Monthly Archives: July 2011

Granny Savidge Reads… On Anita Brookner

“I liked Hotel du Lac, I think I would appreciate it more now, . [After taking it off her shelves] Ooh did it win the Man Booker Prize… In fact maybe I should re-read it soon… I saw her once down Oxford Street… She’d look just like you’d expect and acted just like you’d think.”

I’m not sure what the last bit means but it’s nice to know Anita has been Savidge Reads spotted even if in a slightly tenuous way! I thought I’d just ask while I’m with her. Gran I mean, I’m not secretly at Anita’s birthday party. Honest.

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Filed under Granny Savidge Reads, International Anita Brookner Day

It’s International Anita Brookner Day…

Well its here.  International Anita Brookner day has arrived on the authors 83rd Birthday, so wishing you a very happy birthday Ms Brookner. I know she knows about the day, her publishers told me that she was ‘tickled pink’ so I hope that they go over to the official International Anita Brookner Day blog and see the posts that you have done from all over the blogosphere and all over the world. I want to say a huge thanks from me and Thomas (who has even tried to get his dog, the lovely Lucy, to give one of her books a whirl) for everyone who has joined in.

I also want to take time to thank Thomas who took a comment I made in an email and made it real and has been much better than me sorry brilliant at push and mentioning the event and making the awesome logo. What a star! I am organising him a little special something to say thanks. Anyway back to business.

Today you can expect me to be popping over to the IABD blog and leaving comments (and playing catch up) on all the posts, I have a post called ‘Anita and Me’ arriving later on today, and if I can finish it, and I am really trying to, another Anita Brookner review of another Anita treat.

So let me know if you have written about her, so I can doubly check that I have read your lovely posts, and enjoy the day. If you still haven’t tried her yet I hope you are enticed. See you on the IABD blog during the day, looking forward to it.

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Filed under Anita Brookner, International Anita Brookner Day

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

I have to say with poetry and now a graphic novel adaptation of ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith (adapted by Tony Lee and illustrated by Cliff Richards) in a single week you might be wondering if Savidge Reads has been taken over by zombies. I can promise you whilst illness has be a forte for me this year it is not ‘the plague’ that has got me. I seem to just want to be trying more varied things and whilst I didn’t want to read the novel that this is based on, and I still haven’t actually read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (I know, I know), yet when my uncle got this out from the library and I saw it lying around I thought ‘well, why not?’

Titan Books; graphic novel; paperback; 2010; 176 pages; from the library

There is almost no point bringing up the whole storyline of ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ because I think everyone on earth (I almost seriously think that) knows the story of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ don’t they? Well take that story and imagine the Hertfordshire town of Meryton is in the midst of a zombie flooded England and the Bennett sisters are being trained by their father to become warrior women who can perform the ‘pentagram of death’ at any zombie intruded ball.

Whilst Jane and Elizabeth, who is a ‘student of Shaolin, master of the seven-starred first’, enjoy their roles some of the sisters like flighty Lydia are slightly more worried about getting their dresses dirty with brains and not interesting the soldiers. Mrs Bennett is more bothered about them finding husbands and when Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy arrive in town this sets everyone in quite a stir.

You of course know what’s going to come after these two men ride into town, or do you? What Seth Grahame-Smith, and I am sure to some extent Tony Lee in his adaptation, has done is explain some of the characters actions in different ways. Why does Charlotte Lucas really accept Mr Collins hand? Why is the legendary female warrior Lady Catherine such a great slayer of zombies and such a character? Will there be a happy ever after, and what might happen to everyone else if the best slaying sister Elizabeth leaves for another shire?

I don’t always like a spin off. I almost think there is something a little unoriginal about them, why do authors not want to create something new rather than almost pilfer someone else’s story or idea’s (ironic from the man who wants to write a fictional tale of ‘Mrs Danvers’ life)? However there are times when it can work and be original. I’m thinking of ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ by Jean Rhys or ‘Wicked’ by Gregory Maguire etc. I think this is one that works because it’s not what you would expect, it’s often quite funny, and at no point do you feel this has been done as some gimmicky piss-take/cashing in at Jane Austen’s expense. I do wish they hadn’t made Elizabeth blonde and Jane a brunette though, it really through me, I kept getting them mixed up.

