Monthly Archives: September 2013

Books Are My Bag

Earlier this year, though it feels oddly like last year, I said I would love to start an initiative which would ‘Celebrate The Bookshop’. I was going to start work on it again now everything has calmed down a bit, however I soon discovered that someone/others were on the case and had started an initiative themselves. I could have cried and wept that a project I was super passionate about was already being created by some clever and marvellous souls but then I thought ‘who cares who starts it as long as we have something celebrating bookshops we must all celebrate it too’ – plus with a prize, two podcasts and a blog I think really I would have been over stretching myself, ha!

The initiative in question is ‘Books Are My Bag’ the aim of which is… “to celebrate bookshops. This collaboration between publishers, bookshops and authors and is the biggest ever promotion of bookshops. For many people bookshops conjure fond images of book readings, in-store cafes and delight at the discovery of a new author. In fact, 56% of all book buying decisions are made by consumers in a bookshop and high street bookshops (both chains and independents) still account for almost 40% of books bought by consumers. Yet, many high street bookshops are under threat.

BOOKS ARE MY BAG aims to halt this process by celebrating the nation’s love of bookshops, calling on book lovers to show their support by visiting and purchasing a book from their favourite bookshop on Saturday 14th September. Bookshops nationwide will be throwing a Big Bookshop Party on Saturday 14th September to mark the launch of Books Are My Bag – a nationwide campaign that will celebrate high street bookshops.”

Now just how bloody brilliant does this sound? Bookshops, book sellers, publishers and authors all uniting on Saturday this week. I am very excited and with less than a week to go (and it being Books Are My Bag’s launch tonight) I thought now was an ideal time to tell you.

As I am going to urge you (because I do love book shops and as you might have guessed from a recent post I think we should all be using them) to pop to this page on their site which will tell you if your local bookshop is doing something special on the day and get yourself down there. You can also nominate your local bookshop for something lovely with ‘Make Your Mark’ more details here.

Right well, with all this happiness and joy I think it is time for a song. Don’t fear it is not a video of me singing some joyous overture to bookshops (though there is an idea), it is those crazy kids the lovely Bookshop Band with a special version of their song ‘A Shop With Books In’ – they call it the Books Are My Bag Version, I like to think of it as the Books Are My Bag Remix!

I will be heading to my local(ish) bookshop Linghams on the day, and am also planning on a special post or two for the day too. Will you be heading to your favourite bookshop and if so where is it?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #15 – Janet O’Kane

So after ANOTHER small hiatus Other People’s Bookshelves is back… Hoorah! Thank you to everyone who has responded to my plea for more of you to share your book porn with us, keep them coming as I would love this series to run and run. If you haven’t heard back from me, have sent them before but not been featured or you have held back thinking there’s a queue (it’s a small one) then do please email savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves and they will be featured. I have been a bit slack. Anyway, for the fifteenth in the series we get to have a lovely nosey through Janet O’Kane’s shelves, first though (I know you are desperate to see the books, the books, the books) let us find out a little bit more about Janet…

As Janet grew up in rural Dorset her parents instilled in her an immense love of books. They tried not to spoil her (she was an only child) but she was provided with all the books she ever wanted, either from the library or bought from a local second‑hand shop. For a long time she answered the question, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ with, ‘A librarian’. Despite this, her first job was in Harrods, the London store, where she sold Wedgwood china to rich tourists and underwear to the then 007, Roger Moore. She also worked for Boots for many years, although that company’s lending libraries were long gone. Now living in the Scottish Borders with her husband John, two dogs, two cats and numerous chickens, Janet still reads as much as she can and has a deep mistrust of anyone else who doesn’t. She mostly reads crime fiction, despite the best efforts of an Open University degree course and the Berwick Book Group to entice her away from that genre.

Janet has always written for pleasure, and remembers winning a Brooke Bond writing competition at the age of ten with a short story inspired by Mary Norton’s The Borrowers. She started writing in earnest when she moved to Scotland and early on was delighted to have a poem published in Forum magazine. Unfortunately, she couldn’t cash the £10 cheque because she had been too embarrassed to submit under her own name.  The idea for the opening of Janet’s first novel, No Stranger to Death, which will be published on November 5th, came to her at a Guy Fawkes party held in the village where they used to live. When she suggested to John that a huge bonfire would be a good way to dispose of a dead body, he said, ‘Go on then, write it’. And over the next few years, in between jobs and studying for a degree, she did. She now writes fulltime. Janet blogs about writing and her life in the Scottish countryside at www.janetokane.blogspot.co.uk and is also an avid fan of Twitter, where she is @JanetOkane

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 wish I had the space to keep every book I read, but instead I have to be ruthless. I try to find space for signed copies and novels I’ve really enjoyed. I also won’t part with some of the books I studied for my recent Open University degree, and a few teenage favourites, like The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. The rest I pass on to friends or our local charity shop. There is one exception: I’ve kept a copy of the worst crime novel I’ve ever read, and no, I’m not going to say what that is.

