Tag Archives: Anais Nin

Other People’s Bookshelves #65 – Sarah Perry

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are off to Essex to join author Sarah Perry who has just got back from her allotment especially to show us around her shelves. First let’s grab a cuppa and a custard cream and find out more about Sarah…

My first novel, After Me Comes the Flood, came out last year with Serpent’s Tail, and has just been released in paperback. My second novel, The Essex Serpent, is coming out in July 2016 (again with Serpent’s Tail, in an act of spectacular nominative determinism!).  I was once a civil servant – largely working in communications, such as writing speeches for government ministers – and then worked for the Council of the Inns of Court while I did a PhD in Creative Writing and the Gothic. I now write full-time, though not just fiction.

At the moment I’m finishing edits on The Essex Serpent. It’s about friendship, desire, sin, love, death and sea-serpents. I talk quite often about my upbringing, and am always afraid it’s going to grow tiresome, but find I’m still asked about it. I was born to a very strict religious family – often, I joke I was brought up in 1895 – and while other girls my age were surrounded by pop culture I was up to my ears in the King James Bible, classic literature, Victorian hymns and Reformation theology. The Gothic quality of my writing and my preoccupation with madness, sin and transgression is therefore not entirely surprising, I suppose.

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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’m frighteningly acquisitive when it comes to books, and absolutely hopeless at getting rid of them. About three months ago I attempted a cull, and there have been two large bags of books destined for the local charity shops in the middle of my bedroom floor ever since. I seem to gather books as I walk through the week like a magnet attracting iron filings and with about that degree of discrimination. Proofs arrive in the post, I order them online on a whim, am sent them as gifts, throw them into my trolley in the supermarket, grab paperbacks in charity shops, steal – sorry: borrow! – them from friends. They all wind up in one of the many drifts and piles in the house, and I fear many are destined to remain unread for years, if at all. But I can never quite shake the feeling that the day may come when that 80s edition of The Gulag Archipelago, or that little hardback Rumer Godden novel, is going to be exactly what I need…

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?

Some years ago a friend of mine tried to help me order my books (by genre, and alphabetically by author). It took absolutely hours and lasted for less than a week. I can’t begin to fathom how anyone who has a large number of books maintains any sort of order without a fleet of staff. Everything is all bundled in together – I’m looking at a bookcase right now and on a single shelf I can see a biography of William Gladstone, a guide to Jungian dream-symbols, TH White’s The Once and Future King, two Ishiguro novels next to each other (miraculously!), several crime thrillers, and a Puritan book on the doctrine of repentance. If you’re wondering how I ever find anything: I often can’t, and rage about the house accusing the cat of stealing books. My husband has a better memory than me, and can often lay hands on what I need. I do try and keep to some form of TBR system, and went as far as installing two bookcases on either side of the bed, but then I get distracted by something else, and it all goes out of the window.

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The only truly organised shelves are those where I’m temporary custodian of a friend’s books: he moved abroad, and left them with me, where I’ve taken to calling them ‘The Memorial Library’. I must say I consider arranging books by colour to be the sure sign of a deranged mind (apologies to any deranged readers).

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

I honestly can’t remember, and wish very much that I could! I do have lots of books from my childhood, though. I have on my desk here a very battered little Bible story book which I must have had since before school, and I’m very attached to a hardback Paddington bear collection which was a gift from one of my older sisters.

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?

With very, very few exceptions I really don’t have much truck with the idea of guilty pleasures when it comes to reading. Of course, even the most ardent anti-book snob must draw the line somewhere, and I would sooner go to the stake than have my shelves sullied with Fifty Shades of Grey or Ayn Rand. But I have everything out in the open – so far as the disordered tumult will allow! – and if anyone baulks at the sight of Stephen King, Terry Pratchett and Lee Child jostling cheerfully with WG Sebald, Maggie Nelson and Tennyson then I shall sit them down and have a long, gentle but firmly persuasive chat. I never read romantic fiction, but that is merely a matter of preference, in the same way that I would rather eat cauliflower than mushrooms: it’s not a value judgment. I must confess that if my parents visit I might double check that Catullus or Chuck Palahniuk aren’t knocking about where my Dad might take them off the shelves in an idle moment (there was an awkward moment last year with a Thom Gunn poem).

