Monthly Archives: February 2013

Marry Me – Dan Rhodes

Fret not, this is not some random post where I declare my love for Dan Rhodes and ask for his hand, though I have been a big fan of his for years and years I wouldn’t go that far. However ‘Marry Me’ is the title of Dan Rhodes latest collection of short stories, which seemed the perfect antidote for having had a real book slump after the torture experience of ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’. I needed something that would make reading a joy and get me thinking and that is just what ‘Marry Me’ did.

**** Canongate Books, hardback, 2013, fiction, 158 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

The theme in all the short tales in ‘Marry Me’ are, rather unsurprisingly from the title, all based around marriage. Be these tales of people who are thinking of getting married, getting married, having just been married or ending their marriage the whole gambit is covered here. You have couples getting married through true love, guilt, accident and people getting out of it for the same reason.

Describing them like that makes them sound like they are all going to be rather dark and cynical, and whilst there are a good few dark little twisted tales (part of the reason I am a fan of Rhodes writing so much) here there are also some that are incredibly raw and also rather sentimental and tender too even if it is not initially obvious.

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You would think in a collection of 79 oh-so-short stories there might be some kind of repetitive nature. I will admit that on occasion there were a few that opened with ‘when my fiancé died…’ and there were lots of cheating spouses and husbands who thought everything was fine when it really wasn’t yet the book is brimming with variety. ‘Perfect’ shows the lengths that people will go to for the most special, better than anyone else’s, of days. ’Androids’ takes the theme of, erm, themed weddings to a very dark (but I laughed so, so hard) conclusion. ‘Her Old Self’ shows you should never marry someone because you think you are doing them a favour or out of guilt. There was even a hint of a different genre, science fiction, in ‘Cold’ where a woman gets sick of her husband interfering with the plans she asks him to be cryogenically frozen for a few weeks to let her get on with.

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What I always admire with Dan Rhodes work is how he likes to contradict himself and throw the reader completely. Here he does this by being super critical of marriage, despite the fact the book is dedicated to ‘wife features’, on the one hand and then suddenly giving you a quirky cute tale that you weren’t expecting. This is always the case in both his novels and his short stories. With his short stories like these, and many of the tales in his previous collection Anthropology, which at the longest can be a page and a half and at their shortest a few sentences (flash fiction really) it is like his brilliance is concentrated. He can create a situation and atmosphere in a paragraph a whole character in a sentence, it is quite mind-bogglingly clever. They are also overall darkly funny, you’ll laugh when you normally wouldn’t.

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I would heartily recommend anyone and everyone give ‘Marry Me’ ago. You might not want to buy it for someone you love, they might not get the way it’s meant, but if you love literature, language and the way that words can work at their most concentrated (and because you like to be entertained and made to laugh) then you should definitely give this a whirl. I would highly recommend it, like I would all the books of Rhodes that I have read.

I have just realised that Dan Rhodes should really be in my Hall of Fame, as I have read and liked so much of his work, but I am going to save that for when I have read ‘This is Life’ which has been on my TBR for far too long and I have been saving to read for a rainy day. Who else has read Dan Rhodes and what do you think of his work?

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Filed under Canongate Publishing, Dan Rhodes, Review, Short Stories

Other People’s Bookshelves… A Hiatus

Today should be Other People’s Bookshelves’ day. However there has been a slight issue as I have done something a little bit silly, and I’ve no idea how I did it so can’t reverse it alas. When synching various bits and bobs from laptop to varying devices I some how managed to delete every email I have been sent before the Monday before last that I had yet to respond to or was storing.

This is rather gut wrenching, and highlights why I needed glasses, but means if you sent a request to take part in Other People’s Bookshelves or indeed had sent some pictures and the questionnaire already it has vanished. I’m so sorry. Could you all send again? In the meantime here’s my bookshelves looking lovely in the sun to supply a small book porn fix for you all…

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The blurring in this image shows how bad my eye sight is, without glasses I thought this was clear!

If of course you have yet to take part and want to please do email me (as hopefully the several people who already had will be doing) via savidgereads@gmail.com Thanks in advance, apologies again for being such a klutz! Other People’s Bookshelves will return soon…

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Filed under Other People's Bookshelves, Random Savidgeness

How Short Sighted of Me…

I had intended on doing a book review today however the book I wanted to talk to you about I have had to stop reading as, from now until Thursday, I am banned from reading. Seriously, no joke! I should also really be banned from the computer but like that is going to happen when I have a prize to launch and an event to research for (I am still doing Wilde About Books tomorrow in Leeds, do come if you can) but I am lessening this as much as I can. Why is this all happening? Well all because I need these blinkers…

I hope I can rock geek chic?

I hope I can rock geek chic?

Yes at the age of almost thirty one I am getting glasses. I have been having headaches for a few weeks, right behind my right eye, and as I had a £150 voucher from Specsavers (interestingly as a thanks for doing something for them on the Crime Awards, how kind) so I thought I would spend them on a test and some sunglasses. Well several tests, and frames, later and guess what… my eyesight is rather dreadful, the optician was most relieved I don’t drive, and I should probably have had glasses some time ago, but then I hadn’t had a test for seven years. Oops. They will be ready on Thursday, and then I can get back to some serious reading in comfort. Until then though reading is off the menu, and work needs to be minimal, which I am finding rather frustrating to be honest. Ho hum! Fortunately I have some posts planned, so I won’t completely vanish this week.

