Tag Archives: Anita Brookner

Other People’s Bookshelves #19 – Alison Hope

The weekend is the perfect time to be leisurely isn’t it? What could be nicer than whiling away some time nosing through someone else’s book shelves while talking about books? Well Saturday’s are set to become the perminant home of Other People’s Bookshelves for the foreseeable future and this week we are all popping round to Alison Hope’s who runs the book blog HeavenAli to have a gander and a natter about her books. Grab a cuppa,  and plonk yourself down on an available chair, I am sure she won’t mind!

Firstly tell us a little more about yourself?

Having always read – since I was a very small girl, and now coming up to my 45th birthday I realise I have read a lot of books. In the last year or so I have discovered the absolute joy of re-reading – so often I fear I have read all the best things and envy people their first experiences with books I have loved. These days I think I read far more books published before about 1950 than contemporary books – although I do enjoy a lot of contemporary writers too. Engaging with other readers and bloggers has been a greater pleasure than I had ever anticipated – and I am trying hard to make my reviews and blog posts worthy of the bigger audience I now seem to have. Some of my favourite authors are Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Taylor, Wilkie Collins, Anita Brookner, Jane Austen and Barbara Pym. I like golden age crime novels, such as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and Ngaio Marsh. I don’t like modern crime much – although now again I read one or two I have been told are not too gruesome – I don’t like fantasy or sci-fi. I mainly read classics, and literary fiction, and a few memoirs and biographies. Despite my love of books I do have a kindle – which I like very much, but I read far more real books.

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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?

The books on my bookcases are what I consider to be the ones I keep, my permanent book collection. However I don’t keep all the books that I read, I mainly keep the ones I love the most.  As a bookcrosser (although no longer as active as I once was) I am always happy to pass on books I don’t want to keep, to other bookcrossing members at our local monthly meet ups. I enjoy sharing books I have enjoyed, so the ones I pass on are certainly not just books I haven’t enjoyed, they are usually just ones I think it unlikely I will want to read again. I do find however, that I am keeping more and more books these days, going back to my bad old ways of almost hording my books.

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?

None of my bookcases are organised alphabetically. I can’t explain why – but I don’t particularly like that way of organising my shelves.  Many of my books are shelved with other books of the same editions. This system has broken down a little as I have moved books around and acquired new bookcases – but most of my Virago books, Persephone books and Penguin classics and Oxford Classics which are not residing on my TBR are shelved together with other books with the same colour spine.  My TBR is also all shelved together – it takes up more than two shelves, with small stacks of books sitting in front of rows of others. I have one bookcase that has no system; things are rather unceremoniously shoved on to the shelves. This bookcase really needs weeding out, a job I keep putting off. The books I keep to pass on through bookcrossing are in a box in a cupboard –which seems wrong – I do feel that books should be shelved – but that is where they are until they get moved on.

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

Oh dear this is something I really wish I knew the answer to. I have been trying to work out what it might have been but have no idea. All through my childhood my bookishness was encouraged by my parents, although I used the library a lot back then, I was given books for Christmas, and had book vouchers from relatives nearly every year. I can remember being obsessed by the Enid Blyton Mallory Towers and St Clair boarding school books, I am sure I must have bought those with my pocket money, and The Famous Five books too – but no I don’t have any old Enid Blyton books in my house now.

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 wouldn’t be embarrassed by any of the books on my shelves at all; as I think it perfectly alright to have anything I have enjoyed residing there. I do have numbers 1 – 18 of the Agatha Raisin books – although they are some of the books that are likely to be culled at some point. They were for a while a kind guilty pleasure (cosy reading I would probably call it) – but I thought the later ones quite poor in comparison to the earlier books – and I have stopped reading them. It’s unlikely I’ll go back to them, so I do feel they are taking up valuable space – they are shelved in the spare room, not to hide them, but I just like my favourite books to be the ones that are more visible.

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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?

One book? – but there are so many I could choose – but two books do spring to mind. I have a lovely 1950’s first edition of The Village by Marghanita Laski that I found by chance in the castle bookshop in Hay on Wye. I was on a lovely weekend away with some good bookish friends and I didn’t even realise at first that I had found a book that had been re- issued by Persephone. I still don’t have a Persephone edition of it to go with it – but a forthcoming trip to the Lambs Conduit street shop may remedy that.   I also have an American edition of I capture the Castle, which was sent to me by a New York bookcrosser about seven years ago, not long after I first joined the bookcrossing community. I have selfishly kept that one instead of passing it on as it is so pretty, and having read that particular copy twice I am loathe to part with it.  I am also rather fond of the three Barbara Pym novels which I have in the Moyer Bell edition – (there is a fourth one of those winging its way to me from the USA that I found on Abebooks recently). I also love each of my Persephone books and guard them jealously I won’t even loan those out to family.

