Monthly Archives: December 2012

Savidge Reads Books of 2012 – Part Two…

As I mentioned on Saturday I was going to try and be really brave and break the habit of this blogs and just do a single top ten books of the year. I tried and tried and tried, and I failed. I simply couldn’t only have ten, in fact I actually had a top thirty roughly, but then I have read 167 books (Green Carnation submissions always bump this figure up, what will next year be like without them) this year so maybe that will make it slightly more understandable. So what I have done once again is have two top tens, one of the books published for the first time in the UK in 2012 and another with all the other books published before that – today I am listing my favourite books published for the first time in the UK in 2012. For the full review click on the link, I have chosen a highlighting paragraph to tempt you for this post.

10. The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

I think ‘The Lifeboat’ is one of the most brilliant fictional takes on ‘mental warfare’ and how people change under certain circumstances that I have come across in a very long time, especially from a modern writer. Dare I say there was something rather Daphne Du Maurier-like about the darkness that develops? What I won’t say is anything about the other characters (apart from the fact I was scared of Mrs Grant) because I don’t want to give anything away, but Rogan creates a fascinating psychological game with them all, and with Grace herself Rogan pulls the trump card.

9. The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey

I was enjoying ‘The Snow Child’ so much from the start that I did something I hardly ever do. Rather than read it in chunks when I could, I simply devoted almost a whole day to it. I could have saved it and made it last, but sometimes you have to think ‘stuff that’ and just get lost in it all. So I did and read the book in pretty much one go just gorging on it. Now that is the sign of a truly magical book, I was completely spellbound… apart from having to pop the heater on and making the occasional hot drink as the snow really does feel like it’s coming off the page. This is a highly, highly recommended read.

8. The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon

The book is a story of a girl who leaves an unhappy home, yet we figure that out as we read on because really Mary is quite happy with her life on the whole thank you very much. The fact the story is reminiscent of a Victorian classic also works in the books favour because it feels comfortable and yet different, does that make sense? I have to admit that i did hazard a guess at ending that seems to have shocked other people I know who have read it, which I will not spoil or even hint at, not that it stopped me loving the book because I was being taken along by Mary who I could have read for another few hundred pages or more.

7. Some Kind of Fairy Tale – Graham Joyce

If you are thinking of dipping your reading toes/eyes into fantasy from literary fiction or vice versa, or more importantly if you just want a really good story, then you need to read ‘Some Kind of Fairy Tale’. I am really pleased that I ended up choosing this for one of The Readers Book Groups on a whim because I can promise you that I am going to read everything that he has written so far after reading this. I really like his prose and in a way he is doing with literary fiction and fantasy what I think Kate Atkinson and Susan Hill have done with their crime novels, merging them so they become one genre, a genre I call ‘bloody good books’.

6. The End of Your Life Book Club – Will Schwalbe

There are some books out there that you need at a certain time in your life. They can be therapeutic and upsetting but show you just how important a book can be as an object that emotionally resonates with you. These books may be recommended when you are going through something or they may be found through researching yourself. That said they are not self help books, just books which chime in with you at that moment. Will Schwalbe’s ‘The End of Your Life Book Club’ is one such book, a book that seemed to mirror my life in many ways it was both a comfort and occasionally uncomfortable, overall though just amazing.

5. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

I don’t think I have read a book that has taken me to such dark places, it’s not a graphically disturbing novel though get ready to have your mind played with and warped, and have so many twists and turns. I also don’t think I have read a book that so cleverly asks the question ‘how well do you really know your partner’ and answers it in such a shocking, brutal yet also worryingly plausible way. ‘Gone Girl’ is easily one of the best novels I have read this year, I cannot recommend it enough… well, unless you are about to get married, have just got married or have just had a bit of a row with your other half as it might give you second thoughts, or sudden ideas, good and bad.

4. The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

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.

3. Hawthorn & Child – Keith Ridgway

I think the best way to sum up the wonderfully quirky, exciting and surreal yet real ‘Hawthorn & Child’ comes from one of the many characters who could be a psychopath or sociopath or just mad who says “Knowing things completes them. Kills them. They fade away, decided over and forgotten. Not knowing sustains us.” This is a book where not everything is resolved, stories create stories, some fade and some linger, the only constant is the brilliant writing, compellingly created cast, sense of mystery and dark humour which will sustain you from the start until the end and may just have you turning to the first page again as soon as you have finished the last.

2. Diving Belles – Lucy Wood

‘Diving Belles’ is a collection of stories that it would be easy to describe as fairytales for adults, that very statement may of course put people off, and while it is a book that finds the myths and legends of the Cornish coast seeping into every page of it there is so much more to it than that. Of course writing about a whole collection is always difficult (made doubly so when you loved every single one in the book) as you could end up giving too much away on each story or end up writing something as long as the collection itself.

1.  My Policeman – Bethan Roberts

I adored ‘My Policeman’, despite the fact it made me cry on a few occasions. I found it incredibly difficult to break away from it for any period of time yet I also found that as the book went on I was trying not to read it too fast, in part from the sense of impending doom and also because I didn’t really want it to end. I felt I was there, a bystander watching it all, feeling for Marion then Patrick and vice versa. It is one of the most beautifully written and emotionally engaging novels I have read this year. It is also a book that highlights a bit of our history that we often brush under the carpet, mainly because we think we are more tolerant now, and yet is one that should definitely be acknowledged and learnt from.

There are of course a few other books I must mention, for example both winners of the Green Carnation Prize, ‘Moffie’ by Andre Carl van der Merwe and ‘A Perfectly Good Man’ by Patrick Gale, and also Kerry Hudson’s ‘Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma’ which was one of the debut highlights of the year for me, I will be reviewing/reporting back on all the long list next year, as they were all rather brilliant. Also ‘The Lighthouse’ by Alison Moore and ‘Swimming Home’ by Deborah Levy which would have been joint tenth with ‘The Lifeboat’ and my final two had I done a Simon’s Booker Dozen type of post. Overall it has been a great year of reading and I am looking forward to the next.

What about you? What have been your highlights of the year published in 2012? Which of these have you read and what did you think?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Books of 2012

Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

Well, what a book to end 2013 on, as I have to admit that I have been reading Charles Dickens celebrated ‘Great Expectations’ right up to the deadline of today which AJ and myself set for this, the third, instalment of Classically Challenged, and I think having completed it I might have a bit of time off from reading for a while. This I have to admit has been the book I have been looking forward to the most and the least all at once. For years and years, much to the dismay of my mother and grandmother and several followers and a few critics of the blog, I have gone on and on about how I didn’t, and wouldn’t, like Charles Dickens and that he was simply paid per word and so wrote too many of them, without having read a word. Well, now I have and I have to hold my hands up and say that I was wrong. That said, I don’t want any ‘I told you so’s’ because whilst it truly was very much a book I enjoyed, and will most probably read Charlie-Boy again because of, I still have the odd reservation.

