Word Crimes…

Very quick post as it has been the last full week of the festival I am working on so I have been a bit slack, again. Sorry. Anyway. I wanted to share a video with you which I think anyone who loves books and words will just love…

Isn’t that just brilliant? My lovely colleague Kelly told me about it, she would be furious if  had claimed I found it all myself – which was tempting. I thought you would all like it. Erm, that’s it for today, I will be back with a very book filled post tomorrow… In the mean time what is your biggest word crime? Mine is the numbers instead of letters disgrace!

3 Comments

Filed under Random Savidgeness

Levels of Life – Julian Barnes

I feel a bit like I owe Julian Barnes an apology. You see for some unfathomable reason, known only in the unreachable part of the 90% of my brain that I don’t use, I had decided that he wasn’t an author for me. I think around his Man Booker win and the way everyone was talking about him I created an author who I wouldn’t like, would find dry and miserable and a bit worthy – completely forgetting I had read and loved Arthur and George which resides happily on my bookshelves in the lounge. Imagine then the horror I felt when Rob chose Levels of Life for Hear Read This! and not long after Claire had chosen Flaubert’s Parrot for book club. I decided to start with the short one first…

Vintage Books, paperback, 2014 (2000 edition), fiction, 128 pages, kindly sent by the publisher (almost passed on if Rob hadn’t chosen it for Hear Read This!)

I have to admit that when I started Levels of Life the odds were stacked against it. I had been told that it was a book about ballooning and grief, in particular the grief Barnes has been going through since the death of his wife. Ballooning? And grief? Ballooning and grief? This wasn’t going to work. I was internally chanting ‘thank goodness it is short, thank goodness it is short’. Well silly old me because a book that is indeed about ballooning and grief had me enthralled and then in absolute tears, and I admired every sentence of it. Barnes does something very clever indeed with Levels of Life, and not in a clever pretentious way, by creating three sections (or levels in a way) which link in some ways you would expect and many ways you wouldn’t hazard a clue at.

The first section, around 24 pages, of the book are indeed about the history of ballooning. Now ballooning doesn’t appeal to me; a lot like boats, submarines, cricket (or indeed sport in general), horses (full stop) or talking animals of any variety, it is just a subject I don’t think I have any interest in. Well apparently I am a liar to myself because I found the history of ballooning, in Barnes’ capable hands, utterly fascinating. Who knew? It is the sign of an accomplished author and sparky narration to make anyone interested in something they swear they couldn’t really give two hoots about.

You put together two things that have not been put together before. And the world is changed. People may not notice at the time, but that doesn’t matter. The world has been changed nonetheless.

The second section/level of the book is all the love affair of French actress Sarah Bernhardt and English colonel Fred Burnaby, who happened to be two of the pioneers of ballooning. We read about them a little in the first section, yet it is really Gaspard-Félix Tournachon who is in the limelight of that section, here these two lovers become full focus and we look at how independent people might or might not make the ideal couple and tame one another, or possibly not. Again I was gripped by this section, especially by the story of Sarah Bernhardt and her menagerie including a pillow eating python she bought here in Liverpool. I did begin to ponder if Barnes had a mind to write a fictional account of her and used it in this instead, she fully comes to life with Fred and their affair is totally tantalising.

You put two people who have not been put together before; and sometimes the world is changed, sometimes not. They may crash and burn, or burn and crash. But sometimes, something new is made, and then the world is changed. Together, in that first exaltation, that first roaring sense of uplift, they are greater than their two separate selves. Together, they see further, and they see more clearly.

Then everything changes and the real force behind the book comes to the fore as in the third and final section of the book Barnes writes about his grief after the death of his wife, literary agent Pat Kavanagh. Grief is a very, very personal thing and something we are not prone to discussing even though we all go through it. Barnes does something exceptionally brave, though he probably wouldn’t see it as such, in sharing the brutal honesty of how much the loss has affected him. From contemplating suicide to talking to his wife or dreaming her up at night, even though he knows she is dead. He shares his story of grief but also the stories of others and how everyone grieves differently. It is raw, devastating and incredibly moving.

