Sylvia Brownrigg on the books to give to someone you love

03 July 2017

Sylvia Brownrigg, author of Pages for You and Pages for Her, shares the books she would give as gifts to a loved one. 

When passionate readers become lovers, books become key tokens of their affections. Some romances feature geography (We’ll always have Paris), others music (Play that song!), but for my characters, Flannery and Anne, stories and verses are an essential part of their love.
 
During their intense affair at university (chronicled in Pages for You), Anne began their flirtation by lending Flannery a steamy book of poetry by Marilyn Hacker; Flannery responded by penning Anne a love poem. “I plan to learn enough/ to read you like a book.”
 
After college, the two women went their separate ways, but in my new novel Pages for Her they meet again twenty years later. Lines from writers they love, Willa Cather or Jeanette Winterson, still create a charge between them, and these and other books show Flannery and Anne that the connection between them has lasted.

My own set texts are somewhat different from Flannery’s and Anne’s. There are the central novels you talk about with someone you’re getting to know—what is Jane Eyre to you? Where were you when you read Anna Karenina?—and then there are the less obvious choices. These are a few books I might give to someone I love.

 

Howards End

I am not English by passport, but I am by upbringing and family history, and the English writer I hold closest is E M Forster. Howards End is a novel that may seem staid if you come to it after a run of Joyce or Woolf (as I first did), but the story has a depth of empathy in it that never leaves its pages—or the reader of them. Also: bluebells.

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Invisible Cities

If you give someone Calvino’s Invisible Cities, you are giving them the world, adventure, magic. What better offerings are there? Calvino’s labyrinthine fables are beautiful and melancholy and point to some other dimension than our own—and that is a sensation that is common, too, to being in love.

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Jigsaw: An Unsentimental Education

The most fun I ever had at a reading was when the Paris Review gathered a group to read from Sybille Bedford’s work. Meeting other Bedford-lovers was like attending a family reunion; we all felt the resemblance, and the kinship. I chose a passage from Jigsaw: An Unsentimental Education, a novel that has multiple fluidities: about nationality, sexuality, biography. It was a joy to read aloud.

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Stoner

Sometimes you share a novel with someone as a shortcut: a way to find out if you are kindred spirits. It works the other way, too. Someone hands over a fiction to you and it is a revelation, of who they are and what you’ve missed. Several years ago John Williams’ haunting novel Stoner was reissued. A few people I loved urged me to read it; I did, and then I loved them more.

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Praise: a Poetry collection

The poet Robert Hass’s beautiful book Praise is a work of reflection and grace, and has lines I’ve used in one fiction of mine, if not several. “Longing, we say, because desire is full/ of endless distances.” Hass is a humble and generous figure in Berkeley, California, where I live: translator, pacifist, humanist. The poems are meditative, and full of light.

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Pages for Her

Pages for Her

Set twenty years after Sylvia Brownrigg's Pages for You, and featuring the same characters, Pages for Her gives the reader a chance to find out what happened to Flannery and Anne in the years after their life changing love affair. 

Elegant, clever, witty and sensual it's is a novel about love, memory and what it is to be a woman, a wife, and a mother.

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