Tag Archives: Anne Tyler

The Tournament of Books 2016

For the last few years I have heard the lovely Ann and Michael, of Books on the Nightstand, mention a mysterious thing called The Tournament of Books. Before many of you laugh or look at the screen and say ‘pah!’, we can’t know everything about books and this is something that happens in the states rather than over here, though admittedly thanks to the internet the world is a much smaller place. It happens every March and it is roughly around the end I finally remember to investigate by which time I have missed out on lots of the fun. Thankfully this year Frances from NonSuchBook reminded me on Twitter and so I have decided to try and read along as it sounds a) like it will introduce me to some new reads b) push some reads up my TBR c) be fun in the realm of the Guardian’s Not the Booker, so I am in.

If you haven’t followed the ToB before, here’s the summary: Starting in early March and proceeding each weekday, one of our judges—the full list is below—will read two books, choose one to advance, and explain how they reached their decision. The criteria is entirely personal; we merely ask for no basketball metaphors, and that the judge render their decision-making process in full transparency, and also tell you any connections they might have to the authors and/or books involved. Then our commentators, Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner, weigh in, followed by the wonderful community of readers that turn the comments section into one of the smarter, more interesting discussions of contemporary fiction that we know about. There. Simple-ish.

I think really the best way to go about it is to get reading (thankfully I have already read the longest one, can you guess which one it is?) and he is the list of books that have formed the Tournament of Books 2016 shortlist…

  • The New World by Chris Adrian and Eli Horowitz
  • The Sellout by Paul Beatty
  • Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson
  • The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
  • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
  • Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
  • Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving
  • Ban en Banlieue by Bhanu Kapil
  • The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli
  • The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • The Whites by Richard Price
  • Oreo by Fran Ross
  • The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard
  • A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
  • The Invaders by Karolina Waclawiak
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

You can find out about each title here. Shock horror, I have only read one of these books (which I have added a link to) but I do own a few (which I have popped in italics) of them. Also having perused the list in full there are lots and lots of book there that I want to read both that I have heard of and some which I had no clue about but might have ordered copies of to come from the US of A – hey I am thinking of reads for my holiday in a few weeks, and as I cannot locate any of my own books what else was I to do? So which are these books, funny you should ask I thought I would share my thoughts.

Anne Tyler and Chris Adrian I have read before and loved, I had no idea the Adrian was already out in the UK so that pleased me. Kent Haruf I have meant to read since forever. When I was in America last year I very nearly bought both Oreo by Fran Ross and The Turner House by Angela Flournoy as they sounds like books I wanted, in fact it was Flournoy’s setting of Detroit after visiting it which I was fascinated by. The Whites had a rave review from Jason Steiger on my favourite book TV show, The ABC Book Club, so it’s been on my periphery. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathiser made it onto my list of books of the first six months of 2016 (you can hear me talk about it and 12 others on The Readers here, a post of a full massive list will go live on the blog on Tuesday) so I will by that when it comes out next month. Then there are the unknowns of which Ban en Banlieue has me at hello, so much so I ordered it from the publisher. Erm, in hindsight I have pretty much mentioned the entire list so no wonder it has got my bookish bits excited. Mind you the longlist also had me very tempted too. Ha!

So which to read first? Anyone else joining in with this, done it before or are completely new to it like me? Have you read any of the books and what did you make of them?

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The Man Booker Prize Shortlist 2015

Sorry if I have been a bit quiet of late. The new job that I mentioned the other week has been a bit bonkers (in a brilliant way), I was also at Gladfest , then giving a masterclass to some brilliant new reviewers and bloggers up in Newcastle whilst also working on something secret but very fun with Lynne of Dovegreyreader which we might be able to talk about next year, sorry to be a tease. Oh and I have been reading for Booktopia Petoskey next week. Phew, it has been a bit manic!

Anyway to show I still have my finger on the booky pulse here is the Man Booker Shortlist (you can see my thoughts on the longlist here) for you all, if you haven’t seen it already.

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  • Marlon James (Jamaica) – A Brief History of Seven Killings (Oneworld Publications)
  • Tom McCarthy (UK) – Satin Island (Jonathan Cape)
  • Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria) – The Fishermen (ONE, Pushkin Press)
  • Sunjeev Sahota (UK) – The Year of the Runaways (Picador)
  • Anne Tyler (US) – A Spool of Blue Thread (Chatto & Windus)
  • Hanya Yanagihara (US) – A Little Life (Picador)

I am really keen on it, obviously because Yanagihara is my book of the decade and that’s in the mix, but also because I want to read every single one of the other five. In fact I may have to buy Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island as a treat for myself (and my new job, coughs – this excuse will last months) at lunchtime. I like the mix of authors and the disparity between publishers (which I didn’t like but didn’t bemoan when the longlist came out) seems to have been more balanced out, unintentionally I am sure.

What are your thoughts? Which have you read and what did you make of them? Which do you want to read?

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The Man Booker Prize Longlist 2015…

So yesterday I had fun guessing what the Man Booker Longlist would be and now, as I you all want to know what it is before you hear my possibly garbled thoughts on it, here are the books that Ellah Allfrey, John Burnside, Sam Leith and Frances Osborne all judged as being super special and the finest fiction…

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  • Bill Clegg (US) – Did You Ever Have a Family (Jonathan Cape)
  • Anne Enright (Ireland) – The Green Road (Jonathan Cape)
  • Marlon James (Jamaica) – A Brief History of Seven Killings (Oneworld Publications)
  • Laila Lalami (US) – The Moor’s Account (Periscope, Garnet Publishing)
  • Tom McCarthy (UK) – Satin Island (Jonathan Cape)
  • Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria) – The Fishermen (ONE, Pushkin Press)
  • Andrew O’Hagan (UK) – The Illuminations (Faber & Faber)
  • Marilynne Robinson (US) – Lila (Virago)
  • Anuradha Roy (India) – Sleeping on Jupiter (MacLehose Press, Quercus)
  • Sunjeev Sahota (UK) – The Year of the Runaways (Picador)
  • Anna Smaill (New Zealand) – The Chimes (Sceptre)
  • Anne Tyler (US) – A Spool of Blue Thread (Chatto & Windus)
  • Hanya Yanagihara (US) – A Little Life (Picador)

Surprise surprise as I was absolutely nowhere near correct as I only guessed three. What are my initial thoughts? Well, since you asked so nicely, I think that the list is as always an interesting one. I have read ? of them and am obviously thrilled about A Little Life being on the list, I may even have done a little dance in the lounge which is only for the eyes of my cats. I am also really excited to see Chigozie Obioma and Marlon James on there. I think what is interesting is that some of the big hitters everyone expected to be on the list aren’t. No Ishiguro, no Atwood, no Atkinson (boo), no Toibin etc – which I actually find quite exciting. Firstly all those books are selling like hotcakes so that’s them sorted, secondly it means there are some books that will get a chance to be discussed that might not have been. In the industry we all know of Tyler, Enright, McCarthy and Robinson but outside of the industry is that the case? And then there are even more to discover, I want to read Sahota pronto now, I loved his first. My only minor niggle is Gattis not being on the list, oh and where are all the Australian and Canadian authors. Anyway… I need to mull it all over a little more but overall I think its an interesting list I may well delve into. As it stands I want Yanagihara to win.

