Monthly Archives: January 2011

Damp Books… Help!

I have something of an urgent call for help for all of you book lovers out there, so do please read on and recommend away as you know how much it means especially in a state of a small but worrying bookish emergency.

As you may know I have moved to a temporary residence oop north whilst I see what’s going on with my health and find a flat in the centre of town that’s ‘just right’, which could of course be looking for the impossible but never mind that for now, I digressed and there are much more important things need addressing on the blog today.  So while I am in temporary residence some of my stuff is in the house and my acre sized bedroom and some of it is in the garage. Like most of you every now and again you sort out a TBR for the bedside table of books which have been floating in your subconscious ‘must be read soon’ and I was sorting that very thing out and realised some of the books were in the garage, and so off I went.

What greeted me left me with a slight chill and dampened brow as it seems that the lovely boxes which I thought looked ever so nice to hide the hundreds of books in Mount TBR aren’t fairing so well in the garage. This of course is understandable as I have had them nigh on three years and they aren’t plastic or wood (some kind of thick cardboard with a nice pattern as you can see from the picture to your left) and they have also done a rather vigorous move a fair few hundred miles, in fact one went missing but we don’t like to talk about that. Sadly in the garage they aren’t doing a very good job of protecting and my lovely beautiful books are getting slightly damp with some covers curling and some pages getting that rather wavey look.   

So in order to stop the palpitations and vexation that I am currently going through, and that horrid feeling where you get busy forget about it and then suddenly remember again, I wondered if you could help.

What I would like to know first is if these books will need drying out or if because they aren’t soggy they will dry ok? Second I wondered what you all use to store your books safe and sound if they cant be on shelves or by the bedside? Third where did you get your storage from, where can you recommend? Thanks in advance.

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The Passion of New Eve – Angela Carter

I am sure you will have all heard of and popped by and seen all the posts surrounding ‘Virago Reading Week’ which the lovely Rachel of Book Snob and Carolyn of A Few Of My Favourite Things have organised. Initially I wanted to participate, then didn’t think that I could as I have lots of health stuff going on, then I thought hang on I can combine the two and choose a Virago classic I have been meaning to read while I have lots of time in waiting rooms and the like. ‘The Passion of New Eve’ by Angela Carter was the book I plumped for and I can’t lie it was all because of the alluring cover my edition has (which was a reprint in 1982 – the year I was born). I have to say the cover certainly reflects just how trippy and unusual a book this is.

‘The Passion of New Eve’ starts as it means to go on with the rather bizarre opening sentence ‘The last night I spent in London, I took some girl or other to the movies and, through her mediation, I paid you a little tribute of spermatozoa, Tristessa.’ This is not going to be any ordinary tale and indeed it isn’t. We first meet Evelyn he has taken a girl to the cinema and then lets her perform fellatio on him whilst he watches his all time favourite actress on screen.  Suddenly we skip to his arrival in New York a few weeks later, but this is not the New York we know of. It’s a dystopian version of The Big Apple where giant rats and secular groups based on gender, sexuality and race run the streets.

After falling for Leilah, a nightclub dancer, he soon gets her pregnant and sort of tires and the darkness of the city and runs away to the desert where he is captured by a female tribe living in the underworld city of Beulah and, before you think I am giving much too much away, this is where the biggest change of Evelyn’s life awaits him. I could go on and there is so much to talk about that follows and how I felt about it all but really you need to try, if you are brave enough, to read this book yourself for the experience as well as the story.

‘The Passion of New Eve’ is quite unlike anything I have ever read and certainly nothing like I was expecting from reading some of Angela Carter’s previous work. It’s a dark, uncomfortable and sometimes brutal and graphic look at sexuality and gender and what Carter feels defines them and how they can be used to manipulate and hurt rather than in any positive way – though there is a weird sense of hope in the book somewhere deep down which you get flickers of now and again.

