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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