What Belongs To You – Garth Greenwell

Since visiting America twice in as many years (I am feeling American trips might have to become an annual thing) I have been intrigued by the books that they have over there that we don’t, yet, in Britain. I have recently got quite the habit for ordering these from overseas. One such book I was incredibly tempted by was What Belongs To You by Garth Greenwell after seeing it discussed a lot over the water, particularly by Hanya Yanagihara, in January – it seems Camilla at Picador must be psychic for the UK proof arrived at just about that time and so I devoured it, in a single sitting, as I was completely spellbound by it…

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Picador Books, 2016, hardback, fiction, 204 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

That my first encounter with Mitko B. ended in a betrayal, even a minor one, should have given me greater warning at the time, which should in turn have made my desire for him less, if not done away with completely.

I am a huge fan of characters who remain enigmas whilst telling their stories and with What Belongs To You Garth Greenwell has brought us not one but two characters who both remain mysterious yet compelling throughout his debut novel, which is in many ways ode to obsession. As the novel opens we follow our unnamed narrator, a middle aged American teacher now living in Bulgaria, as he goes cruising for sex in the toilets underneath the National Palace of Culture. It is here that he meets Mitko, a young rent boy who very quickly, through an act of temptation and then rejection, becomes like a drug for our protagonist. We then follow the two characters as their relationship, which twists, turns and redefines itself, develops and watch how it affects both men.

There is so much that is brilliant about this unflinching novel of lust, loneliness and desperation. Greenwell gives What Belongs To You a compelling thriller like feel as plays both with us and our perceptions making us constantly question if this is love, obsession, lust or something more sinister. What becomes all the more intriguing is  that as we read on, without giving away any spoilers, Greenwell flips the notion of who is the predator and who is the prey, is it the older man or the younger and why?

If this study of obsession and lust wasn’t enough there is also much more going on in the background behind what is in many ways a two man show, affair seemed too pun filled a term. There are also the stories of these two men and why they ended up in that restroom. The novel is set into three sections the first spiralling from that first meeting with Mitko and how sexual obsession and power begins. The second section then takes a very different turn as our protagonist gets a letter from home that takes him back to his youth and the relationship he has had with his family particularly with his father.

My father spoke in a different tone now, almost with a different voice, the voice of his own childhood, I thought, thick with the dirt he usually tried to conceal. So you like little boys, that voice said, the voice almost of instinct, the voice of the look he had given me once and of what had once fouled the air. As young as I was, I knew what he said was absurd, I was myself a little boy, what could he be accusing me of, though now I think it was his only understanding of what I could be, the person I was was lost in it. But it didn’t matter that it was absurd, I was already crying, I was a mess of tears, and when my mother started to come toward me I motioned her away, turning my back on her. I was ashamed of my tears, I would hardly breathe, and it was all I could do to say to him But I’m your son, which was my only appeal and the last thing I would say.

This section of the book proves incredibly emotive, it is also a fascinating portrayal and indeed insight into some of the thoughts, experiences and horrors that gay men often (not always, but often) go through at some point in their life. It is a time of judgement, rejection, fear, lack of hope and being seen as something other, something dangerous to be feared. No one likes to be different, or maybe I should say no one likes the repercussions of being different, yet when you are you have no choice but to go through whatever that difference throws at you. To steal from the title you have to own ‘what belongs to you’ though it isn’t always easy and it shapes you, as we see it does through our unnamed narrators eyes. You wonder if this is the reason he has left his life in America behind and start to look at how it forms his relationships in his present.

The same can be said for Mitko who returns, literally with a knock on the door on a random night, several years later, our narrator still under some kind of sexual spell and vice versa, though in this section we see it isn’t just the sexual power and side Mitko wants, there is more, both good and bad. For fear of spoilers, again, I will say no more other than that here is where Bulgaria’s history comes into play as we look at how it is not just a home but also class, chance, looks and money all have a bearing on what can make a god and what can also destroy one.

I was shocked by the difference between their faces, the man in the image and the man beside me; not only was his tooth unbroken, but also his head was unshaved, his hair full and light brown, conventionally cut. There was nothing rough or threatening about him at all; he looked like a nice kid, a kid I might have had in a class at the prestigious school where I teach. It was hardly possible that they could be the same person, this preposterous teenager and the man beside me, or that so short a time could have made such a difference, and I found myself looking repeatedly at the screen and then at Mitko, wondering which face was the truer face, and how it had been lost or gained.