This isn’t just some big feminism book where all the men are evil, Carter is far too clever to paint it as black and white and so in characters like ‘Mother’ (who rules Beulah) she creates one of the most heartless and monstrous villainesses I think I have come across in modern fiction. It’s a book that I found compelled me, baffled me, shock and appalled me all at once. Even when I really wanted to put the book down, occasionally just for a rest from some of the descriptions, I remained strangely mesmerised. Its not going to be one of my all time favourite books but its certainly not one that I will forget in a hurry. 7/10.

This is a book I had bought a few years ago in the lovely edition shown for a mere 25p! You can’t go wrong with that and if you see any more of these like in the image above (which Thomas made) just grab them, these oldies are as beautiful on the inside as out!

I’m really pleased that ‘Virago Reading Week’ reminded me of all the lovely battered green editions I have (I simply cant resist them in second hand shops even if I have never heard of the book or author) and lead me to this novel, so a big thanks to Rachel and Carolyn – and do pop and see their round up posts where you can find some reading gems everyone else has been reading.

I’m not sure that Angela Carter will become one of my all time favourite authors just yet, and I might need quite a bit of space to let my feelings subside on this book before I try her again, but she’s certainly an author I need to read more of. Any pointers where to head next?

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January’s Incomings…

I haven’t done a post on the latest incomings at Savidge Reads for quite a while. In part because my new temporary HQ didn’t seem to get any post for a while, and then it got deluged which was lovely, and also because I have had too much to natter about instead. I then thought ‘ooh hang on maybe I should do something different in 2011’ and so at the end of each month I will pop a picture of just what comes to Savidge Reads be it bought, a gift, an unsolicited proof or a request etc. I know there is a divide of opinion on these posts and I fall into the ‘love them camp’ as I really like seeing what everyone else gets so am assuming a few of you feel the same. I also like getting your feedback on what you have read that’s in the mix and how you felt about it, or what you might want me to read in the future should my whim take me.

So here are the paperbacks…

 
Hallucinating Foucault by Patricia Duncker – I have to admit that I asked for this one from the lovely Alice at Bloomsbury after it came up in conversation loads over Christmas and New Year with several new bookish northern friends saying I simply had to read it. I have and thoughts coming soon.

Even The Dogs by Jon McGregor – another treat from Bloomsbury as one of my bags of books got lost in the move, seriously I can barely talk about it hence why I haven’t on here, and I had arranged a mini rogue book group between myself and the author Isabel Ashdown on it but couldn’t find my copy so will also be discussing this soon.

The Birth Machine by Elizabeth Baines – I got an email from Elizabeth seeing if I wanted to give her book a whirl and after seeing “Out of print for some years, “The Birth Machine” is now reissued in a revised version (which first appeared in 1996). Still very relevant today to modern Obstetrics and Medicine, “The Birth Machine” is however more than that: it is also a gripping story of buried secrets and a long-ago murder, and of present-day betrayals” I thought ‘yes I do’.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – This turned up as quite the surprise from OUP and I am delighted as I loved her novel ‘The Shuttle’ but have never gotten around to this children’s classic of hers.

Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe – I read this classic romp a few years ago but OUP are reissuing it so I might give it another whirl, or it can replace my rather battered old copy on my shelves for a re-read in the future.

Down Among The Dead Men by Michelle Williams – I have a strange fascination, though not too morbid a one, with death and since reading the wonderful ‘Stiff’ by Mary Roach I have wanted to read a few more along these lines and Michelle’s year as a morgue technician will make an interesting non fiction read. I saw it on amazon and had to send an email to the lovely Constable and Robinson who publish my favourite ‘Agatha Raisins’.

The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas – This was a surprise parcel, I know nothing of it except the fact it’s got a lovely cover.

When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman – Really excited about this one as a few people I know have already read this debut novel (which is getting a lot of press already as a Waterstones 11 choice) and I have heard some great things. The font though is shocking so I might struggle which worries me a little.

Living Souls by Dmitry Bykov – I really want to read more translated fiction from all over the globe in 2011, a mini whim challenge if you will, and this Russian translated book published by Alma Books looks set to be right up my street. “Living Souls follows the lives of four couples struggling to escape the chaos and stupidity of the war around them: a teenage girl who adopts a homeless man, a poet turned general separated from his lover, a provincial governor in love with one of the natives, and a legendary military commander who is sleeping with the enemy.”  

