Not The Booker 2015

I am back online, and just in time as the Not The Booker shortlist has been announced which I have been very excited about for the last week. Yes, you heard me right ‘Not’ The Booker. If you haven’t heard of it before it is an annual prize that The Guardian run around Man Booker Longlist time, the difference is that book lovers get to vote which I think makes it all the more exciting, and in past years all the more controversial as I discovered when I joined in and then judged back in 2013. This year people nominated a 70 strong longlist, which if you want a list of corking sounding books then do go have a look. Now almost 1,000 people have voted on which books go through (voting for two books the books with the most votes go through, sounds simple never quite is) and the shortlist of six books has been announced – and I am going to read them all. Oh yes, here they are…

  • Shame – Melanie Finn
  • The Artificial Anatomy of Parks – Kat Gordon
  • Fishnet – Kirstin Innes
  • Things We Have in Common – Tasha Kavanagh
  • Dark Star – Oliver Langmead
  • The Good Son – Paul McVeigh

I am very excited for two reasons. The first is that I nominated The Good Son in the first round as I was just at the end of it and think it is an utterly marvellous debut novel that cleverly deals with the recent violent history in Northern Ireland through a wonderful young (and not precocious, amazing) narrator who I will remember for a very long time – it got through, I am thrilled. Secondly just look at that list, isn’t it brilliant. Firstly these are six (almost) new to me books (I knew McVeigh’s as I voted for it, I also have the Kavanagh on the shelves) as well as six (almost) new to me authors. This is exactly what I loved about judging Fiction Uncovered and ticks many of my ‘reading outside the box’ boxes. Yes, there is an irony to those boxes, anyway…

It is a real mix of books. There are tales of Africa, surburban thrillers, science fiction, tales of escorts and prostitution, family dramas and tales of the IRA in Ireland, there is also a really interesting sway towards debut novels and independent publishers. It is a list that I find really exciting, so I have already been and bought two (no, not on that awful river based site) and Kat Gordon and Oliver Langmead will be in the post shortly. Finn’s editor has already tweeted me and is winging a copy of that over which will be the first book to be discussed around the 17th of August. So I thought I would let you know in case you wanted to join in with the fun.

Anyone else joining in? Have you read any of these books and if so what did you make of them?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Not The Booker Prize, Random Savidgeness

Silenced By Technology

So it’s been a bit quiet around here this weekend, actually in reality at Savidge Reads HQ it has been a weekend of swearing at my computer screen or having endless hour long chats with techn-bods at the end of the phone all over the world. In short Windows 10 killed my computer and introduced the blue screen of death which restarts your computer for eternity. Seriously, horrendous.  

I could go on an indepth rant about how rude PC World’s staff were over the phone (the Know How team who don’t know how to empathise or be polite), how it took five calls to get someone at Microsoft to admit they understood what on earth I was talking about or how global company HP don’t have customer services on the weekends. I won’t. I will say thank you to my mate Adam who picked it up last night and has mended it and upgraded it and will deliver it later on this evening. In the meantime I am sat in the corner reading. Back properly soon… Hopefully!

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Get Your Glad Rags On For Gladfest 2015

I mentioned the other day how much I love literature when it is live and how I am a big fan of events in bookshops, hotels and of course festivals. Over the autumn I am going to be attending a few literature festivals and the first one, and indeed the only one I can talk about for now, is Gladfest which happens on the borders of North Wales and Cheshire and is just down the road from me, taking place in the most gorgeous venue with a brilliant line up of authors and events.

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If you love books (which of course you are, that is why you’ve popped by) then if you have yet to get to Gladstone’s Library, which you can see above, then you really should. It is the UK’s only Prime Ministerial Library after it was former Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone founded the library in 1894 and donated 32,000 books from his own personal library at Hawarden Castle. Today, the library has a world-renowned collection of more than 250,000 items specialising in theology, history, culture, politics and literature attracting writers, academics, clergy and students from all over the world. The library is seriously stunning…

Theology Room Gallery

If that wasn’t enough, and frankly getting a sneaky wander around the library should be, the line up of authors is brilliant. Gladfest 2015 will be playing host to Patrick Barkham, Matthew Bradley, Jessie Burton, Robyn Cadwallader, Sarah Dunant, Richard Beard, Judy Brown, Sarah Butler, Zia Chaudhry, Martin Edwards, Michel Faber, Simon Grennan, Lesley McDowell, Michael Nobbs, Sarah Perry, Patrick Gale, Melissa Harrison, Peter Moore, Alice Oseman. I have my sites on seeing many of these authors when I head there for the day on the Saturday.