The set up of the book and its parts, which feel like acts on a stage, as well as Mitko’s story that made me wonder if Greenwell meant for this to me a modern Greek tragedy, only set in Bulgaria. Whatever the case it shows how Greenwell brings in so many brilliant tropes of literature; for there is a thriller like quality alongside a poetic sensibility too, all entwining to create something that feels unlike anything that you have read before. I also loved how Greenwell plays with expectations; making the ugly beautiful and the beautiful ugly, making sex completely unsexy and then making moments you wouldn’t expect seemingly drip with desire. You wouldn’t think you could describe an opening scene set in an underground toilet as evocative and sensual but with Garth’s prose it is just that. Add to this the compelling lead characters and their stories, underlying tensions and atmospheres and you have a heady concoction.

As you might have guessed I could rave to you all about Garth Greenwell’s debut novel for quite some time. What Belongs To You is concentrated brilliance, a short novel that packs an emotive and thought provoking punch. I urge you all to read it, I think it will prove to be one of many readers stand out books of the year, it will certainly be one of mine.

If you would like to hear more about the novel from the author, as well as discussion on unreliable narrators, queer literature and much, much more do hear over to the latest episode of You Wrote The Book where Garth kindly joins me in conversation, it’ll make you want to read the book if you haven’t or love it all the more if you have, even if I do say so myself. Who else has read What Belongs to You and what did you make of it?

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Filed under Books of 2016, Garth Greenwell, Picador Books, Review

Catching Up & Some Thoughts…

The last three weeks have been a bit of a madness, in fact April as a month seemed to be there and gone in the blink of an eye. There was a week in London which all centred around the London Book Fair which became a wonderful whirl of catching up with people, though one of them (or more likely a stranger on the tube) gave me flu which lead to me having almost an entire week feeling lousy to the point where I was actually in bed, in a darkened room, for four days I was that sick. I felt like a mad Victorian character locked in an attic until they could come to their senses, it was pretty awful. Then, whilst still feeling pretty rough, I was back down to London for work, all whilst liaising with my team working on Hillsborough – the families of whom deserve a medal I think, before a big family do yesterday. No wonder I slept for over twelve hours last night. I still have a cough like a 20-a-day pensioner but I am certainly feeling more human and am now feeling like I can return to the digital world after a week of being forced to returning to the real one in an exhausted haze. Have you missed me? Ha!

I have spent most of today catching up, partly on some telly I became addicted to Line of Duty (in the two days of bed when I could cope with light after the four I couldn’t) and have watched three series in less than a week, if you haven’t seen it you must – I am trying to get The Beard to watch it so I can start it all over again. I have also done a bulk set of recording of The Readers with Thomas, plotting with Gav, Kate and Rob on a new project, as you know how I love those, and sorting out over a month’s worth of books coming in. They are now looking rather delightful here.

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Now this leads me to something I have been pondering a little over the last few weeks and was something I was talking to the lovely Jen Campbell about when we had lunch in Dishoom (I feel so current as it is THE place to eat in London now) last week… Some light vlogging. I have been wondering if you guys would be interested in me occasionally vlogging/making videos on that there YouTube (again, as I did it a while back) about some of the books that come in (be then sent by publishers like the first two piles above – of which 24 were unsolicited – or bought by me like the last pile) to Savidge Reads HQ as well as some mini posts on books I have read in the month, as my reviews are soooooooooooooooo behind (we are talking about 15 reviews behind) as well as some ad-hoc videos that might take my fancy, for example I am off to Cardiff with some mates in two weeks and thought that could be fun as we explore castles and bookshops. What do you think?

This doesn’t mean I will be blogging less, though doing some geeky checking of stats and Savidge Reads facts, this last month has been the least I have ever blogged – which I am blaming solely on London and flu. I just thought it would be another way of you all getting to know me and my books a bit better. You might all think it is a rubbish idea, let me know along with your thoughts on vlogging in general in the comments below either way.

Speaking of books… Reading. I have done hardly any of that of late. I am almost finished with My Name is Leon, the debut novel by Kit De Waal who I had the joy of meeting for a coffee last week, which is due to be HUGE and I think rightly so both for the writing and some of the topics that it brings up. I am also still reading Christos Tsiolkas’ short story collection Merciless Gods which I have been slowly (very bloody slowly) devouring since February but am determined to finish this long weekend. More on those soon and more reviews in general soon, full stop. In the meantime though I would love to hear what you have been reading of late, books you would recommend and books you might not too and which books you have your eyes on, that would be lovely.