I also have a small collection of Agatha Christie first editions which I do rather love.  None of them are the very early or rare ones, a few of them are just book club editions so not even real first editions as book club editions always came out a year later – but I am rather fond of them, as I have loved Agatha Christie since I was eleven, and several of them are real first editions. The earliest one I have is from about 1951. The price of them does seem to have shot up rather, since I first started buying them, so I haven’t added any to my collection for a few years.

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 always had a lot of books – many were non-fiction and seemed far too dull to excite my imagination when I was young.  However I do remember loving the look of my mother’s book The Far Pavilions by MM Kaye it looked so big, sumptuous and romantic – I also liked the look of Gone with the Wind – for the same reasons I suspect. I read Gone with the Wind – my mother’s copy – when I was about seventeen I think, and loved it, but it was many many years before I read The Far Pavilions.  I can’t remember where the copy I read came from, it may have been my mother’s snaffled when she was weeding out her own shelves, but I don’t currently have either of those on my shelves.

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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 certainly have bought my own copies of books I have borrowed, though I don’t think I have to. I sort of store it away in a wish list in my brain, so that should I come across a copy of the book in a charity bookshop or somewhere I will undoubtedly snaffle it up. Certainly there are books I have read and loved that I want to own, one recent example was The Two Mrs Abbots by D E Stevenson – the third Miss Buncle book – I ordered it from the library and it took six months to come in. I devoured it and loved every word, and so want my own copy. I heard a rumour that Persephone may publish it in the future –I live in hope.

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

Well I added Ruby’s Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni to my permanent collection of books after I finished it a few days ago. I read it a couple of days before meeting the author at a local meet up group I attend. I took my copy with me to get signed and bought two more copies one each for my mother and sister. I have also added a couple more books to my TBR – but they are both books I am certain to keep once they have been read. They are Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier and Civil to Strangers by Barbara Pym which I bought for the Barbara Pym centenary read-a-long.

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

Oh goodness – yes so many. I can’t even begin to list them. Of course I want more Persephone books, and there are many original green Virago Modern Classics that I want too. I especially want Winifred Holtby’s short stories Remember Remember in original green, very hard to get hold of – and would rather like a copy of Lolly Willows by Sylvia Townsend Warner, also in green. I actually bought a green copy of Lolly Willows for a fellow Viragoite  – for a secret Santa gift – I hadn’t realised it was so hard to get. I really am a sucker for physically beautiful editions, of which there are so many coming out these days –  beautifully designed editions of my favourite classics are the ones I particularly covert. I have recently acquired a few penguin clothbound classics – now there is a tiny part of me that wants them all – but such excess would be madness.

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

Oh my I don’t know! That I am a reader of fiction first and foremost and that I like classics; Modern Classics and nineteenth century classics in particular.  That I like mainly women writers, with a few notable exceptions, the Viragos and Persephone books rather give that away. I’m not sure If anyone perusing my shelves would think I was widely read – I don’t claim to be,  I don’t have lots of different genres, and really not that many non-fiction.  I don’t know if there is anything I would want them to think – I’m not sure it matters – I just like what I like – as we all do.

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A huge thanks to Alison for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the 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 Alison’s responses and/or any of the books that she mentioned?

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It’s International Anita Brookner Day…

Well its here.  International Anita Brookner day has arrived on the authors 83rd Birthday, so wishing you a very happy birthday Ms Brookner. I know she knows about the day, her publishers told me that she was ‘tickled pink’ so I hope that they go over to the official International Anita Brookner Day blog and see the posts that you have done from all over the blogosphere and all over the world. I want to say a huge thanks from me and Thomas (who has even tried to get his dog, the lovely Lucy, to give one of her books a whirl) for everyone who has joined in.

I also want to take time to thank Thomas who took a comment I made in an email and made it real and has been much better than me sorry brilliant at push and mentioning the event and making the awesome logo. What a star! I am organising him a little special something to say thanks. Anyway back to business.

