Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Book Cull: A Report

I mentioned the other day that it was time for a big book cull. I was pleased to hear in the comments that my ridiculous amount of books (I said 500 or so, it was actually 673 to be precise – see spreadsheets can be your friends) made some of you feel much better about your own  TBR’s and I was also pleased that people commented and said they had many more books than me. A fair few of you also wanted me to report back on how I got on, well here it is. Maybe, should you ever need a book cull, this might provide some tips.

People who don’t love books, or even people who do love them but somehow don’t binge or hoard them, will have no idea how hard it is to cull your TBR. In fairness I had actually forgotten or I might have had second thoughts about doing this weekend, not only did it take hours and hours and hours, it was also quite stressful. You see I always think that every book is a future adventure or journey (though not in the saccharine ‘journey’ sense) that is lying in wait for me amongst all those pages bound in gorgeous covers. However even I had to admit that the amount of books I owned was going a bit far, especially when they are in front of you.

From this vantage point they strangely manage to look both deceptively few and yet also like a big gang of books set to intimidate the sorter/culler. It felt like they knew what was coming and were either threatening me or pleading with me in order to stay. (I might have spent too much time with books in the last 48 hours or so, I could be slightly deranged.) I knew I was going to have to be tough, possibly tougher than I have ever been with a cull, and believe me I have done a few. I decided it was time to change tactics, this was going to involve several mini culls. The first step was the easiest, divide the books into ‘must reads’, ‘might reads’ and ‘probably bought on whim or sent unsolicited and I am just hoarding them just in case’. As you can imagine I ended up with a fairly big pile of ‘must reads’ a fairly big pile of ‘probably bought on whim or sent unsolicited and I am just hoarding them just in case’ books and a stupidly huge amount of ‘might reads’. Being tough simply wasn’t enough, I needed to be brutal, so I created some criteria for culling books further based on the books I had in the ‘maybe read’ piles…

  • Can I remember why I got this book, or how? No, cull.
  • Do I have more than one copy? Yes, cull. (Thank goodness for spreadsheets, I discovered I had seven, yes seven, different books in duplicate editions, see hoarding has its pitfalls.)
  • Is this book part of a series for which I don’t have the prior novels? Yes, cull.
  • If from a publisher (this was the case with about a third of the books, most were whim purchases from varying sources) have I kept this book because it was sent unsolicited but I like the publisher and don’t want to upset them? Yes, cull.
  • Is this a fairly modern title I do rather quite like the sound of but I have seen in the library recently where I could get it out if I do miss it? Yes, cull.
  • Is this a classic everyone says you should read, so you own, but actually you don’t really think you will read it any time soon and could always borrow it from the library as above? Yes, cull.

This was helpful and by this point I would say I could have got away with it.

However after a nights sleep, and waking up to the above sight, I decided I needed to be even harder. It was time to cull even more and so I asked myself the following as I went through them all again..

  • Is this the first in a series I haven’t started yet which I might or might not like but will feel compelled to read the rest of? Yes, cull.
  • Has the author heard I have got their book and not sent just one nice email but harranged me with ‘when are you reading my book?’ This has indeed happened. Yes, cull. (I don’t mind a nice friendly nudge now and again, I understand they want their books read by anyone and everyone, but sometimes it gets a bit much.)
  • Is this one of several books where I have bought the entire back catalogue of an author simply based on enjoying one of their novels? If so do I have more than three or four of this author’s works? Yes, cull- but only the ones that sound the least ‘my sort of read’.
  • Is this a book by one of my favourite authors that I have hoarded and yet actually don’t imagine reading in the next few years as have plenty of others of theirs? Yes, cull.

This pretty much did the trick and by now my room had gone from looking like the stock room of a book shop, to the delivery room of a charity shop…

Which was interesting as within another twenty minutes, and with the help of a trusty relative and their car, I was ready to deliver this loot to the nearby charity bookshop…

The looks on the women’s faces when we first arrived laden with the first of the bags was joyful, the second time we walked in they looked a little perplexed. When I came back in for the third time one of ladies, who did in fairness give me a huge hug afterwards, said ‘how many bags do you have in total?’ I though t she might faint when I said ‘Erm, 24-ish’. It was noted by my accompanying relative that I didn’t mention how many books these bags contained altogether.

Now as I look at the pile of books you can see in the picture here —– > (and they are only the books in the clear boxes,  the fancy boxes are empty) I am feeling rather pleased with myself. Not only did I get my TBR pile (which I will give it its own page later as for some reason word tables and wordpress don’t mix) down to a much more manageable 275 books exactly. It is also a TBR of books I ‘really want to read’ rather than a vast pile of books I want to read with lots that I feel I should, it hinders choosing the next book to read really. Well for me it does. Anyway, most importantly I stopped selfishly hoarding these excess books (about 350 once family had taken the first pickings) that will not only make money for a charity but will also, through the charity shop being one just for books and hopefully therefore book lovers, find new homes with people who love reading. It feels good in lots of ways.

Now, as I have just finished a book, which one shall I pull from my new refined TBR! In fact that is an additional joy, its reminded me which authors older books I haven’t let myself indulge in for a while. Ian McEwan, Anne Tyler, Colm Toibin, Angela Carter and more Daphne Du Maurier and Margaret Atwood for a start. I love this pre-decision feeling, it’s s exciting not knowing what lies in store next. Right, I am off to have a mooch.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Fun Home – Alison Bechdel

Jonathan Cape, paperback, 2006, graphic novel/memoir, 240 pages, kindly given to me by Sarah on The Book Barge

I do think that sometimes fate determines when you see a book. I had never heard of ‘Fun Home’ by Alison Bechdel until Rebecca Makkai recommended it when she did her Savidge Reads Grills. A mere week or so after that I was on the book barge and what did I see? Yes, ‘Fun Home’ by Alison Bechdel, and Sarah very kindly said I could have it (along with ‘Trilby’ by George Du Maurier – lovely stuff) in exchange for the M&S picnic I had brought. I offered to pay for these, the look I got told me it was completely out of the question. So like I said, sometimes fate seems to thrust a book in your direction. Sometimes it then takes you several months to read it but never mind.