So over to you all, what are your thoughts on vlogging (and any recommendations of vlogs you love, I have mentioned Jen’s above which is my fav) and all your thoughts on what you have been reading, ta very much in advance!

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Filed under Random Savidgeness

The Argonauts – Maggie Nelson

Some books simply come into your subconscious awareness without you seemingly noticing. I had seen various tweets, articles and the like all talking about Maggie Nelson’s latest book The Argonauts but it was an article in The Pool that suddenly made me desperate to read it. I think that same article, and the background bubble and buzz around the book, also sparked the interest in quite a few people at the same time as spookily I spoke to two people on a single day who had also bought it on the same day and from the same bookshop in London, spooky.

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Melville House UK, 2016, paperback, memoir/non fiction, 192 pages, bought by myself for myself

I am interested in offering up my experience and performing my particular manner of thinking, for whatever they are worth.

If the description of Maggie Nelson’s autobiographical The Argonauts had simply been described as a woman’s journey falling in love and having a baby, it is unlikely that I would have read it. Do not get me wrong, I think women having babies is a real miracle (I seriously considered becoming a midwife six years ago) however there is something about the falling in love and trying to have a baby story that feels a bit done. This could not be further from the truth in the case of The Argonauts, so thank goodness the aforementioned article in The Pool said ‘her extraordinary book about queer family-making’ because this is a subject that I do not think has been written about or discussed enough, certainly not in the amazing way in which Nelson delivers (pun not intended) this book of bite sized thoughts, feelings, moments, questions and observations which form a work that will leave your head buzzing with ideas, information and avenues to question and explore. Oh yes, it is one of those kinds of books.

Is there something inherently queer about pregnancy itself, insofar as it profoundly alters one’s “normal” state, and occasions a radical intimacy with – and radical alienation from – one’s body? How can an experience so profoundly strange and wild and transformative also symbolize or enact the ultimate conformity? Or is this just another disqualification of anything tied too closely to the female animal from the privileged term (in this case, nonconformity, or radicality)? What about the fact that Harry is neither male nor female? I’m a special – a two for one, his character Valentine explains in By Hook or By Crook.

With The Argonauts Maggie Nelson shares with us her relationship with her partner Harry and her pregnancy with their son Iggy. At the time that Maggie was pregnant and going through all sorts of changes so was Harry as he was undergoing the hormones, medication and some of the surgery of his transition. They were both also transitioning in their relationship, from that instant attraction and initial lustful sex life to marriage, which neither of them ever thought they would do, and onto becoming a family, not just with their own child but with Harry’s son from a previous relationship. This time of great (in happiness, scale and scope) change brings with it all sorts of questions for Maggie but also many memories of her own childhood and her preconceived notions of what makes a marriage, a family, a spouse and a mother. It is these conversations with, and notes to, herself that make up the book; these also make for some of the most brilliant writing you will come across in quite some time.

What I think I liked the most about the book initially was Nelson’s frankness, which only gets more frank as she writes on. In fact almost nothing is off limits. This is not in some wild and wacky, also known as really annoying, memoirs that hope to tantalise and shock you with its direct look at LGBT issues, feminism, literature, death, love, lust, stalking, families, sex. This is a writer who is putting their life out there not to make yours better, though it very well might, but to get a conversation going and one that seriously needs to be had about all sorts of things that you didn’t even realise you wanted to talk about, and still might not (the fisting, ha) but most importantly some of the things that you really, really do. Like queer families and what it is really like to be a part of one as well as the transgender conversation which seems to be going on everywhere but feels a little safe and mainstream (overall, not completely) rather than frank and unflinching, which Nelson brings you unabashed whilst at the same time with heart, humanity, warmth, experience and intelligence.

What I liked most overall about the book was Nelson’s intellect. What I loved about it doubly is that she doesn’t expect you to be as intellectual as she is (thank goodness in my case) or that her thoughts are the be all and end all on the subject. Though when I say subjects there are so many subjects covered in The Argonauts it is pretty much impossible to write them all down, hence why I haven’t as I also really, really want you to go and read the bloody book, but if I can I will explain why her intellect and thoughts appealed to me so much.

