Monthly Archives: September 2012

Bookshops I Love; Linghams Booksellers, Heswall

As its Sunday which I think is the most leisurely day of the week, I thought that I would take you on a leisurely stroll around my almost but not quite local independent bookshop. This is the lovely Linghams in Heswall which might not be just down the end of the road, but is (pretty much) directly opposite The Beard’s new lovely food shop. Handy, right?

I always find with bookshops, particularly independent ones, which while browsing and mooching is welcomed to a point there comes a time when you might have browsed too much. Let me just add here that this isn’t the case in any of the bookshops that I feature in this series of posts. In the case of Linghams I think you would be perfectly happy, well I would be, to spend the day inside the shop – and I don’t think the staff would mind if you did either – and these are the sort of bookshops that are real gems. Firstly obviously there is the selection of books…

As well as an extensive fiction selection, more of in a moment, they also have a wonderful children’s section (sorry about the blurring)…

And a delightful cafe which myself, The Beard and his friend Abby all enjoyed some absolutely delicious Thai fishcakes and chips in for lunch. Absolutely scrummy.

We couldn’t quite decide if we thought that the live piano playing was a great thing or slightly annoying, but we went with it and it does add a certain ambience to the place which for the (good) hour we were there was constantly buzzing. Lovely. It’s the sort of shop that makes you want to, well, shop.

I don’t know about you but I always have a little list of criteria when I go into an independent and also an ‘allowance’ when I am in a store, this of course has a limit (because I could frankly go crazy) yet I only spend if I love the store. That’s natural isn’t it? Well the books that I had on my ‘allowance’ list on this visit were ‘Swimming Home’ by Deborah Levy, pre Man Booker longlisting, and ‘The Shadows in the Streets’ by Susan Hill as it was somehow a book in the series I had missed. Alas they didn’t have Levy, but before Booker long and short listing it was tough to get hold of anywhere (libraries, high street chain bookshops and even a certain online place) but I did find the Hill which I snapped up.

I also desperately wanted a book bag, I seem to collect them unsurprisingly, but alas they didn’t have any colours I fancied. (Ok, I admit it I have been hankering after a purple one.) Yet the other day The Beard came home with a rather special gift…

A one off purple Linghams book bag, which no one else has and that the lovely people at the shop had made especially. I was really chuffed and will be wearing it with pride when I next go to Heswall to fill it up.

Linghams Booksellers can be found at 248 Telegraph Road, Heswall, Merseyside, CH60 7SG and you can visit their website here.

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Books By The Bedside #5

This week’s posts have all been scheduled in advance, hence why I have been even worse than normal at replying, as with imminent Green Carnation longlisting this week, deadlines galore and visiting Granny Savidge Reads this weekend (who has had some bad health news but I want to talk to her before sharing it, if I do)  it is all a little bit bonkers. So I thought a post on what will be on my reading horizons after having had it somewhat guided in the last few months might make a nice post. Plus it means you get to tell me what you think of the books and authors on the list and then share what you are reading and want to read which I always love hearing about…

I had imagined that once the Green Carnation submissions were done I might be able to be a little freer in whim terms. Yet interestingly it’s not going to be immediately (in part as I will have to read the longlist again) because next weekend is the start of Manchester Literature Festival and I have two events in the first week which means rather a lot of re-reading but also some new gems.

First up is an event with Catherine Hall and Patrick Gale, so I have re-read ‘The Proof of Love’ and have now lined up her debut novel ‘Days of Grace’ which I have been wanting to read for ages. I am also re-reading Patrick Gales ‘A Perfectly Good Man’ (which I have read already once this summer) and pondering if I should get ‘Notes from an Exhibition’ as apparently this is a companion, not a sequel, to that one.

The second event is all about my favourite period of history, the Victorian period, and I will be joined by Jane Harris and Essie Fox. Jane, well a firm favourite book of all time ‘Gillespie and I’, is currently on my iPod getting a re-listen (well a first listen as I read the book last time) and if I have time I am planning on revisiting ‘The Observations’ next weekend. In fact I will make time. I have just re-read ‘The Somnambulist’ by Essie and am getting very excited about ‘Elijah’s Mermaid’ which looks to be a little bit magical and rather dark and twisty – perfect!!

Away from Manchester Literature Festival though, I am also re-reading the wonderful tales in Lucy Wood’s debut collection of short magical and delightful stories ‘Diving Belles’ as Gavin is returning from his podcast presenting holiday this week to record the second episode of the all new Readers Book Group and this is the book in question. None of all this re-reading is a chore at all, just a joy which is lovely.

Reading purely for me and less for events and the like is all quite seasonal and autumnal. Philip Pullman’s ‘Grimm Tales’ was a naughty purchase because I simply could not not, is that a double negative now? I think I might demand ask The Beard to read me one or two of these every night maybe? Susan Hill’s ‘The Shadows in the Streets’ I have had on my bedside table since last time and will definitely get round to (she is on The Readers in November, thrilled) as I will soon be three behind. Finally, yes your eyes are telling you the truth, I have the debut novel by Judy Finnigan (yes of THE Richard and Judy) called ‘Eloise’ which looks like it might be rather Du Maurier-esque. This could be a good thing or a bad thing, but I am excited to see which.

