Monthly Archives: October 2011

The English Ghost – Peter Ackroyd

Happy Halloween to one and all! I think this might actually be one of my favourite days of the year, yes even more so than Christmas, because I really do love all things spooky that go bump in the dark. I am a Most Haunted addict; love a good horror movie that makes me jump and love curling up with a good ghost story too. With the dark and chilly autumnal night’s drawing in (even more since the clocks changed yesterday) I am in my element curled up late at night with the curtains open in my warm room, wanting to be lost in a terrifying tale. Therefore I thought that I would really enjoy ‘The English Ghost’ by Peter Ackroyd, and in many ways I did. Yes, you are right, there is a ‘but’ coming.

Vintage Books, paperback, 2011, non fiction, 288 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Because of Peter Ackroyd’s reputation for fiction as well as non fiction preceding him before I had even read a word I had very high expectations from this book. I wanted a really interesting and eye opening dialogue with Peter about the ghost stories that he had collected all over the UK and why indeed the British Isles seems to be a place where hosts are seen far more than in any other country in the world. I did get this… in the introduction, which I loved.

The problem was that from then on we simply had a collection/anthology of all the ghost stories that Ackroyd had found, and while I happily admit I enjoyed them I did want something more. The more I read the opening words in each tale like ‘the following letter by…’ or ‘the following report appeared in the ‘X’ newspaper’ the more I was thinking ‘hang on, is this a bit of a cut and paste job. Is this all research and no real revelation or conversation?’ It was a conversation with Ackroyd about the ghost stories and the facts and people involved with them that I wanted not really an encyclopaedia.

This makes me sound really ungrateful I know, and I did actually read it in just a few days because it is great to dip in and out of. I should have just thought ‘wow, what a collection of tales from the infamous Borley Rectory, to smaller unknown stories’ (I was excited that the Blue Bell Hill story was included as my Great Aunty Pat told me that tale as a kid as she knew the people involved) and some of the stories are genuinely unnerving (weirdly the more modern ones) as from the witness accounts you know several people saw these events happen and it does make you ponder on what on earth is really out there. I did also really like Ackroyd’s retelling of the stories when there were no ‘official’ accounts too, I just wanted more dialogue with him, more banter. There isn’t even an afterword or really any note on why he wanted to do this particular paranormal project.

I am aware this is rather a short set of book thoughts, and one I feel I have come away doing Ackroyd a slight disservice in writing. If you want a collection of true life, well it depends on what you believe – but I do, ghost stories then this would be an ideal read for you. If you are looking for a book that tells the tales and discusses why these might have happened or any other subjective thoughts and reasoning’s you might want to try elsewhere. I liked ‘The English Ghost’ a lot, I just expected more, so maybe the fault lies with me?

If you are hankering after more ‘spooky shenigans’ then do pop and listen to the ‘spooky special’ fourth episode of The Readers here. Me and Gav are in halloween costumes and everything!

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Filed under Non Fiction, Peter Ackroyd, Review, Vintage Books

Well Wishes Please for Mummy Savidge Reads…

Not really a very bookish post, but I know some of you like to know what is going on outside of the bookish part of Savidge Reads and so thought you might like to all wish my Mum well as she is having a rather big operation today and it is all a little scary (on Halloween too). Honestly if it isn’t one thing it is another. Bless her. My mother being my mother is not thinking about what she will be going through today, but instead thinking of all the lovely books that she will have to read while she is recovering in hospital and at home. I wonder where I get that from?

Anyway, send her all your well wishes and good lucks if you would be so kind.

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Filed under Random Savidgeness

Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier; Discovering Daphne Readalong #5

So to end this years ‘Discovering Daphne’ season I begged and begged Polly to let us finish with ‘Rebecca’ as it is my favourite read of Daphne’s and indeed, I think, of all time so far. It was a toss up between this and Polly’s favourite ‘Jamaica Inn’ and Polly, being the lovely person she is, caved in. The thing was though, once I knew a ‘’Rebecca re-read’ was lined up I started to get really nervous. What happened if the book I loved suddenly felt flawed, what if I didn’t like the unnamed narrator this time or feel any empathy for her, what if Mrs Danvers left me cold, what if I didn’t find it as atmospheric and haunting? I started to get a little panicked.

