Tag Archives: Alison Bechdel

Other People’s Bookshelves #55 – Naomi Frisby

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, 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. This week we are in the North of England (the north is the best lets us be honest, yes I went there) and the city of Sheffield  to join the lovely Naomi. Before we have a nosey through her shelves,  and steal some of those lovely biscuits and a Bailey’s or two, let’s find out more about her…

I live in Sheffield with my husband and stepson. Until last summer, I was a secondary school English teacher, a job I did for twelve years. I left the profession to embark on a PhD in Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University. My thesis is on representations of the female gender in circus and sideshow literature, so I’m looking at bearded ladies, human mermaids, conjoined twins and intersex characters, amongst others. I run the blog The Writes of Woman which I set up in 2013. It’s a one-woman attempt to do something about the gender imbalance in books reviewed in the mainstream media.

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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 keep almost all of them; I’m a nightmare for it. The first thing my dad said when I told him I was moving in with the man who became my husband was, ‘Does he know how many books you’ve got?’ I’m not a hoarder generally but I can’t seem to help myself when it comes to books. The only ones that don’t end up on the shelves are duplicates which I give to a friend or the occasional one I really dislike. I used teaching as an excuse for years, you never know when you might be teaching a particular book or you’ll want an extract either to show students how something’s done or how not to do it. I need a new excuse now!

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?

My shelves are split into fiction and non-fiction. The fiction section has separate sections for children’s/young adult, poetry and plays. The non-fiction section is divided into memoir, music, television, feminism, history, travel and so on. All sections are then in alphabetical order and in the case of writers with more than one book in my collection, by date of publication. (Unless it’s a hardback as they only fit on the middle and bottom shelves. Although I have exactly the same system for them.) That sounds very anal, doesn’t it? I get frustrated when I can’t find things I want quickly! The exceptions to this are the books I’m reading for my PhD and review copies from publishers. The PhD books have two shelves roughly arranged into those I’ve read and want to use in my thesis; those I want to read next because they look most useful, and those I’m planning to read later on. Review copies are stacked up on top of the shelves in the kitchen; I’ve run out of shelves for those. I’ve only culled once when I moved from Sheffield to London from a house to a flat. My dad was helping with the move and took the boxes of books to donate to a charity shop, a couple of years later I discovered they were in my parents’ garage. Most of them are still there; my dad’s been working his way through them!

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

I’m not entirely sure what it was. It was probably an Enid Blyton or a Roald Dahl bought with birthday or Christmas money. If I was going to guess, I’d say Enid Blyton’s The Naughtiest Girl Is a Monitor but that might be because the cover’s bright pink so it stands out in my memory. I’ve still got all my books from childhood, some are on my shelves, some are on my stepson’s.

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’ve stopped believing in feeling guilty about books I enjoy reading. The ones people would be surprised at, I think, are the ‘women’s fiction’/so-called ‘chick-lit’ novels (I dislike both of those terms) but the Jilly Cooper, Freya North, Miranda Dickinson, Marion Keyes, Jojo Moyes, Ruth Saberton novels are on the fiction shelves like everything else.

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Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would bea 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?

At the risk of sounding like an arse, it’s a signed manuscript of Carys Bray’s novel A Song for Issy Bradley. I was due to cover an event at Cheltenham Literary Festival for Hutchinson Books where they introduced forthcoming books from Helen Dunmore and Dea Brøvig. A few weeks before it happened, Bray was signed by Hutchinson and added to the bill. So I could read the book before the event, I was sent the manuscript. It has a different title to the finished novel and it’s pre-final edit, so not only is it exciting that I have it from a book geek point of view but from a writing point of view, it’s interesting to compare it with the published version and see what changes an editor at a publishing house decided to make.

As for saving in a fire, I’ve become less precious about my books. I also have an online database in case I ever do need to replace any (also to stop me buying duplicates which was happening with alarming frequency). However, the Carys Bray manuscript would definitely need saving and I have a few favourite novels that are signed – Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh (with the original black and silver cover) and Trumpet by Jackie Kay are two that come immediately to mind – which I’d be gutted to lose. Now you’ve got me wondering whether I should put them all together somewhere in case I ever need to grab them!

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 didn’t have many fiction books when I was growing up but of the selection they did own, it was Wuthering Heights that attracted me the most. There were two reasons for that: one, no one else had managed to get past the first few chapters and I was determined I would! Two, we lived on the border between South and West Yorkshire so I was aware of the landscape where it was set. I did read it. I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on it (alongside Jane Eyre and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall) and I’ve taught it to secondary school students. I have my own copy on my shelf – it’s heavily annotated!