Phew, that’s my new few weeks/months of reading sorted. Have you read any of these and if so what were your thoughts on them? What are you reading and looking forward to reading next?

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

There are some books that you go on a journey with aren’t there? Now here I don’t mean the clichéd, if true, emotional journey that some books take you on (though this book had that), I mean the fact that you go on a journey where you like the book, love it, dislike it a bit, feel ambivalent about it, then like it before deciding you really, really liked and admired it. This is exactly what happened when I read, a first recommendation from a new friend (always potentially tricky), Stephen Chbosky’s debut novel ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ which is soon to be the first film where Emma Watson, of Hermione Granger fame, makes her first big movie break from the Harry Potter franchise. But let’s get back to the book which is what this post is all about.

****, Simon and Schuster, 2009, paperback, fiction, 232 pages, borrowed from the library

‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is the experiences of Charlie as he goes through his first, rather turbulent, year at high school making friends, mainly step-siblings Patrick and Sam, that will help form the person he might become. Charlie is a little bit different and distant from everyone else at school and as I type that out I can almost instantly feel a familiarity to it, and the whole ‘coming-of-age’ novel, that would have led me to zone out on finding out or reading any more had I not been so highly recommended the book. As Chbosky does take what could be a story we have heard all too often before (can you tell I don’t tend to like coming of age novels on the whole) and make it seem new and quite different – rather like I felt Deborah Levy did with ‘Swimming Home’ and the ‘arrival of a stranger on a families holiday’ tale.

The way the novel is told is quite interesting as ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is written in the forms of letters from Charlie to a ‘Dear Friend’. We never really know who this dear friend is, though I tried and failed to be clever and work it out, and whilst the form of letter writing (rather like diary entries) is nothing amazingly new there is something confessional about it. Emotionally of course, and ever increasingly importantly as the letters progress, you do feel that to all intents and purposes Charlie is writing to you and, especially at the end without giving anything away, this is very moving. The fact you are being confided in and so very much in a characters head makes for rewarding, and sometimes uncomfortable, reading.

This is made all the more extreme in a way because Charlie is really a very insular young man. He is also somewhat detached which I have to admit started to irritate me a little bit along the way, he comes across very childlike one minute and then incredibly intelligent, philosophical and almost ‘gifted’ the next. I then pondered if it might be that he had some form of autism this may possibly be the case but by the end of the novel it makes complete sense, honest, and without giving too much away you do find yourself going ‘oh, that explains it all’. It’s a clever device though risky as it could put many readers off when it jars a little.

‘I walk around the school hallways and look at the people. I look at the teachers and wonder why they’re here. If they like their jobs. Or us. And I wonder how smart they were when they were fifteen. Not in a mean way. In a curious way. It’s like looking at all the students and wondering who’s had their heart broken that day, and how they were able to cope with having three quizzes and a book report on top of that. Or wondering who did the heart breaking. And wondering why. Especially since I know that if they went to another school, the person who had their heart broken would have had their heart broken by somebody else, so why does it have to be so personal?’

Apart from the slight irritation at the distance and narration of Charlie now and again I did get a little nonchalant, almost bored, in the middle section of the book. It is here that Patrick and Sam open Charlie’s eyes to the teenage/young adult world around them of sex, drugs and all that shebang. I did like the storyline of Patrick’s sexuality, obvious from the start but dealt with brilliantly, which adds another dimension to the book, his sister Sam is the obsession of Charlie’s thoughts however verged on cliché. So do some of the family set pieces, however there is a wonderful story of siblinghood between him and his only slightly older sister despite their rollercoaster of ups and downs.

I should mention too this is a very bookish book. Charlie has a rather special, not in a weird way, relationship with his English Literature teacher who helps Charlie a little through books (from To Kill A Mockingbird to The Fountainhead) he gives him along the way. I was quite envious I didn’t have a teacher like Bill, and it has made me want to try the books he recommends that I have not yet read. I always like that in a book don’t you?

‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is by no means a perfect book; it is a read that really pays off if you stick with it. There is a slightly stodgy middle phase yet it is one that having finished the book I can see why Chbosky did what he did, plus the end of the book with all its twists, turns and shocking revelations makes it utterly worthwhile reading.  I am very glad that I was recommended this book so highly as I would probably not have given it a whirl, or stopped reading halfway through, and I would have been missing out on a book that I will be thinking about for quite some time.

Who else has read this? I believe it has quite a cult following so it will be interesting to see what everyone makes of the film. Which books have you read that you have liked, not liked much in the middle, and then enjoyed very much by the end?