As I said earlier, almost everyone knows the story of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and I wonder if that is why I really rather enjoyed ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ all the more. It gave a story that I feel I know too well (in a nice way, I love the BBC adaptation to bits) and did something different with it, rather like the wonderful TV series ‘Lost In Austen’ only in this instance the storyline doesn’t have an avid reader disturbing it but a host of zombies instead. I’m not sure if the die hard Austen fans will like this or not but its something a bit different. I can’t say it’s made me want to rush and read ‘Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters’ but interestingly it has made me want to read some of Austen’s other work.

What are your thoughts on this Austen based twist, is it just a gimmicky cash in or a new and interesting take on her work? Who has read the book? Who is going to see the film, apparently Natalie Portman is producing it?

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Filed under Graphic Novels, Jane Austen, Review, Seth Grahame-Smith, Titan Books

Savidge Reads Feedback Wanted #3… Marks Out Of Ten

I mull this question over in my mind quite a lot; in fact I did before I started doing it myself on the blog, and that is the question of giving books a mark out of ten? I don’t mean should I instead mark a book out of five, I mean should I be scoring them at all?

I have been thinking this as for both reasons of health in the last six months, and now reasons of prizes and some new projects coming up, and in a year when I have read so much how effective it is. Yes, it gives people a guideline (and I will always look at other peoples marks out of whatever on their blogs) but can you sum really up the experience and feeling (in some cases loosing you for hours and hours) that reading each book gives you and then just ending it with one of ten figures?

I have been looking back over my marks from the last few months, which have admittedly been more even and less filled with ‘the initial after reading glow or downer’ of a book, after all thoughts need to ferment and flourish or fade away. I have been looking at some and thinking did I really give x the same mark as y?

So I am wondering if I should stop. I would never normally give a book 1/10 or 2/10 because something that bad I wouldn’t finish, who has the time for books they aren’t enjoying? Life is too short. Maybe I should simply let the review say everything and lose the final sum of summing up? Maybe I should introduce some posts on books I simply can’t finish (there have been a few this year) but informing you all why? Though of course I wouldn’t call those ‘reviews’ on here.

What do you think? Do you like books given marks or, as one friend of mine said of me doing it ‘the author has created something for you, it’s not like you’re a teacher marking homework’? I would be interested in your thoughts.

P.S How could I not use that picture (which is from Scribbler) its hilarious, look at the lady on the left’s face! Oh and this is no reflection on other people who do give scores, I always look at theirs and I currently do it myself.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Family Values – Wendy Cope

Poetry? On Savidge Reads? Yes, you well might be shocked. I have to admit I am often left utterly bemused by poetry. I have never really got it. I’ve always found it a little pretentious. (Did I just hear someone shout ‘heathen’ somewhere in the blogosphere? Ha.) This has all changed thanks to Wendy Cope and her latest collection ‘Family Values’. I think I have finally found a poet that I get the gist of and one who, in this collection alone, has made me laugh out loud and also made me want to cry. Yes, I seem to have found some poetry I connect with.

Faber & Faber; 2011; hardback; poetry; sent by publisher

It’s very difficult to review a collection of poems without wanting to simply include every single one of them to make it easier on yourself, it’s even harder if a) you have never done it before and b) until recently you weren’t really a big fan of the form. Wendy Cope’s latest collection of 56 poems ‘Family Values’ is one that really runs the spectrum of the everyday things that happen in human life. From the turbulence of childhood to both the fear and acceptance of death this collection spans a whole host of human emotions.

The start of the collection focuses on Christmas, one of the more delightful yet equally trying times of year. In the four poems that cover this period Cope manages to completely convey the joy and the annoyance that come with that time period. I found myself thinking ‘phew, someone else has that feeling of happiness and slight nostalgic melancholy at that time of year too’. From the start I felt I was on the same page (no pun intended) as Cope and this was before we had even started on the poems of love and loss, some of which I found so beautiful and touching I admit I got a little teary. Try reading the below and not feeling something.

April

The birds are singing loudly overhead,
As if to celebrate the April weather.
I want to stay in this lovely world forever
And be with, my love, and share your bed.

I don’t believe I will see you when we’re dead.
I don’t believe we’ll meet and be together.
The birds are singing loudly overhead.
I want to stay in this lovely world forever.

