Monthly Archives: January 2015

Other People’s Bookshelves #50 – William Rycroft

Hello and welcome to the latest Other Peoples Bookshelves, which has now hit its fiftieth post in the series. I think this calls for a celebration, party poppers and lots of cake and so we are heading over to the lovely William Rycroft who has kindly said we can have a party round at his whilst we have a nosey through his bookshelves. I have known William through the blogosphere for quite some years both from his written blog thats now a vlog and sparkly new YouTube channel (hes so modern) yet next month we will finally meet in the flesh in London town, very exciting. Anyway, before we have a good old nosey round Williams shelves, and get celebratory cake crumbs in his carpet, here is a little bit more about him

Whilst working as an actor William Rycroft started writing about books online in 2007 with his book blog, Just William’s Luck. The blog came a vlog on YouTube in 2013 and his passion for books led to him recently becoming the new Community Manager for Vintage Books. Whilst that means he won’t be treading the boards he can still be heard reading at events, narrating audio books and talking all things Vintage on their various online channels.

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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 keep every book I bought and was in fact very proud to see those shelves filling up as I grew older. Then there came a point when space became an issue – or as some people like to call it: marriage. Becoming a blogger obviously upped the ante, with books arriving through the letter box frequently to add to those I couldn’t resist buying. As you’ll see from the photos we are overflowing. So I have to be tougher now. Books I buy tend to stay, books I receive from publishers will only stay once read if I feel like I have to keep them on the shelf. I’m not a great re-reader so it isn’t that; it’s more of a statement along the lines of this is who I am.

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 or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

There’s a rather ad-hoc system in place. Special books like first editions, signed copies and collectibles tend to reside in my bedroom away from kiddy fingers. I used to have my books alphabetised and vaguely themed, and once I organised them by colour, but when we moved here things got all messed up and have never really recovered. I now have some books gathered together by publisher because I like seeing collections together on the shelf. As for culling, I had to force myself to do it a few years ago, something I would previously have considered unthinkable. But once I’d done it once I suddenly found it much easier to do it again. I don’t feel a need to keep all the books to retain their worth anymore. I’m not much of a re-reader as I said so why am I keeping them? The answer it seemed was that as I grow older I feel like I’m building up a library. There are simply some books I cannot let go, some that deserve their place and some that are trying to earn it. It’s nice watching it evolve.

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

Oooh, I have a terrible memory so I don’t honestly know what the first book was but I’m sure I don’t have it. Funnily enough I wasn’t a huge reader as a kid. I remember loving those books where you had to make choices for the main character along the way and flick to different pages accordingly, a literary precursor to interactive video games. I do remember being gifted books by my dad however for significant achievements, one of which was an illustrated Wind in The Willows in a slipcase. I still have that and it’s on my kids’ bookcase now.

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Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

How very dare you! It’s all classy round here. Seriously though, I can’t really think of any guilty pleasures. The closest might be the trilogy of werewolf novels that Glen Duncan wrote recently but he’s a fab writer of literary fiction so there’s no guilt there at all.

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?

Very tough one to answer this. I might have to grab a few. I have an early edition of Mcsweeney’s (No.4) which is a box containing separate booklets. My wife gave it to me on our first anniversary so it’s very special. I have a few signed first editions on the same shelf so I might have to grab those too.

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What is the first grown up, and I dont mean in a Fifty Shades of Grey way, that you remember on your parents shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

I remember hearing a discussion of a book called Deception by Philip Roth on the radio and then seeing it on my Dad’s bookshelf. I knew it was all about an affair and so hopefully filled with sex so I nabbed that to read. I went on to become a huge fan of Roth and I still have that very copy on my shelf at home. I also remember looking at those big Russian novels like War and Peace and Anna Karenina and had great fun on a binge of epic fiction many years ago, all of which still have their place on the shelf.

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 don’t tend to borrow books from friends, I prefer to have my own copies of things and like many book lovers, it’s the buying of the thing that first thrills.

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

It was a graphic novel called Here by Richard McGuire which was recommended by Chris Ware who is a genius and who said that this book was a work of genius. It is.

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

I like first editions, especially signed ones, so yes, there are loads of books I’d love to have on my shelves but they’re just so damn expensive. I hope to be able to add to my collection surreptitiously over the years.

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

What I’d like them to think: “That man has impeccable taste.”

What they really think: “What a ponce.”

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Huge thanks to William for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves and being my 50th guest! If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) 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 William’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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Loving The Library A Little Too Much?

I love the library. If you are a regular in these parts you will know this as I have mentioned it quite a few times. As a youngster the library was a place of wonder I would go at the weekend with mum and go find a new book to love as well as finding some fascinating tome on something like spontaneous human combustion. Then at school again it became a place I loved (because ALL those books) and often a refuge (from being bullied), it sounds a bit sad but books became my friends. This has meant that as an adult, well since I started reading in earnest again, I have always supported and joined the library local to me. I am slightly worried I might be taking it too far and indeed I may be loving them a bit too much and a little too selfishly. (Is that possible with libraries?)

You see where I am in the Wirral I have a lovely library down the road which resembles a stately home meets museum, brimming with wonderful books. Whilst I haven’t maxed out the amount of books I have from there, I have borrowed quite a lot…

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Then, lucky me, near where I work in the centre of town I also have another library (a literally amazing one) in town which I am also borrowing from as you can also see…

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Now some of you may think that this is not that bad, some of you may think it is excessive. I love to support my library but I think that sometimes I am a little bit naughty, you see I am one of those people who renews books over and over and over and over… or I take them back and then take them out again on the next visit, often getting asked “erm, you have taken this out before”, which seems a bit unfair to everyone else who might want to borrow them. I know this is partly what the library is for but it is also there so we can try new things, whether we end up liking them or not. They shouldn’t be gathering dust on my shelves though.

So I have made some rules, this happened last night actually when I realised my books were up for return or renewal, that I must stick by.