You may here of course be wondering how the ballooning does interlink to it all and this to me added even more depth and, as clichéd as it will sound because of the title of the book, levels to this final section. Firstly there is the slightly obvious motifs of the rise and fall of the balloon, from how at a great height, and in hindsight, we appreciate everything around us etc. Secondly there is the fact that actually loving someone is a risky business, like early ballooning. You might crash and burn, you might soar off into the sunset, their maybe storms and unknown danger ahead. Love comes with risk. There are also the links to earlier moments. Barnes will compare grief to the python overstuffed with pillows Bernhardt has in the second section, he will compare it to the fall to the death one man had who ended up embedded in a flower bed his own legs forcing his internal organs to be ripped out, his world and himself exploding. These all add an extra dimension to the book, so difficult to describe yet so totally affecting.

You put together two people who have not been put together before. Sometimes it is like that first attempt to harness a hydrogen balloon to a fire balloon: do you prefer crash and burn, or burn and crash? But sometimes it works, and something new is made, and the world is changed. Then, at some point, sooner or later, for this reason or that, one of them is taken away. And what is taken away is greater than the sum of what was there. This may not be mathematically possible, but it is emotionally possible.

I can’t quite put into words how brilliant I thought Levels of Life was. In terms of a piece of literature it is incredibly original and so cleverly constructed. Yet there is so much more to this book than it’s amazing construction, it is an emotionally driven and filled work. I don’t think I have read anything so raw and visceral about love and grief. Possibly ever. Having gone through the death of Gran last year this book chimed so much on an emotional level with me I couldn’t stop crying through the final section of the book, though I think anyone who reads this and doesn’t cry probably has a piece of coal where their heart should be, and I am so thankful to Barnes for being as honest as he is and urge you all to go and grab a copy of this book.

Of course I am now feeling a) all the more stupid for writing him off as an author I didn’t like after this mini masterpiece b) very excited about reading Flaubert’s Parrot. I am also pondering which others of his books I should read as it appears Barnes is very much a ‘me’ kind of writer. You can hear more of my thoughts on Hear Read This, along with Kate, Gav and Rob. Who else has read this book and what did you make of it? Can any of you recommend any other books on grief, as this seemed very cathartic for me, that I should look out for? Oh and any recommendations on books about Sarah Bernhardt are most welcome, she sounded fascinating, I could become obsessed!

9 Comments

Filed under Julian Barnes, Non Fiction, Review, Vintage Books

Trespassing with Tremain…

It has been a year since Gran died. A year which seems to have gone all too quickly and also weirdly slowly all at once. How does time do that? Naturally I have thought about her daily since, at the weirdest of times, and missed her a huge amount both as my Gran and also as being one of the most bookish influences I had around me. I miss speaking three times a week about anything and everything and ending up on seeing how we were getting on with X or Y book, I still finish a book and wondering if she would like it, I miss reading the same book and having the same good or bad thoughts on it or polar opposite thoughts which we could get into heated debates about, I miss discussing our latest book group lists and meetings. The list could go on.

I was umming and ahhhhing how to mark the year since her passing. Did I mention it? Did I just let life go on? Having recently read one of the books I inherited from her, A Month in the Country, and loving it so much I thought maybe it was time to do something like Greene for Gran again and see if, like you all did amazingly last year, you would like to join in. The question was who or what to read?

My initial thought was to go for authors that she loved that I had read like Graham Greene last year. The choices could be Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood, John Updike, William Trevor, Antony Trollope (gulp) and Anne Tyler etc. Yet the bittersweet joy, because I couldn’t talk to her about it afterwards, in reading A Month in the Country was that she had introduced me to a new author and favourite book, even though (annoyingly) she doesn’t know it. I also decided that I quite fancied a more contemporary, and indeed living, author would make a change. So I ransacked my brain for the authors she had lots of books by and I had read and the answer was obvious…

Trespassing-With-Tremain2

Rose Tremain, Gran raved and raved about Restoration, The Colour, The Road Home, Music and Silence and Trespass. In fact I seem to remember giving my proof/new incoming copies of anything Tremain because I knew the buzz she would get from having them early. I think she had almost all of Rose Tremain’s thirteen novels and a few of her short story collections. I can also remember how annoyed she would get when she asked if I had read any of them, ironically forgetting I had sent them her way, and my response would be ‘not yet, but I will’ with the response ‘you’d better.’