Oxford University Press, paperback, 1861 (2008 edition), fiction, 442 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

Oxford University Press, paperback, 1861 (2008 edition), fiction, 442 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

It seems a little silly to sum up the story of Charles Dickens thirteenth, unlucky for some but not for him, novel because I am pretty sure most of the world knows it, however here it is. ‘Great Expectations’ is really the story of Pip, Pirrip Philip, and his young and formative years. As we meet him, well as we learn after he is accosted and scared to death by convict Abel Magwitch in a cemetery, he is living with his sister and her husband, the local blacksmith, on the breadline in the marshes of Kent. Soon after, at the request of his uncle-in-law Uncle Pumblechook, he finds himself at Satis House and hired in a way as the playmate of the adopted daughter, the rather cold Estella, of a wealthy spinster, Miss Havisham. He falls in love with Estella and his meeting with her and Miss Havisham seems to be the start of a change in his life as whilst training to be a blacksmith with his uncle Joe he receives a large income from an anonymous benefactor and can instead become a gentleman, only as we go on with Pip’s journey we discover great fortune might not bring him happiness or the love he so wants.

Of course this is not the whole story, merely a teaser if you have yet to read the book, as following these events Dickens weaves twists and turns into the narrative which I wasn’t expecting (no pun intended) along with random off shooting stories for some of the lesser characters which create one of these wonderful Dickensian worlds I have always heard so much about.

Did I enjoy the story? Yes. Was it what I expected (pun not intended)? No. In many ways ‘Great Expectations’ was much more than I could have wished for. I became completely immersed in the world that Dickens’s created for Pip and followed his life with great interest. I loved the gloomy and dark opening of the misty marshes at the start, and was completely hooked by Miss Havisham from the first scene in which we met her. In fact I did at several points wonder why on earth Charles Dickens had not just written an entire book about her. I mean in hindsight the tale of Miss Havisham and the forever jilted bride has become the most famous part of this tale hasn’t it?

“I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose, had shrunk to skin and bone. Once, I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork at the fair, representing I know not what impossible personage lying in state. Once, I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress, that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement. Now, wax-work and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me. I should have cried out, if I could.”

When Miss Havisham appeared, a lot like when Magwitch appears in the cemetery, the book really came alive for me. The gothic elements of it all, and indeed the pre-Victorian London did spring to life when Pip’s journey takes him there. I will say though that if the story was merely just about Pip without these extra characters, or just about him and Estella (why he fell for her I simply couldn’t understand), I don’t think I would have fared so well. He is a bizarre character in many ways, not likeable really but not dislikeable, and one I couldn’t decide if Dickens liked or not as sometimes he seemed to be the butt of Dickens jokes. Here was a shocker for me; Dickens is really quite funny when he wants to be. Pip seemed to like being a bit of a victim, which sounds awful but there are people out there like this, and rather a drama queen and I would find myself laughing out loud at things when they happened to him, was Dickens wanting us all to do this I wondered?

“I was in mortal terror of the young man who wanted my heart and liver; I was in mortal terror of my interlocutor with the ironed leg; I was in mortal terror of myself, from whom an awful promise had been extracted; I had no hope of deliverance through my all-powerful sister, who repulsed me at every turn; I am afraid to think of what I might have done, on requirement, in the secrecy of my terror.”

These wonderful quotes do bring me to a very important topic – Dickens’ prose. Overall I really liked it; I was at its heart proper storytelling. It is this storytelling nature that makes me think it is so interesting that prose that was written for the masses and serialised has become seen as some of the greatest around. He creates atmospheres and characters brilliantly, sometimes merely in a name we learn everything about a characters traits, whilst also introducing lots of strands of stories weaving off to the left and right of the main narrative. He is a little over wordy though on occasion, being paid per word I am sure I would be too, but occasionally this can become repetitive and on occasion I found myself thinking ‘blooming heck Mr Dickens, why use a word when you can use six paragraphs?’ Part of this might have been my impatience of wanting to know what happened and part of it might simply be that I was reading it straight, not in serial, and with a deadline – either way I noticed it, it wasn’t a major problem it just made me wonder if the sense of atmosphere and wonderful characters could sustain me through a monster like ‘Bleak House’ for example? Also, how on earth did Dickens want to make this story even longer, as was the original plan?

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This all makes me sound rather grumpy and as if I didn’t like it and I did. I think what frustrated me though was that I think Wilkie Collins does it better (which I fancy having made on a t-shirt) especially the twists and the suspense in his books and yet doesn’t get half the credit Dickens does, it seems unfair. That small point made, I got a lot more than I expected (pun now intended) from ‘Great Expectations’. It was far, far, far more enjoyable than I expected it to be. I loved the atmosphere of the novel, especially when it was at its darkest, and some of the characters – mainly Miss Havisham – will stay with me for years to come. I was also impressed by how funny it could be in parts. Oh and, as this seems to be a big point of discussion with this book, I much preferred the original ending that Dickens came up with to the revised, but we can discuss that in the comments not to give anything away for those who you who haven’t read it, or Dickens, yet – and I would recommend everyone give this book a whirl.

So who else has read ‘Great Expectations’, though really I know probably most of you who visit here have and I am very late to this Dickensian party, and what did you think? Who is still a bit dubious? Now I have given this a whirl, and you have seen what in his books/prose do and don’t work for me, would you suggest I try next? Oh and don’t forget to check AJ’s thoughts when they go up, he is poorly so they may be late.

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Filed under Charles Dickens, Classically Challenged, Oxford University Press, Review

Savidge Reads Books of 2012 – Part One…

I was going to try and be really brave and break the habit of this blogs and just do a single top ten books of the year. I tried and tried and tried, and I failed. I simply couldn’t only have ten, in fact I actually had a top thirty roughly, but then I have read 167 books (Green Carnation submissions always bump this figure up, what will next year be like without them) this year so maybe that will make it slightly more understandable. So what I have done once again is have two top tens, one of the books published for the first time in the UK in 2012 and another with all the other books published before that – it is the latter we are focusing on today. For the full review click on the link, I have chosen a highlighting paragraph to tempt you for this post.

10. The Claude Glass by Tom Bullough

I really liked the fact Bullough creates this sense of place and people and wants you to work with him on building the bigger picture and using all the things unsaid along with tiny tensions to create the full narrative tale.  I think by now you will have probably guessed that I thought ‘The Claude Glass’ was an unusual and incredibly accomplished piece of writing, silently impressive and one that rewards you in many ways.