9781844080380

Virago Books, paperback, 1938, fiction, 448 pages, from my bookshelves

After closing the final page of ‘Rebecca’ a few days ago it was a struggle not to head straight back to the start… yet again. If I could physically get lost in a book then ‘Rebecca’, and of course Manderley, would be the place I would be happy to be stuck in forever. From the very moment of those first immortal lines “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” to the final pages and THAT ending (no spoilers here don’t worry) I was hooked line and sinker and in for the long haul, and how it has made these long dark nights all the more bearable, and all the more haunting.

For those of you who don’t know the book, or its rather infamous plot, ‘Rebecca’ is a tale of ‘the other woman’ only in this case the other woman is dead – amazing, and clever, that she is one of the most formidable characters in the book and the lives of all those living who we join. The unnamed narrator tells her tale of how, when accompanying a rich American lady Mrs Van Hopper (who is a fabulous small character) on holiday, she meets Maxim de Winter and after a whirl wind romance marries him and finds herself back in England and the new lady of Manderlay, a wonderful gothic mansion. Yet once back in Maxim’s home his past, and indeed his previous wife Rebecca (and her mysterious death) come to haunt them, quite literally, along with a little help from the housekeeper Mrs Danvers.

Here I shall leave the story, for if you haven’t read it yet I don’t want to give anything further away, especially as this is a book which has some wonderful, and equally dreadful, twists and turns as it develops. I can say that on a re-read the unnamed narrator (who I once insisted was called Caroline after one re-reading) did annoy me a lot more than she usually does initially, not to the point where it affected the book, but I did think ‘oh get a grip love’ but then because of the psychological aspect of the book and indeed her situation as usual I did once more start to feel for her and could understand how some one like Mrs Danvers could so easily manipulate and scare a woman like her, she scares me.

One of my very favourite things about ‘Rebecca’ is undoubtedly Mrs Danvers, she’s psychotically obsessed with her former mistress and clearly has a dark background which we only get the vaguest notions of. She’s just wonderfully wicked and deliciously, dangerously demented. I have always thought because of her complexity and nature she is one of my favourite characters in fiction, unnervingly stealing the limelight on any page she appears. I have often pondered that I would love to write a fictional account of her life, I could never do it justice though I am sure.

Back to ‘Rebecca’ and along with its wonderful twists and turns, its atmosphere (which is incredible, you feel like you are there with these characters in this gothic, dark, spooky time and place which always, no matter how sunny or lovely come with a darkness in the corners) the one thing that I think makes it such an incredible story is what it says about people, the reasons they do things, the real motives and emotions both the dark and the light of the human condition. That probably sounds grand, but it’s true. There are lots of depths to a novel like this that lie behind what initially may seem a dark and gothic love story, which it also is yet is really so, so, so much more. In fact I would dare to suggest that this could be the perfect book, even if only for me.

As you have probably guessed by now I could easily ramble on about ‘Rebecca’ for hours and hours, I just hope if you haven’t read the book you might read this and pick it up/run for the nearest open book shop. If you have read it, maybe you will be tempted to pluck it off the shelves (because if you have read it I doubt very much you could have given it away) once more, and if you have re-read it for ‘Discovering Daphne’ I cant wait to see what you thought…

Actually I also can’t wait to see what Polly thought either, as she has been rather secretive about it until today.

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Filed under Books of 2011, Daphne Du Maurier, Review, Virago Books

One Book, Two Book, Three Book, Four… & Five (Again!)

One of my favourite meme’s (I have to say I have a love hate relationship with meme’s – in part because I have no idea what meme stands for) that I have ever come across was the lovely Simon of Stuck in a Book’s ‘One Book, Two Book, Three Book, Four Book… & Five’ which was so brilliant I had to join in with it at the time. I just love having a nosey into what is going on in the book bit of everyone’s lives and this does prove a fascinating snap shot. So as he has done it again I simply had to join in, so here is mine…

The Book I’m Currently Reading…

As it is Halloween tomorrow and I absolutely love all things ghostly, I am tucking into a book described as ‘The Turn of the Screw reworked by Edgar Allan Poe’ and so far ‘Florence & Giles’ by John Harding is proving to be much more of a hit with me than ‘The Turn of The Screw’ was which sadly left me severely wanting. I am really enjoying the secretive book devouring thread that has been going on so far, bookish and ghostly – delightful. Let’s hope it keeps going so well, and also scares me.

