Monthly Archives: March 2012

Savidge Retreats…

As you may have noticed over the last few weeks I have been really thinking about my reading habits and where I am, and where I am heading, as a reader. I have also been thinking similar things about blogging, which I love so this isn’t a navel gazing post, and where that is going, why I am doing it and how Savidge Reads has changed over the years. This is all good thinking though and I think we need some time to assess things now and again, so…

I have decided to have a blogging break; this might be for a few days, a few weeks or a month or two. It all started when I was freaking out about being 30 and my lovely co-host of The Readers and good friend Gavin said ‘it’s a new start; see it as Simon Savidge version 3.0’. This is an idea I really like so I am putting it into practice and am seeing it as a new start and have some ideas forming of what I am going to do in the future. I love a good brainstorming session don’t you?

While I am off the blogosphere I will still be popping by others now and again, chatting about books on Twitter (add me here), starting The Manchester Book Club and of course recording The Readers podcast (do pop and listen to the latest episode with me chatting to my mum, Gran and sister). Most importantly I will be reading lots and seeing where the books take me without feeling like I am doing it for the blog, some of these books will appear when I come back, some might not we will see. But look out for the new blog (there is going to be a new look and lots of new pages to mark Savidge Reads 3.0) when it appears in the none too distant future.

Until then, if I don’t see you on twitter etc, happy reading. Oh and feel free to let me know what you do and don’t like about the blog in the comments below and I might just bear them in mind…



Filed under Random Savidgeness

Three Generations of Readers

I know that you lot seem to like the posts which feature my Gran, my Mum and my little sister and how generationally the ‘we blooming love reading’ gene has been passed on. Well if that is the case then this week on The Readers we have all three of them in conversation with me in some kind of ‘Savidge Readers Special.’ That’s right… three generations of readers; how often do you get to hear that and at such differing points in their reading lives?

First in our trio of interviews we have my Gran, or Dorothy as you might want to call her, a self starting reader who left her studies in order to work. How did she get hooked on reading by herself? How important was it to read to her children? Why does she read about the countries she visits before she goes? What are her thoughts on a Kindle? What books would she recommend? Who does she re-read in her seventies and why?

Then we have my Mum, Louise, an avid book worm as a child and now a teacher of English Literature to secondary school children from 11-16 year olds. Was the influence of her mother part of her love of reading? What is great about exciting children into reading? Why don’t children read a whole book at school and does it matter? What are her thoughts on the Kindle and the future of the book? Which authors does she love and recommend in her forties?

Third and finally we have my sister, Miriam, who at 13 is in the middle of that young adult to adult transition of reading. Which books did she love as a child? What books and authors is she testing in the adult fiction market? Is reading cool at school?  Who does she turn to for her recommendations?

I thought that this might just be up all of your streets. So if you want to have a listen, and please do, then you can go here on the website or by downloading it via iTunes. Let me know what you think after you have!

Thanks again for the birthday wishes over the weekend. Lovely of you all!


Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness, The Readers Podcast

The TV Book Club Tonight; Blink & You’ll Miss Me Again

Should you have the opportunity tonight, or after on catch up, you might just see my face popping up on The TV Book Club tonight as I review Kevin Wilson’s ‘The Family Fang’ in a mere 45 seconds (see a still below). I thought I would use this post to say something about reviews…


I’ve decided that as yesterday was the start of a new decade for me (thank you for all the lovely birthday messages) any pending reviews I have languishing as half finished documents on my computer or notes on scrap paper are just not going to appear. There’s probably a reason I haven’t finished writing about these ‘not bad books’ but there’s only two I really want to tell you about. Bar those two I will be reviewing only books I’ve read since turning thirty, and not every book I read will show up here either, only the ones I really want to talk about for good or not so good reasons.

It feels like a time for a fresh start again. In fact reviews etc will be on hold for a while, more on that tomorrow though as I’m shattered post celebrations and the like. Hope you’ve all had good weekends?

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Filed under Random Savidgeness

I’m 30!!!!

My first thought about being 30 is ‘happy birthday to me’, my second is ‘oh bugger, how did that happen’ yet my third thoughts on it are ‘oooh a lovely new decade that will be filled with lots and lots of lovely new adventures and experiences’.  It is that latter set of thoughts that I am going to be taking forward today should I have the odd wobble. I know lots of people say that 30 isn’t a big deal, but I think any birthday with an ‘0’ on it makes you think doesn’t it.

Anyway I mustn’t ramble, when you read this I am hoping I’ll be having a morning stroll around one of Shropshire’s picturesque towns (and not falling into all the charity/second hand book shops),  or be having a nice boozy lunch, or for a lovely dinner in a very fancy pub the evening, or possibly drunkenly dancing round my Mums old pub. This weekend I am with family and select guests, next weekend is my Manchester bash and then in a few weeks myself, Polly, Michelle and Dom are off glamping in some woods with the theme ‘1930’s Hollywood’ should be interesting.

Back to today though, ff my Mum hasn’t baked me a cake like the one below I shall be most disappointed.

In the past she has made me then in the forms of Thomas the Tank Engine, the witch’s house in Hanzel and Gretel, a white chocolate castle (because I don’t like milk/dark chocolate cake/cream/icing), various animals and once a cake in the shape of a pair of ladies… well you get where I am going. Actually we were discussing that some of these might have been made by my  aunty. Whatever the case there better be cake involved, and possibly some booze… just a bit, cough!

So will I really be feeling any different, apart from rather inebriated, probably not. I am hoping on the whole though it is definitely excitement I am feeling, and not just about what presents I might get but it is that ‘new phase’ feeling. The end of my twenties were a bit rubbish so here’s to my thirties and all the lovely things they bring. Hoorah.


Filed under Random Savidgeness

The French Lieutenant’s Woman; First Impressions

My aim to have read John Fowles ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ as one of my ‘Three for Thirty’ may just be achieved before the clock strikes midnight tonight, however my plan to have reviewed it before then hasn’t come to fruition as I haven’t quite finished it. I am actually about two thirds through at the moment, though I have a long train journey to Shropshire later so should finish it then. I thought I would do something I haven’t done before, might do again though if its popular, and give you my first impressions of the novel because I am thoroughly enjoying it, so much so I am very hesitant to rush it.