9. You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead by Marieke Hardy

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

8. Days of Grace by Catherine Hall

What I also really admired and loved about the book is that even though we have one narrator we have two stories. These are told in alternating chapters throughout the book. This device is one that is used often and normally I have to admit one story will overtake my interest as I read on. Not in the case of ‘Days of Grace’. I was desperate to know what was going to happen with Nora and Grace as the war went on both in idyllic Kent and the roughness and danger of London but I also wanted to know, just as much, what was going to happen with Nora in the present, her health and the relationship with Rose and her baby. Both stories had me intrigued and I think that was because Catherine Hall very cleverly has the stories mystery foreboding the past tense narrative and shadowing the present without us knowing what it is until the last minute.

7. The World That Was Ours – Hilda Bernstein

‘The World That Was Ours’ shows the power of books, writing, journalism and memoir. When it was published back in 1967 it was a dangerous book to release and there were many people who would have liked to see it destroyed. Thank goodness it found a publisher back then and thank goodness Persephone have chosen it as a book to reprint for us to discover because it is just the sort of book that everyone should read. I will be re-reading this again for definite.

6. Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

You can feel the sense of unease on almost every page, both in a combination of the mystery of Hiero unraveling and war drawing nearer does give the book a slight thriller twist. If you think that is a negative thing it is not I promise you because Edugyan merges the literary elements of the novel with the tension and pace perfectly… and it stays with you long after you read it.

5. The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge

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

4. Never Mind by Edward St Aubyn

I always admire an author who can write beautifully and simply, an author who can create the most understated of melodramas will win me over. I also always admire an author who can write a passage that chills you before one that makes you laugh out loud and then another which horrifies you all over again. All these things are encompassed in Edward St Aubyn’s first Patrick Melrose novel ‘Never Mind’.

3. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I don’t think I have yet read a piece of fiction which seems to encapsulate the entire breadth in which cancer can affect people and not just those in the eye of the storm it creates. Ness looks at the full spectrum of emotions for all those involved, from Conor, his mother and grandmother to those on the periphery such as Conor’s teachers. He takes these feeling and reactions, condenses them and then makes them readable, effecting, emotional and compelling in just over 200 pages. The monster itself is also an incredible character being utterly evil in many ways and yet having hints of goodness amongst the chaos he creates so that you are never quite sure if he is friend or foe.

2. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

I wouldn’t normally say that I was a reader who subscribes to adventure stories or love stories and yet Madeline Miller’s debut novel ‘The Song of Achilles’ is easily my favourite read of the year so far. The reason for this is simple, she’s a bloody good storyteller, a great writer and I think the enthusiasm she has for classics becomes contagious somewhere in the way she writes. Madeline Miller has made me want to run out and read more books with this book, what more can you ask from an author than that?

1.  Kiss Kiss by Roald Dahl

I think ‘Kiss Kiss’ will undoubtedly remain one of my favourite short story collections, and one that I will happily dip in and out of again and again in the future. It has that delightfully dark, yet awfully darkly funny, essence to it that I just really enjoy. It has made me want to go out and read all of Dahl’s other adult work (especially with the covers in this new series by Penguin) and also dig out my old childhood favourites which I am sure I will now see in a whole new light. I would definitely recommend that you read this collection if you haven’t, they are mini macabre masterpieces.

So that is my first top ten of 2012 and all the books I really, really loved published before this year that I read this year. Make sense? I do also want to mention ‘Now You See Me’ by S.J. Bolton, ‘Packing For Mars’ by Mary Roach (both of which I read for The Readers Summer Book Club and adored), ‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen and ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens (both have been part of Classically Challenged and the latter of which I will be talking about tomorrow), all highly recommended.

So what about your what are your post-2012 books of 2012? Which of these have you read and what did you think? Any other books you would recommend you think I might like having loved the above? Do pop back for Part Two on Monday!

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Books of 2012

The End of Your Life Book Club – Will Schwalbe

There are some books out there that you need at a certain time in your life. They can be therapeutic and upsetting but show you just how important a book can be as an object that emotionally resonates with you. These books may be recommended when you are going through something or they may be found through researching yourself. That said they are not self help books, just books which chime in with you at that moment. Will Schwalbe’s ‘The End of Your Life Book Club’ is one such book, a book that seemed to mirror my life in many ways it was both a comfort and occasionally uncomfortable, overall though just amazing. A book which no doubt I will not be able to do justice to.

Two Roads Books, hardback, 2012, non-fiction, 336 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

One day when Will Schwalbe was taking his mother for one of her appointments at the Memorial Sloane- Kettering Cancer Centre he asked her ‘what are you reading?’ as they sit in the waiting room. Unbeknownst to them at the time this is the start of an unofficial, and not really ever totally acknowledged book group, book club that will see them reading and swapping the same books as one another during the hospital visits and small trips away over the months ahead. These books and their themes, characters and the questions they raise also occasionally being a way of mother and son talking to each other about the situation they find themselves in without ever having to spell everything out.

This might sound a little bit gloomy, and I will freely admit I did get very teary eyed in several parts of the book, yet this is actually one of the most heart warming and (I don’t want to use the word inspirational) uplifting books about cancer, death and grief that I have ever read – and probably one of the most important because it looks at it, confronting it, head on looking at the effects cancer has on the person with it and those around them. It is also very much a book about the power that books have and not just in these most emotional and distressing times but over someone’s whole life.

As much as this book is about Mary Anne’s condition and the books that she and Will read after her diagnosis, it is also the story of an incredible woman. Without her it would be very unlikely that there is now a library in Kabul, which the US Government has given $3 million towards, Afghanistan being one of her favourite places in the world. Mary Anne started off wanting to be an actress, then directing admissions for LAMDA in America, then working in education at Radcliffe and Harvard before turning to humanitarian work in Africa, Thailand, Afghanistan with refugees also setting up the Women’s Refugee Commission and looking at literature and libraries abroad. There is all of this and also her being a wonderful wife, mother and grandmother.

The whole theme of books being important at what is such a difficult time for Will and of course his mother all really chimed with me and what is going on with Gran at the moment. Though Gran doesn’t have pancreatic cancer, the tumour she has means the prognosis is similar. I am visiting whenever I can and the main thing that we both like to talk about it books. Face to face we have discussed books we have both read, authors we both wish we had and must do soon, topical things like if J.K. Rowling’s book is any good and if Mantel really should have won the Booker a second time. Every phone call, which is pretty much daily when I am not there, tends to have the question ‘what are you reading?’ thrown in at some point. Of course Will’s situation and mine are not the same, but this book made me feel like even though things will get hard and very upsetting what I have is very precious and so I am making the most out of it. ‘The End of Your Life Book Club’ is very much a prelude to grief, if that makes sense, and is exactly where I am at mentally. Will Schwalbe felt like a friend, without that sounding weird, that I was discussing this all with and in a way has made it all feel a little bit better, if that is possible, about everything or maybe more comfortable. The power of the book.