In the meantime… what have you been reading? Oh and when did you get your eyes tested last? Let me be a lesson to you all!

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Filed under Random Savidgeness

Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

The penultimate read for Classically Challenged has been Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ and I can safely say it is the one out of all of the books that I have had the biggest rollercoaster reading wise. I have liked a lot of the books, strongly disliked one and loved another, yet Hardy and Tess have taken me from one extreme to the other. I am not sure I have ever loved a book so much and then so utterly loathed it, as I have this one. If I hadn’t been reading it for Classically Challenged I would have given up without question, instead I resolutely struggled on. It really has been a frustrating, yet eye opening, reading experiment really.

** Oxford University Press, paperback, 1891 (2008 edition), fiction, 420 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

For those of you who have yet to read it ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ tells the story of a young woman, the eldest of her siblings, who lives in the impoverished parts of Wessex. Her family, the Durbyfields, constantly seem to be living on the breadline until one day a Parson passing Tess’ father, John, tells him that he believes he is related to the noble family of ‘D’Urbervilles’, the name having been corrupted and changed a little over the years (made me think of Savage and Savidge). This John believes is their salvation. Upon discovering that they have a family of D’Urbervilles living nearby he sends Tess to meet them and to claim their fortune, in doing so he puts Tess in the path of Alec D’Urberville little knowing that Alec will become the very undoing of his daughter and may not change their futures for the better but for the worse.

Of course there is much more that goes on. Early in the novel, while still living her simple if hard life in the countryside, Tess meets Angel Clare at the May Dance in the village, she is instantly attracted to him and falls for him yet he doesn’t dance with her, even if he admires her from a far. Without spoiling anything too much I will say they do meet again and it creates further twists and turns as when they meet Tess is not the girl that she once was, despite all appearances.

“Tess went up the remainder of its length without stopping, and on reaching the edge of the escarpment gazed over the familiar green world beyond, now half-veiled in mist. It was always beautiful from here; it was terribly beautiful to Tess today, for since her eyes last fell upon it she had learnt that the serpent hisses where the sweet birds sing, and her views of life had been totally changed for her by the lesson.”

Before I tell you what I loathed about the book I will start with what I loved about it, as that is how I felt when I was reading the first third of the book. I loved the character of Tess, initially, I liked her unknowledgeable yet slightly holier than thou (though heartfelt and only with good intentions) outlook on life. As the book went on I loved how it became darker little by little, the whole book has a foreboding nature to it and often when you think things couldn’t get worse for our protagonist they invariably do, and a brooding atmosphere takes over the pages. Just my sort of thing. I also loved Alec (I am sure people will be screaming in rage at their screens at that) as he is a complete, and though this may be strong its true, bastard and yet a beguilingly devilish one that as a reader I found him horrifying yet slightly comic and fascinating.

“Tess wished to abridge her visit as much as possible; but the young man was pressing, and she consented to accompany him. He conducted her about the lawns, and flower-beds, and conservatories; and thence to the fruit-garden and greenhouses, where he asked her if she liked strawberries.
“Yes,” said Tess, “when they come.”
“They are already here.” D’Urberville began gathering specimens of the fruit for her, handing them back to her as he stooped; and, presently, selecting a specially fine product of the “British Queen” variety, he stood up and held it by the stem to her mouth.
“No–no!” she said quickly, putting her fingers between his hand and her lips. “I would rather take it in my own hand.”
“Nonsense!” he insisted; and in a slight distress she parted her lips and took it in.
They had spent some time wandering desultorily thus, Tess eating in a half-pleased, half-reluctant state whatever d’Urberville offered her. When she could consume no more of the strawberries he filled her little basket with them; and then the two passed round to the rose trees, whence he gathered blossoms and gave her to put in her bosom. She obeyed like one in a dream, and when she could affix no more he himself tucked a bud or two into her hat, and heaped her basket with others in the prodigality of his bounty.”

I also, initially, really liked Hardy’s prose. No pun intended but I thought that this was going to be really hard work. I was expecting endless descriptions of the surrounding villages and fields (there were a few at the start but not many, boy does that change) yet whilst there were a few descriptive passages it was all done with a pace to it. I also, and I think the above section I have quoted shows you some of this, found his writing raw and rather (and this might sound odd) earthily sexy. There is an almost animalistic quality to it, well in the first few parts, that really gives it an edge and drive. You might all think I am mad but that’s what I thought.  Anyway, I genuinely flew through the first hundred or so pages… And then it all went wrong.

The problems I had, without giving any spoilers away, were these. I stopped believing in Tess after a while, or maybe my sympathies left, as whilst initially she is naive and then she shows great courage, with a really bad lot, she soon becomes rather ineffectual. Maybe that is Hardy’s point, women had no real role in society at the time and certainly no stature, plus if life keeps throwing hard times in your direction you might not crack but just go with whatever is simplest, yet that to me wasn’t the Tess I had met. Secondly I hated, yes hated, Angel Clare who really is supposed to be the hero of the whole book. He’s a complete patronising, self serving, ineffectual and slightly pompous hypocrite of the highest order. Give me Alec D’Urberville any day of the week, ok he is a slightly slimy self serving tool himself but at least you know what you are getting. (Have any jaws hit the floor there or are you with me?)

