Monthly Archives: March 2014

Other People’s Bookshelves #35; Persephone Nicholas

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a regular series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. This week we are heading off to Australia to meet a lady who is named after my favourite Greek mythical character and one of my favourite publishing house, ok maybe the last bit wasn’t true, Persephone Nicholas. Before I start making more things up about Persephone let’s get to know her a little bit better and have a nosey through her bookshelves…

My name’s Persephone and I’m a UK born author and freelance writer now living in Sydney. I’ve always loved books and writing, but I didn’t start writing for a living until I moved to Australia almost a decade ago. I write for newspapers, magazines and a few corporate clients. Last year my first novel, Burned, won a Random House literary award and has since been published as an eBook and in print in Australia and New Zealand. I’m now working on my second novel. I also blog about books and writing at: http://thebookorme.blogspot.com.au/ and am on twitter: @PersephoneNich.

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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?

I used to hold on to every single book that came my way. My dad worked in publishing, my mum was a compulsive reader and I was a very bookish kid who went on to read English at uni. So at one point I had thousands of books. When I moved to Australia almost a decade ago, I had a huge cull. I decided that unless I’d loved a book so much I wanted to read it again, I would let it go. Looking back, I think I was too ruthless – I probably got rid of 90 per cent of my books. At the time I was so stressed at the prospect of moving my family to the other side of the world, that it seemed easier to get rid of things than organise them. The upside of all that is that I’m looking forward to buying some of my old favourites again, Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series for example. I don’t keep a lot of books now. I don’t have a problem with getting rid of things I haven’t especially enjoyed and I love to share good books with friends, so I often lend my favourite books. Occasionally one gets lost, but I prefer to think of books being read, rather than languishing on bookshelves.

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?

A casual observer might think that my bookshelves aren’t organised at all. But I know exactly where everything is. I have shelves for books I want to read, shelves for books I’ve read and want to keep and another shelf for books that I’m happy to pass on. I also have shelves of reference books; on creativity and writing; and also on interiors as I regularly write for one or two home magazines. I’ve kept a few books that my kids loved when they were younger too. I’ve always enjoyed reading to them and keeping some of those picture books brings back happy memories.

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

I have absolutely no idea what the first book I bought was. I must have been quite young and I absolutely loved Mary Norton’s The Borrowers and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series so it might have been one of either of those.

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’m always interested to read books that are hugely popular. I like to know what everyone’s talking about. That’s what made me pick up the first Harry Potter, Twilight and Fifty Shades. Only Harry Potter still has shelf room in our house though.

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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?

The books I cherish most were given to me by my mum. She’s always been a great reader and spent hours choosing books she thought my sister and I might love when we were younger. She bought Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth for me and introduced me to The Kite Runner many years ago. She still gives me great book tips. The other special book I have is my debut novel, Burned. I was very surprised – and honoured – to receive an award from Random House for it last year and it was amazing being able to put a copy of a book I’d written on my bookshelves. I’m writing another novel now and have definitely learned a lot about the process since Burned was published, but I think the first one will always be special.

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 were pretty liberal and let us read everything when we were growing up. I don’t remember anything ever being deemed inappropriate, so if there was something I wanted to read on their shelves (which were absolutely jam-packed), I would have just got on with it.

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

If I’ve borrowed a book and loved it, I will often buy a copy. It might not go on my shelves, I might give it to someone else as a gift, but I do like to support writers whose work I’ve enjoyed.

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

An Australian girlfriend recently gave me The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea by Randolph Stow. He’s widely considered to be one of Australia’s finest writers, but I hadn’t heard of this book until she told me about it. That’s what I’ll be reading next.

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

Their first thought would probably be that I don’t have many books. If they looked a little more closely, I hope they’d think that I enjoy intelligent writing by a wide range of authors.

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A huge thanks to Persephone for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves and for taking the time to chat with us all. Anyway… 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 Persephone’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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The Witches of Eastwick – John Updike

Being one of my favourite films I have always wanted to read John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick because the general rule is that the book is always so much better than the film, so in my head this meant the book was going to be amazing. I have also meant to read Updike again ever since I read Couples which was a choice at my old book club back in 2010. So I admit that I entered into the spirit of reading this one in high hopes. I have to tell you whilst The Witches of Eastwick has some similarities to Couples it has very little similarity to the film other than the characters names, it was quite unexpected.

Penguin Modern Classics, paperback, 1984 (2007 edition), fiction, 320 pages, bought by me

There is something in the air in the town of Eastwick that turns women into witches, generally when they leave or are left by their husbands. Alexandra, Sukie and Jane are three such witches and as they have become friends, with their Thursday nights of cocktails and gossip, they have formed rather a powerful bond and indeed a rather powerful coven. These three ‘independent’ women sleep with the married men of the town, seemingly casting a spell over them, until a stranger by the name of Darryl Van Horne arrives taking over the local Lennox Mansion and wetlands and soon the three witches are competing to vie for the attentions of one mysterious man.

What initially, and I should add pleasantly, surprised me about the novel was the fact that these three witches were just that, witches. They could cast spells on the people they didn’t like (which at various points becomes very important and quite horrifying), throw fortune in their favour, hex you, levitate, create storms and quite literally drive men mad. Yet brilliantly Updike just makes this all part and parcel of a life in a town in Rhode Island in the 1970’s with the Vietnam War making its presence felt in the background. No one in the town seems to really bat an eyelid, what they don’t like it change and Daryl Van Horne is very much change, magic they barely bat an eye to.

Alexandra counted the seconds until the thunder: five. By rough rule this made the storm she had conjured up two miles in diameter, if these strokes were at the heart. Blundering thunder rumbled and cursed. Tiny speckled sand crabs were emerging now from their holes by the dozen and scurrying sideways towards the frothing sea. The colour of their shells was so sandy they appeared transparent. Alexandra steeled herself and crunched one beneath the sole of her bare foot. Sacrifice. There must always be sacrifice. It was one of nature’s rules.

Yet these are not the sort of witches I would want in my neighbourhood because, rather surprisingly to me because of the film, these women are not that nice, more often than not they are actually quite nasty witches and quite nasty bitches. In some ways this is rather fascinating as we see these women who have become friends, though I was never quite sure why as they had slept with each other’s husbands in the past and could be quite malicious about the other, turn against each other and several people of the town.

