Monthly Archives: February 2014

Can You Recommend… Books Based in Yorkshire

Well, when I say Yorkshire I actually mean York or Harrogate (alas not when the festival is on). Let me explain… I was hoping to get some winter sunshine abroad in March, hop on a plane and hot the beach with a few books nothing too fancy. However I decided to spend some of the money, and indeed some of the time, on having a (rather literary) tattoo instead. All is not lost with getting away, and who knows maybe there could be some sun involved, as I am going to have a break elsewhere in the UK.

Each year myself and three of my closest friends, Polly, Michelle and Dom, like to have a long weekend away together somewhere in the UK, often somewhere rather random. We went for the thrills and spills of Alton Towers last year and then the most random plastic log cabin near a very odd pub – people stared at the strangers in the village much to our giggles.

We were plotting Whitby this year, however as those naughty monkeys all live in the south it’s a bit of a mad trek for a weekend (we might do a week next year) so instead we have two options – possibly one by the time you read this – which are places on the outskirts of York…

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Or the outskirts of Harrogate…

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Either way we will be in some of this country’s most beautiful countryside and near a wonderful town and city with lots and lots of bookshops to explore hopefully. So what I was wondering, as all four of us are rather bookish geeky folk, if you knew of any books set in York, Harrogate or Yorkshire at all? As we may just pick one and have a little book group while we are there, or at least have some books to turn to if it rains and we all get bored of each other, ha! Let me know…

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Book Notebooks, Keeping Up With Tradition

Isn’t it weird how sometimes things seem to crop up at just the right time, or a memory pops into your head unbidden that then means a lot at a later point? I had a serious case of this over the weekend, which in its own way has rather a bookish twist.

I was just off to the post office to finally send Marieke Hardy a Chris Ware inspired pen pal parcel (if you are reading this – unlikely – Marieke I am sorry it has taken so long, I have written loads of excuses in my parcel) to Australia. As I waited in the never ending queue, and mourned the days of the post office being in the now closed local bookshop, I spotted some notebooks which instantly sent me off into the past. Bright red Silvine notebooks.

I can vividly remember Gran having these notebooks in which she kept all sorts of notes. Be they shopping lists, random things to remember or of course notes on what she was reading, in to these books they would go – those or some weird notebooks she inherited or possibly stole when she left her job. Initially I thought nothing of it, though it seemed apt I spotted them as I had really been missing her that morning, weird how random days can just get you the little buggers. But I bought one, popping a note about the memory of them in it, and included it in my parcel bound for Oz.

Anyway, as I said I didn’t think much of it after that. Until after having taken my old iPhone off to be sold, I went to catch up with my varying impending reviews and realised all my ‘bookish notes’ had failed to transfer from phone to phone. I was distraught, weeping almost happened, vexation hit. Awful.

Well after an hour blethering about it, moaning about it on twitter and then remembering I backed those notes up to Gmail – goodness only knows how, I can’t blinking remember. I came up with the idea that really I need to have hard copies of these notes, somewhere reliable and so I made a special trip up the road and came home with these…

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Yes, four of the notebooks that Gran used to use. Four may seem excessive but at 59p a go you can’t go wrong can you, so how could I not? I have a wanton craving for stationery at all times and this sated it in the lead up to pay day. Most importantly though I liked the idea that a tradition of bookish sorts has been passed down the family line and now when I write my bookish notes I can think of Gran as I do so, not that she wouldn’t flit through my mind anyway, as it’s almost like I can write the notes to her as she’s not on the end of the phone.

Do you have fate filled moments like this? Have you gained any bookish hand me down traditions? Where do you keep your book notes? And one of the biggest mysteries of all (ha, how to hype a question) why is it people who love books also really love stationery?

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Jawbone Lake – Ray Robinson

Finally, time to catch up with writing some reviews of some of the books I have managed to get through while work has been bonkers. I thought I would start with one of the books I read at the beginning of the year and one of the releases in 2014 I was also most looking forward to, Jawbone Lake by Ray Robinson. Having been a huge fan of Forgetting Zoe I was looking forward to entering another possibly rather dark world of Robinson’s creation, even more so as I knew a lot of it was set in the Peak District which is my home turf and where I spent more of last year than I did at my new adoptive home in Liverpool.