Trespassing-With-Tremain4

Well Gran, guess what, in honour of you I am going to try Trespassing with Tremain into all the different era’s and lives that she writes about. I am thinking of reading and writing about four of her books and one of her short story collections – one every fortnight – from the 10th of August until the 5th of October. I will announce which ones when in due course, after your recommendations really. So where to start and who is up for joining me and hopefully finding some more great reads?

 

12 Comments

Filed under Random Savidgeness, Trespassing with Tremain

A Month in the Country – J.L. Carr

There is something rather wonderful in the fact that Granny Savidge is still influencing my reading almost a year, in fact it is a year tomorrow, since she died. As someone who I talked about books at least three times a week there is a void left now yet through having inherited some of her books my thought was that some of her favourites, as they were the only books she would keep unless a random gift like the Barbara Cartland I once bought her as a joke, would become my future reads and maybe some of my favourites. Well luck struck first time with J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country, which I tried to read when she was ill (on her recommendation) yet just couldn’t yet have been much, much more successful this time around.

Penguin Modern Classics, paperback, 1980 (2000 edition), fiction, 112 pages, inherited from Gran

In A Month in the Country Tom Birkin reflects several decades later on the summer of 1920 when he ended up in the village of Oxgodby for a single month. Here on a mission left by recently deceased spinster Miss Hebron he is being paid, begrudgingly by the Reverend Keach who is only allowing it as Hebron left the church money if he did, to uncover a possible medieval wall painting inside the church. Birkin reflects upon that summer, the place he was in mentally in his life at the time and thinks about the place he was in physically and those who peopled it.

Ostensibly it sounds like there isn’t really much to this novella and in some ways you would be right, plot wise there are no twists and turns. Yet somehow Carr creates a novel where very little happens and yet everything happens too. We learn through reflections he had that month which he reflects upon (bear with me) of his failing marriage, yet we also get hints of what happened after that summer. We also get glimpses of what he had to face during the war which has left him with shellshock and a nervous twitch. We learn of the friends he makes; Charles Moon who also fought in the war and is on another of Miss Hebron’s missions, Alice Keach the younger wife of the Reverend who feels like she isn’t accepted, Kathy Ellerbeck a young girl who befriends Birkin and whose family are the first to welcome him properly into the area.

Through all these friendships Carr creates very condensed additional stories. With the Ellerbeck’s he looks at how the families and people in the countryside were as affected by the war as those in the cities, only in a different way, and also looks at class. With Moon, whose storyline is sharply bittersweet, we get another side of the war and also another side to social mores of the time. Through Alice Keach we look at marriage, a mirror of sorts to Birkin’s to an extent, and indeed lust verses love and how love and marriage connect or don’t.

See it is brimming and what makes this all the more masterful is that fact that Carr does this all so succinctly. The story is in itself only 88 pages and yet there is all of this life within it. The prose is magical, not something I say often yet is so true in this instance. Within a line he conjures a character completey, a situation is a mere paragraph or so. Sometimes within very few lines he can capture the things we ponder about life and just put them plainly and simply, in terms we wish we could, it is just marvellous.

I never exchanged a word with the Colonel. He has no significance at all in what happened during my stay in Oxgodby. As far as I’m concerned he might just as well have gone round the corner and died. But that goes for most of us, doesn’t it? We look blankly at each other. Here I am, here you are. What are we doing here? What do you suppose it’s all about? Let’s dream on. Yes, that’s my Dad and Mum over there on the piano top. My eldest boy is on the mantelpiece. That cushion cover was embroidered by my cousin Sarah only a month before she passed on. I go to work at eight and come home at five-thirty. When I retire they’ll give me a clock – with my name engraved on the back. Now you know all about me. Go away; I’ve forgotten you already.

One of my favourite things in fiction is looking at difference and also the relationship between the outsider and the insider. Interestingly it is books with a rural setting where this can be used to its full potential. In villages things are rarely missed or go unnoticed, in cities you can lose yourself, others or things. With A Month in the Country Carr adds even more levels to this. The metaphor of the outsider is tripled as not only is Birkin an outsider to Oxgodby, he is an outsider to some of the religious views of the villagers and in many ways in his present state an outsider to life. This is doubly felt as he uncovers the wall painting, seemingly learning about the villagers (possibly uncovering their secrets) and himself at the same time, and of course there is the image that the walls depict, but I won’t spoil that for you.

