Monthly Archives: November 2013

Other People’s Bookshelves #21 – Liz Broomfield

Hello and welcome to the latest in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves where we get to have a good old nosey through other peoples book collections. This week we get to have a gander round Liz Broomfield’s, Liz is a proof reader and editor at LibroEditing she is also an avid reader and writes about her ‘tales of the TBR’ here where you can also find out more about her own writing and books. For now though, grab a cuppa and some nicely provided biscuits and let’s find out more about Liz and her books.

I’m a bookaholic and inveterate reader – I used to read over 200 books a year and would regularly get people accusing me of not reading them “properly” – but I do! When I started running my own business while working a day job, my reading suffered, but I’ve ramped it up again now as part of using my business to support me but allow me to be flexible enough to continue to do the stuff I love. Reading keeps me sane, it’s my go-to activity when times are bad or stressful or I’m poorly. Some of my most important friendships have been made and sustained through books, and one of my favourite things to do nowadays is doing a joint read with Other Half on audiobook and me on paper book. I have a Kindle and enjoy using it on holiday, but it’s paper books for me all the way. I’m an editor, transcriber and localiser, but even though I’m immersed in the written word all day, that doesn’t stop me burying my nose in a book during breaks!

childrens booksDo 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?

As there are now over 2,500 books in my house, I am careful about what stays on my shelf. The basic rule: if I’m likely to re-read it, it stays. I periodically go through my shelves and either pick books to re-read to see if I will re-read all by that author in the future – if not, I clear them all off. Luckily I’m a BookCrosser, so I have safe places for the books to go.

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?

My TBR is separate (and shelved / read in rough order of acquisition). I keep fiction separate (and in a different room, by accident of how the house works) and in alphabetical order by author / chronological order of publication within author, with Persephone books separate. Non-fiction is divided into biography, travel, family, essays, Birmingham, history, quest (books like Danny Wallace and Dave Gorman’s or the one by the man who sets out be a Scrabble champion), IT, business, music, feminism, sport, animals, interior design, art, etc, all downstairs. In alphabetical order by author within those categories. Then, flanking the bathroom door, I have Nice Bindings on the left and Language and Literature on the right (Susan Hill’s Howard’s End is the on the Landing is on the landing, pleasingly) with a Terrible Pile in front of it (see pic: by the bathroom) of non-fiction that needs to go downstairs for shelving. I have a little pile of books on Iris Murdoch in my study. For culling, see above.

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

No idea, but it would be something like a pony book or E.Nesbit and if I don’t have the exact book now I’ll have a similar copy (see pic of children’s 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! Our handyman was surprised by the Jilly Cooper in the fiction section, but I do comfort-read light, well-written fiction and I’m not ashamed of it!

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?

I am fond of my collection of Iris Murdoch novels and a few first editions (not the early ones!) and books on Murdoch, and I fear I would save them and my notebooks for my research project on her if pushed. Luckily I have everything catalogued on LibraryThing so I know what I’ve got. I’m also fond of some Thomas Hardy Wessex Editions with nice bindings which I bought in a bookshop in Tunbridge Wells in which a friend worked, and would grab those in an emergency.

by the bathroomWhat 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?

Although my parents had an extensive book collection, the grown up books I wanted to read were on my neighbour, Mary’s shelves. She was a lefty, feminist lady who grew her own veg and made her own ice cream and wine, and her bookshelves were crammed with the books such a lady would read in the 80s – Viragoes, Women’s Press, Iris Murdoch … so I was most pleased when I got to read some of those in my mid-teens, and I have copies of lots of them on my bookshelves now.

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?

This was a hard question to answer. If I borrow a book and really love it, I will look out for a copy in general, in charity shops and the like. If it’s a BookCrossing book, which it often is, I will keep that copy on the shelf until I find my own one.

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

On a trip to London in August, I bought a copy of From the Slopes of Olympus to the Banks of the Lea, which was done by the Smoke: A London Peculiar people (one of whom is a transcription client of mine) and is a great looking book of writing about London. Then I fell into a second hand book and record shop and bought 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs which happens to be by another client of mine. Oh, and a paper copy of Virago is 40: a Celebration and The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat Diner by Edward Kelsey Moore. As a set of a Virago, a novel set in the mid-20th century American South, a book of travel stories and a book about music, which sums up my buying and reading taste quite nicely! I also recently bought The Space Between Things by Charlie Hill in a local Oxfam shop while searching for presents for other people. He knows a friend of mine, another friend is mentioned in the acknowledgements, and two friends taught him, so that’s Two Degrees of Birmingham in operation right there. And I picked up Bill Bryson’s At Home at the last BookCrossing meetup.

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

I would love to have a full set of Iris Murdoch first editions.

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

I think they would think – and I would like them to think – that I was a left-leaning feminist who was into travel, politics and music. I would really like people to believe that YES, I HAVE READ ALL THESE BOOKS! because that is what people always, always ask!

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A huge thanks to Liz 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, 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 Liz’s responses and/or any of the books that she mentioned?

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May We Be Forgiven – A.M. Homes

A while back I asked you about the Great American novel and how I would like to read more of them be they classic or modern (indeed so much so I asked you about them not once but twice, oops). One of the reasons for this was that I had been discussing it on The Readers, with my new guest American co-host, and also because I had not long finished May We Be Forgiven, A. M. Homes Women’s Prize winning novel, as October’s book club choice. I have taken this long to write about it because I have had to really mull over my rather mixed thoughts on it. Plus as the book starts and finishes on a thanksgiving I thought it might be apt to discuss today, after yesterday.

Granta Books, 2012, hardback, fiction, 368 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

May We Be Forgiven takes place from one thanksgiving to another as Harry Silver’s life is turned completely upside down in the space of a single year. All it takes is a single kiss to set the ‘chaos ball’ rolling in Harry’s life after his sister-in-law Jane kisses him between washing up the remains of the turkey dinner. A few weeks later when his brother, George, is arrested after a fatal motor incident and promptly has a breakdown (that seems may have been looming for a while) and Harry and Jane start an affair. This is soon followed by a murder, a divorce and suddenly Harry is left as the guardian of his brother’s children. You are left feeling rather breathless after just fifty pages, yes that is right we are only fifty pages in here and all this has already happened, what could possibly follow?

Drenched in her scent, but too shaken to shower or fall asleep in their bed, I wait until she is asleep and then go downstairs, to the kitchen, and wash myself with dish soap. I am in my brother’s kitchen at three in the morning, soaping my cock in his sink, drying myself with a towel that says “Home Sweet Home.” It happens again in the morning, when she finds me on the sofa, and then again in the afternoon, after we visit George. “What’s the story with your hand?” George asks Jane the next day, noticing her bandages. He’s back in his room, with no memory of the night before.
Jane starts to cry.

That was the question I found myself asking as I read on, where on earth will Homes take me next? The answer is that, pretty much, anything you could think imaginable may well be on the cards. We watch as Harry tries to cope with enforced parenthood, divorce, becoming addicted to random sexual encounters through the internet with frustrated (and occasionally crazy) housewives, children with disabilities, even American’s political past via Harry’s obsession with Nixon. Anything it seems that Homes can use to create a satire of the American dream and how delicate it really is and how easily it can all fall apart.

There are some wonderful set pieces here; an unwanted dog who doesn’t want to be walked for good reason, the bumping into a previous casual sexual encounter who now wants to date, a holiday away with three children who aren’t yours and all get violently ill. I could go on, in fact on occasion I was thinking this was a series of short stories (which is how this book started in Granta in 2007) that had all been interlinked to make a tapestry of American life. The problem for me with this was that it what held it together seemed to be less tightly knitted as I went on and the loose threads started to show. There is almost too much going on and too much happening to one man, and the background and fibre of the piece seems to be missing.

As Harry’s ‘new life’ developed the less I started to believe in him. How could so much stuff happen to one man? Seriously, Harry can barely garden without some tool almost decapitating him of inadvertently getting cat poo in his eye. He is really rather an ineffectual character, everything happens to him and he began to feel less and less like a character and more and more like a plot device and one which was simply there to hold the story together and give us some belly laughs along the way. Yet as with all good things – yes, even doughnuts – too much of a good thing can leave you feeling a little queasy. I wanted less of Harry’s antics (I also wanted the whole Nixon stuff to be taken out; I didn’t see the need for it personally) and more of a look at why Harry and his brother George were the way they were which is only ever hinted at on the odd occasion.