William Heinemann, hardback, 2014, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

Joe Arms receives a call over New Year and learns that his father, CJ, has been in some kind of accident. On leaving London and returning to the Ravenstor in the Peak District he finds that his father somehow lost control driving and veered off a bridge into the frozen lake nicknamed ‘Jawbone Lake’. Unbeknownst to Joe, but not to the reader, local girl Rabbit witnessed the incident on a stroll and saw not only that it wasn’t an accident but indeed that there was a man there who has seen her. Here the strands spilt very cleverly as we follow Joe as he discovers more about his father’s past as things come to light after his death and also follow Rabbit as she copes with and tries to forget everything she has seen.

The term ‘literary thriller’ seems to be a fairly new one and is one which has been used by those who have read Jawbone Lake and I am about to join them. For the first hundred or so pages, clichéd as I know this will sound, I simply could not stop reading the book (I was on a train to London and the two hours flew by) as I was completely hooked by both the prose and the mystery at the books heart. I found the relationship between Joe and CJ, which becomes established by small glimpses into the past really interesting to watch unravel. It was the same with Rabbits situation, which I don’t want to give too much away of, with her aunt and after a dark time in her recent past plus all she has to deal with. They are also interesting lead characters with interesting ticks and quirks, for example Joe with his desertion of the north and Rabbit with her obsession with numbers as a coping mechanism.

He had become The Man Who Stared Out of Windows, a bored, thirty-five-year-old software designer, watching doughy faced office workers making their way between the tall buildings outside, envisaging what their lives were like, wondering if theirs could possibly be as thankless as his.

To make this as fair a review as possible I do have to admit that I did have one issue with the book, not to the point of it being ruined or not liking it, yet it is one that probably wouldn’t bother many of you it’s just something I don’t like as a subject in books. Without giving any spoilers away I will say that I have an issue with any books, thrillers or otherwise, that go into any of these elements (so which this one does you will have to read and find out, clever eh?) gangsters, hit men, drug dealing, money laundering or business fraud. They simply don’t do anything for me and illicit a big groan before I invariably put the book down.

In all fairness when one or two of any of these possible outcomes (see, still not giving anything away) came up I did feel slightly disappointed yet to Ray’s credit I carried on in ground that would normally completely turn me off. This was because of a) his writing and b) the world he had created in the Peak District which for me was where the heart of the story lay, and where my interest as a reader was focused because they were bloody marvellous.

He went over to the window and watched the snow fleck the valley. In the distance, the white peak of High Tor looked vivid in the fading light. Snow lay heavy across the rectangles of higgledy-piggledy rooftops descending into the valley below. Cars progressed beneath the orange stars of street lights, familiar constellations snaking between the mass of hill, tor, fell.

Being from that area I am sure that knowing the area makes me bond with a book all the more yet (as when I read Edward Hogan’s wonderful The Hunger Trace) Robinson really captures the atmosphere of the Peak District which is at once incredibly beautiful and also dangerous and ominous. This ripples through the book and often informs the mood over the characters even if they don’t know it. I loved all this. There is a modern gothic nature to all of this, along with an earthy element that works wonders for me and I think Robinson is brilliant at. I also loved tales of the uninhabited quarries and underwater villages (both real, both part of the landscapes history and folk lore) that he picked up on. More than that I loved the life of the people. I could have read endless pages with Rabbit at work in the ice-cream factory and trips ‘down t’pub’. There was something so real about it all that it chimed with me.

Jawbone Lake nicely picks up on the term ‘it’s grim up north’ (or ‘oop north’ as we Derbyshire folk might say) and delivers a deliciously dark literary thriller overall. Personally I could have done without the trips to Spain and to Hastings as it is in Derbyshire where the magic of the prose, characters and atmosphere really meet. It has reminded me that I really need to get to Robinson’s back list of books while I await whatever he comes up with next.

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Other People’s Bookshelves #32; Clare Axton

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a weekly series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. This week we are back ‘oop’ north in England in Nottingham (which will instantly have you thinking of Robin Hood) where we join Clare and get to have a nosey at her shelves not a million miles from my old hometown of Matlock Bath. So grab a cuppa and a few biscuits which Clare has kindly laid on and have a rummage through her shelves…

My name is Clare and I live in Nottingham. I have a great and very deep love for books and even more so for bookshops my long held dream to be the owner of one. I think I can trace my love for books back to my Great Grandad who had a wonderful library in his home that I loved to spend my time perusing. I am also a collector of original Penguin books and copies of Punch magazine, the oldest I have is 1908. The best way I can think to spend a day is finding somewhere nice for tea and cake then bookshopping of course. I am currently discovering London and it’s bookshops too also love Lincoln and it’s wonderful bookshops.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites?