The other things that I loved so much about the book are firstly how awash it is in the sense of nostalgia and secondly the way the atmosphere and place are so well depicted and come to life. I left the book feeling as if I had been wandering away and hour or two reflecting on that summer, as I had walked it’s streets, seen Miss Hebron’s spooky old house, witnessed a sermon in the church, has dinner with the Ellerbeck’s and tea with Charles Moon when these moments are just a sentence here and there within.

If I’d stayed there, would I always have been happy? No, I suppose not. People move away, grow older, die, and the bright belief that there will be another marvellous thing around the corner fades. It is now or never; we must snatch at happiness as it flies.

I think it is safe to say, and very apparent, that I adored A Month in the Country. I think it is easily one of the best things that I have read in years and a book that will not only last with me for years to come but also be read by me again and again for years to come. It is the kind of rare book that makes you look at your life and tells you not to waste it, not to have regrets and to do all the things you want to do, not what people want you to. If you haven’t read it, which is possibly unlikely, then you must. I can see why so many authors have it as a firm favourite, it is a perfect piece of prose. A little gem of a novella.

Inscribed by Gran

Inscribed by Gran

My only real regret with the novel is that I can’t talk to Gran about it. As soon as I had finished it I felt the age old urge to phone her and rave about it all (yes, a year down the line this still happens when I read a book I really love) and discuss it further. However, not to get too nostalgic and melancholic, I just sat and thanked her for a moment for having led me to it, plus I have all of you to discuss it with now don’t I?

12 Comments

Filed under Books of 2014, J.L. Carr, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review

With a Zero at Its Heart – Charles Lambert

If I was to mention to you a book written in 24 themed chapters, each with 10 numbered paragraphs of exactly 120 words in length then your thoughts may go several ways. Some of you may think it sounds pretentious, some of you may think it sounds too clever and a gimmick, some of you may think it sounds like an author testing their craft and being experimental leading to amazing results. The latter of you would be right, the book I am describing is Charles Lambert’s With a Zero at Its Heart which I had the pleasure of living with for a while recently and was rather sad to leave.

The Friday Project, paperback, 2014, fiction/non-fiction (you decide), 150 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I can’t decide if With a Zero at Its Heart is a novel or a memoir. I can’t decide if it matters. I have decided that with each chapter being made up of ten concise short bursts of recollection around a theme that it lingers somewhere delightfully between the two. I have also decided it is going to be quite a mission to do it justice and explain just how wonderfully it evokes the story of a (rather bookish) young man as he grows up, discovers he is gay, finds himself, travels, becomes a writer and then deals with the death of his parents and the nostalgia and questions that brings about the meaning of life and how we live it.

What is so clever about With a Zero at Its Heart is the way that the novel is constructed. I don’t just mean the 24 chapters with 10 paragraphs all of 120 characters, though this makes for a very condensed work and intensifies the gamut of emotions (joy, sorrow, love, loss, the works) throughout. Initially because every paragraph in every themed chapter is from a different point in the narrator/authors life you worry that you are disconnected. Soon you feel completely opposite as the more you read the more you connect these snippets and short stories from a life into the wider whole story. For example we follow, on and off, the huge story that is the experience of the death of his parents, we also follow smaller stories like a bunch of cleaned bottles which clearly are a vivid part of his memory and have a tale to tell. There is something joyous in the celebration and companionship of the bigger and smaller stories all interweaving.

He’s waiting for his father to get home, standing on the sofa beside the bay window that looks out onto the street. When the car comes round the corner he waves and jumps up and down. His father drives past the window and beneath the arch that leads into the yard, then storms into the house. He’s furious. He walks across the room and grabs the arm of his son, who’s still on the sofa, and pulls him off until the boy is half-standing, half-crouching on the floor. His father slaps him round the back of the head. By the time his mother comes in they’re both shaking. That sofa’s new, his father says. He must think I’m made of money.