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The Vanishing Act – Mette Jakobsen

There is little more disappointing for a reader, I think, than getting really excited about a book and then being rather let down by it. This is made all the more annoying when the reason that the book lets you down is you and your high expectations of it. This sadly was the case with Mette Jakobsen’s debut novel ‘The Vanishing Act’, which whilst I didn’t love I can imagine a lot of you might and so I am still sharing my thoughts on it. Though after Peter Stothard’s recent thoughts on blogging I have been a bit nervous about popping this post up after being vocal on why I think blogging and bloggers book thoughts are important. But anyway here goes…

**, Vintage Originals, 2012, paperback, fiction, 224 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

‘The Vanishing Act’ opens in a slightly macabre way, when a young twelve year old girl called Minou finds the body of a dead boy on the beach of the snow covered and isolated island which she lives on. As Minou helps her father to look after the body until the next time sailors arrive, we learn that Minou and her father are both recovering from, and coming to terms with, Minou’s mothers own disappearance. This all happened sometime prior when a circus came to the island at the suggestion of one of the other inhabitants, a magician named simply ‘Boxman’. The appearance of the dead boy and disappearance of a very much living mother supply Minou with two mysteries and also make her look at life, and with her father’s obsession with philosophy she is asking some big questions.

The heart of ‘The Vanishing Act’ seemed to me to be the subject of all that is philosophical in life. A big ask for any reader and one that interestingly Mette Jakobsen does do rather well, if occasionally you feel like you are being bashed over the head with all the philosophy she knows and has researched. Because the characters are simply known by ‘Mama’, ‘Papa’, ‘Boxman’ or ‘Priest’ (even the dog is called ‘No Name’) the author is giving you blank canvases to put your thoughts and feelings upon. It felt like one of those ‘self discovery through fiction’ books which were all the rage in the 1990’s. But in a way, because of that, it means the narrator is never really drawn fully either, and in this case with Minou’s situation it needed that for me.

Child narrators are tricky at the best of times, they divide people, they can either be too naive or they can come across as too precocious. Minou herself oddly never really came fully formed for me and whilst she was neither too naive nor too worldly-wise she just seemed a little non-existent even though I was meant to be in her head. I found I started to drift off mentally on occasion and so had to re-read but even when I did I found it hard to care.

So with those apparent issues what was it that kept me reading? Well, two things. Firstly I was really intrigued by what had happened to Minou’s mother and how the boy had ended up on the island, I won’t spoil this book but expect more questions raised that necessarily answered. Yet even in this fairly slim novel the philosophy would come barging down suddenly and the mystery and magic I think Mette could have created so well was broken up by it. I ended up feeling like a stranger remote on the island when I should have been living and breathing Minou’s life and questions about it. The icy remote distance of the island seemed to reflect my feelings to the book and I wanted more warmth. Which leads to the second reason I kept reading on, sometimes Jakobsen’s writing is utterly stunning.

“Papa always said that the war was still inside him. Sometimes I thought I could feel it when I held his hand. He had spent the entire war hiding amongst onions and carrots in a small root cellar the size of a cupboard. But when I wanted to hear more about the cellar Papa would say, ‘You are far too young, my girl. Later.’
I asked Mama if she had felt the war in Papa’s hand when he had reached out and helped her safely to the shore.
‘Yes, little one,’ she answered and looked out towards the sea. ‘It runs in me as well.’

This of course begs the question can you read a book simply because its beautifully written (see Alan Hollinghurst’s ‘The Strangers Child’) and while I did with this book because it felt like some really strong set pieces adrift in a quest to make me look at philosophy I didn’t get the reward I was hoping for or the story because it never was just a story. It is this very aspect of the book that makes me think lots of people will really love it. Maybe I simply read it at the wrong time, in the wrong frame of mind or with the wrong expectations? That is my philosophy on why I didn’t like it as much as I believed I really would. A bit of a shame for me, but hopefully an interesting read for others. Dan of DogEarDiscs certainly loved it, as did the judges for the 2012 Commonwealth Prize; I am slightly envious they did as I should have really.

Has anyone else read this and if so what did you think? Have any of you read other books like this where its fiction but clearly trying to point out who you are and why? I am thinking of ‘The Alchemist’ and ‘The Clandestine Prophecy’ etc.

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Defending Book Blogging…

Why is it that so many people like to lay into book bloggers and basically say how rubbish they are and how bad for literature’s future blogging is? Peter Stothard, who is chairing this year’s Man Booker Prize, is the latest to have a go at bloggers in the Independent. He basically says that blogging is killing of good literary criticism which I actually disagree with, especially as you look at the article in more depth.

I was asked to contribute to the Guardian’s piece on this yesterday defending book bloggers, which of course I did and you can see here. I also threw in the fact that with bloggers we have more space to discuss literature, no deadlines for print so we can think on books longer and we don’t get paid for the work we do. It is, for me and the blogs I follow anyway, about a passion for books and literature and spreading the word about great books and discussing them and the ones we don’t like as much. How is that a bad thing?