At the same time though I found this confusing. What was Updike trying to say about women? You see initially Alexandra (in particular), Sukie and Jane seem like thriving independent women who are getting the most out of life. That I found a really positive and feminist stand. However soon enough not only do we discover they are sleeping with most of the married men around the town, as I mentioned including each other’s husbands before they ridded themselves of them. Then as Darryl turns up they turn on each other and become calculating and manipulative man eaters (especially Jane who I despised) who will trample on each other to get the man before realising they are going to have to share and so start having group sex regularly, to please their man – classy. Oh and heaven help any woman who then tries to get in on the act. Where is the sisterhood then? The book soon becomes the polar opposite of feministic as it twists and turns.

Like most good school teachers he was a tyrant, unctuous and insistent; in his dank way he wanted to sleep with everybody. Jane was sleeping with him these days. Alexandra had succumbed a few times in the past but the episode had moved her so little Sukie was perhaps unaware of its vibrations, its afterimage. Sukie herself appeared to be chaste vis-à-vis Neff, but then she had been available least long. Being a divorcee in a small town is a little like playing monopoly; eventually you land on all the properties. The two friends wanted to rescue Jane, who in a kind of indignant hurry was always selling herself short. It was the hideous wife, with her strawy dull hair cut short as if with grass clippers and her carefully pronounced malapropisms and her goggle-eyed intent way of listening to every word, whom they disapproved of. When you sleep with a married man you in a sense sleep with the wife as well, so she should not be an utter embarrassment.

As I read on I became more and more frustrated for the book as it became more and more apparent that Updike’s novel for feminists, with a little research I discovered that is what he called it, was more like an evocation of his ideals of feminism. Also known as women who will basically sleep with each other and all the men and don’t mind overall but if one puts a toe out of line then you might end up with a terminal illness hexed on you, or worse.

Updike’s prose, as with Couples which interestingly has similar themes and similarly vile characters, is wonderful. The descriptions of Eastwick and its inhabitants are marvellously created and you feel you have walked the streets, chatted to the locals and headed out to the wetlands once you have finished. He also really looks at the society of certain times and how the world was changing far faster than people wanted it to. Again, magical goings on are fine, but building a tennis court (the scene in the book is even better than the film) or changing the name of a street is an utterly heinous idea. Change is not good.

Felicia’s beady eyes furious eyes flashed. “No you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t think Shithouse Square had such a bad ring to it either. You don’t give a damn about the world we pass onto our children or the wars or the we inflict on the innocent or whether or not we poison ourselves to death, you’re poisoning yourself to death right now tho what do you care, drag the whole globe down with you ith the way you look at it.” The diction of her tirade had become thick and she carefully lifted from her tongue a small straight pin and what looked like part of an art-gum eraser.

I am torn with The Witches of Eastwick as a novel. Unusually I much preferred the film. I guess on the level of a tale of three witches in a small town who are pulled apart and against each other over a new man on the scene it is a darkly entertaining read. I also loved all the magic in such a suburban setting. Not that you have to with a book by any means, but don’t expect to like any of the characters or find any real redemption anywhere, well maybe with Sukie, maybe. As a feminist work it falls flat, really it’s a male chauvinists view of what the fantasy, or maybe even nightmare, of feminism is – the twist almost at the end really highlighting that. Puzzling indeed.

Who else has read The Witches of Eastwick and what did you make of it? Did you dislike the witches as much as I did? If you want to hear more about the book Gavin, Kate, Rob and I discuss it on the latest episode of Hear… Read This! so do have a listen. Which films have you seen that are better than the books, or give the characters and situations of a book a better context, do many of them exist?

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Filed under John Updike, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review

I’ve Been…

…A little bit busy this week and haven’t had a proper chance to catch up with you all about some lovely things that have been going on. So I thought I would do a mini catch up and tease you all with a few things that I will be telling you all about soon, as is my want. First up though this has been my birthday week (though actually the celebrations carry on next week and weekend too, I am totally milking it) and I had brilliant birthday, thank you for your birthday wishes, it involved lots of pottering, sorting and the lots of cake as made by The Beard…

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In case you are wondering it is a lemon meringue cheesecake, which is my favourite cake as it is all sorts of amazing. The Beard being a trained chef meant it was even more amazing. Anyway that was all lovely and we had lovely friends round for the evening including my lovely mate Emma who I made a pact to get a tattoo, with a literary twist. As the date, which we booked back in early February, drew nearer I was getting more and more nervous. However, I did it…

Tattoo Teaser

Yes that is a teasing shot as I will share it all with you next week! Teaser, in fact I am a triple teaser as today has been a bonkersly brilliant day in Manchester where I got to sit and have a coffee and a long chat with Emma Donoghue about Frog Music, which is very good, for next weeks episode of You Wrote The Book, she was brilliant and so lovely. I then met my aunty Alice, who you have all been recommending books for and she says thanks, for afternoon tea. Then I went and had a (two hour) wander around the refurbished Central Library…

Library Teaser

It is stunning and needs a special post so I will do that next week as I have a few reviews and posts to schedule before packing to go off to Harrogate tomorrow with three of my bestest mates to spend time mooching, eating cream cakes, drinking tea and being tourists. Cannot wait.

What have you all been up to? What have you been reading? What’s new?

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Dead Scared – S. J. Bolton

How times flies. It doesn’t seem that long ago since I read Now You See Me, the first in S.J Bolton’s, or Sharon Bolton as she has now ‘some out as – as it were, series of DC Lacey Flint crime novels yet it is in fact two years. After having read Now You See Me I remember being desperate to read the next one but putting it off as I didn’t want it to be overkill. Pun unintended. Yet once having finished Dead Scared I was (almost) kicking myself for having not read it sooner. But sometimes the best crime novels shouldn’t be binge read and saved and savoured for the right moment, as you may have guessed from that statement Dead Scared is another bloody brilliant crime thriller. Pun fully intended.

Bantham Press, hardback, 2012, fiction, 378 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

At Cambridge University a girl has tried and failed to take her own life in an extreme and unusual way, and yet she survives. Yet psychologist and lecturer Evi Oliver thinks there is something much darker possibly going on as she looks into suicides in the university and discovers that there have been 19 cases in 5 years. DC Lacey Flint is then assigned an undercover role, from DI Mark Joesbury, as a student at the school to look into the cases and find out more about what might be going on that the clothed detectives are concerned could be a case of something much darker. Soon enough Lacey is thrown into a world of internet suicide pacts, cruel student pranks and then she starts to have nightmares and the suspicion that the scary dreams of a man coming into her room might actually not be her brains overactive imagination. Could someone genuinely be scaring these girls to death?