I have recently had a sort of my shelves so now I do have sections for my favourites especially for example my Penguin originals together and classics together. I normally carry a book or two with me for those moments when I can find a quiet spot,the table next to my bed holds one or two or maybe more of my favourites which usually have bookmarks trying to remind me to finish them before I start another.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way?

Only very recently before it was very haphazard but now I hope there is some sort of structure to my shelves. I do like the spines of one author to be together especially when they are a classic author for example I have my Dickens all together and including the very lovely spine of a Sketches By Boz edition of 1904.

What was the first book you ever brought with your own money?

I think that would be Charlie and The Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. We had a wonderful bookshop in my village when I was little and a lot of my pocket went on Dahl and Beatrix Potter Books which are all still happily on my shelves.

Are there are guilty pleasures on your bookshelves?

Maybe Lady Chatterley’s Lover obviously considered such a scandalous books at the time of its trial it does feel like a very guilty pleasure although Lawrence is one of my favourite writers.

What is the first grown up book you brought?

Well the book was actually on my Aunt’s shelves and it was “Forever” by Judy Blume. I felt very grown up when I read it in my teens and now it does have a special place on my shelves.

If you love a book but have borrowed it do you find you have to then buy the book?

I have found many wonderful books through the library first, for example my love for Thomas Hardy started when I borrowed Far From The Madding Crowd read it at least three times before it went back then quickly visited the nearest bookshop to buy it and many more of his novels and poetry.

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What was the last book you added to your shelves?

I think it would have to be two books… Where’d you go Bernadette by Maria Semple and On The Road by Jack Kerouac both wonderful novels. My next purchase needs to be The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt which I have seen people raving about and I’m very much looking forward to reading.

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

I have always wanted a complete set of novels by Nancy Mitford a writer whose life and family I find fascinating. Also original penguin copies of Lucky Jim and the James Bond books these I hope to find on my next London Trip.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste?

I think they would see my book tastes as quite eclectic and I hope they would find something on each shelf that they would enjoy too.

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A huge thanks to Clare for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, who is off with me to go and have a hunt through the caves under Nottingham Castle before heading to Sherwood Forest?  Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the 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 Clare’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Catching Up With Myself & Then Catching Up With You…

Once upon a time, in a far away land ‘oop’ North, there was a man with a big beard who loved books and to blog about them…

Oh where have those days gone, as they do currently seem to have been a million billion trillion years ago. In reality it has only been a week or so since I last blogged yet to be honest since the new year, since starting a new and full time job (which I know, I know, I have mentioned before and you all have them and I should just get a grip) my reading and blogging has all felt a little bit out of my grip as I am working like a nutter on a brilliant yet bonkers project. Particularly in the last month, when I have been working on two parts of the project with a very tight pair of deadlines, when I have worked in the office till late or come home with work and worked till late or over the weekend.

Well, fingers crossed the deadlines were both yesterday and now things will be busy but a more normal and manageable level of crazy. I might even leave at a normal time and come home with time to blog AND read, even just reading has been grabbing the briefest of time slots, though it has interestingly forced me into the reminder of how special reading slowly can be – more on that in the next few weeks.

I am trying to think of any news I have and the only ones I can think of are firstly some dreadful news and secondly some much nicer news. The bad news, let us get it out the way, is that my local book shop (which I went for a wander to for the first time in a month, unheard of) has shockingly closed down. I am beyond gutted and if anyone would like to buy me it I am open to offers. Seriously though, I am devastated.

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Second news is that I am currently lost in one of the most wonderful books I have read in some time. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki is a book I meant to read all of 2013 and have finally got around to reading – its bloody marvellous. I have been begging many people to join in and read it (if they haven’t already) so if you are interested do pick it up as I am not racing through it just slowly loving it and will be tweeting about it lots. Just speaking about it makes me want to go off and read it, so I shall for a while before I get a crack on with commenting back to you all from posts since the dawn of time of 2014 and reading some of your blogs over the weekend too.

While I am doing that, what is your news and what have you been reading?

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Sophie’s World – Jostein Gaarder

There are many, many books out there that are on my periphery ‘to read one day’ yet that often need a nudge to actually get them into my hands. Sophie’s World, has been one such book – as is Sophie’s Choice which I often confuse one for the other. Not now though, as after the lovely Rita chose Sophie’s World for book club and so, after initially having been very excited and run to the bookshop to buy it, I have read it. All I can say initially was that it was definitely a reading experience unlike any other I have had.