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Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

There are so many of these! May I have a wheelbarrow full? I have a complete Sherlock Holmes which my father gave me: it is a long out-of-print edition, and identical to his own copy, which I grew up reading, and which he is evidently not ready to part with. I have a beautiful vintage edition of Finnegans Wake which a friend gave me when I left London, and since really he deserves it far more than I do I secretly think of it as being in joint custody, like the child of an amiable divorce. When I sold my first novel a friend gave me a copy of A Literary Life by Posy Simmonds, which has got truer and more comforting as the years have passed. There are about half-a-dozen King James Bibles knocking about, most of them associated with events in life: my wedding, or a gift when I was tiny bridesmaid at my oldest sister’s wedding. Once when I had been away for a fortnight my husband met me at the airport with some marmalade sandwiches, two Calvin and Hobbes books and a copy of the Communist Party Manifesto, so I would like those. And I suppose I would like to take the first proof copy of my first novel, with all my anguished handwritten corrections.

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

I never really remember there being much of a division between children’s books and grown up books, and I more or less read what I wanted, when I wanted to. Which isn’t to say that I was reading terribly inappropriately (however one defines that) – there wouldn’t have been anything like that in the house, and I wouldn’t have sought it out: since there was so much to read, I was quite content. And so I remember reading Jane Eyre at eight, because it was in an illustrated hardback edition that I mistook for a children’s book, and my father gave me a copy of Tess of the D’Urbervilles when I was ten (greatly to my teacher’s horror). My elder sisters would occasionally conceal slightly fruity novels beneath their beds, which I unfailingly found and would read in a single sitting. The most memorable of these was probably Flowers in the Attic, which I still adore – and which is somewhere on my shelves.

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?

Greatly to my shame, I never borrow books (unless from friends, in which case ‘borrow’ is often pronounced ‘steal’), and only ever darken the doors of reference libraries, in order to do research. I am simply not to be trusted with library books: they’ll be lost, dropped in the bath, battered, and never returned. It’s a moral failing I’ve long given up trying to remedy.

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

In the last week, I’ve bought Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (her memoir Bluets had a profound effect on me last year), Miranda July’s The First Bad Man (which I cannot imagine I will enjoy, having a very low tolerance for quirky books by privileged young New Yorkers, but I though I’d try and conquer my prejudices), Stephen King’s Mr Mercedes, JG Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition, John Wyndham’s The Trouble With Lichen, and an Anaïs Nin book I immediately lost and can’t remember. I have also been sent a debut novel by Tasha Kavanagh called Things We Have in Common, which I’m looking forward to. Sorry, that’s several books, isn’t it?

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

Heaps and heaps! I am very close to mugging someone for an advance copy of Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life: its August release date seems a terribly long way away, and literally everyone on Twitter has a copy except me. I also would like a facsimile edition (or a real one, if possible) of the Tyndale New Testament, because who wouldn’t? There are also a number of collected letters that I would like. For many years I had a curious ethical disinclination to read the ‘remains’ of writers: I felt that we should read only their work, not diary entries and correspondence they would never have intended for a general readership. But it turns out my principles are paper thin, and I’d particularly like the letters of Virginia Woolf, which I could cross-reference against her diaries.

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

I imagine their first thought would be that I am spectacularly untidy, and furthermore could do with doing some dusting. I wonder if they might then think that these are the books of several people, not only one – if they did, I’d be delighted. I honestly believe we all have a duty to read as widely and deeply as possible. The worst possible reader is the one who wishes only to affirm and bolster their existing world view, and the worst possible response to a book is this: “I just didn’t identify with any of the characters.” As to what I’d like them to think of my reading tastes: I couldn’t give a single solitary toss, I never have, and I never will.

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A huge thanks to Sarah for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, you can stalk her on Twitter here, you can also see her not once but twice at Gladfest this September, where you may just also see me! 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 Sarah’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #45; Lee Goody

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshleves, a series of posts set to feed into the filthy book lust/porn and either give you a fix of other people’s shelves to stave you off going on a buying/borrowing spree, or making you want to run and grab as many more books as you can. This wee we are heading off to Sydney to join another avid reader, Lee Goody, who has kindly offered to tell us more about her books, herself and let us have a nosey round her shelves! Before we do let’s find out more about her…

My name is Lee Goody and I am a book horder, originally from North Yorkshire via Nottingham and have been living in Sydney with my husband Phil for almost 6 years. I work as a Training Consultant and enjoy getting out on my Stand Up Paddle board at the weekends as well as eating my way round the restaurants of Sydney. I am on a constant mission to squeeze more books into limited space in our apartment, much to the dismay of my husband! This hording is only second to our growing wine collection… I like to think of it as a marvellous competition between the two obsessions! (Mmm Books and Wine, does life get any better?!)