  • I can borrow the maximum amount of books and not feel guilty, that is what the library is for and we are blooming lucky to have them, if we don’t use them they will vanish.
  • I am ONLY allowed to renew a book the maximum amount of times that I can. If after that I don’t want to read it, just let it go, if I still do but haven’t I need to buy myself a blinking copy. (I have just done this with Ben Myers Pig Iron and Lee Rourke’s The Canal which I have renewed well over ten times each!)
  • I need to read at least one or two library books a month, this will stop me hoarding if books start to just linger.
  • I need to be more adventurous in the library and take some more risks.
  • I should donate more (because in the Wirral you can) books to the library rather than have those gathering dust on my shelves. I can check them out again if I suddenly have the urge to read them.

I returned several books today; of course I borrowed a couple more. How could I not?

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So, that is my new library pact with myself. I can stay loving the library but not in such a bonkers way. It will also make me think about what I borrow a little more and be aware of how often I press that renew button, which I have never known if is a good move or not? What about you, what is your relationship with the library? Which gems have you discovered thanks to your library or a lovely librarian?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Library Loot, Random Savidgeness

Read, Read, Reading…

I’ve been a bit quiet on here if late, whoops. The problem, thought its not really a problem is that I simply haven’t been able to stop reading when I have had a spare second, well reading and trips to the seaside and getting about a bit more again. It seems my reading mojo is officially back back back, as you can see from the picture below…

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I am aware I don’t want to end up with a huge backlog of posts and as I am about to start reading the J.K Rowling chunkster for adults on the right, reading and blogging will reach an equilibrium of sorts in due course. I can say that reading by whim is making me have a stonking reading year so far!

Speaking of reading years, how is yours going? What are you reading currently? What corkers and/or duds have you read so far?

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Die Again – Tess Gerritsen

I have broken with tradition and indeed broken one of my own rules. I like to read a series of books in order yet have made an exception by devouring the latest Tess Gerritsen novel, Die Again, before having read the two before it – I like to space out my favourite series in case they suddenly stop or take a while for the next one to come out. I must admit that I was slightly worried this might mean I may miss something along the way yet it proved that whilst a story runs through all the Rizzoli and Isles novels they all actually can stand alone and are all completely gripping…

Bantam Press, hardback, 2015, fiction, 330 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

In Die Again, the eleventh outing for Detective Jane Rizzoli and Dr Maura Isles, we are initially given two stories. Firstly we are miles away from the duo’s home of Boston and find ourselves on a safari trip in Botswana. Here a group of relative strangers, though they include a couple and two best friends, are out to have an adventure in the wilds camping amongst the animals. Things soon take a much darker turn as something or someone starts picking them off one by one. Back in Boston Jane Rizzoli is called to the home of Leon Gott where the owner, a well known hunter and taxidermist, has been horrifically killed rather like a predator might kill its prey in the wild. As Jane and Maura start working together, with some tension between them, it soon appears this might not be a singular incident for the killer. How are the two stories connected? You will have to read the book to find out of course!

I am a huge fan of this series and in Die Again Tess Gerritsen reminds me of why. First there is the way, which I think has become more prevalent and more cunning as the series has gone on, that she will set you up with two stories that couldn’t be less connected if they tried, then slowly drips us information (making us feel super clever, often before she throws in a twist to flummox us) that make the two tales connect. Never to the point where you could easily guess the killer though, which I think makes these novels all the cleverer.

She also finds some subject that oddly often I find fascinating too anyway; like mummies, cults etc (just to name two of my favourites so far) and looks at them in more depth finding out even more fascinating facts that you can regal to your partner/work colleagues/strangers on a train making you seem all the more intelligent. In Die Again the subject is big cats, leopards in particular, and who doesn’t love big cats?

She thought of the cat in her own home, and how it watched her as intensely as this cougar was doing now. The connection between felines and humans was more complex than between a mere predator and prey. A house cat might sit in your lap and eat from your hand, but it still had the instincts of a hunter.
As do we.

The other thing that, for me, sets Tess Gerritsen’s novels apart from many crime series, and also makes me so addicted to them, is the macabre. Now I am not a psycho but I find the human body fascinating, be it alive or be it dead. In Gerritsen’s novels a lot of what we learn about the murders is from the victims and their anatomies as Dr Maura Isles is a forensic pathologist. This might not be for everyone but I just find it genuinely and grimly fascinating (though my dream job is to be a forensic psychologist if I could afford to go to University – any mystery benefactors please do get in touch) and in this series there have been some amazing macabre moments (what looks like a hit and run but has too much of a splat impact/an Egyptian Mummy which has a much fresher body inside it than it should) and Die Again is no exception. Death is after all every person’s final story.

The nude man hung upside down, his ankles bound with orange nylon cord. Like a pig carcass hanging in a slaughterhouse, his abdomen had been sliced open, the cavity stripped of all organs. Both arms dangled free, and the hands would have almost touched the floor – if the hands had still been attached. If hunger had not forced Bruno the dog, and maybe the two cats as well, to start gnawing the flesh of their owner.

While all this horror, notably caused by humans, is played out there are some moments of light. There is the camaraderie between Jane and Maura, which can often be tested or get testy, and their often dark sense of humour, come on if you worked doing what they do you would need a laugh. Giving the novels that extra punch too are the stories of their lives. Jane now married with children and all that brings, Maura and her situation as a single woman… now with a cat, and both of their pasts which have moments of darkness that linger. I can’t speak for everyone but when I pick up a thriller I want something dark, creepy and chilling to escape into in the safety of my own home (even if I have to check under the bed and in the wardrobes before I go to sleep) and Tess Gerritsen does this every time without fail.

I thoroughly enjoyed Die Again and read it in just two sittings. Both the narratives in Boston and Botswana had me hooked, I felt clever when I connected them and then more than happy to be given a final twist I didn’t see coming at the end. I am now really, really keen to head back and read both The Silent Girl and Last To Die playing catch up with Rizzoli and Isles especially as I know there will be a twelfth novel coming in the not too distant future, long may they continue.