Today you can expect me to be popping over to the IABD blog and leaving comments (and playing catch up) on all the posts, I have a post called ‘Anita and Me’ arriving later on today, and if I can finish it, and I am really trying to, another Anita Brookner review of another Anita treat.

So let me know if you have written about her, so I can doubly check that I have read your lovely posts, and enjoy the day. If you still haven’t tried her yet I hope you are enticed. See you on the IABD blog during the day, looking forward to it.

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Five Days To Go…

…Until Thomas and myself host International Anita Brookner Day. Its coming around remarkably quickly, so I wanted to give you all a timely reminder that you have 5 days (which is easily enough time to devour a Brookner, it can be done in a few sittings – so pop to the library on your lunch break… or your local bookshop) and join in with all the fun we will be having on Saturday.

I will have devoured another by then, mind you its taking me ages to decide which one. Typically its ‘Strangers’ – which I don’t have – that I actually fancy reading the most at the moment. I will have to rethink that one I think. Which one will you be reading, or which have you already read? Thomas has done a great post on ‘A Start in Life’/’The Debut’ which I also really loved – its a book lovers book. Do let me know. Oh and don’t forget that it has a site all of its own now.

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Look At Me – Anita Brookner

You may remember that Thomas of ‘My Porch’ and myself are having a special day celebrating all things Anita Brookner. I decided I should get a few read in the lead up, and the first of those was ‘Look At Me’. It’s always interesting when you have decided you are going to do a challenge, and the same applies to some Daphne Du Maurier reading I will be doing for another venture, you become rather worried that the next book you read by that author will put you off, especially when all the ones you have read so far have been a real joy.

Well, I admit that after a great first paragraph, with the brilliant first sentence ‘once a thing is known, it can never be unknown’, I was actually seriously worried that I was going to loathe ‘Look At Me’ from its first five or so pages. The term wading through treacle springs to mind, endless paragraphs on depression, melancholy, death and lunacy. It wasn’t looking good. Thank heavens then that I decided I would give it a first chapter then, because in a single page I was rewarded by some of the types of prose and characters that I have experienced and loved in Brookner’s work before.

‘That’, says Mrs Halloran heavily, after every other one of Nick’s disruptive visits to the Library, ‘is one hell of a man’, at which point Olivia asks her to be quiet and observe the rule of silence, and Mrs Halloran says, ‘Miss Benedict, why don’t you get a hold of that sodding offprint I’ve been asking for every day for the last month instead of telling me what to do? I don’t tell you what to do, do I?’
 ‘You just have’, says Olivia, who is never less than totally composed , and after that they subside for an hour or two, until dissension breaks out again over the matter of whether Mrs Halloran gets a cup of tea or not. Oddly enough, Olivia quite likes her, although I suspect that she finds her life in the Library rather painful at times. But she never says anything. How could she? Apart from her unspoken love for Nick, there is her unspoken dislike of his behaviour. Neither, of course, will ever register with him. It is when I think about this that I congratulate myself on not being in love with anyone. I am not in love with Nick. I am not in love with Dr Leventhal (difficult to imagine) or Dr Simek (even more difficult) or even with James Anstey, even though he is tall and ferocious-looking and presentable and not married and undoubtedly what Mrs Halloran would call a bit of a handful.’    

So what is the subject of ‘Look At Me’? It is interesting that the initial part of the book that bored me with the descriptions of depression and melancholy are in a way what this book is about. In fact I think the best way to describe, our narrator, Frances Hinton’s life is a solitary one, and one that Brookner can do so well. Frances admits that her life is one lived very much alone, where she lives is ‘for old people’, and really for the main the most interaction she has is with her colleagues and that’s how she befriends Nick and his beautiful wife Alix and then becomes adopted as their ‘pet project’.

That’s all I am going to give you in terms of plot because really with a slim volume of 192 pages, if I said too much I would give everything away and you wouldn’t then be put through the emotional (both high and low) wringer that Brookner has in store for you and that would very much be to the detriment of ‘Look At Me’. It’s a book you need to read in order to actually experience it.