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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 went through a stage of buying every book but I’ve begun to borrow more recently, partly because I’ve a group of bookish friends that I met through Twitter so we’ve quite a library between us and I was acquiring too many unread hardbacks on the shelves long after the paperbacks had been published. If I love something though, I do have to own it. This also applies to books I’ve read on Kindle (which I do quite frequently); if I really love it, I have to have a physical copy to keep on the shelf.

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

Because I’m not working at the moment, I’m on a book-buying ban so I haven’t bought anything since early December and they were all PhD related. The last review copies to arrive were Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent and Mailbox by Nancy Freund and for Christmas, I got Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and an anthology of short stories Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical from my husband and Storm by Tim Minchin, DC Turner and Tracy King from a friend. I’ve started to get into graphic novels lately.

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

I have a ridiculously long wishlist of books I’d like but nothing particular like a series or a first edition. I did read Sandra Newman’s The Country of Ice Cream Star recently and it went straight onto my ‘best books I’ve ever read’ list but I read it on Kindle, so I definitely need that on my bookshelves, it’ll need to go on the newly created ‘In case of fire, rescue these first’ shelf!

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

I think they’d probably think I was up my own arse! My collection’s mostly literary fiction so it probably does look pretentious. I suppose I’d like them to think I was intelligent; I might have a Barnsley accent but…what’s that phrase? Don’t judge a working class book by its cover.

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A huge thanks to Naomi 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 Naomi’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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The Green Carnation Prize Longlist 2012

One of the joys of blogging was meeting lots of new people and getting very excited about books. Three years ago along with Paul Magrs, Nick Campbell and joined by Lesley Cookman I started on an exciting new venture co-founding a prize for LGBT literature of all kinds which eventually, after a small glitch with the initial name, was called The Green Carnation Prize. Well just over three years later the prize has changed a little bit yet the current team of judges, and one is an old ropey judge who refuses to leave, has brought you a very exciting longlist of thirteen books which are…

  • Carry The One – Carol Anshaw (Penguin)
  • Are You My Mother? – Alison Bechdel (Jonathan Cape)
  • Ninety Days – Bill Clegg (Jonathan Cape)
  • The Purple Shroud – Stella Duffy (Virago)
  • Absolution – Patrick Flanery (Atlantic Books)
  • A Perfectly Good Man – Patrick Gale (4th Estate)
  • Scenes From An Early Life – Philip Hensher (4th Estate)
  • Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Before He Stole Me Ma – Kerry Hudson (Chatto & Windus)
  • Snake Ropes – Jess Richards (Sceptre)
  • Hawthorn & Child – Keith Ridgway (Granta Books)
  • Valentine Grey – Sandi Toksvig (Virago)
  • Moffie – Andre Carl Van Der Merwe (Europa Editions)
  • Jack Holmes and his Friend – Edmund White (Bloomsbury)

It is nice to be able to share at least the titles of some of the books that I have been secretly reading away over the past few months. Alas, I can’t tell you exactly what I thought of these thirteen because there is the short listing and the winning announcement to go, but it might be time to start telling you about some of the amazing books that didn’t make the longlist this year… because that is how good the submitted books were this year.

Always keen to get in on the act, a certain Oscar cat is now casting his eyes over the selected few and will be accompanying me in some re-reading. However I think I might have a week of reading just what I fancy first.

So what do you think of the list? Have you read any of them? What do you think might make the shortlist? Are there any you are surprised not to see? Are you going to give any of them a whirl? All thoughts, as always, most welcome.

Full details and thoughts from all the judges, and updates over the next few weeks, on the Green Carnation Prize can be found on the website.

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Fun Home – Alison Bechdel

Jonathan Cape, paperback, 2006, graphic novel/memoir, 240 pages, kindly given to me by Sarah on The Book Barge

I do think that sometimes fate determines when you see a book. I had never heard of ‘Fun Home’ by Alison Bechdel until Rebecca Makkai recommended it when she did her Savidge Reads Grills. A mere week or so after that I was on the book barge and what did I see? Yes, ‘Fun Home’ by Alison Bechdel, and Sarah very kindly said I could have it (along with ‘Trilby’ by George Du Maurier – lovely stuff) in exchange for the M&S picnic I had brought. I offered to pay for these, the look I got told me it was completely out of the question. So like I said, sometimes fate seems to thrust a book in your direction. Sometimes it then takes you several months to read it but never mind.

‘Fun  Home’ is Alison Bechdel’s memoirs told through a graphic novel, which was a concept that I found really intriguing.  It was also one I wasn’t sure would work, would I feel an emotional connection with the images in front of me, or could this read like a cartoon? I can now say that ‘Fun Home’ is in the latter category and as I followed the fictional/illustrated/memory drawn Alison from her childhood, when after inheriting it her family all moved into the family business… a funeral home, to her dealings with the death of her father and their relationship and indeed her own sexuality, the latter she discovered interestingly through books.

