Monthly Archives: June 2010

Do You Book Juggle?

I never thought that I would become a book juggler. Well in all fairness until about five or six years ago I never thought I would become an avid reader but there you have it. I have to say though until this year I was simply a one book at a time kind of guy, no multiple reading at Savidge Reads HQ. That all seemed to fly out the window a couple of months ago and so I thought today we could maybe have a natter about how we juggle books and why you do or don’t.

It was starting Justin Cronin’s ‘The Passage’ that changed my reading habits for a couple of months. Simply not being able to lug a book, no matter how good it was, from pillar to post as my work routine saw fit meant I was reading a short book on commutes. So whilst reading ‘The Passage’ became and on going project I read a good ten plus books along side it, and oddly it didn’t ruin my reading experience like I thought it might.

I won’t lie to you all whenever I have known someone reads several books at once, with the exception of maybe  a novel and a non fiction read at the same  time, I have always been slightly baffled and in awe of it. I just didn’t think that you could really fit several storylines in your head at once. Surely it makes the reading experience less enjoyable if you are being jiggled here there and everywhere. But recently I learnt a key to it or two. Firstly, they all need to be quite different, well for me at least. So for example whilst reading ‘The Passage’ I didn’t touch any books with a science fiction or vampire based storyline.

My notebook is also a key part for me, because whilst all the reading above was going on (and still on going now) I have had a book that has become its own battle to read. ‘The Lacuna’ after reading bits at a time for about three/four months I am now over half way. ‘Why are you bothering?’ you might well ask, well because it has some moments of genius and I get the feeling its going to really pay off in the end, it just might take me the rest of the year to get there ha. If it wasn’t for the brilliant bits I honestly would give up, I just have to have breaks during the erm, not so great bits. Hence the need for my book notebook, I am keeping everything fresh in there so when I step back in it doesn’t take me very long to orientate myself again.

Interestingly though despite having become much better at multi-reading/book juggling I am not sure it’s a style of reading that suits me. Not so much when I am reading a fiction, some non-fiction and maybe have a short story collection for in between reads  or just when I fancy a mini change. Juggling lots of different fiction doesn’t quite work, occasionally a character from ‘The Passage’ would pop up in my mind whilst reading one of the short books or vice versa. At one point too I have sulked with both ‘The Lacuna’ and ‘The Passage’ because I wasn’t getting them read as fast as I am used to. That might be the length, could be because one I was wading through and the other was so addictive. Weirdly though it didn’t effect my reviewing of the books short or long that I have finished, none suffered for it and I thought maybe they might.

So do you book juggle or are you a one book at a time kind of person? If you do how do you remember all the different stories and voices? Do you have some techniques? What are the pro’s and con’s of book juggling for you? Will be interesting to see what you all have to say on the matter.

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The Suicide Shop – Jean Teulé

I always find that when people send me books who I don’t know too well send me books they shoot up the TBR faster than from people who I do know well. I guess I think the latter won’t be offended! This has been the case with ‘The Suicide Shop’ by Jean Teulé which a very kind reader of this blog sent me as a treat and because they thought that ‘it would be a very Savidge read’ and ‘mixes dystopian literature with lots of dark laughter’. I always wonder if the blog gives enough of my personality away and if my reading, which is quite varied I like to think, ever shows a pattern of what might make a book quite ‘me’. It seems it might, though you may not agree?

Set in a not too distant future the life for people in the City of Forgotten Religions isn’t great. The world has gone into a huge environmental decline; the sands are taking over and sulphuric acid rains down from the skies. There isn’t much to live for really as the world seems truly without hope. That’s where the Tuvache family come, in for they run ‘The Suicide Shop’ which has everything a suicidal customer could want no matter what the budget. In fact at one point they give a tramp one of their free carrier bags to suffocate himself with as long as people can see the logo ‘Has your life been a failure? Let’s make your death a success’ clearly.