I don’t know if that’s enough to satisfy you and ponder giving it a read but I do advise that you do. Brookner is on fine form (well after the initial hurdle) in this book and everything after the awkward start makes up for it without question. Frances is one of Brookner’s wonderful heroines who starts out a little acidic and brittle and yet slowly wins you over. It’s also interesting to watch a character like that unfold, and possibly even unravel.  I don’t know why but I think the fact that she is writer made me like Frances all the more. I did wonder if there was an autobiographical note to this book, maybe that’s just clutching at straws though. I also loved Nancy, Francis’ maid, who it seems loved Francis’ mother, who hired her, and far more than Francis did and won’t let her forget it. The background characters are always vivid and fully formed another thing I love about Brookner.

I know it’s not the longest review, but its not the longest of books – which makes it even more of an ideal read for giving Brookner a try if you haven’t already, or to take a tentative step. I am trying to think of the last time I started a book thinking ‘oh I don’t want to read this’ and ending up thinking ‘oh I don’t want this to end’. That is exactly the effect that ‘Look At Me’ had on this reader. It is such a shame it is out of print. I am only hoping that my further reading of Anita Brookner carries on in the same way. 9/10

This book is one I bought second hand many moons ago.

I am hoping that has wet your appetite, or wet it further for ‘International Anita Brookner Day’ which is now mere weeks away. If the selection of her prose above wasn’t enough, pop to the post below and you will see that there are some other incentives to read-a-long on July 16th! There is of course the possiblility you have read this, if so what did you think? Can any of you recommend which direction I go next with Brookner? I am sure it will be a joy whichever path it takes me down. Oh and who is joining in with International Anita Brookner Day, do let me know.

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Fancy Winning Some Brookner Books?

We are just slightly under a month away from International Anita Brookner Day on July 16th. If you are wondering just what it is, then pop here. For those of you who have yet to begin the very, very easy challenge of participating in IABD, this is meant to be a kick in the pants. Remember all you have to do is read one novel by Anita Brookner by July 16th and then post about it on your blog or send me your thoughts/reviews and I will post them on the official IABD website.

All winners will get the paperback of their choice from the huge selection at The Book Depository.

Remember, you don’t have to have a blog to participate and win. One prize will be given for each category:

Best Review

Best Brookner Related Musing (non-review)

Best Picture of your pet reading Anita Brookner (this can be interpreted loosely)

Participation Prize (random draw from those who didn’t win any of the other awards)

The fine print;

  • Prizes will only be considered for those who submit their writing/picture or link to their blog post to my email address: onmyporch [at] hotmail [dot] com or savidgereads [at] gmail [dot] com. This is the only way we can ensure that everyone who wants to be included is.
  • You must notify us no later than 11:00 PM U.S. Eastern Daylight Savings Time in order to be eligible.
  • All entries will be posted on the official IABD website.
  • Thomas of My Porch and I will be the judges.

***SPECIAL REQUEST: If you are a blogger submitting, please when you submit the link to your review/music post via email, can you also copy and paste the HTML draft of your review/musing in its entirety in the body of your email. I know in Blogger when you are editing a post you can click on the “Edit HTML” tab and then copy every single bit of info there and past it into the body of your email. Hopefully other blog platforms allow you to do likewise. This will greatly help streamline getting your post up on the IABD website.***

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International Anita Brookner Day

I mentioned over the weekend that I was in the mood, and in terms of research in need, of reading more female written fiction over the coming months. I am taking up my own mini challenge of reading as many of The Orange Longlist as I can and with my place on the panel at Lucy Cavendish College in Cambridge’s ‘Women’s Word’ festival discussing men’s reading (or the case of lots of them not) of women writers I wondered if you could tell me some of your favourite female writers. Well I have taken up a small mini challenge with the lovely Thomas of My Porch in order to co-host a day when we celebrate a female author we both really admire and that is Anita Brookner and we would love you to join in.

Last year after I read the stunning ‘A Start in Life’ which has stayed with me ever since, I emailed Thomas about doing something Brookner based, maybe Anita August or some such. However life, as is often its want, got in the way and nothing quite came to fruition… until earlier in the year when Thomas emailed me and now we are having a single day dedicated to the lady herself and ‘International Anita Brookner Day’ was born. (And it is international as Thomas and I are on completely different sides of the Atlantic and we are hoping you all join in from all over the world.) Its single aim is just to get more of you reading Brookner’s work.

So what do you have to do to be involved? One single thing is all that is required, simply read one of her books by the 16th of July 2011 (which will be Brookner’s 83rd Birthday) and tell myself and Thomas about it and we will link you and your thoughts whilst doing some posts of our own on the day, and hopefully (if I can make it happen) we will have some lovely international giveaways. So far Thomas has been much more ‘Brookner busy’ than me coming up with a wonderful button for the day (see above) and also a list of all her works you can choose from and where to head. I am pleading sickness as a reason for my slowness in mentioning all this, but better late than never.