The Last Book I Finished…

Another ghost story and one that did just what it should… scared me silly. Michelle Paver’s ‘Dark Matter’ took me from my old homeland of foggy Tooting in the late 1930’s we follow Jack Miller on a voyage to the barren, icy and dark expanse of the arctic and get embroiled in a genuinely terrifying tale. The hairs on my back stood on end and everything. Gavin and I have been reading this as an accidental first ‘joint read’ for The Readers which leads me to…

The Next Book I Want To Read…

This was the hardest to pick as I am trying to read in the most whimish was possible, however there is a book I do want to be dipping in and out of alot. ‘In Other Worlds; SF and The Human Imagination’ is a collection of the wonderful Margaret Atwood’s essays which covers the ‘sci-fi vs. speculative fiction debate’ along with superhero’s and Victorian otherlands. Gav and I are reading this as our next joint read as it seems the perfect book for us to discuss with our tastes. Me being a ‘lit-head’ and he being an ‘alien loving supernatural fantasist’ (ha, I can’t wait for him to spy that comment!)

The Last Book I Bought…

Is for a new book group I have started in central Manchester with my lovely American ‘buddy’ Joe. We have called ourselves the ‘Bearded Book Lovers’ as so far all the members are men and we all have beards. Will be interesting to see how this progresses as we have two lovely ladies who want to join. Hmmm. Anyway I have heard lots of good things about ‘The Slaves of Solitude’ by Patrick Hamilton and loved the sound of ‘The Rosamund Tea Rooms boarding house’ as the central place in a story set in wartime England in a small town on the Thames. It was also in Fopp for just £2 so I bought in bulk for everyone, not just me.

The Last Book I Was Given…

Was from my fellow ‘Bearded Book Lovers’ co-founder Joe who, like me, has a passion for all things M.C. Beaton and had spotted this title he had never heard of. Well I had never heard of this one off either and was frankly rather jealous, yet kindly I now have my very own copy of ‘The Skeleton in the Closet’ to read, it has a rather Halloween perfect title doesn’t it?

Well, that is me done. I have noticed that all the covers, bar the last one, are rather dreary and a bit grey, oh dear! Random. Moving on… Who else is joining in, or have you already? Do leave a link to yours in the comments below if you have done this, and if you haven’t do have a go and let me know afterwards. I am so nosey this is right up my street.

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Filed under Book Thoughts

Am I A Library Addict?

When the lovely Gavin and I were recording the third episode of The Readers the other day, we started talking about libraries as a journalist at The Telegraph said that they weren’t needed anymore. So Gavin and I were having a discussion about it, which will sadly not see the light of day in the form intended as I ended up waffling and going off on tangents, and when I said how many books I currently had our from the two different libraries that I have joined Gavin said it sounded like an addiction… I think he might be right.

You see currently I do have rather a lot of books from both Manchester and Stockport libraries.  In fact you can see as I took a picture (I won’t list them all, don’t worry)…

But really to have maxed my ten loans from one library (with three books on order) and seven out of eight possible titles from the other library I am pushing it a little, and even though I get lots and lots of books through the door it doesn’t stop me.

The thing is you should use your library, and not just for the free internet which is what said Telegraph journalist said that was pretty much the only reason people go, because if no one uses them then they will vanish. Yet you shouldn’t hoard from them either and keep renewing them, something I am an absolute nightmare for.

The thing is there is always a book I ‘quite fancy giving a whirl’ or a book ‘for book group’ you wouldn’t have picked up yourself, a recommendation from someone you aren’t quite convinced about, a book you simply cant find in any book shops or an author you ‘really must try’. All those apply to the books above and this is where the library is great. It costs nothing and you can try all sorts of books you might not other wise and therefore discover new future favourite authors. I mean I could ask a publisher for a book I might want to try, but what if I hate it? I would rather try it out via the library its part of their function. There is of course the problem of giving the ones you love back; a small price to pay though isn’t it?

I do need to stop pressing the renew button, so over the next few days I am trimming these books down, amongst of course reading lots of spooky stories. So what have you taken out from the library of late, what gems have you discovered in the past and what favourite authors have you befriended thanks to your library?

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The Readers, The ‘Difficult’ Second Podcast Was Easy, The Third Not So…

…But it is here, as it finallywent live yesterday. I have to say Gavin has done wonders with editing the whole thing and it actually sounds like we know what we are on about but after chatting away for over three hours (yes that is how long it takes to get a decent hour to make an episode) we listened back to it and it was an absolute mess. Tangents left right and centre, another rant from me which hopefully won’t ever see the light of day and much swearing that needed cutting. But it is definitely a learning curve; we have some wonderful bloopers for a special random episode in the future though. Even iTunes had an issue with the episode as it wouldn’t upload it for ages, a message perhaps?