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In case you are wondering why I broke with tradition and read the latest book before the others, I was super duper lucky to meet Tess of a lunchtime last week to have a natter about Die Again and much more, some of which I recorded for You Wrote The Book so do have a listen. Who else out there is a big fan of the Rizzoli and Isles novels? Who has yet to read them? Which are your favourite crime series and why?

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Filed under Bantam Press, Books of 2015, Review, Rizzoli and Isles, Tess Gerritsen

Cold Light – Jenn Ashworth

One of my reading highlights last year was undoubtedly Jenn Ashworth’s debut novel A Kind of Intimacy, a wonderful dark book which featured one of my favourite things – the unreliable narrator. This was made all the better because she was a complete and utter loon, which gives nothing away as watching her go slightly psycho and discovering why she has gone over the edge is one of the fascinating facets of the book. Anyway I have reviewed that one, but it will make you understand why I turned to Cold Light at the start of the year to keep my rather marvellous reading momentum going and it didn’t disappoint.

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Sceptre Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 352 pages, bought by myself for myself

As Cold Light opens we meet Laura as she sits in front of the telly watching a memorial being erected in her home city, only this memorial is to a young girl and her boyfriend who tragically died a decade ago. The girl was Chloe, Laura’s best friend at school, a role she often competed for with Emma, when they were fourteen. However as space is made for the plaque, live on TV, a body is unearthed and Laura instantly recognises the coat it is found in. Laura then starts to unravel a winter in her teens which she has both hidden from, becoming famous after her friends tragic death, and revisit a time when three fourteen year old girls lived a life of lies, jealousy and secrets.

Jenn Ashworth plays some bloody good games with her readers with her second novel. Throughout the book we are constantly wondering what Laura is telling us, how true it is and of course what there is that she is leaving out. In the present we find out that she has completely cut herself off from her parents and yet still occasionally sees Emma, a girl who she competed with in childhood and didn’t really like, but why? She has also made her life the most unnoticeable she could, is this due to a lack of self esteem or is she hiding from her past or something in it?

I never got a job at a cafe, and I never tried Woolworths. I clean the shopping centre. It’s my job to put the out the yellow triangles before I mop: little slipping stick men to warn you of what you’ll get if you walk on wet floors. I use the motorised floor polisher with protectors over my ears while the television screens mounted overhead show the shopping channel, the talk-shows, the consumer revenge panels. I don’t get paid much, but after all the shops in town went 24-hours there’s as much work as I want. It’s not Woolworths or a perfume counter, but I have my own trolley and I know my way around the service corridors even in the dark. I do all right.

One unreliable narrator can often be an abundance of dark secret riches, as Ashworth proved with A Kind of Intimacy, yet she’s done that before and so we also get a cast of characters who might all be hiding secrets. Not only must we question what Laura is hiding must also do the same for those around her. As we slowly go back to the winter when all this happened we get insight into other things going on at the time such as her father and mother seem to be falling apart, there was a flasher out on the streets who has started to want to interact more than just expose and Chloe’s boyfriend Carl starts to show signs of being rather violent and nasty. The plot thickens.

‘I’m not sure I want you going out that far on your own at night,’ she said. ‘It’s dark. And anyway, you’d think – ’ She went to the bottom of the stairs, shouted my father’s name at the top of her voice, and then used the broom she kept there to bang on the ceiling a couple of times.
‘What? You’d think what?’ I said.
‘You’d think on his wages, he’d be able to afford more than fifty pee’s worth.’ She shook her head and pointed through to the front room with a pot-scourer. ‘It isn’t safe for you to be wandering the streets.
‘He’s stopped hasn’t he?’
‘For the time being, perhaps. But no one’s been caught.’

As the book goes on not only does the plot thicken, the plot twists, the plot gets darker. Without giving away any spoilers you start to suspect all the cast of characters of having done all sorts of awful things. Ashworth does this expertly because she isn’t feeding you these thoughts, just leaving you little titbits to take away and make as dark as your own nasty little mind will go. She shows but doesn’t tell and sometimes you might be right, sometimes you will be horrified that you could suspect someone (even a character you have come to really like) of doing something they simply didn’t. You never feel a fool, it just makes you realise what nasty suspicious thoughts you can have. Clever, very clever!

What I also loved about Cold Light is the way it feeds off and plays with(and homage to) some of the great tropes of literature. In some ways it is a crime novel, there is a body discovered at the start and a mystery to unravel, yet it looks at the way the crime now (and something in the past) affects a whole community and the extreme reactions it causes. It also toys with the coming of age tale, or if I was being really pretentious ‘bildungsroman’ which just sounds filthy, as we watch how these three girls navigate life and each other. Teenage girls can be such bitches. Finally it also plays with those bleak, cold, ‘ooh it’s grim up north’ novels and takes it to extremes both in atmosphere but also because it doesn’t feature loads of middle class people moaning about it, it’s the actual working classes who often don’t get a voice. I actually described it as being like Mean Girls meets Broadchurch but ‘oop north’ and more sinister the other day, if that doesn’t sell it to you as being a blooming brilliant, compelling yet complex read you must grab, then nothing will.

So as you can see Jenn Ashworth has done it again for me with Cold Light as we have a dark yet also blackly funny twisted tale. A Kind of Intimacy was a rather confined little wonderfully evil monster of a book; I think Cold Light has a broader scope yet a condensed dark heart at its core. With these two novels and the ghost story that turns itself on its head, in a collection I read over Christmas, Jenn Ashworth is becoming one of my favourite contemporary writers. I cannot wait to see what she does with a family drama in The Friday Gospels. Read her.