However there is a flaw in the Tuvache family, as after generation after generation of miserable sons have been born Mishima and Lucrece’s youngest son Alan is born with nothing but joy, love and positivity in his heart. This is neither good for custom or indeed for the family as it seems to be contagious, even elder sister Marilyn falls in love with the local cemetery warden not long after she is injected with a venom that means she can kill with her saliva, making her the perfect kiss-o-gram for the shop. What follows is a comic caper of family drama and a wry look at just what could happen to the future of society.

I haven’t laughed out loud so much at a book in ages, not quite sure what that says about me? I know it’s a delicate subject but sometimes we need to have a look at the comic side of the worst aspects of life and this book does just that. What makes it such a great read is that despite their being the setting of a future world where anything could happen and having situations that could go into melodrama Teulé never does, it’s always just funny enough without going too far and some authors simply can’t get that balance. Teulé’s humour is spot on. Translator Sue Dyson must also have great humour to have translated this so well from its French origins too.

‘The Suicide Shop’ isn’t a book that I had heard about before I was so kindly sent it. My initial thoughts when it arrived where purely materialistic as ‘what a nice cover’ popped into my head along with the quote ‘you will die laughing’ it definitely had initial promise. However there has to be more to every book than a nice cover and a great quote, fortunately ‘The Suicide Shop’ is one such book. It didn’t change my life but it was damned entertaining. A darkly comic read that will leave you in shock by the ending that you won’t see coming, I had to read the last few paragraphs twice. I will be reading more Jean Teulé in the future if more of his books are translated. 8/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:

Little Hands Clapping – Dan Rhodes (set in the now this is a dark fairytale, rather than dystopian vision, or two which centre around a museum of suicide, its disturbingly funny)
Shades of Grey – Jasper Fforde ( the future has never been more dangerous nor so funny)

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Filed under Gallic Books, Jean Teulé, Review

Bloomin’ Lovely Lot of Loot

The post man seems to have gotten over his dumping of parcels in the street phase (maybe he reads this blog – ha, can you imagine) and some lovely parcels have arrived at Savidge Reads HQ. I was going to hold off writing about them but one had a very special significance and needed to share it and two I have already devoured and you will be hearing about very soon. So without further ado, here’s some lovely loot…

Now then I have decided to start doing this a bit differently by saying who sent them and what, if anything I know about them or don’t as it might be;

  • The Diary of ‘Helena Morley’ translated by Elizabeth Bishop (from Virago for my Reading for Brazil thing, this is a diary of a young Brazilian in the Victorian era – could it be more perfect?)
  • Dead Babies by Martin Amis (Vintage kindly sent as they know am on a book buying ban and this is the next Riverside Readers book)
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (Oxford World Classics, can you believe that I have not read this ever or seen a TV/film version?)
  • London Triptych by Jonathan Kemp (Myriad, a very different sounding debut looking at three gay men over three periods in history, could Kemp be the new Hollinghurst?)
  • Quilt by Nicholas Royle (Myriad, another debut about the loss of a parent and clearing up the debris and life they leave behind)
  • The Suicide Shop by Jean Teule (sent by a Savidge Reader who lurks, Dave thought that this book would be very me, could be interesting)
  • A Samba for Sherlock by Jo Soares (from Savidge Reader Ellen who thought it would be perfect for my love of Sherlock and its author is Brazilian perfect for Reading for Brazil too – aren’t my readers kind?)
  • City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris (Little Brown, sent with Helena Morley, this sounds like a murder mystery/thriller with a difference)
  • The Killing Place by Tess Gerritsen (Bantam Press, I let out a rather big squeal when this arrived. Gerritsen is one of my favourite guilt-free guilty pleasures and this is the latest Isles and Rizzoli mystery, which reminds me I haven’t read one for a while.)