I could literally have filled a post or two on all the wonderful quotes about the joys of reading and bookshops, debates about certain titles, cosy books and confronting and even the debate over e-reader vs. real paper books in your hands – as the book has all of these and more – the one I wanted to use though was the one that struck me the hardest and I will always keep with me as I have popped it in my book notes notebook…

‘And then something occurred to me. “You know: the thing about our book club is that we’ve really been in it all our lives.”
 Mom agreed but pointed out that she’d been doing the same but with others too – talking about books with my sister and brother and some of her friends. “I guess we’re all in it together, “ she said. And I couldn’t help but smile at the other meaning of the phrase. We’re all in the end-of-our-life book club, whether we acknowledge it or not; each book we read may well be the last, each conversation the final one.”

I want everyone I know to read this book. It doesn’t matter if you have had close contact with cancer, death or grief, this book will chime with you because you love books – which is why you have found yourself here I am guessing. ‘The End of Your Life Book Club’ is touching without ever being saccharine, confronting and honest without ever being emotionally manipulative. It also celebrates life and highlights that we are part of each other’s ‘life-book-club’s’ through the discussions we have at book groups, on blogs, to our friends and family, or randomly on public transport about books and the power that they have. It has also left me with a list of books to go off and read as long as my arm. One of my favourite books of the year and one I will be turning to again and again.

Who else has read ‘The End of Your Life Book Club’ and what did you think? Did you come away wanting to be Schwalbe’s new best friend too? I am tempted to write to him just about books. Which books have you read at just the right point in your life be it sad, difficult or happy? I would love to hear your experiences with books that have done that.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Review, Two Roads Books, Will Schwalbe

Other People’s Bookshelves #3 – Louise Trolle

For the latest in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves, a perfect read if you have managed to get up off the sofa after being so filled with food (or is that just me?), we are having a nosey around the shelves of the lovely Louise Trolle, another lovely commenter on Savidge Reads. Louise is 35 years old, Danish, living in Helsinge, Denmark, is married to Anders (whom she met at a role-playing convention), mother of two and proud owner of a Hokkaido dog and a Dachshund. Like all of us, she adores reading, has a BA in literature, and trained and worked as a bookseller for several years. Now however, she works in customer services for a stationary shop (why do all book lovers also love stationary?). Her and her family have a dedicated library/computer room in our house, and her husband is trying – slightly successfully, to keep all the books there… there are 2032 books at present! So let’s have a look through them…

Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I generally keep all the books by certain favourite authors (Auster, Fforde, Rushdie, Byatt, Gaiman etc) and complete series. Apart from that, 1-2 star reads often go to my family or to the other ladies in my book club – as they might enjoy them more than I did 🙂

I collect books with owls and dragons on the cover, and general picture books with dragon stories. I recently negotiated with my husband that out staircase can be used for storing my books and his model airplanes. That has postponed the space problems.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

I have my sci-fi and fantasy books on one bookcase, my chick-lit/erotica has it own shelf, and so does my poetry, role playing books and short stories. Apart from that I just keep books by the same author together (and in stacks on the floor). Twice a year I host our book club, and I usually give them some of the books I don’t want to keep (including books I bought that I already have!)

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What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

I honestly can’t remember, probably a fantasy book.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

I probably wouldn’t bring my erotica books to work to read on my break, or on a vacation with my in-laws, but I don’t hide them away either.

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

Ugh that’s a difficult one. I’m very fond of my rare, clothbound Divine Comedy by Dante, and my signed, illustrated Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

I think it was James Clavell’s Shogun series. I read it when I was about 12 and was very fascinated by the samurai society etc.

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If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

If I really love a book, I probably would buy it (especially if there’s a lovely edition to be had). But I’m on a budget at the moment, so I try to use the library etc. as well (and the about 900-1000 unread books I have).

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

It was The Mongoliad Book 1 by Neal Stephenson

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

Well, there’s 793 books on my Amazon wish list… After reading Snow Crash I’m keen to read more books by Neal Stephenson and thanks to Simon I’ve now discovered the Persephone books…

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

I wouldn’t say that I’m a book snob, but I like the fact that I have very few “popular bestsellers” on my shelves, and I guess I like it when people notice that I have lots of books by less known authors (I love discovering new ones /quirky books). I guess most people would consider my shelves a bit nerdy/literary.

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A big thank you to Louise for letting me grill her. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Louise’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?

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Some Kind of Fairy Tale – Graham Joyce

So hopefully yesterday you spent the day in Christmas bliss. I am imaging you all waking up with that fizzy ‘ooh its Christmas’ feeling, or possibly having excited children screaming at you to wake up, then follows the present opening madness and the juggling skills of making Christmas dinner whilst stopping family members fighting or getting too drunk. I don’t imagine any of you have had a knock at the door and discovered a long lost relative you thought missing, or even possibly dead, on your doorstep saying they have been away with the fairies. Well that is pretty much what happens to the Martin family on their Christmas Day in Graham Joyce’s latest novel ‘Some Kind of Fairy Tale’ and so it seemed appropriate to share this wonderful book with you today (especially if you got book vouchers yesterday) on my favourite day of the festive season – I seriously love Boxing Day, it is like Christmas day but without the fuss.

Gollancz, hardback, 2012, fiction, 389 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

Anyway, back to ‘Some Kind of Fairy Tale’, as I mentioned above the book opens upon a pretty ordinary day for Peter Martin and his family, until his parents phone to announce that his sister Tara has turned up twenty years after she disappeared aged just fifteen. Things start to get even more strange when Peter arrives and notices that his sister doesn’t actually look any older than when she left, while his parents (and even he) have started to go grey and been aged by the years as is normal Tara herself doesn’t seem any different. Why is it and just where on earth has she been? Well, when she decides to tell her story it isn’t one that any of them could have imagined, for Tara believes she was taken away by the fairies and has only been gone for six months.

If any of you are thinking of scrolling on because I mentioned fairies and the possibility of them, fear not. What I think is one of the most accomplished things that Graham Joyce does with ‘Some Kind of Fairy Tale’ is firstly to leave enough leeway that if you believe in the possibility of fairies then you can read it with that mind-set, just as you can, if you are like Tara’s family, should you be much more sceptical about these things. Joyce also makes sure that the fairies, if that is what they are (as you are very much left to make your own mind up), are not anything like the Tinkerbelle’s you might be imagining. These are very much human like, which makes them (again if that is what they are) all the more threatening in a way and all the darker.

I think the second wonderful thing about ‘Some Kind of Fairy Tale’ is that Joyce creates a story of a family dealing with the loss, and then the sudden reappearance, of a family member and all the effects that has on them afterwards and throws in something possibly magical around the edges. I would call this a literary novel with a slightly magical twist. As we read what happens after Tara appears we also learn what happened after she disappeared in Charnwood Forest all those years ago. We have the heartbreak of the parents, Peter’s obsession in finding his sister or whoever is responsible for his disappearance and also how the Martin family decide to bury it all, Peter’s children only discovering they have an aunt after she suddenly appears. There is also a brilliant and heart rendering tale of Richie, Peter’s best friend and Tara’s boyfriend at the time, and how becoming the suspect of her possible murder at such a young age, and all those decades ago, ruined his life forever. All of this whether it is funny, heart-breaking, magical etc. is dealt with by Joyce in a really domestic and realistic way. How do a northern English family deal with a crisis, have some tea to start and try to carry on as normal.

