Monthly Archives: October 2012

A Suitably Spooky Something Bookish For Halloween…

I thought you might like a little peek into one of England’s most haunted libraries according to many! It is the perfect place for a perfect promotionval video of a spooky book. So turn the lights out, pop it on full screen and be prepared to be scared, I was when I watched it. You have been warned…

And if you like the look of Jeremy Dyson’s ‘The Haunted Book’ I will be telling you about it very soon. Until then… Happy Halloween again!

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Ghostly Tales, Can They Still Scare Us?

Happy Halloween one and all! I hope you have something suitably spooky planned for your evening? I don’t know if I have mentioned this on the blog before or not, but Halloween is one of my very favourite days of the year. I think the mixture of the legends and folklore and my secret belief that maybe there are witches, ghouls, vampires and werewolves out there somewhere and the fact its just a really dark time of the year for us in the UK makes it very atmospheric. So naturally my plan is to curl up with a good ghostly tale, ‘Dolly’ by Susan Hill since you asked, but I do wonder if ghost stories still scare us like they did in times of old and if they do scare is it easier to do it set in the past than in modern times?

This is something I have been discussing on and off for weeks but actually a lot more due to The Readers and recording the Halloween Special and talking to both Gavin, as always a joy, and Jeremy Dyson who has scared hundred and thousands of people with the stage show ‘Ghost Stories’ (which I saw and really scared me) and is hoping to do so again with ‘The Haunted Book’ which I will be telling you all about tomorrow. He is a firm believer that modern ghost stories can still scare you, however myself and Gavin both remained a little more sceptical oddly. I think me personally though much more than Gavin to be honest.

Why is this? Well I think first of all I simply don’t find werewolves and vampires scary anymore. With series like ‘Twilight’ and ‘True Blood’ vampires have become much more sexualised, not to mention glittering like diamonds, and sadly this has taken the fear factor out of them. This doesn’t stop me from wanting to watch the movie or TV shows but I am not covering my eyes in fear when I watch or when I have read some of them. The same applies, only I think it is a million times better written, with Glen Duncan’s novel ‘The Last Werewolf’ (which I really recommend as a Halloween read) it’s a gripping and fast paced thriller and full of sex, violence and gore but I was much more thrilled rather than scared. This leads to another issue, I don’t really ‘get’ gore in books.

I discovered this when I was reading Adam Nevill’s ‘Apartment 16’, the atmosphere and everything was brilliant and there were some really creepy going on until it all suddenly went too far. There were blood soaked people screaming out of walls and half centipede half humans running around hallways, the spell broke for me it was too visual. This is fine in films, though I am the sort of person that laughs their way through a Saw film, but for me to be really scared things need to be much simpler. It is all about unease, too much gore and freakish sights and it falls into ‘camp’ for me or gorey for the sake of it, if I just get that slight sense of unease tingling down my spine giving me a quick shudder and chill then I am sold.

This is why I think that older ghost stories, like the amazing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Tales of Mystery’ etc, or modern novels set in the past, like Susan Hill’s ‘The Woman in Black’, work the best for me. Part of it is that in the olden days, pre the 1950’s really, I think it’s easier for the atmosphere to be created better. You don’t have the internet and mobile phones, in fact in some of the best ones a lack of electricity helps, and so the world seems more other worldy from what we know now and yet we recognise it. It is that unknown and uneasy element in what we know that tends to scare me a little bit more. It is also harkens back to our base instincts, we see things out of the corners of our eyes and in the depths of the shadows. For me really, what is better than a big old mist encompassed spooky manor house?

So what about you? Which books really have had you spooked be they at Halloween or any other time of the year? What ghostly or supernatural tales would you recommend? Are you planning on a night with a ghostly tale or two tonight and if so which ones?

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Savidge Reads Does Pride & Prejudice…

Fear not, the world has not gone completely mad, my admitted love of Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’ has not meant I have suddenly already polished off ‘Pride and Prejudice’, not yet anyway. You may remember that when Michelle told you over the weekend ‘Why I Love Jane Austen & So Should Everyone Else’ (if you haven’t read it then please do, it’s a treat) she mentioned that we had been to Lyme Park in May last year, to try and get the Austen bug going in me, and had in fact made a video homage to the BBC’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ there. Well after some editing, thank you AJ, here it is. You have been warned…

Ha, I thought I would share it as I am so smitten with Austen at the moment and before things start getting very spooky on Savidge Reads for the rest of the week. I hope you all enjoyed it?