‘Fun  Home’ is Alison Bechdel’s memoirs told through a graphic novel, which was a concept that I found really intriguing.  It was also one I wasn’t sure would work, would I feel an emotional connection with the images in front of me, or could this read like a cartoon? I can now say that ‘Fun Home’ is in the latter category and as I followed the fictional/illustrated/memory drawn Alison from her childhood, when after inheriting it her family all moved into the family business… a funeral home, to her dealings with the death of her father and their relationship and indeed her own sexuality, the latter she discovered interestingly through books.

It’s hard to say any more on the novel than that. Though it does feel like a novel and I pondered, with all its references to Camus, Fitzgerald and other authors (who Alison’s dad loved and seemed to add the personalities of to his own) if the influence and subsequent love of books gave it that extra edge? It could of course simply be that this is a blooming brilliant novel regardless of its form and that I instead shop stop the subconscious part of my brain which says ‘this is a graphic novel, thats not quite the same as a normal novel’ and get over it. I think I have because I was read this like a novel, I didn’t just sit and read it in one go, I would read a chapter here and there as usual and was thinking of it when I put it down, not as a graphic novel but just as a book I was enjoying.

It is hard to say anymore about the book really without spoilers. It has that mixture or coming of age memoir, gothic reminiscence and family tragedy and comedy that I love when I find just the right combination of. I laughed out loud but it wasn’t saccharine, it was honest without being malicious or brutal, it was emotional without being woe-is-me and I liked the tone of the book. I liked Alison Bechdel and I wanted more of her story.

I used to think that graphic novels were just really big comics for grown up kids, its examples like ‘Fun Home’ that continue to prove my wrong and show that graphic novels can offer you the full formed personality of characters and evoke their situations and the atmospheres that they are surrounded by. People are probably rolling their eyes at that but that has been the case on the whole for me until now, though other graphic novels have been good they have never felt like the give everything that a normal ‘book’ does like ‘Fun Home’ has, and here I must mention ‘Blankets’ by Craig Thompson, where the images become fully formed and not just the illustrated escapism in front of your eyes.

I am hoping people might now give me lots of suggestions of other graphic novels in this vein that will keep proving the former graphically challenged me wrong. My co-conspirator on ‘The Readers’, Gav, has recently been saying how brilliant ‘The House That Groaned’ by Karrie Fransman is. Has anyone else read that one and can concur? Any other graphic novels I should be looking for?

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Filed under Alison Bechdel, Graphic Novels, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Review

Before You Go To Sleep, The TV Book Club Returns Tonight

Just a quick post to remind you book lovers that The TV Book Club is back tonight on More4, I think it is also repeated on Channel 4 tomorrow (I could be wrong but it will be on 4od either way which is normally how I catch up with it). The list is quite an exciting one I think, there are only a few in the mix that I am not that bothered about , I won’t say which, and I have already read a few of them too. The book that starts the series off tonight is one such book, its ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ By S.J Watson and I really enjoyed it when I read it last year, and who came to the first Bookmarked Salon.

The lovely people at the TV Book Club have sent me the whole list, so you might even get to hear a Savidge Reads mention on the show as they have asked me if I will review some of them, though this we have agreed will be based on whim reading and which ones I fancy. I have just finished ‘The Somnambulist’ by Essie Fox, which is one of the choices and was rather good in a sensational way, as she will be a guest host on The Readers Episode 19 (a Victoriana special) which we are recording tomorrow night. If you have any questions for her please feel free to leave some below and I will ask her on your behalf.

Here is the list of titles in full…

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
The Somnambulist by Essie Fox
Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes
The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Girl Reading by Katie Ward
The Report by Jessica Francis Kane
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
Half the Human Race by Anthony Quinn
You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik

Have you read any of them? I have heard Caroline Quentin is joining as a host this series (why so many comedians?) which I am thrilled about as she reminds me of my Mum (who is young and very funny, when she wants to be, so that’s meant in a nice way to both parties) interestingly and I just have a feeling she will be a great judge of a good book – yet I am not sure why. I did suggest to Cactus Productions that Gav and I would make good hosts, they didn’t comment…

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All the Books I’ve Not Yet Read… But Own

It is quite shocking to see how many books I actually own that I haven’t read when they are all in front of me. For some reason 503 doesn’t seem that mad until they are all in front of you…

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You might have guessed I am about to have a gargantuan cull with my imminent move. I managed to get from 978 to 412 before, can I get 500+ to about 250 or less? Time will tell but I will report back. Support and tips are welcome.

What are you doing with yourself this Saturday?

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Bereft – Chris Womersley

Sometimes a book arrives here unsolicited and just reaches out to me. It is likely that I haven’t heard anything about it prior to its arrival and yet it just tempts me to read it. This is what happened with ‘Bereft’ by Chris Womersley, it arrived and the cover seemed to constantly catch my eye and call out to me (I am wondering if this is because it looks a little like Catherine Hall’s ‘The Proof of Love’ which you know I adored). The quote from Evie Wyld, ‘I hammered through Bereft in a day; I didn’t want to be away from it’, was the final clincher especially after the success I had with her recommendation of ‘The Hunger Trace’ by Edward Hogan. It is interesting that its arrival made me think of these two books because in some ways it is of their ilk. It also fitted in perfectly with Kim’s Australian Literature Month, it all seemed aligned.