The soup warms me, reminding me that I’ve not eaten since last night. A man with two black eyes passes, lunch tray in hand, and I think of how my father once knocked my brother out, flattened him, for not much of a reason. “Don’t be confused who’s the boss.”  

The thing that vexed me the most was that I loved (and I mean really loved) Homes’ writing. I think she is a genius. Every paragraph has some form of genius in it or simply ‘a moment’, every character has some essence of the familiar and real whilst flawed. Every dark moment has some light and laughter to it. Brilliant. Yet it gets too much. A book which is constantly on ‘max power’ doesn’t seem to know where to stop. The clever satire becomes an overdone farce, as I read on I started to find I was getting annoyed by how brilliant it was, because I felt it knew how brilliant it was and was showing off. Not the intention I am sure but there was something in the delivery (and a big edit/shortening would have helped) that jarred and it lost me through the middle. Like with Zoe Venditozzi’s  Anywhere’s Better Than Here after it changed tempo in the second half, I found myself wanting to say to Homes too as the author ‘it’s alright you have me, I think you are a genius, just stop with all the bells and whistles you don’t need it’.

However May We Be Forgiven’s main theme was what won me round again towards the end as it is less a book about the American dream and how it can crack and actually all about what the word ‘family’ means and what a family is. At the start we have the stereotypical ‘blood linked’ family which is clearly fractured and falling apart, quite probably because of the generation above, unwittingly. By the end of the novel we have a very different family, one by no means ‘the norm’ yet one that feels like a true family all the same and I think that is what is at the heart of May We Be Forgiven and is what resonated with me and so its soul saved it. I am certainly left wanting to read much more of Homes work because as I mention, she is a stunning writer.

Who else has read May We Be Forgiven and what did you make of it? I am expecting some interesting mixed responses as we had quite the debate at book group (over whether it depicted a real true America or was a farce, I was in the latter camp), with some of the Green Carnation judges and also recently on the phone to my mother! Have any of you ever found a book where the authors writing is so brilliant and so full on that as it doesn’t let up you find you struggle, or is that just me? Which of Homes’ previous novels should I give a whirl?

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Filed under A. M. Homes, Book Group, Granta Books, Review

Being Thankful For Libraries

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you in America today – apologies to any readers in Norfolk Island who had it yesterday, Liberia who had it on the 7th and those of you in Canada who had it on October 14th. We don’t have it here in the UK but I did go off and discover more about it and how its a celebration of thanks for a good harvest and so I was thinking about the things that I am really thankful for in the book world – I pride myself on the fact it appears I can link almost anything to books or make it booky.

I was going to do a list of the authors I am most thankful for but then I thought of something else that I should be all the more thankful for as without it I wouldn’t be reading at all. The Library! For if all those many moons ago when my mother needed to revise for her degree (as she took me to university with her, brave woman) the library was there. Whenever we moved around to a new place, the library was there. When we couldn’t decide what to do on a Saturday, the library was there. Indeed after my many years in the bookless wilderness and getting back into the swing of it, the library was there. When I have moved around since leaving London, the library has been there. And of course all my favourite authors, all my favourite books and many more to discover.

I am very thankful to the library and indeed have popped there today where I binged on Jon Ronson and the Maus Graphic Novel – another out look on World War II which I seem to have become slightly obsessed with recently. As I wandered around I felt doubly thankful as its all free, all those books, all those adventures waiting to happen – so this seemed an apt post to pop up today. And if I wasn’t enough I thought you might all like this, it is an oldie but a goodie…

So thank you to libraries, have a wonderful thanksgiving if you are celebrating it and if not pop to your library and give thanks, and borrow some books from it, anyway. Or pop there tomorrow if its too late now. And if you haven’t joined your library go and do it sharpish as the greatest way of showing thanks for them is to keep them going so future bookworms can be thankful too. Let me know what or who you come back with!

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Books – Charlie Hill

I feel like this post today should be a public service announcement to anyone who loves books, the book industry and/or books about books. If you fit into any of those camps then, the aptly titled, Books by Charlie Hill is definitely a book for you as it satires the industry and the mediocrity which is rife in the amount of books that get published. Yet do not mistake that for it being a book for literary snobs, that is not what it is about at all, it is a look at what the role of a book is and why people started reading them in the first place.

Tindal Street Press, 2013, paperback, fiction, 192 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Richard Anger is a struggling writer, possibly as his short stories are rather dour and so experimental nobody can really read them, who as he loves book so much bought and now runs Back Street Books single handed. It is on his annual break from the shop on holiday, packing David Foster Wallace, that firstly he meets Lauren , a neurologist he instantly falls for, and then witnesses the first in a series of deaths caused by SNAPS (Spontaneous Neural Atrophy Syndrome) commenting on what a rubbish book the person who died was reading. When Lauren gets back to Birmingham she learns of more deaths from SNAPS and is intrigued and so looks Richard up again. Richard then puts two and two together realising that mediocre books are making people literally brain dead, and in all these cases the books that were being read were written by Gary Sayles – an author set to have the biggest hit of the year, an author who must be stopped.

Three days later review copies of The Grass is Greener began to arrive at newspaper offices, bookshops and the homes of bloggers. Within twelve hours the reviewers began to die.
A pointlessly detailed passage in Chapter 3, in which the hero of the piece argues with his wife during a Bank Holiday trip to IKEA, accounted for a part-time-critic-about-town on the Bristol Evening Star; Chapter 4’s barely credible description of a drunken seduction and one-night-stand did for a contributor to Beach Reads R Us!; and the Books Editor of the Glasgow Chronicle passed away after becoming cognitively becalmed during the course of a particularly laborious pun in Chapter 5.

Through Richard we see many aspects of the book industry roughly as it is now, though of course through a satirical gaze. As he struggles with rejections from publishers and literary magazines etc, we see how times are tough for the author and how the anti-snobs have almost created snobbery themselves in a different way. (Hill cleverly shows the other side of this with Gary Sayles who is the most up himself author, with minimal talent too, and one who clearly believes his own hype and promotion – I think we all know of those types don’t we?) Through Richard’s shop Back Street Books we get to see how the Independent’s are struggling against the internet and supermarkets and even indeed, dare we say it, the publishing industry itself. Oh and the broadsheets, reviewers and bloggers also get a look in as Richard has his own blog The Bilious Bibliophile – my hackles were ready to raise at this but like the rest of the book it made me laugh at the truth of it and indeed myself.

I should say here whilst Richard is clearly a snob and only wants high literature in his life, you can tell that Hill as the author is not. Hill clearly just loves books with a bit of a punch and it is with a love of books that is where Books comes from, indeed Lauren showing Richard that the best books can meet in the middle is a big part of the book. It’s main redemptive feature if you will – publishers take note! It is also this love of books that makes Hill create a satire here and not a farce.

Interestingly there is another strand to the book, which leads to its fantastical dénouement, which I haven’t mentioned. Pippa and Zeke are two artists hired by Gary to help promote The People’s Literature Tour (a brilliant send up) who are so ‘modern’ they are probably ‘retro post-modern’, yes those types. I didn’t warm to them, but I don’t think you are meant to, and I have to say I could see what Hill was doing but, apart from at the very end, I didn’t really see the need for them as I was more interested in everything else going on. In fact I would have liked more of characters like Muzz instead, who appeared a few times to much comical effect like when he swindles supermarkets bookshelves; another part of the industry nicely highlighted there to for what it does, or doesn’t, seem to stock.

‘It’s like this. The security guard in Waterstones in the city centre, he clocks me every time I go in. I can’t hardly move without him following me. But they’ve got this thing where they don’t mind exchanges. You know, providing the books in good nick they’ll swap it, even without a receipt. So I go to Sainsbury’s, help myself, get it to Waterstones and upgrade. So far I’ve managed to swap Jeffery Archer for Glenn Duncan, a Louise Bagshaw for a Beryl Bainbridge and Breaking Dawn for The Blind Assassin.’