What has been lovely to see is that most of the comments, well the ones I have seen so far, feel similarly and on the whole think, as I do, that bloggers and literary critics can live together quite happily as we all simply love the book and literature. End of.

What do you think?

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Classically Challenged… Part I

Over the last few weeks and months you may have noticed I have really been thinking about my reading and blogging and just sussing where I am at. I have pondered if I am literary enough, what kind of reader I am and also last week discussing if I read enough worldwide literature. All big questions. Well, if you listen to this week’s episode of The Readers you will hear me talking to my friend, and now blogger, AJ who came on as a guest co-host and who like me has been pondering the same things. Like me he too has been slightly bothered that he hasn’t read many of the ‘canon’ authors like Dickens, Austen, and Hardy etc and so we have decided to rectify this together with ‘Classically Challenged’ and we need your help.

We have decided we are going to read six novels by six authors who are deemed some of the best British novelists (*subject to perceptions) but as yet we have both never read. This will take place on our blogs over the next six months on the last Sunday from October 2012 to March 2013. These authors will be Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens, Edith Wharton, Thomas Hardy, and George Eliot. We have both decided that we have to read Eliot’s ‘Middlemarch’, aptly in March, as it is deemed as one of the greatest British novels of all time. However we have not chosen a novel by each of the other four yet…

So, we would love you to suggest, in the comments below, one novel by each author which you loved/think would be the best way into their work. AJ will be collecting votes on his blog too, and we are asking on Goodreads. The novels which receive the most votes from all of you over the next week will be the ones we will read.

I can’t wait to hear your suggestions, and of course if you are planning on joining in. We will announce the schedule and six novels next week. So get voting; an Austen, a Dickens, a Hardy, a Trollope and a Wharton…

Note: I have learnt Wharton is American this was my bad research due to over excitement! We might have to swap her… or maybe not!

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Autumns Here… And I Don’t Mind A Bit

In the UK we are infamous for talking about the weather. If a conversation goes astray, too quiet or rather awkward then (apparently) we always pull out that old favourite “well, what do you think to the weather we have been having?” It always makes me laugh that when it is raining you hear, as I do every time I go to the local post office, that we have simply not had enough of a summer and when the sun is beaming it is simply too hot. We can’t be pleased. This year we have had odd weather, well we have in the last few, with a decent spring, a cloudy summer (with some showers) than a random few weeks of glorious late Indian summer weather. This morning I opened the curtains and it appeared that autumn had definitely arrived, and I was thrilled…

Autumn arrived at my window this morning…

I simply can’t deny it, I absolutely adore autumn! Why not the other seasons so much… well, I am not someone who loves heat, so really I was born in the perfect country – and indeed the perfect part of it (the north), in fact if it gets too sunny in the summer you will find me indoors more often than not, or sat looking grumpy and flustered/flushed under the shadiest spot. If I go away on holiday and it is ‘hot, hot, hot’ I tend to just stop. I can’t read, I can’t concentrate and I get restless. I was a nightmare on a day by the pool in a thirty-eight degree Florence earlier in the year. Winter is fine, though a little bleak and barren with the ‘naked trees’ and haphazard ice. Spring I like because it is fresh and feels new, there are flower buds and baby lambs here there and everywhere but autumn is the season where my heart lies.

It isn’t just the misty mornings, the gorgeous autumnal leaves and the nights where rain batters at the windows, though I love all of that. It is the fact that the mornings and the evenings are a little darker (and as one who works in my own house but used to commute I know that it is truly dreadful when you leave home in the dark and arrive back… in the dark) which not only has a lovely sense of ‘otherness’, Halloween is around the corner of course, but also most importantly it is my favourite reading time of year.

I don’t read totally seasonally, though I will never read a Christmas book when it’s not Christmas, madness lies therein I think. But autumn is when the books I love to read most come alive. I like books with a dark atmosphere, so what is better than reading them curled up on a sofa/reading chair surrounded by warmth while the world outside is dark and brooding? It is the time of the year when all my favourite crime series come to hand, Victorian fiction is pulled from the shelves and bigger thicker books match my bigger thicker jumpers (by Christmas I am reading doorstop sized tomes) and the TBR finds itself in a more sensational mood. You could call it the sensational season for me I guess; I have one at the ready which looks set to be a corker.

So if autumn arrived this morning and left you feeling gloomy don’t fret, think of all the wonderful reading time ahead, even if you don’t read the darker books. Embrace it I say, well apart from if you are just about to go and walk your cat in a downpour as I am – I don’t think Oscar is going to be a fan.

Are you a fan of autumn too, do you find it your favourite reading season? What autumnal books would you recommend? Are you a seasonal reader at all? Do you think I am bonkers? All thoughts welcome as always!

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Why Do We Love A Good Fairytale?