Now four books deserve a special read because I think it’s a series that every one is looking forward to after the first six were issued last year. It’s the next in the Bloomsbury Group series from, erm, Bloomsbury. Don’t they look delightful together…

  • Let’s Kill Uncle by Rohan O’Grady (the one I know least about but might have to read very soon)
  • Mrs Harris Goes To Paris & Mrs Harris Goes To New York by Paul Gallico (already heard lots of wonderful things about this but might leave it for a while in case of blogger over kill)
  • Henrietta Sees It Through by Joyce Dennys (more on this one in a second its special to me)
  • Mrs Ames by E.F Benson (excited about this one too because I have just discovered the joys of Benson through ‘Queen Lucia’ have heard this is very different)

So, ‘Henrietta Sees It Through’, now I don’t normally blow my own trumpet but I got very, very excited when this arrived because I loved ‘Henrietta’s War’ so much last year. I also almost cried/wet myself/laughed/jumped up/all of those at once and down when I noticed this…

Yes that’s me quoted on the back… under one of my favourite authors, on a book originally published in one of my favourite periods. It’s too much. I was asked for a quote a while back yet I thought it was going to be in the inside or something. I genuinely had no idea it was going to be on the back. So that’s been me on cloud nine (despite the blinking hay fever which has gone to a new level) for a few days.

So what books have you won/received/been sent/borrowed/bought of late? Read any of the above? Do let me know, I always love your thoughts.

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Queen Lucia – E.F. Benson

There are some series you get recommended by several people and simply have to read and the ‘Mapp and Lucia’ series by E.F. Benson has been one that has been recommended to me from bloggers (Elaine at Random Jottings and Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book I am looking at you) through to some friends and also even a celebrity (Julian Clary, no really) as one that I would adore. No pressure then. Thanks to the lovely Novel Insights I received the whole set for my birthday, in the wonderful retro 1980’s editions, as you know I have to read things in order. So I started with ‘Queen Lucia’ which came with a wondeful quote from none other than Nancy Mitford…

As ‘Queen Lucia’ opens we meet the title character, real name Mrs Emmeline Lucas, as she rejects the fly that her husband Peppino has sent for her and send it home with just her luggage in it in order to cause some gossip and wonderment through the village of Riseholme something as self proclaimed ‘Queen’ of the area she feels it is only befitting to do. E. F. Benson instantly gets us acquainted with the type of woman we are dealing with just from this opener and as the book goes on we learn just how Lucia tries to say queen when others decide they might want to usurp her role.

Two such characters are the ‘globe like’ Daisy Quantock and Lucia’s very own right hand man Georgie Pillson who both have things Lucia wants and could use them in becoming the most popular people in town which would never do. Daisy Quantock has the mysterious Indian Guru staying with her which is the talk of the village (it reads as slightly un-pc by today’s standards but written in the 1920’s and set very much in that era, people did have such prejudices, mind you George Pillson toupee is just as much talk of the town) and Georgie also has the most desirable friendship of Olga Bracely much to Lucia’s vexation. We watch on as the whole town bids to outdo one another and raise supreme, to most comical turns, whilst still looking like butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. It’s very, very funny stuff.

I imagine that Lucia herself being such a strong character could make a reader either love her or loathe her. She is a caricature of a certain type of society in her day but on occasion the sudden turn of speaking Italian to anyone and everyone, whether they understand or not, or babyish discussions with ‘Naughty’ Georgie could really grate I imagine as the first few times I read it I was rather unsure of it. However I was completely won over, in the main by the flamboyancy of the characters and just how funny E. F. Benson’s writing is and the situations he puts these people into. Despite the fact some of it is quite ludicrous you could imagine in those days people getting up to just such japes at the vexation of others. Some may also be tempted to call it twee but the dry humour throughout stops it from ever falling to far into that style.

“’Yesterday morning I was in Rush’s,’ said Georgie, ‘seeing about some crème de menthe, which ought to have been sent the day before – Rush is very negligent sometimes – and I was just saying a sharp word about it, when suddenly I saw that Rush was not attending at all, but was looking at something behind my back, and so I looked round. Guess!’
‘Don’t be tantalising, amico,’ said she. ‘How can I guess? A pink elephant with blue spots!’
‘No, guess again!’
‘A red Indian in full war paint?’
‘Certainly not! Guess again,’ said Georgie, with a little sigh of relief. (It would have been awful if she had guessed.) At this moment Peppino suddenly became aware that Lucia had guessed and was upto some game.”

