With more than 40 writers scheduled to speak during our Seminar this January, it can be difficult for a reader to know where to start. Sure, there are the classics and prize-winners, like William Kennedy’s Ironweed and David Levering Lewis’s two-volume biography of W.E.B. DuBois; and recent books like Joyce Carol Oates’s Wild Nights! and Gore Vidal’s Selected Essays. But what of the hundreds you won’t have time for? The exquisite pastime of reading can suddenly grow so stressful!
With this in mind, we’ve asked our panelists which books they would recommend from among their own works and those of their peers. For the fourth installment of the series, we asked Peter Ho Davies and Barry Unsworth about their work.
• Peter Ho Davies is a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. His novel, The Welsh Girl, was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2003.
“My first collection of stories, The Ugliest House in the World, contains several historical pieces– “Relief,” “Safe,” and “A Union”– which I think might make for interesting reading alongside my recent historical novel The Welsh Girl. “A Union” is set in the same part of North Wales as the novel, albeit in 1899 rather than 1944. “Relief” and “Safe” represent early efforts at incorporating historical figures into my fiction, something I do again in The Welsh Girl, where Rudolph Hess is a featured character. Lastly, I think reading these works side by side raises some questions about the different challenges of historical fiction in the two forms– the novel and the story– which I hope we might touch on at the Seminar.”
• Barry Unsworth won the Booker Prize in 1992. He will deliver the keynote address at our second session this January.
“The two books of mine I’d recommend are Sacred Hunger, which takes the Atlantic slave trade in the 18th century as an extreme example of the human tendency to disregard moral restraint when in full pursuit of profit; and The Songs of the Kings, which takes a Greek myth– the sacrifice by Agamemnon of his daughter so as to obtain a favourable wind for his invasion of Troy– and seeks through this to illustrate how the need to consolidate political power can lead to war, and the sacrifice of the innocent which follows on this.”