Phoenix Books, 1991 (1996 edition), paperback, 448 pages, bought by myself for book group

Fourteen year old Sophie Amundsen never gets any post. However one day on the way back from school she finds something for her when she collects the latest items from the mail box. She has two notes, one which asks her ‘Who are you?’ and another which asks ‘Where does the world come from?’ This creates several puzzles for Sophie, firstly who on earth is suddenly sending her post and secondly what on earth are the answers to all of these questions which in turn create even more questions. Soon enough more parcels arrive and it seems someone wants to teach Sophie all about philosophy and its history. Yet why suddenly is she also receiving postcards addresses to Hilde care of her? Who is this Hilde girl and how are all these mysteries linked?

There are a lot of questions there before we even really come to any of the actually philosophy that is intertwined within the book. I have been known, on a good day, to be sat looking at the sky and suddenly realising/remembering that I am on a big spinning piece of rock that is spinning through space and time and really we have no idea why it does this or what the point of it all is. I will think about it, possibly contemplating what it might be like to visit the moon, see the earth from space or if there may be aliens out there, and then my head hurts or feels it may implode and so I have a nice cup of tea and a biscuit and pick up a book. This book was making my head hurt a little bit by page eight…

Where does the world come from?
She hadn’t the faintest idea. Sophie knew that the world was only a small planet in space. But where did space come from?
It was possible that space had always existed, in which case she would not need to figure out where it came from. But could something have always existed? Something deep down inside her protested the idea. Surely everything that exists must have a beginning? So space must sometime have been created out of something else.
But if space had come from something else, then that something else must also have come from something. Sophie felt she was only deferring the problem. At some point, something must have come from nothing. But was that possible? Wasn’t that just as impossible as the idea that the world has always existed?

I have no issue with a book making me think hard, or about things I have never thought about before. Indeed this is what I often really like about books. Nor do I have issues with books informing me of things that I might not have known before. From the premise of the book I thought I was going to find a really clever twisting and turning mystery, a sort of tale of adventure that would also teach/inform me of philosophy, its ideas and the philosophers behind it at the same time. Instead, overall, I got a book which was a rather clumsily and clunkily (is that a word?) written text book of the history of philosophy which was padded out by an initially rather repetitive and thinly constructed story. A very thinly veiled text book too.

You see for the first hundred or so pages all we get is Sophie walking to and from the letterbox to her house, or two and from the letterbox to some bushes where she has her hide out. In between this riveting (yes, that’s sarcasm) storyline we get chunks of text book like quotes (I actually thought these were either from a very dry text book or that Gaarder had written a text book which was turned away from publishers so added a sprinkling of story and kerching) about philosophers since the beginning of time. Here, had it not been a book club choice, I would have easily given up. Bad prose, dull academic non-fiction, no thank you very much.

Interestingly the book did then take on a very strange and unexpected twist which did in fact save it for me, albeit briefly. I can’t say what the twist is as there may be many of you mad people out there who want to give Sophie’s World a try. What I can say is that it made me think about fiction, writing, books and characters plus the boundaries between the real and the imaginary that was for a while rather fascinating and diverting. Then the book goes all out bonkers, seriously the comparison to Alice in Wonderland is slightly understandable as Gaarder seems to suddenly go off on some ‘trip’ into the utterly bizarre. Ruining the good, if short lived, high point of the book. Well for me at least, though most of the people at book group (who actually managed to finish it, several didn’t) agreed.

Odd then that by the end of it, though I had pretty much loathed or been bored to tears by 80% of it, I was quite pleased I had conquered Sophie’s World, even if only because it was over and I could say I had indeed managed to survive it. It did also do what I guess all philosophical books aim for, it made me ask lots of questions. Sadly these were; how on earth was this a classic, how can people say it is a novel, how would I ever get that time spent reading it back again, how on earth was it a book for teenagers and young adults and could I ever believe anyone who said they ‘loved it when I was 12/13’, how did they even understand it or not get bored out their minds? Food for thought though, ha – and at least I can laugh about it now.

Note – I am joking about people who loved it when they were younger. You are just cleverer than me and I am bitter! Ha!

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Other People’s Bookshelves #31; Elizabeth Paulk

Hello and welcome, to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a weekly series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. After quite a few weeks sticking to the British Isles we are fleeing the apocalyptic storms and floods and heading all the way to Texas to have a gander at Elizabeth Paulk’s shelves. I was going to say I will be near these parts in August when I come to Asheville for Booktopia but then looked at the map and realized it’s a million miles (well not quite) away. So quickly glossing over my lack of geography, let’s hand over to Elizabeth and Futz the cat.