So what are your thoughts on the longlist? Which of them have you read and what did you make of them? Which ones are you now planning on reading? I am asking the latter question myself. I might go for all the ones I haven’t you know, maybe…

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The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist 2016…

The Women’s Prize for Fiction is one of the prizes that I get excited about every year, indeed trying to guess the longlist of (failing delightfully) every year as I tend to read more female authors than male authors – which I should look into more I think. Anyway, here they are the six novels that have made the shortlist from the twenty strong longlist (of which a group of lovely bloggers have been shadow judging)…

  • Outline by Rachel Cusk
  • The Bees by Laline Paull
  • A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie
  • How To Be Both by Ali Smith
  • A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
  • The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

As you might guess I am ECSTATIC about Laline Paull’s The Bees being on the list. It was one of my first reads of this year and I just adored it. I have also read the Kamila Shamsie and should really pull my finger out with a review of that one soon. I shall get it live for you all on Thursday, promise. I have read and enjoyed both Waters and Tyler before, Rachel Cusk though is an author I have yet to encounter.

Even more thrilling I am also excited because tomorrow I find out which of the shortlisted books the lovely folk at the Bailey’s Prize will be sending me (one I haven’t read yet, I believe) and also to five of you to read along with me before the winner is announced on the 3rd of June 2016. And yes you read that right, along with five of you… How you can win a copy of the book I will let you know in the next day or so, as soon as I know what it is.

In the meantime what do you think of the list? Any you would have switched, or are you happy as it is? Which have you read?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #54 – Susan Halligan

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 off to Manhattan, to join Susan who has nicely just popped the kettle on and will be serving us all some pastries and the like, so kind. Before we have a nosey through her shelves, let’s find out more about her…

I’m a digital marketer and work (mostly) with non-profits on social media strategy, online and offline communications integration, content development, analytics and implementation. You can learn more about my work here. I’ve lived in Manhattan for most of my adult life and grew up in Baltimore, that wonderful, complex city that manages to be both Anne Tyler as well as The Wire and is home to the beautiful Enoch Pratt Central Library. I spent a lot of time in libraries as a kid (I was parked there after school, because both my parents worked) and remain an advocate of them as an important community resource. I even worked in one — The New York Public Library — one of the worlds greatest. I began my career in book publishing and still have many friends in the industry. I thank them all for continuing to send me free 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?

A book does not have to be a masterpiece for me to wedge it into the shelves. If I like it, I generally keep it. I have a weakness for fast-paced mysteries (The Girl on the Train is the most recent example) and I very often pass those along to family and friends. About a quarter of the books on my shelves are unread. Should I admit that? The reasons vary: someone sent me the book and I just wasn’t interested in the subject, but I appreciated the gesture; I started the book, but couldn’t get going with it (and these include a couple of literary masterpieces); and the books that I am determined to read … one day, like The Adventures of Augie March.

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 organized very broadly: cookbooks all together, by cuisine or subject. Art books — one long bottom shelf — together, Rembrandt next to Michelangelo. They painted, right? Oh, yes, Michelangelo sculpted. Perhaps I should move him next to the Rodin. Fiction, by author. As I glance over I do see that all the Highsmith’s and Cormac McCarthy’s ‘s are together, one after the other. Half my shelves are devoted to biographies (from Princess Diana to the LBJ of Robert’s Caro’s magisterial biography) and history, mostly 20th Century, everything from Margaret Macmillan’s Paris 1919 to Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower about the lead up to 9/11. I love big, sweeping looks at lives — the famous and the forgotten — and history. I consider these two particular interests my continuing education.

I do not alphabetize and rarely cull.

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

Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (Second Edition.) I bought it in a bookshop in Lagos, Nigeria. I wasn’t particularly drawn to Communism (likely I had no idea what it was), I simply loved the red plastic cover. And, yes, it still has a place on my shelves.

Here’s one of Chairman Mao’s quotes: “We are now carrying out a revolution not only in the social system, the change from private to public ownership, but also in technology, the change from handicraft to large-scale modern machine production, and the two revolutions are inter-connected.” Hmm.

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

I am completely unembarrassed to admit that I love books about the movies. This includes bios, cheesy as well as scholarly, and inside Hollywood accounts. Barry Paris’ Garbo, Katharine Hepburn’s Me, A. Scott Berg’s Goldwyn, Debbie Reynolds’ autobiography and tons of others have a home on my shelves. Anything that gives me a look behind-the-scenes at the movies — Old Hollywood, New Hollywood — delights me. Steven Bach’s Final Cut about the disastrous meet up of money v creative in the making of the movie, Heaven’s Gate, is probably the best inside-Hollywood account ever written and should be required reading for any entrepreneur today. Brooke Hayward’s Haywire, about the disintegration of the marriage of her parents, the 1930s cult actress Margaret Sullavan (The Shop Around the Corner) and the bigger-than-life Broadway producer, Leland Heyward, and its eternal effect on the lives of their three children, remains a devastating read.

Fun fact: Katharine Hepburn and Leland Hayward had a romance in the early 1930s before his marriage to Margaret Sullavan. In Me, Hepburn describes their relationship this way: “I could see very quickly that I suited Leland perfectly. I liked to eat at home and go to bed early. He liked to eat out and go to bed late. So he had a drink when I had dinner and then off he’d go. Back at midnight. Perfect friendship.”

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?

The Junior Illustrated Library signed by my maternal grandparents and given to me between the ages of six and eight.

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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?

“Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” I was 14. I thought I could learn something from Scarlett. A friend gave me a boxed 60th Anniversary edition of Gone With the Wind.

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?