Books teach us all sorts, often unwittingly, which is part and parcel of what makes them such marvellous things. With The Argonauts I felt like someone had, painlessly, taken the top of my skull off and was filling my brain with light and ideas and thoughts and conversations that my whole head started to buzz and tingle in a most pleasant way. That may sound like I had one too many lemsips when I was ill last week but it is true. As Maggie starts on the sound board of her pregnancy, Harry’s transitioning and their new family, we fly off in all directions and look at all sorts of things, with quotes from all sorts of brainiac’s who Nelson also makes so understandable. We follow all the directions her brain sparks off into. We have some incredibly heartbreaking moments like Harry’s mother’s death, all the times that they don’t get pregnant, the creepy stalker. We have all the happy ones, Iggy’s birth (told in glorious frankness), the first moments of a great love, all the hope. What we always come back to, and what everything boils down to is kindness, openness, respect and love. That is what this book really taught me.

A day or two after my love pronouncement, now feral with vulnerability, I sent you the passage from Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes in which Barthes describes how the subject who utters the phrase “I love you” is like “the Argonaut renewing his ship during its voyage without changing its name.” Just as the Argo’s parts may be replaced over time but the boat is still called the Argo, whenever the lover utters the phrase “I love you,” its meaning must be renewed by each use, as “the very task of love and of language is to give to one and the same phrase inflections which will be forever new.”

I have kind of said everything and nothing about The Argonauts here. I think overall though this is a good thing because a) I can never do justice to a book like this b) I just want you all to go and read it so you too can have the experience and the ‘I just need to put down this book and have a little think’ moments and then come back and talk to me about it. Which is Nelson’s agenda here fully accomplished frankly; as this is a book that starts a conversation that we all need to be having, openly and unapologetically. So come on, go and read it then let’s talk…

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Filed under Books of 2016, Maggie Nelson, Melville House UK, Memoir, Non Fiction, Review

Sweet Home – Carys Bray

Having had one of the worst bouts of flu in years over the last week, hence the silence, the one thing that would have made it bearable would have reading. As I seemed to become allergic to light this was not possible until yesterday when I promptly devoured Cary Bray’s short story collection Sweet Home (which I discovered through Jen Campbell) and it proved the perfect reading prescription. Short captivating tales with a hint of magical that entertained me and allowed me to doze between each or every other tale and have slightly surreal and magical dreams that matched the books contents. This was a huge relief to me, for the last week while I have been (seriously) sweating, sneezing, coughing or having an occasional woe is me weep, all I have been dreaming about it giving politicians a tour or a very grey office block, seriously, on repeat. So as I said, this collection was the perfect short series of bursts of escapism.

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Windmill Books, 2016, paperback, short stories, 180 pages, bought by myself for myself

When it comes to short stories I tend to have two types that I really love, make that three. First there is the fairytale; be it a classic, a modern retelling or something completely new. Secondly I like short stories that have a twist you don’t see coming or pack a hefty punch when you least expect it. Thirdly I like a bittersweet tale that encompasses a whole novel in mere pages, I want it all – love, grief, happiness, devastation. In her debut collection Sweet Home, which was published in 2012 by Salt (and annoyingly I missed) and has now been republished by Windmill, Carys Bray delivers all three of these things that I love, sometimes all at once.

It is always difficult to summarise a collection, something I say in every single review I do of one I know, yet there are certain themes which Bray seems to be studying and exploring the intricacies with Sweet Home. The first, funnily enough, is ‘the home’. Through the collection what constitutes a home, what makes a happy one and if home really is where the heart is, are all looked at. In the story Wooden Mum, Bray cleverly looks at the role and respect a mother feels she is shown through the ways her children play with a dolls house and the wooden family within it. It is also the main point of the title story which looks at a woman who buys a piece of forest and building a house made from sugar and sweets…

Of course no one accused the woman of being a witch. But she was foreign. Her words percolated up the tunnel of her throat, espresso-thick and strong. Bad weather had eroded her face. Some believed that the sun had crisped her skin into coriaceous pleats. Others blamed the chaw of a wintery climate. No one knew where she had come from, though lots of people privately thought that perhaps she ought to go back.