History room and reader

Oh and did I mention that is also a residential library with 26 bedrooms, dining room/coffee shop, Common Room, conference facilities, chapel and gardens. So if you need somewhere to kip there might be rooms but if you are a budding writer and need a retreat then head here and follow in the steps of authors like Sarah Waters, Sarah Dunant, Salley Vickers, Loyd Grossman, Tony Benn as well as many of the authors who will be in attendance.

sleep with books

Oh and if you are a writer you might like to check out some of the talks and workshops on subject froms how to review your own work to how to be creative, and even how to inject fear and loathing into your writing!

Gladstone Room 2

There are more than 20 talks and workshops taking place across the three day literary festival as well as music, singing, crafts and of course, delicious home-cooked food at the Food for Thought Café and the library’s famous, Gladstone Cookies. Gladfest will host a full programme of activities for young people including the ‘So You Want to be an… Actor, Director & Scriptwriter’ events as well as storytelling and discussions on Shakespeare and Roald Dahl.

Basically there will be blinking loads on! I won’t be staying there the whole weekend (but I have it in my sites on it for a future reading retreat one weekend) however I will be there on the Saturday to see Melissa Harrison, Michel Faber, Peter Moore, Sarah Perry and Jessie Burton. I am gutted to be missing Patrick Gale on the Sunday and the murder mystery dinner on the Friday but thems the breaks.

William Gladstone 2

The festival runs from the 4th to the 6th of September, I went last year and loved it, despite being terribly jetlagged. Tickets cost £6 for the talks and £10 for the workshops. To book, call 01244 532350 or email enquiries@gladlib.org or visit https://www.gladstoneslibrary.org For more information, times and how to book then do get your mitts on the festival programme here. Hopefully I will see some of you there that weekend – oh and of course I will be reporting on it, and podcasting from it, over the coming months!

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Mobile Library – David Whitehouse

Many of you may know, as being so excited I mentioned it a few times, I had the joy of judging Fiction Uncovered earlier this year. Over the next few weeks (and indeed last two weeks) I will be (and have been) sharing my thoughts with you on the winners, one per week. This week it is David Whitehouse’s utterly brilliant Mobile Library which is one of those books that charms you so much and whose characters you become so attached to you hug it to you afterwards, like you were ten again.

Picador Books, hardback, 2015, fiction, 384 pages, kindly submitted by the publisher for Fiction Uncovered (I am tempted to have this cover made into some kind of tattoo design!)

Bobby Nusku is a twelve year old unhappy in the world that he is living. His mother has disappeared, he has tried to catalogue as much of her life as he can in a box of artefacts he keeps hidden, his father has met a new woman and both of them either spend the time ignoring Bobby, telling him off or being drunk. If that wasn’t bad enough his best friend, and protector from school bullies, Sunny has had to move away after a failed attempt to turn himself into the first human-cyborg. After witnessing an act of bullying on someone else, Rosa, he tries to pay for his cowardice by befriending her and in doing so comes to meet her mother Vera, and before long they all decide to escape their lives, quite literally, in a mobile library.

In case you are thinking ‘oh Simon, you rotten spoil sport, you have given everything away’ I actually haven’t. Once on the road and off on the adventures of their lives so far, for good and bad reasons, much happens and they meet many people and get into various scrapes along the way. Also, Mobile Library actually begins somewhere towards its end and so we back pedal and then head towards a literal cliff-hanger we know is coming. Though we don’t know what happens after it, ooh that David Whitehouse is a teaser.