Janet Okane bookshelves 001

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 group the books I’ve read by subject or genre. While many – okay, most – of my shelves hold crime fiction, there are also reference, travel, gardening, art and film books. Guides to writing are on a separate shelf unit. Unread books – of which I have over 100, excluding what’s on my Kindle – are grouped together on two TBR shelves. I’ve promised myself I won’t buy any more until I’ve considerably reduced that number, and regularly but cheerfully fail to keep that promise.

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

From an early age I spent all my pocket-money on books but I confess I don’t own a single Enid Blyton or Angel Brazil now. I do though, still have that copy of Martin Amis’s The Rachel Papers I bought at the age of 17 to read on the journey up to London for a job interview. My Mum travelled with me and I remember sitting awkwardly to stop her from seeing what I was laughing at.

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 don’t think anyone should feel guilty about what they read, as long as they do read! My tastes are there for all to see.

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?

To me, a book is just a book and easily replaced, so I don’t have an emotional attachment to any in particular. I’d concentrate on getting my husband, cats and dogs to safety and making sure the fire didn’t spread to the henhouses.

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 Dad only read non-fiction, usually about World War Two or football, while my Mum was a huge fan of crime fiction by the likes of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham. Guess whose books I moved on to when I outgrew my own! I have a few Christies on my shelves but tend not to reread books except for a specific reason, like a competition. Revisiting The Murder of Roger Ackroyd proved worthwhile as I won a weekend pass to the 2010 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Festival in Harrogate for summing it up in 50 words.

Janet Okane bookshelves 006

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’m lucky to be able to buy most of the books I want to read, although I struggle to justify buying hardbacks or expensive books about art. I enter competitions and drop hints at Christmas for those.

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

I recently went to an event in Newcastle by crime-writer Margaret Murphy and forensic scientist Professor Dave Barclay who write together under the pseudonym A.D. Garrett. It was a great evening and I’ve enjoyed Margaret’s writing in the past, so I bought their first book, Everyone Lies. I started reading it on the train going home and was hooked. I finished it a few days later and it’s now rubbing shoulders with my permanent collection of Reginald Hill novels.

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

I’ve got my eye on Barry Forshaw’s British Crime Writing: An Encyclopedia, which has a cover price of £90, although I’m sure it is well worth that much. Moving away from crime fiction, I’d really like to own Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer and Build by Peter Goodfellow, The Chicken: A Natural History by several authors including my poultry ‘guru’ Andy Cawthray, and Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing.

Janet Okane bookshelves 002

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

I like to think they’ll see further than all that crime fiction and realise I’m a person with a wide range of interests who just happens to enjoy reading and writing about people being murdered.

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A huge thanks to Janet for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint) in the 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 Janet’s responses and/or any of the books that she mentioned?

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Thanking You…

Just a very quick interim post to say a big thank you to you lovely lot!

Yesterday I found out that Savidge Reads has just become the number one Literature Blog in the UK, for proof go here, which absolutely made my evening and has put a right royal spring in my step this morning. I know these things are actually just a bit of fun and incredibly fickle but I still can’t help being a bit chuffed. Especially as I believe it is indeed all of you, with a little help from Gran, that have put me there as apparently it is all based on hits and links back and all that techno wizardry that I simply don’t understand. What I do know is your support and spreading the message for #GreeneForGran undoubtedly helped as last month, in fact the last few months, I have been a right lazy blogger.

So before GavReads knocks me off the number one spot next month and I drop out of the top ten (it is fickle this chart and this blog is about to become a lot more ‘me’ which might scare some people off) and vanish into oblivion like some one hit wonder I want to do a little thank you. I would like to thank all you regulars, commenter’s, lurkers, passing tradesmen who visit the blog, all the publishers who send me books and let me loose on their authors, book bloggers who inspired me from the start and those that continue to do so and make the blogosphere such a lovely place. Cheers to you all.

Wow, that was like my Oscar’s speech that will never really happen, seriously though ta very much to you all! I think Gran would be proper proud too!

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The Rusty/Ropey Reviewer…

Earlier in the week I mentioned that I am keen to get back to doing some book reviews/thoughts on lots of titles I have read over the last few months. Yesterday I got down to it and blooming heck this book blogger has become a bit rusty to be honest. Whilst I have admittedly written some reviews of the Graham Greene’s I read last month, yesterday I was really struggling to write anything cohesive or comprehensive about Anthony Marra’s amazing debut ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena’ and it took me about four hours which is just over double the time it normally takes on and off.