This leads us nicely into the element of fairytale that runs through the book. In most stories there is mention of one or comparisons of one. It is probably the retelling of Hansel and Gretel in Sweet Home or in The Ice Baby, a wonderful and quite literally heartbreaking tale of a couple who are desperate to have a child and so far have been unable to. There is also the dystopic fairytale, if such a thing exists, The Baby Aisle where the busy working mum or dad can simply pick up a child in a supermarket, they even have reduced ones, it isn’t specified but I think you could probably get club card points with them too. This really is the second main theme and topic of Sweet Home, children and childhood. In stories like The Countdown, Bed Rest and the incredibly unsettling Just In Case, we find parents who have either lost children, are panicking about losing children or are looking at certain periods of worry in their own childhood’s. One of the most powerful stories in the collection is Scaling Never which is told through the eyes of a young boys as he deals with his own, along with his families, grief after the death of his sister Issy…

The house is full of sadness. It’s packed into every crevice and corner like snow. There are bottomless drifts of it beside Issy’s Cinderella beanbag in the lounge. The sadness gives Jacob the shivers and he takes refuge in the garden. Like the house, it is higgledy and unkempt. The lawn is scuffed and threadbare in places like a grassy doormat that’s felt too many feet.

For those of you who know of Carys Bray’s incredibly well received and read debut novel, A Song for Issy Bradley, this is where I am guessing the story originated and it has certainly left me with a real hankering to get to that novel very soon. Grief and death soon become clear preoccupations for Bray as much as birth, this also links into health and in many of the stories someone is ill be it bed rest for a child to come, a simple bug, Alzheimer’s or cancer. The latter are the case in two of my favourites tales, which sounds odd considering the subject matter. My Burglar made me want to cry as our protagonist goes around her house telling us, and her daughter, that she is sure she is being burgled or the most random items. Then there is what I think is the collections knock out story, Under Covers.

Carol’s bra is spread-eagled in the hedge like a monstrous, albino bat. The wind has blown it off the washing line and tossed it onto the wispy fingertips of the leylandii, where it reclines in a sprawl of wire, hooks and corralling lace. Despite her best efforts, she can’t reach it. Her washing basket is full of dry laundry. She has removed the pegs from the line and placed them in their little bag. But she can’t go back indoors until she has retrieved the fugitive bra. People might see it.

What follows here is the tale of Carol, her husband, and the two girls watching from the upstairs window and it is just so beautifully told and intricately woven. We see the story of the change in a marriage as an older woman tries to find her bra and thinks of all the things it stands for, from a healthy sex life to a healthy life and the two giggling teenagers who have their whole lives, and love lives, ahead of them. If it doesn’t choke you up and have you thinking long and hard about everything then you have no heart – there I have said it!

It is a testament to Bray’s writing that all these subject matters are dealt with in a way that is  honest, unflinching and confronting, yet told in a warm, emotive and tender way even when at their most bittersweet. Bray also does that thing I love so much, she makes the ordinary seem extraordinary and, particularly in the case of On The Way Home where we flit from person to person down a street, she finds the magical in the tales of everyday folk. I think Sweet Home is a wonderful, wonderful collection. I shall be heading to Cary Bray’s novels very soon indeed.

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Filed under Books of 2016, Carys Bray, Review, Short Stories, Windmill Books

A London Bookshop Crawl (and Why I Bought The Books I Did)…

I mentioned at the end of my literary London post on Thursday that I was very excited as I was off on a bookshop crawl around some of London with Gavin of Gav Reads and formerly my co-host on The Readers. Well we have done it, in fact we did it for most of Friday afternoon and I thought I would share it all with you because come on, let’s face it, we all love going on a really good bookshop. Even the rain in North West and Central London couldn’t put Gav and I off our strides (well once we found a shop selling umbrella’s) as we both took our wallets and some gift cards out for a battering…

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Now what the rain did put off was me taking any actual pictures of the outside of the bookshops because it was honestly pretty grey, bleak and a little bit dire outside, which only made these book havens all the better, so I didn’t take any pictures of them from the front so fingers crossed I can bring them all to life. I didn’t take any pictures inside either as I always think people will think I am taking a picture with my phone to go and buy it on some evil website cheaper, which is frankly unforgivable. Anyway…

First up was Foyles flagship store on Charing Cross Road where I had a meeting before and so seemed like the best meeting point. If you haven’t been to Foyles flagship store before you must, it is six stories of books, books and more books from childrens on the lower ground to textbooks on the fourth and everything in between, from fiction to music, magazines to plays, the list is endless. You can see it all here. Admittedly Gav and I had been in the day before and I had spotted my first purchase in advance, Scholastique Mukasonga’s Our Lady of the Nile which is currently on the The International Dublin Literary Award shortlist and stood out a mile because I had never heard of it before, so naturally it was the one I most wanted to read and had to be mine…