Timely question. A friend’s mother just loaned me Thomas Beller’s J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist. I will definitely add to my shelves just to reread the section where Beller is in the Princeton University library moving between two tables of Salinger papers, the one with his laptop set up and a box of material that he was allowed to quote from, and the other, with letters, that he was prohibited to quote from. At that table, he’d read a bit, try to memorize something and then scoot back to the table with the laptop and start typing. A librarian never stopped him.

I got my first iPad about four years ago. From that moment, every book I read was digital. I did not add them to my shelves (just the cloud.) And then about six months ago, I began to weary of the screen and the swipe and long for the pinch of paper between thumb and forefinger as I turned the page. To test whether this was a phase or a physical need, I reread three books in hard cover — all novels — that had made especially powerful impressions on me at one point. Could I still read a physical book? Were the books as wonderful as I remembered?

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The Great Gatsby still glistens. Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist is still one of the most thrilling-paced and potent novels that I have ever read. And that end? I still don’t know exactly what happened. It’s haunting. Twenty odd years ago, I read Peter Taylor’s exquisitely written A Summons to Memphis in the back seat of a car as my parents drove me back to New York after the Christmas holidays in Baltimore. It’s a story about a sympathetic older widower who falls in love and wants to remarry, but is thwarted by his evil children. That’s how I remembered it anyway. This time? Still beautifully written (and if you haven’t read Taylor’s two novels and his many short stories, get thee to a bookstore.) But my conclusions about the family completely flipped: the father was far less sympathetic, now revealed as selfish and emotionally absent from his children while they were growing up. The children remain manipulative and cruel, but the reasons why are far more complex. An interesting exercise to read a book when you are young and then re-read after you’ve experienced more of life’s nicks.

So I have a new rule: I will only read fiction on paper and I will buy the books in stores, not on the Internet.

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

Charles Blow’s Fire Shut Up In My Bones. Blow is a New York Times columnist that I admire a lot. He writes with a clarity that has cumulative power. He’s been an important voice in much of the recent anguished conversation about racism in the United States, from the death of Trayvon Martin to the Oscar snubs of the movie, Selma. The book is a memoir of his growing up in rural Louisiana. Months before the book’s publication, Blow began to tweet and Facebook like mad about the book to build interest. Turns out he’s a genius marketer, too. Authors should closely study his pre-publication, digital promotion model (@CharlesMBlow)

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

Lemony’s Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. I’ve read them all, borrowed from my niece, Amy, but I only have the first, The Bad Beginning. Never was a book so inaptly named, it was a fantastic beginning. I also must find a hard copy of Mommie Dearest 🙂

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

Whenever someone comes over, even repeat visitors, they spend some time eye-balling the shelves. The shelves run floor-to-ceiling along a 21-foot wall and are hard to ignore. Sometimes the objects displayed attract attention — especially my grandmother’s clock and the pieces of African art — but, mostly it’s the books. I have a lot of interests (did I mention the boxes of board games at the bottom of one shelf?) and am endlessly curious. I hope my shelves reflect that. I love it when a visitor pulls a book off the shelf and opens it up…

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

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Guessing the Bailey’s Prize Longlist 2015

I haven’t done this for a year or two I don’t think, yet as it is International Women’s Day it seemed fitting for me to celebrate it by celebrating female authors and what could do that better than by playing guess the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction longlist which will be revealed on Tuesday next week. Initially I didn’t think I would be able to hazard a guess at this, yet when I started thinking about the books that I have read and loved plus went and looked through my shelves of all the books I have meant to read in the last year I suddenly had far too many. You see that is my criteria for guessing, which books have I read and loved that are eligable and which ones would I love to see listed because I am desperate to read them and think they may well be corkers, as may you!

So here are the books that I have read and would LOVE to see on the list on Tuesday, I have linked if I have reviewed them…

The Bees by Laline Paull, He Wants by Alison Moore, After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry, Thirst by Kerry Hudson, Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth, The Repercussions by Catherine Hall (which I edited one edition of so haven’t reviewed yet but will with that caveat) and finally The Miniturist by Jessie Burton, which I just read and absolutely adored, more soon.

Then for the books that I really want to read…

Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill (which I actually have finished since scheduled this post), Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre, How to be Both by Ali Smith, Mr Mac and Me by Esther Freud, An Untamed State by Roxanne Gay, Rise by Karen Campbell, Her by Harriet Lane, Weathering by Lucy Wood, I Am China by Xiaolu Guo, Mother Island by Bethan Roberts and Young God by Katherine Faw Morris.

(I could also have mentioned The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart which I have read all of. And I also mulled over Academy Street by Mary Costello, The Ship by Antonia Honeywell, The Exit by Helen Fitzgerald, The First Bad Man by Miranda July, Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, A Blue Spool of Thread by Anne Tyler and The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer.)

Blimey hasn’t it been an amazing year, again, for women’s fiction. What are your thoughts on the Bailey’s Prize longlist, let me know if you have had a guess and if not which ones would you like to see on the list? Have you read any of the above and if so what did you think? Who would you love to win?

P.S Sorry the pictures aren’t all the same size, it is setting off my OCD slightly too!

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The Books We Keep Meaning To Read…

Why do we save books for that elusive rainy day? This is something I have been pondering a lot of late and decided that I need to address in my own reading habits. Do not fear this is not going to be a challenge as I have promised myself that I am not going to be doing any of those, which is weirdly a challenge in itself. So maybe I do have one challenge. Anyway, before my head hurts, I mentioned this with Thomas when we recorded The Readers and I said I wasn’t even going to be doing a ‘reading for Gran challenge this year’, I think she would actually be telling me to just read what I want when I want. Though I can also imagine her saying ‘but why do you always need to read contemporary fiction and the latest this and that’. I can imagine it because she said it one day in the hospital a few months before she died. She would be/is right I have soooooo many books that I have been saving for that elusive rainy day, not actually noticing that it rains rather a bloody lot here.

That illusive rainy day...

That elusive rainy day…

Initially I thought of older books, which I will come to shortly, yet there are some newer ones too. I have the joy of interviewing (slight name drop alert) Tess Gerritsen tomorrow and I realised that I had let myself get woefully behind with the Rizzoli and Isles series. Part of this is because I like to have some ahead as I love the series so much I am scared it will stop and the other, you guessed it, that rainy day. Well I have broken with tradition and read the latest one and will have the two I have missed to catch up with. (Another bookish OCD thing I have is that I have to read a series in order, on the whole!) Yet why do I wait? I might get run over by a bus tomorrow – though hopefully not. This applies to lots of series but also to books by new to me contemporary authors I love, like Jenn Ashworth. I am in love with her writing at the moment, waited till a new year to read her second book… but why should I wait till next year to read her third to spread them out? Madness. I should binge till I feel sick surely?