I sat and tried to work out where the block was coming from. Was it a) because I admired the book so much I felt I couldn’t do it justice b) that the author was living so I cared more about if they should happen to read it (which I don’t assume authors will do) than I would have if the author had croaked it (which makes it highly unlikely they will ever see the review) or c) I simply didn’t have anything intelligent to say. These are all the normal doubts that I have when I review, especially books I love and therefore want everyone to read yet don’t want to just gush about. I think the real reason was that I was out of the loop and therein lay self doubt.

I don’t mean that I am arrogant about my reviews, because I don’t think they are the dogs proverbials and more times than I would like to admit I read other reviews and think ‘why oh why can I not be as prolific and profound as that swine’. In fact I did this reading some reviews of Anthony Marra after I had posted mine – I could have wept, especially over this one though admittedly it is a little bit long which can look a little bit self indulgent. This then led me to the question… what do I want my ropey old reviews to achieve?

The instant thought I had was ‘who gives a toss, this has always been my personal diary of the books I read’ which is true and the back bone of why I write this blog. Yet it is also slightly naive to have that attitude as now, without sounding like an utter tool, this blog does get millions of (ha, ha , I am joking it is really just thousands) a fair few readers which is lovely and whilst I don’t want to feel I am writing a blog that is for an audience I do want to leave readers with something. Even it is to scoff at my ridiculous thoughts or grammar.

Hopefully though the aim I think every genuine book blogger, not book blagger, has is not to make the reader dash off and read the book in question (which is beyond lovely when it happens), or to never touch the book or author again (though I think any visitors are intelligent enough not to only take my word for it, you also shouldn’t touch authors without permission anyway) but to get people enthused about books and (ironic considering I haven’t caught up on comments, it is on my to do list) have a conversation. And not just a conversation where everyone says ‘oh yes I completely agree’, I mean a proper natter – that is my new aim.

For it is reviews, blogs, podcasts and vlogs that have an unwavering enthusiasm for books (even ones they might think are a bit shit), create interesting discussion, have emotional reactions to books (as unlike Mr Peter Stothard, who was on Woman’s Hour last week saying emotions don’t count in criticism, I believe books should be emotive even if the emotion is simply enjoyable entertainment – rant over, though I will now never work for the TLS) have their own identity and personality and don’t take themselves too seriously which are the ones I myself turn to. It is also those clever sods who I also read and make me want to claw my own eyes out with jealously, until I cleverly realise this would severely hinder me in reading. I will be updating my ‘blogs I love’ with a fresh new list of these clever clogs in the next week as I catch up with them. I will also find a better name for this than ‘blogs I love’ – I am currently thinking ‘Brilliantly Clever Bookish B***ards’, ha!

Anyway, that it seems is the answer! Simply write what I want to whilst also being a teeny bit aware of what I love to read review-wise. In fact, it seems I have sorted my problem out in my own head using this blog as a sounding board – thank you all so much for your help even if you weren’t aware of it until this sentence.

Though whilst we are on the subject of reviews/book thoughts/critiques… What are your favourite book reviewers styles and why? Do you like longer or shorter? Personality or plot? Which are your favourite reviewers (link to them) and why? What is an absolute no-no for you if you read a review which may make you never return again?

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A Constellation of Vital Phenomena – Anthony Marra

I am a bit cross with myself for leaving it so long to write a review of what is possibly one of my favourite books of the year. In the time since I have read this book much has happened and annoyingly I have lost the notepad where I kept all the page numbers of my favourite/most haunting or apt passages of which this book has many. However one thing that hasn’t happened in this time is that the memories of ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena’, Anthony Marra’s debut novel, have in no way lessened and the book its prose and the characters have stayed with me ever since. It is also one of those books which is so good and holds so much within its pages it is an absolute nightmare to write anything that can do the book justice.

9781781090053

Hogarth Press, 2013, hardback, 416 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

A few books I have read recently have shamed me by highlighting how little I know about world history. I know we can’t know everything yet it seems to me (and this is apt with what is going on in Syria now) that sometimes I need to be made more aware of what has happened in my lifetime away from my home shores. In the case of ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena’ it is Chechnya which is highlighted and which Anthony Marra gives an unabashed account of; it is fiction but as he says in his authors note it is very much based on real life sources of ‘essential and courageous testimony’. It is this background Marra has researched and witnessed that seeps into the book making it a vivid and sometimes quite difficult book to read yet one that is also incredibly powerful and thought provoking.

