By Asha Ross
When I travel, I am not tempted to find room for extra clothing or shoes. I am not attached to certain brands of shampoo or soap; I don’t take many things at all from home. In fact, there’s only one reason my pack is heavy. I read all the time, and I am both easily satisfied and insatiable. I feel the need to prepare for all possible desires. How could I read a novel when I might be in the mood for a biography? How could I read an epic when all I want is an essay? I’ll always take a classic with me, but does that mean leaving behind the poetry, fantasy, history, or something else entirely?
I return to the books and stories and characters I love, and these stories work their way into my own writing. Introducing people to stories and characters and authors is one of my favourite things, so here are a few quick thoughts on books.
To read Donna Tartt’s writing is to feast. Her prose is rich, her characters so satisfying and complex they are surreal. I have a fondness for The Goldfinch; The Secret History is an old love. Forgive her characters, they’re only human after all. Read her if you are hungry.
I am always in the mood for George Orwell. He is not so stark as Hemingway, not as intricate as Fitzgerald. Orwell writes about people and places with a beguiling simplicity. His stories travel far, and his footsteps are light. Read Down and Out in Paris and London, or Homage to Catalonia.
John Steinbeck’s East of Eden is one of my favourites. It has everything – heartbreak, adventure, insight. It seems every other page has something worthy of quotation. You don’t just read his stories; you walk around in his world.
Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin is surprising and vicious. I love its honesty and clarity. Not for the fainthearted, this story takes you places - but only if you are willing to be led.
John Irving has a love for oddities and outsiders, sexual deviants and the dispossessed. A Widow for One Year, and Until I Find You are the two I keep coming back to when I want the strange to seem familiar.
The pace of Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan series is not fast but the story runs deep. When you are in the mood for melodies, for harmonies, read Elena. Her writing is heartbreaking in the very best way.
I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez whenever I am in the mood for magic. Pick any of his stories, you can’t go wrong. Particular favourites: Love and Other Demons and One Hundred Years of Solitude.
After something different? Don’t worry - there’s more to come.