My Favourite Author
By pure chance/great marketing, I stumbled across Ali Smith in 2014 when her novel How to be Both had been shortlisted for the Costa Book of the Year Award, having won the novel category. In my local Waterstones, there is one display that is always dedicated to the shortlisted books for a range of literary awards, and that is where I first laid eyes on the front cover of what would soon become my favourite book.
When I look at the cover and blurb now, I can't pinpoint what made me pick the book up in the first place. I think probably the striking white space and vintage looking photo that are synonymous with the latest Penguin releases of Smith's work would have been one thing; undoubtedly the title itself gave way to my curiosity (how to be both of what?); and I have no doubt that the brief blurb telling of time and intertwined narratives would have piqued my attention. Additionally, I found out that the novels had been printed in batches, so that half of them started with one narrative, and the other half started with the other narrative - an intriguing idea.
Nonetheless, as with all new book purchases most are impulse buys and sit on a shelf or bedside table for an indeterminate length of time before I finally peek between the covers. It wasn't too long before I picked up How to be Both but it was no page turner.
A couple of months passed before I had read half of the novel. The copy I had bought started with the narrative set in the 1460s: sentences were incredulously long and winding, language was dense, and description was more weighty than plot. I persevered though - I admired the skill with which Smith seemed to be replicating what would have been the norm in literature of the time, and had been pleasantly and genuinely surprised by my own preconceptions and how deftly they had been defied in such a clever piece of writing.
When I finally got to the second half, I read it in a matter of hours. Throughout, I marvelled at the vastly impressive structure of the text, and the inextricable links between these two seemingly unrelated characters. I was in love.
Reading this novel made me realise what I truly appreciate in literature. I adore clever and subtle structural links; I enjoy experimental writing; I'm intrigued by explorations of gender and sexuality (unquestionably as a result of the module I performed best in at uni: Gender and Sexuality). Smith's writing had ignited a fire in me and clarified the niche that really resounds with my literary tastes.
As with a number of my favourite books, I know that they can be an acquired taste. Nonetheless, I recommended this to a number of my friends, stating the originality of it. I've since bought and read a number of her other novels and have spread my love of her writing to friends, colleagues and family. Waiting on my shelf as I write is a other copy of How to be Both that starts with the other narrative to my original copy. I can't wait to rediscover it.
Every time I now walk into a book store, I always head to the shelf I will find Smith's writing on. If I see that she has recommended a book or she has been quoted on a front cover, I will buy it - I have that much faith in her taste.