“Tea being the drug of choice in the Martin household, Dell concocted more of it, thick and brown and sweet. After all, they’d had a bit of a shock; and whenever they had a shock or an upset or experienced a disturbance of any kind they had poured tea on it for as long as any of them could remember. The fact is they poured tea on it even when they hadn’t had a shock, and they did that six or seven times a day. But these were extra special circumstances and Peter knew he had to wait until the tea had arrived before he could begin any kind of questioning. Even when the tea did arrive, the questioning didn’t go well.  Peter had hardly taken his eyes off his sister since his arrival. The same half-smile hadn’t escaped the bow of Tara’s lips since he’d walked into the room. He recognised it as a disguise of some kind, a mask; he just didn’t know quite which emotions it was intended to camouflage.”

Joyce’s writing is, I think, marvellous. There might be tales of fairies in these pages but he doesn’t mess about with his prose. It’s earthy, straight to the point, believable and you find yourself becoming one of the Martin family yourself, your opinion of her and her story changes as you see it from Peter, Richie and indeed herself. What I also think Joyce should be given a huge amount of credit for is that he always leaves the book open to the readers own interpretation, which if you think about it is a very hard thing to do, you have to supply the reader with the possibility of their being magic or fairies and yet at the same time the possibility that Tara is just mad without straying into one territory more than the other.

If you are thinking of dipping your reading toes/eyes into fantasy from literary fiction or vice versa, or more importantly if you just want a really good story, then you need to read ‘Some Kind of Fairy Tale’. I am really pleased that I ended up choosing this for one of The Readers Book Groups on a whim because I can promise you that I am going to read everything that he has written so far after reading this. I really like his prose and in a way he is doing with literary fiction and fantasy what I think Kate Atkinson and Susan Hill have done with their crime novels, merging them so they become one genre, a genre I call ‘bloody good books’.

Who else has read ‘Some Kind of Fairy Tale’ and what did you think? Now I am on a mission to read all of Joyce’s books where should I turn to next?

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Filed under Books of 2012, Gollancz, Graham Joyce, Review

Happy Christmas One & All…

I wish you a merry Christmas, I wish you a merry Christmas, I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year – imagine that sang in my dulcet tones, ha! I actually very nearly made a vodcast of me singing just that very thing for you all in a Santa hat, however I thought that might be too much. Maybe next year?

Speaking of next year, I think I am going to have a try at one of these Christmas trees made out of books, looks like fun and I know a few of you have given them a whirl. My only thoughts are I bet I would suddenly want to read one of the books at the bottom, awkward.

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Anyway, enough waffle – back to turkey’s and presents (and possibly too much fizzy pop/booze) it is for me. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas whatever you are doing and wherever you are.

Best (and most festive) wishes,

Simon

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Grimm Tales – Philip Pullman

I mentioned that it was the 200th anniversary of the Brothers Grimm last week and one book which seems to have made the most of this timing is Philip Pullman’s ‘Grimm Tales’. This is a book that I have to admit I didn’t hear about until it was out, I would have expected more fanfare to be honest, and as soon as I heard about it I simply had to get my hands on it. It also seemed the perfect time of year, just before Christmas and just after the anniversary, to talk about it when there is that little sense of nostalgia and magic in the air and these tales are just the sort of thing to turn to either between the festive franticness or indeed if you need to escape from your family at any point. Oh… none of you feel the need to do the latter, how awkward.

Penguin Classics, hardback, 2012, fiction, 406 pages, from my personal TBR

I thought, before embarking upon reading them, that ‘Grimm Tales – For Young and Old’ would be Philip Pullman completely retelling the tales of the Brothers Grimm. In a way it is, though Pullman admits himself that he has only lightly retold them, yet in a way it sort of isn’t. That’s a helpful explanation from me isn’t it?

What Pullman really does is tell the stories as they were originally, basically before they were Disney-fied or Ladybird-ily made brighter and more chipper, putting back in all the darker details and the twists and turns that have strangely been forgotten, or maybe airbrushed is a better expression. He also gives the language a little tweak here and there and modernises it for the new younger reader too. In modernising them it seems Pullman is making them more relevant for the youth of today, he also adds referential relevance for adult readers in the part of the book that I almost enjoyed as the tales themselves. How does he do this? Each story finds itself with end notes which tell you the ‘type’ of story it is, where the Brothers Grimm heard it, where else worldwide it’s been told, how the Brothers changed it and how he has changed it, modernised it or made it work better (in his opinion) too.

Notes on Cinderella

Notes on Cinderella

In doing this, and in fact with the wonderful introduction to the true history of the tales which of course I left to read till last, we are almost given double the delight of the fifty (the Brothers Grimm actually recorded over 200 tales) as not only do we have the joy of reading them, with their full uncut endings, we also have the joy of discovering more about them. I really loved this aspect of the book and found on occasion I preferred the stories behind the stories to some of the stories themselves – not all the time, only once or twice.

As to the collection of tales themselves, well with favourites like ‘Snow White’, ‘Cinderella’, ‘Rumplestiltskin’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’, etc I was always going to be pleased. I was more so by the inclusion of lots and lots of tales that I hadn’t heard of before. New favourites such as ‘Little Brother and Little Sister’, which has the most boring title but is a tale of wicked stepmothers, witches, murder and even ghosts, are going to become favourites to re-read. Even if I wasn’t bowled over by a couple of them I enjoyed reading them for the fact they were new to me.

As for my old favourites, well of course I was thrilled to read them. I was delighted when I read Perrault’s original tales a few years ago by the darkness and the endings that my Ladybird classics certainly didn’t have, and this happened again with Pullman’s ‘Grimm Tales’. You will probably know that my very favourite as a child was ‘Rapunzel’ (so much so that is what I named my pet duck, no really) and I was quite horrified and thrilled when I discovered – spoiler alert – the twist was that Rapunzel not only got her haircut off, sent away and the prince blinded, but that she was actually pregnant (before marriage!!!!!) and became a homeless mother of twins before being reunited with her prince. Well I never!  They didn’t put that twist in ‘Tangled’ did they?

