Monthly Archives: July 2010

A New Book Award for 2010…

I am going to do that thing of saying if you don’t always read every post I write (then how dare you, ha) then do please give this one a whirl! It is one that’s important to me and something that I am rather passionate about. A new book award has been unleashed this week and its one that is rather new and one that has really been a long time coming yet no one seems to have done it before in the UK, or even possibly the rest of the world. A prize ‘that dare not speak its name’, actually at several points this week that couldn’t have been truer, let me explain…

The whole thing actually started as an off-the-cuff comment by the author Paul Magrs (whose Brenda and Effie novels I love so) on twitter and facebook. One the day that ‘The Man Booker Longlist’ was announced he wondered why there was no award for writing for gay men and something that covered every genre? So an idea had been born and with a supportive ‘what a great idea’ comment from me and several emails later slowly but surely something real started to emerge.

Note:- Just to add in here I am aware that gay men get on the Booker list, in fact to longlisted authors are gay men this year. It’s just nothing specifically celebrating the gay male authors and their writing can be funny, exciting, harrowing, uplifting and challenging – and it can range right across the genres.

Initially named ‘The Man Fooker Prize’ we set up a site, managed to get three more judges and started contacting publishers and that was where we hit the first glitch… the name! All those publishers who actually responded (several didn’t but I wont name and shame them as they might yet) thought it was a great idea, the name just bothered them. Some didn’t care and have since submitted several titles (my reading plans are severely about to go up a certain creek) yet for some it seemed was perplexingly causing ‘controversy’, ‘being a little crude and graphic’ or ‘looking like a spoof’.

The latter I could understand but the reasoning behind the name one of my fellow judges put perfectly “it’s a response to the Booker – the monumentalism of it – and so the name is sort of important. The sense of irreverence and, well, fun are important. Sadly I can’t imagine ever hearing Mariella Frostrup saying it at teatime, but isn’t that part of it too? That it’s a bit cheeky, a bit impolite.”

However it seems if you want to get an award like this noticed you ironically have to be a little more conservative and demure and so after a few hours of brain storming ‘The Green Carnation Prize’ was born (in reference to Oscar Wilde, we are also announcing the winner on World Aids Day). This also meant therefore that so was a new website, second press release, email to all the publishers and press people in sundry having to explain the change, phew! I wonder if Kate Mosse had all this trouble with the Orange?

Naturally it would be amazing if all of you who read ‘Savidge Reads’ supported this. Not because I am a judge or helped found it but because it is an award that should be out there, it’s a subject that matters and is one we should be talking about. We all say we have gone forward with diversity, and in some ways we have… but is it as much as we think?

Do visit the site here and have a gander at everything, we would welcome feedback. Let us know if you can think of any books that match the criteria in the ‘Rules and Regulations’ as we would love to hear of as many books as possible. I know a lot of you have been doing GLBT challenges this year so all your suggestions could prove invaluable. And, though I am not begging, if you wanted to pop a link to the award in any round ups you do and a little bit about it that would be amazing, like I said though am not begging, might just be nice.

Right then I am off for some rest, it’s been a knackering week. Plus I better get cracking on all the other books I intended to read and need to before we get sampling everything for long listing! Eek! What reading plans have you got for the weekend, and what are your thoughts on ‘The Green Carnation Prize’ in general?

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Filed under Book Thoughts

Tinkers – Paul Harding

I can’t lie to any of you… the reason that I sat down to read ‘Tinkers’ by Paul Harding was because of the stunning cover! It simply makes you want to read it. There is of course that other small factor of a ‘Pulitzer Prize for Fiction’ with this book that makes it of interest. Not that I really know what I should be getting with a Pulitzer Prize winning book. In fact I had to have a look back at previous winners I had read and what a mixed bunch they were. The immense ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, the utterly excellent ‘The Road’, the really rather good ‘Breathing Lessons’, the not half bad ‘Empire Falls’ and the prose filled ‘Gilead’ that I wasn’t sure I would like. Which category would ‘Tinkers’, the latest winner of the prize, find itself in?