As with Now You See Me there is much to admire about Dead Scared. Firstly it is really gripping and incredibly chilling. I was completely hooked from the very start of Dead Scared, and actually ended up reading it in two sittings both well into the night which was most unadvised when you then have to go through the house turning all the lights off and frankly have the creeps. Fear is something that we all have and know the sensation of and just as Bolton’s killer, or killers, uses that to their advantage with their victims so does Bolton with her readers. I don’t like clowns, even though they aren’t my greatest fear, I like them even less now. This book seriously gave me the shivers.

Secondly, not only are there several red herrings and dead ends to leave the reader constantly second guessing themselves and who the killer is, there is also a clever second plot around some creepy goings on in Evi Oliver’s life which has you pondering how and if the two may or may not be interlinked. Perfect puzzling fodder for anyone who loves a good (and occasionally rather grisly; one method of supposed suicide really, really bothered me – and it wasn’t even the clown one) crime and playing detective along with the detectives.

Thirdly I love Lacey Flint. Not quite in the on/off way that DI Mark Joesbury does, but she is a really fascinating protagonist. She is likeable despite the fact she is bolshy, she is honest yet sometime all too emotion driven (which is both a good and bad thing), she is also flawed (she likes a drink and casual sex and other activities) but most interestingly is she is a mystery. Still two books into the series Bolton is revealing, or actually not revealing but teasing, us with Lacey’s back story. I think there is much more for us to find out, I won’t give it away but one thing we learn about her made me do a ‘what?’ especially as she works for the police, and as we do I think it is going to get darker and darker.

Fourth and finally, because I may just sound like a stuck record of praise, what I like so much about her novels is that yes there is a lot of crime yet there are also real issues of ‘the now’ which are dealt with in her books. In Now You See Me (which I also heartily recommend if you hadn’t guessed) we are given a Ripper copycat killer thriller, which also looks at the issues of the homeless in London and how they are treated and seen by society. In Dead Scared we have a genuinely unsettling and creepy novel which also looks at the rate of suicides in the young, some hard facts and figures are placed in the book which leaves you really thinking.

I would highly recommend Dead Scared. If you like gritty and realistic crime thrillers which will have you hooked but also look at the darker aspects of society and we human beings then you can’t go wrong with these. If the series carries on like this then Sharon is going to be up there with Tess Gerritsen, Sophie Hannah, Susan Hill and Kate Atkinson as one of my very, very favourites. I can’t wait for the next one, and as I have discovered the 4th DC Lacey Flint book is out in May I might have to dive into Like This, For Ever (the third) ridiculously soon.

P.S From now on I will always call S.J. Bolton Sharon Bolton, this edition was just under the S.J. title.

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Filed under Bantam Press, Books of 2014, Review, S.J. Bolton, Sharon Bolton, Transworld Publishing

The Changing Taste Buds of a Reader; Is It Just a Phase?

Over the last few months I have noticed that my taste in books seems to have changed. I normally revel in a good ‘literary’ literary novel, yet oddly in the last month or so I have noticed that this is waning. I have started at least six or seven that I have then put down onto the back burner/shelf or simply passed on to someone else. It has made me wonder if my tastes in what I read had changed and if so why might that be?

Gav and I used to talk on The Readers (and interestingly Thomas and I discuss it on this week’s episode) about those most literary of books in which someone spends ninety odd pages walking to the shop and thinking about something. I was always quite a vehement defender of these books, yet I have noticed that those books simply aren’t working for me now. I lose interest, I am not really bothered about Mrs Muggings (I have just made her up, she isn’t in a real book that I know of) and the strife of her second marriage that lies in tatters and all her offspring who are all suffering in their varying ways – particularly middle class ones I have noticed.

That isn’t to say I have gone off literary books completely, far from it, I just think what I need with a literary novel is something, erm, novel or something with a different feel to it. I mean the thing is even with something like Jelly Belly (bear with this analogy, I have been eating a lot of them of late) you have your favourite flavours that you save till the end and then when you have had a few of them you think ‘ooh lovely tutti-frutti, but actually maybe I would like a tropical punch one now!’

Maybe a curry analogy, I always order chicken tikka but actually really like loads of new ones when I dare to try them, might have been better but the image wouldn’t have been so pretty. Sorry, I digress…

I haven’t given up on literary novels and just moved to ‘genre’ fiction, though I have noticed I am having a real hunger for crime, but I have noticed that I don’t want endless waffle and inner monologues and rhetorical questions for a three page paragraph. Basically flowery just isn’t working. I need hard core plot, narrative and characters. I need to be hooked in very quickly and made to want to come back. Putting a book down and forgetting about it has also happened a bit this year and it gets me and the book nowhere fast if I carry on.

Could it be that my tastes have changed for good, or is this just a phase? I am actually wondering if in fact our circumstances, and I don’t just mean mood which is really important, can change the readers we are? I can’t sit down for hours and hours reading like I did a few years ago and it was my main job. I don’t have the long commute to get slowly involved. I grab minutes in the mornings and afternoons and then have a few solid hours here and there in the evening around work, so maybe that is the change. I do find it quite unsettling though.

So I thought I would ask all of you about it? One of the many joys of social media and blogs is that you don’t feel like such a weirdo when other people feel the same. Interestingly, my mate Emma said that she thinks it can be a case of reading in cycles, she is currently having a phase of reading dark depressing books like she did in her early twenties. Could that also be the case? What do you reckon? Answers on a postcard, or preferably in the comments below. Ta!

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And Now We Are 32…

Ok, we aren’t and this blog isn’t, but today I am. Yes it is birthday day here at Savidge Reads. As this post is scheduled, so I can just have a day doing what the hoot I want all day, I am not sure what I will be up to. Though that said I do know that I am having a lovely dinner party with some of my friends. The Beard is doing all my favourite things for tea; prawn cocktails, steak pie and lemon meringue cheesecake (which is amazing, he is a chef so it should be but this is BEYOND) all followed by this…

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…Which makes me feel 12 (not just because of the popping candy that it is laced with) rather than 32 but that is a lovely thing. I have no real idea what I will be getting either apart from my lovely literary tattoo which will being etched on me for life early on Tuesday morning. I am slightly pooping myself, never a good look, yet I am oddly intrigued by how painful it will be. I have decided 32 is going to be a year of doing things I would never normally consider. More on that when I have mulled it, drunkenly discussed it and then decided on a definite plan of action.