‘Are we in trouble?’ Bobby asked?
‘No,’ Val said, ‘not anymore.’
The white cliffs of southern England spread out beyond them, disappearing where the blues, sea and sky, coalesce. High up in the cab of the mobile library, they could not see the land below them, just the oceans ceaseless loop, as if they were driving an island through the sea to a faraway place. Hemmed by a crescent of police cars to the cliff edge, bulbs flashed, helicopters chopped up the air. When the sirens fell mute, he saw her, exquisite in the dim dashboard light.

I will say no more on the plot bar the fact that it involves camping in woods, creepy old mansions, an escaped convict and an abandoned zoo. The reason I mention all these things is because they were all things I loved in books as ‘a youth’ and of course still do, so there was a lovely nostalgic feeling as I was reading. There is no doubt that this is Whitehouse’s intention as actually the book takes on many tropes of the fairytales (for me the Ladybird Classics) that I would say 90% of us read or had read to us when we were small. Bobby himself, though admittedly without the ugly stepsisters or his parents giving a monkey’s how dirty the house is, is rather a Cinderella figure in some ways, Val his fairy godmother and the Mobile Library his pumpkin… though the story doesn’t follow the path of Cinderella you can see other nods to fairytale as you go, especially towards the very end.

One thing the book doesn’t have is magic, well at least not of the wands, spells, eye of newt or enchanted spinning wheel (or steering wheel, see what I did there – sorry!) kind. There are two other kinds of magic in it, love and friendship. Now any of you who think I have been kidnapped by some hippy commune bear with me. Love is something we cannot explain, there is no science behind it, there is no logic and the same applies to friendship, these invisible bonds tie us together for some unknown rhyme or reason. That is a magic of sorts and we take it far too much for granted which was something I felt strongly after finishing the book.

The theme of friendship also links onto the other major theme of the book which is what makes a family. The stereotypical family of 2.4 children and indeed the ‘nuclear’ family (whatever that meant, it sounds horrid) can no longer be defined so easily. I know this all too well with two half brothers, two half sisters and two step sisters – I know think of the Christmases’! Not only that though more and more people are creating family through friendships, I am Uncle (Sugabear in some cases) to a lot of my friends children because there are certain friends who you feel are more your family than your own family. Whitehouse looks at this through a group of people who couldn’t be more different and yet somehow – no spoilers – become a family of sorts. People who either have difficult or awkward family relationships or feel they have no real family at all.

These days she looked forward to visiting the doctor. As cold as his hands were, small talk was a welcome respite from the otherwise lengthy nothingness. Sometimes she considered faking symptoms, just to feel that rough chill against her body and talk about the changing weather.

Having read Whitehouse’s previous novel Bed, which shamefully I loved but haven’t reviewed, it is interesting to see that his theme of outsiders in society is still there. Interestingly I think Mobile Library is like a polar opposite look at these ‘underdogs’ because whereas in Bed the act of someone going to bed forever is about dropping out of society due to a lack of hope, here we have people desperate for love and belonging. Even when ‘Sometimes,’ she said to nobody in particular, ‘I worry that life is just the journey between toilets.’ there is a glimmer of hope and potential which may be fulfilled at some point. Isn’t that the essence of every great fairytale?

Yes, I am back to fairy tales again. Speaking of which, if you hadn’t guessed yet, Mobile Library is also a book about the power and wonder of books. I need say no more, brilliant…

‘In every book is a clue about life,’ Val said. ‘That’s how stories are connected. You bring them to life when you read them, so the things that happen in them will happen to you.’
‘I don’t think the things that happen in books will happen in my life,’ he said.
‘That’s where you’re wrong,’ she said. ‘You just don’t recognise them yet.’  

I loved, and hugged, Mobile Library which is frankly some of the highest praise that I can give it. It is a book that reminds you of the magic of books, friendship, family and love without any magic having actually occurred. It is also an adventure story, possibly the most quintessentially British road trip novel you could encounter. It is also a book that despite being marketed for adults, I think many a ‘youth’ should read as I think it will remind them of the brilliance of reading and the fun it can be, as much as it reminds we adults of all ages, of just the same thing. I’m a massive fan of books, Mobile Library reminded me why whilst making me even more of a fan.