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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 have to be selective with purchases these days as I am seriously running out of space. If I have bought a book new and think I am likely to read it again (however far in the future) I will keep it. If I have bought it new and it’s not one of these pesky Australian larger-size paperbacks which bother me with their over-sized-ness. If I have bought a second-hand version of a book, if it is not in great condition but I love the book, I will hold on to it until I come across a reasonably priced new copy of this book. (This can often be a challenge in Australia).

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

I tend to keep books by the same author together, as well as books that came as part of a set. I have a dedicated shelf for cooking and another for travel which I think looks nice and makes it look like I have visited lots of places.. The only books that are on display in the apartment are by the door of my apartment. I also house my TBR shelf in the bedroom. All other books are on shelves that are behind cupboard doors, so there lays organised chaos!

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

I was a huge Roald Dahl fan as a child and remember school having book catalogues that you ordered from which was massively exciting. I have a small collection of puffin books purchased this way, amongst which are mainly Roald Dahl, Spike Milligan’s silly verse for kids and Alf Proysen’s Little Old Mrs Pepperpot. I seem to have misplaced Ramona Quimby aged 8 which is rather disappointing!

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

I have a copy of The Joy of Sex and some Anais Nin novels which I used to hide away when my Mother in Law came round. Now that most of my books are trapped in a cupboard and in laws live 12,000 miles away it’s not too much of a problem anymore! I would feel happy justifying any book on my shelves as it would only stay there if I had enjoyed reading it.

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Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

Not to titillate Simon too much but I do have a rather nice hardback copy of Rebecca on my shelves which I would be gutted to lose. The other book I would have to save would be a hardback copy of The wizard of Oz which my Nana used to sit me on her knee and read to me as a child. I would also make a grab for the complete set of James Herriott books that came from a clear out of my Pop’s house after he passed away.

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

I devoured the aforementioned James Herriott books lent to me around the age of 15 which really gave me the “bug” for reading… which has never stopped. I had a spate of reading the usual Stephen King novels and a dalliance with Jilly Cooper before feeling like I had to play catch-up on all the books you are “supposed” to read.

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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 very rarely borrow books; I have quite a lot on my shelves that are still in the TBR category. The last time this happened though was getting “The Time Travellers Wife” out of the library but then being so blown away by it that I had to buy myself a copy.

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

I added 2 books to my shelves last week: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler as inspired by the May episode of the (First Tuesday) Book club on ABC and The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing as I found a cheap copy on a book shop’s bargain table for $6.

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

Erm, if there is a book that I want to buy then I tend to just get it. I think I should really have a hardback copy of The Secret History by Donna Tartt to match the hardback editions of the other 2 of her books I own. I would like a complete set of Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole series.. I will eventually complete my collection of every Ian McEwen work too when I have extra space. I have 119 books on my Amazon wish list at the moment!

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

A bit literary fiction-heavy. I like to try the books that have won awards to see what all the fuss is about. I’m loyal to a few favourite authors: Ian McEwan, Sebastian Faulks, Sarah Waters, Donna Tartt, Jonathan Franzen.

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A huge thanks to Lee 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 forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Lee’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #6; Kate Gardner

For the latest instalment of other peoples book porn bookshelves we get to have a nosey through the lovely Kate Gardner’s shelves this week. Kate blogs at Nose in a Book for three years, she says “I still feel like I’m just discovering how it all works and how many great book blogs are out there. I’ve always been an avid reader – I remember many a mealtime as a child being told to put my book down just long enough to eat! I live in Bristol with my boyfriend Tim and I’m originally from the Forest of Dean, which is beautiful but rural so maybe my book love comes from a lack of anything else to do? Or maybe it stems from me having glue ear when I was six, which made me almost deaf for about a year and as a result super shy. Or maybe it was a love that was always destined to be! It was a glorious moment for me when in 2011 we turned our dining room into a library/games room. Sadly it’s currently full of boxes while we’re redecorating other parts of the house but I look forward to getting it back soon!” So let’s find out more about Kate and through her shelves shall we?