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The final three nails in the coffin, for me at least, were that in the middle of the book all the endless descriptions of the countryside and farming that I had expected from the off suddenly actually happened. Almost at the same time all the misery that I was expecting, for Hardy hasn’t a reputation for being the jolliest – not that books should be all smiles, also hit and I found the middle up to about six chapters from the end really hard work. As I said had it not been for the challenge I would have given up, it had all the elements that killed ‘Anna Karenina’ for me. Then came the end, which of course I won’t spoil, which to be honest I simply didn’t buy despite the fact it caught my attention again, it just seemed so out of kilter.

Yet despite all this I can’t say that I hated ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ nor can I say I am sorry that I read it. I did really love the first one hundred pages and could see what all the fuss was about; alas for me it just didn’t stay like that the whole way though I am glad I gave it a whirl. I had show that whilst reading is very much about the enjoyment for me it can also be about being challenged, reading some things that you don’t like and putting it all down to experience. Will I read another Hardy, probably not, but this wasn’t a wasted effort by any means.

What are your thoughts on ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’? Have you read it and loved it or read it and loathed it? What did you think about Angel vs. Alec and Tess’ progression? Have you put off reading it and if so why? It is interesting I mentioned to Gran my dislike for this, and Trollope, and she said ‘Simon, do you think you like good books and proper literature?’ do we have to love classics (and I still can’t stop thinking about ‘The House of Mirth’ which I read last month and finally watched the film of last night, so I know I like some) in order to love literature? I don’t think they necessarily correlate, do you? Now then, deep breath, it’s time for ‘Middlemarch’ next…

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Filed under Classically Challenged, Oxford University Press, Review, Thomas Hardy

What Makes Us Tougher or More Forgiving Of The Books We Read?

I am currently reading ‘Fanny and Stella; The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian London’ by Neil McKenna and so far I am really enjoying it. As many of you will know I am fascinated by the Victorian period and will generally purchase or seek out any book that is set in that era either written at the time or the contemporary neo-Victorian novels. One of the things that I have noticed lately, though less with non-fiction like ‘Fanny and Stella’, is that I am much, much tougher on these books, particularly the latter and I have been meaning to chat on here about it for a while. Do you think we are tougher on the books that we assume we will love when we start them?

I noticed recently that with two really good books, ‘When Nights Were Cold’ by Susanna Jones and ‘Tom-All-Alones’ by Lynn Shepherd, which I had picked up in part because they were set in the Victorian era and so the Victoriana magpie in me had simply had to have them both. Yet I think, in hindsight, I was tougher on them than if I had read anything by either author set in another period. So therefore what drew me to the books was what made me all the more critical of them.

I think this is partly because of my personal knowledge of, and fascination with, the time (the amount I studied to be a tour guide at Highgate Cemetery, which involves tests and allsorts or did when I joined) and also because I read so many of them. It is natural that the more we read the tougher we are with what we do and don’t like isn’t it? Here I may as well say that I now compare more Victoriana novels to Jane Harris’ ‘Gillespie and I’ or something by Arthur Conan Doyle or Wilkie Collins. I am not sure it is such a fair comparison with the latter two as they are classics of the time and two of the great writers of the time. Yet that does stick in my mind a tiny bit.

This doesn’t just happen with books on my favourite subjects or set in my favourite eras though, it can happen with hyped books or the latest book by our favourite authors. I find it harder to be so impartial with those books too. I know that I am always harder on books that have received a lot of hype from the press, bloggers, friends etc. I am also much more forgiving if the latest novel by my favourite author is not as great as I was expecting, just because it is my favourite author. Fickle aren’t I? Though aren’t we all to varying degrees? It is something I have been pondering so I thought I would throw it out there to all of you.

Do you find that you are harder on books when you love the subject, genre or author or do you find it is the other extreme? What are those subjects, genres, authors or even types of literature? Do you think the more we read the pickier we naturally get? Do you have books that you set as milestones for other books to be compared to and if so what are those books and why?

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Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin

It is very rare that I re-read a book, even my favourites. I always have a fear that in doing so some of the charm will wear off or the surprises that you had on the first read won’t reappear. One series of books and indeed one book in particular, that I have returned to again and again over a good few decades is ‘Tales of the City’ by Armistead Maupin. As it is LGBT History Month this month I decided it was a fitting time to return to Barbary Lane once again, hopefully bringing a few of you along with me.

***** Transworld Books, paperback, 1978, fiction, 269 pages, from my own bookshelves

At the end of her vacation from her homeland of Cleveland, Mary Ann Singleton decides, rather recklessly for her, that staying in the city of San Francisco should be a more permanent move. Initially moving in with her old friend Connie, who is a little more free and easy that Mary Ann can believe, she finds her own apartment at 28 Barbary Lane above her mysterious and initially rather odd seeming landlady Anna Madrigal, neighbours Mona, Mouse, Brian and soon Norman. It is Mary Ann’s story of arriving and settling in San Francisco that makes the initial tale in which more and more tales of the mixed bunch of characters around her diverge and merge off of, some linking back on each other and some adding twists and turns you wouldn’t see coming. All together they do, as the title suggests, make a wonderful collection of tales, and indeed a narrative of, the city. I don’t want to spoil the tales and their twists for you though so I won’t discuss the plot/s further.

