Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Daylight Gate – Jeanette Winterson

There are some books with which, due to their subject matter, you find yourself being extremely excited about and all at once rather dubious or nervous about before you read them. This was the position I found myself in before reading Jeanette Winterson’s latest novella ‘The Daylight Gate’, for the revived Hammer Horror imprint, as the book centres around The Pendle Witches and their trial. These historical English events have just had their 400th anniversary and still to this day are rather seeped in myth and mystery. Would the book do justice to the legend or was this going to read like a commissioned cash cow? Those were my fears before I turned the first page.

****, Hammer Books, 2012, hardback, fiction, 194 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘The Daylight Gate’ opens with the events that really caused the Pendle Witch Trial. As pedlar John Law met Alizon Device on one of the many tracks around Pendle Hill, on the 21st of March 1612, and she asked him for some pins. He denied her where upon she placed a curse on him. It is from this point that several things including the effects of Alizon’s curse, rumours the Device family were all witches and a supposed meeting of witches in the Malkin Tower on Good Friday that lead to a trail of thirteen people, the biggest England had seen to date. One of these people was Alice Nutter, a loose thread in the whole trial as unlike the other twelve she was a woman on means and money. It is Alice that Winterson focuses on for her fictional telling of the events.

Through Alice we see the events as they unfold with the Device family as they live on her land; we also see what happens when she becomes accused and what life is like in the dungeons of Lancaster Castle, which Winterson brings almost too vividly to life. We also, through her past, get to see how society is at the time, from the reign of Elizabeth I, who we discover is in part responsible for Alice’s wealth, to the reign of James I, a man who brought fear to a nation through fears of his own. I did find the historical context really interesting and have since been off finding out more. I did also find it interesting that Winterson used Alice almost as a thread of narrative on how ill treated independent women were, and with what suspicion they were treated.

With a novel about witches and one by Hammer the natural question is of course’ is this book scary?’ Well no. However it has got the trademark Hammer Horror guts and gore theme running through it. In many ways, with rape, murder, witchcraft rituals and methods of torture all described in quite ‘The Daylight Gate’ is more horrifying than it is scary but that in itself is scary, just not in the ghostly way some people might be expecting. I certainly had no quibbles with being made to feel very squeamish rather than simply screaming my way through reading it.

My only slight quibble with the book was that Alice’s back story, whilst being an integral part of what Winterson’s fictional version of events and enjoyable, seemed to take over the book a little too much. For example she ends up meeting Shakespeare as the trouble is brewing in 1612 and then we hear how they met before, yet oddly it didn’t add anything to the story apart from placing Shakespeare in the narrative. I would have rather had those pages go back to Old Demdike and all that was happening in the castle as it was there that the book worked its magic the most.

Pendle Hill as taken by me in February, more on that tomorrow…

Overall though I was really rather spellbound by ‘The Daylight Gate’. I came away feeling like I knew more about the Pendle Witch trials, if not the witches so much, and how people’s lack of knowledge and some men’s desire for infamy created it all. I also just fell into the story even when it took me places I wasn’t expecting, but that in itself was all part of the enjoyment. I would definitely recommend this for curling up with on a dark and stormy night by the fire.

I will be back tomorrow with more from Pendle Hill itself.

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Filed under Hammer Horror, Jeanette Winterson, Review

The Joy of Books

I have been asking for recommendations or reports back on some of your favourite bookshops and this morning had a lovely email from Susan in Ontario. It contained a video made by her favourite independent bookshop Type Books in Toronto called ‘The Joy of Books’ which certainly makes me want to go and browse around the store, especially in the dead of night. Alas a) I might get arrested at that time of day and b) it is a little bit of a journey to do some book shopping but maybe one day.

I don’t know about you but it brought back that childhood feeling of wondering what your toys all did when you were asleep or left the room, only with books. Or was it only me that thought that?

Oh and thanks for all the emails about ‘Other People’s Bookshelves’ I am working on the questions at the moment and will send then in due course via email. If you haven’t emailed me yet and want to do so then please do, the more the merrier.

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Savidge Reads Goes To Edinburgh International Book Festival…

…Well almost. Alas once again I have been unable to go to Edinburgh International Book Festival, which is one of the many things to do on my bookish ‘before I die’ wish list. However thanks to the power of the internet and the wonderful bookish friends I have made, my friend AJ went yesterday for the final day and did a report. He has been going for years and next year myself and the Beard have invited ourselves, so much so AJ won’t be aware of it till now, to stay when we go next year. If we go, fingers crossed, hint, hint, hint. Anyway I will hand you over to AJ…

Great books, great talks, great atmosphere and (occasionally) great weather – the Edinburgh International Book Festival has been an annual pilgrimage that I have made since I was first taken there by my Aunt when I was a child. In August each year, Edinburgh plays host to a variety of different festivals. The most famous being the Edinburgh Fringe, which showcases comedy, theatre, music and dance. But while the buzz of the Fringe is going on, just one minute’s walk from Edinburgh’s main thoroughfare, Princes Street, there is the less frenetic – but equally enticing –Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Unfortunately this year I wasn’t available to attend many of the Book Festival’s events, which is a particular shame as many of the talks and guests have been particularly superb, judging by the guide available online. However, I did find that I had Monday free, which also happened to be the last day of the Book Festival, so I popped along to soak up the atmosphere.