As the air has taken a rather autumnal feel here in the Wirral and after reading the quirky ‘Topsy Turvy Tales’, I have turned to reading the Grimm Brothers fairytales (between all the other reading I am doing that I can’t discuss) and I was wondering why as adults we still find fairytales so appealing.

Now if you are thinking that I am happily sat reading the old ladybird classics of an evening you would be wrong. Though I do have my old (very) battered versions from my childhood which I think I actually pilfered was passed on from my mother and aunties and uncle and then saw my siblings reading them (and battering them more) before I managed to get my mitts on them again. Anyway, I have been reading the ‘uncut’- as it were – versions of these tales and yet again, as I was with Perrault’s collection and Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Little Mermaid’, I am shocked at how much darker, twisted and gruesome the tales really are. Disney this is not.

I was actually thinking that children might be more scared of these versions and hence that is why they have been edited, but actually I bet kids would love them, especially when the baddies really come a cropper. I know as an adult I am, but what has led me back to reading them from those initial days a few decades (ugh!) ago?

As a child I loved fairytales for the following reasons…

  1. There was invariably a wood in them and my childhood home was surrounded by them meaning I thought these adventures could have happened in my childhood (particularly my favourite ‘Rapunzel’ as shown below as on our hill we had a very similar type of tower in the woods, seriously look below)
  2. There was generally a sense of menace, something I still love in a book now.
  3. There were elements of the magical and was invariably a witch or talking animal involved, I believed in both of these things vehemently for years, until I was about 24 in probability, ha.
  4. There was a happy ending and love conquered all, naive and slushy but true.
  5. They were a complete escape.

 

I was very lucky as apart from pilfering being loaned the Ladybird Classics, of which my favourite was Rapunzel as I mentioned, I had an amazing Granddad, called Bongy, who made more fairytales for me when I went to Newcastle with my mother while she was at university. Each week, or every few weeks, another tale of ‘The Amazing Adventures of Esmerelda and her Friends’ would arrive in the post, all hand written and hand drawn. Again real life and fiction merged as Esmerelda would visit her friend Simon bringing all her friends including a duck called Rapunzel and nine hens, all of which I had back at my grandparents in Matlock waiting for me in the holidays.

So where is this nostalgia trip leading? Well that is my point. I think one of the reasons we love fairytales is the nostalgia, well at least it is for me, and the fact there is something very safe in a fairytale no matter how menacing they get. I think, even if we know it might not always be true or run smoothly, we believe in love and the idea of a, hopefully, happy ending for all of us one day. It’s the ideal isn’t it? I also think it is the escapism, even if the world is quite similar there is something ethereal and magical about it that makes us know it is not our world but just tangible enough that it could be. Am I making sense?

It isn’t just the ‘adult’ (only not adult-adult you understand) versions of the tales we had as children though. Authors like Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, John Connelly and soon Philip Pullman have re-worked or used the ideas of traditional fairytales in their fictions. Authors like Dan Rhodes, Lucy Wood, Ali Shaw and Eowyn Ivey have also created their own original fairytales for an adult audience which are working wonders and shows we do still love them.

I also wonder if a fairytale is really the true essence of stories. Tales made from folklore, legends and myths handed down by word and discussed before they were ever put to paper, it is what stories and therefore, I think, novels originate and even when you are reading a modern novel with no sign of magic or talking animals your still being told a story and a fairytale of a kind because none of it is real, just a little more cloaked.

What do you think, and what is your favourite fairytale?

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Topsy Turvy Tales – Charlotte Boulay-Goldsmith & Laura Hyde

I do like a quirky book. I was going to say I like a quirky book now and again, which is true, because I couldn’t read them constantly as their quirkiness would seem less special then. Wow, that was a bit long and complicated, sorry. Back to my point, I like a good quirky book and when I received an email from a new publishing house, Humpty Dumpty Publishing, asking me if I would like to try their first book ‘Topsy Turvy Tales’ I agreed in an instant and before long a lovely cloth bound book arrived in the post.

****, Humpty Dumpty Publishing, 2012, hardback, fiction, 64 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

Charlotte Boulay-Goldsmith’s collection of ‘Topsy Turvy Tales’ do just what they promise on the tin, well on the book cover. Here are four unusual almost fairy tales ‘Quest for the Head’, ‘The Girl With Liquid Eyes’, ‘Chester the Oyster’ and ‘The Man with the Stolen Heart’, told in verse and wonderfully illustrated by Laura Hyde. Each one is rather short and so I don’t want to give their stories away that said I do think their titles probably sum them up rather well enough anyway.

Each one is rather like a fairytale only rather more unconventional and much quirkier (there’s that word again) in part because of the fact they are in verse, but also because there is something slightly intangible about them which makes them all the more magical because they can be so surreal. I will admit that in the case of ‘The Girl with Liquid Eyes’ I was a little bemused by the story, even with the pictures, however interestingly I found the (award winning) film which they made of it and it all makes more sense visually. I am popping it below to give you a taster and a feel for the collection…

What was lovely is that the first time I heard the tales was when The Beard read them aloud to me at bedtime, spoken they worked wonderfully but I must say it is with the illustrations that the tales come alive all the more and why I have put both author and illustrator in the title of my post because I think they are equally marvellous and work wonderfully as a whole.