If you are wondering ‘why on earth should I read Anita Brookner?’ the answer simply ‘you just should’ yet is a hard one to put my finger on instantly. I would say it’s a certain quiet writing charm. Some people find her depressing, which I can see as she is quite melancholic sometimes but its immensely readable. She’s understated, she’s subtle, every word counts and her books are about people and places rather than an overwhelming plot. If you like your books with plots fear not though, they are there. I haven’t read a huge range of her work as yet, though the ones that I have read have been stunning and over the last couple of years since reading her Booker winning ‘Hotel Du Lac’, which charmed me instantly, I have been buying her back catalogue as and when I see it.

I now have the perfect chance in the lead up to July the 16th to devour the ones I own which are ‘Altered States’, Falling Slowly’, ‘Latecomers’, ‘Look At Me’ and ‘The Bay of Angels’ though you know what I am like, I will be using this as an excuse to get all the ones I don’t have in the lead up to it too and reporting back on them, and reminding you to get reading her too. So will you be joining us, I do hope everyone who pops by Savidge Reads will, and which of her 24 titles might you choose?

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Blaming – Elizabeth Taylor

I have been told by many a friend and reader of this blog that I ‘simply must read Elizabeth Taylor’. You can call me slow on the uptake but until I had done some research the only Elizabeth Taylor that I knew of was the actress. It happened that in the library the other week they had a lovely old copy of ‘Blaming’ by Elizabeth Taylor as they were ‘digging up forgotten gems from the basement’. I liked the cover, loved the fact no one had taken it out for about a decade and thinking of all the recommendations I promptly picked it up.

Not having previously read any Elizabeth Taylor novels before I didn’t really know what to expect from ‘Blaming’ if I am honest, maybe something a little twee.  The story opens in Istanbul where Amy and Nick are taking a holiday after his recovering of an illness, what it is we are never quite sure. Here they meet the American Martha, a novelist which they don’t know initially, who is travelling alone. Slowly but surely the three start to become acquainted and before they know it, or have even really consented to it, Amy and Nick find they are sharing a holiday with someone who was until recently a stranger.

“Nick was reading her book about Byzantine art. On the flyleaf was written ‘Dear Martha, I’ll miss you. Love, Simon.’ He and Amy had discussed this, for they couldn’t place Martha, though were less occupied with her than she with them. The three of them, knowing nothing of one another, were cast together by their language and nothing else.”

As the trip continues tragedy strikes, this could be a spoiler so you might want to stop reading or skip this paragraph though it does tell you on the blurb and happens early in the novel, when Nick dies in the night. Amy is left widowed and stranded alone in a foreign country with no one to help her or comfort her than Martha who almost relishes the role especially as an observer. Once back in England Martha tries to get into Amy’s life once more, and with reluctance though as an escape from her rather irritating family (both to the reader and Amy) slowly but surely she allows this friendship to blossom even though she doesn’t want it too and the two are drawn in to each others lives through a mixture of grief, guilt and blame.

I won’t say anymore about the plot as it’s a short book and I would recommend that you gave it a whirl yourself. Taylor never quite puts us into the heads of any of the characters, including Amy’s wonderful cook/parlour man Ernie who provides some brilliant and occasionally needed light relief when he appears on the page, yet she shows us just enough of their motives to see we need to read more and that not everything might be quite as it seems.

‘Blaming’ was actually Elizabeth Taylor’s last novel, in fact having done some research it was published posthumously in 1976 a year after her death. Her writing is beautiful yet sparse, no words are used that needn’t be. Initially though there doesn’t appear to be a huge plot there is so much going on. We observe people and what they do and how they react to circumstances learning how there is much more to every action, and indeed every page, than meets the eye.  along the lines of Jennifer Johnston and Anita Brookner, whose books I have enjoyed as much, Taylor is an author who watches the world and then writes about it with a subtly and emotion that seems to capture the human condition. 8.5/10

Now that I have read Taylor I think I am going to have to delve into her back catalogue for many more of her novels, so do recommend more if you have read her. I am also itching to read another Brookner or Johnston. Which other authors have you read where subtly wins over initial storylines? Is the observational a form of fiction you enjoy?

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