Anyway this week’s episode features us discussing the Man Booker winner, which you may have noticed that I have been quite silent about, you can hear me interview Ian Rankin (I was seriously over excited) and here us discussing short stories with recommendations from Sam Jordison from The Guardian and Patricia Duncker, as well as lots of you. In fact a huge thank you to any of you who tweeted your recommendations for short stories, or messaged me it’s lovely to have your thoughts. We would love much more of your input and recommendations. We are recording our ‘spooky special’ on Sunday so if you have any spooky recommendations let us know. What are your favourite spooky tales?

Oh and you can listen to Episode Three here. Do let us know your thoughts on how we are doing too. We were rather in a funk about it earlier this week but are gearing up for a fabulously haunting Halloween epsiode. Any thoughts on how we can do better? Honestly it’s just ask, ask, ask from me isn’t it? Right I am scurrying off to read lots more, am gripped by two brilliant ghostly books, one fictional, one not!

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Filed under Book Thoughts, The Readers Podcast

Joan Bakewell & Bookmarked

I’m having a rather quiet week and just settling down and reading when I can rather than blogging. I thought I would pop in though and let you know just whats by the bedside. I have a fair few ‘research reads’ ahead of me but I am trying to do it in a whimsical (and I don’t mean funny) style as much as possible.

The main selection of reads are the memoirs/autobiographies/essays and novels of Joan Bakewell’s. Why? Well, I have always liked her when I have seen her on the television, her work on which has won many prizes, and in the UK she is deemed by many as a ‘national treasure’. I am getting very excited, and of course very nervous, as I will be in conversation with her on November the 10th at Waterstones Deansgate in Manchester where we will be discussing her novels, her CBE, her tv experiences and much much more…

There is also the fourth Bookmarked on the horizon in just under two weeks, when we will have our ‘supernatural and sci-fi’ night with Ben Aaronovitch and Paul Magrs. I will be reading both of Ben’s novels and Paul’s latest in the lead up, which as they are filled with spooky goings on will be just the things for Halloween, hooray!

You can find out more about Bookmarked here. Sorry about that mini plug, but it is all book related. Have you read any of Joan Bakewell’s novels or her autobiographies/memoirs? What about Ben and Pauls books? Hope to see some of you at either of these events. Any spooky reading suggestions at all?

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Filed under Ben Aaronovitch, Bookmarked Literary Salon, Joan Bakewell, Paul Magrs

Don’t Look Now and Other Stories – Daphne Du Maurier; Discovering Daphne Readalong #4

Oh Daphne Du Maurier thank you, thank you, thank you, for ‘Don’t Look Now and Other Stories’. Not only because I loved it as a collection but also because secretly inside I was beginning to worry that while the other books in the read-along for ‘Discovering Daphne’ have also showed how versatile she is as an author, none of them had quite hit the eerie tone I was hoping for this time of year. This now has of course all changed thanks to the five (well four of the five) stories which make this collection. Well I think it has anyway.

Penguin Classics, paperback, 1971, fiction, 268 pages, from the library (mine is lost in the post)

It is always hard to write about a short story collection. You want to write about each individual story and yet in doing so you could give the plot of each one away. This becomes ever more possible in a collection like ‘Don’t Look Now and Other Stories’ where they all work so well because of the twists and the turns and stings in the tail, which of course Daphne Du Maurier is so good at. So I am going to briefly summarise them before hopefully giving you an overall ‘feeling’ for the collection, or the one I was left with at least. Let’s see how I do.

Probably the most famous of the collection, because it became a film, is the title story of ‘Don’t Look Now’ which starts with the wonderful, and apt, line “Don’t look now,” John said to his wife, “but there are a couple of old girls two tables away who are trying to hypnotise me.” Laura and John Baxter are on holiday in Venice after the death of their young daughter, whilst there they spot a pair of elderly identical twins on of whom appears to have psychic powers and not only says their dead daughter is with them and happy, but if they don’t leave Venice something dreadful will happen. I shall say no more on it than that apart from the fact that I the ending isn’t what I guess and I imagine the last line of this tale will divide readers. I haven’t decided if it worked or not yet, I think it did, kind of.