Books is going to easily find itself in my books of the year. It is a brave book, even with its comic tones and edge, for an author to write. In part because it is almost an author speaking out against the industry to a certain point, which might not get you invited to all the big bookish parties (though as Hill is based outside London he won’t get invited anyway as I can vouch – ouch) and might make some people in some circles of the industry a little uncomfortable with the mirror it might hold up. Also being a book that is anti-mediocrity, the author needs to write a bloody good book to stand up to what it is highlighting itself. I can safely say that Hill exceeds that with this book, and indeed it’s his love of books that shines through and makes it such a successful and brilliant satire. If you love books then, erm, read Books – it is that simple.

For more on Books and a discussion about it and indeed books and the book industry, you can hear myself and Charlie Hill in conversation on the latest episode of You Wrote The Book.

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Filed under Books About Books, Books of 2013, Charlie Hill, Review, Tindal Street Press

A Book Out There Of My Very Own, By Me… Sort Of

Last week on Twitter I was a bit of a tease when I released a picture of An Unkindness of Ravens by Simon Savidge. Yes that is right, that is my name indeed. Here is the picture for you if you missed it…

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Alas, this is not actually a finished or proof copy of my debut novel – but oh how I wish it was! It is in fact a wonderful item that might be ideal for you to buy your loved ones, or have your loved ones buy for you.

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“What on earth is it? Stop teasing us with your naughty ways.” I hear you cry. Well it is in fact a wonderfully designed Kindle cover by the very talented people at Marston Bindery in Leicestershire who have been making Kindle covers that look like real book covers for quite some time. And now they are making customised ones for big book fans like you and I.

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I had no hesitation when the lovely Katie asked me if I would like to have one custom made, though I have to say that choosing a cover from their range of oldy-worldy book covers and something a little more retro ‘modern classic’ was quite tricky. Then the purple won me over, I would quite like everything in the world to have a purple tint I won’t lie. Next I just had to think of a title…

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In the end I was daring and went for a title which I have always wanted to give to the first in a series of crime book ‘An Unkindness of Ravens’, a series which would then have all its titles based on collective nouns of animals which I have a bit of a thing about. A murder of crows anyone? A shrewdness of apes? The options are endless and so I went with it. (Should any publishers be reading this you know where to contact me if you want to buy the series I have yet to write, thank you – ha!)

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Anyway as you can see they are gorgeously crafted and beautiful things and have helped no end in my acclimatisation to owning my devils device. Since I have had this cover I have read two blinking books on the darn thing, I am being converted with the help of a bookish looking cover.

For more info on Marston Bindery do head to their website and have a gander. Good presents for a certain forthcoming time of year I think! Oh and though they don’t technically advertise they can make a Kindle Fire cover mine is a 7” one and it fits just right. Which sounds rather like a euphemism, so let us move on! Now before I let you go and get on with your day, I was wondering… If you could choose the title of your very own book, what would it be and why?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #20 – Gavin Pugh

So this week’s Other People’s Bookshelves is a little bit late but that is because I wanted to do something special for its 20th post in the series and have a special guest and delayed it to match that special guests birthday (21 again). Yes this week it is none other than my bookish beardy best mate the lovely, lovely Gavin C. Pugh. Really he doesn’t need an introduction, many of you will have followed his blog or seen him around Twitter (where he is like a bookish Lady Gaga in terms of followers) as @GavReads.

He describes himself as a social reader and has only recently admitted to collecting books. He was the original co-host of The Readers podcast with me, and will be back at some point, though now does more behind the scenes producing The Readers and You Wrote The Book where he makes me sound better and less inept – oh if only you all knew! He is back with a new podcast called Hear Read This! with Kate and Rob from Adventures with Words any myself too. He’s mainly known for loving SFF but he’ll delve into reality every now and again. He’s currently running NoCloaksAllowed.com and going to be reviewing a piece of shorter fiction a day for the next year. So wish him luck. Now let’s go and nosey through his shelves…

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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?

That’s a huge question. Before I moved to university I had 3 tall book cases 10 years ago and at the time I squeezed as many of those books as I could into my car to take with me. I couldn’t store them all so I had a big cull. Don’t worry too much it was things like Patricia Cornwell and James Patterson, so books that I wouldn’t reread. But I did get a feel for culling books. And I can be quite heartless if I need some space. That doesn’t mean that I have room for books. Right now, I’ve got six tall and wide book cases at the minute and a couple of piles keeping my desk up.

Now, this is a confession… I worked out recently that I had 483 or so unread books in the house so my read books have to be extra special to stay. I’m not sentimental though I sort of wish that I did keep the Anne McCaffery and Robert Rankin books from my teens. I did keep my Terry Pratchett books and those really do need two shelves now especially with the new Gollancz hardbacks coming out as I’ve definitely run out of room. I’ve culled books that I loved as if I’m not going to re-read it usually goes unless there is some other reason. I’ve started collecting certain books so I am now especially keeping books to make collections. You might see Adam Roberts for example and I bought the first edition of Stone as I read it from the library and really missed not having a copy. I buy and acquire more books faster than I can read them. I envy people’s restraint who can do one in one out.

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?

My shelves are currently quite organised. I’d love to make them alphabetical but I think I’d have to cull them by half so I could see them all rather than have half of them hidden by double spacing as they are now. Before I had a bit of a tidy up the Neal Asher books for example were all over the house they are now all together even if they can’t all be lined up. And that made a big difference to how I looked at my bookshelves. Before it was a case of anywhere that I could find a space! Now I try and keep them together through some sort of link, hover tenuous that is. Though that does mean that Jim Butcher and Peter F. Hamilton have got buried. I do like seeing them together. The yellow-spined SF Masterworks are together but only I know what I’ve read as I don’t keep read and unread separated. And it’s lovely to see The Readers Book Club books all on the shelf together.

thereadersshelf

I have this big shelf of writing-related books that’s quite scary to look at – does one person need that many writing books I wonder? But I can’t bear to part with them. Actually, I’m ignoring the elephant in the room. As a reviewer and book-cheerleader I get a fair few review copies and they sometimes get shelf space while they wait but mostly new ones are on the floor in front of the shelves. But without reviewing I’d have a lot of books. I buy a lot of ebooks (sorry Simon) rather than physical copies though I’m swinging the other way and buying physical copies if there is a change I’d want them around to look at after I’ve read them. The other thing I do, like with the short stories, is to be able to pull those books off the shelves and pile them on my desk for reference and easy grabbing.
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What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now? 

You know I honestly can’t remember. I got a lot of books from the library when I learning what I liked as a reader. I’ve always been a reader but I didn’t gain traction until I was 16 and that was all down to The Witches Collection that Gollancz published collecting Terry Pratchett’s Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters and Witches Abroad and that got me hooked and I devoured all the Discworld books and kept myself topped up as they game out every 6 months for a while. I don’t have it anymore but I do have the individual volumes.

The thing I’m really bad at is overbuying books. I’ve not read the Edmund Crispin’s Gervase Fen mysteries yet, but I like having them around. There are some books that I bought when I was first getting into books hidden behind others on the shelves. I’ve always gorged on books. One thing I don’t do is buy second hand books but there is a copy of Storm Constantine’s Stalking Tender Prey as I lost it in a move and couldn’t do without having it on the shelve as battered and smelly as it is.

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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?

You know, I’m a little embarrassed by my poetry collection. It’s very different from SFF that I’m known for reading. It’s probably that I don’t know many people to ‘geek-out’ with the same way I can do with you or with people on twitter. Though I think poetry is a powerful thing that I wish more people weren’t put off by in school.

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?