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We then headed in the mild drizzle to the tube as I had planned that we would head over to Notting Hill to three bookshops which I had never visited before but had heard all sorts of marvellous things about. The first was Book and Kitchen on All Saints Road which Jen Campbell has mentioned quite a few times on her vlog. We arrived, after having found a belated umbrella shop) rather like drowned rats but were instantly made to feel welcome by the staff and encouraged to get downstairs and get a coffee, in the really homely cafe, to shelter from the rain. We were both advised on specialist coffee’s depending on our caffeine tastes/requirements (Gav’s wanted something like rocket fuel, my request was more mild) before being given a guide that downstairs was children’s, young adult, travel, non fiction, coffee, food and crockery and upstairs was fiction, all of it has the wonderful feeling of being in someones home and being allowed to peruse their shelves and then buy one or two of their favourite books, it’s really lovely. We both left with grins on our faces and a book each in our hand’s. Gavin bought Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun from newly established Cassava Republic Press which was recommended to us both highly and with such enthusiasm I nearly bought one too, as I had it at home already I went for The Hiding Place by Trezza Azzopardi…

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This is a book I have been hankering after for a while as I am going away with my friends Polly, Michelle and Dom to Cardiff next month for a weekend away and we like to read a book together set in or with links to where we are. The Hiding Place  tells the story of the six daughters of a Maltese family growing up in Cardiff through the eyes of the youngest, Dolores. Sounds really interesting and I had not yet got my copy so fate stepped in.

After a fond farewell from all the staff at Book and Kitchen we headed to Lutyens & Rubinstein on Kensington Park Road which is both a book shop and a literary agency in one building, Gav and I were secretly hoping to get scouted. As soon as I walked through the door I felt like I was back in America as the store has that feel of culture curated high fashion literature, if that makes any sense. What I loved here was that once you go down into the ground floor all the paperbacks there are a mixture of fiction and non fiction. Initially this threw me slightly but I was won over by the end as because it is a smallish collection of books (its a few thousand I am guessing so not that small) I was more engaged in the non fiction books than I might be elsewhere, which is why I left with a book that (peer pressure alert) Kim has reviewed on Reading Matters, Helen Garner’s This House of Grief which is a tale of a murder trial. I have a small grim fascination for true crime but I like it to be really well written and having read Helen Garner’s novel The Spare Room I have no doubt this is going to blow my socks off.

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We then took a small tour of Holland Park as we headed to Daunts, erm, Holland Park branch. I am a fan of Daunts and have visited the Marylebone store many a time, where you can find fiction by country as well as by author, which is rather exciting. There is the same sort of feel in Holland Park though it is more non fiction by country and fiction in author order. I already had my mind set on a few possibilities as I wanted to get a Daunts Books book in Daunts Books. Sounds confusing but really it is just me taking a long winded approach to saying they publish their own books. I mulled a few options before settling on K J Orr’s short story collection Light Box which I have been seeing lots of pictures of on social media, which as we all know is one of the best places to get a recommendation to head to a book store to buy.

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By this point we were quite hungry from all the perusing and headed back to town for a pizza and then a wander around Waterstones Piccadilly, because we both had Waterstones gift cards which were burning holes in our pockets. Thank you to my lovely team at work, who got me some vouchers for my birthday, I came away with these five gems.

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Waterstone’s Piccadilly is probably has one of my favourite laid out fiction sections as they have it by genre and by author but also by imprints and so you can find some wonderful indie imprints shelve or on display. This is why I left with the Penguin Modern Classic edition of François Mauriac’s Thérèse Desqueyroux, which I don’t even mind having a film cover because its a stunner; the Australian classic and newly reissued The Man Who Loved Children, by Christina Stead which is from a new imprint Apollo (part of Head of Zeus) as well as Will Eaves new book The Inevitable Gift Shop from indie imprint CB editions. I hadn’t heard of the Mauriac, the cover won me then the dark blurb sealed the deal. I saw Stead’s novel (which is HUGE) discussed on The ABC Book Club ages ago and it divided the panel so much I have been meaning to get it since and this edition is STUNNING. Will Eaves is my favourite author that I have never read. We all have those don’t we an author we just know we will love for some gut/supernatural/bizzare/random reason.

I also bought two books by authors I have read and loved. Beryl Bainbridge I discovered a while back and have read many books of, I have always wanted to read Harriet Said as it is set down the road from me in Formby and apparently there is frolicking in the sand dunes. Graham Swift is new to me after reading the wonderful, wonderful, wonderful Mothering Sunday earlier this year. There was a Swift display and Shuttlecock appealed because it deals with the ‘dead crime unit’ which won me over the moment I read it. So I managed quite a haul there.