Three of the other tales are equally bizarre and have a sinister undertone at the heart of them shrouded in a good few twists and unexpected endings. ‘A Border-Line Case’ is a fascinating account of a young actress called Shelagh who pursues a man who is linked to the IRA and is planning a bombing raid, only that isn’t the darkest thing about him. ‘The Breakthrough’ is a much more gothic scientific experiment tale in essence which made me think of one of Daphne’s novels ‘The House on the Strand’ only much shorter naturally, but also with even more of a sense of the ilk of novels like ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ at its heart. There was also the wonderful, and possibly my favourite of the collection, ‘Not After Midnight’ (which was the original title of this collection on its release in 1971) which sees a painter meet and befriend a couple on a holiday, the woman invites him to their hotel room but ‘not after midnight’. I really can say no more than that on any of them because they build slowly, start to disconcert the reader and make them question what the narrators or story is saying before twisting and turning to the end. (We can say more in the comments though!)

It was therefore almost a shame for me that the longest tale in the book ‘The Way of the Cross’, and the one in the middle of this collection, really failed for me. (I guess there is always one, at least, in a collection that will do this isn’t there?) It’s a tale of a pilgrimage of a group of people to Jerusalem and it was rather preachy and had a precocious child in it that I didn’t get on with. Plus it was more character than plot driven, both a good and bad thing, whilst also being rather moralistic, and in a way whilst having a slight sinister moment or two ended far too happily for my liking. It didn’t fit for me and that was my problem with it. I think had it been in any other collection of Daphne’s it might have gotten off more lightly, but this has always been a collection sold on it suspense and sense of the supernatural.

Overall however ‘Don’t Look Now and Other Stories’ is a wonderful collection which does have a brooding, intense and often rather unnerving feeling about it. Each tale is very different yet they all like to make you feel equally uneasy. Don’t expect to pick up this book and be unable to sleep without the lights on, they are much more subtle and psychological than that. There is a real knack with any novel that builds on suspense over a long while to not become boring for a reader (which Daphne is also brilliant at), yet in a short story you must do this quickly but not to quickly whilst adding in atmosphere, tension, misdirection etc all at once and in a condensed way. It is this very style which Daphne excels at and I think is when she is at her most engaging for her readers and shows what a marvellous writer she is. I do love Daphne’s short story collections, I think they should all become classics along side this one.

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Filed under Daphne Du Maurier, Discovering Daphne, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review

Sssshhhhh… I’m Reading

Well don’t actually shush, but those sentiments seem to cover how I am feeling, and what my plans are this weekend. I have a trip planned to the library with two three year olds today, a couple of final flings with the Manchester Literature Festival including meeting Catherine O’Flynn, which I am very excited about,  and also a Literary Quiz I am already getting ready for loosing quite badly. Oh and possibly seeing my Mum as she is due a big operation (so send your thoughts to her as she is rather poorly at the mo). Apart from that, which looks more than it is, I shall be reading, just reading.

After my small blog wobble (no naval gazing, just musing) the other day I though ‘oh shush Simon and just get on with it’. Plus I rather fortunately and delightfully ended up meeting Amy of Amy Reads, Ana/Nymeth of Things Mean A Lot and Iris of Iris on Books and it was so nice to just natter about blogging, its ups and its downs and all the rest, it was like free group therapy over several pots of tea and three utterly charming companions. Bliss. Although sadly we all forgot to take a photo.

So after all this I have decided to go back to basics and simply…

And that is what I am concentrating on, and I am giving up on holding off reading books for rainy days and just going for the ones that I want to read as and when (not sure how will work Green Carnation reading in amongst this, but they are all fab so it will work). There that’s that. I am not making any manifestos or goals simply reading and popping on this blog and all the others I love as and when in between.

So I have lined up some books I am bursting to read and shall be quite happily going through them between my other activities. Living life and hiding away from it in my cosy book nook as and when throughout the weekend. A nice mix, which is just what we all need I think.

Now what are you all reading this weekend? I demand to know.

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Anthem – Ayn Rand

A while back now I set upon the idea of trying authors that I have always felt I should have read yet had been daunted by, yet starting with some of their shorter works. ‘Anthem’ is by far and wide the shortest work that Ayn Rand ever wrote. In fact it is for her much more famous ‘The Fountainhead’ (at a substantial 752 pages) and ‘Atlas Shrugged’ (at a whopping 1184) that Ayn Rand is most probably known by many. I also liked the sound of it because it had a dystopian edge and I am also trying to dip my toes in the world of science fiction as and when the mood takes.