I did have a no-burn shelf but since reorganisation they are a bit scattered. I don’t really go for signed books. I have a few signed books but almost all of those are mementoes of meeting an author and that makes a story and a connection. I have signed books by a few of my heroes Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Mark Chadbourn, Storm Constantine, Neal Asher and Garth Nix for example. Some celeb books like Russell T. Davies, John Barrowman, and Barry Humphries. I have books signed by friends that I’d have to try and grab. The Terry Prachett hardcovers. And then there are some ARCS (advanced reading copies) that I’ve been lucky enough to acquire that are special to me like Horns by Joe Hill. Though a lot of books that I would grab because they are OOP have found a new life in ebook so I’d leave those until last like The Great Game by Dave Duncan and the Mark Chadbourn series – sorry Mark. Oh I almost forgot China Miéville – I’d grab those first as most are signed and he’s an amazing writer that I love seeing on the shelves.

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What is the first ‘grown up, and I dont mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Greyway, that you remember on your parents 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 guess you’d say that was Stephen King and Dolores Claiborne. Stephen King for me is very hit and miss author. I’ve tried a good many of his books some like Gerald’s Game, which should be shocking didn’t grab me and some like The Stand I didn’t see why they were talking so long. I love Under the Dome but I don’t have a copy any more but Dolores Claiborne is the book that I’ve bought and given away about 5 times and it’s currently missing. I need to buy another copy soon as I like rereading it. It’s got no horror in it as such but tells the lives of two women as they grow old together.

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?

This is one reason that I’m really sad that libraries are disappearing as I’ve read some books when I was finding myself as a reader that are missing from the shelves like Martin Bauman by David Leavitt that I should have got around to re-buying but it’s not a book I want to read again mostly as it was such a powerful book the first time that I don’t think a second reading will live up to that. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman I did end up buying though I thought I would reread it much earlier than I actually did and then I listened to it as an audiobook so that doesn’t really count as I still didn’t open the actual copy on the shelves. I guess that’s one reason why I’m ruthless at culling is that once I’ve read a book I have to be honest  if I’ll reread them and that I’m not just holding on to books in the vague hope they’ll be useful later. Saying that though now I’ve admitted I’m a collector I have a much better excuse for keeping more books.

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

One thing I love about twitter is that it’s so easy to call out and get good book recommendations. I did that recently and got back suggestions of Murial Spark The Driver’s Seat and Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckingridge & Myron. I can’t remember what the criteria was now but I tend to ask for older books that people love.

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Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you dont currently?

I’ve already mentioned Martin Bauman. I’m a little sad that I gave away Un Lun Dun by China Miéville  as that’s a proper collection gap. Also when I was a student I didn’t by Making Money by Terry Pratchett and a couple of weeks ago I bought a first edition hardback to fill that gap. I can’t find my hardback of Thud!, another Pratchett, and I could swear I bought the hardback so I might have to get a first edition of that soon.

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

Having a wall of books in the living room, which is four of the bookcases, is an impressive sight. I think it shows a person that loves reading. To be honest I’m sure that they’d know a fraction of the authors that I have. They’d probably be more impressed by the soft toys that have been placed here and there amongst the shelves.

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A huge thanks to Gavin for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Also, without sounding daft, a huge thanks to him for being a brilliant bookish bud, he’s ace.  If you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, 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 Gav’s responses and/or any of the books/authors that he mentioned? Don’t forget to wish him a Happy **th Birthday too!

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Incoming Thoughts…

It has been about a month since I shared some of the highlights of the books that have come through the Savidge letterbox and so I thought I would share some of the books (as I am being very tough on books that now come through the door unsolicited) that I will be reading over the next few months as the mood takes me. Though I have been thinking about how I might change things on Savidge Reads in the New Year, but more on that after I have mulled it further. Anyway back to the books that have come to Savidge Reads HQ and have made themselves most at home. First up some books which have come out quite recently…

Out Now

First of all, I have to mention the book that is causing some big buzz here there and everywhere at the moment and that is S by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. I have to admit that initially I was a bit sceptical about the book because of all the hype. I knew it was written by ‘the man behind Lost’ and if I am honest I wasn’t sure about it because I stopped watching Lost after the first series as I got, erm, lost. However as I saw people discussing it and how the book houses postcards, napkins with maps on, letters and much more my interest was officially piqued. When it arrived in the post last week I will admit I did do a little dance of glee. As yet I haven’t dared open it, I am planning on spending the day with it next weekend – as I don’t want to lose the pieces inside or put them in the wrong order. This is partly why I still haven’t opened Building Stories by Chris Ware, it is still wrapped on the top of my bookshelves.

Elsewhere in that pile are some new to me authors such as Ismail Kadare (who won the International Man Booker Prize, and its short so worth a punt), Jorn Lier Horst (who I was recommended I would like for giving a very different twist on the cold crime genre) and Nadifa Mohammed (whose Black Mamba Boy I have always meant to read and haven’t and is one of the Granta Best Young British Novelists), all of whom I am going to give a try.

There are authors I know too of course. M.R.C. Kasasain’s The Mangle Street Murders was one of the books I mentioned in my ‘books to look out for in the second half of 2013’ on The Readers, I love a Victorian mystery and this looks like a great start of a new series with a duo with a new dynamic and looks at the roles of women in Victorian society, ace. Val McDermid I have been a big fan of for ages and am very excited to read the next Tony Hill and Caron Jordan series after how she left us with The Retribution, this time Tony is prime suspect in a crime. Kishwar Desai’s series is one I often tell myself off for not reading more of, this is her third so I really must read her second.

The last two books are from more famous authors I suppose you would say. Donna Tartt really needs no introduction at the moment as The Goldfinch has had more press and social media buzz than I have seen in a book in ages. It has really put me off and after hearing the last episode of The Readers, her publishers sent me this to see if I could be tempted. We will see. I loved The Secret History so I am not sure why I am so anti this one. Finally there is the memoir of Anjelica Huston (who I like to call Jelly Who-Who, and have been slightly obsessed by since she played the Grand High Witch in the adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches and as Morticia in The Addams Family) I can be a bit funny about celebrity memoirs but I find her a fascinating woman and apparently her mother was a great writer and it runs in the family by all reports. Actually a bit giddy about this one.

Next up, some more books to keep your eyes peeled for in 2014…

Coming 2014

Oh actually Essie Fox’s latest The Goddess and the Thief, another Victorian delight, is out at the start of December my mistake. Louise Welsh is back with A Lovely Way To Burn the start of a new trilogy which sounds like a crime set in a dystopian London from the blurb. Tim Winton is back with Eyrie a novel of a man who has shut himself off from the world and whose past comes to haunt him through some neighbours he meets. Kinder Than Solitude by Yiyun Li (who I have meant to read for some time) also sees the past coming back to haunt three friends, now living continents apart, who were involved in a mysterious accident in their youths that saw a woman poisoned.

Eat My Heart Out is meant to be the debut of the Spring as Zoe Pilger has apparently written The Bell Jar meets The Rachel Papers, intriguing – Sam Byers loves this book. Lost tribes are hunted in 1950 in Hanya Yanagihara’s The People in the Trees which Ann Kingman of Books on the Nightstand has been raving about. If you like your books with a dark disturbing twist and sense of malice The Bear by Claire Cameron looks amazing as a camping trip goes horribly wrong and five year old Anna is left to fend for her and her three year old brother as her parents have disappeared and something is lurking in the woods.

Ray Robinson’s Jawbone Lake is one that will intrigue me personally as it is set in the Peak District, which is of course my homeland, and you know I love a good tale set in the countryside and a literary thriller, which apparently this is. I actually spent some time with Ray when he was writing it and we hunted murderous spots in Matlock – though I’ve noted there are no thanks for this tour in the author’s acknowledgements, the bugger, ha! This is probably going to be my next read.

Finally, blimey I have gone on, three books I bought when I fell into a second hand bookshop the other day…

Second Hand Treats

You will read my thoughts on A.M. Homes May We Be Forgiven in the next few weeks and suffice to say I am a bit on the fence with her. I think she’s an incredible writer but almost too good. That might sound crazy though it will make sense when you see my review; I decided to grab Jack as I want to try more of her work. Tove Jansson is an author many people, especially Simon T of Stuck in a Book, have recommended so I thought I would try her short stories. Paul Bowles The Sheltering Sky I know NOTHING about but it was a silver Penguin Classic and so I thought ‘oh why not?’ and snapped it up.