Quercus Books, trade paperback, 2012, fiction, 264 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

The year is 1919 and Quinn Walker is returning to his hometown of Flint in New South Wales after fighting in WWI. This is not going to be some happy emotional family reunion as the reason Quinn left was that ten years earlier he was found seeming to have raped and murdered his sister, he fled. His return seems timely as Australia is in the grips of the Spanish flu epidemic, in fact many believe it is the end of the world, and when the end is nigh you have very little to lose.  Now returning, undecided if he will face his accusers or not without proof it wasn’t him, sheltering in the hills around Flint he meets Sadie a young girl living in secret like him and as these two outsiders form a bond of friendship they both realise her present and his past are more linked than either of them could have imagined.

I am aware that the last line in that paragraph above is a little bit clichéd and sounds rather melodramatic, yet in essence that is how the plot goes, it isn’t a melodramatic book however and that is what holds me back from giving it the ‘gothic’ label that I have seen in reviews since finishing the book and mulling it over. It does have elements of the gothic but despite the nature of the tale it tells this novel is rather quiet and understated until it leads to its climax. It has also been labelled as a crime novel and in some ways it is, there is a mystery at the heart of the book and yet it is never a whodunit, in fact that aspect of the book is really bubbling away in the background as we look at the effects of war and epidemic on people at the time.

It is this combination that I think makes this book such a brilliant read. You have the war and its effects, and in many ways the understated element of the horrors we read of and see in Quinn himself are the reasons they hit home, a country and its people believing the world may be ending, you even get some séances in Victorian London thrown in and yet it never feels too much, nothing seems out of place. Its historical, thrilling, has some magical elements (in fact while I loved the séance and how that worked into the story, there was an animal sacrifice that I just didn’t see the rhyme or reason for, small quibble) and most importantly is beautifully written. It’s understated but highlights the drama of the time; it’s to the point yet descriptive and wonderfully builds the brooding atmosphere and heat before the storm, a metaphoric aspect if ever there was one and one which again made me think of ‘The Proof of Love’, it’s writing that quietly holds you and takes you away to a calm darkness.

‘That night, Quinn lay back, snuggled into the curve his shoulders had made in the pine needles and stared up at the darkness. The moon hove into view. The forest spoke in its secret tongue, and if he turned his head and pressed his ear to the ground he fancied he might hear the millions of dead rustling in their mass, unmarked graves on the far side of the world. Sarah had always claimed to understand the language of animals and trees, the growls of possums and wallabies. But what of the dead?’

Since finishing the book I have been off finding out more about it and the author. It seems this book was pretty much long listed for every book award in Australia last year and I can certainly see why. ‘Bereft’ is one of those books that is set very much in its time and yet asks you to look back and put the pieces together. I like this effect in books as it makes me feel a little bit clever. It also makes this book nicely merge the divide between literary and thriller in many ways. The prose it beautiful, the characters fully drawn, there is also a mystery at its heart giving it that page turning quality, yet never at the expense of any of its other winning factors. It also covers a very interesting period in a countries history I knew nothing about yet came away with the atmosphere still lingering with me long after finishing the book. Highly recommended.

I am really glad I read this book, I have instantly started wondering if its eligible for a certain award this year but wouldn’t want to jinx it, it is only January after all. I am saddened to see that you can’t get his debut novel ‘The Low Road’ in the UK as yet, as I would definitely like to read more of his work. Has anyone else read that? Who else has read this one? I would love to know if readers in Australia have heard as much about this book as I imagine you might.

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I read this book as part of Australian Literature Month,    which runs throughout January 2012. The idea is to simply read as  many   novels as I can by writers from my homeland and to encourage  others to   do the same. Anyone can take part. All you need to do is  read an   Australian book or  two, post about Australian literature on  your own   blog or simply engage  in the conversation on this blog. If  you don’t   have a blog, don’t worry —  you just need to be willing  to  read   something by an Australian writer  and maybe comment on other   people’s   posts. You can find out more here.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Chris Womersley, Quercus Publishing, Review

To The Letter… Penpals of Prose Redux?

Firstly, I should say Happy Australia Day to all those lovely Australian readers of this blog, hope you are all having/have had/will have (the time difference confuses me) a wonderful day. There is an Australian twist in today’s post so there is a link, if an ever so slightly tenuous one, to what I am going to blather on about today. You see I want to talk about letter writing, an art form I forget how much I love until every so often something jolts me back to reminding me just how marvellous it is and then reprimands me with a feeling of regret that I don’t do it often enough.

Most of the post I receive at home consists of two things; bills or books. Oh and occasionally letters from the NHS reminding me that I have varying appointments. Whilst I love the books that arrive the other stuff I could happily do without, why they call it ‘correspondence’ I don’t know as none of the bills you get are going to become great endless reams of written outcries telling Sally of Customer Care about your life, she just wants your cash, she isn’t interested in your broken heart or how much you laughed seeing that man fall over the other day. *Sigh*.

I hadn’t thought of pen pals and letter writing for a while until I read Marieke Hardy’s ‘You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead’ which I told you all about yesterday. She runs events in Australia all to do with letter writing and in her book says about the letter that ‘they exist in a tangible, rich way that their cheap instant-gratification-grasping distant cousin emails can only dream of’ which is so true. I am rubbish with lengthy emails to friends and the like, it doesn’t compare to the letters I sent in my teens to friends of about 8 sides of A4, me pouring my heart out, probably about something inane and ridiculous. The utter joy of getting an inane and ridiculous 10 sided response was wonderful if only I could have bottled that feeling. Instead I am going to quote more Marieke, she explains it better than I can.