“The witch was lying in wait. She had tied Rapunzel’s hair to the window hook, and when she heard him call, she threw it down as the girl had done. The prince climbed up, but instead of his beloved Rapunzel, at the window he found an ugly old woman, demented with anger, whose eyes flashed with fury as she railed at him:
  ‘You’re her fancy-boy, are you? You worm your way into the tower, you worm your way into her affections, you worm your way into her bed, you rogue, you leech, you lounge-lizard, you high-born mongrel! Well, the bird’s not in her nest anymore! The cat got her. What d’you think of that, eh? And the cat’ll scratch your pretty eyes out too before she’s finished. Rapunzel’s gone, you understand? You’ll never see her again!’”

Overall I really enjoyed Pullman’s ‘Grimm Tales’, occasionally there was the odd dud and the language sometimes felt too current, which I don’t think fairy or folk tales should ever do really, but I loved the favourites and the wealth of information that you learn about the Brothers Grimm’s and the tales themselves. I have heard some people miser about the fact Pullman hasn’t really done anything original with this collection just retold the tales, but 200 years ago that is exactly what the Brothers Grimm were doing wasn’t it?

Has anyone else given this collection a whirl? Which other collections of folk and fairy tales would you recommend? I have to admit I am quite keen to try Italo Calvino’s ‘Italian Folktales’, which is mentioned a lot by Pullman in this book. Finally, what is your very favourite fairy tale and why?

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Filed under Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Philip Pullman, Review

Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda Reads of 2012

Do you find that you get to the end of the year, start to see everyone’s books of the year, start compiling your own and then suddenly think ‘why didn’t I read that? Or that? Or that?’ I know taht i do. Actually, I do a list like this mentally every year, I thought I had posted one on the blog last year but I can’t find it currently, never mind. I decided that I would compile one for you this weekend, before I post my books of the year at the end of next week, and who knows they may be some of the first reads of 2013!

  

  • Bringing Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel (started this one, then put it down as got a deluge of Green Carnation Prize submissions to read)
  • The Yips – Nicola Barker (see excuse above)
  • The Casual Vacancy – J. K. Rowling (was really excited by this, then heard too much about it, then Gran said it wasn’t very good. She has now said it got a lot better in the end, so I will give it a whirl after Dickens I think, if the whim tales me)

  

  • This is Life – Dan Rhodes (very cross with myself about this one as Dan Rhodes is one of my favourite authors and so I should have read this straight away, it is also one of the Fiction Uncovered titles and I love that promotion)
  • HHhH – Laurent Binet (I wasn’t too fussed about this debut until I saw Marieke Hardy singing its praises on the First Tuesday Book Club, have wanted to read it since)
  • Gossip From The Forest – Sara Maitland (a book about fairy tales and forests and the relationship between the two, very me, very cross)

 

  • John Saturnall’s Feast – Lawrence Norfolk (a book set to appeal to foodies like ‘Perfume’ appealed to anyone who likes scents, and a dark book too, started this twice and each time more Green Carnation submissions arrived, too big a book to read in bits and bobs)
  • Building Stories – Chris Ware (a graphic novel in a box that pushes the boundaries of fiction be it graphic or not, erm yes please)
  • When Nights Were Cold – Susanna Jones (another of the Fiction Uncovered titles which appealed to me because I have a rather random obsession with the Arctic and Antarctic and this is set in the Victorian period – I imagined this would have been one of my reads of the year)

  

  • Every Contact Leaves A Trace – Elanor Dymott (this sounded like an unusual literary thriller/murder mystery and I should have read more of those this year)
  • A Death in the Family – Karl Ove Knausgaard (admittedly I had no idea this book existed until I started seeing other bloggers ends of the year lists, the bloggers who loved it really loved it and they are all blogs I trust, this may be my first read of 2013 – I like to start with a gooden)
  • Any of the Simon Serrailler series – Susan Hill (I intended to read two this year to start catching up again, I haven’t read one, bad, bad me)

So which have been your shoulda, woulda, coulda reads of the year? What titles, new or old, can you not believe or feel gutted you haven’t read yet?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

200 Years (and a day) of Grimm’s Fairytales

I rather sillily forgot to write about the Brothers Grimm yesterday, which was actually the anniversary of their wonderful Fairytales. But what’s a day in terms of a few centuries? This does however seem a little more remiss of me when you put it into the context that I am actually currently devouring Philip Pullman’s ‘Grimm Tales’, which is not his re-workings of the tales that the brothers brought to us, only updated into current English and returning as much as possible to the tales original states. Anyway I thought I would talk about that a little and also the legacy and effect that I think the Brothers Grimm have had on literature, as isn’t every story really at its heart a fairy tale, even if it doesn’t have magic in it – the magic is the storytelling itself.

Grimm Tales

One of the joys of reading the Pullman stories, which I will review in more detail before Christmas, is reading the ones that I love (like ‘Rapunzel’, we all know the story of how I named my pet duck after her when I was four don’t we?) and also discovering the ones that I really hadn’t heard of before, and indeed where they come from. Gems like ‘The Cat and the Mouse Set Up House’, ‘The Mouse, the Bird and the Sausage’, ‘The Robber Bridegroom’ and ‘The Donkey Cabbage’, which have all made me want to get my hands on the originals. I do have them somewhere in the house (though we are in chaos getting new carpets, pre-Christmas was bad timing) so I will have to dig them out.

The other thing that this anniversary has also done is made me want to go back to the, edited and diluted (and not quite as dark as the grown up ones are), ones that I read when I was a child. I have dusted them all off in the hope that The Beard might read them to me over the next few nights.

Ladybird Collection

So what are your thoughts on the Grimms tales? Do you have any favourites? Do you think that deep down, even without the magic, that every story is really a fairy tale in its own way?

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My Policeman – Bethan Roberts

I will be talking about the ‘shoulda, coulda, woulda’ books of 2012, the books you wanted to read and never get round to when you mean to, before the year is through. One book that I definitely didn’t want to have on that list was Bethan Roberts’ third novel ‘My Policeman’ which I have had on and off the pile of books by the bedside since its release in hardback back in February. It was one of those books you occasionally get which you are fairly sure you are going to love and so keep it for a rainy day, you know the ones I mean I am sure. Well it has been raining a lot on the Wirral recently and so I finally decided to pick it up and just in time too, as it will definitely be making its way onto my Books of the Year posts next week.

Vintage Books, hardback, 2012, fiction, 341 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

‘My Policeman’ is the tale of a love triangle set in 1950’s Brighton. Marion, an initially rather young and naive girl, falls head over heels in love with her best friend Sylvia’s brother, Tom, and is determined (in a hopelessly romantic fashion rather than a grim gritted teeth way initially) that one day he will be hers. His teaching her to swim seems the ideal way, which she reminds him he promised her when he returns, to be a policeman, after having been away catering for the army.

As the two become better acquainted after his time away from Brighton, he introduces her to his friend Patrick, who we as the reader know is more than just Tom’s friend and watch as Marion makes the connections that in that time were illegal and seen as perverted. Will she be prepared to share the man with whom she has become obsessively in love with?