Phew – that is more chatter than I had planned, I do apologise. So do tell me your thoughts on any of the books that are out, the ones that are coming and any of the authors mentioned. Oh and if you think this is a showy off post go here and see my thoughts on that. Also do let me know what books you have got your hands on lately or what you are keen to read, I look forward to hearing all about them.

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Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy – Helen Fielding

Dear Diary, in the last three weeks; audio books listened to: one Mad About The Boy, weight during that process: who cares I don’t use scales, amount of nits in household: none but kept scratching head, amount tweeted: over 500, amount texted: clueless because I am not obsessed by it, times have been annoyed by the word ‘texted’: at least ten, amount of times made uncomfortable by Bridget Jones sex life: five, amount breathed: lost count.

Jonathan Cape/Random House audiobooks, 2013, 11hrs 23mins, read by Samantha Bond, sent by audible/Midas PR

I am hoping that the little intro note gives you a rough idea of what you might have to face if you pick up Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy and the fact that there may be some tongue firmly in cheek in my thoughts on it. Before I go any further I do want to make an announcement, I was a huge fan of the first Bridget Jones book and indeed the movie. I just wanted to put that out there before anyone says that this is not a book written for me and so it’s natural I would have issues/not like it very much/almost give up on several occasions. But let us get back to the book shall we?

Bridget Jones is back. Mark Darcy is dead (not a spoiler as this was hyped to death when the book came out). Bridget is a single mum of two with a secret toy boy hiding in the bedroom. She is still completely neurotic, rather clumsy and obsessive. She is also heartbroken. Her friends Jude and Tom are still around, though now they are joined by Talitha. She has the mums at the school gates to deal with and the prospect of nits. There is much fodder here for a Bridget who forays into the modern world and all its social media glory.

I really wanted to enjoy Mad About The Boy as I was just in the mood for some lovely escapism. Alas I didn’t really get on with it. The main problems for me, weren’t controversially that Mark Darcy is dead as actually some moments surrounding the aftermath of that are hauntingly good, were that from the moment I heard that her toy boy was called Roxster (seriously!?!) and her new best friend Talitha (I say new, I couldn’t remember her of old) and then realised she was pretty well off and had no real money worries, I realised this was a new Bridget but not in a good way.

What I always loved about Bridget before, how daft she was really, now at the age of 51 really annoyed me and often made me want to shout ‘oh get a grip love’. Not at her grief I hasten to add, but at her utter naivety and complete lack of self awareness that really she should have moved on from. Did I want to read about her problems with joining twitter and obsession over no followers – erm no, but I got three or four chapters on it. Did I want to hear about her sex life with a man half her age, no? But boy oh boy do you get that in intricate awkward detail. I have no issue with age differences – I have an issue with Bridget telling me every position she could get into and every element of the appendage of ‘Cock-ster’, as I started to call him.

The jokes were sort of the same as before, and I laughed a bit but not much. There was a lot about farting, which got pretty tiring. Jude was still saying ‘fuckwit’ a lot and still having issues with Vile Richard. Her married friends were still smug marrieds, only she was a widow now. Daniel was still popping up now and again obsessing with her ‘panties’. Apart from her children, who are cute and with nits and a horrendous case of diarrhoea and vomiting add a few laughs, there is nothing new here and the old stuff does feel very old.

There are two sad things in all of this for me. Firstly having loved her so much previously, I wanted to relate to Bridget and lover her all over again. Okay I haven’t been widowed but my marriage fell apart, which was pretty horrendous, and I found myself lost and in a whole new world I couldn’t quite fathom or function in. So I empathised to a point, there is only so long you can be lost or lose yourself and you have to want to function again and move on and most importantly learn. Bridget never does and what was once endearing about her was bloody annoying this time around. Secondly, I was upset for Fielding herself as when she writes about Bridget’s loss and the epic whole in her life, it is genuinely heartbreaking and beautifully written, plus had a political point behind it, and I wanted more of that and less about the farting toy boy and just how hard he was. Oh and don’t get me started on the amount of times the word ‘texted’ grated. You haven’t texted someone, you’ve text them.

I should here add that I listened to this all on audio book as I mentioned above and oddly, though I ended spending longer with it than if I had read it, I think if it hadn’t been in my ears as I was hovering, cleaning, popping round the supermarket etc I might have given it up completely. Samantha Bond injects as much heart as she can into the material and so it is an entertaining listen overall.

The only way I can really sum up the experience of Mad About The Boy is that it feels like going to a reunion and catching up with someone who was your very best friend in youth, only to realise you have outgrown them and you aren’t sure you like them anymore and that maybe you should have turned that invite down. I wanted to love Bridget Jones again and just escape into her rather madcap world once more for the nostalgia and the giggles but despite occasional glimmers of that in the main I was left with a lingering feeling of disappointment, opportunities missed. I don’t think it’s her, I think it’s me – I have moved on, Jones hasn’t and maybe never will.

Who else has read Mad About The Boy, or listened to it, and what did you think? Were you a massive fan of the original who has steered clear? Which other characters can you think of who you loved when you first read/met and then grew apart on as you read on or re-read?

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Green Carnation Prize 2013; Winner & Thoughts

On Tuesday afternoon it was announced that Andrew Solomon’s was the latest winner of the Green Carnation Prize with Far From The Tree, a book about exceptional children and celebrates what it means to be human in all its diversity. Chair of the judges, Uli Lenart, has described it as “A work of extraordinary humanity. Life affirming, insightful and profoundly moving. Andrew Solomon continuously makes you reassess what you think. An opus of diversity, resilience and acceptance; Far From The Tree is a book that has the power to make the World a better place.” I have to admit that I am yet to read it though of course it is now high on my TBR pile – I think I might try and read a chapter at a time between fiction reads.

What has been really lovely is that the author himself said this “I am profoundly honored and utterly thrilled to have won this prize.  When I was born, it was a crime, a sin, and a mental illness to be gay; now it is an identity, and a much celebrated one at that, as the very existence of this prize clearly demonstrates.  My book is about how we can use that shift, of which gay people today are the fortunate beneficiaries, as a model for helping others with stigmatized differences to find dignity in them.  I believe with all my heart in a prize that celebrates the particular contributions of gay literature, and that recognizes that human diversity, like species diversity, is necessary to sustain the world as we know and love it.  I am delighted to play any part in putting forward that idea, and I thank the judges with all my heart.”

It is that sort of comment from a writer, which really makes you think, and now many people (myself included) will hopefully go off and read a book that Kerry Hudson says “is the sort of book that makes you grateful to have found it and that remains a gift for a lifetime”. I am up for that, aren’t you? Every year it has been the aim of the prize to highlight brilliant books, some you will have heard of some will be new to you, hopefully you go off and read them. I think the prize has a great track record of that.

GCP Winners

Someone asked me the other day if I felt proud of the prize and the part I had played in setting it up. I had never thought about it like that before, yet taking pictures of all the winners together (like the one above) the other day, I thought ‘yes, I am bloody proud’ but I am also as proud as the people who have taken part and supported it be they readers, publishers, all sorts of folk on social media and most importantly the amazing judges this year are what make the prize so worthwhile. And I would like to personally thank Christopher Bryant, Sarah Henshaw, Kerry Hudson, Clayton Littlewood and Uli Lenart – who should get extra thanks as he chaired amazingly and kept me going through the process – as without them there wouldn’t have been a prize this year. Now I have to get thinking about next year…

Anyway, do go off and read them, winners and long and short listers alike ok? And let me know how you get on with them, it is hearing about people reading them that really makes me beam like a loon! I am hoping some of you already have read some of the winners and shortlisted books though?

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Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter

Each and every summer the press always give us lists of the books that will be the perfect beach read. One which kept coming up time and time again, and had the most striking cover, was Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, deemed as this summer’s ‘literary’ beach read. This put it on my list of books I must read along with all the acclaim it had received in America. It was however ABC’s The Book Club over in Australia that finally gave me the push to read it when they announced it as one of their titles for October and so I decided I would read it whilst having some delusions of grandeur that I was technically reading along with Jason Steger, Jennifer Byrne and Marieke Hardy.