Vintage Classics, paperback, 1969 reissued 2012, fiction, 528 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Naturally with this being my first real impressions I won’t give any spoilers away, if you can avoid them in the comments that would be lovely too, but I think it is ok to say what the story is really about from the start. As the novel opens, with a superb atmosphere of Lyme Regis in the 1860’s, we follow Charles Smithson and his fiancée, Ernestina Freeman, taking a stroll. As they do they spot a lone figure staring into the sea, Ernestina tells Charles that this is Sarah Woodruff known locally in the village as ‘Tragedy’ or ‘The French Lieutenant’s Whore’ after she was disgraced when she had an a relationship with a French naval officer who was already betrothed. Shock, horror, the very idea! Charles becomes rather fascinated by her story, and so do we as the reader.

I loved how the novel started; there is a real atmosphere of some of the writing of the time, the slight sensation elements of the likes of Wilkie Collins etc, which I love anyway. There’s a certain darkness in the writing and the depiction of Lyme Regis and the people who inhabit it. This leads me to the characters, and what a marvellous bunch they are. Charles himself is both a complete charmer and a bit of a wrong ‘en as far as I was concerned, I didn’t think I would warm to him but strangely I have. Sarah is of course marvellously intriguing and Ernestine is brilliantly gossipy and demanding, I love her. My favourite character though has to be Mrs Poulteney

‘She was like some plump vulture, endlessly circling in her endless leisure, and endowed in the first field with a miraculous sixth sense as regards dust, fingermarks, insufficiently starched linen, smells, stains, breakages and all the ills that houses are heir to. A gardener would be dismissed for being seen to come into the house with earth on his hands; a butler for having a spot of wine on his stock; a maid for having slut’s wool under her bed.

Isn’t that just marvellous? Doesn’t it instantly evoke this woman? It also shows how wonderfully Fowles writes, which having not read him since ‘The Collector’ (which couldn’t be a more different book, apart from the dark tone) I had forgotten. I did worry that the way the narrator (and I have just got to the point where Fowles has introduced himself and it looks like there might be multiple endings coming) describes everything with hindsight and throwing a lot of information about the state of politics and the structure of society might get on my nerves. It isn’t hidden in the text, it’s fairly in your face, so I was worried I would feel like I was being lectured at, but I’ve gotten used to it and am learning even more about the Victorian period. Lovely stuff!

So you can imagine I am rather looking forward to several hours on the train with the characters and seeing how this possible multi-ending is going to go. I hope it carries on so wonderfully…

I am hoping to do a proper full review in timing with Cornflower Books next Book Group which ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ is the subject of, until then let me know your thoughts on this book. Though no spoilers please! Oh and let me know what you think of ‘first impressions posts’ good, bad, would prefer a full review at the end and nothing more?


Filed under Book Thoughts, John Fowles, Vintage Classics

Bookshops I Love; Reid of Liverpool

So while I was in Liverpool earlier in the week how could I not try and hunt down a good independent bookshop? I mean you have to when you go away to a new city/suburb/street don’t you, it’s only right and proper, in fact it would be rude not to.

With only a limited amount of time I couldn’t visit all the three that I wanted to, I did manage to find my first destination of choice and that was a second hand book shop on a wonderfully Dickensian, actually make that Victorian as I don’t really know my Dickens as we know, street… Reid of Liverpool.

It just tempts you from the outside doesn’t it, and its promise is fulfilled when you walk through the doors and are greeted by endless books.

What is quite quirky, though what could drive a quick browser to distraction, is that really there is no order to the books at all. Fiction and nonfiction are mixed together so if you are after a specific book you could get frustrated but I love walking along the shelves and seeing what gems I might locate and in what order. So I was in heaven.

Of course I couldn’t leave empty handed, again it would have been rude not to, and I did find not one gem but two, which are now back at Savidge Reads HQ waiting to be read at some point.

‘The Girl from the Fiction Department’ was a book I had never heard of before but grabbed me from the title which called out to me from its spine on the shelf. I thought it was fiction but discovered it is actually ‘a portrait of Sonia Orwell’ George Orwell’s second wife. I know nothing of her at all, I have discovered from the blurb that ‘portrayed by many of her husband’s biographers as a manipulative gold-digger who would stop at nothing to keep control of his legacy. But the truth about Sonia Orwell – the model for Julia in nineteen eighty-four – was altogether different. Beautiful, intelligent and fiercely idealistic, she lived at the heart of London’s literary and artistic scene before her marriage to Orwell changed her life forever. Burdened with the almost impossible task of protecting Orwell’s estate, Sonia’s loyalty to her late husband brought her nothing but poverty and despair.’ Now doesn’t that sound like a brilliant book? I don’t think it’s in print anymore. I also love how the cover is designed to look like its battered when actually pristine.

The ‘Selected Works of Djuna Barnes’ is a book I have been seeking out for ages; well actually that is not 100% accurate. I have been searching for ‘Nightwood’ since I read about it in Kate Summerscale’s ‘The Queen of Whale Cay’. Now my searching has paid off and I have an omnibus of three of her works, let’s hope I like her.

Anyway I thought that Reid of Liverpool was quite a find. If you are ever in the city do pop in. You can find more details about it here.


Filed under Bookshops I Love

A Lovely Trip to Liverpool…

On Monday I had the pleasure of going to the head offices of The Reader Organisation to meet them and see what they do and if I might be of any use/benefit/something to them. The meeting wasn’t until the afternoon and so as it was in Liverpool, a city I have been through but never actually wandered around, I thought I would make a day of it. So I thought, with the power of the virtual world, I would take you all with me, especially as it has become a ‘city of culture’ in the UK in the last few years.