‘Tinkers’ is an interesting little book (in many ways made me think of previous Pulitzer winner ‘Gilead’) in fact it almost verges on novella over novel and its nearly 200 pages but they aren’t all that big. I couldn’t tell initially if this book was really going to grate on me to start with. First off the book opens as a dying man, George, as he hallucinates that his house is falling down on him soon followed by the clouds and the sky. An interesting opening but one that I will admit had me confused and the initial confusion didn’t stop there are by a break in paragraphs you are drawn into the life of Georges father, Howard, a ‘tinker’ or a man of odd jobs or a pedlar, here and there with no warning of whose life you have stepped into quite when and where. Interweave these two tales with excerpts of a textbook on watches George owns and some notes on all things nature (which I am still not sure who wrote exactly) and eventually you have the tale of a dying man, his father and the childhood he had in the woodlands of Maine.

This isn’t really a book for those people who love plot because really there isn’t one. There are snippets of two lives and how they interconnected and in some ways how they didn’t. There is the occasional tale within the tale and one in particular of Howard and a hermit, which reads like a fable, is possibly one of my favourite mini-stories in a story of the year so far. The book definitely makes you think. In fact Harding’s debut novel is probably one of the most emotional books that I have read in quite some time, when I wasn’t a little lost (which is why this book fell short a little for me, but I will re-read it one day). It looks at life, it looks at death and in a strange way all that lies in between.

Harding’s prose is stunning; there is absolutely no other word for it. If you want a book that reads like the finest poetry without the rhyming or rhythm then this is definitely a book for you. I am in fact wondering if it’s the spell that Harding’s writing casts over the reader that makes it so difficult to put it down, though you do need a break now and again as it gets quite heavy emotionally, for a book that has no page turning plot I didn’t half get drawn in and read the book in a few sittings. I can’t say it was my favourite book of the year so far but it’s possibly one of the best, if not the best, examples of the written word and what it can do that I have seen if that makes sense? It’s certainly had an effect on me and I will definitely be reading Harding’s next novel.

A book that will: either bore you silly with its prose, if you are looking for a big plot, or haunt you with it and subtley leave you thinking. It was thethe latter of the two for me. 8/10

I am not going to do any suggestions for this book as its quite unlike anything I have read before, I want to compare it to ‘Gilead’ but that seems a little bit of a lazy comparison for some reason. Who else has read ‘Tinkers’? Whose been wanting too since it won the Pulitzer? Why is it winning an award can make a book we have never heard of or possibly not been that bothered about reading a must read? More thoughts on book prizes and awards tomorrow…

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Filed under Paul Harding, Review, William Heinemann Books

Savidge Reads Grills… Louise Savidge (aka My Mum)

Well I have told you lots about her on and off over the last few years and so I thought it was about time (in fact I have been meaning to do this for ages) for my mother to get a grilling after all it was in part her love of books that must have caught somewhere in my DNA or upbringing. In fact she loves books so much she teaches them in schools as an English teacher, though she also teaches classics and drama. With almost (as you don’t start to read straight away) 44 years of reading experience here is what my Mum’s thoughts are on books, authors and everything in between…

What book/books are you reading right now and what made you want to read that/those books?

Right now I’m reading ‘Sea of Poppies’ by Amitav Ghosh.  I read ‘The Glass Palace’ some years ago and loved it. If I find a novelist I like I tend to spread the reading out, like treats, instead of guzzling them up in one go.

What books started your reading life, and which books kept your passion for reading alive?

My first favourite was ‘Little Black Sambo’ which caused some controversy at the time a few years after. I never thought it was racist, I am certainly not, but then as a kid you wouldn’t would you? I just remember being spellbound by the bright illustrations which were printed on glossy paper (a novelty in the Sixties) and found the tiger genuinely scary.  As a child I read anything I could get my hands on; Famous Five, Chalet School, Narnia books but firm favourites which I kept going back to were ‘Anne of Green Gables’, ‘Little Women’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’.