If you would like to hear  David talking about Mobile Library in more detail you can hear him chatting with me on Fiction Uncovered FM and he will also be on You Wrote The Book next week, again with me but quite a different chat. Who else has read Mobile Library and what did you think of it? Which other books about books and grown up fairy tales have you loved? I always want more recommendations of those.

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Filed under Books of 2015, David Whitehouse, Fiction Uncovered, Picador Books, Review

The Man Booker Prize Longlist 2015…

So yesterday I had fun guessing what the Man Booker Longlist would be and now, as I you all want to know what it is before you hear my possibly garbled thoughts on it, here are the books that Ellah Allfrey, John Burnside, Sam Leith and Frances Osborne all judged as being super special and the finest fiction…

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  • Bill Clegg (US) – Did You Ever Have a Family (Jonathan Cape)
  • Anne Enright (Ireland) – The Green Road (Jonathan Cape)
  • Marlon James (Jamaica) – A Brief History of Seven Killings (Oneworld Publications)
  • Laila Lalami (US) – The Moor’s Account (Periscope, Garnet Publishing)
  • Tom McCarthy (UK) – Satin Island (Jonathan Cape)
  • Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria) – The Fishermen (ONE, Pushkin Press)
  • Andrew O’Hagan (UK) – The Illuminations (Faber & Faber)
  • Marilynne Robinson (US) – Lila (Virago)
  • Anuradha Roy (India) – Sleeping on Jupiter (MacLehose Press, Quercus)
  • Sunjeev Sahota (UK) – The Year of the Runaways (Picador)
  • Anna Smaill (New Zealand) – The Chimes (Sceptre)
  • Anne Tyler (US) – A Spool of Blue Thread (Chatto & Windus)
  • Hanya Yanagihara (US) – A Little Life (Picador)

Surprise surprise as I was absolutely nowhere near correct as I only guessed three. What are my initial thoughts? Well, since you asked so nicely, I think that the list is as always an interesting one. I have read ? of them and am obviously thrilled about A Little Life being on the list, I may even have done a little dance in the lounge which is only for the eyes of my cats. I am also really excited to see Chigozie Obioma and Marlon James on there. I think what is interesting is that some of the big hitters everyone expected to be on the list aren’t. No Ishiguro, no Atwood, no Atkinson (boo), no Toibin etc – which I actually find quite exciting. Firstly all those books are selling like hotcakes so that’s them sorted, secondly it means there are some books that will get a chance to be discussed that might not have been. In the industry we all know of Tyler, Enright, McCarthy and Robinson but outside of the industry is that the case? And then there are even more to discover, I want to read Sahota pronto now, I loved his first. My only minor niggle is Gattis not being on the list, oh and where are all the Australian and Canadian authors. Anyway… I need to mull it all over a little more but overall I think its an interesting list I may well delve into. As it stands I want Yanagihara to win.

So what are your thoughts on the longlist? Which of them have you read and what did you make of them? Which ones are you now planning on reading? I am asking the latter question myself. I might go for all the ones I haven’t you know, maybe…

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Man Booker Prize 2015 Longlist Predictions…

Sorry I couldn’t come up with a more snazzy title than that this morning but having just spent a good hour or two going through my bookshelves, both of the books I have read this year and the ones I have yet to (which made me have a moment of weeping from the shame), so my brain is slightly frazzled. The reason I was doing this exercise was to see which books I thought would make it onto the Man Booker Longlist tomorrow, always a fun game which many people have joined in with already. I must say, before I reveal the list, there is no way on earth I think I am a) anywhere near right b) in a position where I feel I should be c) am not sure I want to be anywhere near right as I like the surprise of new to me books. How can any of us, unless we are one of the judges or the administration team, have a clue? I have just gone on books I have read and loved and books that I really want to read that I can see as being ‘Booker’ books, whatever that is – let’s not open up that can of worms! So here goes…

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A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
All Involved – Ryan Gattis
The Good Son – Paul McVeigh
Girl At War – Sara Novic
A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James
TheWallcreeper – Nell Zink

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I Saw A Man – Owen Sheers
At Hawthorn Time – Melissa Harrison
The Wolf Border – Sarah Hall
The Well – Catherine Chanter
Tender – Belinda McKeon
Us Conductors – Sean Michaels