Liverpool is a city that really I know nothing about which is rather naughty really considering that part of my heritage is from there. Granny Savidge Reads and her routes are in fact from Liverpool, the Wirral and Southport, so there is some Mersey blood in me somewhere. I am sure that my Uncle Derrick (Gran’s brother who used to tell me Sherlock Holmes tales on long walking holidays) once told me that if you see ‘Hill’ on a drain cover in the north that’s because that side of my family made them. How true this is could be debateable knowing the sense of humour of my great uncles and the fact that he was known to exaggerate, I will have to ask Gran this weekend. Anyway as I left the station I was instantly hit by the grandeur of the surrounding buildings, mainly museums.

I decided that my first port of call, pun intended, would be the Albert Docks down by the Mersey. It was weird walking around the city because when I was younger the only soap opera that my Mum and I would watch was Brookside and so I kept seeing buildings from the title sequence and so the theme tune was in my head for most of the day. If you haven’t seen it you can here. When I reached the docks I was stunned by what greeted me, the mix of modern and older buildings is quite something.

The reason for my visit there was to see the Merseyside Maritime Museum. Knowing that I don’t like boats or books based on boats you might find this odd. However there is an exhibition on the Titanic there and as I have something planned for the blog on the 100th anniversary I wanted more insight into it, more on that soon…

After being submerged/immersed in the history and events of the Titanic I popped next door to the Tate Liverpool…

I had a good old wander round; art is very subjective so I don’t want to bore you with everything I saw, looking at the permanent exhibitions. I have to say I do prefer going around art galleries on my own, I think it’s a very personal experience and some things you walk past and think ‘meh’ and others you feel like staring at for hours. I find if I am with a group you are all at different paces and I either rush… or get bored. I did pop and see the temporary exhibition but I didn’t think you would want to see what was inside. Is this sort of thing really art?

The other reason I was excited about the Albert Docks, and this is quite sad to admit, was that when I was a teenager this was where the UK’s breakfast show ‘This Morning’ was filmed. Who knew that this very spot would be where the Richard and Judy Book Club was started… sort of. I was sad to find that Fred’s floating weather map was no longer in the middle (if you are thinking ‘what??’ the weather man on This Morning used to do the weather in the middle of the dock on a floating set of the British Isles, whenever he jumped over to island we all watched in case he fell in.)

Now of course I couldn’t mention, or really go to, Liverpool without paying homage to their most famous export, The Beatles. I have to say I am not a huge fan (I think my Gran might have seen them at the Cavern, again this could be an Uncle Derrick story) but I do like some of their songs and it would have been foolhardy of me not to have found the cavern…

Only that wasn’t The Cavern, this was…

Oh no that’s not right, this is where it used to be…

I got very confused. The morning had whizzed by and so it was time to head to The Reader Organisation’s headquarters. I don’t want to talk too much about what went on, in case I jinx it, but it was wonderful to meet the staff and hear their stories of how the reading groups they run aren’t changing lives but are making them fuller and happier, plus then the Director of the company Jane who discussed why and how she set it up. I will admit at some of the stories, which were incredibly touching, I welled up. I then had to swiftly compose myself as I was taking part in a reading group, reading aloud (eek) and reading Shakespeare and poetry (my heart dropped) yet reading it and discussing it was wonderful (I am not quite converted, yet) and really got me into it, because there were no right or wrong answers.

A few hours later and it was time to head back (I did manage to pass, and fall into, a bookshop on the way but I will report more on that tomorrow)  as I was due to meet a certain Polly of Novel Insights, as we were off to have a lovely dinner before going to see the singer Caro Emerald. She was AMAZING, if you ever get the chance you must see her. Stunning.

There was some boogying in the aisles from me and Polly but all too soon it was time to say goodbye.  After 26 years of friendship we were both discussing how scary it is now we are thirty… before we then started to pretend we were auditioning for Spooks in Manchester Station while we waited for her bus.

I am not sure I am ever going to really grow up. Anyway, what a day! Liverpool I thoroughly loved you, I will be back very soon. Have any of you been to Liverpool, is there anything I missed? If you haven’t been to Liverpool do go! Where have you been off to for a visit recently? Shall I take you on more of these trips, by the power of the internet and a bit of imagination, in the future?


Filed under Random Savidgeness

Un-Reviews #1

I have always felt that if I haven’t finished a book to its full conclusion for whatever reason then I can’t review it, or write my ‘book thoughts’ on them as I prefer to call it. This therefore means that anyone who reads the blog is only getting reviews of the books I do finish which are therefore going to be more positive. Thanks to something my Readers co-host Gavin told me, and I have now stolen, I have decided to do ‘un-reviews’. These will be honest, whilst constructive, posts featuring a few titles  I have tried and tested and some brief ‘book thoughts’ on why they didn’t work and why.

So without further ado here are the first titles that I have tried this year and just haven’t worked for whatever reason…

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

I will admit that I don’t think the hype around this book helped, in fact it had very much put me off, yet some of you said I should give it a whirl and see, so I did. I knew the book was going to be about baseball, though ‘not all about just baseball’, because that was what put me off in the first place. Some of you said it didn’t matter but sadly it did to me. I was floundering quickly and then when I realised this seemed like it was going to be a ‘coming of age’ and ‘college life’ story I was officially lost. The writing wasn’t bad, in fact it almost won me over, but not quite and after 60 or so pages I just thought ‘no, should have stuck to my instincts’. It’s selling like hotcakes apparently so I don’t think it matters that this book did very little for me.

The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper by James Carnac

This is an interesting one. I have a strange small obsession with Jack the Ripper, in part because I find the Victorian era so utterly fascinating but in the main because no one really knows who did it. Well a written confession was discovered a year or so ago in a dead man’s possessions when they were being sorted. I imagine a few crackpots might have done such a thing but historians are puzzled by this one as the author seemed to have specific and in depth knowledge of the facts and small things people simply wouldn’t know, not even some of the police at the time. With a premise like that I knew this book was for me… but the font (see below) drove me bonkers! I understand the original document was composed on a type writer but that didn’t mean it had to be presented that way in the book. Maybe the publishers wanted the authentic feel, sadly it hurt my eyes and took all the joy from trying to read it and so I had to give up. (If anyone mentions how on a certain device beginning with a K you can change the font you might get blocked from commenting ha, ha.)