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Saying Goodbye to Gran…

I may just have issues with letting go but I have found it very odd to think that as my reading life, and this blog too, goes on I won’t really mention Gran so much anymore. She was such a huge part of my life and my reading it doesn’t feel like it’s over. It had seemed strange to me to possibly end it all on merely the books that she has left behind that I will now go on to read; it didn’t seem like an apt ending, not quite yet.

So I thought I would share the final physical farewell we had for Gran ourselves a few weekends ago when we did her ashes, a weekend I have to say I was dreading as it loomed ever nearer. I think I am still quite raw about her death and her knot being here. I still often think of something I must ring her to tell her, even though I was with her as much as I could be after we discovered she was terminally ill, with her when she died and even though we have had the funeral. Yet we do have to move on, we have to find that dreaded cliché of a thing called ‘closure’.

It was with this in mind that we Savidge’s, just Gran’s children and me, met up for the weekend to do the final clearing of the house and of course the ashes. Well do you know what, I think Gran would have been really proud because even though it was very sad in many ways it often ended in hysterics, partly because when you are highly emotionally charged everything ends up in hysterics. For example before we had even left the house we had been in hysterics at the fact that when we went to get the remainder of my Granddad’s ashes, as Gran wanted them with hers, from the garage I discovered not one set but two, making twice the amount of Gran and leaving us all wondering if (as one had a mere post it note with his name on, the other was very professional) actually we might have someone else with us.

After much pondering we finally made a move and packed our rucksacks and off we went to an unnamed location which involved a mammoth (well for me who used to do 11 miles a day walking holiday and now walks twenty minutes to the station and back each day) hike up a hill to a spot that Gran had said was where she wanted and somewhere she could see from her house when she was poorly. The view as you can see was quite serene and quite, quite stunning.

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We did the deed and then in true Gran style we cracked open a couple of bottles of cava, raised a toast to Gran, had a bit of a cry and then (which we thought she would have liked as a bit of a techno-gadget Gran) with much laughter tried to capture a moment of all her offspring on camera, introducing one of my aunties to the concept of the ‘selfie’…

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Well, once we started we couldn’t stop and tears were falling down our faces from laughter. She would have liked that, it was oddly bonkers which seemed rather apt. We then decided it was time to head and see the house which we were all brought up in and keep the nostalgia and laughter going, a happy walk down memory lane which nicely leads to another apt selfie – I said once we started we couldn’t stop.

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Yes that really is my uncle, aunties and (on the right) my mother. No one seems to believe me, but it is true I swear. Anyway… The walk took us through the woods that we all used to often go on big family walks (I can still hear Gran saying the immortal words ‘get your boots on’) in and then at last to where we used to live.

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It was so odd going back and peering at the neighbourhood houses we played in before of course going to the house we live in itself.

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Note – we didn’t have the really tacky balcony someone has attached, I used to say I wanted to buy this house back when I was much younger (after I had cried for about a week when it was sold) strange how going back I loved it, missed it yet couldn’t imagine being in it again. No, not because I could barely make it up the hill – cheeky.

After this a well-earned pint, or three, seemed due and so we decided we would (again as Gran would have thoroughly approved of it) have a bit of a pub crawl and dinner in our old town and put the world to rights and spend time with each other without all the madness that we had last year, it was just really nice being with each other and while we missed Gran we had all the lovely memories to share. One thing that did happen, which we afterwards we found hysterical not initially, was that the pub we had dinner at got raided by the police. The sniffer dogs came in and we were all looking at our bags, which may have had traces of ashes in, with mounting panic. Would we be arrested? We thought gran would have found this a hoot. In fact all in all she would have loved the day had it not been the occasion that it obviously was.

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Even though she is no longer with us physically, she was making new funny and bonkers memories and because we are all her offspring, or her offspring’s offspring, we will continue to do so. That and all the reading ahead. By the way, I found the picture above the next day and couldn’t not share it.

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So it has been a farewell to Gran though it still doesn’t feel final, but I don’t think it ever will because she is living in me, both in the genes and in the memories and I can’t be thankful enough for that, even if I miss her like mad. So maybe we never really do say goodbye, only goodbye to the sad or difficult memories. Those we love, and the lovely memories we have of the best moments, stay with us for good.

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Other People’s Bookshelves #34; Shannon Nemer

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a regular series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. This week we are off to Virginia to meet the lovely Shannon of River City Reading. Now I should warn you that this post may contain pictures of a shelving system so pristine it puts us all to shame, and may make some of us slightly jealous. First though let’s learn a bit more about Shannon…

I’m Shannon from River City Reading, which is based on the nickname for Richmond, Virginia, the place my books and I call home. Though I’ve had my nose in a book for as long as I can remember, I’ve only been serious about keeping and collecting the books I read for a few years, now that I have a house of my own with more space. Or so I thought. Somehow, these bookshelves never seem to be big enough.

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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?

For a long time, I was borrowing more books than I was buying, so keeping all the books I owned was a possibility. Once I started blogging, the number of books that came into the house (both from publishers and my own purchases based on the great recommendations I was getting) made it almost impossible to keep everything. I would say I keep maybe 75% of what I read and the rest go to friends or my neighbourhood Little Free Library.

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

I have two shelves in my living room and a larger library in my office upstairs. I am a serial organizer, alphabetizer and occasional culler. One of the downstairs shelves is favourites, signed books and “serious TBR” (I can’t believe I even need to have this category). The other living room shelf is non-fiction, including a book for every special exhibit the art museum my husband works for has had in his time there. Upstairs is all fiction, except for a small row of essays, biographies and autobiographies that spilled over when the non-fiction shelf filled up. I also have a basket for ARCs for the next few months, which I label with the publication date in an effort to stop them from landing in random piles around the house. It’s only somewhat effective.

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

Though I’m not sure it was the first purchase, I have a distinct memory of buying the first Babysitter’s Club book at a Scholastic Book Fair in elementary school with my (parent’s) own money. That was the start of an incredible friendship that I hung on to until I was “too cool” for them in middle school. I still regret letting those books go.

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?

Did you notice the movie tie-in edition of Atonement? In any other case, I would banish a movie tie-in from my bookshelves, but I adore that movie and I have no shame. I blame it on Keira Knightley’s green dress.