For me the main joy of the book and this has been the case every time, in the fifteen years that I have re-read it on and off, is the fact that it feels like real life. The city of San Francisco comes straight off the page, I haven’t been there (and would love to if anyone fancies treating me, ha) but I feel I have, so vivid is the description and the atmosphere of the place from the luxury of the Halcyon’s apartments to the supermarkets and dry cleaners of downtown. In fact it does very much feel like a love letter to and from San Francisco in many ways.

‘Well, take your time. There’s a partial view, if you count that little patch of bay peeping through the trees. Utilities included, of course. Small house. Nice people. You get here this week?’
‘That obvious, huh?’
The landlady nodded. ‘The look’s a dead giveaway. You just can’t wait to bite into that lotus.’
‘What? I’m sorry…’
‘Tennyson. You know: “Eating the lotus day by day, To watch the crisping ripples on the beach, An tender curving lines of creamy spray; To lend our hearts and spirits wholly to the influence of”… something, something… You get the point.’
‘Does the… furniture go with it?’
‘Don’t change the subject while I am quoting Tennyson.’
Mary Ann was shaken until she noticed that the landlady was smiling. ‘You get used to my babbling,’ said Mrs Madrigal. ‘All the others have.’ She walked to the window, where the wind made her kimono flutter like brilliant plumage. ‘The furniture is included. What do you say dear?’
Mary Ann said yes.
‘Good. You’re one of us then. Welcome to 28 Barbary Lane.’
‘Thank you.’
‘You should.’ Mrs Madrigal smiled. There was something careworn about her face, but she was really quite lovely, Mary Anne decided. ‘Do you have any objection to pets?’ asked the new tenant.
‘Dear… I have no objection to anything.’

It is the characters that steal the show, Mrs Madrigal, Mary Ann and Michael/Mouse in the main, walking off the page as they do so with flaws and all. Maupin is a master of characterisation and prose each character being multifaceted with good sides and bad, secrets here and there and just regular people of all walks of life. I don’t think in any book I have read outside of the ‘Tales of the City’ series have I found a set of characters that depict all aspects of society, in terms of ages, sexuality, backgrounds, wealth, races, etc, without feeling false of like the author is trying too hard. Maupin covers homophobia, terminal illness, affairs (of people of all ages and sexualities), spies, murder, lies and even cults without any effort or feeling like he is trying to make a shocking statement. There is also a short sharp episodic feel to the book, no surprise as originally it was serialised in a San Francisco paper, that makes it almost unputdownable; you find yourself saying ‘just one more, oh go on another one’ as you go along.

For me at fifteen, and still at thirty if I am honest, what Maupin says to me is that these are characters who are all trying to figure themselves out and so you can too at the same time. As the series goes on, and the more you return to it, all these characters feel like friends. Here I have to admit I wanted to – okay I still do a bit – take the place of Mouse when I was fifteen and have best friends like Mary Ann Singleton and Mona and live in one of Mrs Madrigal’s apartments. In that teenage phase we all have, I think, where I used to save up 20p a week to runaway it was Barbary Lane that I was aiming for. I owe a huge thanks to Armistead Maupin for not only for making me love reading and providing me with escape in my younger years but for also making me realise it was okay to be a bit different from everyone else, that it didn’t matter – or that it wouldn’t matter to those people who really cared about me – and that I would find my way in life okay. It was books like this one and how it reached out to me, way back when in my teens, and made me want to start something like The Green Carnation Prize so other people could find books like this as well, be they a teenager or adult.

Anyway, I have gone off on a tangent, as you can see ‘Tales of the City’ is a book that means a huge amount to me. It is a book, for me, which epitomises what reading is all about, exploring worlds we don’t know and with characters walk off the page and we befriend from all walks of life. It’s one that is a joy to discover for the first time, which I hope some of you have done or will do, and even more of a joy to return to time and time again – and it never seems to age. I cannot recommend, or love this book, enough.

Who else is a fan of ‘Tales of the City’ and the series? Who also loved the TV show, why can’t they do the whole lot? Who has returned to it again and again? Who has tried it for the first time and what did you make of it?

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Filed under Armistead Maupin, Books of 2013, Review, Transworld Publishing

The Lasses Come to Liverpool…

So this is normally the point in the week where you get to have a nosey through other peoples bookshelves, however that is on hiatus this week. This is partly due to the fact that I cannot find some of the emails that you have sent with pictures and the questionnaire, due to a full inbox not my own ineptness (well not completely) and also as I might start making it bi-weekly. It will be back though. This week though it is time for something a little bit different and a little bit more personal.

003This weekend just gone was possibly one of the best weekends I have had in ages as two of my closest friends Polly, of Novel Insights, and Michelle, who is soon (tomorrow) to be thirty, came to stay for the weekend. Recently I have been missing London a little and so it was lovely to have two of my closest friends from that era of my life come and stay. It also meant a chance to go to some of Liverpool’s tourist attractions that I hadn’t even been to myself, and so I thought you might like to join us all.