It really is a wonderfully collaborative collection.

So if you fancy something quirky (and do go and see the publishers website for even more quirky gifts, I want that Humpty Dumpty on a wall bag) for yourself or as a special little gift (I nearly mentioned a gift for C********, I have seen season treats in the shop this week, eek) for someone who likes a twisted, or should that be topsy turvy, tale then you couldn’t go wrong with this I don’t think. With its images and the lovely cloth bound feel it really is an object of joy as well as a book, I wouldn’t mind seeing more hardbacks come out in this style. I look forward to what Humpty Dumpty decides to publish next – not something I expected to be saying.

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Two Lovely Bookish Bits to Share…

I was going to do a post on ‘funny ladies’ today but I thought I would share with you two bookish bits and bobs that I have discovered in the last twenty four hours and wanted to share with you all as I thought you might enjoy them.

The first is a wonderfully heart warming story of a man called Guanlao (or Nanie by locals) in Manila who because he loved books so much, and had rather a lot, decided that he would leave some outside with a note saying ‘free to read’. Now if you did that round my way you would either never see them again for dust or possibly find them sat outside soggy in the rain (Autumn seems to have arrived). However much to Guanlao’s surprise people borrowed them, brought them back and added to the collection. Now he has a public library of his own which now looks like this…

You can read the story in full here (and a big thanks to Polly, who I wish would get blogging again, for sending it me). I think it is a wonderful, wonderful story of a wonderful man and how books do have a real power. I could go all deep but I shall refrain.

Now that your hearts are feeling all warm and fuzzy, hopefully, I thought I would share something with you which I found on YouTube by chance yesterday and made me almost cry with laughter. Here is Ellen DeGeneres trying to read for an audiobook of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, it is pure brilliance…

Isn’t that hilarious? Anyway hopefully that has brought some bookish joy into your days as it did mine. I am still thinking about that man and his public library; it is so inspiring I almost want to do something similar. Don’t you?

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Me and You – Niccolo Ammaniti

I have been thinking about my reading and my blogging a lot recently and one of the things I decided to do was to go back and look at authors that I really enjoyed but seemed to fall of the trail with. Some of these authors I may have only read one book of but you have to start somewhere and some of those book have haunted me years on yet I haven’t managed to play catch up with another of the authors novels. One such author is Niccolo Ammaniti, I loved ‘I’m Not Scared’ when I read it in 2010, and when I saw his latest novel/novella ‘Me and You’ at the library I swiped it up there and then.

****, Canongate Books, 2012, hardback, fiction, 160 pages, translated from Italian by Kylee Doust, borrowed from the library

‘Me and You’ is told in hindsight by Lorenzo Cuni looking back on a particular week in his childhood that changed him forever. It is the summer that he told a lie, one of his most sudden and as it turns out most complicated. As a child Lorenzo never really fits in, while he loves his mother and father but has no real attachment to anyone outside of his household. After being sent away from many private schools he starts at a public one where he learns he must disguise himself as one of the other kids so as to go unnoticed, some serious psychology there. Fearing his parents are unconvinced and disappointed, when he hears a girl sorting out a skiing trip with her friends he finds himself telling his mother he has been invited too. Now he must orchestrate an elaborate lie, involving him filling the cellar with enough food and entertainment to last him a week, only what he doesn’t bank on is someone finding him, someone with bigger issues than him who also knows many of his family’s secrets.

If you think I have given the game away there too much I honestly haven’t. What I loved about ‘Me and You’ was also what I loved about ‘I’m Not Scared’ in that there is a mystery in the premise (and the blurb on the back of the book) but there is so much more going on in the novel and it has a most poignant sting in its tail that comes in a sudden twist at the end.  That should have tempted you right there!

As I mentioned this is a really psychological novel and I was really fascinated by Lorenzo’s character (you can ask for nothing more in a book can you?) the fact his is so removed from people is quite chilling. This becomes more chilling when you watch him working out how, like a real species of fly does with wasps, he starts to copy what other children do in order that people think he is ordinary. What makes it all the more calculated is that he says you must never overdo it and become a caricature simple subtly works best.

“‘But does everyone who has problems lie here?’ I asked Professor Masburger, as he pointed towards a faded brocade couch.
‘Of course. Everyone. This way you can talk more freely.’
Perfect. I would pretend to be like a normal kid with problems. It wouldn’t take much to trick him. I knew exactly  how the others reasoned, what they liked and what they wished for. And if what I knew wasn’t enough, that couch I was lying on would transfer to me, like a warm body transfers to a cold body, the thoughts of the kids that had lain there before me.
And so I told him all about a different Lorenzo.”