This was when Gav and I said goodbye as he had a train to run for. I headed off to catch my bus  after a marvelous day and as I did realised I hadn’t bought Catherine Hall a thank you card for letting me stay, so I had to get one and which shop is my bus stop outside… Foyles. Somehow as I was in stationery I remembered I wanted to get Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me, a book written as a letter to the author’s teenaged son about the feelings, symbolism, and realities associated with being black in the United States. Coates recapitulates the American history of violence against black people and the incommensurate policing of black youth. I saw this all over the place in the States and like a dafty didn’t buy it so made sure I went and found it, as I did I passed another apt book I just couldn’t help getting too…

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Bookshelf by Lydia Pyne, part of the Object Lessons series from Bloomsbury. How could I not take a book about bookshelves of the bookshelf to take home to mine, all about bookshelves? It would have been a crime not to and don’t you pretend otherwise. I then hurried away from town and anywhere too close to anymore stores, feeling very happy with my loot.

What do you make of the books I bought and the reasons for buying them? What makes you buy a book? Which books have you bought recently AND have you read any of my purchases and if so what did you make of them? I would love to know answers to all those questions. Right, best do some reading…

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Filed under Book Spree, Book Thoughts, Bookshop Crawl, Random Savidgeness

A Lovely Literary London Trip…

The blog has been a little bit quiet this week because I am down in London and whilst I did bring my laptop (with the intention of catching up with lots of backlogged reviews and the lije) I haven’t turned it on very much as I have been out and about doing some lovely literary and/or touristy things, so I thought I would share some of them with you. First up on arrival in London last Sunday I did something slightly sneaky, I told hardly anyone I was here. I love, love, love catching up with people however I never end up getting time to just have a wander, go shopping or take in an exhibition. I have been desperate to see the Crime Museum Uncovered at the Museum of London for ages and ages (and Sunday was it’s final day) and so stealthily I went, it was amazing.

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You can’t take pictures once you are in, because there are murder weapons and all sorts inside and it is all still owned by Scotland Yard (though there is a book), what impressed me so much was that the way the exhibition is curated and worded the emotion of it all hits you, it is very much about how murder and crime can suddenly happen to anyone by anyone and really, really makes you think about all those involved. I found it horrifying, grimly fascinating but overall very moving and effecting, the Museum of London is also just marvellous, I have no idea why I have never been there before. I spent ages wandering through the exhibitions on London during the plague, the Great Fire, the War and wandering through a Victorian street. Brilliant.

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I then went and pottered around St Paul’s, possibly looking for the First Dates restaurant and then actually for some food. I never visit tourist sights like this and it is SO London, so I wanted a potter round, though I wasn’t paying to go in – I have a theory on paying to go into churches, but that is not for now.

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I then headed to my favourite park in London, Postman’s Park. If you haven’t been you must. There is an area of the park that is a place of memories of those who have died sacrificing themselves for someone else and I never cease to find it moving.

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So that was my Sunday, I managed to be a complete tourist. Monday was spent wandering the shops and reading in cafes, or over pizza, before I met up with Eric of LonesomeReader so the Bearded Bailey’s Book Group could go to the Bailey’s Shortlist party which was very good indeed. The highlight for me might just have been standing with Janet Ellis and Sophie Ellis Bextor talking about books for 10 minutes over cocktails. Lovely stuff.

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Tuesday was more mooching and wandering sprinkled with a meeting or too, sometimes it is just nice to have a wander, before catching up with my almost ex-husband (not long to go) before heading out for dinner with the lovely Catherine Hall and some interestingly spelt Turkish food…

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Wednesday was day one of the London Book Fair. Now if, like I once did, you imagine the London Book Fair to be the Motor Show of the book world (lots of free books and the like) think again. It is a madness of sweltering sales people and deals and other goings on.

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I did however have meetings there on the Thursday but headed over on the Wednesday, with the lovely Rob of Waterstones and Adventures with Words, to go and see Deborah Levy talking about Hot Milk with Alex Clarke, who through Twitter I feel like I have known for years and who is just as lovely as I wanted her to be in real life…

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Before then seeing Jeanette Winterson talking about her new novel which takes on Shakespeare.