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 husband found a gorgeous, old leather bound copy of Thoreau’s Walden at one of the used bookstores here in Virginia not too long ago and, though it’s not worth much, I just love the way it looks. I’m also partial to my copy of The Blood of Heaven by Kent Wascom, which was the first time an author left a really lovely little message about my blog in the inscription.

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

I just had to read The Exorcist after seeing my Dad carry it around for a few weeks, even though I was way too young. I don’t know if it was better or worse that I hadn’t seen the movie yet, but I was traumatized regardless.

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 have a terrible habit of this, but not just with books I’ve borrowed! I also tend to do it with books I’ve read and loved in e-book or ARC format.

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

The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Keirnan, which I’m looking forward to reading before Booktopia Asheville! (Simon interrupts to shout ‘Guess who might just be there?!!!!!!’)

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

There are tons of books I wish were on my shelves, but they are the ones I love to hunt for at used stores and library sales. I have to keep up hope that I’ll stumble upon them eventually.

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

They would probably think I own too many new books and wonder where the classics are, which is a valid criticism. Other than that, I think I have a pretty diverse reading taste that ranges from non-fiction and graphic novels to literary and historical fiction.

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A huge thanks to Shannon for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, who else feels slightly envious for the neatness, why is it everyone else’s bookshelves can make us feel jealous of our own lovely ones? Anyway… 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 Shannon’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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The Prose Practice Returns; Help Aunty Alice…

So after a three year hiatus I have decided to bring back The Prose Practice, a place where readers can bring their ills, concerns and questions to which I try and be helpful and you all end up being much, much more helpful. Oddly this has nothing to do with me having been sick as a pig (where does that phrase come from?) for a week, it just seemed timely. When this occasional series was in force back in 2010/11 we tried to help many a reader with very important questions like; which books are best for book groups, is there another ‘One Day’ and most importantly (and my favourite yet)… Where are all the novels about lonely men in cardigans?

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In short this is a place for any queries about books you might have, from an awkward relative (nothing to do with this post honest) you want to buy for? Any books with a specific recommendation you are having horrors hunting down? Anything really.

What inspired me with this post is that my lovely aunty Alice, who I never call aunty for varying reasons, randomly asked me about some bookish advice. Actually she didn’t ask in person, she’s become all technological and so asked me on Facebook – how modern! Now Alice likes a book, like most of the Savidge’s though not to the extent of myself and my mother perhaps, but she would like some specific recommendations. Very specific…

Hello bookworm, recommendations please. Am thinking thriller type gripping page turner, nothing too violent with proper good plot twists. Can you help?

Now, as it happens I could do with your help on this one as all I could think of to recommend was the oh-so-obvious but oh-so-brilliant Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and anything by Sophie Hannah. All my other recommendations would have had too much gore or too much ‘full on’ murder. I think Alice doesn’t mind a murder, just wants one that has happened or doesn’t happen in the view of the readers eyes. I wanted to recommend Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty, but I haven’t actually read it, just heard lots of marvellous stuff about it.

So, go on… What book or books would you recommend for Aunty Alice, and also possibly for me?

P.S If you have a bothersome bookish conundrum do email me and maybe we can answer it.

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Mrs. Hemingway – Naomi Wood

I am rather fascinated by authors, I can’t pretend I am not – more dead and classic authors than living ones, though with certain podcasts and events I do you know I am partial to a good chat with a fun living one. I digress. Interestingly I know that not every reader feels like this about authors, they find the books more fascinating, I however am firmly in the ‘let me know all about authors that you can’ camp. This even includes some authors who I haven’t read and one such author I have heard much about and yet not read a word of is Ernest Hemingway (sorry Gran, I know you loved him) so when I discovered lovely living author (who I have had virtual fig roll fights with on this very blog) Naomi Wood’s second novel was going to be about his wives I knew I would have to read it.

Picador Books, hardback, 2014, fiction, 336 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

Mrs. Hemingway is a fascinating fictional account of the lives of all four of Ernest Hemingway’s wives; Hadley, Fife (or Pauline), Martha and Mary told from their perspectives at various points of their marriage to Hemingway. From the poor and humble beginnings to the darker depressive days of his last years Naomi Wood gives us a novel where the wives become as fascinating, if not more so, than the man whom they all married. A man it seems who wanted to feel like he was truly loved, which in some ways as his fame grew, became all too easy as women threw themselves at him, even if they weren’t his wives or wives to be.

What a pull he has! What a magnetism! Women jump off balconies and follow him into wars. Women turn their eyes from an affair, because a marriage of three is better than a woman alone.

At the start of Mrs. Hemingway it is a marriage of almost three which we enter. Hadley and Ernest have been joined on their holiday by Hadley’s friend Pauline, or Fife as we come to know her, who we soon learn (from her sister no less, the shock and horror) has become Ernest’s mistress only it seems that the feelings run far more deeply than a mere infatuation or soon to be over indiscretion. We watch, feeling wholly for Hadley, as Hemingway’s first wife inadvertently draws her husband and his lover together whilst her intention is to do quite the opposite. What is marvellously done is what remains unsaid between all three, but particularity what remains unsaid between the two ‘friends’ as things continue. I was heartbroken with Hadley and thought Fife was an utter piece of work, yet strange how as I read on my opinions would change on each wife, and indeed each mistress.

Hadley eats alone at the round table where their books sit on the shelf above. Ernest’s first book of short stories, In Our Time, sits along Scott’s new novel, The Great Gatsby. She remembers one of Ernest’s stories. The images are still so cool and fresh they resurface as vividly as if they were her own memories – how the fish broke the surface of the lake and the sound of them landing was described as gunpowder hitting the water. Hadley could picture everything in that story: the boat out in the bay, the boyfriend and girlfriend trolling for trout, the old sawmill that was now a ruin. But then it came, the moment when the boyfriend tells the girlfriend how it isn’t fun anymore – none of it is fun he tells her, desperate; none of it is going to work. She wonders how much it was about them. The story is called “The End of Something” after all.

Mrs. Hemingway is fascinating for many reasons. Firstly because as I hinted above it is a book which will have you completely on the side of whichever wife you are reading, thinking you will hate the next one and quite possibly coming away from the book feeling admiration and heartbreak for them all for many different reasons. What is wonderful in Wood’s prose is that each wife is very different and also celebrates what was wonderful and unusual about them that made Ernest fall for them and want to marry them all (marriage being something he was vehement about). Each woman has flaws, each woman has certain feelings about Hemingway’s writing, in short each woman is equally fascinating and when you come to the end of one’s narrative you really hope they crop up in the next one.