You have rather book loving children, how have you made reading such an addiction for them? Can you take any credit or is it just genetic?

Some of it could well be genetic but I have always loved reading aloud. Mum (Granny Savidge Reads) always read to us as children and I used to read to my sister a lot even before I had my own children. I think there’s something very special about snuggling up with a book and sharing it with someone you love.  There’s probably a ‘preachy’ element to it too: I am, after all, a teacher.

What are your reading habits, where do you most like to read? Are there any specific times which are your most responsive reading periods?

After my first husband died seventeen years ago I couldn’t read at all, this was worrying and odd because I needed the escapism. To be honest, I can, and do, read anywhere. My greatest bouts of reading occur when I’m on holiday because that’s when I have most time. I do try to read when I go to bed but more often than not am woken by the book striking me brutally on the nose.

How has your reading taste changed over the years?

I have always enjoyed an eclectic mix and will never rule anything out.

Have you read any books that have changed your life or books that have changed your view on life and the world?

There are several books that I feel everyone ‘should’ read. ‘Schindlers Ark’ and ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ would be two because they communicate some very important messages about being a generous and broad-minded human being without being in any way ‘preachy’. Personally for me reading ‘I Claudius’ by Robert Graves was the final incentive towards becoming a Classicist.

Has there ever been a classic (or two) that you have simply failed to love and why?

I didn’t enjoy ‘Mill on the Floss’ or ‘Wuthering Heights’ initially because I think I was too young when I read them. I grew to love ‘Wuthering Heights’ through teaching it, the jury is still out on ‘Mill on the Floss’ but I did read ‘Middlemarch’ some years ago and thought it was stunning.

Who is your fictional heroine?

When I was young I wanted to be Jo in ‘Little Women’ or Anne from Green Gables. I think they had a certain quirkiness and courage which, as a child, I lacked. I do, however, as an adult, have a fictional hero. His name is Hektor and he fights for Troy in Homer’s Iliad. He shows great humanity and typifies the conflict which can occur between our public and private personas.

Which authors alive today do you think will be most remembered in a hundred years time?

Matthew Kneale’ s  ‘English Passenger’s’ should stand the test of time, as should Arundhati  Roy’s ‘God of Small Things’  – both are beautifully written.

Do you have a faithful favourite author you can always turn to?

Not as such but I have been ‘living with’ the characters from Homer and Virgil all my adult life. They are, by the way, real.

What is your fondest bookish memory?

I’m still living it. I love it when my husband reads Harry Potter to the children and does all the voices. They are incredibly lucky; sadly, very few fathers read to their children.

Who do you turn to for bookish advice, how do you hear about new books?

Family, friends………………Simon, of course!

What book do you most want to read at the moment that you haven’t?

I’d love to have time to read more Antony Trollop. The few I have read I’ve loved for his brilliant social observations and complete characters. I expect I might get round to him properly when I retire. 

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Filed under Louise Savidge, Savidge Reads Grills...

253 – Geoff Ryman

I first heard about Geoff Ryman’s novel ‘253’ as a recommendation from Michael Kindness on one of my favourite podcasts ‘Books on the Nightstand’ and it instantly appealed. I then slightly obsessed about it to the point that TCO bought it me as a surprise. Living in London for as long as I have (over a decade) I am still discovering new parts of it, have become rather obsessed in some parts of its history and have begun recently to want to read more books about it and its people, even if they are fictional. ‘253’ is very much a London novel, it is also a great novel if, like me, you really like to get snippets into the average man and/or woman’s life and have a bit of a nosey. 

In London you cannot really avoid the underground, ok you can but you know what I mean, and getting on the underground means that you surround yourself with other people daily. People you know nothing about and yet don’t you occasionally find yourself wondering who they are and what their stories might be. Well ‘253’ is a novel, though in some ways it reads like a succession of very short stories that can interweave, that looks at one particular train during seven and a half minutes between Embankment and Elephant and Castle on one particular day and a very fateful journey in 1995.