In typical Scottish style, the weather was wet (and I had chosen to leave the house in shorts and T-shirt – but the least said about my wardrobe choices, the better!) So on arrival at Charlotte Square Gardens, I was soaked through. It is not particularly easy to find parking around the location, so it is always best to arrive by public transport if possible. Nevertheless, the moment I entered the tented foyer of the complex, the friendly staff at the door were ever-welcoming and I soon forgot about my rather damp appearance!

There were quite a few talks on today that were already sold out. The popular three-part debate on ‘Rethinking the Union’ had been sold out for a while, and although I would have been otherwise interested in attending, I really wasn’t in the mood for a political discussion that day. However, I do have a deep interest in languages, and work occasionally doing freelance translation, so the talk ‘Gained in Translation: How the best Translators Do It’ leapt out at me. I booked my tickets, and then went for a quick coffee before the talk.

The talk itself was held within the grounds at the RBS Corner Theatre; a large and comfortably kitted-out tent, with a stage and seating for at least 100+ people. Chaired by Marion Bourbouze, the Head of Marketing for the Scottish Book Trust, its speakers were the delightful Sarah Ardizzone and Daniel Hahn, both respected literary translators, into English, from a diverse range of European languages. The talk examined the abilities necessary to be a ‘good’ translator, particularly now that the job has become more professionalised over recent years. An interesting discussion resulted between the two translators on their experiences of the job: the serendipitous events that lead to their becoming translators, the necessity of inhabiting the original author’s voice, but also tempering that with your own voice and the nuances required of your mother tongue. The overall emphasis was that being a good linguist is not necessarily the most important quality needed to be an effective translator. After an excellent discussion that lasted an hour, the discussion was opened up to the floor. One rather overly-enthusiastic (yet equally over-arrogant) audience member did create a bit of a stir by hogging the microphone initially (nope, not me!). However, he was soon heckled by the back of the room after being rude to the staff when pressed for his ‘point’. Nevertheless, the remainder of the floor’s questions were extremely insightful and thought-provoking.

Mulling this talk over, I decided it was time for some retail therapy and to get my wallet out and buy some books. So I headed over to the Festival’s bookshop – a lovely huge expanse of bookshelves, with the visual delight of pristine literature on offer intermixed with the smell of coffee and the sound of clinking crockery from the café at the back. The choice of books on offer was huge! I browsed for over an hour, making notes with my phone on which books I should add to my Amazon Wishlist, but also picking up three books that I had to take home with me there and then.

My choices this year were:

  • Intrusion – Ken MacLeod
  • The Tenth Parallel – Eliza Griswold
  • The Second World War – Antony Beevor

All three were impulse buys, and I’ve just started to dip into Beevor’s book tonight. From what I’ve read so far, it looks like it will be another interesting read. Generally speaking I am not one for war books, but European history is of huge interest to me, and this seemed quite broad in its coverage without being interminably dry. MacLeod was also a speaker at the Book Festival, and having read a recent interview with him I was interested in checking out his work – a dystopian vision of the future akin to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four and Huxley’s Brave New World – so his latest book was an immediate and definite choice for me. Finally, the Tenth Parallel feeds my political/religious curiosities. Griswold’s offering looks at the interplay between Muslim and Christian identities along the tenth parallel – the line of latitude seven hundred miles from the equator which bisects a range of countries through which ideological and political struggles between Islam and Christianity play out. So these three are now happily adorning my bedside cabinet, and will be devoured no doubt over the next week!

Still, there were so many books I could have chosen. One that got away was Paxman’s Empire – having seen the TV documentary, I really do want to check out the book. Furthermore, there was a selection of poetry written in Scots (Accent of the Mind by Rab Wilson) that nearly made it to the checkout with me. But they are now on my wishlist and will soon, I’m sure, be on my shelves too! 🙂

So all in all, my day at the Edinburgh International Book Festival was thoroughly enjoyable and the whole event looks like it has been a roaring success once more. I really am looking forward to the 2013 Edinburgh International Book Festival!

A huge thank you to my lovely friend AJ, who you can follow on twitter here @AlainnJJ, and who is in the process of setting up his own blog at the moment which I will tell you all about when it is complete. I have to say I am very envious of anyone who has been this year, maybe next year… ooh there is me hinting again, ha! Did any of you go?