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Persuasion – Jane Austen

Many of you may know that I have always wavered a little in reading or wanting to read this classics. In my head this conjures up English Literature lessons in school being forced to read the same sections of a book over and over and over, analysing it to death and taking all the fun out for reading. This has lead me to having missed out on many a ‘canon’ author including Jane Austen, and people said a small collection of her early work didn’t count, so when I embarked, with AJ Reads, upon the idea of Classically Challenged she was the first author I wanted to try and thanks to you, and your votes, I did so with ‘Persuasion’. Did it persuade me to read anything else by her though?

Oxford University Press, paperback, 1817 (2008 edition), fiction, 304 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

If they had had the expression ‘middle child syndrome’ in the early 1800’s then I think Anne Elliot, the heroine of ‘Persuasion’, would be a prime example of someone who could suffer it, though being a heroine of course she doesn’t. She has a vain and wealth obsessed father and sisters, elder unmarried Elizabeth and younger married Mary, and so really she is overlooked by most of her family. Fortunately she does have the attention of neighbouring Lady Russell who was her sadly deceased mother’s best friend. However Sir Walter Elliot though obsessed with his position in life and wealth, is lacking in how to keep or make the right amount of money and so has to rent his estate, Kellynch-hall out which in doing so brings a former, rather fortunately unknown, engagement, Captain Wentworth, of Anne’s younger years back into her life and also a whole host of people that change her perception of what life can be and what can indeed be made of it.

I have to say that I really, really enjoyed ‘Persuasion’. I will happily admit that I found the first page to be one of the most mind numbing and off putting pieces of fiction that I have read in some time (which is interestingly the same thing, only for fifty more, that has stopped me getting anywhere with ‘Pride and Prejudice’) as Sir Walter reads about an almost encyclopaedic history of himself and all its pomp, which reads a little woodenly. Yet, just another page on I was suddenly hit with a beaming smile as the wit I had heard Jane Austen has, but didn’t believe she did, smacked me round the chops as Sir Walter’s pomp, causes him to look at everyone else around him, and I found it very funny.

“It sometimes happens, that a woman is handsomer at twenty-nine than she was ten years before; and, generally speaking, if there has been neither ill health nor anxiety, it is a time of life at which scarcely any charm is lost. It was so with Elizabeth; still the same handsome Miss Elliot that she had begun to be thirteen years ago; and Sir Walter might be excused, therefore, in forgetting her age, or, at least, be deemed only half a fool, for thinking himself and Elizabeth as blooming as ever, amidst the wreck of good looks of everybody else; for he could plainly see how old the rest of his family and acquaintance were growing. Anne haggard, Mary coarse, every face in the neighbourhood worsting; and the rapid increase of the crow’s foot about Lady Russell’s temples had long been a distress to him.”

From this point in the book was honestly a real joy. I felt that I actually ‘got’ Jane Austen and the more I read on the more and more I realised that my preconceptions of her were way off the mark. I had imagined this would all be rather twee and sentimental but have the happy ending I was expecting. Here I must say I did guess the ending but firstly I loved the twists that went on throughout and secondly doesn’t the ending have a dark ominous overtone?  What I actually got was a very witty, often a little darkly so, and intelligent and wryly perceptive author who clearly watched and observed and then, in wonderful prose – though it took me a little while to get into the Olde English, writes it almost to a level of pastiche, yet so convincing it never goes too far, for the reader to enjoy.

I must add here that I am never ever letting my editor moan at me about how much I over use comma’s. I shall simply say ‘have you read Jane Austen?’ and leave it at that. I liked the fact we had this in common and as I read on I became more and more sure that had I sat with her, people watching over a pot of Earl Grey tea, I would have very much enjoyed her company and possibly laughed quite a lot as I did throughout the book. I am not sure I was always meant to find everything as hilarious as I did, Louisa’s fall in particular, but I giggled, occasionally wickedly a lot, sometimes at the most subtle of things.

“’There we differ, Mary’ said Anne. ‘I am sure Lady Russell would like him. I think she would be so much pleased with his mind, that she would very soon see no deficiency in his manner.’
 ‘So do I, Anne’ said Charles. ‘I am sure Lady Russell would like him. He is just Lady Russell’s sort. Give him a book, and he will read all day long.’
 ‘Yes, that he will!’ exclaimed Mary, tauntingly. ‘He will sit poring over his book, and not know when a person speaks to him, or when one drops one’s scissors, or anything that happens. Do you think Lady Russell would like that?’”