This of course applies to older books, be they classic classics or modern classics. Why have I held of reading all the Margaret Atwood/Kazuo Ishiguro/Anne Tyler books from the last several decades that I have bought over the years and sit on my shelves or in boxes? Why do I pace my Daphne Du Maurier or Muriel Spark’s, is it because they are dead so I won’t find more? Wouldn’t I be furious if I didnt read them all by the time (hopefully in about 60 years) I am on my deathbed thinking of my reading life? Then of course there are the classics, many of which I know I want to read but don’t like a very silly sausage. It’s time to think on Savidge!!

So I have decided I am going to ban the term ‘saving it for a rainy day’ and informally (because I am not seeing this as a challenge like I said) I am going to think about all the books I have always meant to read and bring them back into my reading diet. An unofficial ‘books before I am forty’ list might appear, it might not. I might just see, like my main aim of the year ‘sod it and hurrar!’ What do you think and which books have you been saving for a rainy day and why?

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Trespassing with Tremain…

It has been a year since Gran died. A year which seems to have gone all too quickly and also weirdly slowly all at once. How does time do that? Naturally I have thought about her daily since, at the weirdest of times, and missed her a huge amount both as my Gran and also as being one of the most bookish influences I had around me. I miss speaking three times a week about anything and everything and ending up on seeing how we were getting on with X or Y book, I still finish a book and wondering if she would like it, I miss reading the same book and having the same good or bad thoughts on it or polar opposite thoughts which we could get into heated debates about, I miss discussing our latest book group lists and meetings. The list could go on.

I was umming and ahhhhing how to mark the year since her passing. Did I mention it? Did I just let life go on? Having recently read one of the books I inherited from her, A Month in the Country, and loving it so much I thought maybe it was time to do something like Greene for Gran again and see if, like you all did amazingly last year, you would like to join in. The question was who or what to read?

My initial thought was to go for authors that she loved that I had read like Graham Greene last year. The choices could be Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood, John Updike, William Trevor, Antony Trollope (gulp) and Anne Tyler etc. Yet the bittersweet joy, because I couldn’t talk to her about it afterwards, in reading A Month in the Country was that she had introduced me to a new author and favourite book, even though (annoyingly) she doesn’t know it. I also decided that I quite fancied a more contemporary, and indeed living, author would make a change. So I ransacked my brain for the authors she had lots of books by and I had read and the answer was obvious…

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Rose Tremain, Gran raved and raved about Restoration, The Colour, The Road Home, Music and Silence and Trespass. In fact I seem to remember giving my proof/new incoming copies of anything Tremain because I knew the buzz she would get from having them early. I think she had almost all of Rose Tremain’s thirteen novels and a few of her short story collections. I can also remember how annoyed she would get when she asked if I had read any of them, ironically forgetting I had sent them her way, and my response would be ‘not yet, but I will’ with the response ‘you’d better.’

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Well Gran, guess what, in honour of you I am going to try Trespassing with Tremain into all the different era’s and lives that she writes about. I am thinking of reading and writing about four of her books and one of her short story collections – one every fortnight – from the 10th of August until the 5th of October. I will announce which ones when in due course, after your recommendations really. So where to start and who is up for joining me and hopefully finding some more great reads?

 

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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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Thanks Mum, For Making Me Read

If I am honest I do think that Mothering Sunday, which is upon us here in the UK, is actually a big mass of cash spinning marketing. If you like your Mum, tell her when you see her or speak to her, if you don’t like her then don’t tell her, or see her. Ha! Anyway, that aside I thought it might actually be a nice idea to do a post about my mother considering without her influence I wouldn’t be the reader I am today and I am not sure I have ever thanked her for that in person, so I thought I would do it publically. She’ll be embarrassed but that is what sons are for or is that what parents are for? Either way…

My mother (that’s her there —>) had me at the age of 16 years old back in 1982, in fact almost 30 years ago to the week how apt (apparently she is ‘fine, yes fine, why do you ask’ about being 46 and having a soon to be 30 year old son). Not that it was the dark ages, but at that time not only was it a rather shocking occurrence it was also one that could curtail your studies and career, especially if you were going to be a single mum, as my Mum was even though she had the support of my grandparents. This wasn’t to be the case with my mum, she carried on her studies and took me with her to Newcastle where she gained a degree in Classics. I always say that having been to university from the ages of three to six is why I didn’t feel the need to go myself, excuses, excuses.

It is at university that my first memories of Mum reading to me are the strongest. I can vividly remember, after me throwing matchbox toy cars at her head to wake her up at 6am, the joy of getting into bed with her in the morning and being read children’s classics like the Ladybird Fairytales, Roald Dahl, Jill Murphy and the seminal works of ‘The Adventures of He-Man’ or ‘The Adventures of She-Ra’. It was also at this point books really took on a life of their own when she would read me the stories my granddad wrote and illustrated for me, which even featured me in them (and a certain Novel Insights who I had befriended aged 4), about the tales of a witch called Esmeralda and all her friends. You can see them below and read about them further here.

Studying Classics meant I also got the entire myths and legends from the Greeks and indeed the Romans regularly, I don’t know if it was because of her enthusiasm for the subject or if it helped her revise, in fact most nights. I seem to remember this is when ‘The Saga of Erik the Viking’ by Terry Jones appeared on the scene and was read often along with the nonetheless epic ‘Flat Stanley’. However it was an illustrated edition of the story of Persephone which I vividly remember from the time and would read over and over. I lost the love for Classics when I became a teenager and my Mum was teaching it at my school, odd that, but it’s nice to see it has recently been awakened by Madeline Miller’s ‘The Song of Achilles’ where the joy of reading about the gods, goddesses and monsters (I had a moment of utter joy when a centaur first graced the pages of this book) has been reignited. More on that tomorrow…

The library was a  place we always went regularly, as were charity shops. I remember once buying a new version of the story of Perseus from Oxfam for 50p, Mum opening it impressed and then seeing the joy drain from her face as she swiftly returned it, it seemed it was a rather over racy (Perseus does porn kind of thing) version of the story and not really appropriate for a young boy of eleven. Sherlock Holmes was though, and as my great uncle memorised them on walking holidays to stop me being bored, we would pop to Waterstones (a real treat) on the way home after she had picked me up to get a new collection, this was also when we fell upon Robin Jarvis and ‘The Whitby Witches’.

