Tag Archives: Anthony Marra

Other People’s Bookshelves #85 –Anna O’Grady

Hello and welcome back to the series Other People’s Bookshelves. Every so often here on Savidge Reads we welcome a guest who takes over the blog and feeds into the book lust we all crave by sharing their shelves. This week we are off to Sydney, where we are joining the wonderful, wonderful  Anna O’Grady, who is responsible for me hearing about many a wonderful read and even sending me  one or two from Australia that she really, really wants people to read. Like Charlotte Wood’s amazing The Natural Way of Things, which if you haven’t read by now you must. Anyway, Anna has kindly invited us to have a gander at her bookshelves with a nice cup of tea or two and some lovely treats, though the Violet Crumbles are all mice. Before we have a peruse of her shelves though let’s let Anna introduce herself a bit more…

I come from a third generation of booksellers – so you might say that books have always been my destiny and they certainly are my passion. My grandfather was a Polish bookseller and collector of rare books before World War II. Sadly his bookstore and most of his collection was destroyed during the final bombing of the city of Poznan. There is only a handful of books that survived, but one of them is an extremely rare hand-printed book of Japanese poetry. My mother carried on the tradition of family bookselling and married a man who was first trained as a printer, but went on to work in a small publishing house. As far back as I can remember our tiny apartment was always full of books and often full of writers having big political discussions around our kitchen table. I always loved reading, but rebelling against ‘following in my parent’s footsteps’ – I vowed not to work in a bookshop. I left Poland at the age of 19. It was really hard to start a new life with limited language skills and no friends and family, but I quickly discovered that bookstores were the best places to cure my homesickness and help me understand new countries. Here I came across old friends –  classics and authors that I’d read over the years, but  I also discovered a the whole new world of books and authors that I’d  never heard of. It was not long before my vows were forgotten and I started working in a bookstore. Although I moved countries a few times, I never left the book world, spending my working hours in bookshops in England, Switzerland, Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand. I made a move to the publishing side about three years ago and although I do miss bookshops, I also enjoy this different way of ‘making’ 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?

There is no way that I could have possibly kept all the books I read, but I did become very creative in finding new ways of stacking books ;-)….. My current library has over 3000 books, and I regularly do some ‘pruning’. I keep books by all my favourite authors (and there are quite a few of them) and I collect books in a couple of specific areas. Although I reinforced the floors under the part of the library that holds most of my hardcovers, I often pray that my little house does not collapse under the weight of all these books. I am also trying to make more use of my local public library to reduce the load on my bookshelves.

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?

Yes, I definitely have a system going. First my books are divided by the three languages in which I read; secondly they are divided by fiction and nonfiction. Nonfiction is divided into subsections: history/politics, arts, nature etc. with two special subsections in which I collect books about history of women and books about books, libraries, reading etc. My fiction section is divided by continents and then by the country of the author’s origin, the two biggest parts being dedicated to Canadian and Australian writing. I also have a special section for classics and poetry … and then there are of course my various stacks, books to be read later, books to be read now, books that I am dipping in and out of etc. etc. Yes, I know it’s all a bit mad.

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

My first recollection of books I bought with my own money are The Moomins by Tove Jansson. I was probably about 7 or 8 when they started appearing in Poland and I saved money for them in my little piggy bank and yes I still have them. I still love them and have added to the collection over the years.

moomins

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?

My guilty pleasures are some of the horror novels (especially Japanese) and lots of mysteries, but I am not embarrassed by them and they live on the shelves in perfect harmony with all other books.

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?

This is the hardest question – I honestly could not name a single book. It would be more like an armful of books. I would definitely want to keep my original Moomins, but I also have an amazing collection of signed books. Most of these carry memories of unforgettable encounters and long conversations with extraordinary writers –  these include books by my favourites –  Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje, Gunter Grass, Peter Carey, Richard Flanagan, Jose Saramago, Umberto Eco, Salman Rushdie, Anthony Marra, J.K Rowling and so many more. I also should single out my 1st Canadian edition of Life of Pi. Sorry, I know it sounds like a lot of name dropping, but over the years I have been very privileged as a bookseller to meet some truly remarkable people.

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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?

Probably some of the American classics of the 20th century, I distinctively remember being in  high school and discovering a  whole shelf of them in my parent’s library – books by Joseph Heller, Irvin Shaw, Ernest Hemingway. I had a preference for dark stories and that has not changed.

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?

If I really loved it yes I would go and buy it, but I no longer buy all the books I want to read. I really enjoy using my local library.

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

I bought this week The Mothers by Brit Bennett, on a recommendation of my favourite Australian bookshop: Readings in Melbourne. (I am ¾ into it and I would highly recommend it too) and I borrowed a copy of The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan on the recommendation of another author Aoife Clifford, whose reading tastes I always respect. I do have to add here that both you and Kim from readingmattersblog are very trusted and frequent source of recommendations too.

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

Nothing that I really would lose my sleep over, but I always have lists of books that I would like to read.

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

Well it is quite a mix of books that I have – so the only thing that I hope people would say is that I have an open and curious mind.