A Room Swept White by Sophie Hannah – I bought the latest in one of my favourite crime series in a charity shop virtually brand new for a mere 50p so that simply had to be bought!

Now onto the hard backs…

 

A Kind Man by Susan Hill – You will all know by now how much I love Susan Hill so this new novella has been devoured and will be read in due course.

The Devil’s Garden by Edward Docx – I know nothing about this, I think the author has been shortlisted for the Man Booker before, other than its set deep in the Amazon which is slightly bittersweet for me at the moment as I didn’t get to go thanks to everything that’s gone on with health etc lately.

The Cry of the Go Away Bird by Andrea Eames – A tale of a young girl in 1990’s Zimbabwe as Mugabe takes presidency; I think this surprise treat will be a perfect read for me.

To The Devil A Diva by Paul Magrs – Paul gave me a spare copy of this, one of his earlier novels, when he was cleaning his desk on his last day of work. I am looking forward to reading this in the near future.

Scissors Paper Stone by Elizabeth Day – Another surprise book that I have heard little about and so can’t really report on!

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller – Now this isn’t out until September but seems like its going to get a lot of coverage. I might have to get my Mum to read and review this one as she is a classicist and might give better thoughts than me.

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman – This is another of the Waterstones 11 and one that I think could be one of the most exciting debuts of the year. This is a tale of immigration and knife crime told from the perspective of a young boy in a new inner city world.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness – I think this book is going to explode everywhere, an adult tale of witches and wizards and a mystery at the Bodleian Library, I will either love or loathe this, I am hoping its love.

Some of these I have read already, some are up at the top of the TBR. Which ones have you read and which do you fancy or have heard great things about?

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Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys

I think my favourite book of last year has to have been ‘Jane Eyre’ such an incredible read that every time I have seen a review of it or talked about it since I have wanted to open the book at page one and read again. Yet that said I am not the biggest fan of re-reading a book too close to the last time, a small issue I had with ‘The Green Carnation Prize’ last year, and so instead I thought I would try ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ by Jean Rhys which tells the tale of the first Mrs Rochester, though its also a brilliant read in its own right which I wasn’t really expecting.

‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ is a novel of three parts and as it opens in part one we find ourselves in Jamaica in the 1830’s. Antoinette Cosway, now Mason, tells us the story of her youth from growing up with her mother and disabled brother several years after her father seemingly drank himself to death after the emancipation of the slaves – so he then leaves his family in the same state. Things change however when Antoinette’s mother meets Mr Mason, and Englishman of wealth who asks for her hand and restores the land, only the local community have other ideas and in a rebellious act burn their house down. From here things seem to deteriorate further with the death of her brother causing a madness in her mother soon Antoinette is sent to a convent. If you’re thinking I have given everything away then you would be wrong as this all happens in just part one which is a mere 40 pages.

The next narrator to take the helm is an unnamed English gentleman (though clearly it’s mean he is Rochester) who has recently married. As we read on we begin to recognise who is wife is and how he married her due to a mixture of her bewitching allure and also for the fortune she holds from the death of her steward, I think that’s the write expression I am sure I could be wrong. From here I shall say no more on the plot other than that our new narrator receives word that the wife he met may not quite have the history or the stability he is lead to believe and as the reader we follow on from there.

The thing that I loved the most about ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ was the writing. Jean Rhys manages to depict a steadying madness both through Antoinette’s first person narrative, which becomes more jumbled and slightly confused as she reflects on her youth and again later in the book, and through the observations people make of her. Jamaica is vividly drawn, I could smell the flowers and feel the heat and delight of the land as well as its darker sides which Rhys makes sure we enter on several occasions. Antoinette, or Bertha as she becomes, is a complex character and if you’re like me you will be left wondering if the madness was always there or whether circumstances and desperation could be the cause.  