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue

A book I have tried twice. First up in January when I fancied something Victorian and I loved the idea of a tale centred on a true ‘scandalous divorce’ so I thought this would be an instant winner with me. I didn’t like the main character Helen who has an affair, so I stopped and thought ‘try that again later’. I did when I was having my latest book clear out and again struggled with Helen, and then struggled with the other characters in the book Fido, Helen’s lover, and Helen’s husband. They were all rather dislikeable but not in a good way. Helen in particular riled me, she was devious and manipulative but not in a grippingly good way. I would imagine this would be a brilliant ‘neo-Victorian’ novel if you have yet to read Jane Harris or Sarah Waters (in fact I felt this was Emma Donoghue wanting to be Sarah Waters), if you have read them this does seem a tad pedestrian. I liked ‘Room’ a lot so I think maybe I had too high expectations, Donoghue + Victoriana = definite hit,  which might not have helped. It felt a little rushed, like Donoghue had to have a new book out as soon as possible after ‘Room’ and I had a sense it was going to be overly long, so I stopped. Maybe I should try ‘Slammerkin’, which is oddly what I thought this was a reissue of, oops.

Alice by Judith Hermann

I picked this book up from the library based on the cover which I think is stunning. I had no prior knowledge of the author or the subject of the book, as fate had it was announced as one of the longlisted titles for this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. My excitement mounted a bit. The prose is beautiful, simple, spare and very haunting so much so I was really torn about giving up on this book, but I was, if I am very honest, getting really bored. ‘Alice’ reads like a selection of short stories in a woman named Alice’s life with which you build a picture of her as a person, and indeed her own life. The times we meet Alice though are always at a pivotal point of loss, be it a friend, ex-lover, relative etc and this gives an overriding feeling of melancholy to the novel, which was apt whilst quite draining to read, but also means in each story you know where this is going, someone is going to die, Alice is going to be there and react… and? And it was the ‘and?’ that was the problem. I didn’t feel this was going anywhere and while I loved the idea of the book I could spot how the author was doing all the background mechanics and yet Alice wasn’t coming fully formed but all those dying around her were. After three of the stories read almost exactly the same I called it quits. I was torn though as the writing was beautiful.

So those are the books that I have started but not finished this year. Only four in three months isn’t that bad actually is it? I hope you like the new feature, I don’t imagine it will be too regular but these posts will be popping up from time to time in the forthcoming months/years. Let me know your thoughts on the feature plus… Which of these have you read and do you agree or disagree with my brief book thoughts? Have you given up on any books lately, let’s make this a confessional, and if so why?


Filed under Un-Reviews

Thanks Mum, For Making Me Read

If I am honest I do think that Mothering Sunday, which is upon us here in the UK, is actually a big mass of cash spinning marketing. If you like your Mum, tell her when you see her or speak to her, if you don’t like her then don’t tell her, or see her. Ha! Anyway, that aside I thought it might actually be a nice idea to do a post about my mother considering without her influence I wouldn’t be the reader I am today and I am not sure I have ever thanked her for that in person, so I thought I would do it publically. She’ll be embarrassed but that is what sons are for or is that what parents are for? Either way…

My mother (that’s her there —>) had me at the age of 16 years old back in 1982, in fact almost 30 years ago to the week how apt (apparently she is ‘fine, yes fine, why do you ask’ about being 46 and having a soon to be 30 year old son). Not that it was the dark ages, but at that time not only was it a rather shocking occurrence it was also one that could curtail your studies and career, especially if you were going to be a single mum, as my Mum was even though she had the support of my grandparents. This wasn’t to be the case with my mum, she carried on her studies and took me with her to Newcastle where she gained a degree in Classics. I always say that having been to university from the ages of three to six is why I didn’t feel the need to go myself, excuses, excuses.

It is at university that my first memories of Mum reading to me are the strongest. I can vividly remember, after me throwing matchbox toy cars at her head to wake her up at 6am, the joy of getting into bed with her in the morning and being read children’s classics like the Ladybird Fairytales, Roald Dahl, Jill Murphy and the seminal works of ‘The Adventures of He-Man’ or ‘The Adventures of She-Ra’. It was also at this point books really took on a life of their own when she would read me the stories my granddad wrote and illustrated for me, which even featured me in them (and a certain Novel Insights who I had befriended aged 4), about the tales of a witch called Esmeralda and all her friends. You can see them below and read about them further here.

Studying Classics meant I also got the entire myths and legends from the Greeks and indeed the Romans regularly, I don’t know if it was because of her enthusiasm for the subject or if it helped her revise, in fact most nights. I seem to remember this is when ‘The Saga of Erik the Viking’ by Terry Jones appeared on the scene and was read often along with the nonetheless epic ‘Flat Stanley’. However it was an illustrated edition of the story of Persephone which I vividly remember from the time and would read over and over. I lost the love for Classics when I became a teenager and my Mum was teaching it at my school, odd that, but it’s nice to see it has recently been awakened by Madeline Miller’s ‘The Song of Achilles’ where the joy of reading about the gods, goddesses and monsters (I had a moment of utter joy when a centaur first graced the pages of this book) has been reignited. More on that tomorrow…

The library was a  place we always went regularly, as were charity shops. I remember once buying a new version of the story of Perseus from Oxfam for 50p, Mum opening it impressed and then seeing the joy drain from her face as she swiftly returned it, it seemed it was a rather over racy (Perseus does porn kind of thing) version of the story and not really appropriate for a young boy of eleven. Sherlock Holmes was though, and as my great uncle memorised them on walking holidays to stop me being bored, we would pop to Waterstones (a real treat) on the way home after she had picked me up to get a new collection, this was also when we fell upon Robin Jarvis and ‘The Whitby Witches’.

A year or so later Mum gave me my first proper grown up book in the form of ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Suskind, I wonder if my Nancy Drew obsession that summer when we went to Africa had made her worried I would end up with no taste – I still like a crime. Her attitude was if I was going to start reading grown up literature it had to be the good stuff. This was followed by attempts to lead me to Margaret Atwood but I wasn’t biting. I was studying books, and whilst my Mum might have become a good English teacher, my English teacher (one of her colleagues, oops) was slowly taking all the joy out of reading and after I left school early I avoided books like the plague. Mum had laid the foundations though.