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Filed under Books of 2015, Jenn Ashworth, Review, Sceptre Publishing

The Guest Cat – Takashi Hiraide

Now you know all know that I love cats don’t you? To the point where if I could I would probably buy a new kitten every few weeks, though I don’t think Oscar and Millie would be too pleased as they barely tolerate each other unless it is very cold. Despite this love of cats I can’t say I am one of those people, not that I am judging them mind, who would rush out to by The Adventures of Tibbles the Cat Who Saved My Life When I Was Stuck in a Pothole in 1993, yes I made that up – it could sell though! They just aren’t my bag. And yes, I made that title up. Therefore I wasn’t sure The Guest Cat would be my cup of tea but last Sunday morning I fancied something short and so picked it up after I had been sent it from the publishers (possibly because of my outward seemingly cat lady tendencies) and what I found was possibly my perfect version of ‘a cat book’.

Picador Books, paperback, 2014, novella, 144 pages, translated by Eric Selland, kindly sent by the publisher

The story of The Guest Cat is really a very simple one. A couple, both who are writers, find the dream rental spot hidden away, down a lightening like street, from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. This small house, in the grounds of a bigger house owned by an elderly couple, is the perfect retreat to work in solitude yet soon they have a visitor in the form of the neighbour’s cat, who they soon learn is named Chibi. Initially flighty and aloof (well always aloof like the best of cats) Chibi starts to visit more and more regularly and little by little becomes a small companion to the couple and in the smallest of ways has a more and more positive effect on their lives.

In essence that is the book. Only it isn’t.

You see this novella is also so much more when you read between the lines and look a little further, or even if you don’t and it goes in subconsciously. In a rather silent and stealthy manner, creeping up on you (this is the only cat analogy I will make, promise) The Guest Cat actually features a plethora of themes and insights into the world of Tokyo in the 1980’s. The first, and possibly the least interesting yet still insightful, is the housing market in Tokyo when the city was almost out pricing itself (the slightly boring bit) but also losing all of its green spaces and heritage/traditional housing in favour of building big new modern  condominiums or swanky business pads (I found this side of it really interesting).

The second thing it looks at, which I found actually as moving as the story of how this couple befriends Chibi, is how it is to grow old which we see through the landlords in the bigger house. How do you cope as you age and become frailer? How do you look after a loved one they age and you age too? How do you cope with their death and then prepare for the inevitability of your own? I found a real poignancy in that.

The Guest Cat also treads that thin line between autobiography and fiction. As this is a story by an author about two authors (and indeed Takashi Hirade’s wife is a writer so hence the autobiographical link) and the life of the writer and of course the writing process. I always like this element when I come across it in a book as I find the process of writing really interesting, be it what hinders it or what inspires it. So again more layers, not just a book about a pretty cute if elusive cat.

Oh and without giving anything away get ready for an ending which leaves you with a big question, and a mystery, that might have you heading back to the beginning again.

The Guest Cat is one of those books which one the one hand is a very simple tale but can also be read in a multitude of ways and probably needs to be read a few times, especially with the ending I have alluded to above. You can of course, like every book, just read it for the story which is touching and beguilingly simplistic. In essence, like Chibi when she visits her adopted-when-the-needs-arise owners, it is a book that makes us look at life and try and appreciate the intricate and subtle nuances that sometimes we over look, take for granted or simply forget. It is a little gem*.

*I am not going to start reading lots of cat books though, just sharing that with you before they all start arriving.

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Filed under Books in Translation, Picador Books, Review, Takashi Hiraide

The Books We Keep Meaning To Read…

Why do we save books for that elusive rainy day? This is something I have been pondering a lot of late and decided that I need to address in my own reading habits. Do not fear this is not going to be a challenge as I have promised myself that I am not going to be doing any of those, which is weirdly a challenge in itself. So maybe I do have one challenge. Anyway, before my head hurts, I mentioned this with Thomas when we recorded The Readers and I said I wasn’t even going to be doing a ‘reading for Gran challenge this year’, I think she would actually be telling me to just read what I want when I want. Though I can also imagine her saying ‘but why do you always need to read contemporary fiction and the latest this and that’. I can imagine it because she said it one day in the hospital a few months before she died. She would be/is right I have soooooo many books that I have been saving for that elusive rainy day, not actually noticing that it rains rather a bloody lot here.

That illusive rainy day...

That elusive rainy day…

Initially I thought of older books, which I will come to shortly, yet there are some newer ones too. I have the joy of interviewing (slight name drop alert) Tess Gerritsen tomorrow and I realised that I had let myself get woefully behind with the Rizzoli and Isles series. Part of this is because I like to have some ahead as I love the series so much I am scared it will stop and the other, you guessed it, that rainy day. Well I have broken with tradition and read the latest one and will have the two I have missed to catch up with. (Another bookish OCD thing I have is that I have to read a series in order, on the whole!) Yet why do I wait? I might get run over by a bus tomorrow – though hopefully not. This applies to lots of series but also to books by new to me contemporary authors I love, like Jenn Ashworth. I am in love with her writing at the moment, waited till a new year to read her second book… but why should I wait till next year to read her third to spread them out? Madness. I should binge till I feel sick surely?

This of course applies to older books, be they classic classics or modern classics. Why have I held of reading all the Margaret Atwood/Kazuo Ishiguro/Anne Tyler books from the last several decades that I have bought over the years and sit on my shelves or in boxes? Why do I pace my Daphne Du Maurier or Muriel Spark’s, is it because they are dead so I won’t find more? Wouldn’t I be furious if I didnt read them all by the time (hopefully in about 60 years) I am on my deathbed thinking of my reading life? Then of course there are the classics, many of which I know I want to read but don’t like a very silly sausage. It’s time to think on Savidge!!