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The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

With all those pesky rumours that the world might end on the 21st of December 2012, when the Mayan calendar ends (though one does have to ask where are those Mayans now?), there seems to be an abundance in novels about the end of the world. Either that or maybe it is just that I am noticing them more. Apocalypse fiction isn’t something that I tend to be that interested in as a rule however after a nice steady buzz, not quite hype, started to build around it, I became intrigued by ‘The Age of Miracles’ a debut novel by Karen Thompson Walker which looks at the apocalypse in a rather unusual way. It has become one of my books of the year so far, a little to my surprise.

*****, Simon & Schuster, 2012, hardback, fiction, 384 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Normally with a novel that focuses on the end, or possible end, of the world there tends to be something massive that threatens civilisation from the start be it a meteor, disease, sudden infestation of zombies/vampires etc. With ‘The Age of Miracles’ Karen Thompson walker does something much subtler, and yet as she builds the novel it is equally terrifying, when the Earth’s rotation on its axis starts to slow. Initially the ‘slowing’ is just that a few unnoticeable minutes here and there but then it becomes hours and days start to last for seventy two hours or more.

‘We didn’t notice right away. We couldn’t feel it. We did not sense at first the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath skin. We were distracted back then by weather and war. We had no interest in the turning of the earth. Bombs continued to explode in the streets of distant countries. Hurricanes came and went. Summer ended. A new school year began. The clocks ticked as usual. Seconds beaded into minutes. Minutes grew into hours. And there was nothing to suggest that those hours, too, weren’t still pooling into days, each the same fixed length known to every human being.’

I have nothing against science fiction, it just isn’t the genre I normally read, yet I did wonder with this premise if ‘The Age of Miracles’ might become a little bit too scientific. Would we be following some scientists as they tried to prevent the slowing or try and create a space rocket to another ‘earth like’ planet.  Again here Karen Thompson Walker does something very clever and slightly understated in that our narrator is eleven year old Julia who hears the news on the TV, her mother going into utter panic and her father taking a much calmer view. To call this a slightly domestic setting for the possible end of the world would be unfair as what we get is the human aspect through the eyes of Julia and the pandemonium, or nonchalance, with which people in the suburbs of California initially treat it with and then you also get the scientific and political aspects through the news as Julia and her family watch it.

‘We were living under a new gravity, too subtle for our minds to register, but our bodies were already subject to its sway. In the weeks that followed, as the days continued to expand, I would find it harder and harder to kick a soccer ball across a field. Quarterbacks found that footballs didn’t fly as far as they used to. Home-run hitters slipped into slumps. Pilots would have to retrain themselves to fly. Every falling thing fell faster to the ground.’

I will admit I had a further worry that also proved to be completely unfounded and also the factor that made the book such a success with me. The child narrator in a novel can be a problem in a novel, they can come across as being annoyingly precocious or irritatingly innocent and sweet, it can make or break a book. Julia is neither of these things, she comes of the page as a fully formed young girl, though I thought as the novel went on that she was much older forgetting the book was written from her hindsight perspective, and through her eyes we see how the normal becomes abnormal and how it is not just the big issues that change but how people’s personalities, responses and relationships change. It gives the book a real human feel to it and you have a real emotive response to her.

‘What I understood so far about life was that there were the bullies and the bullied, the hunters and the hunted, the strong and the stronger and the weak, and so far I had never fallen into any group – I was one of the rest, a quiet girl with an average face, one in the harmless and unharmed crowd. But it seemed all at once that this balance had shifted.  With so many kids missing from the bus stop, all the hierarchies were changing. A mean thought passed through my mind: I didn’t belong in this position; it should have been one of the uglier girls, Diane or Teresa or Jill. Or Rachel. Where was Rachel? She was the nerdiest one among us. But she’d been kept home by her mother to prepare and prey – they were Jehovah’s Witnesses, convinced that this was the end of days.’

I thought that ‘The Age of Miracles’ was a truly marvellous novel, definitely one of the highlights of the year so far for me. Naturally because I loved it so much I am finding it very difficult to do the book justice as I feel I missed so much out. I was so lost in the book that I felt the people’s dread and I felt like I was with Julia along the way; I got very upset several times, and as the book went on worried all the more. I was hooked. It seems almost patronising to say ‘I was also really shocked this was a debut novel’ yet if I am honest I was. Karen Thompson Walkers prose is wonderful in the fact it captures the changing atmosphere of the people and the planet, and I should mention here the brilliant way she creates a divided society with people who keep ‘clock time’ and people who decide to live with the earth’s new unnaturally timed days, and also ever so slowly and skilfully builds up the tensions in relationships, fear and terror as the earth slows down and the book leads to its conclusion.