I didn’t really know what to expect when I started ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ as all I had really heard about it was that it was a prequel of sorts to the classic novel ‘Jane Eyre’. Whilst this is in many ways true to simply say that would be to do Jean Rhys a disservice. This is a fantastic novel that you can read as a stand alone tale of a young woman born into hard circumstances, the decisions she has to make and the effect that this then has on her throughout her life. 8.5/10

I am now left wondering if I should maybe try some other prequels like Susan Hill’s ‘Mrs De Winter’? There is of course the possibility of other off shoots like ‘The Eyre Affair’ which I have always been somewhat wary of – I am aware that with ‘Rebecca’ being one of my favourite reads that might seem rather silly as it’s sort of a twist on ‘Jane Eyre’ too. I am also left wanting to read many more of the novels of Jean Rhys, can you recommend which ones I should give a whirl? Or maybe I shouldn’t as I know she had vanished for some time before this novel was published.

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Bookshops I Love; Simply Books

I haven’t really had a chance to get out and about quite as much as I would have liked of late what. However in between docs appointments, hospitals visits and generally feeling rubbish I did manage to find a bookish haven not a million miles away from where I am in the small village of Bramhall and as I know how much you like little virtual wanders around bookish places of delight I thought I would share this wonderful place with you all.

‘Simply Books’ is a shop I had heard raved about by several different sources, so naturally when I happened to be in the vicinity of Bramhall when getting from A to B the other week I had to pop round and have a snoop. Initially I couldn’t find it and instead spent a lovely hour wandering the high street and pooping into lots of charity shops, and then suddenly I turned a corner and look what greeted me…

I felt a little like I had found the Holy Grail on a random suburban road as round these parts and indeed in Manchester itself book shops, apart from Waterstones, are few and far between and I do love an independent book shop especially one that greets you like this…

And not only has a rather large fiction section for an independent but also has one of my favourite features in any book shop ‘the staff recommendation shelves’…

Not only that, and in many ways this is why this shop instantly became my dream ‘if I won the lottery I would have one of these’ sort of shop, but on the ground floor there is a small but perfectly formed café (though you can drink outside as you can see from the first picture) which I can personally testify does both great coffee and cakes…

I wasn’t expecting something so immaculate and yet instantly homely and cosy which the shop is, especially shown when you head up stairs and turn into the travel section and find this…

Who wouldn’t want a nice comfy chair to sit at when you have such a huge selection of non fiction and travel to choose from…

What’s more, and believe me there is more, there is another lovely relaxed sitting area and behind that a table and chairs which I thought would be perfect for any book group…

‘Simply Books’ is, quite simply, a little Aladdin’s cave/place of paradise for any book lover. If only you had one of these in every village and every suburb… or at least at the end of my street! Can you tell I am a little smitten? I think it’s because in many ways its my dream place, I might have to beg them for a job or something!

Do you have any marvellous local independent stores like this? Do let me know and if they have a website like ‘Simply Books’ do then pop a link as I do think we should all be supporting our local independents as much as we can, don’t you?

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Caribou Island – David Vann

You may remember that back in 2009 I read a wonderful debut work (I say work because it was a mix of short stories and a novella and yet some thought was a novel) by the author David Vann. When you read something quite as powerful, moving and shocking as Legend of a Suicide’ then, if you are like me, you can’t wait for the next novel by the author. Yet when ‘Caribou Island’ arrived as an advance proof copy I was worried, would I like his new book as much as the first or could it have suffered the dreaded ‘difficult second novel’ curse?

I was relieved when I finished ‘Caribou Island’ because it was a brilliant read, though I can’t quite say I enjoyed it as with its subject matter to say you enjoyed such a novel might make you sound a bit mad. We meet spouses Irene and Gary both in their mid-fifties and who seem separately rather unhappy and having slight mid-life crises. Irene’s way of coping seems to be the onset of a mysterious disease, doctors say there is nothing wrong and yet she is sure there is and often finds herself unable to get out of bed for the pain. Gary’s answer to his situation is action, though you sometimes wonder if it’s his way of trying to push his wife away, and to build a dream log cabin on the remote island near their home in Alaska. This is no easy task and with the atmospheric and tempestuous backdrop and Vann’s power with a sense of menace behind every page you know you are on a journey that might make for rather uncomfortable reading (not in a gory sense), though you have to read a long anyway.