What I really loved about Cope’s collection, apart from the fact it ‘got me’ so much, was the sense of humour in it. As a child my Mum (the English teacher) read me Brian Pattern’s ‘Gargling With Jelly’ which would reduced me to hysterics. Almost two decades on Wendy Cope is doing the same on a whole host of things from love to debating whatever happened to the tomato shaped ketchup dispensers in motorway service station fast food restaurants as she does in ‘At Stafford Services’. I even found myself laughing bizarrely at subjects such as death and even the thoughts of our own funerals.

My Funeral

I hope I can trust you, friends, not to use our relationship
As an excuse for an unsolicited ego trip.
I have seen enough of them at funerals and they make
       me cross.
At this one, though deceased, I aim to be the boss.
If you are asked to talk about me for five minutes, please
       do not go on for eight.
There is a strict timetable at the crematorium and nobody
       wants to be late.
If invited to read a poem, just read the bloody poem.
       If requested
To sing a song, just sing it, as suggested,
And don’t say anything. Though I will not be there,
Glancing pointedly at my watch and fixing the speaker
      with a malevolent stare,
Remember that this was how I always reacted
When I felt that anybody’s speech, sermon or poetry reading
      was becoming to protracted.
Yes, I was impatient and intolerant, and not always polite
And if there aren’t many people at my funeral, it will probably
      serve me right.

I really loved this collection. I should say at this juncture that it was actually seeing Wendy Cope reading her own poems in Cambridge that made it all so accessible and finally broke me into poetry again. I could here her voice and see her arched eyebrow and wry smile as I read through so that added a certain something. Regardless of that though, she didn’t read the whole book, I can genuinely say that these poems would have touched me anyway if I had seen them. A collection of poems that can make you laugh, cry and resonate with you just so is a hard thing to find, but find one I have. Thank you Wendy Cope! 9/10

So there you are, I am somewhat converted. I have to admit that after the success with Wendy Cope (and I have another of her collections I am going to save for the future) I have since read a whole novel written in poetry. I will be reporting back on that soon. Which poet really resonates with you and why? Who would you recommend I go and try next?

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Filed under Books of 2011, Faber & Faber, Poetry, Review, Wendy Cope

How Many Book Groups Make Too Many?

I love books. I know that sounds like a rather obvious thing to say with a book blog, but sometimes my love of books gets me into trouble. For example at the moment I am in the midst of reading the Green Carnation Prize submissions, of which we have easily had double or maybe treble what we did last year and there are more to come. I also have a big pile of books on the bedside table which I keep ‘meaning to read next’, some advance reading to do for ‘Discovering Daphne’ and another project for the blog which starts in August. Phew! So you might think considering I am part of two book groups the very thought of joining another would seem idiotic… and yet I think I have.

It’s not the fault of the other two book groups that have made my eyes wander. It’s definitely me.

You see with the book group I first joined (that in my own head I call ‘the lovely ladies of Levenshulme book group’ because it is lots of lovely women and me and Paul Magrs) I love the banter and I love the people but until this month a lot of the choices have been re-reads for me. This is of course my fault for reading too much frankly and not theirs at all. However this month, though I have no idea what day it’s happening, we are reading ‘The Lost Daughter’ by Diane Chamberlain which is a book I have never read and would go as far as to say from the cover looks like a book I would possibly avoid. It looks a bit Jodi Piccoult. However this is the very point of a book group isn’t it?

Sadly at the moment the book seems to be avoiding me. I ordered it from the library, they went and loaned it after I ordered it. I have tried book shops and no avail. I could go online, but I feel all funny about online sales after the latest Book Depository news. So if I get it and if I find out when the meeting is I shall of course be going.

The next book group I joined in part because it was organised by one of my lovely new friends up in the north and secondly because I hadn’t read the book, which was ‘Purple Hibiscus’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, one I had wanted to read for ages and ages but not quite got around to. The only issue is that I have read the next book that’s been chosen (again my fault not theirs) but I really don’t want to read it again. What is it? ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy. This seems odd, especially as you can see from a review of it back in 2008, when I had read it for a book group too, I came away confused but overall liking it. So wouldn’t this be just the sort of book that could do with a re-read? After all this was a few years ago. The answer screaming at me is no. I don’t want to be confused by it again, and one thing I missed in that review was how long that book took to read. I have it by the bed in case but I will see, I did love the people who went so much – a really lovely mixture. Can I not go without having to re-read it and see if I can remember it fully? I admit I remember one horrid scene in a cinema all too well.