The other aspect of her writing is how much of an insight it gives into the social state of the country at the time and indeed the plight of women. Firstly there is the fact that all women seem to be failures if they do not marry ‘up’ or, heaven forbid, marry at all. No wonder Anne is disproved of when she turns down Charles, who Mary then marries (awkward much?) and isn’t sure the debonair and seemingly wealthy Mr Elliot is right for her. More interesting for me was the cases of Miss Smith, who I really loved and wanted to look after, illustrated the plight of a widowed woman of no wealth and at the other end of the spectrum was the rather matriarchal Lady Russell who seemed to have it so easy, well apart from the loss of her husband that is. I found this all rather fascinating, the shock of Anne wanting to associate with a woman who couldn’t even afford a servant rather hit me, and also highlighted what a bunch of pompous pests she unfortunately was related to.

This does bring me to my only slight qualm with the book and Austen’s writing. Here we go, get ready for everyone who is sat thinking ‘see we knew you would like her and find her faultless’ to get a little more annoyed, but I want to be honest. In some of the characters, having seen so many adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, whilst not having read it I know, I felt that I had seen them before. There were a few Mrs Bennett’s and indeed a rather Wickham like character which whilst never stopped me enjoying ‘Persuasion’, indeed all the ‘vexing’ is wonderful, did spoil one twist in the tale alas. It made me wonder if all her novels have the same set characters and aim to achieve the same moralistic, yet also rather fairytale like, ends. I shall have to read more to make up my mind.

If you haven’t guessed already I was quite smitten with ‘Persuasion’ and also with its author. I got a whole lot more than I bargained for and indeed had my misconceptions of Austen and her writing have been fully highlighted and I see the error of my assumptions. If all of her novels contain this level of observance, wonderful characters be they good or bad, illustration of the human condition (and amazingly people still behave like this, maybe why it resonates to this day), emotion, humour and wry commentary I could become a hardened fan.

I will definitely be reading much more of Jane Austen’s work in the future, so if you have any recommendations for the next port of call do let me know, in the meantime though I am really excited about reading the rest of the Classically Challenged titles (next is ‘The Warden’ by Anthony Trollope) with AJ, whose thoughts on ‘Persuasion’ will be live here in due course, over the next few months. For now though… what are your thoughts on ‘Persuasion’?

P.S I am so sorry this post is so lengthy, the book gave me so much to write about.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Classically Challenged, Jane Austen, Oxford University Press, Review

Why I Love Jane Austen (And Why Everyone Else Should Too) by Michelle Roberts

As tomorrow is the day that I unleash my thoughts at having finally read, from cover to cover, a full Jane Austen novel I thought it would be nice to have something from an aficionado on the subject. So today’s guest post is brought to you by my lovely friend Michelle Roberts who has been a fan of Jane Austen (Mills and Boons and ponies) since I have known her and beyond. And so here today, in a wonderfully witty way, she shares her love of Jane Austen and why we must simply all read her. I think any fans of Jane Austen will LOVE this post and if you are yet to be converted then this might just push you to reading her. Anyway, here it is…

Michelle, an Austen fan and no mistake…

I can remember when Simon first confessed his dirty secret several years ago. We were having a nice chat and a cuppa and he went and spoilt it all by dropping a J-bomb…and confessing that he simply DIDN’T LIKE JANE AUSTEN and had NEVER read any of her novels. NEVER EVER.

Obviously my first reaction was laughter at yet another of Simon’s funny jokes. Being a very popular book blogger and bibliophile I figured it had to be one – I mean, who doesn’t like Jane Austen?!!

Sadly ladies and gentlemen, it wasn’t a joke and our friendship was very nearly over when he casually reasserted this blasphemy by saying that he had “tried to read Pride and Prejudice once but it was the most boring first fifty pages I’ve ever read”.

Silence… Tumbleweed…

What is widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest lines in English literature was flippantly described as BORING. No remorse was shown. I tried to delve into Simon’s clearly addled brain and convert him but no, visiting her house didn’t do it, even a jolly trip to ‘Pemberley’ aka Lyme Park (complete with Pride and Prejudice soundtrack and our own distinctive and unique recreation of the classic moment of Darcy emerging from the bushes after a dip in the lake, a la the 1995 BBC series with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle – one of Simon’s only redeeming features is that he did love this show) couldn’t sufficiently excite Simon into actually reading anything.

A first attempt to make Simon read Jane, her house… he left with a purple Jane Austen shaped bookmark, shameful!

