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Poet Bronwyn Lea interviewed about her favorite books.

BRONWYN LEA is an award-winning Australian poet, and editor of The Best Australian Poetry 2003 (University of Queensland Press.) This anthology is a selection of 40 poems first published in Australian literary journals and newspapers, and is the first in what promises to be an excellent series. If you're interested in learning more about poetry and getting a few good reading tips for poetry or otherwise, then read on.

READERSVOICE.COM: Can you tell me your five favorite books of all time and a bit about why you liked them?

BRONWYN LEA: Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge is a book that while not perfect is really important to me.

I first read it as a teenager and I fell in love with Larry Darrell. It’s a little strange falling in love with a fictional character-unlike a character in a film where your passion can be projected onto the living actor, a character in a novel is only ever ink and imagination.

Of course there’s much speculation as to whether or not Larry was based on a real person, Guy Hauge for one, but that seems less important to me these days.
What matters to me is that Larry, fictional or otherwise, had the courage to give up a good but predictable life in order to ask the big, maybe unanswerable, questions: whether god is or god is not, why evil exists, whether or not it is the end when we die. Many of us give up on questions before we’re anywhere near an answer, but Larry didn’t and that inspires me.

Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera is also one of my favourites. Kundera’s world is one in which lives are shaped by irrevocable choices and happy or unhappy accidents.

One of my favourite chapters is “A Short Dictionary of Misunderstood Words” which interrogates everyday words like woman, betrayal, music, darkness, light, country, cemetery, strength-words that can be an invisible cause of dissonance between people. The word cemetery, for example, for Sabina evokes a sweet, nostalgic memory of her homeland.

For her doomed lover Franz, a cemetery is an ugly dump of stones and bones. Sometimes we meet people who misunderstand words in the same way we do, and we feel that it’s only these people who truly understand us.

The Lover by Margueritte Duras is one of the most intensely emotional books I’ve read. A blurb on the backcover describes the writing as near flawless, which is one of the few statements of puff I agree with without reservation. I know the first couple of pages by heart and I always feel chilled when I say them: “very early in my life it was too late. It was already too late when I was eighteen.”

To these three I would add The Oxford Dictionary and Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, which are my constant companions.

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