In fact looking back whenever I ended up living back at home, which happened a few times after some particularly bad relationship decisions I made and their tumultuous endings, Mum would let me have a good cry and suggest ‘maybe pick up a book’. This could have been to show me books are always there for you, or it could have been to provide some escape, or she maybe just wanted me to stop crying and leave her alone, ha. Whatever the reason though at times of turmoil bookshelves and books would be in my head, even if I wasn’t rushing out to buy them, and they still are. When things have turned to the proverbial, pick up a good book, or a bad one.

Nowadays of course when we see each other books are one of the main things we talk about – who cares how the other one of us is, what we have been reading is far more important. Our tastes can be bang on (Anne Tyler, Margaret Atwood, Samantha Harvey) or completely polar (Susan Hill, owning a Kindle) but we both love books and really that’s down to her, with some help from Gran too of course. It’s nice seeing she has done the same with my thirteen year old sister (though Twilight, really?) and eleven year old brother (Harry Potter ‘which he is reading quicker than me and won’t wait’) and she continues to do so as an English teacher, in a school where kids aren’t generally fans of books but they will be, or else.

So thank you Mum for giving me the gift of books, the encouragement to read and forcing me into the library when sometimes I didn’t want to go. Look what it lead to. Happy Mothers Day.

You can read my Mums favourite books here and see her get a readers grilling here.


Filed under Book Thoughts, Louise Savidge, Random Savidgeness

Do We Ever Know The Reader We Are aka The Mad Ramblings of a Book Lover

I can almost hear one or two of you saying ‘but does it matter?’ simply from reading the title of today’s post, and the answer is that maybe it doesn’t, but bear with me. One of the things that I most love about books is also one of the things that freaks me out the most. I will never in my life time be able to read all the books that I really want to read. I have been tinkering with some pages behind the scenes that will be appearing on the site in the next week or so and they have led me to pondering this matter, along with the fact that in just seven days I will be turning thirty which is giving me food for thought in all aspects of my life. In terms of books though, will I ever know what sort of reader I am?

One of the new pages I have been tinkering with is a page which will feature all my favourite authors with their entire bibliographies (I think I have possibly pilfered this idea from Kim at Reading Matters, best form of flattery and all that). This is so that I can see which ones I have read since I have been blogging and which I have missed, so slowly but surely I can make my way through all of them, I might even revisit the ones I have already read pre-blog. Doing this I was surprised at how many of my favourite authors I have not read in ages. Apart from Margaret Atwood, Daphne Du Maurier, Nancy Mitford, Wilkie Collins and Susan Hill I have actually been a little bit rubbish. What happened to wanting to read everything by Anne Tyler, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Muriel Spark, Colm Toibin, Kazuo Ishiguro, Haruki Murakami etc when I know I love their writing so much?

In part I know it is because loving books as I do, and knowing so many people who feel the same way, lots of lovely new shiny books or authors are put in my path. I am not just talking about latest releases and books that are receiving lots of exciting and tempting buzz here either, though I am grateful to everyone who recommended I read ‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller which I have just finished and adored. I am also talking about authors who have been going for years, some still producing works and some who have sadly passed away, and have a huge back catalogue, that invariably if I have loved my first reading experience I want to go and read the whole lot of. Just this week I had the absolute joy of reading Beryl Bainbridge  for the first time and adoring ‘The Bottle Factory Outing’ (thanks to Gaskella), her narrative voice chimed in with my sense of humour and her writing style was on the money to the style I like to read. So I have now opened ‘Every Man for Himself’ after spotting it in the hospital charity shop yesterday. The rest of the TBR can wait.

I sometimes wonder if having an extensive (you could read that as excessive if you wished) TBR can be a hindrance rather than a joyful personal library, which is what I tell myself it is – you could also call it hoarding. I also wonder if blogging is a help or a hindrance too, but that’s another subject for another time, back to my TBR thoughts.

Since I have moved house I purposefully hid my boxes of unread books to see how long it would be before I routed one out. It has happened all of three times in a month, I seem to be reading new books in from publishers a bit (though my incoming has lessened considerably as I have come to a lovely new agreement with publishers), buying books on occasion in the charity shop down the road which I seem unable to walk past without falling into (how does this happen) or in the main getting books from the library (my new favourite book haunt). I have no idea quite what this is telling me but I do wonder if my tastes are changing again, I think they always evolve, and hence why all those lovely books I have got along the way are left lingering in air tight boxes down the side of my wardrobe that I can’t see.

This may change with my plan of having the ‘Forty for Forty’ page on the blog. All those books you have suggested, and keep them coming here, along with those I have been browsing library and bookshop shelves for which I/you/we ‘should have read’ by the time I/you/we are forty (or ninety or anything in between, under or over come to that). A lot of them are in those air tight boxes behind that wardrobe and have been waiting to be read for some time, years and years in some cases, since I bought them based on the fact that I felt if I was a real reader I would have to jave read that some day.

This could, of course, be lethal. I could end up with a list of forty more authors who have been thrown in my reading path and I want to read everything by (though some of them might have only written one book in which case I will sulk that there are no more for me to find – poor books, they can’t win) taking random detours with. But then is that a bad thing? I guess if it means I am missing out on my favourite authors other works then it is? Hmmm, tricky!

I like to think I have a pretty eclectic taste and therefore as I wander randomly down the yellow brick road that is my reading path in life, reading all sorts of lovely (and occasionally not so lovely) books, do I lose a sense of who I am as a reader? Should I not know by now, as my third decade spreads in front of me all sparkly and new, know what books I do and don’t like? Should I give up on experimenting, which can go wonderfully right as well as horribly wrong, with new books and authors be they new-new or new to me and stick to what I know? I don’t think I should, yet how do you get the balance just right?

Maybe what I need to do is accept that we never really know the readers we are and that actually that is the whole fun of it? Over time, maybe, in some point in my life reading the authors that I know and love as well as experimenting with the ones I don’t know but might love will reach a natural equilibrium? Maybe I just need to face the dreaded fact I mentioned earlier that I will never read all the books I want to in life… and get over it, move on, pick up a book and just get on with it?


Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

The Bottle Factory Outing – Beryl Bainbridge

A few weeks ago, with my impending 30th birthday looming, I decided that I wanted to try some of the authors, or classics, that I had never tried before but always wanted to. One of the three authors I decided upon, thanks to a recommendation from Annabel of Gaskella who has read-a-long too, was Beryl Bainbridge. She is an author I have always felt I should try, she was nominated for the Man Booker five times, and always shortlisted but never won, and was seen as one of Britain’s national treasures. I didn’t know what to expect when I opened up ‘The Bottle Factory Outing’, her third novel published in 1974, as I read on I discovered that you should expect the unexpected, in a good way.

Abacus Books, paperback, 1974, fiction, 200 pages, from my personal TBR

‘The Bottle Factory Outing’ is a tale of Brenda and Freda, these two women live in a shared bedsit room, separated in bed by a bolster made of books, and I think it is fair to say that being so chalk and cheese if Freda hadn’t happened upon and ‘adopted’ Brenda after she left her husband and the countryside to come to London they wouldn’t have ever made a likely paid of friends. Yet friends and subsequently co-workers they have become and it is the events leading up to, during (something awful happens, though what I won’t say) and after a work outing, from the bottle factory, which Freda has organised that this novel revolves around.

The novel is really one of two halves, and this made it an intriguing first read of any of Beryl’s work for me so might for others, as the first half is a comedy of errors and rather farcical before certain events take place giving the novel a much darker and more disturbing twist making it a very black comedy. As I started to read, after some initial confusion over which woman was which for the first ten or so pages, I was pretty much instantly hooked. I loved how Beryl builds the women’s characters, and their polar opposites, so vividly and so funnily with small observations of their behaviour. I laughed out loud a lot.

‘At night when they prepared for bed Freda removed all her clothes and lay like a great fretful baby, majestically dimpled and curved. Brenda wore her pyjamas and her underwear and a tweed coat – that was the difference between them. Brenda said it was on account of nearly being frozen to death in Ramsbottom, but it wasn’t really that.’

The dynamic of the two women is really the driving force initially for the novel. They are friends and also constantly in competition. I would say they loved to love each other and loved to loathe each other in equal measure. Brenda is the quieter, slighter, more serious brunette who seems to make any man she meets want to ravish her and Freda is the louder, brasher, bossier, plumper one who is set on trying to seduce the son and heir, Vittorio, of the bottle factory business she works in. It is this desire that leads to the outing on which everything changes and the novel sets up a gear as things start to unfold.

There were so many things that I loved about Beryl Bainbridge’s writing that it might be hard to encompass them all, I will endeavour to try though. First of all is how much is in such a small book. At a mere 200 pages, and in fairly big print which could be devoured in a few hours, so much happens that when you have finished you find yourself recapping it all and thinking ‘did that all just happen in this book?’ There are funerals, hilarious seductions in cellars, hilarious seductions in a shared bedroom and a shared bathroom, a mother in law with a grudge to bear and a gun in her handbag, a fight in Windsor Castle, horse riding with the Queen’s funereal regiment, something awful on an outing which leads to a strange trip to a safari park, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The writing is also incredible. Beryl Bainbridge manages to write what is essentially a farcical and rather unbelievable story, though you never know, but builds the atmosphere, tensions and characters in such a way that you fully believe this series of events could happen. Her main characters are incredibly flawed and can be rather vile, in fact so can the minor ones, but they walk off the page and you like them, you want to read about them. The most impressive thing is how in a mere sentence or two Bainbridge can give you a place and/or person in mere lines, no word is wasted but it’s not so sparse you have to fill in the gaps, not many authors can do this and I really admire it when I read it.

‘The hearse stood outside the block of flats, waiting for the old lady. Freda was crying. There were some children and a dog running in and out of the line of bare black trees planted in the pavement. ‘I don’t know why you’re crying,’ said Brenda. ‘You didn’t know her.’

As you may be able to tell I really loved ‘The Bottle Factory Outing’. It was nothing like I expected it to be and was a wonderful discovery. I loved Beryl Bainbridge’s sense of humour both when it was light and dark, I loved her prose, I just thought it was great and am quite thrilled to have discovered an author who I now cannot wait to read more of. My only slight wish is that I had discovered her before she died a few years ago and could have gone to see her speak, though her voice definitely lives on in a novel like this.

I have to say a big thank to Annabel for reminding me that I wanted to read Beryl Bainbridge. As I mentioned we have been reading the book in tandem and her thoughts can be found here. We will be popping and commenting on any comments you leave, plus chatting about it between the two of us on both blogs as the day goes on. If you haven’t read any Bainbridge do, start with this one.  Where should I go next? I am thinking her novel ‘Every Man For Himself’ about the Titanic might be rather timely?


Filed under Abacus Books, Beryl Bainbridge, Books of 2012, Review

Why Does Literature Seem To Snub Genre?

I seem to have a backlog of random posts on my thoughts about the book world and reading at the moment. It seems I am having a phase where every book I read sparks a question about my reading habits or reading in general. I hope you all enjoy these posts because there is going to be quite an influx of them over the next few weeks. The first of these that I want to talk about came from my review of Penny Hancock’s ‘Tideline’ yesterday when I said it was ‘the sort of thriller that I want to put in the path of anyone who doesn’t deem thrillers as literature’ because this is something that seems to be a common misconception in the book world or in bookish circles. Why can’t a crime novel, and indeed any work that is deemed genre, also be deemed ‘literature’?

My initial line of thinking is the fact that on the whole crime novels are not particularly known for being flowery, you can’t really make a dead body picturesque can you – though you can make it haunting and atmospheric, yet flowery prose doesn’t mean that a book is literary either does it? Crime novels, and I am focusing on these as they are the genre I read the most outside what people deem ‘literary novels’, by their nature have to focus on plot and they have to have pace. This doesn’t have to come at the expense of good writing though as I find with authors like Kate Atkinson or Susan Hill the writing that they use in their ‘crime’ novels (atmospheric, observational, vivid) is the same as they use in the novels that would be put in the ‘fiction’ section and which are deemed to be much more literary because they lose the crime tag.