As the blurb itself states “a Bakerloo line train with no one standing and no empty seats carries 252 passengers. The driver makes 253” and this is the story of each one of those people as they go through what is a daily routine to them and we step into their thoughts (all done in just 253 words per character) and learn a lot about them and why they have ended up in that particular train surrounded by those particular people. What Ryman does which only makes the book all the more clever is that on the train are people who know each other and so as the book goes you get additional twists to certain tales you have already seen. Coincidence and fate do seem to be a theme in the book the whole way through. 

I did think writing 253 characters in the same amount of words would make the book somewhat repetitive and the fact each character is summed up in the sections “outward appearance”, “inside information” and “what they are doing or thinking” would make it all rather formulaic and possibly a little bit dull. It wasn’t at all. Each character is very individual from Estelle who is in love with Saddam Hussein, Justin a journalist posing as a homeless man, Jason who has just discovered he is made for older women, James who anaesthetises ill Gorilla’s for a living… I could go on and on there are so many marvellous characters and tales to choose from.

Reading 253 on the Bakerloo Line

I do think part of the success with the book for me was that I didn’t read it as a novel. I would read about a carriage of characters or just one or two between other things because if you read it in one go or maybe it was the only book you read for a week I think the charm could wear off and that would be a real shame as this book is brilliant. In fact what proves its brilliant further is that as someone who doesn’t like footnotes or when an author steps into the work to give you extra titbits, I was fascinated by Ryman’s. 

I was interested to learn that this was originally a book published on the internet before it was bought and became available in ‘the print remix’ (it has been republished this year) and how the author felt it changed in differing formats. Online it showed similarities between these strangers and in book form it does show you the major differences. I found it an exciting, funny and refreshing way to read a book and Ryman is definitely an author I now want to read much more of. 

A book that will: be perfect for you if you love books about London, or cities in general and their inhabitants, or if you just like a nosey into people’s lives. If you like original fiction then this is also ideal as it’s something very different. I think this will become a cult classic. 9/10 

Savidge suggests perfect prose partners; 

Anthropology by Dan Rhodes – a collection of 101 short pieces of fiction all told in 101 words and done just as brilliantly as ‘253’ is.
The Maintenance of Headway by Magnus Mills – if you like reading about big cities and the people who work in them then this comic tale of bus drivers and their depot should just do the trick.
 

A big thanks for the recommendation, which I know wasn’t aimed specifically at me, from Michael Kindness. I also have some of Anne Kingman’s recommendations in the TBR and will report back on those in good time. Have you ever heard about a book on the radio, TV or via a podcast and needed to read it pretty much there and then? Was it as good as you hoped? Have any of you read ‘253’ and what did you think? Which other Geoff Ryman books could you recommend, I currently quite fancy ‘Was’ have any of you read that?

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Filed under Books of 2010, Geoff Ryman, Harper Collins, Review

The Man Booker Longlist 2010

So it’s been announced and I will probably just be repeating what is already old news but here are the thirteen books the judges have picked (if you are already bored of the Man Booker or just not interested have a gander at the Mum Booker Longlist I popped up earlier here)…

  • Parrot and Oliver in America by Peter Carey (Faber and Faber)
  • Room by Emma Donoghue (Picador)
  • The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore (Fig Tree)
  • In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut (Atlantic Books)
  • The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson (Bloomsbury)
  • The Long Song by Andrea Levy (Headline Review)
  • C by Tom McCarthy (Jonathan Cape)
  • The Thousand Autumns of Zacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (Sceptre)
  • February by Lisa Moore (Chatto & Windus)
  • Skippy Dies by Paul Murray (Hamish Hamilton)
  • Trespass by Rose Tremain (Chatto & Windus)
  • The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (Atlantic)
  • The Stars in the Bright Sky by Alan Warner (Jonathan Cape)

How many did I get right, well you can compare today’s list with my list here and see!!!