Fate seemed to extend a hand when I found a new book group in Manchester through twitter completely randomly. I think Waterstones Deansgate retweeted them, they are the @NQbookclub. This group are a little specific with what books they choose, which is what attracts me so much – as well as meeting new book lovers that is, as they only read post war classics it seems… Classics such as ‘Revolutionary Road’ by Richard Yates, ‘Things Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe and next up to read is ‘Rabbit, Run’ by John Updike. Many of you will of course have read these, but I haven’t and yet they have always been books I have fancied (I did read Updike’s ‘Couples’ for a book group and was impressed with the read and the discussion was great) so should I add another book group to my reading schedule?

I am torn, especially as with ‘Bookmarked’ starting soon (exciting announcement about that soon) and the reading I will need to do for that… maybe it is too much? Do I need to give up one? I don’t really want to. How many book groups are too many? Has anyone else found that they go to a book group and each month it’s a book they have read? Does it matter if you pick and choose which meetings you attend, what are your thoughts on etiquette?

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Filed under Book Group, Book Thoughts

Five Days To Go…

…Until Thomas and myself host International Anita Brookner Day. Its coming around remarkably quickly, so I wanted to give you all a timely reminder that you have 5 days (which is easily enough time to devour a Brookner, it can be done in a few sittings – so pop to the library on your lunch break… or your local bookshop) and join in with all the fun we will be having on Saturday.

I will have devoured another by then, mind you its taking me ages to decide which one. Typically its ‘Strangers’ – which I don’t have – that I actually fancy reading the most at the moment. I will have to rethink that one I think. Which one will you be reading, or which have you already read? Thomas has done a great post on ‘A Start in Life’/’The Debut’ which I also really loved – its a book lovers book. Do let me know. Oh and don’t forget that it has a site all of its own now.

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Bonjour Tristesse – Francoise Sagan

I have to admit that if it hadn’t been for the fact that ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ by Francoise Sagan had been a book that I managed to rescue, and allowed myself to because it was short, then I am not sure it would have crossed my path. I know since mentioning it that a few of you have since said you read it (some even reviewed it – which I had missed, oops) and had been very impressed. It was also described as a ‘dark little book’ by someone and I have to say those can be my favourite sort of reads.

Penguin Books, 1954, paperback, translated by Irene Ash, 107 pages, saved from pulping

The story of ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ (which translated means ‘Hello Sadness’) is initially a simple one. Cecile is a seventeen year old free spirit who is used to a life with her father, one that is lived in relative comfort, without much expected or demanded of her . However things have begun to subtly change in the dynamic as Cecile is starting to embrace her womanhood and sexuality whilst her father has started to take on lots of rather young lovers, none lasting for particularly long.

“He refused categorically all notions of fidelity and serious commitments. He explained that they were arbitrary and sterile. From anyone else such views would have shocked me, but I knew that in his case they did not exclude either tenderness or devotion; feelings which came all the more easily to him since he was determined that they should be transient. This conception of rapid, violent and passing love affairs appealed to my imagination. I was not at the age when fidelity is attractive. I knew very little about love.”

In fact it is shown how often these women are in and out of her fathers life rather quickly for at the start of the book Cecile, her father and his latest fling Elsa all go to a villa on the French Riviera but it isn’t long before Elsa is usurped by the older and more wilful Anna. Only Anna has decided she isn’t going anywhere. Initially we see Anna, who happens to be a friend of Cecile’s dead mother, as a pleasant addition to the world of Cecile and her father. However before long the woman who so helped and guided Cecile so well after her mothers death soon starts to show the smallest signs of control, including banning Cecile from seeing her boyfriend Cyril. Cecile decides that Anna needs to go, it’s just a question of how to go about it.

I admit that when I first heard of the premise of the book I was thinking of the ‘wicked stepmothers in fairytales’, this is no fairytale. What Sagan has done, and I could almost not believe she was eighteen years old when she wrote this, is created a simplistic tale which carries all the complexities of the human psyche and the spectrum of emotions around love, from the first flushes to the darkest jealousy. This isn’t just romantic love either, it’s about platonic and familial love too. It’s about how we react when we become threatened in our routine life by something and how we use people to get what we want.