‘I love getting letters. Doesn’t everybody? Saying you like receiving personal letters in the post is like stating that you rather enjoy breathing, or having ears on either side of your head: it’s taken as a given, and not to be used as a quirky character trait to lure in members of the opposite sex on dating sites. Even seeing the spidery, in-my-day-we-sent-letters-via-donkey-and-wolfpack handwriting of an elderly relative can send a cheap frission when indulging in a dressing-gowned visit to the front gate.’

It suddenly seemed obvious who I should try and become pen pals with… Marieke Hardy of course. With our wicked sense of humour, ok she has no knowledge of me or mine (but that’s so beside the point), love of books and the written letter it would be ideal. So I tweeted her. Now, before I tell you what I tweeted I should admit I have tried to attract the wily Miss Hardy’s attention on twitter before, mainly fawning which admittedly isn’t very cool and sort of screams ‘fan’ or ‘pllllllleeeeeease acknowledge me’ (though some might see this post in the same vein, not the case, this is all about letters thank you), and nada. No response. So I had to think on my feet and not just retweet or quote or be inane in a pointless way, I had to attract her attention. So I used two things I have picked up from seeing her on the box and reading… a love of books and a love of beards, again me and Marieke have that in common, and it worked…

Now ‘certainly’ may seem like a fob off, and initially I thought so too (my middle names aren’t ‘grumpy cynic’ for nothing), but when a DM with an address arrived (noted it’s a P.O. Box address in case I should fly all the way to Australia and simply pop by for a cuppa, stranger things have happened) I had that joyous moment of feeling slightly like I wanted to be sick everywhere and needing to phone everyone I know and tell them news that possibly might leave them non plussed. Instead I just grinned.

This was several weeks ago, I am still drafting the first letter. Why? Well because first impressions are always important (I am seeing the letter writing as a clean state not the twitter/blog fawning, moving swiftly on) and in my head, though neither of us owns a book shop, this could become the noughties version of ’84 Charing Cross Road’ one day. A friend taking the proverbial asked me if I had bought a ‘special pen for the prose of perfection… a quill maybe?’ my response post swearing was ‘no, nothing is finer than your simple black Bic’ and its true I write my nicest handwriting with said pen.

It isn’t just Marieke I am writing to though, as it seemed my friend Dom has also had letters on the brain. This is Dom of the ‘we both love Nancy Mitford and refer to each other as characters in her novels’ fame. We haven’t seen each other in over a year, we would meet in London once or twice a week, speak on the phone everyday etc, and suddenly letter writing to each other seemed so much more personal than an hour on the phone twice a week. No one can listen in for a start, so that’s another one. Multiple pen pals isn’t cheating is it? Ha!

You may remember that a while back, in fact almost two years ago, I started a little project called Penpals of Prose. I wanted to join people who loved book and the written word and create a way of them being able to contact like minded folk from all around the world. It was a much bigger, and so took much longer to organise plan and administrate, project than I thought it would be as so many people wanted to take part. What I forgot to do, amongst all this setting up lovely friends to write gorgeous letters to each other, was actually participate myself. I have no pen pals of prose, not one, and now the email account I made for it has gone defunct (I checked this morning, and have emailed to reactive it), silly me.

I am wondering… should I start that all over again and write myself too? Or should I simply see if any of you out there would like to start writing to me wherever in the world you are? I will write back by the way, this isn’t just a plea for you to fill my letter box with endless lovely letters you never hear back from. My email address is on the about page if you want to make contact. In the meantime, as its Australia day, I think it’s time I put pen to paper and finish this letter to Ms Hardy in my best black Bic handwriting.

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You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead – Marieke Hardy

Sometimes you read a book and you just can’t stop talking about it. So an apology from me firstly to all who have seen me in the last few weeks and who have come to dread the sentence in our conversation that goes ‘oh my god have I told you about another thing Marieke Hardy wrote about in her memoirs’. I have not shut up about this book. I am also now worried that should Ms Hardy ever stumble upon this webpage she may regret a recent twitter exchange and think I am a stalker, I am not, but more on that tomorrow. I don’t really do celebrity/well known personality memoirs very often but as soon as I learnt that Marieke Hardy had an autobiography/collection of memoir essays ‘You’ll Be Sorry When Im Dead’ out in Australia I had to have it, I had almost bought it online when Allen and Unwin, hearing of my Hardy obsession enthusiasm kindly shipped one over to me.

Before I can talk/rave about the book any further, I should mention how I happened upon its author. I randomly heard tell of an Australian TV book show when I was moaning about how rubbish (they have got better) our UK ones were, a Savidge reader sent me a link to The First Tuesday Book Club and I was hooked. I loved format (one host, two regular guests each month and two fresh faces who discuss one modern book and one classic, the banter, the works I was sold. The star for me was Marieke, a fabulously edgy, ballsy, no nonsense regular guest who wasn’t afraid to call a book a ‘cock forest’ if required. I felt I had found a kindred spirit, be it one who wasn’t aware I existed, but that’s a small thing. She had a passion and enthusiasm about books and reading that had me sold along with a wicked sense of humour. So, what better than her very own book, written by her own hand, to find out more about her? (Note, in a non stalky ‘I just think we would be best pals discussing books and laughing like drains’ way.)