It is in a way a collection of 240, I think I have done the maths right there, moments that in themselves are a small story and world within the bigger universe of a person’s memory. Here also the themes in each chapter come in to play. The titles are wonderful, with a sense of the serious and the fun, like ‘Language or Death and Cucumbers’, ‘Money Or Brown Sauce Sandwiches’ or ‘Correspondence or Coterminous with the Cat’. Yet what is fascinating is that as we read about subject like death, money, sex, and the body we see how the relevance of those words and indeed those objects change as his life progresses. The first paragraph/memory/story being the earliest and then they come nearer to the future.

It is also a book very much about books, writing and the power of words and language. Through both the experimental form, showing us what words can do in varied and unusual ways and the fact that the prose is so short, sharp and beautifully pristine. As I mentioned the condensing of it has a real intensity which will sit with you throughout. It is of course also the story of a young man who becomes a writer and creator of stories themselves.

His favourite aunt gives him a typewriter. The first thing he writes is a story about people who gather in a room above a shop to invoke the devil. When they hear the clatter of cloven hooves on the stairs the story ends, but the typewriter continues to tap out words, and then paragraphs, and then pages until the floor is covered. He picks them up and places them in a box as fast as they come, and then a second box, and then a third. There is no end to it. I am nothing more than a channel, he whispers to himself, and the typewriter pauses for a moment and then, on a new sheet, types the word Possession.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I loved With a Zero at Its Heart. I found it deeply touching and moving in its subject and prose, and also exciting for its form. It is one of those wonderful books which tests you slightly as a reader, plays with you (in a good way) and then grabs hold of you and takes you over. It is a relatively short book yet one that I was reading both in gulps and then having a break to let all the stories settle and the bigger picture slowly but surely form. It is in essence the story of a life in 24 chapters and is quite unlike anything I have read before. Highly recommended reading, one of the most original books I have read in a very long time.

I am definitely going to have to head to more of Charles Lambert’s back catalogue as it is rare that an author can write a book with such an unusual form and make something so emotive and compelling. The last time I came across such books were Dan Rhodes’ Anthropology and the slightly shorter – in all senses – and teeny bit more gimmicky (if I am being honest, though I liked it a lot)  The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan. I have to say though, Lambert’s has a much heftier emotional punch than either, and you know how much I love Mr Rhodes! Have any of you read any of Charles Lambert’s novels and if so which should I head to next? Which other original and ‘experimental’ books have you tried and been rather bowled over by and why?

7 Comments

Filed under Books of 2014, Charles Lambert, Review, The Friday project

Banished To Room 101…

This post, stealing from the episode of The Readers it is inspired/regurgitated from, was going to have the tagline/subtitle ‘Where Bad Bookish Bits Are Banished…’ which seemed a bit dramatic but does actually describe the very essence of what today’s post (which I have been meaning to write for about five weeks) is all about. The bookish bits and bobs which really get on our nerves and we would love to see banished into Room 101, which of course comes from that great novel 1984 by Mr George Orwell. A place where your worst, in this case bookish, fears are hidden away.


So I thought what I would do is share my top five most disliked bookish bits and bobs, the ones that if I could I would have banished from books and my booky lifestyle, then maybe you can all share some of yours too. It’s like playing god really which is something I wouldn’t mind once in a while. Anyway, without further ado and waffle here are the things I would send to the depths in reverse order…

5. Indented or Italic Speech – One of the things that makes me inwardly groan when I read a book is when it comes to a character speaking and instead of simply putting the speech in speech marks, which would seem the normal and proper thing to do, someone up above in the publishing house (or even the author) has decided that this is an outdated form and they can do better… with indents or italics. With indents I just get pissed off because it looks really cheap and almost as if no one could be bothered to do a ‘ and thought a – was much more hipster and modern. Don’t even get me started on italics, they offend my eyes even more – quite literally as they make me feel I have gone out of focus.

4. No Chapters/Excessive Paragraphs – Now like the above this isn’t a complete killer, it just frustrates me. Well in the case of no chapters it frustrates me. You see I am one of those annoying people who like to know when the next chapter ends to see how many pages I have left that I can squeeze in a random ten minutes, quick bus journey, trip to the loo (oh come on we all do it) etc. I worry and get a bit stabby otherwise. Worst case scenario I will find a page that ends in a full stop, where I can fully stop. Excessive paragraphs oddly offend me more, and don’t even suggest books with no paragraphs because it makes me feel quite faint. Unless it is stylistic (I did read a book that was one single sentence – the whole thing – and rather enjoyed it) then it just comes across as an author loving the sound of their own voice/prose a little too much.