Penguin Books, 2013, paperback, fiction, 337 pages, kindly sent by publisher

It is initially another quiet summer in the life of Pasquale Tursi, the owner of a floundering Italian coastal hotel with big dreams called The Hotel Adequate View, until the arrival of an actress as his latest guest. This actress Dee Moray has been sent away from the set of Cleopatra, which is filming over the waters, by one of its producers and is under the impression she is terminally ill. Her arrival changes things for Pasquale who has been too long stuck with his widowed mother and batty battle axe of an aunt.

We then switch to the (roughly) present day and Hollywood, where life is fast, furious and pretty materialistic and forgetful. Claire Silver is assistant to one of LA’s biggest producers, Michael Dean, having always wanted to produce her own shows this should be a dream but she is bored and stuck in a rut both work wise and personally. However on what looks to be another dull day of dreadful pitches, with the likes of struggling writer Shane, when an Italian elderly man called Pasquale turns up looking for her boss. As we find out why, Walter strings all the stories together and unfinished events unfold.

Beautiful Ruins is an interesting book in part because it has so much to say, almost too much. If the setting of filming Cleopatra and all the gossip and commotion from the set, possible love story at the hotel and how it all links into modern day, we also end up following many, many, many sub characters and plots that take us as far as a community theatre in Idaho to Edinburgh festival.

Unfortunately this subsequently stretches the book and its main story to capacity and the tale of Pasquale and Dee is the heart of the book and yet I didn’t feel the book concentrated them enough. For example I could easily have done away with the link to modern Hollywood where Michael Deane might initially create a few laughs (his amazing show ‘Hookbook’ for one) but soon a much darker side appears that I really disliked, and not in a good way. Also any laughter from/at Michael is swiftly killed every time Claire appears. Her misery with her pretty fantastic job and gorgeous boyfriend mixed with her one dimensional character make her feel like a part of the set used just for the sake of adding an occasional twist (Shane is also equally one dimensional) which is a shame as Walter’s can write characters brilliantly.

The first impression one gets of Michael Deane is of a man constructed of wax, or perhaps prematurely embalmed. After all these years, it may be impossible to trace the sequence of facials, spa treatments, mud baths, cosmetic procedures, lifts and staples, collagen implants, outpatient touch ups, tannings, Botox injections, cyst and growth removals, and stem-cell injections that have caused a seventy-two-year-old man to have the face of a nine-year-old Filipino girl.

It is in Italy where the book really comes alive with all the heady atmosphere of a summer on the coast, the almost deserted villages wonderful quirky inhabitants and the glamour and fascination of everything on the set of Cleopatra, I adored all of it. This sadly meant that when we switched to the modern section I would find myself inwardly groaning and looking at how many pages I had to read through before I got to the good bit again. If we had stayed in Italy for most of the book and switched to America in the final quarter (or maybe less) for the purposes of the storyline I would have been so much happier and enjoyed the book so much more.

“Leave before this place kills you like it killed your father.”
“I would never leave you.”
“Don’t worry about me. I will die soon enough and go to your father and poor brothers.”
“You’re not dying,” Pasquale said.
“I am already dead inside,” she said. “You should push me out into the sea and drown me like that old sick cat of yours.”
Pasquale straightened. “You said my cat ran away. While I was at University.”
She shot him a glance from the corner of her eye. “It is a saying.”
“No. It’s not a saying. There is no such saying such as that. Did you and Papa drown my cat while I was in Florence?.”
“I’m sick, Pasqo! Why do you torment me?”

There are some fabulous set pieces in Beautiful Ruins along with some truly wonderful characters. Walter does some very interesting things in terms of the text too. We have the two stories in the different times coming together yet we also get snippets of Shanes film pitch, an unpublished chapter of Michael’s autobiography and the first chapter of a book written by a guest whilst at Pasquale’s hotel. Sadly, for me, these additional ‘forms of media’, whilst interesting like all the additional storylines, detracted from the main heart and soul of the book. I also didn’t really like how everything finished up, though I will say the last chapter of the book is one of the best, and most clever, pieces of writing and executed stunningly. Which made it all the more frustrating because when Walter is good he is amazing. I just wish all the book had been like that, oh and that it had all been about the Italy storyline really, that could have been one of my reads of the year.

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The Authors We Should Have Read…

We have recently learned the sad news that author Doris Lessing has passed away. Whilst all the outpourings of love for her and praise for her work was going around the internet and social media I stayed rather quiet. You see I was rather embarrassed to admit that I had not read anything by the powerhouse that Lessing was. We all know, if we are being really honest with ourselves, that we are simply not going to read all the books in our lifetimes that we would like to. Sorry if any of you are in denial about this, but it is true, there is highly likely to be ‘just one more book’ or ‘just thirty five more books’ that you would like to read. The same is true for authors.

I have lost count of the times I have heard someone mention a marvellous book, and I am not just talking powerhouses in the literary world as it happens with debuts too, or declared their love of a certain authors writing and so I make a note to self that ‘I really must read x author’. Invariably I haven’t, and it irks me. I have been thinking it and these are the top five authors that I feel I really should have read and haven’t…

  • Maya Angelou
  • Elizabeth Bowen
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • John Irving
  • Rose Tremain

I am sure some of you might be reaching for the smelling salts and saying ‘out of all the authors in the world, those five’ but don’t forget that this list changes daily (because I am a bit fickle and whim prone) but also these are authors that I have read nothing by, not even a short story, nothing. Zilch. Authors I have read a book, or a few books, of and really must return to at some point is a whole other can of worms I don’t want to open right now, it may also really depress me.

You may have noticed that Doris Lessing isn’t on that list (no I am not being fickle again) and this is because I am rectifying that. After the sad news I was having a chat with the lovely Nathan Dunbar, all the way over the ocean, and we have decided to do #DorisInDecember and read The Grass is Singing over the coming weeks before talking about it on twitter on Sunday the 15th of December on Twitter using that hashtag (I know, it’s terribly modern, I will be popping a review on here too for discussion if you aren’t a tweeter) I have a lovely old small paperback of it I need to hunt down. We would love it if you would join in.

Back to the subject in hand though and those authors you should have read… Do you have a list of authors that you are rather surprised at yourself for still have not yet read even though you have been meaning to? Would you share who any of those authors are? What does it take to suddenly make you decide to give them a whirl? Or do you not pressurise yourself, consciously or not, with a list of authors you should have read? Divulge!

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I Remember You – Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Yrsa Sigurdardottir has become one of my favourite thriller writers after just two of her detective novels. There is something about the way she can write the grimly fascinating with such humour that really works for me. So when it came to a spooky choice for The Readers Book Club, now Hear… Read This!, I decided to choose her first foray into horror, I Remember You, as a choice of this month’s episode as I thought it would be just the chilling read for this time of year.

Hodder & Stoughton, 2012, trade paperback, fiction, translated by Philip Roughton, 400 pages, kindly sent by publisher

I Remember You is told through two alternating tales both set in Iceland. Out over the water on the Westfjords three friends head to an isolated village where they have bought a ramshackle old house to do up as a future guest house and investment. They are remote, the weather is turning and many, including one of their number, think that they are crazy for heading out there. As the trio start to try and make the place habitable strange things start to happen and it becomes apparent that someone or something wants them to leave.

Back on the mainland a school has been vandalised and an elderly woman has committed suicide, nothing seems to connect these two or does it? A young psychiatric doctor, Freyr, is called to both cases and soon learns that what has happened to the school has happened before in the past and, more shockingly, the woman who killed herself seemed to be obsessed by his son who vanished a few years ago. Soon enough strange things also start happening to Freyr and make him start to question his own scepticism and look back on the case of his missing son.

I really enjoyed being chilled and thrilled by Yrsa and I genuinely did get creeped out by the book as Yrsa, as with her crime novels, slowly creates a sense of unease and toys with the reader. Admittedly the first time I had a genuine moment of fear was because I was reading it and had forgotten that some of my lights are on a timer and so when they went out I royally jumped out of my skin. That said, even when I was reading the book with the lights on there were several times when I thought that something was moving just out the corner of my eye. It was quite unnerving, but a sign the book was definitely doing what it set out to. It is all done very deftly with a nice sense of pacing about it too; sometimes there is a small sensation of fear, others more of a sudden bang.