Allen & Unwin, trade paperback, 2011, non fiction, 294 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead’ is one of those books which manages to make you laugh out loud, feel ever so uncomfortable at its honesty, possibly makes you want to cry and then makes you laugh all over again. When someone writes their memoirs it isn’t necessarily that the full truth doesn’t come out, just that the author tends to look at things in a rose tinted way, highlighting their best bits – not so in the case of Marieke.

From the very first memory piece/essay ‘You Can Lead a Horticulture’ we are greeted with Marieke’s no nonsense ‘this is how it is’ attitude, which I like so much and am probably much more like myself in real life than I am on this here blog (maybe this should change), as she discusses her desire as a young girl to become a prostitute because it embodied ‘musical theatre, combined with those illicit first throws of nocturnal explorations beneath an embroidered doona’, and then goes on to tell of a relationship she was involved in where prostitutes became a fairly regular addition (I laughed at her worries of a prostitute assessing her based on how she kept her house). From here we have tales of her friends battle with cancer in ‘Forevz’ which is funny, touching and tear inducing, a hilarious look at the world of swingers, her own obsession and almost stalking of Bob Ellis (who she also named her female dog after), her relationship with her parents, on being a mother but not being a mother (I loved ‘Born This Way’ a tale of accidental step parentage so, so, so much) and her rock and roll slightly hedonistic days.

It is the honesty which I loved about this book so much, and it’s an honesty we don’t see often enough and could be something which caused people not to like this book. In fact Marieke says so herself in the tale of her friends breast cancer as she opens with ‘this is a cancer story that has some jokes in it, so if you think that perhaps that’s in poor taste its probably best you put this book down’ and some people will do just that, but they would be missing out. We do laugh at the worst times, we need this laughter yet some people don’t want to talk about it.

It isn’t just this honesty of situation and others that she looks at, it’s herself. In several of these pieces, almost of admission and letting everything out, she asks people to respond from their side and it’s not always flattering either in the depiction Hardy makes of herself or in the honesty of some of the replies she gets back. Could any of us write something admitting what a rubbish partner or friend we were, send it to the other person involved ask their thoughts and then publish them? I am not sure we could.

Some people will simply not get this sort of book, they will think that its graphic nature (in parts, not in all) and upfront attitude is done for effect, maybe even book sales. They will probably now think I am some kind of voyeur for enjoying it so much. I would disagree, I think some people do those very things but I don’t get the feeling Marieke Hardy is one of them. It’s an honest portrayal, sometimes as I mentioned uncomfortably so, of someone’s life so far with the highs and the lows, the good and the bad, the pretty sides and the ugly ones too. It’s really made me think about life and that jazz amongst the laughter, ‘eek’ moments, and occasionally teary ones too. But more on that thinking tomorrow… In the interim do try and get this book (even if it means buying the e-book version as, so far, it’s not out in the UK, in fact I think it might only be available in Australia) because it’s one that should be read.

It’s early to be talking of books of the year, but I have very little doubt that this will be one of mine. I loved it.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Marieke Hardy, Non Fiction, Review

Alderley Edge

I went out for a wander on Alderley Edge yesterday and thought I would share a couple of pictures with you. I was going to pop up a book review today but sometimes I think a non-bookish post can be a nice little breather on here, it may even let you get to know me a tiny bit better – I think that is a good thing? Anyway, there is a slight bookish link with Alderley Edge as it was said to inspire, along with local folklore and legend, Alan Garner’s ‘The Weirdstone of Brisingamen’ (which surprise, surprise I haven’t read) and when you get there you can see why it is so inspiring, the views from the top for a start…

It was one of my favourite types of days yesterday, sunny and clear but with some ominous clouds in the distance. The chilling winds blowing away the cobwebs in your mind and making you feel grateful that later on you can be lying in a warm bath or sat reading in front of the fire. I think if I could have a state of permanent weather it would be this and the atmosphere it brings. But back to Alderley Edge; speaking of the edge in the name of sharing the experience with you all I teetered as close to the literal edge as I could for a picture, which actually wasn’t as close as I could have gone but I don’t like heights…

After ‘dicing with death’ as I called it and being told I was a drama queen it was off for a walk through the woods. It reminded me how lucky I am that I live where I do now. The countryside is fifteen minutes away and as I squelched through mud and embarrassed myself sliding ungainly down the hillside (much to other peoples muffled laughed – actually not that muffled, rude) I felt really thankful that I could be somewhere so atmospheric and slightly spooky, so I just stood in the woodland and took it all in. I could certainly see what might make people think this was such a mythical and magical place.

It was quite the mind cleanser and made me want to return home (after a trip to the warmth of a good pub) and find a spooky book set in some dark autumnal woods, any recommendations? I hope you don’t mind the non book interlude; well actually it is a bit tough if you do as I have done it – oops.

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War Horse – Michael Morpurgo

I should open today’s post with a disclaimer right from that start that books about WWI or WWII are something I feel over saturate the market. If done well they can be incredibly emotive and powerful but all too often they fall into the ‘man and woman fall in love, he goes off to war, its horrific, she hears he is dead but actually it was a mistaken telegram and they get back together, the end’. I should also mention that I don’t really like horses (much to the dismay of one of my closest friends) be they real or fictional ones. Why on earth read ‘War Horse’ then? Actually not because of the movie, which I was slightly aware was being released soon, but because I saw DogEarDiscs rate it five stars on Good Reads and had been contemplating reading more YA so it seemed like a good idea.

Egmont Books, paperback, 1982, fiction, 182 pages, borrowed from the library

I didn’t think I was going to like ‘War Horse’ when I started it, not because war books are so hit and miss with me or because I don’t like horses, both facts are true yet I knew this was coming from the title so was ready, but because I didn’t expect the novel to be narrated by the horse, Joey, himself. As soon as I realised this I thought something a little ruder than ‘oh no’ because my saccharine alert had been switched on. Like child narrators, animal narration can kill a book with one out of place word or description. Interestingly ‘War Horse’ both excels and in some ways fails because of this device.

