Welcome to Ruth Hunt, author of The Single Feather.
Coming up with ten books was a difficult task, so I decided to choose novels and non-fiction from each decade since my teens. In particular I chose books I’ve re-read at least once, and new books that I also expect to become favourites. I thought I’d see a marked change in what I was reading, but instead saw many of them have themes in common with each other, something I didn’t consciously plan.
- The Ha-Ha by Jennifer Dawson
The main character in The Ha-Ha is called Josephine, highly intelligent, but in today’s world we might see her as ‘odd’ or ‘eccentric’. What attracted me as a reader and writer was the compassionate and empathic way Dawson has created her characters. It’s not a loud, shouty, look-at-me novel, but instead is quietly assured, accessible and ultimately hopeful.
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
From the very first sentence of The Bell Jar, readers understand that Esther is part of the world but feels separate: ‘It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.’
I have bipolar, and there is a point before a full-blown episode, when colours are a bit too bright. I’m having trouble understanding people. The taste of food is strange and off-putting, with sleep a distant memory.
Sylvia Plath captures this perfectly. It’s almost like a secret handshake. If you’ve not been there you wouldn’t know – that is until you’ve read a novel like The Bell Jar.
- Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig
There are so few good books that have disability as one of the subjects/themes that they tend to stand out when they’re published. I am not a fan of Me Before You and have written why here.
Instead, Beware of Pity re-published by Pushkin Press is marvellous. The Guardian called the theatre performance of the novel: ‘Chillingly resonant in the Trump era…’ I read it after The Single Feather and found myself completely in awe of what he manages to do. I think it is way, way ahead of its time with the moral dilemmas relevant to today’s world. As someone with very noticeable disabilities, pity is something I often have to deal with so this book strongly resonated with me.
- Mustn’t Grumble, Writing by Disabled Women, edited by Lois Keith
Once I had decided to have a protagonist who has a serious disability, one non-fiction book immediately sprang to mind. It was a birthday gift from a friend a few years after my accident, and is edited by Lois Keith, who was recently awarded an O.B.E. Keith like me, has led a double life – a time when she was able-bodied before coming disabled. This dual perspective means you have experience of how people, systems, and government treat you when you’re able-bodied compared to the treatment when you’re disabled. The difference is stark.
This book is very thought-provoking, and made me think about how ‘Rachel’ would cope with this ‘double-life’ awareness, with the realisation she might be willing to keep any feelings of injustice hidden in order to achieve her main goals.
- Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
At 1104 pages, Infinite Jest is indeed, a mammoth and complex novel. As I read it the first time, I detected characters that were lonely, detached from the world and uncomfortable in their own skin. To alleviate this despair and malaise there are drugs and (lethal) entertainment. However, there is much more to the story than that, as David Foster Wallace (DFW) like Pynchon takes the reader on a trip they are unlikely to ever experience again. High-brow references are mixed in with pop-culture, with strong philosophical threads running throughout the text. You’ll need two bookmarks, one for the text and one for his (now legendary) footnotes.
As a writer I’m still full of admiration for what he achieved. As a reader, although at times Infinite Jest can be challenging, the pay-back from this novel is more than worth it.
- A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
If you haven’t read any David Foster Wallace before embarking on Infinite Jest, it’s wise to try one of his other books first. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, is DFW ‘on assignment’ as a journalist. It’s very funny and extremely perceptive, and introduces the reader to some of the themes (and use of footnotes) that will crop up in Infinite Jest.
- Forbidden Line by Paul Stanbridge
Forbidden Line is the Infinite Jest of this decade, except it is much more accessible. It has been described as a marriage between Chaucer and Douglas Adams. Yes! Have fun uncovering the many literary references in this multi-layered, hugely imaginative, literary masterpiece.
As a writer, you may want to hide your laptop for a while but as a reader, this really is something else. I’m predicting just like Infinite Jest, this will become a cult classic, if it’s not already.
- The Secret History by Donna Tartt
I’m a huge Donna Tartt fan with the first book I read being, The Secret History. This is classic, accomplished storytelling. You know you are safe in her hands and can relax into this page-turner. Out of all the books I’ve listed here, this is probably the most mainstream, but it’s also the only book I read cover to cover without breaks. She reportedly takes ten years between books, but I’m more than happy to wait.
- Martin John by Anakana Schofield
What to say about Martin John? Just like Eimear McBride, Schofield, produces a shocking, visceral, complex and at times darkly amusing account of a true outsider, a molester. We, the readers are in his thoughts, listening in as the circular story unfolds. This award-winning book disturbed me, but as a writer I was astounded at the originality and overall quality of writing. If you like dark stories and/or reading about those truly apart from the rest of society, do read this. This novel also gets my award for the best cover out of the ten books.
- The Other Side of Silence by Linda Gask
Through these books, I’ve talked a lot about outsiders – those who lead double lives and those cut off from society. The Other Side of Silence by eminent psychiatrist, Linda Gask does as the title suggests and speaks out about her own experiences of depression, her family and her patients. The message is depression is different for people depending on their circumstances and what’s happening in their lives. Two people with depression can each have a different experience. Therefore not one size fits all. This is an illuminating and deeply moving memoir.
The Single Feather is about a paraplegic woman who has escaped from ‘the guards’. Alone and lonely she joins a local amateur art-club, unaware that a year later, along with the others she will have experienced a profound and tragic loss. When the group falls apart, the hopes and dreams of members look destined to fail…
Ruth F.Hunt is an author (The Single Feather), a columnist and is just coming to the end of a degree before moving on to study the NCTJ Diploma. In the past she has worked as a manager in a social services department working with adults who have complex needs. She is an avid reader, and is looking forward to tackling the mountain of books she hasn’t been able to read yet due to her studies.
Ruth’s website: www.rhunt4.com (After May, Ruth will be interested to hear from writers/authors who have studied creative-writing, to talk about their studies and how it has contributed to their work).