I am English – grew up in Bedford, UK — and now live in the Texas Panhandle, home of Buddy Holley and the Crickets. I came to the U.S. a long time ago to go to a Division One university on a swimming scholarship, and ended up staying in the States (which had been my goal all along). I am a professional technical writer, an avid reader, and a freelance photographer.  I still have strong ties with England, family and otherwise, and do occasional voice-overs for electronic telephone menus (“Press One for…”) for businesses in England and other places. My blog is at www.ravingreader.wordpress.com (Just One More Page).

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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?

No, I don’t feel the need to keep every book that I read – luckily, or the house would be over-run with paper! I do keep one or two here or there if they’re particularly strong reads or are nicely produced or otherwise special in some way, but that is not the common practice. I generally try to maintain a “One In, One Out” strategy, although it’s mostly “Out” until March 31 as I’m participating (unofficially) in the TBR Challenge. Probably about 75% of the titles on my shelves are TBRs.

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

I have two separate bookcases in the back room: one 5-shelf bookcase with mostly NF, and one 3-shelf with mostly F. (There might be a pile in front of the bookcases every now and then if I hadn’t the time or inclination to put the books where they are supposed to be, but I try and keep the total number of books to what fits in the shelves themselves.) 

NF vacillates as to how organized they are. I recently rearranged the books (including a slight cull) and took them out of a particular order and put back into a random method. (I’m such a rebel.) This gave me the feeling that I had a load of new books (since they were in higgledy-piggedly order) and moved some forgotten titles into the spotlight a bit more. The same goes for the F shelves actually – just shelved in a random order mostly. (This is most unlike me to be all unorganized, book-wise, but I was trying something new, and with the TBR Challenge in progress, this brings books bought long ago to the fore which is fun.)

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

Gosh. The first book I ever bought? (Long time ago!) Perhaps a Ponder and William book? I do know that I frequently thumbed through a survival book as I was fascinated with the idea of that. (Not that this event was at high risk of happening to me. I lived in a Victorian house in the middle of a market town in England and never went camping!) However, I liked the idea of being prepared. (Still not a big fan of camping!) Oh, and Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series – the descriptions of boarding school, midnight feasts and ginger beer would make me deliriously happy.

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 really don’t have any books that I would be embarrassed about. I read a wide range of books (both fiction and non-fiction), and don’t feel I would have to worry about anyone who was browsing the shelves. (In my teenager-y past, there may have been some titles that would mortify me now!)

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

My most prized bookish thing would be a carefully curated photo album of my family going back more than a century. I grew up in England, and have collected these over the years – it even has an index of sorts. Who would be interested in this stuff when I’m dead and gone? No one, I would expect, but it’s fun for me, and if someone finds this in a charity shop one day, at least they might have an idea of who’s pictures are inside.  If we are being very strict about how we define “book”, then I would say that my childhood acquisition of “The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast” by  William Plomer is near the top of cherished titles. My edition has the most fantastic illustrations by Alan Aldridge which held my attention for ages at one time when I was young.

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 siblings and I had a fairly free and unsupervised reading life so whatever we were curious about, the odds were that we could find it one way or another, even if meant sitting on the floor of the bookshop for hours at a time.

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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?

Whenever I find a book that intrigues me, I usually start with checking our library, then the inter-library loan program, or, if I’m desperate to own it, go on-line and order it. As mentioned, most of my bookshelves are TBR, so since I’m in the middle of that TBR challenge, I’m sticking to what I own and can find in-house at the moment.

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

The last title I bought was a NF called Samba by journalist Alma Guillermoprieto about the year she lived in Brazil learning samba and preparing for Rio’s annual carnivale parade. (I am no dancer, but I like to learn about things it’s highly unlikely that I will ever experience in RL.)

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

Not really. I’m very lucky to be in the position of having lots to read with more choices in the future! I don’t really yearn for first editions or similar although I appreciate them. I’d rather have a book that I’m not afraid of ruining, really, as I can be somewhat accident-prone.

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

Hmm. I’d like to think that I have a title somewhere on the shelves that would interest most people, regardless of who they are, generally speaking. I don’t have any romance, horror, or mass market, but apart from that, I think it’s quite a big spread of topics and fiction titles from which to choose. I think it would be clear from the number of books on the shelves that reading is important to me, although it might be quite puzzling that most of these books have not been read yet!

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A huge thanks to Elizabeth for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, and for Futz making a special appearance at the end!  Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the 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 Elizabeth’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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