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 try to be strict with myself and only keep books that I thought really good and/or want to read again. That’s probably a bit more than half of the books I buy, so I am fast running out of space!

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

I keep my TBR books separate in their own half a bookcase (and they’re overflowing that…) and I don’t organise them at all. But my other books are strictly alphabetical order. There’s just too many to be able to find the book I’m looking for otherwise. I have sections for general fiction, poetry/plays/philosophy, literary non-fiction, reference, children’s, comics/graphic novels, SF and fantasy. Most of those last three genres aren’t my books anyway, they’re Tim’s. Not that I object to muddling our books up together, it’s just an easy separation to make.

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

I don’t remember for certain. I do know my favourite present from an early age was book tokens. When I was quite young (about 7?), there was a competition in the local paper to be the first to go into the town bookshop and sing this song they’d made up to the tune of “Oh my darling, Clementine”. I studiously memorised the words (I still remember the opening: “Down in Coleford, there’s a bookshop…”) then rushed down into town and sang it at the shop. I think they were a bit surprised by my eagerness! The prize was a book token and I think I spent it there and then, possibly on Roald Dahl books? I certainly still have all those, with my name scrawled inside the covers because you know, sibling rivalry and all.

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?

Not really. Although I must admit I wouldn’t read Anais Nin outside the house, but somehow it’s fine to have her on the shelves!

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?

Tough one. I suppose some of my old kids’ books that I loved and have held onto – especially Alpaca by Rosemary Billam – but it’s the stories that have meaning for me, so if I lost them and had to buy replacements I’d be okay with that. I mean, I’m sure I’d be upset, but not over any specific book.

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

I was encouraged by my Mum to read any books available to me from pretty young so I don’t really remember a specific transition at home. Certainly I know Mum was passing her Jean Plaidy and Victoria Holt books on to me when I was really too young for them! But I do remember the transition at school quite clearly. In third year infants (so I was 6 or 7) I had finished all the infant readers but the teacher didn’t want to start me on junior books yet so she opened up her special book cupboard for me. It was amazing! In there I found Mrs Pepperpot, Mr Majeika, all sorts. The teacher retired soon after that so it was literally a whole career’s worth of collecting great kids’ books together. We all loved her.

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?

No, borrowing is fine…until I get an urge to read it again. Usually I spend a while hunting for it before I remember I don’t own it!

library in summer NIAB

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

The newest And Other Stories turned up in the post last week – Black Vodka by Deborah Levy. I’m excited to read that as I really enjoyed Swimming Home. (Which I may well have bought on your recommendation, Simon, so thank you! It was so good, I subscribed!)

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

Oh, far too many. My wishlist is at least 100 titles long and that doesn’t count all the books I want because they’re pretty. Ahem.

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

Reasonably eclectic, quite literary but with some unusual stuff thrown in there, like my collections of the Modesty Blaise comic strips. I must admit that some of the more impressive titles, such as the Iliad and the Odyssey, I haven’t actually read, but I totally intend to. There will be time one day.

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A big thank you to Kate for letting me grill her. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in Other People’s Book Shelves 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 Kate’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?

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The School of Whoredom – Pietro Aretino

What I think is interesting with the whole phenomenon of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is the fact that it seems to have opened up the whole debate of reading erotica amongst the masses. What I also find funny is the fact that some people think this is the first time such a book has been written. It seems D. H. Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ and the furore that caused has been long forgotten, not to mention Anais Nin or even Pietro Aretino, a name not many would say they know and yet is the man who it is believed wrote the first erotic novels back in the 1500’s. I have been reading his books for the last few years and like Nin and Lawrence yet unlike E. L. James (from the small amount I read of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ before giving it up and away) story, prose and characters are as important to the books as the erotica is.