Penguin Classics, paperback, 1937, fiction, 112 pages, broowed from the library

‘It is a sin to write this. It is a sin to think words no others think and to put them down upon a paper no others are to see. It is base and evil. It is as if we were speaking alone to no ears but our own. And we know well that there is no transgression blacker than to do or think alone. We have broken the laws.  The laws say that men may not write unless the Council of Vocations bid them so. May we be forgiven!’

Written in a tunnel which no one else is found this is the how Equality 7-2521, who we will call simply Equality from now on, starts telling us his story. His world is one that is both familiar and unfamiliar world in where society has changed and free thinking is banned. Equality is different from everyone else though and has been told ‘we are born with a curse… we know that we are evil’ as well as physically being 6ft tall which is again seen as freakish and ‘a burden’. Initially I have to admit that as he refers to himself as ‘we’ all the time it did take a while for me to really that Equality was a singular person, but then again in the world he lives being independent minded is not something that is promoted.

Ayn Rand has you intrigued from the very start with ‘Anthem’, and as you read on this is a world which is in many ways a very familiar one and also such an unknown quantity too. You want to learn the new hierarchy of this society from its ‘Home of the Street Sweepers’ to the ‘Palace of Corrective Detention’  and I was particularly keen to learn more about the ‘Unmentionable Times’. Yet my interest started to fade. In part it was the use of language the never end ‘we this’ and ‘we that’ started to grate, by the end of the novella I could see why she had done this yet while I appreciated what she was doing it was rather an effort not to put the book down due to the irritation of the repetition. I didn’t though and did go on in part because finally when Equality meets Liberty 5-3000 (or ‘the golden one’ as he calls her) we start to get a plot that moves and intrigues a little more. And yes, note how they are called Equality and Liberty, that didn’t hit me for a while possibly as my mind kept focusing on ‘we’ every sentence.

‘Anthem’ did sort of save itself in the end, though as I don’t want to give anything away I can’t really say why. I thought mid way through that I should give up because I wasn’t really enjoying it as much as I had hoped and I felt I had read this before. I should say even though it does sound very ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ like and Orwellian ‘Anthem’ was in fact written before that, it seems like what has come since has rather bettered it whilst extending on it. If ‘Anthem’ had been a novel it probably would have bitten the dust with me. As it was only 112 pages I just kept on, even though they were a long 112 pages if I am being totally honest. After finishing it I am not sure I would rush out and read any more Rand, as while I liked the ideas behind the book I didn’t really care for the execution, even though when I had finished it I was strangely glad that I had read it.

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Filed under Ayn Rand, Penguin Classics, Review, Taking Little Novel(la) Risks

Bookshops I Love; The Book Barge

As someone who doesn’t really like boats and really doesn’t like books set on them, you might be surprised that when I heard The Book Barge was coming to Manchester I was both excited and intrigued. I had heard about it on the Guardian book podcast a while back and thought the idea of having a book shop on a narrow boat that travelled around the country actually sounded like a rather lovely jaunt. I also love books and the idea of bartering for books intrigued me, so armed with a bag of M&S lunchtime treats I headed to the Quay to find out more.

Well, I was smitten. A moored boat that only wobbled slightly as I clambered, yes clambered – I don’t have naval ready legs, on and was decked out with lots and lots and lots and lots and lots (is that enough lots to tempt you?) of books was like a quiet and calm haven.

Then as I got to chat to Sarah (which you can hear on this week’s episode of The Readers podcast)who I became equally smitten with, as she is just lovely, I discovered it wasn’t quite the delight you might think. I doubly noticed this when I realised there was no toilet on board let alone a bathroom… or even a kitchen. Just lots and lots and lots (here come those ‘lots’ again) of books.

This is where the bartering comes in, as Sarah travels the country (at a ridiculously speedy 4 miles-per-hour) if she is in need of a shower, a meal, something fixed, or even a haircut, she will swap these for a book, or maybe two if it’s something specific or slightly more costly. This idea would fill me with dread; you could end up in a loonies house after all, but Sarah said she could spot them (I hope I imagined a small knowing squint aimed at me) a mile off and that most bookish people tend to be rather lovely.