Joey is a half bred foal when he is separated from his mother at an auction, ‘little I was worth’, and bought by an alcoholic farmer at a market in Devon who doesn’t actually want him but buys him as he is so cheap. On the farm he meets Albert and the two form an instant bond, slowly but surely Joey becomes one of the finest horses around, something Albert’s father never believed possible, yet when war is declared Albert’s father sees an opportunity of financial gain and the fates of Joey and Albert are changed, especially as Albert is not old enough to fight. Despite the fact I know you can all imagine what happens with the novel I don’t want to give too much more away but we do from this point see the war through the eyes of a horse.

In some ways Joey narrating this is a really interesting idea. It gives a very different spin on the whole war idea, a different angle in many ways. This is also probably much more effective on its intended audience as this book is aimed at a younger market and so in a way makes this more accessible, we all like animals on the whole when we are younger don’t we?  Yet as an adult reading this it added a certain distance, it was emotive and I could imagine as a kid this book hitting home but as an adult it really wasn’t. As the story plays out further characters, it is a war after all, might not be around for all that long and so characters are never quite feel fully developed. Great to illustrate to children the effects of war and quite shocking, as an adult I wanted further character development before I could really feel losses as and when they came, even in the case of Emilie which should have been much more effecting.

This isn’t all negative I promise. There are some very successful moments for example when Joey crosses no man’s, interestingly when it is just Joey describing his surrounding and the atmosphere, was very eerie indeed. I also thought Morpurgo did something that was particularly clever, and that was to not create any major villains. In fact all the ‘baddies’, apart from the war itself, are offstage really. Morpurgo doesn’t make the British soldiers ‘good’ and the German’s ‘bad’ instead he illustrates two sides of a war and how innocent men were brought into it from both sides because they had no choice/felt it was right for their country but didn’t want the war in the first place. That I thought was very powerful.

As you can see it’s a mixed bag of feeling for me with ‘War Horse’. I am glad that I have read it, but it didn’t hit all the buttons I had hoped it would, thankfully though it wasn’t saccharine in the slightest, it moved me, just not as much as I was expecting it was going to. I do think that I should mention that the book was originally published in 1982, it’s as old as me can you believe it, and I think naturally all books, not just children’s, have developed with a society that isn’t as easy to shock so that needs to be taken into account too.

I would be interested to see how it has been adapted though; my uncle and cousin came back from the movies and had clearly had a good cry. Who else has read it? Who has seen the play or the film? What did you think?

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Filed under Egmont Books, Michael Morpurgo, Review, Young Adult Fiction

Books By The Bedside #1

So not so long ago I asked you all if you liked the idea of me doing a regular feature on the blog where I share a picture of my bedside table and the books frequenting it. This was a slightly mean ask as frankly I was thinking of doing it anyway, but it was nice to get your thoughts on it as it is with all things. Anyway without further ado and further waffle here is what is on my bedside table and the reasons why…

First up is a very recent addition, yesterday in fact, in the form of Lucy Wood’s debut short story collections ‘Diving Belles’ which I have been really eager to read. The tales were inspired by the flotsam and jetsam of a Cornish beach and theses magical tales of straying husbands, creaking houses, whispering magpies and trees that grant wishes sound wonderful, I do love an adult fairytale after all, I meant to try one yesterday and suddenly two hours had gone and I was ¾ of the way through. I will be telling you all about this very soon. I had meant to start on Angela Carter’s ‘Burning Your Boats; Collected Stories’ this week after it arrived in the post (this seemed odd as I was in a bookshop with a nice chap last week who bought the book, it then arrived here the next day, spooky) and I love her fairytale like short stories. It is a rather massive collection so expect this to become a regular offender in these posts, speaking of which…

Two old offenders follow as I have been reading Marieke Hardy’s essay collection ‘You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead’ and Chris Womersley’s novel ‘Bereft’ for so long that I am worried by the time I write of them you will be bored to death. I think I need to focus on ‘Bereft’ more now, as whilst initially languishing over it was working I am beginning to feel it actually might not be doing this book any favours (and it has been lugged about so much by me over weeks it is looking a real state) oops. In fact it looks rather like the battered 1971 Fontana edition of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mystery ‘The Moving Finger’ which I am going to read as a cleanser soon I think.

As for the rest of this loot, well really these are all the books that I am pondering over. I have been unbelievably excited that Hammer Horror and Random House have gone into partnership for some ghost stories new and old. While I await Jeanette Winterson’s fictional account of the Pendle Witches (sounds amazing) I have just received Helen Dunmore’s ghost story ‘The Greatcoat’ all starting on a cold night in Yorkshire and a hand knocking on a window. Oh goody. In fact Andrew Miller’s ‘Pure’ links into this as its said to be a gothic tale of cemeteries, grisly possibly but fascinating I am sure. It’s been the talk of the town with the Costa Book Awards and reminded me I really wanted to read it.

The TV Book Club has inspired me to push ‘Girl Reading’ by Katie Ward onto the bedside table. I started this then decided it was so good I might never finish ‘Bereft’ and so it’s on hold and it may have to stay on hold a while as we may have Essie Fox joining us on The Readers and so I must read ‘The Somnambulist’ asap, hence its appearance.