After picking up these two lasses from the station the Beard very kindly drove us on to one of Liverpool’s most famous landmarks, the Metropolitan Cathedral. As you can see it looks like something out of a science fiction novel, or possibly the wonderful land of Oz. Despite having been wanting to go and see it ever since I moved here, partly because it looks so odd and partly because it reminds me of the credits from Brookside, having the delightful duo up meant I finally could as, believe it or not,  the Beard has never ever wanted to go in – ever. Well, Captain Stubborn is missing out as what greets you inside is something rather wondrous. It just leaves you slightly breathless and what I loved it that each alcove around the circular congregation is in a completely different style almost reminding you of buildings and eras from the past. Stunning.

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Liverpool boasts not one but two cathedrals, which is really rather greedy isn’t it, and I hadn’t been to the other one and so decided now was the time. Despite the fact that it looks so much older than the metropolitan one it was actually finished later, who would have thought it?

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On arrival we noticed a rather spooky looking path and because we are quite nosey (Polly famously ‘accidentally’ broke into the building that is said to be ‘Wuthering Heights’ when we went to Yorkshire many moons ago) we decided we had to go and explore and discovered a very old cemetery, now park, which reminded me very much of Highgate and soon I was rattling on about what all the Victorian symbolism meant.

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We also thought it would be a great setting for a crime novel scene, probably where a body is discovered. Polly seemed to be an ideal amateur sleuth, don’t you think?

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If I was impressed inside the previous cathedral then this one nearly blew my socks off, it is huge and incredibly grand. I actually almost fell over from dizziness trying to take this picture…

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We would have gone ‘up the tower’ to the top however Michelle doesn’t like heights and announced she gets the most uncontrollable urge to throw herself off them and so we moved quickly on… to the pub, set in the old Pump House down by the docks.

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Then it was time for the Tate Liverpool to see the new exhibition ‘Glam’, where I got told off for taking pictures, and the regular exhibits. I must go there more often; I am amazed that I have not been to the Liverpool Museum even actually, anyway…

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The day whizzed by and after a train ride and walk through Birkenhead Park, which was what Central Park based itself on believe it or not, it was party time. We had just discovered lambrini, a horrendously cheap alcoholic drink, was made in Liverpool and so couldn’t start with anything but that could we? Oh and a few canapés from The Beard’s shop of course…

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Then came the cake, not made and iced by a five year old child but by me, and candles and champers and soon it was time for bed.

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Next day, after the Beards signature French toast and bacon, it was off for more culture at the seaside as we went to Another Place and saw several of Anthony Gormley’s statues in the sand.

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They are quite an eerie site from a distance and the mood of them changes on the day, as you can see though today was all sunshine and jollity…

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Then all too soon it was the end of the wonderful weekend and we had to head back…

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Despite being a little down in the dumps after they had left I realised what a wonderful and fun filled weekend we had had and the lovely memories that we have to share will stay with me when I miss them most next. That said though we will be meeting again for Polly’s hen weekend, which I am organising heaven help her, though I am not sure I will share pictures from that weekend!

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The Library of Unrequited Love – Sophie Divry

If ever a recently published book was going to be read by me on the title alone then it would be ‘The Library of Unrequited Love’ throw in the gorgeous cover and it seemed that its fate was sealed. I love a book about books or about libraries and so from the title alone I was hoping this was what it would be about, though of course you shouldn’t always judge a book by its title should you? Fortunately not only was this very much a book about books and libraries it was also an unusual and quirky book that gave me much more than I was initially expecting.

*** MacLehose Press, hardback, 2013, fiction, 92 pages, translated Sian Reynolds, kindly sent by the publisher

If you were a librarian, working in the basement section, you might be a little disconcerted upon finding a random stranger sleeping in your section after having been locked in overnight. This is not the case in ‘The Library of Unrequited Love’ as our unnamed protagonist sees this as a chance to get much off her chest, it seems she has been waiting for this moment for quite some time and has no plans on letting this opportunity go to waste. So starts a monologue which covers her thoughts on libraries and books, some of the history of France, the state of society today and indeed an unrequited love that she has for a young man who comes to the history section every day.

I think it might be the ‘mono’ in monologue that always makes me think they are going to be rather dull, or just a rant about the state of things. I shouldn’t think this as I have read and listened to many of Alan Bennett’s ‘Talking Heads’ and interestingly Sophie Divry’s debut novel reminded me of them a little, especially the lonely woman who rambles on being at the heart of it. ‘The Library of Unrequited Love’ is, in a way, rather a rant and it does have a lot to say about the state of the modern world, mainly libraries as a resource and what on earth is happening to the book in society, yet it does so with as much a sense of humour as it can whilst also being incredibly impassioned about books and their importance.

“Love, for me, is something I find in books. I read a lot, it’s comforting. You’re never alone if you live surrounded by books. They lift my spirit. The main thing is to be uplifted.”