It is also a fascinating book, not only because it is about all sorts of woman and all sorts of marriages which seems slightly obvious to highlight but is true, because it is a book that really looks at the different emotions that we all go through in our lives. Love, jealousy, rage, hate, happiness, sadness. It also looks at the different shades of love we feel for someone. You can be infatuated. You can be unsure but wooed. You can fall under someone’s spell. You can fall in so fast and out so fast. You can love to hate someone. All these emotions and feelings we have all been through are laid bare in one of the women at some point, or even a few of them at various points, and gives the book a real heightened emotive edge.

He’d be thinking, no doubt, about his life here in the twenties, when he was poorer and happier, a man only once married. His Paris life is a memory Ernest loves to slide over and over until the place is smooth and cool with his affections. Today he would surely be longing for the sawmill apartment and his lost Saint Hadley: a woman all the more exquisite for her generous retirement of the title Mrs. Hemingway.
A title Martha has come to hate.

What I found very admirable, and in its way deeply affecting, about Mrs. Hemingway was that Naomi Wood never seems to favour one wife over another. Nothing they do is judged unless by the wife who happens to be narrating her part of the tale. For example, when we first meet Fife we think ‘what a nasty bitch’, yet when we get to hear her side of the story we start to soften towards her and I could occasionally feel myself starting to bristle against the next wife who was waiting in the wings seemingly to usurp the prior, only for Wood’s account of their actions and motives somehow wins you over again.

Then of course there is the man himself, and in this case as clichéd as it sounds he is the ‘man of mystery’, and indeed the mystery and enigma, at the centre of this book. To each wife he is a different person. A man who seemingly felt he had so much he had to prove that even his successes were never quite good enough. A man who seemed to feel addicted to being loved and needed and admired. A man who didn’t seem to really know himself, or was trying to work himself and the world out through his writing. A fascinating, flawed and incredibly charismatic, dark and talented man.

I say that like I know the man, as I mentioned earlier I haven’t even read any of his fictional writing, I didn’t even know about his ‘infamous death’ (which isn’t really a spoiler as we all know he is dead) before I read Mrs. Hemingway so I came to it, to him and his wives from a very uninformed angle. Well, thanks to Naomi’s wonderful writing (which never shows the amount of research she must have done, my favourite kind of writing) I feel that I have lived through it with them now and I am also desperate to read some of his work.

Mrs. Hemingway is a beautiful novel which initially seems to be about a man of many wives and many times, yet that would sell it short. It is actually about four fascinating women and a man who happened to be lucky enough to have them in his life, no matter how little or how long it was. I highly recommend it whether you be a fan of Hemingway or not, it’s marvellous.

If you would like to hear Naomi talking more about the book, strangely with little old me, then have a listen to the latest episode of You Wrote the Book here. Who else has read the book and what did you think? If you are a Hemingway fan, where should I head? Which fictional accounts of an author or their lives have you read and would recommend?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #33; Jeremy Largen

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a regular series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. This week we are off across the ocean to Chicago (though I may be delayed in quarantine) to join the lovely Jeremy, one of the many, many booklovers who I have come to know through social media and now wish I could teleport to visit for a nice cup of tea and bookish natter every week or so (and to join his book group too). Sighs. Anyway, less about me and my science fiction whims, I will hand over to Jeremy and let him introduce himself while I get my visa checked and medical assessment and join you later on…

I’ve always been a reader for as long as I can remember.  I grew up in the country and there wasn’t a lot to do.  My brothers enjoyed fishing, hunting, being outside, but I preferred to stay in and escape in a book, or if my parents forced me to go outside and “play,” I would take my book with me. I read pretty much anything, except I don’t like biographies/autobiographies, especially about famous people, but memoirs are okay.  Nor do I like Westerns.  I’m not a shoot ‘em up, cowboys and Indians kind of guy.  My favourite, and my go-to genre, when I just want to escape is fantasy.  I love the worlds.  I love the magic systems.  Fantasy, for me, is imagination at its best. I moved to Chicago about 9 years ago, for the job opportunity.  I had a hard time making friends, not being one to really go to the bars all that much, nor was I all that extroverted, so I decided to start the Chicago Gay Men’s Book Club in 2008, to make friends.  I never imagined that it would be so successful.  I’ve met some really great guys since, and have made some lasting friendships that I cherish.

I also recently started a book blog, www.bookjerm.com, which I’m kind of learning as I go.  I’ve never blogged before.  I’ve been rating and writing blurbs for books I’ve read on goodreads.com for several years, but writing full book reviews is new to me, and challenging, though finding time to actually write, I think, is probably the most challenging.  But I’m super excited about it and looking forward to developing my site as a place to house all my bookish thoughts, etc.  I’m also on Twitter, @BookAddict34, where I “tweet” about books, movies, and life in general.

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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?

All the books I keep are on my shelves.  I usually only keep the books that I really love, for one reason or another, and donate the rest.  I think, at least at the moment, I have more books I haven’t yet read then books I’ve actually read.  I’ve got a bit of an addiction when it comes to buying books.  I was out this afternoon, in fact, buying more books to add to the already overflowing shelves. 

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

I used to alphabetize all my books, but decided it wasn’t fun anymore.  The constant shifting of books became too tedious to keep up with.  I usually group authors together where I have several of their works, e.g., Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Carroll, but the rest I just make sure they go on their designated shelf; Shelf 1, which goes straight across both bookcases 1 & 2 in my living room is for Fiction (larger trade size paperback).  I have several books by Margaret Atwood and Jonathan Carroll, two very different writers, but both phenomenal writers. Shelf 2 is for non-fiction, which I don’t have a lot of.  These books only take up one bookcase.  On shelf two of the other bookcase starts my Fiction (smaller mass market paperback size), which runs on to shelf 3 of bookcase 1 as well.  Shelf 3 of the second bookcase is dedicated to The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, a favourite fantasy series of mine. Shelf 4 is where I keep my GLQBT books.  I don’t read a lot of this genre.  David Levithan was an amazing discovery of mine last year.  I absolutely loved Two Boys Kissing and Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which he co-wrote with John Green.  Shelf 4 of bookcase 2 is where I house my Harry Potter books and books in French.  Dangerous Liaisons is probably one of my favourite books of all-time, which is on this shelf.