“Destiny sometimes assumes strange forms. That summer it appeared in the guise of Elsa, a mediocre person, but with a pretty face. She had an extraordinary laugh, sudden and infectious, which only rather stupid people possess.”

I was really impressed with ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ and devoured it in a single sitting, I will admit that it has faded a little bit in the weeks since I have read it. What particularly blew me away though was the insight that Sagan had at such a young age of the awful ways in which we can behave in order to get what we want. She also manages to cleverly describe how even when we have thought of every outcome to a plan we conceive something else can happen to change that chain of events and take it right out of our control. I certainly didn’t think I would get all of that out of this book before I opened the first page. 8/10

You can see Kimbofo’s thoughts here and Simon of Stuck-in-a-Book’s thoughts here. I had missed their reviews previously somehow.

After doing some research I was shocked to learn that Francoise Sagan has written 20 novels. I see that Hesperus Press publish ‘The Unmade Bed’ which sounds like it could have caused as much uproar in France on its release as ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ did, Basic Books (who I had never heard of) publish ‘That Mad Ache’ and ‘A Certain Smile’ comes out in a lovely issue in October from University of Chicago Press. I am wondering if I should be priming myself to purchase any of these, have you any thoughts or tips. Have any of you seen the film of ‘Bonjour Tristesse’? I also had a lovely vision of Persephone Books and Peirene Press coming together to publish some of her other lost and slightly forgotten books, wouldn’t that be wonderful?

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Filed under Francoise Sagan, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review

Do I Want To Read… The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan?

I personally don’t read that much werewolf based fiction, even though I love a good werewolf film, so it’s interesting that I have had Glen Duncan’s ‘The Last Werewolf’ on my periphery for quite some time. I can’t say I am a big read of supernatural fiction, though I have dabbled in the Twilight series (which some people would say I shouldn’t admit to but stuff it) and have various thoughts on those, I do like a good chilling ghost story though. Yet I have read a few reviews – like this one – and heard various podcasts and the like that make me think I might rather like this read. Weirdly there was one absolute slating of the book that made me want to read it more, and that was from the fabulous Marieke Hardy.

I am pretty sure I have pushed you in the direction of Australia’s ‘First Tuesday Book Club’ before. It’s the perfect book show and one I am shocked we haven’t the likes of in the UK as I think it would be a great success (and I know someone who would love to host it, cough). Each month they read two books in a panel of five (three of whom, Jennifer Byrne, Marieke Hardy and Jason Steger, are always on it) and discuss them. Invariably the books are one modern and one classic, this month the modern one was ‘The Last Werewolf’. Well Marieke went crazy on it calling it ‘a very silly book’, and excuse my French, a ‘cock forest’,  where else would you get a brilliant review like that? If you want to see it then go here and skip to 3.33 minutes for the fun to begin its hilarious. You can also sign up to get the series as a vodcast every month.

I have also heard on ‘Books on the Nightstand’; one of my other favourite podcasts, that this is a ‘literary werewolf novel’ could this be a surprise contender for the Man Booker 2011, how bizarre and brilliant would that be? So have any of you read ‘The Last Werewolf’ and what did you think? Isn’t it funny how a bad review, when done honestly and well, can make you want to read something even more?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Do I Want To Read?

Writing That Affects You…

Do you ever read something and find yourself an emotional mess in both a happy and a sad sense at the same time, a special piece of writing so beautiful, bittersweet and heartbreaking that it just gets you right where it should? These are very rare things to find but I was bowled over by one recently. It’s not a piece of fiction, its not a poem, it was a bold and heart on her sleeve blog post which Shelley Silas posted and one I think you should all read… so go here and do so, right now.

It is a shame that Shelley is Stella Duffy’s wife (no, not in that way they are a lovely couple – I mean as Stella is a judge) and doesn’t have a book out as that piece of writing would make an excellent Green Carnation Prize winner frankly. A voice of utter honesty. That’s what I am looking for, and not just with the prize, but also with my reading in general.  They don’t all have to be emotional in a sad sense, but they need to do something to me. It has to hit me, even if it’s a fit of the absolute giggles that keep bubbling up when you least expect them rather than crying at your computer screen or onto your opened pages. I want to be effected when I read. Don’t you?

By the way, once you have finished reading Shelley’s wonderful piece, do pop and have a look at the all new Green Carnation site. Feedback wanted there.