I have just recently given up on a very ‘literary’ novel because while the writing was stunning the book itself wasn’t going anywhere. The plot was there but it was fizzling out, it was dragging, and I was getting increasingly bored. So I gave up. That very rarely happens to me with a good thriller. With literary novels you often here the phrase ‘a multi layered novel’ have any of these people read the aforementioned Kate Atkinson (whose use of small coincidences to twist a tale is fantastic) or Sophie Hannah by any chance as both these authors created tales which are definitely multi layered, whilst being gripping reads with big stories at their heart, and I do think every reader loves a good ‘story’. Many people will say that genre fiction is train station or airport reading, but isn’t that in itself interesting that when people go away they want those sorts of books? Here we could go into the dangerous territory of ‘readability vs. literature’ so lets move swiftly on…

The other misconception I have often heard is that crime novels, or any genre novel actually, often feature one dimensional or rather stereotypical characters. I always find myself wanting to shout ‘what about Sherlock Holmes, people actually wrote to the man, they thought he was real’ to this, but I suppose that’s classic crime so doesn’t fit in with my discussion on modern crime now, though it was deemed literature in its day. If I was discussing chick-lit I would here use the Jane Austen argument and how at the time it was not deemed as ‘literature’ and look at how she is hailed now, Charles Dickens is another one, paid per word as a regular newspaper serialisation, now heralded as one of the greatest writers ever to have lived by many.

Let’s get back to the characters in modern crime though. I think we could find the ‘stereotypical’ characters in almost every novel we read, does ‘stereotypical’ therefore actually mean the true to life people who live next door or you might pass by on the street? What of one dimensional characters? I read few crime novels where this is the case, they wouldn’t work for me as a read if they were. Again there are a number of authors, including the above, where I could say this statement was untrue; Tess Gerritsen (I read the Rizzoli and Isles series because I want to know what they are up to, I like them, I feel I have gotten to know them over a series) and Val McDermid (Jacko Vance might be my favourite serial killer ever, if one can have one) for starters.

Val McDermid once said to me ‘it’s not the crime that’s the really important thing to me, it’s what crime or murder does to the people surrounding it that truly motivates me’. I have paraphrased there, sorry if you read this Val, but I think is one of the true signs of why crime can be counted as literature, it looks at how humans are conditioned to react, emote and deal in extreme circumstances. People say ‘oh but crime stories are so farfetched’ but they happen and often it’s the most bizarre crimes that have us sitting watching the news and saying ‘oh you couldn’t have made that up’ and ‘how would you deal with that, can you imagine?’ With a book you can from the safety of your sofa, just as you can being in a war torn country, having been bereaved, experiencing dictatorial leadership or simply being in a very dysfunctional family. All these things people are experiencing all over the world but just because it’s not happening to us or those we know doesn’t mean it is ‘farfetched’. Also thanks to crime in translation we learn about other cultures through the subject matter dealt with by the novels of the likes of Henning Mankell or Natsuo Kirino.

Of course there is some badly written and one dimensional drivel out there on the crime shelves, but the same applies to literature doesn’t it. We also all have different tastes. I have always found it interesting when I have reviewed an M.C. Beaton and then had emails saying people won’t read my blog any more as they thought I only read ‘proper’ books. What constitutes a ‘proper’ book I do not know, any ideas?

I am fully aware that I can fall prey to the same issues with other genres (aliens… like they exist) though I have just read a stunning werewolf novel (no, really) and indeed I have been umming and ahhhing about reading Jojo Moyes ‘Me Before You’ because I have heard rave reviews from people I trust and think the premise sounds interesting, but from just looking at it my mind says ‘chick-lit’ and I switch off, this has happened whenever I have been recommended Marian Keyes, which has happened a lot. Am I then adding to the literary snobbery myself, I hope not, and may now rush and get ‘Me Before You’ just to prove a point.

This might be one of those posts that often appear on Savidge Reads where I start with a question that has been buzzing around in my head, write about it and end up asking more questions than I can answer and coming out the other side without a conclusion. It is a subject that interests me and one I would love to have a good old natter with you all about, so your thoughts please…


Filed under Book Thoughts

Tideline – Penny Hancock

They say that there is nothing new to write about under the sun, and they are probably right. So when I hear of any novel where people are claiming that it is ‘a truly original story’ or ‘quite unlike any other book of its genre’ I tend to look on sceptically. In the case of ‘Tideline’ by Penny Hancock I think those are actually two quotes that I would give the book myself. If you love a good thriller, as you probably know I do, and want something that stands out from the crowd in what is the biggest market in books then this is definitely a book you should be giving a whirl.

Simon & Schuster, hardback, 2012, fiction, 352 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

As clichéd as it may sound I was hooked from the very first page of ‘Tideline’ and found it very difficult to put down. In fact I am struggling to think of a thriller or crime novel that has thrown me into its story in such a gripping, and also rather disturbing way so instantly in quite some time. As this psychological thriller starts we are instantly drawn into the story as Sonia, a music teacher living in Greenwich, opens the door to a fifteen year old boy called Jez who she decides she won’t allow to leave… ever.

The speed with which Penny Hancock took me into the story and indeed Sonia’s thoughts was so swift and sudden that I found I had to stop reading and take stock of the situation before I could pick the book up again. This is not one of those books where the author builds up the suspense slowly and leads you on for 100 pages until something actually happens, this is a book that grabs you and simply won’t let you go and I was left pondering if Penny Hancock would keep the momentum at the pace the whole way through, indeed she does.

The speed in which Sonia makes the decision to hold Jez hostage makes us realise that this is no planned event, it also tells us that we have in Sonia a protagonist who is on the edge and has been for quite some time. This is in part what drives the story forward, Sonia’s past. Seeing Jez at her door brings backs thoughts and events either long forgotten or deeply buried (which we then get in flashbacks) and yet in a way these have been there subconsciously and may be why she is so obsessed about the house she lives in, one her father left her after he committed suicide.