Our unnamed protagonist is one of the reasons that the book becomes so much more than just a tirade on the importance of literature, as is the way that she talks to the person she finds asleep in section 900 – 910, who of course becomes us. She lives a very solitary life, surrounded by books she might be yet she is clearly very lonely with it. She looks at everything with an arched eye and occasionally I thought there was a much darker undertone to her character. Divry wonderfully takes us on a journey of a character as in some moments we feel sorry for her, sometimes concerned for her (and her mental state) and then we laugh with her and even sometimes as her, just as the person who has been captive all night in the library does.

My only slight quibble with the book was not the fact that you never understood why the listener kept listening, as I felt they were like me and simply couldn’t tear themselves away watching this woman unravelling, yet the character and the idea behind the book slightly contradicted themselves. On the one hand this is a book about the importance of libraries and books, yet the protagonist has clearly been driven mad surrounding herself with them day in day out through her job. Maybe I am over thinking it though?

I would definitely recommend every book lover give ‘The Library of Unrequited Love’ a whirl, at a mere 92 pages you can devour it in a single sitting. I also think, aside from all the book love which makes it a joy to read for the booklover in anyone, it is an intense and grimly fascinating portrayal and explanation of character. I was left wondering what might be on the horizon for this woman, thank goodness no one mentioned the K***** word to her that is for sure – the results could be horrific. With a short quirky debut like this I am very much looking forward to seeing what Sophie Divry comes up with next, be it a darkly epic masterpiece or another short tale I will definitely be reading it.

Who else has read ‘The Library of Unrequited Love’ and what did you make of it? Does anyone else get drawn to any book with ‘book’ or ‘library’ in the title like I do?

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Filed under Books About Books, Maclehose Publishing, Quercus Publishing, Review, Sophie Divry

Some Quick Reads…

You may have noticed around the blogosphere on Thursday last week that many a blogger was ignoring Valentine’s Day (and any possible conflicting presents they got) in favour of mentioning the new list of Quick Reads. Today, if a little belatedly, it is my turn to have a natter to you about the initiative, which after speaking to its Project Manager for The Readers I became all the more impassioned about, and also to report back on having read a couple of the books which rather marvellously seems to have cured my reading funk – hoorah to that.

Whilst I was in my ‘reading rut’ did you know that I was joining in with around 12 million other people in the UK alone? No, me neither! The idea behind Quick Reads is to get books into the hands of those who don’t read and to get those who do read to try something new and different, though for me it is the non readers that I think are the most important. The initiative aims itself at people who are worried that books will be boring, make them feel unintelligent, have bad associations with their education and much more. Basically these books are designed to appeal to the sort of person I was not so many moons ago, though before the initiative was founded in 2006, when I had been put off reading and thought it was a dull and self satisfactory kind of pass time – oh how things have changed. Obviously it has a real poignancy for me, especially as I was someone lucky enough to have friends and relatives eager to provide me with lots of reading recommendations, but many people don’t.

Quick Reads distributes these mini novels, all written by a host of well known authors with big back catalogues to quickly take a reader off into a world of escapism, in retail stores around the UK for just £1, on Amazon for even cheaper if you have a K***** (cough) and free in libraries all around, and up and down, the UK. They are also starting reading groups in prisons where it has proven that reading and literacy can curb reoffending, what could be better as an initiative.

The question is though… What are the books actually like? It is this that made me hold off from writing about the initiative until I had read some and so here, in mini review form as I know I am waffling on, are my thoughts on the ones that the non reader of my past would have grabbed if he had had the option.

Wrong Time, Wrong Place – Simon Kernick

*** Arrow Books, paperback, 2013, fiction, 92 pages, kindly sent by Quick Reads

As a group of friends go hiking in the Scottish highlands they come across a naked woman who is running from something or someone. Clearly having been beaten and half starved but unable to speak a word of English they decide to help her and take her to their holiday cottage, their kindness however is their biggest mistake as someone knows that this girl is missing and they will do everything and anything to cover up this girls existence and anyone else’s knowledge of it.

Well, wow! Simon Kernick certainly knows how to grip you from the start of this tale until the very end – which had two or three absolutely brilliant twists in it. Clichéd as it sounds I actually couldn’t put this down and read it in one great greedy gulp. It is quite terrifying, though it does go a little farcical at points and also reminded me of several horror movies, yet that is what may attract non readers to it and keep them reading because it is a pure escapist adrenaline rush. I was chilled and thrilled throughout but especially by the ending, genius. It should come with a warning for anyone who is averse to gore though.

A Dreadful Murder; The Mysterious Death of Caroline Luard – Minette Walters

**** Pan Macmillan Books, paperback, 2013, fiction, 125 pages, kindly sent by Quick Reads

In 1908, in a small town in Kent, Mrs Caroline Luard was found dead outside the Summer House in the large estate that she rented with her husband. She had been attacked and shot twice in broad daylight with no
witnesses and soon her husband became the prime suspect as the last person to see her alive and the first person to find her dead. In this short novel Minette Walters looks at one of England’s unresolved true crimes, one that in its heyday was infamous, and tries to see if she can work out who the killer was.