So I have decided I am going to ban the term ‘saving it for a rainy day’ and informally (because I am not seeing this as a challenge like I said) I am going to think about all the books I have always meant to read and bring them back into my reading diet. An unofficial ‘books before I am forty’ list might appear, it might not. I might just see, like my main aim of the year ‘sod it and hurrar!’ What do you think and which books have you been saving for a rainy day and why?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #49 – Rosemary Kaye

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, the first of 2015 indeed. If you haven’t seen it before this is a series of posts set to feed into the filthy book lust/porn and either give you a fix of other people’s books and shelves to stave you off going on a buying/borrowing spree, or making you want to run and grab as many more books as you can. Now I have had a few emails about the fact this series has been quiet for a while and people have been wondering where it had gone. Well, the fact is if people don’t participate then it goes quiet. So thank heavens for Rosemary who has kindly shared her shelves with us and invited us for a nosey round her lovely Edinburgh abode. Before we have a good route around let’s settle with a nice cup or glass of something and find out more about her…

I live in Edinburgh, which is one of the best places I have ever lived – it has so much going on and is such a beautiful city. I especially like the fact that almost everything is within walking distance, yet on a Sunday morning, up in the eyrie of our top floor flat, all I can hear is the sound of bells and birdsong. In a previous life I was a solicitor in Cambridge, London and most recently in Aberdeen; I’m very glad to say that is now all behind me. I now write for an online site, The Edinburgh Reporter – mainly arts reviews and listings, but other things creep in from time to time – I’ve done everything from Springer Spaniel Rescue to Edinburgh’s Top Five Scones (my most controversial article to date – feelings run high…) and I enjoy every minute of it. When I’m not writing (and even when I am) I am a slave to two Siamese divas. I also have a husband and three children…somewhere.

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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?

My husband would say I keep far too many books, but over the years he’s learned to live with that. In return I don’t throw out all his weird Scandinavian jazz CDs. I do occasionally have a cull, but I have to be in the right mood – and I get in an awful tizzy about making sure the ejected books go to the right places. I can only really get rid of very light novels, disappointing cookery books and old textbooks, I’m afraid. I’ve even got duplicate copies of some of my very favourite novels (Barbara Pym, I’m looking at you…), as if I see one languishing unsold at a book sale I feel obliged to rescue it and give it a home.

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 do put my fiction books into a vague alphabetical order – I resisted this for years, but even I realised that I was wasting far too much time looking for particular novels. And yes, I too have my detective stories in one overflowing bookcase and my old children’s books on special shelves. I still can’t find anything…

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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 imagine it was an Enid Blyton – I was obsessed with the Famous Five (not the Secret Seven, who were as wet as I was) and later with Malory Towers, St Clare’s and The Naughtiest Girl in the School, and used to buy the Dragon paperbacks from WH Smith. It’s interesting to me that my own children, when younger, also loved these books – whereas Malcolm Saville, whose books I used to love, was a complete failure with them – and I could see why. Blyton has many critics but she’s lasted.

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?

No, I am totally unembarrassed by all of my books – even my Debbie Macomber Blossom Street series, which is my guilty pleasure and I’m proud of it. I would also be happy for anyone to see my collection of Jilly Coopers, though they won’t be able to as one of my daughters has appropriated the lot. I’m glad she loves them 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?

Oh definitely Josephine, John and the Puppy, by Mrs HC Cradock. I used to borrow the Josephine books from Bromley Library, which my parents took me to every Friday from a very early age. Even in those days the stories were severely dated, but I loved them then as I do now. Josephine lives in a flat in Knightsbridge and has her dolls sent round from Harrods. I lived in Bromley, which was as unfashionable then as it is now, and my dolls were mostly hand-me-downs from my idolised cousin Sally, but it didn’t matter – Josephine, for me, brings back many happy hours of sitting on the little wooden chairs in the Children’s Library, then going to Wilson’s bakery on the way home to get jam doughnuts. I never actually owned a Josephine book until quite recently, when I saw a copy in the Oxfam Bookshop in Stockbridge. I made myself leave it on the shelf, dragged myself up the hill back to where we then lived – then ran all the way down it again in a blind panic in case someone else got there first. I paid £5 for Josephine and she was worth every penny.

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 had left school at a very early age because their families needed their incomes. They were both very keen on self-improvement and as well as the library (and the long-gone Boots version too) they were always going to one evening class or another. My father had bought a second-hand set of Dickens, and I remember very much wanting to read them – but my mother always said ‘You won’t be able to, they’re all written in Old English’. I’m not quite sure why she thought that, as she was and still is an avid reader – presumably someone had said it to her at some point. I didn’t read Dickens until I was in senior school, and the experience of being forced through David Copperfield put me off him for years. It was only when my children were young that I went back to him, reading Great Expectations on the beach at Crail and being amazed at how good it was – and how easy to read!  I do have a copy of Great Expectations now, but sadly not my parents’ one.

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

I used to borrow much more from the library, but I’m so busy with the writing just now that I was ending up with horrendous fines; if I want a book I do buy it and yes, if I’ve borrowed one and really loved it, I do have to buy a copy, much as I try to resist. I recently bought an old copy of James Beard’s ‘Delights and Prejudices’, which is a cookery book of sorts, really more of a memoir; again, I first borrowed this from the library maybe 45 years ago, and was so taken with it that I can still recall many of the stories. Beard grew up in an affluent turn of the century household in Portland, Oregon, and one of the chapters I particularly remember is about making a pudding with TEN eggs ‘and if it goes wrong, throw it away and start again’. My mother grew up in a very poor family, and then experienced rationing during the war – to her, eggs were (and are) a luxury not to be wasted, and even now I can hardly bring myself to make a cake that requires more than three of them. My daughters quite rightly think this is ridiculous, when eggs are now often one of the cheaper ingredients, but it’s a hangover from my childhood that I can’t get rid of.

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

Rosemary at St Anne’s by Joy Francis, of which the first line is ‘”I’m rather looking forward to school” Hazel remarked, dividing the last remnants of simnel cake among the three of us, Stella, Hazel and me.’ How could I not? I also recently bought New York Masjid: The Mosques of New York City; I like finding out about other people’s lives. And I was thrilled to find Richard Holloway’s ‘memoir of faith and doubt’, Leaving Alexandria, during a charity shop trawl; he used to be the Bishop of Edinburgh but now calls himself ‘post-religion’, and he is one of the best speakers I have ever heard – fiercely intelligent, wonderfully humane – and human – and a tireless supporter of the people.