3. #AmWriting – Speaking of authors this hashtag on Twitter infuriates me, almost to the point of blocking. Now I know that really this isn’t in books, but it is by the people who write them and honestly I just cannot stand it. We know you are writers, we often love that you are, but how about saying ‘I am doing some really interesting research for my new book’ which is quite conversational? Imagine if everyone online hashtagged their jobs #AmFixingBrains #AmUnblockingToilets #AmRobbingYourHouse You aren’t writing, you are tweeting, you are clearly bored or feeling like you need some attention. Just write the book.

Now the top two offenders…

Dan+Brown+Inferno+Set+Best+Seller+Year+PwAPEm_GVgql

No not Dan Brown…

2. Stickers on Books – Who thought this was a good idea? Ever? You go to a bookshop buy a lovely new book, go home, peel the sticker off and either a) it leaves a sticky residue for any old fluff to get stuck on or the other book you bought when they both go on your TBR together b) tears a bit of the cover of so you are hastening to stick it on the bloody book again c) takes of the lacquer leaving a dull sticker shaped mark. In charity shops with old books it’s even worse, they are apocalypse lasting stickers. They tear, they tug, they leave a mess. Ugh. Oh and some charity shops pop them on the first page – ARE YOU MAD? #AmStoppingStickersOnBooksNow

dogeared pages

1. Cracking Spines/Dog Earing Pages/Writing in Books – I call this book butchery. I can understand if you are at school writing in a book might be plausible, but don’t you have an exercise book? This should go into adulthood. I love keeping notes on books, in fact to write a decent review I need to keep notes. I have book notebooks for this. Dog earing pages just makes me ponder why? After all bookmarks, beautiful items they can be, were invented for a reason. No bookmark? Try a ticket, a piece of tissue, your tie… ANYTHING other than dog earing. Library books seem to get this the worst which offends me more… it’s a public book! Cracking spines? Well why don’t you just stamp on my heart, the book is screaming, how would you like it if someone cracked your spine. These three all link into why I never lend people books, the fact this may happen makes me have night sweats. Yes, I am one of those people whose shelves you look at and ponder if I have actually read them… I have and I am proud they are pretty much perfect.

So those are my top five, for all of my Room 101 rants (and there were a few more) aswell as the lovely Thomas Otto of My Porch’s you can listen to this episode of The Readers. What I would love to know are which bookish things drive you insane, bookish crimes if you will, and why? What would you send to Room 101?

45 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Other People’s Bookshelves #46; Charles Lambert

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshleves, a series of posts set to feed into the filthy book lust/porn and either give you a fix of other people’s shelves to stave you off going on a buying/borrowing spree, or making you want to run and grab as many more books as you can. This week we are heading off to Italy to join author and avid reader, Charles Lambert. So grab yourself an Amaretto and orange juice, a slice of pizza and let’s have have a nosey round his shelves and find out more about him…

OK, I was born and grew up in various parts of the Midlands. I left the UK a year after finishing university in 1975 and I’ve lived in Italy ever since, with brief spells in Ireland and Portugal, and two failed attempts to return to England. I may have one more try at this before I’m too old. I’ve published four novels, the two most recent this year, one collection of short stories and a novella, with two more novels due in the next 15 months. I’m inordinately fond of my latest book, With A Zero At Its Heart (obligatory plug). I live in a large old house halfway between Rome and Naples with the artist Giuseppe Mallia, my partner since 1986 and my civil partner since 2012. I consider myself very fortunate indeed.

???????????????????????????????

Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I’m a terrible (although not, I hope, pathological) hoarder, so getting rid of books is something I find quite hard to do. I need to dislike a book extremely before I’ll consider throwing it out, although I might give it away or contrive to lose it by leaving it on public transport by ‘mistake’. So pretty much everything I read ends up on a shelf. For more on this, see the next answer.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

As a teenager I organised by colour, series, etc. so all my Penguins were side-by-side, with the Modern Classics on a shelf of their own, and so on. (There’s a section in ZERO about this – second obligatory plug.) I was (am) a bit of a completist. I’m still tempted to do this with particularly attractive books, like those published by And Other Stories. Now, though, I separate fiction from non-fiction and use a rough and ready alphabetical system for the former and whatever seems reasonable for the latter, with my criteria getting more and more idiosyncratic as the subsets emerge. Books I don’t really love may hang around on the still-to-be-shelved shelves for months, or even years, before I get round to putting them where they should be. And then there are the to-be-read shelves, which are also pretty daunting.