I am really pleased I finally gave this series a whirl as I have a feeling that it, and of course its wonderful cast of characters, is just going to get better and better and possibly even barmier.  I look forward to seeing what lengths they all go to next and what E F. Benson throws at them. It’s actually a real shame that apart from the omnibus editions and the solo ‘Mapp and Lucia’ these books aren’t available individually in stores. But you can find them on certain websites for a bargain and I suggest you give them a try. 8.5/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners;

Henrietta’s War – Joyce Dennys (I haven’t laughed so much at a book as I did this one, a wonderful depiction of wartime village life)
Peyton Place – Grace Metalious (if you like a book with a cast of characters and all that goes on behind their closed doors I don’t think you could do better) 

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Filed under E. F. Benson, Review, Transworld Publishing

Simon’s Bookish Bits #25

I have killer hay fever so forgive me if my bookish bits are a little brisk today, I am having slight issues with my eyes hurting (a lot) and being unable to concentrate on anything other than not sneezing. But I am back with bookish bits such as a new Savidge Season to announce, a bookish den that I wanted to throw myself into for eternity, some winners and erm… there was something else. Oh yes a change in Bookish Bits proceedings for the future.

It’s ironic my hay fever has gone stratospheric in the week that I have been plotting away on a little Savidge something. I have decided that the week of the 3rd to the 11th of July will be ‘Savidge Summer Season’ and I am going to have a week that should leave you all with lots and lots of summer reading suggestions. And they might be reads that surprise you. I have some recommendations coming from other bloggers as well as the people behind the books both publishers and authors so that’s something to look forward to. As it’s only a week I am not going to have an official logo or anything but I do feel that a summery picture should be inserted now…

Before I go onto the den of bookish delight I should announce a winner for a copy of The Housekeeper and The Professor (which would make a superb summer read actually) shouldn’t I? Congrats to Teresa of Lovely Treez Reads, it looks like number one is your lucky number as that’s what was plucked at random. Congrats, email me and the book will be on its way.

So yesterday I was making a mammoth trip to the charity shop and post office to give/send some books away. I noticed a new charity shop had opened up the road and I had promised Granny Savidge Reads I would look for a copy of Margaret Atwood’s ‘Surfacing’ which we had been discussing on the phone that morning. My favourite haunt was fruitless, I am allowed to buy other people books this year by the way, I thought I would try this new one out and this is what greeted me…

Oh and then I turned a corner and was greeted by this…

All for 50p each! As much as I love my Gran I couldn’t face digging through them all. That is part of the problem with such a book lovers den, and sometimes when I am sorting out the TBR the spare bedroom doesn’t look far off this. I thought it might make you all salivate and also show just how strong willed I have become when it comes to book buying there were some gems in there, Muriel Spark in particular.

Now these bookish bits… well I have decided that from now on my bookish bits might not be every week or indeed on a Saturday in the future. This isn’t because I’ve stopped enjoying them. It’s more that something random will come up I want to gas on about. It’s also because the blogosphere seems to be getting quieter and so I have less to report on. There was only one big post I wanted to tell you all about but I am devoting a post to it next week instead hee, hee!

It has gone quieter though around the bookish blogs I don’t think I am imagining it, but then its those summer months, speaking of which am off into a darkened antihistamine filled room. Hope you all have lovely weekends planned? What books have you got on the go at the moment? Anything else bookish you’d like to share with us all?

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Surfacing – Margaret Atwood

An author that seems to be universally loved by three generations of book addicts in the Savidge Family is Margaret Atwood. Both my Gran and my Mother are avid fans and, though it took a little longer with me, I have now followed suit. I was trying to explain on the phone to my Gran at 7am this very morning how I love Atwood’s prose despite the fact that on occasion I find it hard. Not as in hard to read, though that can be true on occasion as she is super intelligent, rather she doesn’t do namby-pamby literary writing, its more focused less floral. Am I making sense, sometimes I can’t tell! Yet with my latest Atwood read ‘Surfacing’ (which I literally picked up on a whim, I was planning on reading Cat’s Eye as my next Atwood read – and yes I do have the lovely green virago edition) I feel like I have seen another side to her work completely.