The best way to finish my book thoughts on this, as I could go on and on, is to summarise like this… If the end really is nigh I have read one of my favourite books in a long time during the final few months which is no bad thing. I highly, highly recommend you read this before the 21st of December, just in case, as you would be missing out.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Karen Thompson Walker, Review, Simon & Schuster

The Savidge Reads Hall of Fame… Ian McEwan

So today seemed the ideal time to start a new series of posts on the blog in the form of, the rather grandly titled, Savidge Reads Hall of Fame. Over the next few weeks, months and years as I continue on my reading life I will be doing special posts on my favourite authors. I have also created a special page on the blog especially which will contain all the titles by the author and links to the books I have read and reviewed of theirs along the way. This will encourage me to read all the books by my favourite authors and may lead you to some new authors if you like most of the ones that I like, if that makes sense. There are some rules though, but you can find more of those on the Hall of Fame page.

Anyway without further ado my first author in the Savidge Reads Hall of Fame is Ian McEwan…

The first book I read by them was… The very first novel I read by Ian McEwan was his very first novel ‘The Cement Garden’, though I didn’t realise it at the time, it was random fate.

The reason that I initially read them was… If I am being honest, which I think is best; there was no huge plan for me to pick up an Ian McEwan book. I was just meandering through my mother’s shelves when I was in my mid-teens and I picked ‘The Cement Garden’ simply because it was short. I wasn’t expecting it to be the dark and frankly rather shocking story of incest and murder that it was, yet that was actually what gripped me.

The reason that they have become one of my favourite authors, and I would recommend them, is… He never writes the same novel twice. Even if the subject, like in ‘Solar’, might not be the sort of thing that I am interested in he always makes me interested. His narrators always have quirks and you can never quite work them out, yet you like them even if occasionally you know you shouldn’t. I also like the fact there is inevitably a dark streak at the heart of them.

My favourite of their novels so far has been… I think it has to be ‘Atonement’ as it is a masterpiece. That said I think as a novella ‘On Chesil Beach’ is utterly brilliant. It was the first novella I read that showed me they could be as powerful, if not more so, than any novel. Read it!!!

If there was one of their works I had a novel with it would have to be… I actually have two. I started ‘Saturday’ and didn’t quite get on with it, so gave it up but will return to it – I think it was all the brain surgery stuff. I also found ‘First Love, Last Rights’ a compelling read but utterly disturbing and uncomfortable to read, almost too much so.

The last one of their novels that I read was… His latest novel ‘Sweet Tooth’ which is probably his most autobiographical and a must for McEwan fans.

The next I am planning on reading is… I think I need to read ‘Enduring Love’ next out of all of his books because I have heard it has one of the most brilliant opening sequences ever. This excites me.

What I would love them to do next is… I would actually really like him to write another collection of short stories. Having read him writing some short stories as a character in ‘Sweet Tooth’, and enjoying those stories within the story so much, I think it would be really interesting to have another collection of ‘Ian Macabre’ stories, though maybe he has mellowed.

*******************************************************************************

So that is my first one done. There may be another in just a few weeks, we will see as I want to do it on whim. So who else do you think might end up in my Hall of Fame? Who would be in yours? What do you think of this new series of posts? Do let me know.

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Sweet Tooth – Ian McEwan

There are some authors we each hold so dear that as soon as they have a new book coming out you are simply palpitating at the very thought. Ian McEwan is one such author for me; I am a big fan of all of the novels of his I have read and indeed many of his short stories, so that over time he has become a favourite, even if I have occasionally been a little non-plussed by a story or book along the way. I was particularly excited about ‘Sweet Tooth’ as from the start there were murmurs that this was McEwan’s first proper ‘thriller’, I say proper because there are often thrilling literary elements in all his novels, so as soon as it arrived all life was on hold until I had read it, yes that is how excited I was.

****, Jonathan Cape, 2012, hardback, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘Sweet Tooth’ is set in London during the early 1970’s which, looking back, was a time of great uncertainty with the IRA and the Cold War and a time of social change illustrated in part by, as McEwan brings up more than once, supermarkets and supermarket trolleys cropping up here there and everywhere. It is in this period that our narrator, Serena Frome (rhymes with ‘plume’), ends up working for MI5 and becoming a spy as part of a project called ‘Sweet Tooth’. Serena is given the task of, with her beauty and love of books, getting author Tom Haley to join in a government funded venture which promotes authors with leftish views, apparently this happened. Yet at the same time is Serena being toyed with and spied on herself as an affair with one of her lecturers, who led her to MI5, starts to be scrutinised when it appears that he wasn’t quite the spy everyone thought he was.

One of the things I liked about ‘Sweet Tooth’ so much from the start was that there is so much going on albeit so subtly you do ponder in the first 80 pages if there is going to be a ‘thrilling’ pace at any point because lots of things meander along. As we get to know Serena’s story, which is told after 40 years of hindsight, the hints of her sexual freeness, family background and obsession with escaping into books slowly builds a portrayal of her, though we are never sure quite of her motives or actions. I should mention her that there is a certain coldness and distance from her, coming no doubt from all that happens in the story we read and being a spy, that I did initially think ‘this is so not Ian McEwan’. Yet whilst much is hinted at as the story develops there are almost too many strands none of which are quite fully fleshed out.