Hesperus Press, 1535 (republished 2003), paperback, fiction, 99 pages, kindly sent by publisher

I am rather confused as to whether ‘The School of Whoredom’ is the first or the last in the series of three novella’s (the other two being ‘The Secret Life of Nuns’ and ‘The Secret Life of Wives’) featuring the wonderfully forthright, blunt and no nonsense Nanna. Either way it is a tale of Nanna advising a young woman, this time her daughter Pippa rather than Antonia (who does get a mention), in the art of whoredom and how to be the perfect courtesan.

Initially this may seem like a simple excuse for the author to write something sensational and a little bit vulgar and, if I am being honest, there is something about those qualities that make it so readable. As the book has dated it really isn’t that shocking, though I seem to remember I was a little shocked at ‘The Secret Life of Nuns’, it is more slightly titillating and then more of a fun romp than anything else as Nanna explains all the skills you need as well as all the wiles. However the more I have thought about this novella the more I think that Aretino actually depicts society and people in Italy at the time he wrote it in the 1500’s and that is what makes the book all the more interesting and more than just a bit of historical raunch.

As Nanna advises Pippa on what her clientele will want she also tells Pippa all about them. Initially there are the different ages of men, then the different walks and positions in life these men have and finally how different men from different parts of Italy will also differ and yet have things in common. This, along with her insights and experience in the world of the courtesan, really does give conjure up the atmosphere and life at the time. I found it quite fascinating.

One of the things I have always loved about the series is Nanna. As all three of these books have been told as a two woman dialogue you really feel like you are eavesdropping on a very private conversation. Nanna makes it all the more entertaining with her exaggerations, dramatics and rather saucy sense of humour. She really is one of my favourite characters in literature (and yes I would say these books are deemed literature) and one I am definitely going to miss now I have read all three.

“Nanna: Pippa, though I make people believe you are sixteen, you’re twenty clear and plain; you were born just after the end of Leo’s conclave, and when all Rome was shouting ‘Balls, balls!’ I was screaming ‘Oh God, oh God!’ And it was just as the arms of the Medici were being hung on the door of St Peter’s that I had you.”

Some people may be rather shocked or disappointed that I have chosen to include a review of a book like ‘The School of Whoredom’ on the blog, but to be honest as the whole world is discussing the Fifty Shades series I would like to send you in the direction of some erotica which has deeper characters, finer prose, a sense of irony and some historical context. You get all of those and a good titter too with this series and with each one being under 100 pages you don’t have to get to page 131 for the, erm, action to kick off as it were. Plus I am pleased Fifty Shades has got erotica out there more, I mean why should you be ashammed to read it? Go on; give them a whirl I say!

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Delta of Venus – Anaïs Nin

I personally think there is a huge divide between pornography and erotica. Some people don’t. Then again some people will possibly have closed there browsers before they get further than that first line and some people will have found this blog for the first time because of it. Isn’t it interesting the power of the words… porn and erotica. Well today’s post is about the Madame of Erotica herself Anaïs Nin and author many have recommended I try and not for the reasons you might be thinking you mucky minded lot! Though this review could end up not being for the faint hearted or easily offended, you might want to avert your eyes.

As Anaïs Nin states herself in the preface of ‘Delta of Venus’ this collection was never really intended to be published, in fact when these tales were originally written they were simply created for someone she names only as ‘The Collector’ in order to bring in the money. What she did want to do with the erotic tales she wrote was create more of a story and flavour of literature rather than just the mechanical act itself. In fact reading these now, I imagine they were quite steamy stuff in the 1940’s, it’s the beautiful prose and the underlying themes that make Nin’s collection so interesting to read.

Yes ok so there is a lot, and I mean a lot, of sex in these stories but it’s not of the ‘wham bam thank you man variety’, well actually sometimes it is but behind each act there is a story and occasionally almost a moral to the whole tale. Reading these I was actually reminded of fables and folklore on more occasion, especially in tales such as ‘The Ring’ which takes place in Peru and looks at the madness love can create, the opening tale ‘The Hungarian Adventurer’ seems to have a moral twist looking at promiscuity and the responsibilities you have with it.

Through this collection of fifteen works Nin not only deals with differing kinds of sex from true love and true lust to acts of sadomasochism, she also looks at other things in life. Sexuality is naturally a  big theme in a collection, there is a tale set in a Brazilian boarding school which deals with homosexuality on several levels and bisexuality is a recurrent theme but she also looks at peoples circumstances, lifestyles and their psychological states.  This can lead to the darker side of life in fact in the collection there are some rather tragic tales. ‘Mathilde’ is the tale of a hat maker who men simply cannot resist, which starts of rather hilariously, yet soon she falls into the world of opium leading to harder drugs and dangerous and frightening circumstances for the heroine.