Note, I am missing one and that is because I don’t have it. I think The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma could also be on the list, it is one I am very eager to read at some point. Now you may be thinking ‘hang on a minute sunshine whatabout x, y or z’ well these lists are tricky and you can only go with your gut but I did have another 11 that I could have had on that list which at the moment I purged I thought could go either way…

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Yes, I know those are a pile of nine books but I cannot find my copy of The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan and Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins is on a very high shelf (yes those shelves in the picture above go on up very very very high) and I couldn’t reach it without getting chairs involved and all sorts. I loved A God in Ruins but I wonder if the clever sneaky very subtle twist will be a marmite effect as I know lots of people who (because clearly they have hearts made from coal surrounded by ice, ha) were left slightly unmoved by it. Anyway, any of the above and aforementioned, if not pictured, I would like to see on the list very much indeed. Though as I have mentioned part of the joy of it is the surprise that may await us.

Would I have a tantrum if any of these weren’t on the list? Possibly with A Little Life, which might be one of my books of a lifetime, and All Involved because I think Gattis has written a fascinating insight into gang culture which puts you on a roller-coaster from start to finish (unputdownable would be the cliche I would use if I could, oh… I have) and is crafted and characterised beautifully, and A God In Ruins will ruin you, if you have a normal person’s heart – hehehe. Annoyingly I have only reviewed the Atkinson as the other two will be on You Wrote The Book in due course so am holding off till then. Oh, I am rambling, let us wrap up. What I can say is that I am very excited about tomorrows list and will be awaiting it with much interest.

If you would like to see more guesses there are some at A Case For Books, A Life in Books, Farm Lane Books and over at Neil D. A. Stewart’s blog. Oh and if you want a whole different list you can vote on then check out the Not The Booker Longlist 2015 too. Now over to you, what do you think of the books I have chosen (have you read any?) and which books are you hoping will make the list and why? Let me know if you have had a go at predicting tomorrows list.

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Station Eleven – Emily St John Mandel

I first heard about Station Eleven when I was in a hotel room in Asheville, North Carolina. My lovely roomie, Michael Kindness of Books on the Nightstand, was reading it while we were at Booktopia. He was really enjoying it and it was fair to say that when he was seen with it in his company, or when it was heard he had it, there was almost a fever of anticipation and a buzz going through the many Booktopia attendees. I asked what it was about, as naturally Michael and I spent the entirety of our room sharing talking books, and was told it is about the start of the end of civilization and then the aftermath twenty years later. I think you could hear my eyes rolling around the whole of the U.S and I may have made some snarky comment along the lines of ‘oh, that’s not something that has been written about before is it?’ I came back to the UK and Station Eleven  was soon being talked about everywhere, before swiftly becoming many people’s (lots of whom I trust immensely) favourite books of 2014. After someone, who will remain nameless, but who bloody loved this book sooooo much dared me to read it on the promise of £50 if I didn’t like it I decided it was time. Well, I never got the £50 because I loved it and was of course furious I hadn’t stolen Michael’s proof off him when I had the chance.

Picador Books, paperback, 2015, fiction, 384 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Station Eleven opens, aptly, at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto where well-known (more famous in his youth) actor Arthur is taking on the lead role in Shakespeare’s King Lear, that is until midway through the show he collapses and dies from what initially appears to be a heart attack. Yet within hours not only is Toronto feeling the beginnings of what seems to be a pandemic flu, the whole world is following suit. Through the eyes of a seemingly unlinked group of people we watch as flu turns out to be a deadly virus and the end of the world is coming.

Yet Station Eleven is not simply an end of the world novel, in fact bar the initial millions of deaths (99.9% of humans have died, he says casually) in the first few days we are soon sent to the year Twenty when those who somehow survived, or were immune, to the virus are carrying on in a new strange world. Here Mandel focuses in more particularly with Kirsten, part of The Symphony, travelling around North America performing Shakespeare as they head through the wilderness we see both a future that is much simpler (no phones, no television, no electrics) yet where humans living at their most base start to want powers of other kinds. All I will say is ‘cults’ and we know how fascinating, if utterly bizarre, some of those can be.