This was just my sort of book. I love that period in history and how detection was evolving, as it was still a relatively new form of policing, I also love a grand house as a murder setting and all the gossip that evolves below stairs and in the surrounding neighbourhoods and I love true crimes and find the unsolved ones all the more intriguing, even if it is slightly infuriating that we will never know the truth. So I naturally thought that this was brilliant. I could see this making people rush off to read more fictionalised true crimes, books from the era and of course more of Minette Walters books themselves – I know I wanted to do just this when I finished it.

So… hopefully that gives you an idea of what a brilliant initiative this all is. For me, from both the mind of someone who didn’t used to read at all and someone who is now an addicted avid reader, these two reads were just great. One provided utter escapism and took me into a genre I tend to watch in films rather than read, though might read more in the future for escape, the other reignited my desire for narrative nonfiction or a book from the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. Both were from authors I had never tried before and will definitely give another whirl.

If you fancy giving anyone you know who doesn’t read much a good start I would recommend passing them one of these and supporting a brilliant cause, or indeed (as I was last week) you find yourself in a reading funk or you just want to dabble with something new in your reading diet then pick up a couple for yourself. I would definitely recommend them on both counts. You can hear more about the initiative on The Readers this week, and visit the Quick Reads website too. Which of their books have you read and what did you make of them?

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Filed under Arrow Books, Minette Walters, Pan MacMillan, Quick Reads, Review, Simon Kernick

Savidge Reads’ Top Ten LGBT Books…

As I mentioned yesterday I am in a little bit of a reading funk. So I was routing through my bookshelves, and preparing for the event I have coming next Tuesday, I thought that I would make a little video of my personal top ten LGBT themed books. This is by no means what I think are the best LGBT themed books, it is a list of the ones that have a special place in my heart from my young teens all the way to now. So have a gander if you fancy it…

I know there are some celebrated books and authors missing yet these are the ten books that I mentioned.

Pilcrow – Adam Mars Jones
The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller
Running With Scissors – Augusten Burroughs
The Proof of Love – Catherine Hall
A Single Man – Christopher Isherwood
My Policeman – Bethan Roberts
In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
Skin Lane – Neil Bartlett
A Boy’s Own Story – Edmund White
Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin

I am aware I have missed some of my favourite authors like Stella Duffy, Sarah Waters, Geoff Ryman, etc, lots and lots of Green Carnation books, nonfiction and classics, the latter mainly as I am playing catch up with Larry Kramer and Radclyffe Hall etc.

That is of course where you come in… What are the books you love with LGBT themes? Which books have I missed and might I have read and need to re-read (I feel I need to pick up ‘Rough Music’ by Patrick Gale again at some point) or try for the first time? Which of you the books I mention have you read? Who is coming to Leeds on Tuesday for my scary solo event? Who is currently reading ‘Tales of the City’, which I will be picking up to re-read today, to discuss on Friday on the blog? Lots of questions for you there.

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A Funk!

Who would have thought that in the first two months of reading by whim for a year I would find myself in complete reading funk? Yet this is indeed the case. It seems that in being able to read whatever I want I have become really fickle and have ended up with seven books in various states of reading. This is not ideal.

Funk

It was working initially but now is just irritating me and so subsequently I am beginning to be irritated by the seven books and the need to finish them all. Though I am actually wondering if I should just stop reading all of them and put them back in the TBR (because none of them are terrible) and start something completely different instead? Or maybe even, as I have two delightful friends coming for the weekend, just have a few days off reading full stop? What do you think?

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Come & See Me in Leeds…

Please excuse the usual Savidge Reads service with a shameless plug alert… The thing is, I am going to be talking books, blogs and book prizes as part of LGBT History Month at Leeds Library on Tuesday the 26th of February in an event brilliantly called (and not by me) ‘Wilde About Books’, which I am both very excited about and also really, really nervous about as its just me – no authors or co-hosts, nothing. The details are here…

CL Wilde about books Poster-page-001So if you can by any chance come along then it would be really lovely to see some of your friendly faces in the audience and have a natter with you afterwards. Shameless plug interuption post over, apologies for the interuption to the usual service which will resume tomorrow. Ha!

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Other People’s Bookshelves #10 – Claire King

Wow. We are already in double figures now with ‘Other People’s Bookshelves’, that ten weeks has flown by. Are you still enjoying the series? I do hope so as I have plenty more coming, so it is tough if not. Anyway this week we get to meet the author Claire King and have a nosey through her shelves all the way in France. Claire has been living in southern France for the last ten years – currently inhabiting what she calls ‘quite a shabby stone house in the middle of nowhere’ with her husband and two young daughters. She grew up in Mexborough, South Yorkshire and studied economics at Newnham College, Cambridge and then spent twenty years working in business before finally deciding what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her debut novel, which I have in my TBR, ‘The Night Rainbow’ is out TODAY! She also writes short fiction, which has been published online and in print and has been recognised by fancy places such as BBC Radio 4 Opening Lines, New Scientist, The Bristol Short Story Prize, the Sean O’Faolain Short Story Competition and Metazen. Her website is here. So let’s have a riffle through her shelves and get to know her better…

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 don’t have room for all my books. We moved here eleven years ago and I still have boxes and boxes of books in the cellar. Even though building bookshelves ought to take some kind of priority, we went for an indoor bathroom first, and then windows, that kind of thing. So instead I have piles of books distributed about the house in odd corners, a bit like Tetris. But you need to leave room to walk around, and places to put down a cup of tea. One of the great things about doing this piece was that I went down into the cellar to have a look in the boxes. I thought I might find my old copy of The Life of Pi (I didn’t). Mostly down there I keep books that visitors might like to read, but which I never will again, as well as travel books, old economics and business books, the 1996 Writers & Artists Handbook, that kind of thing. I’m obliged to keep a lot of good novels down there too though. Occasionally I make a foray into the cobwebs, and fish out some different ones for the shelves, putting others away for a while, but it happens very rarely.