Sonia’s obsession with The River House is really the only small insight that anyone, including her husband (who is often away on business, and believes is happily married) and daughter (who has recently moved out), could have that in front of there is someone who has been unhinged and rather unstable for quite some time and has been a silent ticking time bomb waiting to go bonkers. Jez’s arrival, to borrow a rare CD of her husbands, is the switch that even Sonia isn’t aware she has been waiting for. This in many ways makes it, and Sonia, all the more frightening.

The story could actually get too claustrophobic if we were in Sonia’s head all the time, there was a point, where after having got Jez so drunk he is practically unconscious that she puts him to bed and starts to stroke him, that I thought ‘I don’t think I can do this for a whole book’. I was feeling sufficiently creeped out and bordering on too uncomfortable to read on, Hancock was achieving her goal but I think she knew just Sonia would be too much, so in comes the narrative of Helen. Helen is Jez’s aunt and also an old friend of Sonia’s, though they haven’t seen each other much. After having had an affair her marriage is in tatters and she’s turned to drink, she has also become the number one suspect in her own nephew’s disappearance.

Through Helen and Sonia we also see behind the closed doors of the exclusive/middle class suburbs of London and in particular to two marriages that in differing ways aren’t working. Hancock also uses these two women to make the point that we never really know what is going on behind closed doors and what skeletons people might have in their closets. It also shows you how complex the book is at its heart, which is another thing I loved about it; I couldn’t second guess it – though of course I tried only to be proved wrong at every one of my assumptions and possible outcomes. Rather like S. J. Watson’s ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ Penny Hancock also makes the familiar suburban life seem a lot less comfortable and much darker around the edges.

Basically I thought this book was great, but I should mention a slight wobble I had with it. It was only one small thing but it was something I noticed. The speed with which the book starts and the momentum that Hancock keeps going to make you turn the page and read ‘just one more chapter’, I think, should have wound down at the end. Everything unfolds and reaches its peak all too quickly and actually a tiny bit more suspense at the end would have not only worked in dragging the ending out, in that torturous ‘oh goodness how on earth will all this end’ way, but it would have been less confusing. I had to read the penultimate chapter a few times to work out what had happened in the present and in the past because it all seemed to happen too quickly, but the epilogue was brilliant and it is a small criticism.

‘Tideline’ is the sort of thriller that I want to put in the path of anyone who doesn’t deem thrillers as literature. It’s got two incredibly interesting and gripping characters at the heart of it, multiple layers with all its back stories, looks at human behaviour (if in extremes) and its simply a cracking tale. Did I mention it’s a debut novel too? I feel it should be mentioned because it’s an incredibly accomplished one. If you love a good gripping tale with thrills and spills and one of the most morbidly fascinating (scary and disturbing) protagonists then ‘Tideline’ is a book you need to pick up pronto. Much recommended.


Filed under Books of 2012, Penny Hancock, Review, Simon & Schuster

Foster – Claire Keegan

When I spotted a copy of Claire Keegan’s ‘Foster’ in the library I instantly remembered that Claire of Paperback Reader had read it and really admired it a few years ago. At a mere 88 pages I decided that this would be a perfect book for when you just have an hour or two free and fancy trying something new. So the perfect opportunity arose between reading two crime novels (I am having a crime binge behind the scenes) as I wanted something short but different before I returned to a murderous world once more after another, albeit different, one.

Faber & Faber, paperback, 2010, fiction, 88 pages, borrowed from the library

The premise of ‘Foster’ is initially rather simple. An unnamed girl has been sent to live with a foster family in the rural countryside of Wexford in Ireland not too far from her own family whilst her mother goes through the final stages of pregnancy. That really is the ‘plot’ as it were. Yet what constitutes plot I sometimes find rather subjective as where there may be less of a stereotypical ‘story’ in the narrative that Keegan creates there is a lot going on in the back ground and often what remains unsaid or inferred is what is really at the heart of the book and where the story/plot can be hiding.

From the start of the tale we are somewhat wrong footed and uncertain of what is going on. Our young narrator doesn’t herself seem to be quite sure where she is going or for how long she will be there. Her family seem to know the Kinsella’s, yet to her they are strangers and so we begin reading with the feeling of uncertainty being evoked in ourselves through her observations.  I thought this was a very clever element of Keegan using a young narrator, by no means is she stupid she is just rather naive and simply young and so we must use our adult brains to figure out what is really going on.

In a lot of ways this device really worked for me, I do like books where really the main plot is actually the simple observations of human behaviour in different circumstances. Yet in some ways the device back fires because while I like to work with a novel where things are inferred, sometimes they can be too vague and on occasion I was left thinking ‘hang on a minute I have not got a clue what that is about’. This sadly happened in the particular toward the very end of the book, with the last sentences leaving me so confused I started to feel a little cross and I will admit tainted the read overall a little for me. (Maybe if you have read the story you could email me your thoughts on the last line so we have no spoilers in the comments and also so I might finally ‘get’ what is going on.)

That said when the subtlety works here it does to great effect. Here we have a young girl who goes from a family, that seemingly show her no love what so ever, to a couple who want to show her it in abundance, and as we read on we slowly but surely piece a puzzle together to find out why that is, and it’s done through subtle moments until we and our narrator work it all out. Also its simplicity, and I have to say Keegan’s beautiful prose (which never give a sentence a single word more that it needs), creates a touching story, there is one particular scene involving hand holding which I thought was incredibly poignant and wonderfully written, that it is a pleasure to read for an hour or so.

‘Foster’ is a book which you’ll love if you enjoy being lost in stunning prose of a simple yet touching tale and are prepared to look for the nuances in the writing and the characters to gain a bigger picture. It’s one that might frustrate you a little, as it did me at the end, when the subtlety verges on vague and you feel lost. Yet if you like books bursting with plot and don’t understand why people want a book  like this I would say give this one a try, the writing might just convince you, and if not it’s a mere hour or so read that could possibly just convert you. You can even read the original version from which the book was adapted in The New Yorker here. It might just be worth a try. I will certainly be trying one of Claire Keegan’s short story collections in the future at some point.


Filed under Claire Keegan, Faber & Faber, Review