Finally to books that I have been recommended and am keeping at the top of my reading periphery, as it were. I already fancied reading Rachel Joyce’s debut novel ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ when I fell across a very advanced review, then its inclusion in the ‘Waterstones 11’ made it shoot up my TBR pile. Several recommendations for Kevin Brockmeier’s ‘The Illumination’ have come from The Readers listeners who have voted for it in the International Readers Book Award’s so when that arrived early this week (it’s out in paperback in February) I instantly popped it here, as I did ‘All Is Song’ by Samantha Harvey which William of Just Williams Luck reviewed and sold to me straight away. I may not comment on blogs as much as I should but I am very much reading them.

So that’s the state of my bedside table, and my reading brain too I guess. What are you reading and have got lined up to read? What is just tickling your fancy (I love that expression) right now books wise?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Books By The Bedside

Waterstones 11

In the UK the bookstore chain Waterstones is something of a legend, it is also a company that is undergoing some big changes in the time of online shopping and the *cough* e-reader. One initiative that they came up with last year was the ‘Waterstones 11’ which what the eleven top debut authors to look out for in 2011, now they have brought it back for 2012 and it is rather an intriguing list.

I have said that in 2012 I will be reading more of the books from the never ending pile of reading delights that makes up the TBR. In terms of modern fiction I am probably going to steer away from all the prize long lists (and quite possibly the shortlists, we will see) this year, this list however is one I am going to be keeping in mind and on the reading periphery in the main because it is debut novels but also because after having gone off and found out more about them it is a really mixed and varied list. Here it is for you in detail…

   

The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan (William Heinemann)
Absolution by Patrick Flanery (Atlantic)
Shelter by Frances Greenslade (Virago)

  

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (Fourth Estate)
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (Headline Review)
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (Doubleday)

  

The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen (Chatto & Windus)
Signs of Life by Anna Raverat (Picador)
The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan (Virago)

 

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (Simon & Schuster)
Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles (Harper Press)

I am certainly not going to say that I am going to read them ALL, for a start The Art of Fielding is a book I have seen everywhere and yet with its baseball theme really doesn’t float my fictional boat at all. Sorry. However, I have three of them already (in italics) and I am certainly intrigued by ‘Shelter’, Iand I think that ‘Care of Wooden Floors’ had me at the title which is odd as I wouldn’t think it was a very me one if I am honest. ‘The Panopticon’ also sounds particularly bonkers and Dan of Dog Ear Discs has raved about ‘The Lifeboat’ which he has got early. I have heard from Novel Insights who was at the event and apparently she has got me a sampler of all of them so I can find out more. I have noticed though lots of them aren’t out right now, or for quite some time, maybe they will be released early?

Have you heard much pre-release mention of any of these? Is there a title which you are particularly looking forward to? Do you like the idea of bookstores promoting books like this? Which debut novel coming out in 2012 would you have popped on the list that may be missing?

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The Book Boy – Joanna Trollope

I wonder if I can explain why I have not read any Joanna Trollope before without implying that I am some kind of book snob. I suppose it’s simply fair enough, and true enough, to say that I have never really fancied them. In my head, with a mixture of the covers and things I have heard along the way, I have imagined she is rather twee and upper class and I just wouldn’t like them. Sometimes though the title of a book will make you give an author a try and when I saw ‘The Book Boy’ at the library, and saw it was one of the ‘quick reads’ initiative title I thought ‘oh why not?’

Bloomsbury Books, paperback, 2006, fiction, 95 pages, borrowed from the library

Alice is a thirty-eight year old woman stuck in a rut. She is her entire families doormat. Her husband Ed domineers over her with a certain edge of the dark and fearful in anything he does, her son Craig seems to be following his example (and has started hanging out with an unsavoury new friend) and Becky, her daughter and possible ally, thinks she is stupid. All this seems to emanate from the fact that Alice cannot read, something she has always wanted to do, and its something that no one speaks of and yet everyone knows. It also seems to be what people, including Alice herself, us to hold her back.

I feel forgotten, Alice though. Forgotten.
 ‘Mum!’ Craig yelled.
Like, Alice thought, something that fell down the back of the sofa. And got lost. That’s what I feel like.

Of course from the premise of the book we know that this is about to change, what we don’t know is how. I will say that help comes in the least expected guise; I will leave it at that. Through the relationships she has outside the house, mainly with her friend Liz (who has a very funny moment when she becomes a spy) and the Chandra family whose corner shops she cleans, we learn just how closed a life she leads and one which is clearly making her deeply unhappy. This is not a melancholy novella however, in fact it is very much one of hope.

This is a piece of fiction of less than 100 pages which gives a very clear insight into the life of its main character. Alice and her situation are fully fleshed out and though the other characters, including her family, aren’t fleshed out so well they are really there in order to act awfully and show us just how dreary Alice’s life is. Its how she got there and the fact that she initially seems to simply accept that this is her lot in life which proves deeply affecting and through provoking.

How much of the world do we miss if we are unable to read? How do people judge those who can’t? How would our lives be hindered by it and in what ways? These are all the questions that Joanna Trollope looks at, and I was impressed by how much I felt in so little pages. It reminded me just how lucky I am to be able to read and how much it benefits my life, not only in the fact I can read little gems like this, but in the everyday things which we completely forget about and take for granted.

It’s interesting that whilst I enjoyed this example of Joanna Trollope’s work I am not sure if I would read any more. I liked this book because of the story it was telling rather than who was telling it if that makes sense? It was a book you could read for an hour and pop away, would I fare so well with something longer? Is there some underlying subconscious snobbery in me? Maybe I am wrong, maybe another Joanna Trollope would be right up my street, or maybe it was nice to read her once and that’s enough? We all have an encounter with an author like this now and again don’t we? Anyone got any thoughts?