I was worried with its opening paragraph of a hanging that ‘Caribou Island’ would be very like its predecessor and in some ways it actually is. There is the Alaskan backdrop, the ominous sense throughout, the stunning writing and the feeling at any moment the author could take you to another darker place. I did wonder if Vann had felt safest having the similarities around him moving from collection to novel or if he just hadn’t finished with the subject and its setting yet? Unlike ‘Legends of a Suicide’ when awful things happened (which of course I won’t give away, I wasn’t left shocked. I sort of figured what was coming early on whereas in one scene in ‘Legends’ I actually had to put the book down a while and get my head round it.

Yet ‘Caribou Island’ does beat ‘Legends’ on several points. Rather than a father son relationship, which is seriously lacking in this novel as Gary’s son Mark is rather distant from his family as a whole and would rather do ‘extreme fishing’ or get stoned than spend any time with them, we look instead at the relationships with couples. As well as Gary and Irene we have their daughter Rhoda and her dentist fiancé Jim who isn’t the initial nice guy we might want him to be, and you do want him two as Rhoda seems so nice. I did notice that in all the couples, bar Carl and Monique where with her femme fatale elements and his utter doormat behaviour buck the trend, that men seem to be depicted as utter swine’s whilst women come across more rounded, accommodating and rather dependable. I mean would you cook your fiancé dinner after he’s not spoken to you for two days or maybe help your husband shift logs across a lake in a storm for an isolated cabin you have no desire to live in?

 There is a lot to mull over with ‘Caribou Island’ and much to discuss, so it would make a brilliant book group choice.  David Vann’s writing is top notch, you can feel the atmosphere and sense of place in every page, and he excels in delivering that often hard to get combination of having wonderful description, characterisation and page turning qualities all in one book. Yet, as you might be able to guess and is the only slight flaw for the book, I found it so hard to write about it without comparing it to his previous work. The settings and themes are in some ways so similar. However regardless of that this is a really compelling book, that I know will stay with me and grow on me more and more, it’s certainly one that I would highly recommend you read. 8.5/10

I did wonder if Vann had felt safest having the similarities around him moving from collection to novel or if he just hadn’t finished with the subject and its setting yet? ‘Caribou Island’ has left me with two thoughts first I am hoping his next novel (which I will rush out to read) blows me away by how completely different it is and two that I don’t think I ever want to live near a lake in Alaska, who knows what could befall me?

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Funny But Substantial Fiction – The Prose Practice

The other dayI received some direct messages from Twitter all the way from Austin, Texas which were asking for some reading suggestions, and as I was both slightly stumped and intrigued in the idea of such a genre I thought I would have it as the latest Prose Practice problem so that all of you could help me and a dear reader out. So the question was this (I have turned what became a chat into a question)…

Dear Simon,

I am looking for some good light reading to cleanse the palate between ‘heavy’ books, ideally funny but substantial. I don’t really have anything like that at the moment and could do with some recommendations please. Dry wit might do?

David

Now initially I thought this would be really easy but then two factors came into play. The first was, well what do you like reading heavy or not, the second was what really funny reading? The first David answer by telling me he really likes ‘everything from the classics to modern classics like Forster to Raymond Carver and Kundra’. The second part I am stuck on because actually I don’t often read funny books, or if I do they aren’t that substantial, and so David has kindly highlighted a question I have often pondered and not yet asked on Savidge Reads. You can bet its something that I quite fancy giving a whirl… I am not too great at farce, but funny and substantial appeals to me.

So today I have a simply question for you, can you please recommend some ‘funny but substantial’ books to a pondering reader… and also to a pondering blogger? Am I right in hazarding a guess that Howard Jacobson would fit this genre or is that misplaced?

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