Well one trip wasn’t enough and I ended popping abck a few times, including to one of Paul Magrs signings and also bringing Carol Birch and Jane Harris on board before Bookmarked, which Sarah then came to. In fact as the time went on I was even more thrilled with the Book Barge as not only did I leave with a wonderful old copy of ‘Trilby’ by George Du Maurier and ‘Fun Home’ by Alison Bechdel (which Rebecca Makkai had recommended we all read) but I have found a lovely new friend in the lovely Sarah and might just be spending a weekend on the Barge on its final voyage home after it visits Leeds and Nottingham. Do, if you can, pop and see Sarah (she is ace), preferably armed with an M&S picnic and grab a few books. She will be heading to Europe next year too.

Oh and before it combats the channel’s choppy waters, the Book Barge has quite a test coming… Polly of Novel Insights and I will be taking it over in the spring for a bit! How exciting is that? I am not sure Polly and Sarah are quite aware of what I have signed them both (and myself actually) up for!!

You can find out all about the Book Barge on it’s website here.

P.S I didn’t take either of these photo’s I will be replacing them later as mine are still on my phone. Oops.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Bookshops I Love, Random Savidgeness

Getting Behind With It All…

I am currently rather behind with my reviews/book thoughts, it has to be said, yet at the moment the idea of editing (as I write my book thoughts in a weird way, first thoughts dashed out, then thoughts edited after time has passed) my thoughts on the Booker short list books, some of the ‘Reading With Authors’ novels and the like seems a bit dull. Well not dull, because there have been some great books I have read, but I am just not sure I want to do them right now. I will get to them just maybe when my mind is more in the mood. But is that a bad thing?  

In fact it’s not just the reviews I am behind on, there are those other random posts looming in the background. Where is my report on Brussels, on Sue Johnston and the latest Bookmarked, my trip on the book barge, a lovely Daphne inspired walk in Derbyshire? I feel like I have so much to tell you all, and yet with surprise birthdays for Gran’s, radio-active substances being popped in me, my Mum now having a health issue, The Green Carnation Prize, a new podcast, the Manchester Literature Festival (which I need to update you all on as it has been fabulous) I don’t feel I have the time to write, let alone read any books. Oh and there is that thing called writing for work too which I keep forgetting about (apols to all my editors – oops) too.

That all sounded like a moan and it’s not (more a mini-vent), I love being busy, I am finding the literary scene up here fantastic and meeting some wonderful new people and, I think, making some wonderful new friends along the way too. I just occasionally want to hide away for a while curled up with a good book or three. In fact I have three dark books for these dark moods lined up (most inspired by the authors I have seen and met at Manchester Literature Festival actually) at the mo…

  

And there might lie the problem a little. I feel like I have some absolutely corking books ahead of me, but where is the time to hide away and read them? In actual fact, if I am honest, I seem to be more excited about the books ahead of me than the ones I have been reading of late. Is this therefore why going back to books I read a few weeks/months ago and haven’t reported back on is feeling like more of an effort than normal? I also want to share lots of book-ish related things rather than reviews but don’t want you all thinking ‘erm, where are the book reviews?’ Ha, it’s probably rather a daft conundrum, yet it is one I have found myself in. Whoops.

Any thoughts? You are all always so good at getting me out of a spin. I was wondering if it’s a time of year thing, but I love the autumn, it’s my favourite season. Maybe it is just a blogging funk (not naval gazing at all, by the way) I am in. I will snap out of it pronto I promise. Also, should I really try to review every book I read?

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Filed under Random Savidgeness

And The Man Booker Winner 2011 is…

Today is of course Man Booker announcement day, by the end of this evening we will know just who has won one of the biggest book prizes in the UK. I have almost read the whole shortlist now. I admit I really struggled with Julian Barnes (loved ‘Arthur and George’ this seems to be aimed at a certain market, which isn’t me) which is everyone’s favourite and whilst I like Esi Edugyan as soon as I put it down I find I want to read something else (bet this goes and wins now). I haven’t reviewed all the books so far but I will (I am beyond behind with reviews apols), speaking of which here is the short list if you have been on mars for the last few months (or simply not interested – there is a review coming later if the latter is the case)…

So who do I want to win? To be honest it’s a real toss up between ‘The Sisters Brothers’ by Patrick de Witt and ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’ by Carol Birch…

I have I placed a little bet on one. After meeting Carol Birch last week (along with Jane Harris for Bookmarked – see photo below) and spending a lovely evening with her because she is just so lovely (as was Jane) and the fact that I think the journey she sends us on is so vivid and wonderful during ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’, along with the fact (as I told her) that she has converted me to books based on boats which I never thought would happen, that is my favourite. I will have everything crossed. Oh and you can hear me interview Carol here on ‘The Readers’ website.