A year or so later Mum gave me my first proper grown up book in the form of ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Suskind, I wonder if my Nancy Drew obsession that summer when we went to Africa had made her worried I would end up with no taste – I still like a crime. Her attitude was if I was going to start reading grown up literature it had to be the good stuff. This was followed by attempts to lead me to Margaret Atwood but I wasn’t biting. I was studying books, and whilst my Mum might have become a good English teacher, my English teacher (one of her colleagues, oops) was slowly taking all the joy out of reading and after I left school early I avoided books like the plague. Mum had laid the foundations though.

In fact looking back whenever I ended up living back at home, which happened a few times after some particularly bad relationship decisions I made and their tumultuous endings, Mum would let me have a good cry and suggest ‘maybe pick up a book’. This could have been to show me books are always there for you, or it could have been to provide some escape, or she maybe just wanted me to stop crying and leave her alone, ha. Whatever the reason though at times of turmoil bookshelves and books would be in my head, even if I wasn’t rushing out to buy them, and they still are. When things have turned to the proverbial, pick up a good book, or a bad one.

Nowadays of course when we see each other books are one of the main things we talk about – who cares how the other one of us is, what we have been reading is far more important. Our tastes can be bang on (Anne Tyler, Margaret Atwood, Samantha Harvey) or completely polar (Susan Hill, owning a Kindle) but we both love books and really that’s down to her, with some help from Gran too of course. It’s nice seeing she has done the same with my thirteen year old sister (though Twilight, really?) and eleven year old brother (Harry Potter ‘which he is reading quicker than me and won’t wait’) and she continues to do so as an English teacher, in a school where kids aren’t generally fans of books but they will be, or else.

So thank you Mum for giving me the gift of books, the encouragement to read and forcing me into the library when sometimes I didn’t want to go. Look what it lead to. Happy Mothers Day.

You can read my Mums favourite books here and see her get a readers grilling here.

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Do We Ever Know The Reader We Are aka The Mad Ramblings of a Book Lover

I can almost hear one or two of you saying ‘but does it matter?’ simply from reading the title of today’s post, and the answer is that maybe it doesn’t, but bear with me. One of the things that I most love about books is also one of the things that freaks me out the most. I will never in my life time be able to read all the books that I really want to read. I have been tinkering with some pages behind the scenes that will be appearing on the site in the next week or so and they have led me to pondering this matter, along with the fact that in just seven days I will be turning thirty which is giving me food for thought in all aspects of my life. In terms of books though, will I ever know what sort of reader I am?

One of the new pages I have been tinkering with is a page which will feature all my favourite authors with their entire bibliographies (I think I have possibly pilfered this idea from Kim at Reading Matters, best form of flattery and all that). This is so that I can see which ones I have read since I have been blogging and which I have missed, so slowly but surely I can make my way through all of them, I might even revisit the ones I have already read pre-blog. Doing this I was surprised at how many of my favourite authors I have not read in ages. Apart from Margaret Atwood, Daphne Du Maurier, Nancy Mitford, Wilkie Collins and Susan Hill I have actually been a little bit rubbish. What happened to wanting to read everything by Anne Tyler, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Muriel Spark, Colm Toibin, Kazuo Ishiguro, Haruki Murakami etc when I know I love their writing so much?

In part I know it is because loving books as I do, and knowing so many people who feel the same way, lots of lovely new shiny books or authors are put in my path. I am not just talking about latest releases and books that are receiving lots of exciting and tempting buzz here either, though I am grateful to everyone who recommended I read ‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller which I have just finished and adored. I am also talking about authors who have been going for years, some still producing works and some who have sadly passed away, and have a huge back catalogue, that invariably if I have loved my first reading experience I want to go and read the whole lot of. Just this week I had the absolute joy of reading Beryl Bainbridge  for the first time and adoring ‘The Bottle Factory Outing’ (thanks to Gaskella), her narrative voice chimed in with my sense of humour and her writing style was on the money to the style I like to read. So I have now opened ‘Every Man for Himself’ after spotting it in the hospital charity shop yesterday. The rest of the TBR can wait.

I sometimes wonder if having an extensive (you could read that as excessive if you wished) TBR can be a hindrance rather than a joyful personal library, which is what I tell myself it is – you could also call it hoarding. I also wonder if blogging is a help or a hindrance too, but that’s another subject for another time, back to my TBR thoughts.

Since I have moved house I purposefully hid my boxes of unread books to see how long it would be before I routed one out. It has happened all of three times in a month, I seem to be reading new books in from publishers a bit (though my incoming has lessened considerably as I have come to a lovely new agreement with publishers), buying books on occasion in the charity shop down the road which I seem unable to walk past without falling into (how does this happen) or in the main getting books from the library (my new favourite book haunt). I have no idea quite what this is telling me but I do wonder if my tastes are changing again, I think they always evolve, and hence why all those lovely books I have got along the way are left lingering in air tight boxes down the side of my wardrobe that I can’t see.

This may change with my plan of having the ‘Forty for Forty’ page on the blog. All those books you have suggested, and keep them coming here, along with those I have been browsing library and bookshop shelves for which I/you/we ‘should have read’ by the time I/you/we are forty (or ninety or anything in between, under or over come to that). A lot of them are in those air tight boxes behind that wardrobe and have been waiting to be read for some time, years and years in some cases, since I bought them based on the fact that I felt if I was a real reader I would have to jave read that some day.

This could, of course, be lethal. I could end up with a list of forty more authors who have been thrown in my reading path and I want to read everything by (though some of them might have only written one book in which case I will sulk that there are no more for me to find – poor books, they can’t win) taking random detours with. But then is that a bad thing? I guess if it means I am missing out on my favourite authors other works then it is? Hmmm, tricky!

I like to think I have a pretty eclectic taste and therefore as I wander randomly down the yellow brick road that is my reading path in life, reading all sorts of lovely (and occasionally not so lovely) books, do I lose a sense of who I am as a reader? Should I not know by now, as my third decade spreads in front of me all sparkly and new, know what books I do and don’t like? Should I give up on experimenting, which can go wonderfully right as well as horribly wrong, with new books and authors be they new-new or new to me and stick to what I know? I don’t think I should, yet how do you get the balance just right?

Maybe what I need to do is accept that we never really know the readers we are and that actually that is the whole fun of it? Over time, maybe, in some point in my life reading the authors that I know and love as well as experimenting with the ones I don’t know but might love will reach a natural equilibrium? Maybe I just need to face the dreaded fact I mentioned earlier that I will never read all the books I want to in life… and get over it, move on, pick up a book and just get on with it?