Finally, the bottom two shelves of each bookcase is dedicated to my TBR.  They are the most jam-packed, overflowing shelves in the entire bookcase.  Sometimes I wonder if I don’t enjoy buying books more than reading them.  At this point, if I stop buying books today, it would take me more than a decade to catch up. I also have two, smaller, bookshelves in another room, which houses my books on writing, which I have a slight obsession with reading, and other reference books, such as grammar and French. I try to cull books once or twice a year, but am hugely unsuccessful.  I will begin by saying, “I am going to get rid of 20 books today, to make room for some new ones,” but at the end of the day, I will be lucky to decide on five.

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

I don’t think I can actually remember this, but I do remember walking into a bookstore when I was young and buying Needful Things by Stephen King.  I remember feeling very adult.  It was a heavy hardcover, too, which made the experience that much more adult-like.  I was going through a phase at the time where I was devouring books, especially horror novels. 

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?

This would probably be my Anne Rice books.  I have all the Vampire Chronicles, and these are the ones that people make the most comments about. These books take up half a shelf on one of my bookcases.  I used to hide them behind other books, but decided what’s the sense of having books if I’m just going to hide them.  These books were part of my horror phase when I was growing up, and I display them proudly, since then, however, I have a hard time reading vampire stories.  It would have to be a pretty fantastic vampire story to appeal to me today. 

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 would try to save as many of the books as I could.  I have nightmares about losing my books in a fire.  I live on the first floor of my apartment building, I think I would just start chucking them out into the street before jumping out the window after them at the last minute.  My most prized books would probably have to be The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.  I really love this fantasy series.  There are 14 books so far and it’s still going—I hope it never ends.  I’m not one to collect antiquated books, or go to a ton of book signings, though meeting Jim Butcher is on my list of things to do before I die.

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I have a funny story about book signings, actually. I recently went to my first this past year.  It was Dave Eggers, who was signing for his new book at Unabridged Books here in Chicago.  I read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius a couple years prior and absolutely loved it.  After waiting in line for just over an hour, I stepped up to get my book signed.  I was expecting him to just write: “To Jeremy” and then sign his name, but he scribbled over the entire page, covering it in black marker, which leaked through to the next page.  I cringed at this defacement.  I take great care of my books, maintaining their pristine condition, even after reading them, so for me to even relent and allow a book to be signed is something special.  Dave Eggers basically ruined that book for me.  So, bad first experience.

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

I remember reading V. C. Andrews at a very young age and thinking, “I probably shouldn’t be reading this.”  I then, of course, told my brother about these scandalous books and he was even younger than I was.  We both read these books back-to-back.  It’s probably the fastest I’ve ever read a book, ever.

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?

Absolutely, but only if I loved it.  I’ve borrowed books before where I had to have my own copy; I needed to “own” it.  Recently, for example, The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker.  I borrowed a copy from a friend and absolutely adored the story.  I had to have my own copy for my shelf, which the hardcover with the black edged pages is gorgeous by the way.  I’m the same way with ebooks.  I’m one of those rare individual that reads ebooks and physical books equally.  If I read an ebook that is amazing, I will go out and buy a physical copy for my shelf.  I don’t know why I do this.  It’s a compulsion, I guess.

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

I’m constantly adding new books to the TBR shelves, but the one I’m most recently excited about is Harriet the Spy, which was a childhood favourite of mine.  The 50th anniversary special edition just came out last week, and I can’t wait to find time to sit down and read this again.  I only hope I like it as much as an adult as I did as a child.  Ready Player One is another that I recently purchased.  I’ve heard so many good things about it, and I’m always drawn to the cover art when I’m in the bookstore, so I decided to buy it.  I’ll get to it, eventually.

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

I’ve been a bit nostalgic lately for my childhood favorites.  I wish I would have saved all these books that I read in my childhood!  I’d really like to get my hands on the Ramona Quimby series by Beverly Cleary or the Anne of Green Gables series, both of which I absolutely loved.

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

I would like them to look at my books and think, “Wow, what an intelligent, well-rounded reader.”  However, what I usually get is “Anne Rice?  Really?”  I read everything, but the books that I’m most judged for are my fantasy and horror novels.

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A huge thanks to Jeremy for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, who else feels like they don’t want to go home and would rather stay and have a chinwag for much longer?  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 Jeremy’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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Sick of Being Sick

Why can’t being ill as an adult be like it was as a child? You feel dreadful for a bit, but being a resilient youth, you bounce back quite quickly and then have a few days in bed – preferably with some good books to spend hours reading, far too much tomato soup, cuddles and the promise of chocolates some time when you feel better. This is how I remember being sick, and possibly why I was prone to being a bit of a hypochondriac as a child. I blame my mother and grandparents, if you are going to make being poorly so rewarding what do you expect? As an adult being sick is just plain vile.

I am currently on day three of norovirus which safe to say I never want to have again in my life. There has been no tomato soup, as I am only just able to drink a glass of squash (sounds so dramatic but is so true) and not feel horrendous after – or exhausted from the effort, seriously. There have been no cuddles because I am really contagious (and indeed got told off when I was in so much pain yesterday I dared to seek medical advice) and The Beard is allergic to sickness (though revels in being ill, must have had parents like me). There is no promise of chocolate as the very idea makes me feel queasy (I must be really ill) though it does feel like a Cadbury’s delivery lorry has hit me in the chest, apparently I have sprained/bruised muscles I never knew I had. Worst of all there has been no real reading, because the room span for a day and a half when I wasn’t running to the bathroom. Seriously, being sick as an adult is horrid and this is only a stomach bug, albeit a nasty one. Looks quite pretty close up though doesn’t it?

Norovirus close up: something so pretty can leave you feeling so shitty.

Anyway, I thought I would do an oversharing post and share this all with you. I am unable to interact with anyone for at least another 48/72 hours, and haven’t seen anyone bar a sneering Beard and rather cross pair of nurses since Tuesday evening, so I guess I am just seeking some chats out here on the interweb and social media. Anything you fancy having a natter about? Anything new with you? Anything you’ve read that has been really brilliant? Do share. Pathetically yours.

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The Inheritance of Books…

So today is going to be a bit of a strange day as we scatter Gran’s (and half of my Granddads, which seems strange too) ashes and say a final farewell to her. It’s sure to be a day of mixed emotions and knowing us Savidge’s there will probably be hysteria from all extremes, laughter and tears.