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I then ended up seeing lots of friendly faces as I milled round getting my bearings for the following day. I left with Rob feeling like this…

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I then caught up with my mate Andy who I hadn’t seen for seven years for an epic decompress after Olympia before readying myself for a second day, filled with meetings, before meeting up with my old co-host of The Readers, Gav of Gav Reads, we were much happier about it than we looked…

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…Before heading of to Kensington Palace (as you do) for the Man Booker International Prize shortlist party. Where I saw so many lovely faces, some who I had only met on Twitter, some who I have known a while and was delighted to catch up with all of them, and had lots of lovely bookish chats whilst also keeping my eyes peeled for royalty, ha.

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Then it was probably one of the highlights of my trip so far, but something ace is coming tomorrow, as I went off to Soho post Booker party to meet up with some of my fellow Waterstones Bloggers; Kim, Nina, Rob, Kate and Eric for some wonderful cocktails, nibbles and gossip, I mean natter…

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Rob, Kate and I then went off to meet Gav, who had been to the Terry Pratchett memorial, in a cafe on Leicester Square where we proceeded to drink coffee, eat cake and end up plotting a whole new project, more on that soon. Blimey, it has been a full week. I am now off to dash to two more meetings before going on a bookshop crawl with Gavin today, which I will report back on. It’s been such good fun and I still have a few days left. What have all of you been up to lately?

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The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist 2016

So after what feels like a few months, yet is actually mere weeks I have just been reading so much brilliant women’s writing, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist for 2016 was announced last night and here are the six shortlisted titles…

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I have linked to those that I have reviewed, I still have three outstanding shortlist reviews (as well as five outstanding longlist reviews) because I have been reading so much, but they will be up on the blog in due course. What do I think of the shortlist, I think it packs a punch there is a mix of magical realism, comedy, grit, drama and most importantly some blooming great women’s writing and that is what this prize is all about after all.

That is also why I am not going to bemoan there not being X or Y author having gotten through to the shortlist, partly because it looks like sour grapes (and no one likes those), partly because there will only be one winner and also at the end of the day I am not a judge (and having judged prizes it is a tricky, yet brilliant, task) I would rather celebrate all the books that have been given the attention of the longlist and say congrats to the shortlisted authors. This is why I didn’t guess the shortlist publicly (though Eric of LonesomeReader has mine on his phone somewhere that he can use against me at some point, ha) I wanted to just enjoy the list and be Switzerland, neutral. Ha.

So before we focus on the shortlist over the next few months what would I like to say about the books that didn’t get shortlisted? Well since you all asked so nicely, bar Kate Atkinson and Melissa Harrison‘s novels I had not read any of them and I have been introduced to some cracking books. I wouldn’t have ended up whaling in 1908 with Shirley Barrett or being whisked away with the uber rich oligarchs with Vesna Goldsworthy. I wouldn’t have ended up being taken away with the circus by Clio Gray, in Nagazaki with Jackie Copleton or on a space ship with a Becky Chambers. I wouldn’t have discovered the tale of a recluse with Rachel Elliott or (on a polar oppsite scale) read a book about King David in 1000BC with Geraldine Brooks. I wouldn’t have got round to reading Elizabeth Strout so soon or getting back to Petina Gappah and joining Memory  in Chikurubi Maximum Prison in Harare trying to discover her story. I wouldn’t have found a new author who seems to combine everything about my favourite TV shows (The Good Wife, House of Cards, Damages) in the book form of a superb political thriller with Attica Locke. I wouldn’t have discovered two novels with will probably be two of my books of the year with Sara Novic’s gripping and heart breaking tale of war torn Croatia’s or Julia Rochester‘s family drama with sprinklings of ‘the other’. Myself and Eric will be recording a podcast about all the longlist in more detail soon. In short though, that is a lot to celebrate! And celebrate we did last night…

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So commiserations to the authors who didn’t get shortlisted and congrats to those that did, what a corking list of books though either way – go and read lots of them. And a huge thank you to the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction which once again has highlighted some incredible women’s fiction this year, ans it always does, and let me be a part of it (and continue to be, there is some exciting stuff to come) and for scheduling my reading for the last five weeks which I have rather enjoyed. I now have to go and choose what to read next – possibly in a bookshop if I fall into one though I have packed three potentials in my case – and the limitless possibilities is quite daunting. I may need another coffee. What are your thoughts on the shortlisted titles?

Oh and thanks to random.org I have picked a winner for the longlisted books giveaway, well done Cathling, you have been emailed.

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Filed under Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction, Baileys Bearded Book Club