Apparently the psychological/scientific term for this is ‘Batesian mimicry’ looking it up on Google (I actually love it when books make me do this) I was interested to learn that this is generally something done by a ‘harmless species’ to confuse its predators, yet I am not sure that Lorenzo is initially that harmless. It appears sometimes he quite likes being the way he is and even allows the character of the predator he is mimicking to take over. This all sounds rather dark, which it is and thrillingly so, yet the other thing that I admire about Ammaniti is that while darkness is the overall atmosphere, in a brooding sense and in the fact this book is mainly set in a cellar, there is a humour running through it. We need those shades of dark and light in books don’t we, in fact I think the best books have them. Yet the humour here always has a little menace behind it.

“‘Life is sad without a sense of humour,’ I said.
‘Amen,’ answered a lady standing next to me.
My father has said this thing about a sense of humour after my cousin Vittorio had thrown a cowpat at me during a walk in the country. I was so angry I grabbed a huge rock and threw it up at a tree, while that retard rolled on the ground with laughter. Even my father and mother had laughed.”

I thought that ‘Me and You’ was a very clever book. It’s dark, brooding and packs a real emotional punch at the end, even if you think you know what that end will be. Is it wrong to say that I admire the book even more because it is short? Too late I guess as I have now, but sometimes I find myself more impressed by short novels like this where an author can create a real atmosphere throughout and build whole dysfunctional characters and their histories to life. Highly recommended.

I must read more Ammaniti, I had ‘Crossroads’ but alas it was in one of the boxes that vanished in the most recent move (how have I managed to lose a box of books every time I have moved?), fortunately my library has that and ‘Steal You Away’ so I will definitely be reading more of his work in the future. Have you read this or any of Ammaniti’s other novels, if so what did you think, or is he an author you’ve been meaning to get to?

*Apologies for not having reviewed a book in ages, am still deep in prize submissions and can’t write about those alas.

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Reading More Worldly-Wide…

Is the expression world-widely or worldly-wide or just world-wide? The Beard and I have been debating that since yesterday evening. Anyway, tangent aside, one of the things which my recent discussion about ‘Am I Literary Enough…’ has brought up for me (and thank you all for your replies I will catch up with commenting back later)  is that not reading the classics is fine the other was that I am not sure I read enough fiction from all over the world – and I would really like to. Fear not, I am not going to write an essay about it as it is just fact, I am going to ask you all if you will help me with this though…

I do love an old map with monsters on it…

I would love it if you could take the time to answer me, in the comments below, the following questions…

  • Which country do you reside in and/or were you born in, and what are seen as the greatest modern and classic novels of that/those countries literary history?
  • What is your favourite underrated/under the radar novel from that country?
  • What country or countries, other than your own, do you most enjoy reading about and which have been your favourite books from that country?

This all might seem a little bananas and it might not give me a list of books from every country in the world, however I am hoping it lines up some wonderful suggestions for a more ‘worldly-wide’ or indeed ‘worldly-wise’ reading for me next year. I am also doing my list of ‘forty books to read before I am forty’ so some of them may end up on that too. I look forward to your book thoughts on these three questions (which I have noticed actually make up about five or six questions, sorry). Thanks in advance.

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Am I Literary Enough & Are We Ever Really Happy With The Reader We Are?

After the blog birthday celebrations yesterday this might sound like it is going to be a bit of a maudlin topic here today, I am going to try not to let it be, yet it is something I have been pondering over the last year or so and actually discussing a lot in the last couple of weeks… Am I actually the literary reader I think I am and does it matter if I’m not, most of all will I ever be happy with the reader that I am? Ironically the people who I have been talking to about it, and who I would think know what they do and don’t like book wise, often ponder the same thing. So, is it just something that we all ask ourselves all the time?

The thing that has been making me ponder whether I am literary enough, or maybe a ‘good enough’ reader describes it better, is that old chestnut of Mr Charles Dickens (in such high esteem is he held I always think I should call him Sir). People have always been baffled by the fact that I am a veracious reader and yet he is an author I have never read. Even my own mother once said, probably in jest I am hoping, that she was ‘amazed’ that I could ‘write a book blog and review books and yet never have read Dickens in your life’. It always doubly surprises people when they know I love all things Victorian, ‘I mean who on earth chronicled the world at that time like Dickens?’ My response to that is usually ‘Wilkie Collins… Sir Arthur Conan Doyle… Oscar Wilde…’ I daren’t add insult to injury by adding I have not read Hardy, Trollope (neither Anthony nor Joanna, ha), Elliott and only some very short jottings by Austen, not one of her novels – though I have tried to a few times.