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The Orange Prize Longlist 2012?

The Orange Prize seems to have snuck up on me this year. I had it in my head that the announcement was on the 16th of March until I realised that actually that was 2011’s dates. It took ages to then get confirmation (by searching round the internet for hours) that it was to be the 8th and suddenly now Orange has a lovely new sparkly website, and indeed it will be announced in mere hours. Well I love guessing any prize list, and the Orange is no exception. I have a lot of love for this prize as generally I do prefer female writers (sweeping statement alert) to male ones overall, so I am always excited to see the final list of twenty. In the meantime here are my twenty guesses and why I made those calls…

First up my favourite four books by women last year have to be my first choices. Those were without question ‘Gillespie and I’ by Jane Harris, ‘The Proof Of Love’ by Catherine Hall, ‘There But For The…’ by Ali Smith and ‘The Borrower’ by Rebecca Makkai. I would absolutely love to see this four make the cut, you can click on their titles to see my reviews and gushings over each one – seriously these are four blooming brilliant books!

Next up were books, if any, that have made the cut this year and how could I not include ‘The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey which I loved and ‘Girl Reading’ by Katie Ward which I haven’t reviewed on here yet (though I have on the telly, ha). Next up were the books that I started last year, didn’t finish though no idea why as I was enjoying them, and so wouldn’t mind reading/starting again should the mood take me. In come ‘Go To Sleep’ by Helen Walsh and ‘Half Blood Blues’ by Esi Edugyan.

Then I chose four eligible books which I have in the TBR and have yet to crack open. ‘The Blue Book’ by A.L. Kennedy, ‘Solace’ by Belinda McKeon, ‘The Submission’ by Amy Waldman and ‘All is Song’ by Samantha Harvey are all books that have been on my radar, and pulled out and put back in the TBR over the last few months and I must have a read of them soon.

You may notice there haven’t been many of the ‘big names’ yet and whilst I am sure Ann Patchett and some other expected contenders will show up on the list I am not that fussed about them personally. I almost popped Anne Tyler on the list but hers comes out after the eligible dates. However there are for books receiving a lot of hype/buzz that I wouldn’t be surprised to see on the list and they are; ‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgensten, ‘The Buddha in the Attic’ by Julie Otsuka, ‘The Land of Decoration’ by Grace McCleen and ‘The Lifeboat’ by Charlotte Rogan.

The final four are all a little bit random and have come from popping into Waterstones and having a mooch around all the tables covered in books. They are simply books I thought sounded really interesting and loved the first chapter of (that’s not how I judge on The Green Carnation Prize by the way) they may not appear but I’d use it as an excuse to read them all the quicker if they did. These are; ‘My Policeman’ by Bethan Roberts, ‘Then’ by Julie Myerson, ‘The White Shadow’ by Andrea Eames and ‘The Cowards Table’ by Vanessa Gebbie.

Realistically I know this will be nowhere near the actual list. I just love the guessing, but I am realistic enough to admit despite my love of books I have only a small idea of all the eligible books and no idea what has been submitted and what hasn’t. I also actually want to be a million miles off, one of the reasons I love prize longlists is that they invariably throw up some titles that have passed you by and you want to go off and find out more about. I am hoping for lots of those.

I am not the only one who likes a guess; Jackie of Farmlanebooks, Nomadreader, Open Letters and Her Royal Orangeness have had a crack too, plus Jessica (who has become one of my new favourite bloggers, she makes me howl) has done her top five. I will report back with the list of books and my thoughts when it’s been announced. Until then, what books would you like to see (not necessarily the same as the books you think will) end up on the Orange Prize Longlist when it gets announced?

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The Book Cull: A Report

I mentioned the other day that it was time for a big book cull. I was pleased to hear in the comments that my ridiculous amount of books (I said 500 or so, it was actually 673 to be precise – see spreadsheets can be your friends) made some of you feel much better about your own  TBR’s and I was also pleased that people commented and said they had many more books than me. A fair few of you also wanted me to report back on how I got on, well here it is. Maybe, should you ever need a book cull, this might provide some tips.

People who don’t love books, or even people who do love them but somehow don’t binge or hoard them, will have no idea how hard it is to cull your TBR. In fairness I had actually forgotten or I might have had second thoughts about doing this weekend, not only did it take hours and hours and hours, it was also quite stressful. You see I always think that every book is a future adventure or journey (though not in the saccharine ‘journey’ sense) that is lying in wait for me amongst all those pages bound in gorgeous covers. However even I had to admit that the amount of books I owned was going a bit far, especially when they are in front of you.

From this vantage point they strangely manage to look both deceptively few and yet also like a big gang of books set to intimidate the sorter/culler. It felt like they knew what was coming and were either threatening me or pleading with me in order to stay. (I might have spent too much time with books in the last 48 hours or so, I could be slightly deranged.) I knew I was going to have to be tough, possibly tougher than I have ever been with a cull, and believe me I have done a few. I decided it was time to change tactics, this was going to involve several mini culls. The first step was the easiest, divide the books into ‘must reads’, ‘might reads’ and ‘probably bought on whim or sent unsolicited and I am just hoarding them just in case’. As you can imagine I ended up with a fairly big pile of ‘must reads’ a fairly big pile of ‘probably bought on whim or sent unsolicited and I am just hoarding them just in case’ books and a stupidly huge amount of ‘might reads’. Being tough simply wasn’t enough, I needed to be brutal, so I created some criteria for culling books further based on the books I had in the ‘maybe read’ piles…

  • Can I remember why I got this book, or how? No, cull.
  • Do I have more than one copy? Yes, cull. (Thank goodness for spreadsheets, I discovered I had seven, yes seven, different books in duplicate editions, see hoarding has its pitfalls.)
  • Is this book part of a series for which I don’t have the prior novels? Yes, cull.
  • If from a publisher (this was the case with about a third of the books, most were whim purchases from varying sources) have I kept this book because it was sent unsolicited but I like the publisher and don’t want to upset them? Yes, cull.
  • Is this a fairly modern title I do rather quite like the sound of but I have seen in the library recently where I could get it out if I do miss it? Yes, cull.
  • Is this a classic everyone says you should read, so you own, but actually you don’t really think you will read it any time soon and could always borrow it from the library as above? Yes, cull.

This was helpful and by this point I would say I could have got away with it.

However after a nights sleep, and waking up to the above sight, I decided I needed to be even harder. It was time to cull even more and so I asked myself the following as I went through them all again..