I have marked the one, yes one, that I have read in bold and the ones that I own in italics (some of which have been saved from the ‘for the charity shop’ pile as we speak – I won’t say which ones). The latter part of that statement suggests I might be thinking of reading the whole longlist. Am I? I don’t think I will be; in part because I don’t have all the books (which isn’t me being bitter) but in the main because I did it last year in a full on way and it became a chore. There are some titles on there that I would like to give a whirl though but if I don’t own it (though I know one of the titles I don’t own yet is on the way) its very unlikely to be read. I have a feeling ‘Skippy Dies’ and ‘The Slap’ might get devoured fairly soon though!! Athe moment though, as its the only one I have read, I have everything crossed for Levy hahaha! I did really like that book though.

It is an interesting list, and one that I don’t think anyone could have predicted the whole of – which is a good thing, I think. I was slightly surprised that Ian McEwan didn’t make it and feel slightly smug I predicted Amis wouldn’t be on there.Why do I have a small vendetta against that man after quite liking the last book I read by him? I am rather chuffed for Andrea Levy and sad to see Maggie O’Farrell wasn’t on there but most of all annoyed Neel Mukherjee didn’t make the cut as that’s one of my favourites of the year and one that feels truly worthy of winning. I kind of think its a forgone conclusion that Mitchell will win which is a bit boring, but I could be wrong.

So what do you make of the list? Any surprises or shocks for you? Any you are really annoyed were missed out or even included?

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The Mum Booker Longlist

You might possibly have an inkling, can’t think why, that today is the day when the longlist for this years Man Booker Award is announced. I have already had a crack at guessing just what books might make the list which you can have a peek at here. We all love a good list of books don’t we? Well, I do so I am assuming there must be more people like me? I really enjoy seeing people’s top ten or top forty books (which reminds me I need to add mine back onto the blog) and thought that today I would share with you my mother’s top ten books as she is a voracious reader and always has been, but more on her in her ‘Grilling’ later in the week.

I said it would be my Mum’s top ten books which she claimed would be ‘really easy’ however after a few minutes I got the look and a slight moan of ‘ooh its really difficult’. There was also some excuse of needing to be ‘standing in front of all my shelves so I can think more clearly’ but soon enough we didn’t have ten books but twenty, and here they are for you delectation with some snippets of conversation that were sparked by them.

  1. Iliad by Homer – “being a Classics teacher you can’t be surprised”
  2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – which she read when on maternity leave before my sister (another book devourer) was born after which reading went out the window unless it was ‘Spot the Dog’.
  3. Lord of the Rings by J.R. Tolkien
  4. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins – ‘much better than The Woman in White’ something we strongly disagree on.
  5. Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  6. Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos
  7. The L Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks – “I worry it has dated terribly by now so have never re-read, would rather have the memory of it being brilliant.” It’s just arrived at Savidge Reads HQ and I will be reading it soon.
  8. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  9. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres
  10. Taking The Devil’s Advice by Anne Fine – “possibly the funniest book I have ever read”
  11. The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck
  12. Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon – “a truly original book”
  13. The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
  14. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
  15. I, Claudius by Robert Graves – “naturally it’s the classic thing again”
  16. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  17. The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  18. Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver – loves the series and got very excited when I said that Paver’s adult book is out in October.
  19. Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam
  20. The Adventures of Tintin by Herge – “after all these years I still get huge enjoyment from these”

I was really surprised by this list and in particular the fact there was no Jane Austen, no Bronte’s and shock horror no Margaret Atwood. The latter seemed most bizarre as whenever I think of Atwood I think of my Mum. I asked her about these and she said “they are all great writers just no specific one book of there’s has made the top lot… you didn’t ask me for my top ten authors though did you?” I was also surprised no Shakespeare but apparently that’s because “you can’t choose one best Shakespeare play, it changes daily”.