As she was such a big part of the blog, as regular readers will know, and of my life on and off the blog I thought I would mark the day in some way. What could be more apt than sharing the books that I have inherited from her.

032It has to be said that when I was asked to go through her books and take what I liked there were three thoughts. First, I just wanted to regime them all because the idea of them going out the family bothered me. Secondly, I thought how she loved lending books and buying second hand books and wouldn’t it be nice to continue that tradition with her books. Thirdly I thought about how bloody many she had, even after my mother and aunts had been through them, and so I decided to pick books in a certain way. Initially I decided to take the books of hers I had read and had on my shelves but were her editions.

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There seemed something rather special and pay about this until again I realised that we’d read so many in common. So I changed tactics and took ones I had read and lent and never got back from other people, or books I had but her edition is nicer. I love the idea of our personal libraries merging.

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Next I turned to any books by my favourite authors. Now you might think there would have been hundreds of these but I have a bad habit, if I love an authors book I invariably go on a hunt/spree (second hand shops then readitswapit then regular trips to a bookshop) to find all the others of theirs. I’ve curbed it somewhat but it still happens and Anne Tyler and Nevil Shute, as you can see were two top choices. The Shute’s are particularly special as Gran used to have these editions by her bed in our old house Sunbury when I was really little till I was about 12 so many memories there with those.

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After that it may look a bit like a free for all but there was still method to my madness, what books had I not read that a) Gran had told me I must read b) would have liked me to read. These I split three ways; classic, modern…

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And of course non fiction, something that I’m not the best reader of, Gran was especially stuff around WWI and WWII, but want to improve with.

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I do have to admit I did take a selection of books just because they looked pretty. Any special series Penguin do are generally a treat to behold, Great Ideas are no exception. I probably won’t read them but I don’t think Gran ever did either, no disrespect Gran. Ha!

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What has been lovely is since getting them home I have been sorting them (into hardbacks, paperbacks and then in alphabetical order) and as doing so I have discovered more of Grans reading habits. She often wrote her name in the front and the date she got it and then the date she read it. Occasionally other relatives (my mother or aunties Caroline and Alice) names appear in the inlay, I’ve not told them. Oops. What’s been doubly lovely are the books that are inscribed by her friends and indeed my Granddad (as you’ll see below on her 43rd birthday when I was 3) which conjure lovely images of relationships and friendships don’t you think?/p>

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I was sad I couldn’t take the remaining ones with me, there is only so much WWI and WWII literature anyone can stomach though. Ha. Jokes aside the idea some shared reads we had and now in a combined library is a lovely one. Even more lovely is that with all the books I’ve not read and have ahead, I can think that Gran was flicking those pages and reading those words before me, so we are still reading together in a way.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Granny Savidge Reads, Random Savidgeness

The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2014

One of my favourite prizes of the bookish year is what we now know as the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. I have been a supporter of it for many a year now, trying to guess the longlist and then trying to read them. I normally stay up until the midnight announcement but as I appear to have aged by about 20 plus years in the last few weeks I couldn’t. I did wake up at about 5am, when Oscar decided to be sick behind the wardrobe, and then have a sneak peak and it’s a really interesting list…

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Before I go on to share the list can I just say there is so much that is brilliant about the above picture it is almost too much. Imagine being on a panel of judges with Mary Beard and Caitlin Moran, you’d just be in heaven. Anyway, the list of twenty books in full is as follows…

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
MaddAddam – Margaret Atwood
The Dogs of Littlefield – Suzanne Berne
The Shadow of the Crescent Moon – Fatima Bhutto
The Bear – Claire Cameron
Eleven Days – Lea Carpenter
The Strangler Vine – M.J. Carter
The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton
Reasons She Goes to the Woods – Deborah Kay Davies
The Signature of All Things – Elizabeth Gilbert
Burial Rites – Hannah Kent
The Flamethrowers – Rachel Kushner
The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri
The Undertaking – Audrey Magee
A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing – Eimear McBride
Almost English – Charlotte Mendelson
Still Life with Bread Crumbs – Anna Quindlen
The Burgess Boys – Elizabeth Strout
The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

Amazingly though I don’t have all of them I do happen to have thirteen (I am hoping this is not an omen) of them in the house 4.5 of which I have read.

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I didn’t try and guess the longlist this year (what a party pooper) because I didn’t feel after last year being my slowest and quietest year for reading what with Gran (who was a huge fan of the prize, I think it lead her to Rose Tremain, and would be happy I have posed the books on what were her sofa’s on which she did much reading and I will carry on the tradition of) and all that jazz I didn’t feel that I could give a good enough insight. Plus there is always the worry you look super smug, then the mild embarrassment when I am sooooo wrong and the invariable almost moan of ‘why wasn’t x and y book on the list?’ Speaking of which Naomi Wood, Fiona McFarlane? Moving swiftly on…

I would have stabbed a guess at All the Birds, Singing, A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, Burial Rites and Almost English being on the list as they were all highlights of my reading year last year, so naturally I am thrilled for those to be on the list. I may also have hazarded a guess at Americanah and MaddAddam being on the list as they are by two of my favourite authors though shockingly I didn’t read these upon release, strange. I also would have guessed The Luminaries, The Goldfinch and The Flamethrowers as they have been three of the most talked about books and also interestingly three books which seem to really divide people, interesting.

Berne, Bhutto, Cameron and Carter I am excited about because I have them on my shelves, The Bear was actually one of the books I mentioned in The Readers ‘Books To Be Excited About January to June’ show. Yet, as always with me, it is the books I know very little or nothing about that are the ones that I instantly go off and look up.  Deborah Kay Davies is an author I have already read and was equally impressed and disturbed with True Things About Me so I will have to get my mitts on her knew one, Elizabeth Strout I know through Olive Kitteridge which I still haven’t read but Gran raved about, Lea Carpenter and Audrey Magee are completely knew to me which is most exciting.

So it is a really interesting list, some big names with big books, some debuts, some lesser known authors all in the mix. Now I just have to choose which one to start with… I was umming and ahhing about doing a shadow jury of beardy blogging blokes but I think to try them out as and when the whim takes me might be a better plan of action. So while I decide which one gets read next (I am leaning towards The Bear) which of these books have you read and what did you make of them? Which books are you keen to read? And what do you make of the list overall?

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Filed under Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction, Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness