also Timothy Morton’s Being Ecological. Actually let me throw in Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World too, the most boring-sounding but actually mindblowing approach to nonfiction I’ve ever encountered. All three were essential to me in thinking about the formally radical approaches required in producing literature which confronts ecological questions – how ‘ecopoetry’ or ‘cli-fi’ needs to be a bit weirder than we might have expected . . .
A Sultry Month, Alethea Hayter’s heady group biography of the London literati in the summer of 1846, has defined and directed my writing since my first of many readings in the heatwave of 2022. Hayter creates an immersive sense of time and place with her balance between detail and lush prose. I study this book to understand this balance and create a world that seems alive in my own writing.
I first read Confabulations by John Berger, whilst I was at university and struggling to write my dissertation (a collection of poems about language, translation and otherness). In the book, Berger examines language, and the act of writing, as a bridge between the inner world of individual experience and the outer world of shared understanding. I’ve always been interested in how storytelling invites readers or listeners to participate in the act of translation, especially as a writer. Berger’s writings and observations embody the intricacies and limitations of communication, something I think we should constantly reflect on in our own writing practices.