  • Is this the first in a series I haven’t started yet which I might or might not like but will feel compelled to read the rest of? Yes, cull.
  • Has the author heard I have got their book and not sent just one nice email but harranged me with ‘when are you reading my book?’ This has indeed happened. Yes, cull. (I don’t mind a nice friendly nudge now and again, I understand they want their books read by anyone and everyone, but sometimes it gets a bit much.)
  • Is this one of several books where I have bought the entire back catalogue of an author simply based on enjoying one of their novels? If so do I have more than three or four of this author’s works? Yes, cull- but only the ones that sound the least ‘my sort of read’.
  • Is this a book by one of my favourite authors that I have hoarded and yet actually don’t imagine reading in the next few years as have plenty of others of theirs? Yes, cull.

This pretty much did the trick and by now my room had gone from looking like the stock room of a book shop, to the delivery room of a charity shop…

Which was interesting as within another twenty minutes, and with the help of a trusty relative and their car, I was ready to deliver this loot to the nearby charity bookshop…

The looks on the women’s faces when we first arrived laden with the first of the bags was joyful, the second time we walked in they looked a little perplexed. When I came back in for the third time one of ladies, who did in fairness give me a huge hug afterwards, said ‘how many bags do you have in total?’ I though t she might faint when I said ‘Erm, 24-ish’. It was noted by my accompanying relative that I didn’t mention how many books these bags contained altogether.

Now as I look at the pile of books you can see in the picture here —– > (and they are only the books in the clear boxes,  the fancy boxes are empty) I am feeling rather pleased with myself. Not only did I get my TBR pile (which I will give it its own page later as for some reason word tables and wordpress don’t mix) down to a much more manageable 275 books exactly. It is also a TBR of books I ‘really want to read’ rather than a vast pile of books I want to read with lots that I feel I should, it hinders choosing the next book to read really. Well for me it does. Anyway, most importantly I stopped selfishly hoarding these excess books (about 350 once family had taken the first pickings) that will not only make money for a charity but will also, through the charity shop being one just for books and hopefully therefore book lovers, find new homes with people who love reading. It feels good in lots of ways.

Now, as I have just finished a book, which one shall I pull from my new refined TBR! In fact that is an additional joy, its reminded me which authors older books I haven’t let myself indulge in for a while. Ian McEwan, Anne Tyler, Colm Toibin, Angela Carter and more Daphne Du Maurier and Margaret Atwood for a start. I love this pre-decision feeling, it’s s exciting not knowing what lies in store next. Right, I am off to have a mooch.

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Savidge Reads Grills… Jane Harris

The wonder of the internet means that you can do an interview anywhere in the world. So today we are whizzing up through the countryside with Jane Harris, author of ‘The Observations’ and ‘Gillespie and I’ which has become my latest favourite book, with Glasgow as the destination. Whilst sipping on cups of tea, from a flask of course not that train dishwater, and maybe munching on a cupcake or two. Discussing ‘Victorian sensation novels’, second book syndrome, reading, writing and books. So grab yourself a cup of tea too and join us for a natter…

Can you explain the story of ‘Gillespie & I’ in a single sentence?

Thinking of a single sentence to describe this book is quite difficult. I’m tempted to take the Hollywood route and say that it’s “Jaws” meets “The Turn of the Screw” – but with a heart. (Simon can confirm that without their being any sharks or boats he actually knows what Jane means here.)

How did the story come about? Was there anything in particular that inspired you with this novel?

When I was thinking about what to write after ‘The Observations’ I went back to the box in the attic where I’d kept a number of unfinished ideas for short stories (which is where I discovered the beginnings of ‘The Observations’). On one scrap of paper, I found something I’d scribbled years ago: “Artist, 19th century, Glasgow.” This appealed to me – although I’d wanted, after my first novel, to write something contemporary and short. But this historical idea was the one that grabbed me so. . . I went with it. Initially, I had thought of writing something quite feminist, perhaps featuring one of the Glasgow Girls (a group of Scottish female artists of the time) and her struggles to be taken seriously as an artist, but once I began doing my research the story changed direction. It was particularly when I read about a particular court case that the beginnings of a psychological thriller plot began to form in my mind.

It’s a book that you don’t want to give too much away with, so that makes reviewing it and questioning you rather difficult. I think it’s safe to say that the narrator Harriet Baxter is quite a complex lead figure, how did you create her?

You’re right, she is complex and also flawed (as are most, if not all, of my characters). I like flawed characters. I had a lot of fun with Bessy, the narrator of ‘The Observations’, but I knew that in my second novel I wanted a new challenge and so I picked a character who was quite different from Bessy. Instead of an almost illiterate (though clever) Irish girl who is quite garrulous and uncontrolled in some ways, and who doesn’t know the first thing about punctuation, I came up with Harriet who, as narrator, is a highly-educated, very controlled Englishwoman, who is completely anal and who over-punctuates and uses long sentences. I had in mind one or two old ladies of my acquaintance, apparently charming, girlish-voiced old dears, whose polite manners and polish conceal a viper-like wit.

As ‘Gillespie & I’ goes on there are lots and lots of twists and turns, which of course we don’t want to spoil. Yet when reading it there are the subtlest of hints which cause the reader to become engrossed and also rather uneasy, was that a difficult situation to create? How do you know when you are sewing the right, or indeed wrong red herring, seeds of doubt in a readers mind as you write the book?

I was learning all about that sort of technique as I wrote this book and I’m still not quite sure what the answer is. I think partly it’s down to instinct. Of course, I plan everything beforehand, the major twists and turns, but I tended to seed the red herrings and clues as I went along, and kept checking that I wasn’t overdoing it by reading everything aloud. It’s only when the manuscript is finished that you can really tell whether you’ve over or under-done it. I also had a lot of help in this respect from my editor and a handful of trusted readers. As it turned out, in the initial draft, I had been too subtle, so it was a question of going back and making a few things a bit clearer.

I think it’s fair to say that both ‘Gillespie & I’ and your debut novel ‘The Observations’ are quite gothic and have the Victorian ‘sensational’ feel about them, were books by the likes of Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon books that you have always loved or is this just the sort of books you naturally write?