Carol Birch, Jane Harris, Adam Lowe and Me

What about you? Oh by the way, before I ask more, I know lots of you read this blog from outside of the UK, is the Man Booker as big a deal worldwide, do let me know. It is something I have pondered a few times. So who do you want to win the Man Booker 2011?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Man Booker

The House on the Strand – Daphne Du Maurier; Discovering Daphne Readalong #3

Sorry for the delay with my thoughts on ‘The House on the Strand’ the third in the Discovering Daphne readalongs. This was a book that I didn’t struggle with exactly but one which needed patience and some effort (no bad thing) for me as a reader to work through. No book should be rushed but some books ask so many questions that you need the odd break to let your head catch up with it all. This is a prime example of such a novel and Daphne taxed me and tested me with this book and I admire her all the more for it, even if I didn’t come away from the book loving it I certainly appreciated it.

Virago Books, paperback, 1969, fiction, 352 pages, taken from my personal TBR

Dick Young is a man who finds himself caught between two times in ‘The House on the Strand’, and I mean that literally. As he stays in his old friends house, a scientist called Magnus Lane, he starts taking a drug Magnus has created which transports him to the same place only in the 1300s. I have to admit I was instantly really drawn in initially. I was excited by where Du Maurier would take this concept and therefore me along with her.

As the novel goes on Dick almost becomes addicted to this travelling. Even though as his body stays in the present he ends up hurting himself or getting stuck as some walls didn’t exist back then. (I was surprised Daphne didn’t make more use of this for the darkly comical actually having read her other works.) As his wife Vita and her children join him from America they take him away from this addiction, yet is it in fact escapism from a marriage that might be failing and even unwanted along with the person he is in the present?

Whilst I loved the idea behind the book it’s main flaw for me was not the idea of time travel but the setting in the 1300s. I wasn’t really interested in his time travelling or the people he met, a sometimes too wide cast of charcters including Lady Isolda and a man servant called Roger. I was much more interested in the why. So weirdly the hopping back and forth started to slightly frustrate me as, to my mind at least, the main crux of the novel was very much in the present.

I do find whatever Daphne writes you know there will be both the twists and turns (which arrive just in time in this book thankfully) and also the deeper and yet subtle undertones. For me this book had a lot to say about sexuality and acceptance of the self. Maybe that sounds a bit grand? I didn’t think Dick wanted to be married and in fact thought the closeness he shared with Magnus when younger and the reverberating remnants of all that said a lot without ever been overtly written about or forced in the reader too much. Sometimes it is what Daphne doesn’t say… Or could I just have been looking for it?

I was strangely reminded of my dabblings with Iris Murdoch in this book. She too dealt with sexuality, philosophical themes and the metaphysical, all which also run through ‘The House on the Strand’. It tested me, but so it should. I also liked the slight gothic scientific elements of the book. Was it me or are there hints of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ and ‘Frankenstein’ here?

I cannot pretend this is my favourite Daphne Du Maurier ‘story’ because I think there is so much more going on in this book (not that there isn’t in all her books, this one just seems more overt and blatant) indeed partly because of where she found her life at the point she wrote this and how she dealt with it explains alot and that to me this novel is almost like a look into the exorcising of her mind and that fascinated me. I felt I got to know her a little more through the complexity of this book, is that odd?

‘The House on the Strand’ is a real mixture and not just because of the questions it raises, or the themes it looks at, it’s also a mix of historical, philosophical and borders on the edges of science fiction. It’s quite unlike any books of hers, or indeed in general, that I have read so far. It might not be a book to curl up with and get lost in (which was the expectation I had set, so I could be at fault for that assumption hence finding the book all the more difficult in parts) it’s a book to sit down with and get you thinking, it just needs some patience and mutual hard work. Some of the best books do that though don’t they? Even if we don’t enjoy them as the escapism we hoped for, we enjoy them for the experience they give us and the questions we have to look at. I will be thinking about this book, and all it raised, for quite some time.

You can see Polly of Novel Insights thoughts on it here.

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Filed under Daphne Du Maurier, Discovering Daphne, Review, Virago Books