So anyway, lacking any knowledge of Austen, Simon asked me to write a little something about why I like Jane so much. I mean, I’m not sure why he asked me necessarily. I’m only a marginal fan really *coughs* having studied Jane at university; owning various Jane Austen related paraphernalia, all the novels, many books that are bizarrely inspired by Jane Austen but talk about lost sex scenes or zombies; owning many films (some of which aren’t adaptations but are remotely related to Jane Austen in some tenuous way or other) and owning the film soundtracks, Jane Austen calendars, tea towels, book marks and mugs…I’m pretty far from being a massive Jane Austen geek, I think you’ll agree. Ahem, let us move swiftly on shall we…

So, what is it I love about Jane Austen? Two words sum it up: Mr Darcy!! Blog complete. Only joking, I mean he’s a great moody hero but really it’s the sparky Elizabeth Bennet character in Pride and Prejudice – the epitome of heroine that steals the show. Actually, now I think about it, the frocks and settings are pretty cool…no, no I’ll go with the charming and witty writing. Hmmm, but what about the deliciously romantic plots where the good folk always prevail in the end? I’m finding it pretty tricky to pin this down… The reasons are endless.

A visit to Pemberly with Simon was no use, though we did make a very funny video he may share with you all one day.

I think the thing about Jane (and I don’t think she’d mind me being on first name terms with her?) is that reading her books is always a joyful indulgence (except maybe Mansfield Park – surely everyone agrees that one is a bit weird??). I always turn to Jane in times of need and comfort because I always find it an escape from the sometimes lurid, chaotic, or plain rubbish day to day life. It’s not always an easy journey to follow Jane’s characters (Captain Wentworth I’m talking about you!!) but that is why it’s very satisfying to reach the end; because it does feel like a journey you have made with the characters. It is so easy to get lost in it; even if I’ve put it down to go out, I forget that I’m not in the carriage going to Hartfield but I’m a Fiat Punto going to Hertford.

I think everyone should read Jane’s novels because in spite of them depicting a very narrow field of existence in a very different time from now and them pretty much forming the basis of every cheesy ‘Hollywood’ film-ending ever written, they all speak volumes about human nature and are still relevant in many ways. And surely it is never a waste of precious time away from catching up with Strictly when you get carried away on such a romantic journey written so amusingly and which you know will leave you with a fuzzy warm glow that hasn’t got anything to do with the bottle of ‘Pink Lady’ sparkling perry (or Lambrini, we don’t discriminate here) you tucked away absentmindedly whilst ploughing cover to cover.

So if you do one thing this weekend, go and get a copy of one of Jane’s masterpieces (wearing authentic Regency-style dress to do this is optional) and be prepared to lose several hours without realising it. Go on, pick one up!

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If the Spirit Moves You; Life and Love After Death – Justine Picardie

I was having a major sort out of all of my TBR when Justine Picardie’s nonfiction book ‘If the Spirit Moves You’ caught my eye, which I have had in the TBR pile for years and years. I had oddly been having a chat with one of my friends about spiritualism and my encounters with mediums, of which there have been a few, and so I thought that maybe this book and its subject matter might be just the thing I could do with reading at the moment. It could equally have been the exact thing not to read at the moment but I decided to give it a whirl anyway.

Picador Books, paperback, 2002, fiction, 227 pages, from my personal TBR

Ruth Picardie died of breast cancer in September 1997. A well known journalist she chronicled her time living with breast cancer for the Observer magazine which her sister, writer and journalist Justine Picardie, was working for at the time and encouraged. ‘If the Spirit Moves You’ is Justine’s account of a year, from Good Friday in 2000 to Easter Monday 2001, in which she decided to see if she could contact the spirit of Ruth in some way and come to terms furthermore with her untimely death and the grief and loss still very much at the heart of her life since her sisters passing.

With a book such as ‘If the Spirit Moves You’ it is really hard to try and compare it with anything else you have read. In the form of diary entries Justine lets us into the world of the many mediums she visits and investigates things such as EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) and automatic writing in her venture to try and contact Ruth in some way. This is all rather fascinating, if fascinating is the right word, especially when so desperate to talk to her sister she even enrols in a school for mediums to see if she can communicate with Ruth herself and try and see if the voice of Ruth she gets in her head is her own self projections, she freely admits that she has an ‘internal psychologist’ analysing what she says and thinks, or is it actually the spirit of her sister.

You can probably guess already that ‘If the Spirit Moves You’ is much more than just a nonfiction account of Picardie seeing if there is an afterlife or not and indeed if we can communicate with it or not. It is also a book very much about grief and the process that we have to go through in order to grieve ourselves as well as how other people deal with it. Her husband at the time she writes, Neill, loses his sister, the singer Kirsty MacColl, and deals with his own grief in a very different way. She also looks at how her father, who leads talks in Kabbalah, deals with it and looks at religion and if it is

The honesty with which the book is written can sometimes be incredibly raw and quite difficult to read, though I do urge you all to read it, as there are moments when Justine portrays not only those around her, but also herself, in some very unflattering lights. Yet this is what we are like with grief, we can become internal or go to the complete opposite side of the spectrum being incredibly audibly, and rather angrily, vocal about how we feel. I really admired Picardie for doing this and being brave enough both to write about her sister’s death and how it left her feeling and how she dealt with it. I don’t know if many could write so honestly, with such emotion and also, it should be mentioned, with such wit too and without any judgement on the people she meets who deal with the afterlife, or possibly do, along the way.