As Serena meets Tom Haley everything really kicks off a gear and yet it all slows down at once. The mention of the IRA and Cold War even politics, which I was finding oddly fascinating, sort of fall away to be replaced with a tale about an author in the 1970’s. The book becomes less and less a thriller and more almost a fictionalised account of the author himself. If I was a thriller fan I have to say about 160 pages in I would have been feeling quite cheated, as a fan of McEwan I read on because I wanted more of the story and to see where Serena, who I found oddly compelling as I didn’t know if I liked her or not, went (and the twists at the end do make the book) and also to learn more about Ian McEwan, oh hang on, I mean Tom Haley.

‘My evenings now were empty. I came home from work, took my groceries from ‘my’ corner of the fridge, cooked my supper, passed the time with the solicitors if they happened to be around, then read in my room in my boxy little armchair until eleven, my bedtime. That October I was absorbed by the short stories of William Trevor. The constrained lives of his characters made me wonder how my own existence might appear in his hands. The young girl alone in her bedsit, washing her hair in the basin, daydreaming about a man from Brighton who didn’t get in touch, about the best friend who had vanisged from her life, about another man she had fallen for whom she must meet tomorrow to hear about his wedding plans. How grey and sad.’

The thing that really sold me on the book was the fact that it is all about books, in fact to be honest it is much more about books and writing than it is spies. As I mentioned Serena is a book lover and as we learn of her love of books, as book lovers, we like her a lot more. As she reads up on Haley, his journalism and retells, which seemed slight odd at first, his short stories (which read a lot like McEwan’s early short stories funnily enough, these were wonderful) we almost get a literary critique from as Serena analyses them looking for Haley in them. It is quite an unusual technique, and indeed novel, in a lot of ways and will either really work for you, once you get past the ‘this isn’t really a thriller’ element, or will fall completely flat.

I think, in hindsight and after giving it some thought, ‘Sweet Tooth’ is very much a book from McEwan for his already established audience, which his publishers have labelled his ‘thriller’ rather than saying ‘McEwan does a book about spies and books’ because it might sell better (though it’s McEwan so it will sell regardless, let’s be honest) and reach a new audience. This could prove an error as anyone seeking a thriller won’t get what they are expecting, and that could lead to some serious disappointment. I personally was expecting something along the lines, only different because it was McEwan, of William Boyd’s ‘Restless’ which I really liked. Subsequently I spent a little time being disheartened that the thrills and spills weren’t really there, as I imagined with McEwan they would have been so good, but was won over, and ended up liking the book a lot, because I felt it was the first time I really got into the head of Ian McEwan which I was happy with and also it is a very bookish book. Objectively though, my fandom aside, I am not sure a ‘thriller’ fan would feel quite the same way though.

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Manchester Literature Festival 2012

I really do love a literary festival. I can’t say I have been to hundreds, in fact it’s more like five or six, but when I saw loads of people I know going off to Edinburgh over the last few weeks I have been, frankly, green with envy. There is something so special about the vibe of these events, the coming together of reader and author and the general love of books that makes me go giddy at the thought. Last year I had the pleasure of going to Manchester Literature Festival, which is the nearest to me (Liverpool doesn’t have one, why?), and seeing many of the events and meeting the authors and event hosts afterwards for The Readers Podcast. This year, in October, I am planning to do the same again, and a little more as you will see, and what an incredible line up there is this year.

I already have sorted tickets for the opening event next week, a trailblazer, which is with none other than Zadie Smith who I am really keep to see talk, especially after having dipped into ‘NW’ already, which I am planning on reading properly this weekend between Green Carnation submissions. This is an event to kick start it all officially and I will be reporting back on for you all.

After the festival starts ‘a proper’ in October I have a mammoth wish list of events to see with authors including; Michael Chabon, Carol Ann Duffy, Penelope Lively, Salley Vickers, Clare Balding, Pat Barker, Jackie Kay, Mark Haddon, Jeanette Winterson, AM Holmes, Jonathan Harvey and ‘Unbound Live’. Phew! You can see these events and many more on the festivals calendar page. I think I am going to miss some sadly as I will be in Iceland, maybe someone reading this might report back for me?

To top it all off though there are two other events on the calendar that I am particularly excited about and that is because… I am hosting them! The first will be on Monday the 8th of October at 18.30 when I will be hosting an event with Patrick Gale and Catherine Hall, who happens to be a fellow Green Carnation judge and also wrote ‘The Proof of Love’ which won the prize last year and was a book I adored. I am going to be re-reading a few Patrick Gale novels over the next couple of weeks including his latest ‘A Perfect Man’ and ‘Rough Music’ which I read, shock and horror, over a decade ago.

The second event I am just as excited about and is at lunchtime on the following day. In the oh so apt Manchester Town Hall, which was used in Sherlock Holmes as the House of Parliament, I will be hosting a Victoriana event with the lovely Jane Harris and Essie Fox, both of whose work I have thoroughly enjoyed as I am sure you are aware. I have had the pleasure of interviewing Jane and Essie before so I know this is going to be a hoot.