As the novel opens we meet Havaa, a young girl living in the tiny village of Eldar that has been devastated by the effects of war, the night after something newly awful has happened to her (for we learn there has been more). “On the morning after the feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones.” She finds herself in her neighbours, Akhmed, house who took her in after she miraculously escapes. However Akhmed knows that Havaa will never be safe in her village and so decides to take her to a complete stranger, Sonja a doctor who left the safety of Britain to look after her people and find her sister back in her home country, in a bombed out (though still running) hospital in the city.

Initially as a reader you are left with lots of questions. Why does Akhmed believe a little girl could be safe in a dangerous city with a stranger? Why did Sonja come back and where is her sister? Why have the Russian feds taken Havaa’s father, where is he and what might happen to him? Through Marra’s masterfully crafted story we slowly but surely learn all of the answers as he unwinds all the strands of each characters story. Cleverly, and never with a sense of cliché, we soon come to see how all their lives are indeed interwoven even when they themselves don’t.

The sense of endless questions for a reader is a bold move at the start of any book, it can create a great tension of mystery or leave the reader lost and confused. It is definitely a case of the former with ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena’. Yet Marra doesn’t stop with the risks here which is really exciting to see in a debut novel. There is of course the level of ‘shock and awe’ that he throws into the book, we are left in no doubt as to how many people have died and how, or what goes on in the torture camps set up for traitors – one of the tales of a villager turned spy is horrendous but brilliantly written.

His biggest gamble however is the fact that he doesn’t tell you the book in any sense of chronological order. The book takes place over ten years of conflict (from 1994 to 2004, the proximity of which shocked me all the more) yet we flit between these years randomly (though each chapter is headed by the year) Marra asking the reader to stitch it all together the right way themselves by the end and it works.

What made the book come completely alive for me were the characters. The main characters ‘walk of the page’ (cliché alert, true though) which makes the book all the more harrowing and emotional in parts – I cried a few times, I won’t lie. So do all the background characters too. Some are secondary characters like Deshi, a nurse who works with Sonja, a woman who has had many lovers though all have ended in disaster and so she despises all men bringing a comic tone to the book often (there are quite a few comic moments you wouldn’t expect throughout the novel, even in the worst of times people laugh).  Others simply appear for a page or two or a paragraph, yet Marra does something brilliant here by telling you their life to come in a sentence. True sometimes this can be in the form of ‘when he was to die of a tumour six years later’ though it can also be ‘he would watch his grandchild fascinated by the escalators in a decade’s time’ – I am paraphrasing here as I haven’t the exact quotes to hand annoyingly. It is the characters along with Marra’s ability to catch an atmosphere of terror, bewilderment and hope, during such a time which makes the book all the more real, harrowing and powerful.

‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena’ is one of those books that Gran would say ‘manages to educate you on something you have little knowledge of’ and ‘makes you walk in a strangers steps, even if the stranger is fictional’. It is a book that isn’t a comfortable read by any stretch of the imagination yet, and I know I am sometimes stuck on repeat when I mention this, I don’t think that fiction should always be neat and comfortable. Sometimes we need brave bold books and authors like this to highlight what is going on or has gone on which we know little about.  Anthony Marra took on a challenge that even an author on their tenth book might not take on and he excels at it. I urge all of you to give this book a try.

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Getting Back To Normal…

Whilst realistically things will never quite get back to normal after everything that has happened with Gran in the last year (and let me once again say thank you for all your support during this time and joining in with Greene For Gran) and the utter madness of the Bank Holiday opening weekend of the music festival created another whirlwind and distraction which was good but just threw reading, thinking, blogging, socialising and just generally being completely out of the window – things seem to be settling down again.

After having had a bit of ‘time out’ and some distance from everything (and read a book a bloody day) over the last four days my focus can become more ‘booky’ a little more regularly again. About bloody time too as I have got a serious stack of books to write reviews for…

Reviews a coming...

I am also planning on bringing ‘Other People’s Bookshelves’ back, as I have a fair whack of collections of other peoples shelves and responses etc in a special folder in my mailbox. What I am mulling at the moment though is the Persephone Project, I am not going to give it up as I am loving reading them. I might not make a definite date each month for when I will read them by, instead reading one a month on whim (but in the right order) seems more relaxed which is what I need right now.

So all in all Savidge Reads should be back to a regular kind of posting service, though I have rediscovered that if I have a day off – or a week – here or there that the world doesn’t end and that some of you pop and check in regardless! Speaking of you lovely lot, before I start recommending some corking books what have you been reading and loving? Anything I should try and get my mitts on?

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