The best collage novels

Why am I passionate about this?

My first novel Five Rivers Met On A Wooded Plain was a collage novel; an interweaving of several voices in order to create a composite portrait of the city of Salisbury, which told several stories as a way of revealing more of the life of that place. Since then I’ve written three more novels, all of them interested in the effects of using different voices to tell different parts of the story. I think that polyphony makes for great books, and these are four examples of that—different ways of weaving multiple tales together.


I wrote...

Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain

By Barney Norris,

Book cover of Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain

What is my book about?

There exists in all of us a song waiting to be sung which is as heart-stopping and vertiginous as the peak of the cathedral. That is the meaning of this quiet city, where the spire soars into the blue, where rivers and stories weave into one another, where lives intertwine.

One quiet evening in Salisbury, the peace is shattered by a serious car crash. At that moment, five lives collide—a flower seller, a schoolboy, an army wife, a security guard, a widower—all facing their own personal disasters. As one of those lives hangs in the balance, the stories of all five unwind, drawn together by connection and coincidence into a web of love, grief, disenchantment, and hope that perfectly represents the joys and tragedies of small-town life.
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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Life A User's Manual

Barney Norris Why did I love this book?

Life A User’s Manual is an astonishing book. Shaped like a jigsaw, and telling the story of an extraordinary jigsaw, a single second passes in the course of its hundreds of pages, but in that second the book visits so many different, extraordinary worlds, and finds a way, miraculously, to join them all together.

By Georges Perec, David Bellos (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Life A User's Manual as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this ingenious book Perec creates an entire microcosm in a Paris apartment block. Serge Valene wants to make an elaborate painting of the building he has made his home for the last sixty years. As he plans his picture, he contemplates the lives of all the people he has ever known there. Chapter by chapter, the narrative moves around the building revealing a marvellously diverse cast of characters in a series of every more unlikely tales, which range from an avenging murderer to an eccentric English millionaire who has devised the ultimate pastime...


Book cover of Let the Great World Spin

Barney Norris Why did I love this book?

Let The Great World Spin orbits around Philip Petit’s high-wire walk between the Twin Towers in New York in 1974; an amazing feat that has, of course, only become more charged and potent with time. The novel creates a kaleidoscope of lives touched by that breathtaking act, as well as capturing, in heartstopping prose, the magnitude of the act itself.

By Colum McCann,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Let the Great World Spin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER • Colum McCann’s beloved novel inspired by Philippe Petit’s daring high-wire stunt, which is also depicted in the film The Walk starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt

In the dawning light of a late-summer morning, the people of lower Manhattan stand hushed, staring up in disbelief at the Twin Towers. It is August 1974, and a mysterious tightrope walker is running, dancing, leaping between the towers, suspended a quarter mile above the ground. In the streets below, a slew of ordinary lives become extraordinary in bestselling novelist Colum McCann’s stunningly intricate portrait of a city and its people.

Let…


Book cover of Cannery Row

Barney Norris Why did I love this book?

Cannery Row is a non-fiction novel, and I think it’s the best thing Steinbeck ever did. An exploration of an itinerant community in Monterey, California, it builds up layer on layer of life, creating a rich compound portrait of marginal, precariat life in the sun, the hardship of that, but also the freedom and dignity and bravery and joy.

By John Steinbeck,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Cannery Row as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the din and stink that is Cannery Row a colourful blend of misfits - gamblers, whores, drunks, bums and artists - survive side by side in a jumble of adventure and mischief. Lee Chong, the astute owner of the well-stocked grocery store, is also the proprietor of the Palace Flophouse that Mack and his troupe of good-natured 'boys' call home. Dora runs the brothel with clockwork efficiency and a generous heart, and Doc is the fount of all wisdom. Packed with invention and joie de vivre CANNERY ROW is Steinbeck's high-spirited tribute to his native California.


Book cover of Olive Kitteridge

Barney Norris Why did I love this book?

This is one of the really great books of our time. Olive Kitteridge is an anti-protagonist in her own story, a woman who passes through the chapters of this novel, only visiting the tales Strout shares with the reader. She is always present and always peripheral, and the distance that places between us and her somehow seems to help us see this woman with tender clarity.

By Elizabeth Strout,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Olive Kitteridge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE • The beloved first novel featuring Olive Kitteridge, from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Oprah’s Book Club pick Olive, Again
 
“Fiction lovers, remember this name: Olive Kitteridge. . . . You’ll never forget her.”—USA Today
 
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY The Washington Post Book World • USA Today • San Francisco Chronicle • Chicago Tribune • Seattle Post-Intelligencer • People • Entertainment Weekly • The Christian Science Monitor • The Plain Dealer • The Atlantic • Rocky Mountain News • Library Journal
 
At times stern, at…


Book cover of The Road to San Giovanni

Barney Norris Why did I love this book?

Calvino, like Perec, was an experimental novelist, interested in imposing games and rules on what he created. Here, he took the convention of the short story collection and used it to dramatise the arrival of the twentieth century into rural Italy—the machine age, but also the fascist age, and the consuming fires of the Second World War. The incremental tension that comes from time passing is a powerful reading experience.

By Italo Calvino, Tim Parks (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Road to San Giovanni as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In five elegant autobiographical meditations Calvino delves into his past, remembering awkward childhood walks with his father, a lifelong obsession with the cinema and fighting in the Italian Resistance against the Fascists. He also muses on the social contracts, language and sensations associated with emptying the kitchen rubbish and the shape he would, if asked, consider the world. These reflections on the nature of memory itself are engaging, witty, and lit through with Calvino's alchemical brilliance.


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Kanazawa

By David Joiner,

Book cover of Kanazawa

David Joiner Author Of Kanazawa

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

My book recommendations reflect an abiding passion for Japanese literature, which has unquestionably influenced my own writing. My latest literary interest involves Japanese poetry—I’ve recently started a project that combines haiku and prose narration to describe my experiences as a part-time resident in a 1300-year-old Japanese hot spring town that Bashō helped make famous in The Narrow Road to the Deep North. But as a writer, my main focus remains novels. In late 2023 the second in a planned series of novels set in Ishikawa prefecture will be published. I currently live in Kanazawa, but have also been lucky to call Sapporo, Akita, Tokyo, and Fukui home at different times.

David's book list on Japanese settings not named Tokyo or Kyoto

What is my book about?

Emmitt’s plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of purchasing their dream home. Disappointed, he’s surprised to discover her subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo.

In his search for a meaningful life in Japan, and after quitting his job, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa’s most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English. He becomes drawn into the mysterious death of a friend of Mirai’s parents, leading him and his father-in-law to climb the mountain where the man died. There, he learns the somber truth and discovers what the future holds for him and his wife.

Packed with subtle literary allusion and closely observed nuance, Kanazawa reflects the mood of Japanese fiction in a fresh, modern incarnation.

Kanazawa

By David Joiner,

What is this book about?

In Kanazawa, the first literary novel in English to be set in this storied Japanese city, Emmitt's future plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of negotiations to purchase their dream home. Disappointed, he's surprised to discover Mirai's subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo, a city he dislikes.

Harmony is further disrupted when Emmitt's search for a more meaningful life in Japan leads him to quit an unsatisfying job at a local university. In the fallout, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa's most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English.

While continually resisting Mirai's…


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