Well that is me all excited then isn’t it? I do hope, as I am giving some advance warning, I will see some of you at these events I am hosting or at any of the others I am desperate to see (you’d better say hello). In the meantime though I wondered what your thoughts on literary festivals were. Which have you been to? What was good and bad about them? What makes the perfect bookish event? What makes the perfect host? Oh and would any of you also consider smaller more intimate ‘Reading Retreat’ weekends? Cannot think why I am asking the latter…

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Bookshops You Love #1; Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, Bath by Jennifer Entwistle

Yesterday on the blog I mentioned that I am looking at some new bookish guest posts over the next few months. I have already asked you all if you would like to take part in ‘Other Peoples Libraries’ (and thank you for all the responses, wow, keep them coming) however it is today’s post that started it all and highlights the other series I want to start which is ‘Bookshops You Love’ along the line of ‘Bookshops I Love’ but by you. This is all thanks to Jennifer, a reader of this blog and listener to The Readers Podcast (she was a guest on the Bleakly Hall Summer Book Group Show panel), who saw me mention Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights bookshop before she came to the UK from Boston and so took some pictures as she went around and did a little report email for me which she has allowed me to share as I thought it would make a great start to a new series. So without further ado I will hand you over to Jennifer…

Hi Simon,

I just wanted to thank you again for telling your readers about Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights.  I read it just in time for my weekend in the Cotswolds and I made sure to find Mr’ B’s when we got to Bath.  It was everything the name implies so I took some photos (you aren’t the only one who likes to photograph bookstores…)

This is me outside – I didn’t realize that man was there….hopefully he is another book lover racing in to Mr. B’s….

One of my favorite things about independent bookstores is that they make recommendations.  At Mr B’s they give out Golden Monkeys.  This is a shot of the Golden Monkey Hall of Fame where they had their all time favorite recommendations.

They have some fabulous ideas for catering to book lovers – a “Reading Spa” where you pay a set price to talk to a bookseller for an hour and then they hand pick a stack of books for you.  And a small room where you can pay a few pounds to sit for 30 minutes with music playing on a headset and read in peace.  The booth is that door with the windows and these chairs are where you have your book chat.  Coffee and tea are available over on that shelf on the left.  Don’t you want to spend a few hours there?

For better or worse – this is what I was doing just before I went into the store…which meant that I as very liberal with my wallet and appreciative of the two loos available to customers.    I didn’t take a picture of my purchases but I did walk out with a stack of books in my Mr B’s canvas tote bag.

On a side note – you may recall that I was your bookclub guest for Bleakly Hall and I mentioned I was moving to Eton because my husband has a 2 year work assignment in England.  Well, these pictures are from a 3 week visit that I just made to see him but I’m back in the states going through the last steps of getting my work permit and plan to be back “permanently” in a few weeks.  So I love the bookstore posts because they give me destinations for when I’m exploring England over these next two years.   Any thoughts on a Readers Meet Up sometime??  We’ve had some great book nights out with local BOTNS listeners here in Boston and obviously at Booktopia.

THANK YOU (and Gavin) for all the time and effort you put in the podcast and the blog.   I know it’s a lot of work but there are many of us out here who really appreciate it.

Jennifer

Well actually THANK YOU Jennifer for doing that and thinking of me and allowing me to share it with everyone. What a gem of a bookstore, I will have to go and visit. Now, if you would like to do something similar either in a random book shop you find on a trip, one you get recommended to visit or, most importantly, a local independent then do let me know in the comments below or, again like yesterday, by emailing me via savidgereads@gmail.com Oh and as to a ‘Readers Retreat’, I am working on it!

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Book Sorting, Displaying and Other People’s Libraries…

I am just in the early stages of a good old book sorting, ironically this is in part to make space for my new reading chair. I house incoming books on some lovely shelves and in some lovely ‘display’ boxes (read that as clear boxes where the spines show through) in the bedroom and mezzanine. However thanks to many a review copy, note these are mainly unsolicited, my inability to stop myself buying them more often than I should, there are now random piles of more books on said shelves and boxes… and some small tables… and on chairs… and on the floor. So it is time for a sort and I am going to try (and probably fail) to be as tough as possible. I have been thinking though as I started this that I really would like a new way to display my ‘will read soon honest’ and ‘unread so far but hopefully one day’ books. Currently I want to do something like the Book Maze in London at the moment…

…Alas I don’t have 250,000 books in my house (I do mean alas don’t I, or would that just be scary in reality) but I am wondering if there is some unusual way I could display over 500 books rather than just on shelves. I have my thinking cap on but would welcome any recommendations of unusual ideas. I have just thought, imagine if you had done the above in your house and  a few days later sods law you wanted a book you’d put on the bottom of the pile… could make a good game of Jenga though of an evening? No, oh!