I’m an indiscriminate reader in that I will read almost anything that is set in front of me. As a child, I would read cereal packets if there was nothing else to hand. So I devoured all kinds of books: contemporary, pre-20th century, all the novels my parents left lying around, and everything I could carry home from the library. To be honest, I think it’s an accident that I’m writing this kind of novel. When I started writing, I was coming up with contemporary short stories about my boyfriends and family. It was only in desperation (after almost giving up writing) that I decided to try and write a novel set in the 19th Century, based on an unfinished, lengthy short story which seemed to hold some promise. Luckily for me, that book caught the attention of a publisher. However, having said that, as a child I loved 19th Century novels like Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, The Water Babies etc, and as an adult I still love Henry James, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Wilkie Collins. However, I do wonder if I’ll return to writing about the contemporary. One strand of ‘Gillespie and I’ is set in the early 1930s, which pleases me, because at least I have a toehold in the 20th century.

After the success of ‘The Observations’ did you ever worry about that ‘second book syndrome’ or feel any additional pressure about ‘Gillespie & I’? Was this why there was such a gap between the two?

The only thing that worried me about ‘second book syndrome’ was the fact that, even before I had begun book two, I knew for certain I’d be asked this question by journalists and bloggers and it would be an effort not to betray my irritation. Ha ha! (but true).

Here’s the long answer. I don’t think I felt any additional pressure for the second book. I think writing books is hard enough anyway. The first one was hard. The second one was hard. They’ll all be hard, in different ways. My first novel took me 12 or 13 years -four years in total of writing with about nine years of just lying in a box (that’s the novel, not me), so I’ve done the second book in less than half the time. The gap between the two was four years (The Observations was published in 2006 in the UK, and I submitted ‘Gillespie and I’ at the end of 2010). Both these novels are 500 pages long: that’s twice as long as the average novel, so it follows that it should take twice as long to write them. Four years divided by two is two years. The received wisdom is that a writer should be turning out a book every two years. If you look simply at page count, I’ve done that. Besides, I could have produced a book within two years, but it would have been a much worse book. In my opinion, the book is everything; some arbitrary deadline is nothing. Better to have a book that I’m proud of – a book that gets reviews like the one you gave ‘Gillespie and I’ yesterday (for which MANY thanks) – than a book which is undercooked or less ambitious.

Both of your novels seem perfect for adaptation, have there been any discussions of this, can we look forward to them on the screen?

‘The Observations’ was optioned for television but nothing has come of that so far and I believe the option may now have expired so it’s available again. I’d love to see an adaptation of ‘Gillespie and I’. I was particularly impressed by the recent TV adaptation of ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’. I had been dreading the series as it’s a favourite book of mine and I was worried they’d make a hash of it but I think they did a fine job. So, we’ll see what happens.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? How long have you been writing for?

I always enjoyed writing compositions at school, but nobody in my family was a writer, I didn’t know any writers and it just didn’t seem like a career option. In my secondary school the careers guidance woman told me that hairdressing was a safe bet. I had to take my exam results to the assistant head and ask him if they were good enough to go to university, because nobody was pointing me in that direction. It turned out my results were good enough, and so I went to university and took English and Drama as my main subjects. I loved reading literature, but got rather sidetracked into theatre and drama (the English Department at Glasgow was so dry and old-fashioned in those days that it put me off reading for years). So it wasn’t until years later, when I was 29, that I began writing in earnest, and that only happened because I was stranded in a country where I didn’t speak the language, knew virtually nobody, and had no TV and hardly any books and no money, nothing to distract me, apart from a pen and some pieces of paper.

Which current contemporary authors do you really rate?

Anne Tyler. William Boyd. Jonathan Franzen. Sarah Waters. Michel Faber. Barbara Vine.

What is your favourite ‘guilty pleasure’ read?

Well, I do love leafing through my collection of back-copies of “Hustler”. Not really. Seriously though, I don’t think I have a guilty pleasure read. I love reading Victorian ‘true crime’ stories, such as the Madeleine Smith trial – perhaps that counts?

Describe your typical writing routine, do you have any writers quirks or any writing rituals?

I begin work early, as soon as I wake up, which can be anything (under normal circumstances) from 6am onwards. I work all day, that is, I sit at my computer all day, although sometimes I’ll delete more words than I write. For the last novel, I tended to begin the day by editing what I’d done the previous day. I always read the work aloud as I write. Every few paragraphs, I’ll pause and read it back. Sometimes, I go outside and look at the garden for a breath of fresh air, but I hardly ever leave the house. I like things to be neat, so tend to tidy up the room if it’s looking too disorganised. I read a book during lunch or, if my husband is working at home, we eat together, chortling, while watching an episode of Seinfeld. Laughter is important. A chuckle at lunchtime and a chuckle to end the day (night-time chuckle is currently the fabulous “The Trip” with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon). I rarely work beyond 6pm, though I will sit at the computer fiddling about on Facebook and Twitter in between bouts of writing and at the end of the day. When writing a novel, I require satisfaction-guaranteed TV in the evening, in order to cleanse my brain, so am a fan of all the most wonderful shows like The Apprentice, Masterchef, Great British Menu and America’s Next Top Model. Having spent all day in the 19th Century, trying to juggle plot and characterisation and voice and sentences, I require something to take me into a different world entirely. Plus, I can’t really go out much while writing as I find it too distracting, with the result that I’m a bit of a happy hermit.

How relevant do you think book blogging is to the publishing industry? Do you ever pop and see what people have thought of your book or is it something you avoid at all costs?

Book blogging seems to me to be increasingly important. I think that readers and book-lovers have found a real community online in sites such as yours, a place to share opinion and hear about what people whose opinions they respect are reading. I am as much of a book fan as anybody, so I do surf sites to track various books (but after I’ve read them – I hate knowing too much about a book or film before I experience it for myself). As for my own books, I can’t help but read reviews. I know that it’s possible not to (which is the route my husband takes, as a film-maker) so I do believe those people who say they don’t read reviews, but I, for one, can’t help it.

Which book, apart from your own, would you demand Savidge Reads and readers run out and buy right this instant, a book you would call your favourite?

Gosh, that’s a hard question as I’m not sure I have a single favourite book. I’m assuming that all Savidge Readers will have read Great Expectations, so I might have to plump for The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler, which is still up there for me as a work of genius. (Simon is slightly embarrased to say he has not read Great Expectations, Dickens escapes him – oops!)

What is next for Jane Harris?

I’m reaching the end of writing some short stories, a bit of a break from writing novels, and about to turn my thoughts to a new book. Don’t want to say too much now as I believe you can talk a book away.

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A big thank you goes out to Jane Harris for taking part in this. I was very excited and interestingly so was she, there is mutual appreciation in the air. You can visit Jane’s website here to find out more. Oh and if you fancy winning a copy of ‘Gillespie and I’ then simply scroll a little further down… after having left a nice comment here of course.

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