Thursday, June 2, 2011

CW Gortner's Books of a lifetime

It’s almost impossible to highlight two or three books out of the hundreds that have both touched me as a reader and influenced me as a writer. I’ve been a hopeless bibliophile all of my life; books clutter my writing study and sit in sealed plastic containers in my basement, having traveled with me wherever I go. Some have had to be replaced over time, from sheer wear-and-tear; others remain as pristine as the day I bought them (I have this OCD thing about cracking book spines, and try my utmost never to do it).

For this post, I decided to open one of my older containers and take a look at the books that have obstinately stayed with me through my numerous moves, some even international. Here they are:

I first read REPORT TO GRECO by Nikos Kazantakis in my troubled adolescence and have re-read it several times since. While Kazantakis is most famous for writing the exuberant Zorba the Greek, in this semi-autobiographical confession that remains defiantly unfettered by that genre’s restrictions, he details his complex journey to discover his relationship with himself and with his shared humanity. It is a rich testament to every person’s quest to know the inner workings of our soul.

IMMORTAL QUEEN by Elizabeth Byrd was a gift from my mother, who encouraged my burgeoning passion for history by giving me historical fiction to read. You can blame this book for starting my 16th century obsession; I fell madly in love with its eloquent account of the doomed Mary of Scots. Though my lifelong fatal attraction for powerful ladies in history has expanded to encompass many others since then, this is the novel which sparked my proverbial tinder.

I read HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS by Isabel Allende several years after my family had returned to the US after living in Spain. I was nineteen, struggling to assimilate US culture; a struggle that, for me, has never completely resolved. This novel, steeped in allegory and eccentricity, captured my imagination, reminding me both of the continent I’d left and the one I had yet to explore; it also spurred me for the first time to start writing a novel in earnest, even as I despaired of ever producing anything as gorgeously inventive as this.

Lastly, MY COUSIN RACHEL by Daphne Du Maurier is, for me, that rare jewel— the perfect book. From its haunting opening line to the final, heart-shattering dénouement, this tale of a young man haunted by doubt and enamored of an older, enigmatic woman who might be a murderer transcends its Gothic underpinnings in every way. It is, in my opinion, a classic: timeless, elegant, and unforgettable.

C.W. Gortner’s latest release is THE CONFESSIONS OF CATHERINE DE MEDICI in trade paperback. He is also the author of THE LAST QUEEN and THE TUDOR SECRET. Visit him at


This guest post is part of the blog tour for The Confessions of Catherine de Medici being run by Historical Fiction Virtual Blog Tours. You can follow the blog tour by visiting the tour schedule here.

We currently have a paperback copy of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici available to win! Read my review of the book, and enter the giveaway by commenting on the review post!


  1. What a WONDERFUL post!!!! Sadly I have not read any of these books but have two of them on the shelves.....I will have to go out and buy the others!

  2. I agree, this was a great post. He makes them all sound amazingly good!! I just recently bought his "Confessions of Catherine de Medici and can't wait to read it!

  3. I loved My Cousin Rachel as well! Need to find the other books on your list....

  4. Just updated the post to include a link to the giveaway that we are currently hosting!

    If any of you would like to win a copy of the book, here is the link you need to enter the giveaway:

  5. I wonder if Christopher has ever read The Last Temptation of Christ by Kazantakis? I've had it on my shelf for years, but haven't cracked it open yet. Same with The House of the Spirits. Now I have read My Cousin Rachel. Love Du Maurier! This is a definite reread for me!

    Great post, Christopher!

  6. Great book suggestions - though I have read Allende's novel and I LOVE Daphne Du Maurier's writing. I remember the first time I watched the black and white 'Rebecca' with my mom when I was little and I think there haven't been many other wonderful collaborations as Du Maurier and Hitchcock!

  7. Great list! I love Daphne Du Maurier and My Cousin Rachel. I also laughed at your OCD habit of never cracking a book spine . . . as I also have the same habit. I'm glad to know its not just me!

  8. Thank you for hosting me on my tour and thanks for all the comments. Nice to know my OCD is shared by others, Laura! Hope you enjoy the book, Journey in Reading. Michelle, I have read Last Temptation of Christ; I thought it was gorgeously written and one of the most humane portrayals I have ever read. I'm delighted so many share my love of Du Maurier; another book of hers I cherish is The Glass Blowers. Best of luck to all with the giveaway!

  9. Isabel Allende is one of my very favorite authors!

  10. My blog Amish Stories is having its first ever contest this week. The First prize winner will win 2 tickets to tour the farm where the 1985 move "Witness" staring Harrison Ford and Kelly Mcgillis was made in Strasburg,Pa . This farm is now Amish owned, and the family has given permission for folks to tour their farm. This may be the last time anyone will be able to walk and see the same things that Harrison Ford and the other actors saw during the making of "Witness". The Witness tour should last about 2.5 hours. In addition to the Witness farm tour tickets, 1st prize winner will also receive 2 tickets for Jacobs choice. There will also be a 2nd place prize, which will be 2 tickets for the Amish Homestead. Please go to My blog for contest details, and more information on the prizes. Richard from the Amish settlement of Lebanon county.