There was much to love and admire in Station Eleven. Firstly I found the fact that Mandel chooses to write about the very beginnings and then skip to twenty years after the end of civilisation, really interesting. Many authors would have gone full throttle with the horror of what could happen as the humanity falls and then deals with everything’s slowly breaking down and running out. Mandel however, bar a few of the tiniest flashbacks, leaves that all to our imagination which of course can be much worse. I wondered if she felt, like I did when I rolled my eyes back in Asheville like a wally, that maybe this is ground that has almost been covered too much, isn’t how and if people survive after that all the more interesting? It turns out it is.

Before we head to that I do want to mention how brilliantly she does write about the pandemic as it sweeps across continents. It is utterly bloody terrifying as it could all happen so easily, especially if we think what happened with Ebola recently, all it takes is the virus to get on a few plans with a few people and off it spreads. I don’t suggest reading this book on a plane next to anyone with a cold. I thought this also had a real emotive weight on several occasions, with particular reference for those who die not long after including one leading-ish character far from their loved ones and indeed surrounded by strangers (who I won’t name, but I wept) as well as those people who we only see the merest glances of through survivor’s eyes.

“You told me to call you if there was ever a real epidemic?”
“I remember.”
“We’ve admitted over two hundred flu patients since this morning,” Hua said. “A hundred and sixty in the past three hours. Fifteen of them have died. The ER’s full of new cases. We’ve got beds parked in hallways. Health Canada’s about to make an announcement.” It wasn’t only exhaustion, Jeevan realised, Hua was afraid.
Jeevan pulled the bell cord and made his way to the rear door. He found himself glancing at the other passengers. The young woman with groceries, the man in the business suit playing a game on his cell phone, the elderly couple conversing quietly in Hindi. Had any of them come from the airport?  He was aware of all of them breathing around him.

In the year Twenty things are no less emotive or terrifying, just in a very different way. People who have survived the pandemic might die simply treading on a rusty nail as there is no treatment. People are also suffering as with no police/official control/government some lesser individuals see this as a way to form their own controls be it husbands and their behaviour to wives, criminals and murderers lingering just out of eye sight ready and waiting, or self appointed rulers ready to spread wisdom from the past they use old documents and twist the words of or simply make them up themselves. We watch the way someone’s nature, be it good or bad, can come to the fore.

It is interesting to read how the ripples of the past end up affecting the future in ways unseen. Throughout Station Eleven Mandel seems to use it to talk about many things. There is fame and why people become so obsessed with it, we have the fame (or the fading of it) for Arthur in the past, and the seeming need for infamy of ‘The Prophet’ in the future. We look at what truly lasts after the world is ravaged, yes there are aeroplanes and cars and all those sorts of things yet without power they become useless, what really become valuable are documents, words, trinkets, memories and history, even pop culture is celebrated for some of the positive attributes is has in a desolate future.

We stand it because we were younger than you were when everything ended, Kirsten thought, but not young enough to remember nothing at all. Because there isn’t much time left, because all the roofs are collapsing now and soon none of the old buildings will be safe. Because we are always looking for the former world, before all the traces of the former world are gone.

I really like books with layers and Station Eleven has those in bounds. On one level it is just a fast paced and fascinating look at the end of one civilisation and potential beginning of another. There is plague, there is murder, there are cults, there are loves lost and found. There’s also a lot going on under that; we are reminded how vapid celebrity culture can be and yet how obsessed we can become with the famous on our many devices, rather than getting to know a neighbour; the importance of words and culture; how important kindness is. I could go on, the power of all of these and more subtly resonates through the book. The most powerful thing of all though is hope, especially in other people and their choices to be good. That was the message I was left with as I left a world that seemed like the future yet reminded me to look away from all my screens and remember a simpler past – where books ruled.

If you would like to hear Emily St John Mandel talk more about Station Eleven then you can hear her chatting to me (I know, how lucky was I) here on this episode of You Wrote The Book. I would love to hear your thoughts on Station Eleven, a spectrum of which you can see here on Adventures with Words, Tomcat in the Redroom, Mookse and the Gripes and Lonesome Reader. I would also love to know which of Emily’s previous three books you have read (as I now have them all) and what you made of those?

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