Freyr started slightly when a click suggested that someone had grabbed the doorknob. Again the door opened as slowly as before, and stopped once there was a small gap. The fluorescent bulb could be heard clicking once more, now with apparently greater frequency.
‘Hello?’ Freyr leaned over the desk to try to see through the gap. There was nothing but the blinking of the faulty ceiling light. ‘Hello?’ A chill passed over him when a familiar voice whispered in response to his call. A voice that had always been lively, contented and joyful, but that now sounded cold and lifeless. A voice that seemed so near, yet at the same time so infinitely far away.
‘Daddy.’

Iceland is a perfect setting for a ghost story too. Having been last year I discovered just how ‘other worldly’ the place is. In the remotest parts there is little to see bar some trees, rocks and snow for miles and miles around. There is also the real sense of the mythical there and whether you have been or not Yrsa nicely winds in elements of folklore and superstition still thriving in Iceland along with more topical items like its economy, particularly in Freyr’s narrative which seemed much more bedded in the modern world as we know it, the friends on the island less so, that seemed to be a place time had forgotten – a place of little electricity and no phone signals, making it easier to be creepy whilst in a modern setting, something I think is very hard to do.

I will admit I had a small wobble or two with the book. Firstly, I missed Yrsa’s humour and wit, which Last Rituals and My Soul To Take are so brimming with thanks to their protagonist Thora. That said has there been any laughs then I would imagine a lot of the tension would have been lost, yet it is Yrsa’s dark humour that is such an important aspect of her writing. What I did like very much was how the supernatural tale had to encompass a crime procedural as the police get involved with Freyr’s case. This felt very real, as I mentioned before Iceland is a place where myth and folklore still linger and people are open to all sorts of ideas. It also reminded me of a reversal of My Soul To Take where Yrsa takes a crime novel and gives it a hint of the supernatural, I think I liked that one a little bit more

 Secondly, with any alternating tale there is the possible danger that the reader will like one more than the other. Whilst I was enjoying the thrills and spills as Katrin, Gardar and Lif built the house in the haunting wilderness, I found that I was so gripped by Freyr’s story across the water that sometimes I really wanted to get back to that. The trio’s tale was interesting, and indeed has most of the scare in it because of the setting, yet Freyr’s situation with his son just had that added emotional depth and was out of the norm of a normal ghostly tale than the other which felt more familiar within the ghostly drama. I also had a slight issue with how the two separate tales intertwined. Whilst the twists and turns as it went on were brilliant, the tension getting tighter and tighter and me getting more freaked out, when I got to the last few chapters I thought ‘oh is that it’ mixed with ‘well honestly, how were we meant to guess that’. Saying that though, I thought the last paragraph was utter genius and pleased me no end.

I think I Remember You is a very good modern ghost story with an unusual crime thriller twist. It is a tale that will make you feel very uneasy and give you the desired chills you will be looking for picking up a book of this genre. I am also fascinated by the fact that it is partly based on a true tale, I just wonder which bit? You can see a piece by Yrsa on visiting the abandoned town of Hesteyri, where the book is based, here. I would recommend you give this a read if you are an Yrsa fan, and Iceland fan or just fancy reading something chilling, I very much enjoyed it.

Oh and if you want to hear even more about the book you can here Kate, Rob, Gavin and myself talking about it on the latest episode of Hear… Read This! where we have a whole spectrum of thoughts on the book.

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Filed under Hodder & Stoughton, Review, Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Other People’s Bookshelves #19 – Alison Hope

The weekend is the perfect time to be leisurely isn’t it? What could be nicer than whiling away some time nosing through someone else’s book shelves while talking about books? Well Saturday’s are set to become the perminant home of Other People’s Bookshelves for the foreseeable future and this week we are all popping round to Alison Hope’s who runs the book blog HeavenAli to have a gander and a natter about her books. Grab a cuppa,  and plonk yourself down on an available chair, I am sure she won’t mind!

Firstly tell us a little more about yourself?

Having always read – since I was a very small girl, and now coming up to my 45th birthday I realise I have read a lot of books. In the last year or so I have discovered the absolute joy of re-reading – so often I fear I have read all the best things and envy people their first experiences with books I have loved. These days I think I read far more books published before about 1950 than contemporary books – although I do enjoy a lot of contemporary writers too. Engaging with other readers and bloggers has been a greater pleasure than I had ever anticipated – and I am trying hard to make my reviews and blog posts worthy of the bigger audience I now seem to have. Some of my favourite authors are Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Taylor, Wilkie Collins, Anita Brookner, Jane Austen and Barbara Pym. I like golden age crime novels, such as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and Ngaio Marsh. I don’t like modern crime much – although now again I read one or two I have been told are not too gruesome – I don’t like fantasy or sci-fi. I mainly read classics, and literary fiction, and a few memoirs and biographies. Despite my love of books I do have a kindle – which I like very much, but I read far more real books.

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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?

The books on my bookcases are what I consider to be the ones I keep, my permanent book collection. However I don’t keep all the books that I read, I mainly keep the ones I love the most.  As a bookcrosser (although no longer as active as I once was) I am always happy to pass on books I don’t want to keep, to other bookcrossing members at our local monthly meet ups. I enjoy sharing books I have enjoyed, so the ones I pass on are certainly not just books I haven’t enjoyed, they are usually just ones I think it unlikely I will want to read again. I do find however, that I am keeping more and more books these days, going back to my bad old ways of almost hording my books.

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?

None of my bookcases are organised alphabetically. I can’t explain why – but I don’t particularly like that way of organising my shelves.  Many of my books are shelved with other books of the same editions. This system has broken down a little as I have moved books around and acquired new bookcases – but most of my Virago books, Persephone books and Penguin classics and Oxford Classics which are not residing on my TBR are shelved together with other books with the same colour spine.  My TBR is also all shelved together – it takes up more than two shelves, with small stacks of books sitting in front of rows of others. I have one bookcase that has no system; things are rather unceremoniously shoved on to the shelves. This bookcase really needs weeding out, a job I keep putting off. The books I keep to pass on through bookcrossing are in a box in a cupboard –which seems wrong – I do feel that books should be shelved – but that is where they are until they get moved on.

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

Oh dear this is something I really wish I knew the answer to. I have been trying to work out what it might have been but have no idea. All through my childhood my bookishness was encouraged by my parents, although I used the library a lot back then, I was given books for Christmas, and had book vouchers from relatives nearly every year. I can remember being obsessed by the Enid Blyton Mallory Towers and St Clair boarding school books, I am sure I must have bought those with my pocket money, and The Famous Five books too – but no I don’t have any old Enid Blyton books in my house now.

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 wouldn’t be embarrassed by any of the books on my shelves at all; as I think it perfectly alright to have anything I have enjoyed residing there. I do have numbers 1 – 18 of the Agatha Raisin books – although they are some of the books that are likely to be culled at some point. They were for a while a kind guilty pleasure (cosy reading I would probably call it) – but I thought the later ones quite poor in comparison to the earlier books – and I have stopped reading them. It’s unlikely I’ll go back to them, so I do feel they are taking up valuable space – they are shelved in the spare room, not to hide them, but I just like my favourite books to be the ones that are more visible.

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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?

One book? – but there are so many I could choose – but two books do spring to mind. I have a lovely 1950’s first edition of The Village by Marghanita Laski that I found by chance in the castle bookshop in Hay on Wye. I was on a lovely weekend away with some good bookish friends and I didn’t even realise at first that I had found a book that had been re- issued by Persephone. I still don’t have a Persephone edition of it to go with it – but a forthcoming trip to the Lambs Conduit street shop may remedy that.   I also have an American edition of I capture the Castle, which was sent to me by a New York bookcrosser about seven years ago, not long after I first joined the bookcrossing community. I have selfishly kept that one instead of passing it on as it is so pretty, and having read that particular copy twice I am loathe to part with it.  I am also rather fond of the three Barbara Pym novels which I have in the Moyer Bell edition – (there is a fourth one of those winging its way to me from the USA that I found on Abebooks recently). I also love each of my Persephone books and guard them jealously I won’t even loan those out to family.