What was the last piece of writing that hit you in some way, a piece that really resonated with you?

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The Lover’s Dictionary – David Levithan

When authors play with the conventional format of a novel, it can either be a wonderful thing or a complete disaster. ‘The Lover’s Dictionary’ by David Levithan is a book that has a rather inventive format as it tells a love story though in the form of a dictionary. Sounds odd, well bizarrely its not and it actually really works. In fact it’s this sort of novel that tries to be different, succeeds and makes a rewarding read and yet hasn’t been paid much attention. It is these sort of books that I want to be reading more of and writing more about on Savidge Reads.

4th Estate; 2011; hardback; 211 pages; sent by publisher

How on earth could a dictionary of words tell a love story? Well the easiest answer I would have to that is to say ‘go and read David Levithan’s new novel The Lover’s Dictionary’. However as I should be hinting at why it’s worth doing that a single short sentence isn’t really a justifiable reason or incentive.

Levithan uses a selection of words, in alphabetical order of course, and then below the word in a sentence, a paragraph or a page or two long piece creates a moment or incident in the relationship that builds an image of a time in that relationship. Be it from ‘anthem’ to ‘kerfuffle’ or ‘leery’ to ‘yearning’ in each case clearly, simply and very effectively Levithan draws the reader into the most intimate and emotional moments of a couple’s journey. That last bit makes it sounds saccharine and its not, I don’t like saccharine novels, so it’s probably best I give you an example, my favourite of which was ‘buffoonery’ because it made me laugh, a lot.

buffoonery, n.
You were drunk, and I made the mistake of mentioning Showgirls in a near-empty subway car. The pole had no idea what it was about to endure.

Though with alchoholism and adultery all lingering between the lines of this novel don’t go thinking it’s just a lovely story of love, there are the darker sides of it too. After closing the final page of ‘The Lover’s Dictionary’, which is a deceptively short novel to read, I actually felt like I had witnessed the development of a three year relationship from its very start to its very finish and with the highs and lows that come during that time period. Rather amazing then that this has happened without knowing either of the names of the two people who create that couple. In fact you are never even sure what the sex of the second person in that novel is, its left a mystery, the nameless narrator we only learn is male half way through, the lover however could be a man or a woman – you just know that this person is rather stunningly beautiful, because the narrator spends a lot of time obsessing over this and the insecurity it breeds in them.

This slightly insular edge the narrator has, seemingly caused by a slight inferiority complex is one that we have all had in relationships before I am sure. In fact it’s the slight feeling of empathy that Levithan creates with the nameless narrator which means you can put yourself slap bang in their place, and it’s occasionally a little uncomfortable. It’s this very real sensation that I liked so much about the book, love isn’t all flowers and joy, it can be hard work, and it can be heartbreaking. It has both the good sides and the not so. Levithan explores these two spectrums of feelings and all those that fall in the middle of them too. I loved how the book hit on those moments of random togetherness we can sometimes feel with someone, I haven’t seen it done so well in a book for quite some time.

meander, v.

“…because when it all comes down to it, there’s no such thing as a two-hit wonder. So its better just to have that one song everyone knows, instead of diluting it with a follow-up that only half succeeds. I mean, who really cares what Soft Cell’s next single was, as long as we have ‘Tainted Love’?”
I stop. You’re still listening.
“Wait”, I say. “What was I talking about? How did we get to ‘Tainted Love’?”
“Let’s see,” you say. “I believe we started roughly at the Democratic gains in the South, then jumped back to the election of 1948, dipping briefly into northern constructions of the South, vis-à-vis Steel Magnolias, Birth of a Nation, Johnny Cash, and Fried Green Tomatoes. Which landed you on To Kill A Mockingbird, and how it is both Southern and universal, which – correct me if I am wrong – got us to Harper Lee and her lack of a follow-up novel, intersected with the theory, probably wrong, that Truman Capote wrote the novel, then hopping over to literary one-hit wonders, and using musical  one-hit wonders to make a point about their special place in our culture. I think.”
“Thank you,” I say. “That’s wonderful.” 