So there you have it, my mother’s favourite books, don’t forget her Grilling will be up on Thursday. Until then what do you think of her list, was it what you might have expected? Which books have you read and loved on the list? Could any of my mothers top books be found in your list of favourites?

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I’m Not Scared – Niccolo Ammaniti

A few people have mentioned to me before that I might rather like Niccolo Ammaniti’s rather dark novel ‘I’m Not Scared’. It was Rob of Rob Around Books mentioning of it as a great summer read a while back that propped it firmly on the bedside table. Since it was mentioned then more and more people have emailed or left comments saying that I definitely had to give it a go and despite my slight concern over the quote ‘sucks you in like the Blair Witch’ I thought ‘why not?’ and picked it up.

Canongate Books, paperback, translatd by Jonathan Hunt, 2004, fiction, 208 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I didn’t really know what to expect from ‘I’m Not Scared’, I knew from the blurb that the premise of this novel was six children exploring in the Italian countryside during the summer. One of the group, nine-year-old Michele Amitrano, discovers much more than he bargained for, something so shocking he cannot tell a soul and naturally this changes his life and the way he views things forever.  However I was wrong with automatically thinking I knew what he would find and did get rather a shock especially as the book twists on. This does sound somewhat a ‘coming of age’ novel which isn’t a genre/theme that tends to work terribly well for me but add the slight thriller feel to the novel and the mystery that keeps you turning the pages… and you have me reading it in two sittings (I could have done it in one but selfishly I had work to do).

Now this is one of those books where if I gave anything else away I would be ruining it for anyone new to the book, not to helpful for a review, and so I shall not add too much more in terms of the plot. I did want to mention though, because I found it rather an interesting twist, that I personally thought Michele didn’t tell anyone in part because of the shock and because he isn’t quite sure what to make of what he finds he doesn’t tell but also because its something only he knows and as a child I remembered how precious that feeling was (though thankfully I never discovered anything quite like Michele does). Which nicely illustrates how Ammaniti does really put you in the mind of Michele, even if sometimes you find his reactions to things aren’t quite what yours would be – how could they be he’s a nine year old and so of course he wouldn’t.

That did take me a little time to get used to but once I got it I thoroughly enjoyed it and it reminded me of certain feeling you have as a child, like being chased through the woods (in Michele’s case he actually might be) or down roads by some unseen thing at night. I found that what hadn’t instantly gelled with me became very evocative as I read on.

I can completely understand why Rob mentioned this makes a perfect summer read, some may say the subject matter isn’t summery but I am of a mind that reads of any season sometimes need to be slightly uncomfortable and leave you thinking, this does just that. The heat of the Italian summer hits you on almost every page and for me personally gave this ‘coming of age’ thriller a sort of southern gothic feel (without being in America which I know defeats the point but hopefully you get what I am driving at) not because anything supernatural happens but because in this Italian village in the middle of nowhere you begin to learn nothing is quite what it seems and something dark lies behind its sunny façade. The fact it’s also very well written; and indeed very well translated by Jonathan Hunt; along with also being a very intelligent and gripping tale only makes it an even greater read regardless of season.

A book that will: leave you thinking and surprise you in more ways than one. 8/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners;

What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn – Another thriller seen from a wonderful child narrators eyes in part. Only set in Birmingham rather than the heat of Italy.
When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson – Okay so you might want to start at the beginning of this marvellous series but the last one (very excited about the new one coming soon) had the wonderful Reggie, though seven years older than Michele, trying to work out life’s mysteries and certainly coming to terms with mortality.
(Note my little brother was sat with me while I typed this and said that I should compare this to Batman: The Return of the Scarecrow which has just made me howl with laughter.)

So who else has read ‘I’m Not Scared’? Anyone read any of the other Ammaniti novels? I will definitely be reading more of his stuff in the future, so thank you again to all of you who recommended this book!

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Filed under Canongate Publishing, Niccolo Ammaniti, Review