I would also welcome some help from you all with another matter. I am going to be starting two new series of book posts over the next few weeks and one of them centres on any of you who have shelves and shelves (or piles and piles) of books in your house and who, regardless if you blog or not, would be open to taking pictures of them and then answering a questionnaire about your reading habits and books you love which will make my ‘Other Peoples Libraries’ series. I have two, possibly three, people already at work because I randomly spoke to them about it, only one of them a fellow blogger, but I would love more. Either email me at savidgereads@gmail.com or leave a comment below if you are keen. And don’t forget book display ideas that don’t involve shelves… Thank you!

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My New Reading Chair…

Earlier in the week I asked you where you all did your reading and for any advice on where I could get the perfect reading chair. Well thank you for all your recommendations, and do keep them coming as you can never have too many, however I managed to find it today on a random shopping trip where I was looking for anything but. Here it is…

I am really chuffed with it, even though it wasn’t what I initially thought I wanted. I had in mind a big grand leather Victorian number but The Beard and I were having a meander around some of the Wirral’s rather wonderful antique (and house clearance shops, but the Beard said I should make it sound glamorous) for a) a tall old cabinet for the bathroom b) a chest of drawers c) a trunk d) a grandfather clock e) a free standing bath f) an old Victorian bed g) a chaise longue. We had spotted ‘a’ in the last shop we went in and I suddenly spotted the chair in the corner of the room looking rather unassuming, sat on it and fell in love. I was expecting it to be a fortune yet it was a mere £40 – bargain!!! Its from the 1920’s and i love to think about all it has witnessed (a World War for example) and all the people who have sat in it, possibly reading. It also matches the theme of cream and peacock blues and greens we, well more me, have decided the bedroom will be… as you can see it is a little bit ‘unfinished’ at the moment. I call it Pompeii chic.

If that wasn’t enough I was also bought a new bagless Vax which I love almost as much. Hoovering and reading are two of my favourite things, I think I am really getting old now aren’t I? Oh and not to be left out Oscar got his first collar, oddly he doesn’t love his present as much as I do mine!

What have you all been up to this weekend?

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Bookshops I Love; Oxton Village Books

Whenever I choose a new abode I am known to base it on the amount of book shops and charity shops containing books in the vicinity. However there have been occasions where, without sounding ungrateful, I wouldn’t have normally chosen to live. My aunties was one such place, when 2010 ended in the most hideous of ways and I went to live with them, however fortunately no longer had I moved there than a charity shop of just books opened. Moving in with The Beard earlier in the year was another such time. The area is full of converted Georgian mansion houses, like the one we live in, and trees as far as the eye could see, and I couldn’t imagine a bookshop would be nearby. Well as it happens I was wrong, there was a gem waiting. This of course had nothing to do with me wanting to move in *cough*.

When I move somewhere new I do many ‘getting to know the area’ walks. This involves turning left or right in a randomly strategic (?) way and seeing what I discovered. Well after an art museum at the end of one road away, then a castle folly on another, I turned the road to Oxton Village and was walking to what could be seen when the words ‘BOOK SHOP’ appeared hanging above the post office. I blinked, looked again, blinked, looked harder and was thrilled to see I saw right. This was no mirage. It was closed though, or so I thought, as the post office team were on lunch and it shares the same spot.

I went home, memorising the route (which I now tread almost every other day) and within the hour I was walking back. Well I have to say that Oxton Village Shop is a real treat indeed. As you walk in they have shelves lining the entrance with discount books for 50p or £1, until you turn the corner and find the till (always manned by lovely staff that I am slowly but surely getting to know) and an array of new books and books of local interest greet you on your left, to your right there is a children’s section, travel section and other nonfiction. I admit by this time I was thinking ‘erm, where is the fiction’ until I saw a staircase leading to the basement. Well guess what awaited me…

The downstairs section of the shop is just full to the brim with second hand books, generally £2 each, and it is a really wonderful mix. You have classic novels and penguins…

There is a crime and thriller section, a historical section, memoirs and autobiographies and of course a large literary fiction section, contemporary and chick lit I then discovered were also upstairs, which I spent most of my time in.

I was completely smitten and got completely lost in this underground warren for quite some time and left with a wonderful Muriel Spark.

I have of course been back and bought a fair few books since, they somehow seem to have books I suddenly need for various things as well as gems I discover I never knew I wanted until I saw it (books about The Archers for example), and what has been really nice is the discovery that they accept donations, perfect, they have had quite a few from me I can tell you.

So I thought I would tell you about it. Oxton Village Books can be found on the internet here (where you can check your Bookoscopes lol) and if you happen to be in the area then it is found at 44 Christchurch Road, Oxton, Merseyside, CH43 5SF let me know if you pop and visit, I may be free for coffee ha! So where is your local bookshop, is it an indie or a chain?