???????????????????????????????

In the past I’ve had a few culls, often because I needed money, and sold books I wish I still had, which has taught the accumulative side of me a lesson it probably would have been better not to learn. From this point of view I’m dreading the next house move (something I’m looking forward to in most other ways) because it will almost certainly involve downsizing my library, and I’m not sure how or where to start.

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

I don’t remember. Probably an Enid Blyton and, if it was, probably one of the Adventure series, to which I owe many of my darkest nightmares. (I can’t thank you enough, Enid.) I almost certainly don’t have it any longer because practically all my childhood books were destroyed when my parents’ house burnt down in the mid-1970s; the few that were rescued have blackened spines, a toxic mixture of smoke and water, presumably. Some of the ones that were lost, including the Adventure series, have since been replaced at enormous cost.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

I don’t feel guilty about anything I’ve read, and certainly not about anything that’s been a pleasure. And, yes, I do have a copy of the Da Vinci Code somewhere, although I’m not sure where. I admit that I was briefly embarrassed when we had the builders in and I found one of them thumbing through one of my Straight to Hell anthologies, bought in the days when pornography was only obtainable from specialised outlets in places like Camden High Street (or Blackwells, in the case of the STH series). But embarrassment isn’t the same thing as guilt. And, come to think of it, I did buy a copy of 120 Days of Sodom once, from the late and much-lamented Compendium in Camden High St, and, after reading the first third of it, decided I didn’t want it in the house and took it back to the shop. That felt like guilt. I may have swapped it for an Eleanor Farjeon collection. At least, I’d like to think so.

??????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

Ah yes, fire! (See above.) Mine is Frank O’Hara’s Collected Poems. I’ve taken it with me from room to room, and house to house, since 1973. It’s stained and battered and heavy, and I love every page of it.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

My parents weren’t great book collectors. My father distrusted fiction and my mother, who had been a great reader, developed glaucoma when I was a child and turned to the radio. But the family of my best friend, the girl who lived next door, had just moved back from the States, which made their shelves very glamorous, and I do mean that in a ‘Fifty Shades’ way! So the first adult book I wanted to read was probably a James Bond novel, in which case it is on my shelves now. But it might have been The Carpetbaggers or something else by Harold Robbins, in which case it isn’t. Apart from that, I don’t remember feeling that there was a distinction between books for children and grown-ups. I read pretty much everything I could, and a lot of it would probably have been considered unsuitable if anyone had noticed. Fortunately, no one did.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I used libraries a lot as a child and teenager, but I still remember the wrench of returningbooks. More recently, I had a spell of library-going and still wish I had my own copy of Francis Spufford’s brilliant Red Plenty. Generally though I buy everything I want to read specifically to avoid having to give books back. On the odd occasions I do borrow books from friends I have an unforgivable tendency to hang onto them longer than I should, so be warned. I must admit that I feel the same sense of frustration when I’ve read a book I love as an e-book, and often end up buying a print copy as well. I suppose I want to be able not only to read it but also to possess it as an object, and as a record of the reading. Hoarder, moi?

???????????????????????????????

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

Diogo Mainardi’s The Fall – an extraordinary memoir by a father of his child’s cerebral palsy organised into 424 steps. This was sent to me by my wonderful publisher, Scott Pack, because he thought it had similarities with ZERO (third and final plug). The last book I bought myself was The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. I’ve been meaning to read her for ages…

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

Yes, the copy I bought of The Golden Key by George MacDonald when I was at university. It was a beautiful little hardback and I don’t know where it’s gone. If anyone who reads this has it, can I have it back please?

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

I’d like them to think I was a widely-read and totally un-snobbish. I hope that’s what they do think!

???????????????????????????????

***************************************************

A huge thanks to Charles for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, I will be sharing my thoughts on With A Zero at Its Heart very soon! If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Charles’ responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

4 Comments

Filed under Other People's Bookshelves