There are also moments of hilarity, in the aforementioned ‘Mathilde’ the way she gets propositioned by some ‘suitors’ is utterly hilarious. I wont share for fear of getting turned into an ‘adult site’, lets just say its comical and happens here there and everywhere. ‘Lilith’ which I think was one of my favourite stories (there was one or two that left me a little nonchalant, but only one or two) has me laughing out loud. Lilith doesn’t really like sex and so her husband swaps her sweetener for the almost Viagra like Spanish Fly drug and tells her after. Her response being “what a trick to play on me. And I promised Mabel that we’d go to the movies together. I can’t disappoint her. She’s been shut in at home for a week. Suppose it begins to affect me at the movies.” Imagining that conversation over tea in the 1940’s really tickled me. This is a beautifully written collection of eye opening tales which if you look past the sex have so much more to say, if only ‘The Collector’ had known! 9/10

Do you think erotica can ever pass for literature or do you think those who suggest such a thing, like me, need a good talking to? Have you read any Anaïs Nin?

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Filed under Anaïs Nin, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review, Short Stories

Wetlands – Charlotte Roche

Please note: The book thoughts on Wetlands by Charlotte Roche may not be for the faint hearted or prudish, if you would like to skip this post then you can discuss Agatha Christie just here instead.

I know it sounds a bit silly putting that at the start of the post today (though as is human nature you might all read on regardless) but I wouldn’t want to offend anyone  and with a book like this I think that its worth popping that note in first before going any further, so there is still time for you to click away. All joking aside I do think that books like Wetlands should come with some kind of warning somewhere on the book as I don’t think any synopsis could quite prepare you for what you are about to read.

Wetlands is told through the eyes of 18 year old Helen Memel from her hospital bed after an accident during a rather intimate shaving incident. Starting as she means to go on she tells us not only of just how she got into this situation but also of the last time she came into hospital to be sterilized as soon as she became of age. From then on there is a fascination with the wound itself which takes us into a graphic and incredibly explicit account of her sex life (seriously everything is discussed, I wont say too much in case I get banned on this site) and her own personal hygiene regime.

At first I will admit I was titillated and then I embraced how Charlotte Roche writes so bluntly about all things concerning women and sex. Then I started to become grossed out by it all. I didn’t need to know about the narrator’s secretions in such detail again and again, to give you an example I will use the word ‘slime’ as it is used a lot in this context. I also didn’t need to know what she thought about her Dad’s anatomy or the fact she likes to eat other people’s spots. That’s all the gory details I shall go into for fear of offending anyone who has read this far further.

As Helen discusses all these things in minute detail her character and back story briefly glimpse through and actually we have a very, very interesting narrator. Helen is clearly torn up after her parent’s separation and her mothers attempted suicide and murder of her brother and how she uses her sexuality to deal with all of these conflicting emotions in her head. It was in fact those glimpses that made me read on. It’s a book I can’t say I disliked, though I didn’t love it. 

It is a book that made me think about what constitutes a graphic, open and supposedly feminist coming or age story (though if this is what girls are going through around the world heaven help us) or a book designed to sell on how shocking and explicit it is. For me the jury is still open, I would suggest other people give it a read to decide, should they have the guts for it.

I have nothing against graphic/controversial/explicit fiction and actually think some of it is much needed to tell the tale. American Psycho, which I enjoyed and found fascinating but would be unlikely to read again because of how darkly graphic it is, wouldn’t be so powerful if it wasn’t for the parts that make for incredibly difficult reading. Novel Insights has often recommended reading Anais Nin who is a classic author and does, from the two short stories I have read so far, write graphic erotica but its beautifully written and also thought provoking.

It does seem odd yesterday was writing about Dame Agatha Christie and now this, shows I read a diverse selection I guess! So the question that this book has brought up that I shall put out there for discussion is… when does the graphic become the shocking to sell, have you any examples or feelings on this?

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Filed under Charlotte Roche, Fourth Estate Books, Review