As I mentioned above books that strive to do something different with fiction can go several ways. People can find them contrived, calculated, maybe a little niche and a little too gimmicky, or they can be the next best thing ever. I would put ‘The Lover’s Dictionary’ somewhere in the middle. I did feel a little at the start like this was going to be one of those books you would only buy someone for valentines day which would then end up in the garbage a few months or years down the line. Well shame on me, because this is much more than that, it has a depth despite how succinct it is. Actually, as I think on it, it could be the succinct brief nature of ‘The Lover’s Dictionary’ that makes it so compelling and hits the emotions home to the reader. I don’t want to call this book ground breaking or experimental, it’s just something that’s rather different and really works. 8/10

I haven’t read any of Levithan’s other work, I think he is much better known in the US than he is here, or am I wrong? Has anyone else read his work and what did you think? Has anyone else read this novel? What was the last novel you read that used an unusual format and did it work for you?

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Filed under David Levithan, Fourth Estate Books, Review

Book Blogs vs. Broadsheet Reviews

I was alerted to a post that Scott Pack of ‘Me and My Big Mouth’ had done called ‘Missed Opportunity’ for The Bookseller blog which happened to mention book bloggers (including this one bizarrely) in a very positive light. In fact Scott was saying that really the big papers should open their review pages because of the personality bloggers inject into their “array of interesting, arresting, entertaining and relevant reviews”. Scott puts it all much better than I could try and regurgitate so pop and see the whole post here.

It did of course set my mind off wandering about the whole Book Bloggers vs. Broadsheet Reviewing debate. After I have finished reading a book then typed all my initial thoughts (I actually then go away to have some space before then rewriting those book thoughts) and pressed schedule I will pop and google the book and read both the broadsheet reviews and the bloggers ones. Which do I prefer? Well I like both, I think the broadsheet ones are a but drier but that’s because with the bloggers I invariably have read some of their posts before and there is an injection of not just a reaction to the books prose and ‘literary’ merits but also an emotional one, and I think that is key.

Do I think these more emotive thoughts could work in a paper, course I do – though you would have to build peoples trust in you and your personality up. Will it actually happen though? I doubt it very much.

You see there is that snobbery that if you haven’t done an English literature degree you aren’t qualified to comment. I find that interesting as I didn’t do any degree, I worked my way to where I am but I also spent those years reading books voraciously that I wanted to, that were my taste and worked for me as books. I wasn’t dictated to or told what makes a good read. I would say that gives me a certain unique selling point maybe, not in an arrogant way – I mean I have read for years and think that’s qualification enough.

Have a look at the piece and tell me what you think. This post isn’t meant as some war cry against the broadsheets by the way, I just find it interesting. What are you thoughts on Book Blogs vs. Broadsheet Reviews? Which one do you prefer, or do you think there is room for both? Any other thoughts?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Savidge Reads Feedback Wanted #2… Book Details in Reviews

The first of two posts today but just a quick feedback based one; you were so helpful with the last. In yesterdays post on ‘Loaded’ by Christos Tsiolkas I did something a little bit different, so little you may not have noticed, when I put the details of the book with the picture of the cover. The publisher, the year it came out originally (reissued date if so needed), amount of pages and how I got it.

I really like it on other blogs like this one and this one, I do love to know how bloggers get to reading what they do, I also like to know how weighty a tome a book might be? Until yesterday I have just never done it myself, and I don’t know if I like it or not! It did make me notice that I don’t include any of this in a review, apart from the source of the book at the bottom normally in grey italics, and unless you look at my tags you never know who the publisher is and that doesn’t seem fair, especially if they sent it.

What do you think? Does it help you as readers of the blog if all that information is there or if I have intrigued you with my thoughts on the book do you then go off and find out more yourself?

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Loaded – Christos Tsiolkas

Ever since having read ‘The Slap’ last year (a total of two and a half times), for The Green Carnation Prize which it was long listed for – it was also listed for some prize called the Booker in the same year, I have been meaning to read more of Tsiolkas’ novels. I was rather chuffed when the new re-issued Vintage edition popped through my letter box a month or so ago and promptly sat down with it. It was an interesting experience to see that what I loved about ‘The Slap’ was all there, along with some of the things that I didn’t. I do also quite like the idea of everyone who has read ‘The Slap’ and found it shocking giving ‘Loaded’ a whirl, oh what they would be letting themselves in for…

9780099757719

Vintage; 1997 (reissued 2011), fiction, 160 pages; kindly sent by publisher

The narrator of ‘Loaded’ is quite a fascinating one. Nineteen year old Ari lives in the city of Melbourne in Australia, he is Greek, he has no job, he is gay but secretly, he loves nothing more than going on massive drink and drug fuelled binges preferably with lots of random anonymous sex along the way. In fact from the first page where the novel opens with Ari masturbating with a massive hangover you pretty much know the story that you are getting here, well you think you do at least, as we follow him for the next twenty four hours.