The way I have summarised the novel really doesn’t do it justice at all, in fact it makes it sound a bit prescriptive and it is anything but. Bethan Roberts does several things that really make this book stand out, the first is the perspective of the book. This isn’t told by these characters in the prime of their youth when everything was happening, quite the opposite. As Marion narrates her sections of the book, there are five parts of the book in all, she tells it from ‘surburbia-on-sea’ in hindsight as the trio are in their late fifties, sixties and seventies. From the opening of the book we learn that Patrick has recently had two strokes and has, against all odds, ended up living with Marion and Tom at her request. Especially when she says ‘I no longer want to kill you’, which makes you realise this book has a very dark heart at its centre, and as she finds caring for him rather difficult.

“You were particularly trying this morning, refusing to look at the television, even though I’d switched it from This Morning, which we both hate, to a rerun of As Time Goes By on BBC2. Don’t you like Dame Judi Dench? I thought everyone liked Dame Judi. I thought her combination of classical actressiness and cuddly accessibility (that ‘i’ in her name says so much, doesn’t it?) made her irresistible. And then there was the incident with the liquidised cornflakes, the tipping-over of the bowl, which made Tom exhale a hefty tut. I knew you weren’t quite up to sitting at the table for breakfast, even with your special cutlery and all the cushions I’d provided to stabilise you, as Nurse Pamela suggested. I must say I find it difficult to concentrate on what Pamela says, so intrigued am I by the long spikes protruding from her eyelids.”

The book is not just narrated from her point of view. Another master stroke from Roberts is that she also narrates some of the parts from Patrick’s point of view. These are written in the present tense at various points in the past and really highlight just how difficult it was to be homosexual back in the 1950’s. The secrecy which needed to be conducted and the devastation that could be caused simply from someone implying you were ‘comme ca’, as it was then put, are both threateningly real all the time and when they happen described tragically and I have to say Roberts makes these incidents incredibly emotive to read.

“Where to begin? I had a sudden desire to stand up and stride about like a barrister, telling him a truth or two about this life, as he put it. Meaning my life. Meaning the lives of others. Meaning the morally dissolute. The sexually criminal. Meaning those who society has condemned to isolation, fear and self loathing.”

As the two narrations are drawn together not only does Roberts let you know what happened to the trio between their initial meeting and the present, bit by bit making the tension mount as she does so, but your sympathies switch almost constantly with both Marion and Patrick. Are they simply naive, is one of them the bad person, is neither at fault for their actions or are both to blame? I found it very interesting that never do we hear from Tom, who is the catalyst really, yet it didn’t matter that we didn’t either oddly, through Marion and Patrick we picture him and his actions, the good and the bad (Roberts brilliantly gives all her characters strengths and weaknesses making them all the fuller), in full.

I adored ‘My Policeman’, despite the fact it made me cry on a few occasions. I found it incredibly difficult to break away from it for any period of time yet I also found that as the book went on I was trying not to read it too fast, in part from the sense of impending doom and also because I didn’t really want it to end. I felt I was there, a bystander watching it all, feeling for Marion then Patrick and vice versa. It is one of the most beautifully written and emotionally engaging novels I have read this year. It is also a book that highlights a bit of our history that we often brush under the carpet, mainly because we think we are more tolerant now, and yet is one that should definitely be acknowledged and learnt from. It is very hard to believe that Bethan Roberts wasn’t a closeted gay man, or married to one, in the fifties so vividly is it portrayed and so affected are you by the prose. You must read this book.

Has anyone else read this and what did you think? For some reason I thought this was Bethan’s debut novel, it is in fact her third, have any of you read ‘The Pools’ or ‘The Good Plain Cook’? I am most keen to try them.

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Filed under Bethan Roberts, Books of 2012, Review, Vintage Books

Other People’s Bookshelves #2 – Marina Sofia

Normally this new series of Other People’s Bookshelves will go live on Thursdays, however I have done a little swap around of posts this week and so it is here a day early. This week we have the lovely Marina Sofia, who regularly comments on Savidge Reads (for which I am hugely grateful as I am to anyone who does). Marina Sofia is a serial expat, currently living in the French Alps near Geneva. She loves reading books of any kind, with a particular weakness for Japanese and German literature, and crime fiction from any country.  She is currently writing her own crime novel and blogs about poetry, the books she reads and the joys and pains of finding time to write.  Marina is also a regular reviewer for the website www.crimefictionlover.com. She also has the blog http://findingtimetowrite.wordpress.com Do give them both a visit.

Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

In an ideal world, I would have all of my books up on the shelves.  However, I currently have books in 3 countries. We are temporarily living in rented accommodation in France, so I have a few old favourites and new purchases here (hence the limited number of bookshelves).  In the attic of our house in the UK I have boxes and boxes of books, which I had to clear out of my beloved bookcases for our tenants. And I still have quite a pile of books waiting to be reunited with me at my parents’ house in Romania.  However, I do have big clear-outs and give away books to charity or local libraries a few times a year.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

I used to be really anal about organising books by topic, alphabetical order, colour, size etc.  I’ve mellowed a little over the years and only organize them by topic.  So, all my crime fiction is in one place.  All my books in foreign languages are in another place.  My professional books are in one corner, with my ancient teddy bear to keep them company. And so on.  I can usually find any book in just a few seconds, so there is some kind of system there which works for me.

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What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

I wasn’t given pocket money as a child, so I didn’t buy books with my own money!  Although, to be fair, my parents were very good about buying me books, because they thought it was educational. Hmmm, not so sure all those Secret Seven, Mallory Towers and Chalet School books really qualified as educational, but I adored them all!

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

No, I don’t feel guilty about any of my reading choices. But I do have a tendency to push out my husband’s books out from ‘my’ shelves and hide them somewhere. Luckily, he has taken to using his Kindle now, so I can claim full possession of the study now!

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

It would be painful, but I think any books can be replaced.  I would be more likely to try and save my manuscripts and old diaries.

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What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

Back in the 1970s or 1980s, parents had bought a Pan Classics collection of all of Austen’s novels, all the Brontë novels, most of Dickens, some Thackeray and ‘Moll Flanders’ for some reason.  I am not sure that they actually read them (they are not native speakers of English), but they had probably been told it would be a good investment for me in the future.  So I started dipping into them from the age of 10 or thereabouts.  My parents never censored me, but I had the sensation they were a bit of a forbidden fruit nevertheless, so I enjoyed them and probably became far too precocious for my own good.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I borrow a lot of books from the library; otherwise my house would soon overflow with books completely! However, if it’s an absolutely brilliant book that I can’t live without, I will buy it after reading a copy of it. The most recent example of that is a collected edition of Simenon’s noir fiction (the so-called ‘romans durs’).