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

Oh lots! One I am really coveting is Judith Kerr’s biography, Creatures; she wrote The Tiger Who Came To Tea, which was one of the first books I read to my son as a baby. I loved her Mog books too. Last summer I was privileged to see Judith at the Edinburgh Book Festival – what an amazing woman! She’s 90 but you’d never believe it. She was married to Nigel Kneale of Quatermass fame, and her stories about helping him with the special effects for the films, which were all performed live, were priceless; she appeared at the Festival with her son Matthew, who’s also a writer. The patent warmth and happiness of their family life was lovely.

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

Haha – I’d like them to come away with the impression that I was a well-read and open-minded intellectual, but they’d probably think I was a complete airhead.

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A huge thanks to Rosemary for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves! If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) 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 Rosemary’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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The Encyclopedia of Early Earth – Isabel Greenberg

I wanted to write about this graphic novel on Wednesday and then the events in Paris unfolded and I thought I should hold off, it might be seen in bad taste. Yet I think that one of the things that has come from these horrific events is the power of the pen, be it the written word or illustration, and that of freedom of speech and to be silenced by such actions (and I know this is only a book blog but you know what I mean) is to let these cruel people win. I don’t want to do that. It actually seems apt then to tell you about The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg because it is a book that highlights how powerful both imagery and words can be. After all they say a picture can paint a thousand words.

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Jonathan Cape, hardback, 2013, graphic novel, 200 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth is probably one of the most imaginative and unusual books that I have read in quite some time. It is also one of those wonderful books where stories unravel within other stories, or lead to other stories, and somehow without being chronological create a whole set of worlds that all interweave and unfold in front of your eyes. No, really. It tells of a world, which we now know as Earth, in the time before mankind when other groups of people inhabited it with their different beliefs, legends and cultures – which often relate in some slight/subliminal or occasionally pretty blunt way to the way we are living now or the tales we know be they mythical, fictional or factual.

The book is framed by Love in a Very Cold Climate (which I like to think is some kind of homage in some way to Nancy Mitford, even if I am wrong) where two people meet and instantly fall in love over one another’s mittens. (This is actually really sweet and not saccharine at all.) There is a problem however as when these two lovers try to touch they are magnetised apart so how if they cant touch what can they do? Well the man, who we soon come to learn is a storyteller from the land of Nord on the opposite side of the planet, starts to tell stories to entertain them. These stories we soon learn are in actual fact his tale of the journey to get to the south and to find a piece of his soul that went missing, which leads us to the first of the tales that start to unfold.

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Stories and storytelling are very much what The Encyclopedia of Early Earth is all about. As I mentioned they might have a mythical, biblical, fairytale, fictional or historical elements. For example some of the cultures the storyteller meets are like Eskimos now and in the past, some are like the Vikings, some the Romans etc. Then there are the biblical references such as a story involving these people’s god Bird Man’s daughter who falls in love with Noah who is a bit of a so and so and so what does she decide to do in a rage, flood the earth of course. There are also moments which link back to classical times when we meet a learn of a tale of an old lady who reminds her people of why old people shouldn’t just sit around waiting to die and can be rather useful. I wont give away anything other than it evolves a Cyclops…

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Then there are nods to more modern stories like the fairytale of Pinocchio, or indeed classic novels such as Moby Dick…

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I think Isabel Greenberg adds much depth and the occasional punch as she writes and illustrates the importance of stories and histories with The Encyclopedia of Early Earth. Firstly she imparts little moments, I don’t want to say they are morals but then all the best fables and fairytales have them (Rapunzel taught me never to steal cabbage because I might lose my first born to a witch, or let down my hair for any common old Tom, Dick or Harry; both important life lessons) and as I mentioned with moments like the old lady who shows how old people can be useful, Greenberg just weaves in some lovely little poignant thoughts for you to mull over.

She also does it with much wit, for example when Dag and Hal – the first man and woman on earth – have children sibling jealousy leads to cultural wars. The latter point is very serious yet Greenberg shows how these awful things often evolve from some small thing, or from one person’s moment of weakness. She then makes us laugh about it to show how small and stupid these things are and how with some thought and understanding they could be avoided. (The image below made me laugh for about five minutes, laugh to tears laughing too.)

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She does the same with war. It is all very clever, thought provoking and looks at religion, history, culture and beliefs in a very interesting, original and impartial way.

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I cannot recommend you getting a copy of The Encyclopedia of Early Earth enough. It really is just wonderful how every page will hold a story within a picture, yet all those pictures create another story which adds a layer, back story, or myth around the story we are following. As you will know from reading this blog I am prone to a tangent, and indeed am quite fond of them. Well I couldn’t get enough of Isabel Greenberg’s tangents and wanted more and more. In fact as soon as I had finished the book I went and ordered more of her work some of which interlink with this book. They have already arrived…

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If all the above, and the fact that I have run off straight away to get more of her works straight away, isn’t enough to convince you to run out and get it I can do no more. I won’t be surprised if it is in my books of the year in December, even though we are only in January. In fact I have read two books so far this year where I have felt that. Back to the recent horrors in Paris though, reading this and seeing such awful things on the news has reminded me about the power that the pen has when it writes or draws, and when writing and illustration are combined they can be the most powerful of all when used for good. Let us never stop reading then.