It’s hard to say any more on the novel than that. Though it does feel like a novel and I pondered, with all its references to Camus, Fitzgerald and other authors (who Alison’s dad loved and seemed to add the personalities of to his own) if the influence and subsequent love of books gave it that extra edge? It could of course simply be that this is a blooming brilliant novel regardless of its form and that I instead shop stop the subconscious part of my brain which says ‘this is a graphic novel, thats not quite the same as a normal novel’ and get over it. I think I have because I was read this like a novel, I didn’t just sit and read it in one go, I would read a chapter here and there as usual and was thinking of it when I put it down, not as a graphic novel but just as a book I was enjoying.

It is hard to say anymore about the book really without spoilers. It has that mixture or coming of age memoir, gothic reminiscence and family tragedy and comedy that I love when I find just the right combination of. I laughed out loud but it wasn’t saccharine, it was honest without being malicious or brutal, it was emotional without being woe-is-me and I liked the tone of the book. I liked Alison Bechdel and I wanted more of her story.

I used to think that graphic novels were just really big comics for grown up kids, its examples like ‘Fun Home’ that continue to prove my wrong and show that graphic novels can offer you the full formed personality of characters and evoke their situations and the atmospheres that they are surrounded by. People are probably rolling their eyes at that but that has been the case on the whole for me until now, though other graphic novels have been good they have never felt like the give everything that a normal ‘book’ does like ‘Fun Home’ has, and here I must mention ‘Blankets’ by Craig Thompson, where the images become fully formed and not just the illustrated escapism in front of your eyes.

I am hoping people might now give me lots of suggestions of other graphic novels in this vein that will keep proving the former graphically challenged me wrong. My co-conspirator on ‘The Readers’, Gav, has recently been saying how brilliant ‘The House That Groaned’ by Karrie Fransman is. Has anyone else read that one and can concur? Any other graphic novels I should be looking for?

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Bookshops I Love; The Book Barge

As someone who doesn’t really like boats and really doesn’t like books set on them, you might be surprised that when I heard The Book Barge was coming to Manchester I was both excited and intrigued. I had heard about it on the Guardian book podcast a while back and thought the idea of having a book shop on a narrow boat that travelled around the country actually sounded like a rather lovely jaunt. I also love books and the idea of bartering for books intrigued me, so armed with a bag of M&S lunchtime treats I headed to the Quay to find out more.

Well, I was smitten. A moored boat that only wobbled slightly as I clambered, yes clambered – I don’t have naval ready legs, on and was decked out with lots and lots and lots and lots and lots (is that enough lots to tempt you?) of books was like a quiet and calm haven.

Then as I got to chat to Sarah (which you can hear on this week’s episode of The Readers podcast)who I became equally smitten with, as she is just lovely, I discovered it wasn’t quite the delight you might think. I doubly noticed this when I realised there was no toilet on board let alone a bathroom… or even a kitchen. Just lots and lots and lots (here come those ‘lots’ again) of books.

This is where the bartering comes in, as Sarah travels the country (at a ridiculously speedy 4 miles-per-hour) if she is in need of a shower, a meal, something fixed, or even a haircut, she will swap these for a book, or maybe two if it’s something specific or slightly more costly. This idea would fill me with dread; you could end up in a loonies house after all, but Sarah said she could spot them (I hope I imagined a small knowing squint aimed at me) a mile off and that most bookish people tend to be rather lovely.

Well one trip wasn’t enough and I ended popping abck a few times, including to one of Paul Magrs signings and also bringing Carol Birch and Jane Harris on board before Bookmarked, which Sarah then came to. In fact as the time went on I was even more thrilled with the Book Barge as not only did I leave with a wonderful old copy of ‘Trilby’ by George Du Maurier and ‘Fun Home’ by Alison Bechdel (which Rebecca Makkai had recommended we all read) but I have found a lovely new friend in the lovely Sarah and might just be spending a weekend on the Barge on its final voyage home after it visits Leeds and Nottingham. Do, if you can, pop and see Sarah (she is ace), preferably armed with an M&S picnic and grab a few books. She will be heading to Europe next year too.

Oh and before it combats the channel’s choppy waters, the Book Barge has quite a test coming… Polly of Novel Insights and I will be taking it over in the spring for a bit! How exciting is that? I am not sure Polly and Sarah are quite aware of what I have signed them both (and myself actually) up for!!

You can find out all about the Book Barge on it’s website here.

P.S I didn’t take either of these photo’s I will be replacing them later as mine are still on my phone. Oops.

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