I think ‘If the Spirit Moves You’ is a rather incredible book. Due to everything going on it could have been a slightly bad choice of timing reading wise but actually it was a consolation in some ways. I did have to laugh as I took it to Grans last week and after leaving it on the side without thinking, which could have proved very tactless; Gran spotted it and asked me all about it. Interestingly she said ‘Simon, when I am gone, don’t waste your time seeing those people. You’ll know if and when I am there.’ I told her I wouldn’t mind if she haunted me, depending what mood she was in or what I was up to because we always have that hope don’t we?

Like I said, a definite recommendation from me. It has made me want to read Ruth Picardie’s ‘Before I Say Goodbye’ too.

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A Mini Trip to Florence and Firenze…

I was going to update you on my trip to Iceland now that I am back and have had a day to catch up with myself, it always amazes me that I come back more tired than I left, when I realised that I hadn’t actually shared anything from my wonderful trip to Italy earlier in the year. Actually, that is not quite true as I did show you a little trip we took to Juliet’s balcony in Verona. Anyway as it is rather grim outside today I thought I would add some sunny snapshots from part of a holiday which, and this is no exaggeration as I will probably never have one quite like this again, was an absolute dream. I can honestly say I think staying at Il Salviatino in the Firenze hills just outside Florence was one of the most amazing places I have stayed in my life.

As we drove up the drive the evening before the above picture was taken it was a little bit like I imagined the unnamed narrator of Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ feels, only without all the rain she had, as we were driven up the winding candle lit driveway surrounded by trees through which we kept  glimpsing the lights of the villa ahead. A villa which has been rescued from ruin, with a life saving £50,000,000 pound restoration project (and there are only roughly 40 bedrooms), which has returned the building and its grounds to their former glory of the times as you can see from the view we had from our bedroom.

They have also reinstated and renovated the library that was built by Italy’s art critic and journalist Ugo Ogetti who used to host Literary Salons in that very room. I love it when somewhere I have gone for non-book-based work ends up having a lovely literary link and having tried my hand at Literary Salon’s it was nice to feel this building had a real reading history and this room in specific.

Speaking of reading, this was a trip where I was determined to masses. From the moment I saw the pool (and we had the most amazing massages in the spa) I had visions of endless hours simply sat reading by it…

However I did absolutely no reading by the pool at all. It seemed that I needed a break, The Beard though was another matter as he spent pretty much the entire time by the pool devouring some serious summertime salacious reading…

I am going to be in big trouble for popping that picture up, let’s hope he doesn’t see it. The other thing that was amazing about the hotel was the food and each night we were treated to an eight course ‘taster’ meal (which I think should be on every menu) of delicate and divine little dishes forming a selection of what you could have from the menu.

Amazingly on top of these, and the wine to match each dish, we still managed a huge breakfast and indeed a pizza at lunch each day. For which of course we went to Florence, and whilst there how could we not be complete and utter tourists and go and see all the sights including the Ponte Vecchio…

Which I thought was a bit overrated, though beautiful, but the bonus of it was it had a massive ice cream parlour on either side which of course I had to sample. We also visited all the statues, some bookshops (which I will report back on) but the highlight for me, apart from a gorgeous hidden pizzeria and another hidden local restaurant, was definitely The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, or Duomo, which I found as breathtaking on the outside as I did on the inside…

Despite the fact that both The Beard and I are scared of heights we decided that we simply had to walk all the way to the top, how could we not? Well if you ever want to really fall out, if briefly, with your other half then I recommend doing something that you both hate. As we ascended there was much snapping and grumping, before more of the same on the way back. It was an amazing experience and I was even brave enough to lean over the edge to prove we had been at the top (which resulted in much rage filled swearing from a certain beardy person who seemed to think I was dicing with death, you wait till you see what I did in Iceland!)…

All was restored and forgiven afterwards, mainly because I was smothered in ice cream which always works, and all in all I think we are both agreed that we had the most amazing holiday, utter bliss.

Alas I will never be able to afford to stay there, but I will always have the memories. It makes me think of a certain renowned first line in a book ‘last night I dreamt of Il Salviatino again’.

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