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What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

A hardback edition of ‘Burying the Typewriter’ signed by the author, Carmen Bugan. It’s a beautifully written, very poignant memoir of an idyllic childhood in the Romanian countryside which comes to an abrupt end when the author’s father decides to protest against the Communist regime in Romania in the 1980s.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

I do like collected or complete works of my favourite authors.  I would love to own the whole set of Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen crime novels. And I am still searching for that perfect edition of Marcel Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

I hope they would think I am a very open-minded reader, ready to try all genres, all kinds of writing.  What my friends and family usually think, however, is: ‘How are you going to take them all back to England again?’

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A big thank you to Marina for letting me grill her. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Marina’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?

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The Winners of the Green Carnation Prize 2012 are…

Well it is a bit of a shocker as for the first time in the prizes history the judges announce two winners in a tie as Patrick Gale and André Carl Van Der Merwe become joint winners of The Green Carnation Prize 2012. And what a pair of winners they are…

Patrick Gale’s ‘A Perfectly Good Man’ is his sixteenth novel, a story of the moral dilemmas of a Cornish priest and his family and looks at what makes people good or bad. André Carl Van Der Merwe’s debut novel ‘Moffie’ is a tale of coming out in South Africa in the military during some of the country’s most turbulent times.

9780007465088 9781609450502

As you can imagine after all the reading that has lead up to this and all the discussion (which we had to extend the announcement of the winner/s by several days in order to come to a final agreement) I am rather shattered and booked out, though fear not it won’t last long. If you want to see all the official thoughts from the judges, including my thoughts on the whole shortlist, then you can go to the Green Carnation website here. I will be reviewing the winners, the short listed and long listed (well the ones I haven’t already) books in the new year, I can tell you though that they are all corking and it has been the hardest whittling down process I have ever encountered in three years. It might be just the high point for me to hang my judging boots up for a while.

Have you read either of the two winners and if so what did you think? If you haven’t yet, might you give them a whirl now?

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Hawthorn & Child – Keith Ridgway

I think I should state from the very start of today’s post that I don’t think any review, let alone my own, could really do justice to ‘Hawthorn & Child’, Keith Ridgway’s fourth and latest novel. However, now we have got that slightly awkward moment out of the way let me tell you why, without a doubt, I think it is one of the best books that I have read all year. So much so that I have read it three times, yep it is that good. I could finish there but I won’t, you need more of a push to pick it up than just that.

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Granta Books, hardback, 2012, fiction, 282 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

It doesn’t seem any accident that the opening of ‘Hawthorn & Child’ starts with Hawthorn asleep and dreaming as his partner Child drives them to a hospital to interview someone who has been shot before they are operated upon. There is very much a slightly dreamlike, or occasionally nightmarish, quality to a book which is in a way a novel and also very much a collection of short stories that sort of interweave and interlink and sort of don’t. Do not let this put you off in the slightest because this is actually one of the many things that is so blooming brilliant about a book that takes risks in its writing style and had this reader completely thrilled by it.

Hawthorn and Child are two partners in fighting crime in London. Despite the fact that they are the title characters of the book they aren’t actually the main characters throughout, well maybe Hawthorn is in a way (see this book is delightfully tricky), but they do link all the stories that create this wonderfully quirky novel appearing in the forefront or back ground of every tale/chapter. Nor, again despite its title and the characters it links to, is this book anywhere near your run of the mill crime or ‘literary crime novel’ either. Mystery is definitely the main theme of the book, but not in the way that you would think.

For example at the start of the book there is a shooting, I naturally assumed that this would be the overall story arch of the whole novel, I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact as the book goes on, and more thrills, crimes and unique stories and characters appear it fades into the back ground and the mystery becomes more about the mysteries we as people hide from others. A brilliant example of this is when Hawthorn and Child, investigating a suspicious suicide, go to interview the deceased acquaintance that may have seen him last who knows nothing of this case really but, as we see through his internal monologue, may well be a serial killer of male and female prostitutes.

The prose is brilliant, simple, dark, punchy and effective. Ridgway manages to bring London and a whole cast of creepy, crazy and complex characters utterly to life. Just my cup of tea. Hawthorn was probably my favourite, I didn’t ever feel I knew Child so well, a half decent copper who is openly gay (and gets much jibes and ribbing because of it) and who is prone to weeping and anonymous sexual encounters. There is something grubby about this book, but grubby in a good earthy way. I don’t know if you can call a book sexy, and I do not under any circumstances mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way just to clear that up, but it has a certain animalistic nature to it that I found rather irresistible. The sort of writing that might give you a crush on an author. Maybe I am not making sense; maybe I have been lost in the ‘Hawthorn and Child’ world completely myself. I am fine with that if so.

An example of this is one of my favourite pieces/chapters/stories in the book ‘How To Have Fun With A Fat Man’ which manages to several clever things in just fewer than twenty pages. Firstly it manages to be three separate narratives, one is Hawthorn at a riot, the second Hawthorn cruising for sex in a gay sauna (not for the prudish, but you are all open minded readers here I know) and the third a visit to Hawthorn’s father. The latter story stands alone, despite being in the middle of the other two and looks at how Hawthorn copes with his sexuality at work and with his family, plus has a very sweet nostalgic twist brought on by a horrendous tale of someone’s death. However the cleverest part of this tale was that Ridgway writes the riot and the sauna sequences in such a way that sometimes you can’t tell which is which. Brilliance, here is an example of this…

“At a signal they move from the wall. They move towards the others. It is always a confrontation. It is always a stand-off. Hawthorn is shoulder to shoulder with men like himself. He is eye to eye across the air. He is picking out certain faces. He is making calculations. There are certain things he wants to do. There are things he doesn’t want to do. These things are always people. He accepts or declines each face. Each set of shoulders. He is agreeing to and refusing each body in turn. His mind is ahead of him. He is saying yes to that one, no to that one. He is choosing. Choice is an illusion.”

I think the best way to sum up the wonderfully quirky, exciting and surreal yet real ‘Hawthorn & Child’ comes from one of the many characters who could be a psychopath or sociopath or just mad who says “Knowing things completes them. Kills them. They fade away, decided over and forgotten. Not knowing sustains us.” This is a book where not everything is resolved, stories create stories, some fade and some linger, the only constant is the brilliant writing, compellingly created cast, sense of mystery and dark humour which will sustain you from the start until the end and may just have you turning to the first page again as soon as you have finished the last. I have heard some people say this is a difficult book, I just found it a complete joyride. This has easily been one of my reading highlights of the year, again and again and again. I loved it and strongly urge you to give it a whirl.

Who else has read ‘Hawthorn & Child’ and what did you think? I have to point you in the direction of John Self who has done an amazing review of this book, really promoted it and has also a great interview with Ridgway himself too (not jealous at all, cough!) Have you read any of Ridgway’s other novels and which would you recommend, though I have to say I think I want to go and read them all now, smitten?

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Filed under Books of 2012, Granta Books, Keith Ridgway, Review