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Reading Superstitions

I have mentioned a couple of my reading superstitions over the last few weeks. Firstly there is the fact that I like to get everything read and reviewed by the end of the year that I read it in, even if that means posting some of the reviews in the following year or cramming a few mini reviews in. Then I mentioned on Sunday how I have the superstition about the first book I read every year and how it almost prophesies how the following year of reading will unfold. This morning on the train to work I encountered another one…

Chapter 13

I find having to stop reading on chapter (or indeed page) thirteen in a book. Thankfully this morning I was early enough that I could read to chapter fourteen in the kitchen in the office, otherwise it would have bothered me all day. Not to the extent I would think something awful would happen (though if I am on a plane I have to have read past page thirteen and will stop on chapter 12 – nightmare – because it worries me, but I am a bag of irrational nerves on a plane so it is very extreme) but it would bother me like an ill omen all day. Is that weird?

There is only one other one that I have and that is someone damaging a new book. The Beard felt the wrath of this the other day when he moved a pile of books (that admittedly I may have left on the table for a while) and some of the pages edges got dented and I was distraught. Though that might just be my ridiculous love for respecting the pristine book. Before I sound crazy, or crazier, I don’t go to the extent that if I crack a spine I can’t cope or move on – though for those of you who do crack spines a book fairy dies, or twelve eBooks get bought instead or a paper one.*

So enough of my crazy, what book superstitions do you have, if any? They can be good ones too. I know an author who kisses a certain page number of every book they read, so I know I am not the only weirdo book lover out there.

*None of this is true.

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The Strange Library – Haruki Murakami

The first book of the year I read is an important one, well it is in my head if you are me. You see I like the first book that I read every year to be like an foresight/omen/sign of what my year ahead is going to be like. You might think I would pick an obvious favourite, oddly no because I don’t want my year to be too obvious. Not that I want it to be difficult or just rubbish, see this is where it gets trickier. I decided on The Strange Library, which is the latest book (because it is too short to even be a novella) by Haruki Murakami. So what does that mean for the year ahead?

Harvill Secker, hardback, translated from the Japenese by Ted Goossen, 2014, fiction, 88 pages, bought by myself for myself

The Strange Library is so short that it is more a fairytale with lots of (weird wonderful and inventive) illustrations throughout that tell a rather quirky tale of a school boy who regularily visits the library. Once upon a particular visit he ends up talking to and old man who wants to know what he wants to read, rather flippantly the young boy asks for books on taxation in the Ottoman empire, well libraries are meant to have everything. The young boy gets more than he bargained for when he ends up being sent to where the books are and becomes a prisoner in the library. Now to many (unless you were the Waterstones One) this would be a dream but for this boy it becomes a nightmare he can’t wake up from.

I sat down on the bed and buried my head in my hands. Why did something like this have to happen to me? All I did was go to the library to borrow some books’
“Don’t take it so hard,” the sheep man consoled me. “I’ll bring you some food. A nice hot meal will cheer you up.”
“Mr. Sheep Man,” I asked, “why would that old man want to eat my brains?”
“Because brains packed with knowledge are yummy, that’s why. They’re nice and creamy. And sort of grainy at the same time.”

 What follows after I shall leave to those who read it, as I have given away about 33 pages of 70 page book (sorry but you don’t know the denouement, I’ve left you that) and I will leave you to imagine it. One of the wonderful things about Murakami is that you never have a clue where on earth he might take the story next – in a nice way – and with a whole underworld library to play with Murakami has many options.

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Did I like it? I did, it was a fun romp. I didn’t love it, though I certainly didn’t loath it. I think I was in that mixture of thinking ‘well this is rather fun and ridiculous’ whilst also thinking ‘I am not really sure what the point is’. I have given this some thought in the few days since I read it and I think my problem might have been the library element, or maybe how the library element was played out. I love books, I love libraries and so does the young boy yet by the end of the book they become a sinister place rather than an exciting one and I didn’t get the feeling he would go back. That to me is not the moral of a good story. Libraries should be seen as exciting places of escapism and adventure should they? Or am I taking it all too literally?

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If I give myself a good shake, and tell myself not to be such a bloody critic, I think it is brilliantly bonkers. There should be something other worldly about libraries and all the information they house. Plus with the wonderful interspersed images from books (be it the library card, the end papers, some of the text, some of the illustrations) from The London Library there is a real homage to them. So all in all a quirky dark unsettling bizarre fairytale and also a brilliant, rather bonkers and incredibly beautiful book!

What does this mean for my year of reading ahead? Well hopefully that I am off to have some wonderful adventures with some unusual and exciting books, which is all I could ask for really – as long as no one tries to eat my brains out. (Note – I have read two absolute corkers, both incredibly original too so it’s working and am now reading another.) It has also reminded me I need to read more Murakami, I do love his inventiveness and craziness. What about all of you, do you have New Years reading rituals? What is the first book you have picked for the year?

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Book Vlogging

I have been thinking about vlogging recently, both doing it again (yes really I have a ‘channel’ which needs some pimping out and updating) and also after watching some. This all started when I was thinking about a new way of shedding light on some of the books incoming that you might not see otherwise for a while. I know I could do posts on these but oh my poor fingers – though then again oh your poor eyes with my mush coming at you on the computer screen. Anyway, I didn’t because it was a grim day and the lighting wasn’t right in my book nook and I hadn’t had my hair done, all the important things. Yet it is still something I am planning on doing though a world I know nothing about yet occasionally lose myself in.

For example, I was on Popjustice the other day (my favourite place for my second love Pop Music, if I am not reading I am quite probably somewhere with my headphones in) and I discovered that singer Amerie has a vlogging channel where she talks about Beauty and Books. So off I went to go and look at her book posts and suddenly 40 minutes had gone. I was mesmerized, though slightly disappointed that at no point did she say ‘it’s this one book that got me trippin’ (see this video to understand though BE WARNED the song will be in your head all day.

Yet other than one or two book vlogs that I really love I am a little bit lost out there in the book vlogosphere. Not only in who is the bees knees but also some of the technical stuff. I mean, is the juddery stop and start thing that I have seen on a few (which I have then lost the links too) an editing thing or is it just a ‘thing’ that some vlogs do?  What do you even use to edit it? I was just pressing record on my iPhone and hoping for the best really. I am rubbish at editing stuff and generally fearful I will delete everything. How do they add all the shizzle that they do, you know the fancy stuff? Oh, my head hurts.