‘Surfacing’ was Margaret Atwood’s second novel released way back in 1972 and has become something of a cult classic particularly in her homeland of Canada. It tells of an unnamed narrator whose father has disappeared and who has come back to her homeland, a place she visits as rarely as possible, in order to try and find out what has happened to him. She doesn’t come alone but with two close friends, a married couple, Anna and David and her first lover since her divorce Joe. It’s in part the divorce and the shame her family feel that has kept her away though in truth she hates the city she resides in now as much as where she came from.

During her stay in her former childhood home, which is a remote island on a large lake in Northern Quebec and is beautifully drawn for the reader, she inevitably looks back in a mixture of nostalgic joy and regret at her childhood and those formulative years. She then starts to take a greater look at herself, why she only seems to coast in life slightly aimless and never truly contented. That’s at least what you get on the initial surface of the book and yet being Atwood there is so much more to it. It’s a look at what it was to be a woman in Canada after the war and we don’t just see one view, we also get glimpses into Anna’s ‘happy marriage’. It’s a book about nature and what impact it has on the people we are. It’s also about discovery, or rediscovery, of oneself.

It’s a small book with a huge amount to say but Atwood is a true master of getting the most out of a sentence and will produce gems like “that was before we were married and I still listened to what he said” a simple line that conjures up a situation and mood in just those words. She also has the same knack with characters. Often something minimal that a character does is written into the book in such a way that you are instantly given a picture of there personality in one go.

“Anna told us that. Everyone can do a little magic, she reads hands at parties, she says it’s a substitute for conversation. When she did mine she said “Do you have a twin?” I said No. “Are you positive,” she said “because some of your lines are double.” Her index finger traced me: “You had a good childhood but then there’s this funny break.” She puckered her forehead and I said I just wanted to know how long I was going to live, she could skip the rest. After that she told us Joe’s hands were dependable but not sensitive and I laughed, which was a mistake.
From the side he’s like a buffalo on the U.S nickel, shaggy and blunt-snouted, with small clenched eyes and the defiant but insane look of a species once dominant, now threatened with extinction. That’s how he thinks of himself too.: deposed, unjustly. Secretly he would like them to set ip a kind of park for him, like a bird sanctuary. Beautiful Joe.”

I don’t feel that I can do this book justice, which makes me most annoyed with myself, but its such a subtle slow burning book with so much in it that to encapsulate it in less than a thousand words is nigh on impossible. It’s also very, very funny. I cackled a few times especially when Anna would say something terribly un-pc that you yourself would wish to say and follow it with ‘am I awful?’ she’s a great character. I don’t know if its just that Atwood’s style has changed the more she has written or if she has done this with recent books that I haven’t read as yet, but the prose matches the gentle pace, it is almost floral in parts (apt as the book is so much about nature as it is people) but never for the sake of it.

“The wind starts again, brushing over us, the air warm-cool and fluid, the tree’s behind us moving their leaves, the sound ripples; the water gives off an icy light, zinc moon breaking on small waves. Loon voice, each hair on my body lifting with a shiver; the echoes deflect from all sides, surrounding us, here everything echoes.”

Every word counts and everyone has been carefully picked. Well, that’s the feeling you have when reading it and I think its one of my favourite Atwood reads so far. 9/10

I don’t want to compare this book to any others as I am not sure there are any that I could recommend or would feel fair comparing to. So instead I thought I would leave you with two of my most recent favourite Atwood reading experiences below, both completely different from this one. Which is your favourite Atwood novel? Which one must I turn to next? Has anyone noticed the hardness in some novels (maybe bluntness, no – I can’t get the word exactly) compared to others, maybe it’s the more ‘speculative’ novels that have this? Have you yet to try any Atwood?