Boxed

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?

Not really no, apart from my TBR pile, which grows all sinister and precarious, on my bedstead. I tend to keep books I think might most interest other people in our sitting room, where they can be grabbed easily. Every now and then I move things around. I think you stop seeing things when they stay the same way too long, which is why sometimes you go mooching round other people’s shelves and go “Oooh! Louis de Bernière, I haven’t read that him ages,” despite having several on your own shelves. They look different and more appealing out of context. So I’m a shelf fidgeter.

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

It was probably one of Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books, if pocket money counts. Otherwise a Jilly Cooper book in my teens with money I earned myself. Probably Riders. Jilly Coopers are boxed. The children’s ones have resurfaced, including a huge stack of faded well-leafed famous five books.

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?

Not really. My books are like me, what you see is what you get. Although now my children are reading, and often help themselves to books off my shelves – they are particularly interested in Nelson Mandela’s autobiography for some reason – I do need to move a few age-inappropriate books off the accessible shelves. I have things that people might want an explanation for, like Mein Kampf. But some books you don’t read for pleasure, but to try and comprehend something incomprehensible.

Sitting_shelf Kitchen_shelf

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?

Do you know, I love having books, and I have so many treasured books. We have a first edition 1927 A.A. Milne NOW WE ARE SIX , which was given to my husband’s granny when she was little, as well as some Rudyard Kipling books from the same era. They’re magical. And books that my husband and I annotated as kids. Books with messages written in from friends many years ago. Collections of poetry I read and re-read and memorised as a student. It’s the personal element that makes them special. But if there was a fire they could burn, to be honest. I’m not desperately attached to things, it’s the stories that go on.

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?

My parents only had on small book shelf, belonging to my father. My mother had no books (since her divorce she has since become a voracious reader). The shelf had Readers Digest hardbacks on it – the entire collection of Charles Dickens and a family health book – and an atlas. That was it. I devoured the health book and the atlas as soon as I was old enough to read, which made me a bit precocious…but I never did read the Dickens. I inherited them though, and they’re now in a box in the cellar.

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?

Normally if I borrow a copy, I’ll only buy it if it’s one I want to read or refer to again. It’s more likely I would buy a copy as a gift for someone else and buy other books by the same author for myself.

Loo_shelf

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

We’ve just had Christmas and my birthday, so I’ve a big pile of new books off my wish-list. They include Canada, Rook, To the Lighthouse and The Great Gatsby, which I’ve never read. I know I have also been given a copy of Maggie O’Farrell’s new novel Instructions for a Heatwave via pre-order, and even though it’s not in my hands yet, it’s there in spirit.

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

My hardback of Vanessa Gebbie’s Coward’s Tale, which I loaned to someone and don’t think I’ll ever get back now. Otherwise no, although I do have a big wish-list for the 2013 crop coming up. I’ll buy things when I know I’ll have a chance to read them.

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

It would depend where they look. I’ve kept books for over 30 years, so there’s quite an evolution there. They all mean something to me, they say something about a certain era in my life, I can remember where I was when I read most of them for the first time. I think my oldest friends can see that too. But for others? It probably looks like a confusing and erratic collection. Being in the South of France we do get a lot of visitors, and I hope when people stay and ask to borrow a certain kind of book, I can find them something to their taste. I hope there’s something for everybody.

Sitting_bookends

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

A big thank you to Claire for letting me grill her and sharing her shelves with us all. 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 Claire’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?

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My Valentine Has Taken Me To The Dark Side…

So this morning there was a big surprise at Savidge Reads HQ and one which half thrilled me and half really troubled me. After The Beard and I had been unwrapping Valentine’s Day presents (Happy Valentines to you all) it came to my last one and when I opened it I got rather a shock, as you will see…

Kindle

Yes, that’s right, what you see before you is a Kindle. Officially now my Kindle I suppose. Now then, I will admit I had been muttering on and off about how I wish I could read in the night, lamps keep The Beard awake, as do audio books oddly (and they also play on when you have fallen asleep) the book light I got kept falling off, I had also mentioned how unfair it was that some classic books are out of print but available for e-readers and indeed had bemoaned the fact that when I go to Grans I go for a week, have a six hour journey each way and get laden down by the inevitable eight books I have to pack. Yet having so ardently berated these devices I had sworn I would never buy one, which I suppose I have stuck to, or indeed own one and never would I have thought that the Beard, despite much joking, would get me one. So there is some confliction here. There will be rules, and as Granny Savidge (almost gleefully) said this morning on the phone, there will be much explaining to do. But not today… Okay? Ha!

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