I am not proud that I have not read these authors, nor am I ashamed of it. It is fact. What I don’t like is the feeling I am judged for it. Some may say here that maybe I shouldn’t mention it; like I did at a job interview I had for a bookish charity and didn’t get the role mainly because I admitted ‘I hadn’t read Dickens and had had a tricky relationship at school with Shakespeare’. What disappointed me here was that this charity wanted to encourage people to read, I am not sure plonking a Dickens in front of anyone who doesn’t read much is going to be an initial treat, I would be scared of it. It just seems snobbish. A comment on my blog at the time said ‘well if you look back at what you have been reading it isn’t very literary’ but I haven’t been reviewing Green carnation submissions and some of those are very, and wonderfully so, literary though I am enjoying the more commercial submissions too.

Tangent aside and back to my main point though, why hide the fact I have not read these authors? I am sure there are many more people in my situation, who love a good book, who have yet to (and may never) read these authors. Is it like a literary version of leprosy not having read every classic by the age of eighteen or something? It almost makes me want to never read Dickens as a dirty Dickensian protest, ha.

I have read many classics, ‘Jane Eyre’ is one of my all time favourite books, but I don’t think you have to have mastered them all to be a good reader or to critique what you do and don’t like in a book, all you have to do is read and read and read and read some more. Yet this leads to another question, are we ever happy with the reader we are? I am not sure I am, in fact I am not even sure I still know what sort of reader I am.

Interestingly I thought this might be the fact that blogging for the last half a decade has widened my reading choices so much, a double edged sword. However my friend AJ (who did the Edinburgh Festival report for me) has just started his own new blog, AJ Reads (add it to your favourites), and has been asking himself the same questions. He too is another person who has yet to read Dickens, Austen, et al – which I think has made us bond all the more and may lead to a joint venture. AJ starting his blog has made him look at what he hasn’t read yet, what that means and what sort of reader he is and I am doing the same five years into blogging (both in our thirties) makes me wonder if we just always ask that question of ourselves and maybe that is a natural and good thing?

If someone asked me ‘what is your favourite genre of book?’ I would be stumped. I like literary novels, I love a good crime (cosy or not, more not). I love contemporary modern literature, literature of all walks of life in translation and can happily get lost in a good Victorian sensation or a slightly twee 1930’s novel. In my head I am simply an eclectic reader. Yet again I sometimes feel that I should be more reigned in, shouldn’t I know what I like most by now? I still find myself talking to people at book group (who have admittedly joined a book group to read outside the box) or seeing blogs where they know just what they do and don’t like I find myself sometimes getting a little envious as mine seems so haphazard. But maybe they are thinking the same thing really?

Does anyone else ever feel they are still unsure of what reader they are, or if indeed they are good enough? Is it natural? Do we always feel in awe of other readers reading? Do we ever feel we are a literary (or crimey, sci-fi-y, ha) as we could be? I mean we simply can’t read all the books and all the authors in the world can we? Isn’t being ‘literary’ actually being eclectic in our reading and trying out as many books in and out our comfort zone as we can and simply loving books?

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Now We Are Five!

It is hard to believe the fact that today Savidge Reads is five years old. Where did all that time go? In a weird way it seems like it was yesterday and yet absolutely ages and ages ago. I never thought when I was writing those first tentative words that formed some kind of ‘review’ (though I prefer the term book thoughts) all those years later that it would lead to 1,466 posts (which is what this is, though I did cull some terrible posts a while back) nor did I ever think that anyone, let alone all you lovely lot, would read it. But you do and I am very grateful. The conversations and friendships, some which have led to co-founding prizes, literary nights, reading challenges, podcasts and more, have been the greatest gift a blog could ever bring. This is why I forgive you all for not having sent flowers, cards and presents in the post (the postman just came empty handed, well apart from a bill), although maybe they will be belatedly arriving? Ha!

Anyway, five years… I didn’t realise, embarking on that first Susan Hill review, the world of literature that would greet me through readers, publishers and fellow bloggers recommendations. What started as a diary of what I was reading, my thoughts on each one (which having gone back are a few paragraphs of nothingness truth be told) and maybe recommending them to the ether, as I honestly didn’t think anyone would read it, has become more than just thoughts and a blog but wonderful conversations with you all, though I can be shoddy at replying, and actually a real support through some great ups and pretty rubbish downs in the last five years.

My natural tendency on anniversaries is to look back nostalgically, maybe have a little chuckle and a weep… and then pick fault with myself; like the fact I could be more regular with commenting, how I still don’t think my reviews/book thoughts are up to the standard I wish they were (and invariably get so jealous about how much better other peoples are as I read around), should a thirty year old bookish man really be putting up selections of kitten photo’s even if it is his kitten or do people really care if I have wandered around a spooky wood all day taking pictures which have nothing to do with books? Ha, ha! Today is for celebrating though and that means all of you too. I would like to thank all you readers, publishers, authors and fellow bloggers who have visited, emailed, commented and lurked over the past half a decade. Who would have thought it?

Anyway I shan’t waffle on. I am off to celebrate by myself (as The Beard is at work) with a nice cup of tea, some buttery toast, the cat and a Daphne Du Maurier novel. Thanks again for popping by as you have and here’s to another five years or more.

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