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Books About Books, Joanna Trollope, Review

When Did I Become A Multi-Reader (and the Reading Conundrum)?

Once upon a time if someone told me they read more than one book at once I would always be astonished, if I am totally honest a slight wince or sneer might even have been seen to pass like a shadow across my face, they could do it. I could never understand how anyone could keep up with that many books, until now that is…

You see since the start of 2012 I have not completed many novels (not that reading is ever a race but I do have a general reading pace) yet I have read a whole host of short stories and essays.

For example at present I have four books on the go at the moment, though only one of them is a novel, and they are as shown…

20120117-122741.jpg

Both Dan Rhodes ‘Dont Tell Me The Truth About Love’ and Sarah Hall’s ‘The Beautiful Indifference’ are collections of short stories. I was just reading Sarah’s on and off but then I started reading ‘Bereft’ by Chris Womersley, the only novel in the mix, and something about the settings was a little too similar and yet I wanted some short fiction for random short reading moments on the train (only ten mins to town and ten back) etc and so I picked up Dan Rhodes on a whim as I haven’t read anything by him for ages and I really like his books. Sarah will be being restarted once ‘Bereft’ is finished, yet that may be some time as I am enjoying it so much I am savouring it and waiting for the mystery at its heart to unfold slowly. Savouring is also the reason why Marieke Hardy and her memoir essays ‘You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead’ are still only midway through completion. I love them so much I am only reading one or two a week.

Actually with the last two it feels like an odd reading conundrum, should I just go for it or simply take as long as I like? As its a year of whimsical reading I am going for the latter, unless suddenly something takes hold. It may make reviews thin on the ground for a while but it’s really enjoyable reading at the moment. Who would have thought I would find multi- reading so enjoyable?

Who else out there multi reads and who definitely doesn’t? Do you ever find yourself at the point of wanting to greedily devour a book in one sitting and spreading out the joy over weeks? Which books have left you in such a reading conundrum?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

The Boy Who Taught The Beekeeper To Read – Susan Hill

As anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time will know, I am a big fan of Susan Hill’s works. Therefore when I spotted ‘The Boy Who Taught The Beekeeper to Read’ at the library, a title I hadn’t been aware of before (and isn’t it a brilliant title), I snapped it up. It wasn’t until I got home that I realised it was a collection of short stories.

Before I talk about the collection I should explain the slightly eccentric way I read short stories. Firstly I don’t read them like I would a novel, not just because of the order (which I will come to in a moment) I read it but because I might read one and not another for a few days or read three separately in one day by whim and one every evening after – there’s no rules. I also don’t read them in the order they have been put (apologies to the authors and editors who probably put a lot of time and thought into this) in the collection. I read the longest first followed by the shortest, then I read them in order except I always leave the title tale until the very end. The theory behind this last part is that the title tale is probably the best and leaves the book on a high note for me, it maybe this tale also reflects the overall feeling of a collection, though by no means always the case. Now that’s out the way I can get on with telling you how I felt about this collection and possibly the reasons why…

Chatto and Windus, hardback, 2003, fiction, 224 pages, short stories, borrowed from the library

If I were to go with an overall theme of ‘The Boy Who Taught The Beekeeper to Read’ it would be death and loss. This therefore gives the whole book a rather melancholic tone. It’s not a gloomy collection but it’s not all singing and dancing (yes, that’s a nod to her 1974 collection of short stories I have in Mount TBR). What we have is therefore a collection of tales at often pivotal, and emotional points in characters lives, their current situation or circumstances having been caused, in the main, being through deaths to varying degrees.

Because I started with ‘Father, Father’ and ‘Sand’ I think I was a little wrong footed from the off if I am honest. Both these stories of of mothers deaths and the effect on the daughter and unfortunately felt like the same story only one had been elongated. Therefore when I read ‘Elizabeth’ which once more brought up mothers and daughters I put the book down for a while. I am glad I returned though as after this hiccup, mainly my fault for reading in the wrong order I am sure, the stories became more varied and I started to get sucked into the atmosphere and tone of the book further.

You see the tales ‘The Punishment’, ‘The Brooch‘ and ‘Moving Messages’ reminded me that Susan Hills writing has a certain quiet brooding about it, this is also the case in both her Simon Serrailer crime series and famous ghost stories yet because they are longer there is a meatier side too, and sometimes with these short stories this is done so delicately that initially you think ‘and?’ but should you take some time out and have some space from them and the characters, atmospheres and settings they grow on you somewhat. ‘Need’ with its circus setting did this particularly well.

The last two stories I read had the most punch, maybe they felt the most modern and almost instantly had an overflowing number of things to say? The last story in the collection ‘Antonyin’s’ (the only story set outside England) confused me initially, as a man and woman unknown to each other sit in a restaurant day after day staring until she asks him to marry her, but the twist that came moved me. The title tale of ‘The Boy Who Taught The Beekeeper to Read’ was the one that blew me away. It’s not the longest, in some ways it’s the most simple of ideas – a young boy living in a mansion befriends ‘the staff’ and teaches him to read yet how long can this friendship last, actually choked me up and it  has resonated with me the most since, and not just because I read it last.

I cannot say ‘The Boy Who Taught The Beekeeper to Read’ is the best short story collection I’ve ever read because some of it was a little too short, a little too quiet and peeter out too quickly but overall it’s beautifully written and in parts packs an emotional punch amongst its brooding nature. Some people may find its quiet style a little old fashioned, I liked this, but regardless I would urge everyone to read this collection for the title story alone. I think it could become one of my favourite short stories and shows just why I am such a fan of Susan Hill’s writing overall.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Review, Short Stories, Susan Hill