P.S I do feel I should apologise for the lack of book reviews on Savidge Reads of late. This is all the Green Carnation Prize’s fault as we have had so many submissions, though I am not complaining, this year it has completely taken over my reading. Naturally I can’t talk about these books (and some are utterly brilliant so I am bursting to) until at least the longlist has been announced, maybe longer. There will be a report from Italy, more bookshops I love, general reading musings and other bookish bits in the interim though. I hope that is ok?

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Where Do You Read? (And Can You Help Me Find The Perfect Reading Chair?)

As I mentioned earlier I have been faffing over posts for today, then something really obvious dawned on me. On the latest episode of the ‘book based banter’ podcast, The Readers, that I co-host with Gavin of Gav Reads, we are talking about where we like to read. So I thought I would combine that with a small plea for some help with some bookish furniture I am trying to hunt out. First up though, where do we read?

I think I must be quiet boring/average as I really read in one of two places in the main and another if I am very lucky. Most of my reading I have to confess, rather shamefully as a lot of it is for work, I do in bed or on it. There is something comfortable and silent about my room which makes it much more preferable than the lounge which is my second place of choice for reading curled up on the sofa. However the lounge is quite a TV hub and so I tend to avoid it as I can’t read with any sound around me, which interestingly cuts me off from reading in libraries, coffee shops and on public transport on the whole. Oddly I did used to be able to read on the tube in London, maybe because nobody really talks to each other on there.

I have mentioned before that currently we are turning the mezzanine area above the bathroom into a ‘reading loft’ this will be walled with book shelves but isn’t tall enough for you to sit in properly so will be lined with a mattress (so it is an extra bedroom for guests) and loads of cushions and bean bags etc. However we are also going to do up the bedroom and this will add two new reading areas. The first is my all time favourite place to read, and the one I get to do the least, the bath! I can literally lie in a bath with a book for hours and hours just topping up the hot water as and when. Well after much coercion and debate The Beard has agreed that we can get a Victorian free standing one as part of the new look bedroom but it doesn’t stop there…

The rooms here are huge tall Georgian ones, as it is part of a converted mansion, so as well as a bath and all the normal bedroom furnishings (bed, wardrobes, chest of drawers etc) we are making one part of the room a study area which will be made up of book shelves, office gear and a wonderful old Victorian leather topped desk and chair my mother is belatedly getting me for my 30th birthday, something like this…

In that area I also want to have a really, really comfy reading chair where I can hide away with a book pretending I am lost in the Victorian era. So I wondered if you had any reading chair recommendations. Have you inherited a lovely old one or bought a special new one? All advice and thoughts welcomed. Oh and of course, where do you read?

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The Great British Bake Off Returns…

I am faffing today. I feel a little restless this week and today I can’t seem to quite focus on the possible posts that I wanted to pop up. I have almost finished something along the lines of ‘Am I Literary Enough?’ but it doesn’t quite sound right yet and then I was going to do a brief post on ‘What Makes A Classic?’ but am a few hundred words in now and have no signs of shutting up and know it will need a huge edit. So in the interim, and on a tangent, I thought I would mention The Great British Bake Off which returns to the BBC tonight, and a previous post showed just how much you all liked baking…

The Great British Bake Off, which I think I have mentioned to you all before, is a programme that sort of shouldn’t work and yet definitely does. Take a group of contestants who love to, and clearly can, bake and make them compete over differing recipes and bakery treats each week with the legendary Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood (who makes everyone swoon, especially when he is angry, or is that just me?) judging, throw in the comedy of the marvellous presenters Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc and it is just perfect. As you can see from the clip below from last year.

A rather fortuitous parcel arrived in the post the other day too from the lovely people at Bloomsbury, I can now (should I wish to) whip up some baked goods with alongside Paul Hollywood, well with him directing me through the medium of the pages, such as sourdough, brioche, croissants, you name it.

Not sure if I will have time before the show starts at 8pm tonight but we will see… I am wondering if I could get him on The Readers for a Cookbook special, we will see. I am still wondering how I could start a ‘Great British Book Off’, suggestions welcomed.

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Such Seaside Fun…

I have had another weekend of not reading, this is becoming most odd yet weirdly rather enjoyable. This weekend we were descended on by Savidge’s as my Mum & Co all came down on their way back from a week break in the Loch’s of Scotland to drop off my little sister and brother off for the weekend while my Mum and Step-Dad had a weekend off. Well we had a wonderful time as you can see from these collages thanks to my new favourite phone app…

It was such a lovely weekend of sea, sun, screaming and scoffing, what more could you want? Last night was also the end of the Olympics and naturally, after having loved the Olympics (though not really mentioning them on here oddly), we watched the closing ceremony. I have to say I don’t know if it was the fact I had hyped it in my head beforehand or if the opening show was so good, but last night, apart from the Spice Girls (amazing!!!) fell rather flat. It was a bit heavy on the introspective anthems rather than all the party songs which I thought it would be. Grumble, grumble… what am I like?

So what have you been up to outside of reading lots of books, or maybe not if you are like me, had a lovely weekend?

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