Initially I didn’t think there was really any plot. In fact if I am honest I had written this book as one of those ‘lets write a really shocking book that gets me published even if it’s a cliché but everyone will read it anyway’ kind of novels. Yet as we read on between all the drug taking, drinking, etc there is a lot that this book is looking at and saying. One of the main senses you get is a sense of needing to belong, to be a part of something and yet rejecting that very thing at the same time.

“Are you proud of being Australian? The old mans question feels like an interrogation. The answer is easy. No, no way. Proud of being an Australian? I laugh. What a concept, I continue, what is there to be proud of? The whole table laughs at this and Ariadne gives me a hug. They forget me and continue their conversation.”

Its about fitting in and identity and in the case of Ari he doesn’t feel he fits in with the culture (because he is Greek and is Australian yet doesn’t feel he can be both) or with his sexuality (he hates the term ‘gay’, only sleeps with ‘men’ not ‘faggots’ and still sleeps with women when he is bored or drugged enough) and these things both add to his sense of feeling like he doesn’t belong in his family and that environment. In fact the family dynamic is another thing that Christos Tsiolkas looks at in ‘Loaded’ and this family is pretty dysfunctional. The parent’s of Ari, Peter and their sister Alex are volatile to say the least, one minute screaming obscenities at their children, next minute joining them in having a cigarette and an afternoon whiskey or three.

“If they were very angry they might come in, turn off the music, throw your CD or cassette against the wall. The screaming could go on half the night, wake up the neighbours, wake up the dogs. They called us names, abused us, sometimes hit us, short sharp slaps. It was not the words themselves, but the combination of savage emotion and insult, the threat of violence and the taunting tone that shattered our attempts at pretend detachment; it was Peter’s sly, superior smile, my sister’s half-closed eyes which did not look at them, my bored, blank face, that spurred my parents on to greater insults, furious laments.”

These were the moments when I thought Tsiolkas had the book spot on. We see other friends of Ari’s like Joe (very heterosexual) and Johnny (also known as Toula when in drag) and then through Ari’s sharing of their back stories get an insight into why they have become addicts, be it to the drink, the drugs or the sex. This was all brilliant and I could have read much, much more should Tsiolkas have written it. Instead sadly we get these marvellous moments of character and prose and then its back to the sex.

I don’t have an issue with sex in books; I’m not prudish, if there is a reason behind it. Twice in this book there is, one scene illuminates us to Ari’s self image issues and the psychology behind that and what he does to try and rectify it, the other proves a violent then emotional scene between Ari and someone who might just steal his heart. The latter was actually an incredibly effective piece of writing, so much sad in the violence and the silent post-coital cigarette after. Yet when we manage to have about six graphic sex scenes and several solo efforts within 150 pages I was just thinking ‘do we need this?’ It let the rest of the book down rather a lot.

‘Loaded’ is an interesting book. It is also a book where the effects of the wondrous prose is almost extinguished by the graphic scenes ‘set to shock’ and light up the readers indignation, or whatever effect was meant to be achieved. Take 85% of the sex away and you have a cracking and insightful read into the lives of some mixed up teenagers in the early 90’s. It would also be a really interesting angle of some of Australian life. Sadly with the sex left in some of that is lost, and so sadly was this reader. 6/10

Who has read any of Christos Tsiolkas’ other novels? Has anyone seen the film version of this called ‘Head On’, I did years ago, can remember little about it apart from it having the lead from Heartbreak High in it. I wish I had written about ‘The Slap’ after I read it the first time last year, after another read and a half I wasn’t so keen, in fact why didn’t I keep reviews on the computer instead of a notebook for all the Green Carnation submissions last year, drat’s! Isn’t it funny how sexing particular, be it of any orientation, can really put you off a book? In fact anything taken too far, in a graphic context, can almost ruin a book. Has this happened to you, would you care to share the novel and what put you off it?

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Filed under Books To Film, Christos Tsiolkas, Review, Vintage Books