Prime example. I did not edit this joyous Savidge Reads version of a Pride and Prejudice trailer, I got someone else to because I am so rubbish. Gives me a chance to share it again though…

So instead of presenting you with a vlog – or rather with a new one and not one I have regurgitated for giggles – which I might do in the future (but will be an irregular regular thing) with incoming books, I have brought you a post on them in the hope that you will answer some of these puzzling issues for me. One I have just pondered is if they are actually even still called vlogs, see I am so behind.

Firstly I would love to know what you think on blogging vs vlogging (I am not declaring a war here, I just mean what are the pros and cons) in general and if you like them or not? Secondly if you do which ones are your favourites, recommend me some to watch when I can, after all there can never be too many ways to find out about more lovely books can there?

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The Year That Was & The Year That Will Be

I was asked just the other day, by Gavin as he returned for The Readers briefly, how my reading year had been in 2014? It was something I had been thinking about but had thought I might leave to one side, but then I thought sod it I will talk about it anyway as we d tend to have a bit of a think as one year ends and another year starts don’t we?

In no way was my reading year a bad one. I read some absolute corkers, as I shared with you the other day. I even read a book that will probably become one of my all time favourites. Yet I would say it was a year where I was slow cooked over a long period of time rather than completely set afire by in a great flambé. Do you know what I mean or have I been spending too much time with a chef?

You see in terms of reading, not to say anything against all the books that I read last year, I felt it was slightly mono and that maybe it all got a bit too obvious or something. Planned reading might have been part of the problem; with Hear Read This and You Wrote The Book plus two book clubs in the flesh I have been planning what I read rather than just by whim. I am working on this. That said, You Wrote The Book is one of the many things that shows where the highlights in my year and books were and that was going out and meeting lots of lovely booky people. I was thrilled to chat with so many authors over Skype, yet to sit in a room with Rose Tremain and interview her for 30 minutes and then sit and gossip for another 30 mins was AMAZING. Yet the three complete highlight moments (Rose was a firm number 4) of my booky year for me were these, which all focus around the relationships/friendships I have made through books…

  1. Getting to Meet Ann & Michael from Books on the Nightstand/Booktopia Asheville

Ann Simon and Michael

The day before I flew off to have my American Adventure (which consisted of Booktopia, a trip to Washington for a mini break and NYC for all sorts of stuff) one of my friends asked ‘Do you not think it’s weird that you are flying thousands of miles away to share a room with someone you know through their podcasts and some emails?’ My answer was instantly ‘No.’ And I was right, spending so much time with Ann and Michael (who was the best roomie you could ask for), whose podcast, Books on the Nightstand, I have listened to for years was an utter joy, the bonus on the fantastical booky baked cake was I also got to meet lots of other amazing readers who attended Booktopia too. I had always dreamed of going to Booktopia but hadn’t thought it would be possible, then it was! Surreal and brilliant. Oh and then there was hosting an event with Anthony Marra whose book I was obsessed with last year.

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Imagine a whole weekend of readers, podcasts hosts and authors all meeting together and spending the weekend discussing books and reading and just having a lovely laugh filled time… that is Booktopia. If only there were four podcasts hosts in the UK who did something like that here…

  1. Recording The Readers In Reality aka Spending Time with Thomas of My Porch

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Thomas and I have been commenting, well we used to, on each others blogs for years. Weirdly every time he came over to the UK I wasn’t in London, it wasn’t intentional I promise. Then we became podcast cohosts. So when I decided to go to the USA a stay at his (with the lovely John and Lucy) was a no brainer. We had the most wonderful few days ever. We went round all the Washington sites, we wanted round book shops buying lots of books, we laughed as we went and when we lounged by the pool. Recording the podcast live sort of became an afterthought. Thomas is like my big booky brother, and I mean that in THE nicest of ways.

  1. The Green Carnation Prize Announcement Party at Foyles

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This is probably the proudest booky moment I have had in quite some time. After managing to get the lovely folks at Foyles to partner in association with The Green Carnation Prize, which I cofounded a few years ago, we decided we would have a party when the winner announced. Initially this seemed light years away, initially I didn’t think I would have to give a speech in front of lots of publishers, authors, journalists and literary folk. Then suddenly I did and without sounding up my own bottom I was chuffed with myself, I couldn’t believe what I had quite accomplished for the love of books and for getting good books into peoples hands.

It is that point, the love of books and getting good books into peoples hands, which leads me onto this year but first I should discuss some of the highlights of my reading year before you think I didn’t love it. I liked it very much. 2014 might have been the year I blogged the least and read the least in quite some years but it was the year I rediscovered the short story and have had rather a love affair with it and also discovered Rose Tremain and of course these books and THAT book in particular. So for me that is a good reading year by any stretch of the imagination.

This year I have no blog or reading resolution or goal. Not a single one. My motto for the year is an anagram the Savidge family used a fair few moons ago when we made a cake for my great grandparents Doris and Arthur on one of their BIG wedding anniversaries with their names. It is ‘Sod it and Hurrar’. Excuse the spelling, there weren’t enough h’s, yet I think it captures the gist of what 2015 will be in all aspects of my life, including blogging and most importantly reading. I have set myself the lowest GoodReads challenge number ever, I have sworn off ‘official’ challenges and have said goodbye to freelance work (note – unless anyone wants me to judge a big book prize, ha or go on Radio 4 as thats a dream) in the book field for 12 months.

This year I just want to see where the books take me, be they new or old, fiction or not. Let’s see what happens.

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Happy New Year 2015

I just want to wish all of you who come and visit Savidge Reads a very, very, very Happy New Year.

Thank you all for popping by and here’s to another wonderful year of both reading and just having a lovely time. May all the things you want for the next year come to you all. “Sod it and hurrar!” (I will explain this more later!)

Happy New Year!

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