I also have a small collection of Agatha Christie first editions which I do rather love.  None of them are the very early or rare ones, a few of them are just book club editions so not even real first editions as book club editions always came out a year later – but I am rather fond of them, as I have loved Agatha Christie since I was eleven, and several of them are real first editions. The earliest one I have is from about 1951. The price of them does seem to have shot up rather, since I first started buying them, so I haven’t added any to my collection for a few years.

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 always had a lot of books – many were non-fiction and seemed far too dull to excite my imagination when I was young.  However I do remember loving the look of my mother’s book The Far Pavilions by MM Kaye it looked so big, sumptuous and romantic – I also liked the look of Gone with the Wind – for the same reasons I suspect. I read Gone with the Wind – my mother’s copy – when I was about seventeen I think, and loved it, but it was many many years before I read The Far Pavilions.  I can’t remember where the copy I read came from, it may have been my mother’s snaffled when she was weeding out her own shelves, but I don’t currently have either of those on my shelves.

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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?

I certainly have bought my own copies of books I have borrowed, though I don’t think I have to. I sort of store it away in a wish list in my brain, so that should I come across a copy of the book in a charity bookshop or somewhere I will undoubtedly snaffle it up. Certainly there are books I have read and loved that I want to own, one recent example was The Two Mrs Abbots by D E Stevenson – the third Miss Buncle book – I ordered it from the library and it took six months to come in. I devoured it and loved every word, and so want my own copy. I heard a rumour that Persephone may publish it in the future –I live in hope.

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

Well I added Ruby’s Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni to my permanent collection of books after I finished it a few days ago. I read it a couple of days before meeting the author at a local meet up group I attend. I took my copy with me to get signed and bought two more copies one each for my mother and sister. I have also added a couple more books to my TBR – but they are both books I am certain to keep once they have been read. They are Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier and Civil to Strangers by Barbara Pym which I bought for the Barbara Pym centenary read-a-long.

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

Oh goodness – yes so many. I can’t even begin to list them. Of course I want more Persephone books, and there are many original green Virago Modern Classics that I want too. I especially want Winifred Holtby’s short stories Remember Remember in original green, very hard to get hold of – and would rather like a copy of Lolly Willows by Sylvia Townsend Warner, also in green. I actually bought a green copy of Lolly Willows for a fellow Viragoite  – for a secret Santa gift – I hadn’t realised it was so hard to get. I really am a sucker for physically beautiful editions, of which there are so many coming out these days –  beautifully designed editions of my favourite classics are the ones I particularly covert. I have recently acquired a few penguin clothbound classics – now there is a tiny part of me that wants them all – but such excess would be madness.

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

Oh my I don’t know! That I am a reader of fiction first and foremost and that I like classics; Modern Classics and nineteenth century classics in particular.  That I like mainly women writers, with a few notable exceptions, the Viragos and Persephone books rather give that away. I’m not sure If anyone perusing my shelves would think I was widely read – I don’t claim to be,  I don’t have lots of different genres, and really not that many non-fiction.  I don’t know if there is anything I would want them to think – I’m not sure it matters – I just like what I like – as we all do.

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A huge thanks to Alison 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, 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 Alison’s responses and/or any of the books that she mentioned?

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Riotous Assembly – Tom Sharpe

My very first memories of encountering Tom Sharpe’s books were the copies that aligned the bookshelves in my grandparent’s bedroom when I was a youngster. They were firm favourites with Granny Savidge and Bongy and yet to me they were objects of wide eyed bewilderment bordering on terror. You see when the 7/8/9 year old me saw these books all I could see was that they tended to be covered in boobs and guns, both of which worried me. As you can imagine when they bought me a lovely second hand hardback copy of a Wilt omnibus when I was 15 I was again more worried than grateful and hid it, who knows where it is now. So when Chris chose it for Novembers book group (which was a few weeks ago) I was intrigued and also, with those feelings from way back when, worried about it. Did I really want to spend my time reading a smutty book about boobies and bullets?

Arrow Books, 1971 (2002 edition – though not cover shown, but one like grandparents had), paperback, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Riotous Assembly was Tom Sharpe’s very first published book back in 1971 and tells of a fictitious town, Piemburg, in South Africa and its police force during the apartheid. However this is not the sort of apartheid based story you might be suspecting as Tom Sharpe uses his wit, and some of the ‘naughty shenanigans’ I was expecting, to lampoon what was going on in South Africa at the time, especially those who enforced it.

Kommandant van Heerden, Piemburg’s Chief of Police, is called out to the house of Miss Hazelstone when she phones to tell him that she has killed her Zulu cook. This initially isn’t a worry for the Kommandant as white people (especially the English who he wishes he was and subsequently fawns over) are allowed to kill their black cooks as long as they do it indoors. However Miss Hazelstone killed him in the garden and will not move him, or what is left of him, nor will she have another member of her staff do it. Once at the house himself to try and smooth things over he discovers the unthinkable, Miss Hazelstone has been having relations with her cook since she was widowed and this was a crime passionel! As the Kommandent sees it, this could bring down the whole of society and cause disgrace for the city and so it must be covered up, at any cost.

At this moment he visualized the scene in court which would follow the disclosure that Miss Hazelstone had made it a habit to inject her black cook’s penis with a hypodermic syringe filled with novocaine before allowing him to have sexual intercourse with her. He visualized it and vowed it would never happen, even if it meant he had to kill her to prevent it.

With the help (though that a very ironic word considering what follows) of his number two (more appropriate a term for him by far) Konstabel Els the Kommandant calls a state of emergency over Miss Hazelstone’s property Jacaranda Park while he covers things up. Only in actual fact as the novel goes on we see the police bungle matters completely and make everything much, much worse.

As the book goes on it gets more and more farcical. Els is a psychopath in policeman’s clothing, there are drunken hidden priests, rubber fetishes and rumours of rabies become rife to keep people away. Much to laugh a long with all in all – quite possibly very loudly on public transport! What Tom Sharpe does masterfully here is that as you read on and belly laugh at events as they unfold you suddenly become aware that there is a lot of truth hidden in what you are laughing at. For example, you might be laughing at the outrageous notion that its fine to kill your cook in the house but not out of it, until you realise its true. You might be laughing as Konstabel Els finds even more ridiculous ways to torture someone, then you check yourself as you know that this did happen, and was happening when the book was published. It makes you think.

 ‘Madness is so monotonous,’ she told the doctor. ‘You would think that fantasies would be more interesting, but really one has to conclude that insanity is a poor substitute for reality.’
Then again, when she looked around her, there didn’t seem to be any significant difference between life in the mental hospital and life in South Africa as a whole. Black madmen did all the work, while white lunatics lounged about imagining they were God.

Yet also, strangely – in a good way, once you are aware of the serious nature deep set in the book Sharpe doesn’t make you feel bad for laughing. He has proved a very valuable point and highlighted some shocking truths but he keeps the laughter coming as he makes more and more preposterous things happen. It is a very, very clever way of writing something that really hits home, after all none of the events that go on to happen would have if Kommandant van Heerden has just arrested Miss Hazelstone as she wanted, but of course the true nature of her crime was unthinkable.

The more I have thought about Riotous Assembly, the more impressed I have been left by it. The humour gets you through some of the tough bits, some of the bits that people would normally find hard to read and digest (which nicely links in with what I discussed yesterday in terms of comforting vs. confronting reading) palatable by their humour yet equally devastating, if not more so, when the reader realizes the truth in it. So yet there maybe the boobies (and more) and bullets (and more) in it that I was expecting, but the way in which they are used is both titillating and thought provoking. If you have pondered reading Tom Sharpe, or maybe if you hadn’t or had written him off a little as I had, you need to start reading his work as soon as you can.

A big huge thanks to Chris for choosing this for book group, and also for making the discussion all the more interesting by sharing his childhood in Zimbabwe and being so open to talking about that and how important the book was to him. I am now desperate to get my mitts on Indecent Exposure, as it were!

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Filed under Arrow Books, Books of 2013, Review, Tom Sharpe