Good Bones – Margaret Atwood (a great selection of her shorter works, some essays and some stories, which would be a great way in for a beginner to Atwood, or a delightful addition to any Atwood collection a fan may have)
The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood (her Booker winner and the novel widely described as her masterpiece so far, though all the works of hers I have read have been a delight. Its hard work and needs patience but the reward for your efforts is fantastic)

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Filed under Books of 2010, Margaret Atwood, Review, Virago Books

The Long & Short of It

I think that Justin Cronin’s ‘The Passage’ is one of the longest books that I have read, if not ever then certainly in a long time. It’s funny how sometimes what you read can suddenly make you only too aware of where some of your reading weaknesses lie. Ok I have to come out and admit it to you all, I can hide it no longer. I tend to be a little scared/daunted/put off from reading long books and it’s actually a habit of my own that really annoys me. I would much rather, mentally from the out set, grab a much shorter book. I don’t think I am alone in this, but I thought I would explain it and how slowly but surely I might be changing my mind.

I think a picture I took this morning will illustrate one of my biggest issues with long books…

Look how many short and medium sized books I could have read instead? I always think as a reader you want to read as much as you physically can. Does anyone else sometimes have the dreaded thought of ‘I will never actually be able to read every thing that I would like to read in my life time’? It’s something Granny Savidge and I were discussing only the other day. But then in only reaching for the shorter books am I selling myself and my reading a little… erm… short?

 Time is a major factor, and not just in the fact that a long book takes much longer to read, though that does nark me a little. I also, and this is me being totally honest, see bigger books as being boring bricks and they need to be fantastically great in order to pay off the time invested in them. However when you get a great one like ‘The Passage’ it opens your mind to them once more and you start to see all the positives.

So I thought I would create a little table with pro’s and con’s of each (tongue firmly in cheek)…

Long Books

Short Books

You can’t read as many in a week You can read loads in a week
They need to hold you from the very start If you don’t love it initially what does it matter you wont have to read it for long
You have to lug them about in a bag when your commuting You can run out of a read mid journey and have nothing for the return
If you find a gem you don’t want to put it down but you have to for work If you have a gem you can devour it in a few sittings
You get to immerse yourself in a wonderful world (with the right book) for much longer which is nice You have to say goodbye to characters and places that you love much quicker
The plot and characters have more time and freedom to develop Just as your characters have developed you leave them
They can take a ridiculous amount of time to get going You are thrown in straight away which can be a little disorientating
Once you have read one you have much more space on your shelves for more Though you get through your TBR quicker, you cant actually tell… disheartening when  you have a few hundred plus
You only need a couple on a holiday or one on a long round trip train journey You need masses if you go away for a long time
They can be heavy and cumbersome and you begrudge carting them about They can be so light you forget to pack them when you leave the house or loose them in your over full man bag
When you have read one mammoth book you have a sense of achievement When you have read a great short book you can swiftly pop to the next

I know there are more pro’s and con’s to each – this is just the results of a quick ten minute brainstorm. It’s actually fairly 50/50 which surprised me even as I was writing them down. I also noticed looking at some of my favourite reads of all time that very few short books are in the mix, it’s the great epics that have captured me and not wanted to let me go which have stuck in my mind. Wilkie Collins ‘The Woman in White’, Michel Faber’s ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’ etc, etc. So why don’t I read more? (I have actually noticed that since I finished The Passage I have read two much longer books maybe that’s just coincidence though it could be subconscious.) Maybe for the next few months I should read one long book for every two or three short books and see how I go?

What other pro’s and con’s have I missed? Are you ever put off a book because of its size? Do you like short books over long books or vice versa? Which do you think are better? Do you read the perfect mix? How long is too long, how short is too short? What’s been your favourite never ending read (you might give me some good reading suggestions of where to go next)? Do you have your eyes on a tome that you just cant get round to quite starting yet? What might be your next big read?

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