ELLA: I’ve recently discovered just how much I choose books by their titles. I’ve always been a fan of judging by covers: I mean, if I’m going for a light-hearted holiday read, surely I’m far more likely to enjoy something that’s bright and quirky,perhaps with glittery letters, than something that attempts to sell itself with a bland close-up of a generic miserable looking woman in period dress. But it was only last time I looked at what I’d grabbed in the Waterstones 3 for 2 offer – The Elegance of A Hedgehog, We Are All Made of Glue, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – that I realised how completely incapable I am of buying a book with an ordinary name.
So this Christmas, what bizarre titles will I be hoping to find under my tree? Well, I’ve had my eye on Kate Atkinson’s latest Jackson Brodie novel Started Early, Took My Dog for a while – I love the way she combines chilling murder stories with playful humour. Continuing with the animal theme, I can’t wait to get my hands on Sharon Creech’s Hate That Cat, a long-awaited companion to the unclassifiable poem/novella/diary Love That Dog. And I have to admit a slight curiosity for Coconut Unlimited by Nikesh Shukla, the story ofa group of private-school Asian teenagers who can’t quite pull off the gangster look. I didn’t say the titles had to be good; they just can’t be boring!
Maybe next time a relative asks what I want for Christmas, I should simply direct them to AbeBooks’ ‘Weird Book Room’. A brief glance at the titles on offer, from The Recently Deflowered Girl to Old Tractors and the Men Who Love Them, makes my current wish list look downright conventional.
CHRISTY: Regardless on your stance on the death of the author, writers’ letters are wonderfully fragmented collections of writings on art and craft, fame, and literary gossip, perfectly suited to the irregular reading life of a student. 2010 has been a good year for my obsession. The letters of two literary giants and Nobel winners on opposite sides of the Atlantic, Samuel Beckett and Saul Bellow, are constant attractions at Blackwell’s, as is Philip Larkin’s Letters to Monica and Iris Murdoch: a Writer at War.
Following introductions to Roberto Bolaño and Jorge Luis Borges, I’ve developed a taste for Spanish literature. Javier Marias’ Your Face Tomorrow trilogy – which James Lasdun has called ‘a work of supreme lunacy’ in the vein of Cervantes and Sterne – has won both attention and praise. Marias, who lectured in Spanish literature and translation at Oxford in the 1980s, used the city to serve as a backdrop for his novel All Souls, and I’m interested in the possibilities of his fusion of ‘Spanishness’ and ‘Englishness’. On a more adventurous note, the latest issue of Granta (#113) – attractively lemon-yellow, reminding us that the sun will come back eventually – is dedicated to the work of young and largely unfamiliar Spanish novelists. ¡Feliz Navidad!