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A huge thanks to Anna 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, I am catching up with all the latest volunteers. In the meantime… what do you think of Anna’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Books I’m Looking Forward to in the Next Six Months #2

I know we are somewhat past the middle of 2016 but, as is my want I thought – like I did back at the start of the year – it might be a nice idea to let you know about some of the books that I am really looking forward to reading over the next six months published in the UK. I know, I know, it is the list you have all been waiting for. Ha! For a few years now, every six months, Gavin and I share 13 of the books that we are most excited about on The Readers podcast (based on which publishers catalogues we can get our mitts on, sometimes we miss some) so I thought I would make it a new biannual post. I have highlighted a few each month that I will definitely be reading or getting my mitts on – there will be more, let’s noy pretend. So, grab a cuppa and settle down with a notepad or bookstore website open next to you…

July

Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane – Paul Thomas Murphy (Head of Zeus)

9781784081898

In April 1871, a constable walking a beat near greenwich found a girl dying  in the mud – her face cruelly slashed and her brains protruding from her skull. The girl was Jane Maria Clouson, a maid for the respectable pook family and  she was pregnant at the time of her death. When the blood-spattered clothes of  the 20-year-old Edmund pook, father of the dead girl’s unborn child, were  discovered, the matter seemed open and shut. Yet there followed a remarkable legal odyssey full of unexpected twists as the police struggled to build a case.  paul Murphy recreates the drama of an extraordinary murder case and  conclusively identifies the killer’s true identity.

Augustown – Kei Miller (Orion)

9781474603591

Ma Taffy may be blind but she sees everything. So when her great-nephew kaia comes home from school in tears, what she senses sends a deep fear through her. While they wait for his mama to come home from work, Ma Taffy recalls the story of the flying preacherman and a great thing that did not happen. A poor suburban sprawl in the Jamaican heartland, Augustown is a place where many things that should happen don’t, and plenty of things that shouldn’t happen do. For the story of kaia leads back to another momentous day in Jamaican history, the birth of the Rastafari and the desire for a better life. Augustown is a novel about inequality and aspiration, memory and myth, and the connections between people which can transcend these things but not always change them. It is a window onto a moment in Jamaican history, when the people sought to rise up above their lives and shine.

August

Hide – Matthew Griffin (Bloomsbury)

9781408867082

Wendell Wilson, a taxidermist, and Frank Clifton, a veteran, meet after the Second World War – in a time when such love holds real danger. Severing nearly all ties with the outside world, they carve out a home for themselves, protected by the routine of self-reliant domesticity. But when Wendell finds Frank lying motionless outside at the age of eighty-three, their life together begins to unravel. As Frank’s memory deteriorates, Wendell must come to terms with the consequences of half a century in seclusion: the lives they might have lived – and the impending, inexorable loss of the one they had.

The Summer That Melted Everything – Tiffany McDaniel (Scribe)

9781925228519

When local prosecutor Autopsy Bliss published an invitation to the devil to come to Breathed, nobody quite expected that he would turn up. They especially didn’t expect him to turn  up a tattered and bruised thirteen-year-old boy. The Blisses believe the boy, who calls himself Sal, is a runaway from a nearby farm town. Then, after a series of strange incidents which all implicate Sal — and riled by the feverish heat wave baking the town from the inside out — there are some around town who start to believe that maybe Sal is exactly who he claims to be. Whether he’s a traumatised child or the devil incarnate, Sal is certainly one strange fruit; and ultimately his eerie stories of Heaven, Hell, and earth, will mesmerise and enflame the entire town.

The Tsar of Love and Techno – Anthony Marra (Hogarth)

9781781090275

The Tsar of Love and Techno begins in 1930s Leningrad, where a failed portrait artist is tasked by Soviet censors to erase political dissenters from official images and artworks. One day, he receives an antique painting of a dacha inside a box of images meant to be altered. The mystery behind this painting reverberates through the stories that follow, which take us through a century as they thread together a cast of characters including a Siberian beauty queen, a young soldier in the battlefields of Chechnya, the Head of the Grozny Tourist Bureau, a ballerina performing for the camp director of a gulag and many others.

September

The Borrowed – Chan Ho-Kei (Head of Zeus)

9781784971519

A cleverly constructed epic crime novel, told through six different murder cases set over fifty years in the Hong kong police Force. The year is 2013, and Inspector kwan, one of Hong kong’s greatest detectives, is dying. His friend and protegé, Detective Lok, has come to kwan’s hospital bed. Together they must solve one last case: the murder of a local billionaire. What follows is a brilliantly constructed novel of six interconnected stories, each featuring a different murder case solved by kwan and Lok over the last fifty years. Eventually, in the final story, we witness the case in which Lok, a rookie cop, met kwan for the first time.

By Gaslight – Steven Price (Oneworld)

9781780748689

A severed head is dredged from the Thames; ten miles away, a woman’s body is discovered on Edgware Road. The famed American detective William Pinkerton is summoned by Scotland Yard to investigate. The dead woman fits the description of a grifter Pinkerton had been pursuing – someone he believed would lead him to a man he has been hunting since his father’s death. Edward Shade is an industrialist without a past, a fabled con, a man of smoke. The obsessive hunt for him that began in the last days of the Civil War becomes Pinkerton’s inheritance. What follows is an epic journey of secrets, deceit and betrayals. Above all, it is the story of the most unlikely of bonds: between Pinkerton, the greatest detective of his age, and Shade, the one criminal he cannot outwit. Moving from the diamond mines of South Africa to the fog-enshrouded streets of Victorian London, By Gaslight is a journey into a cityscape of grief, trust, and its breaking, where what we share can bind us even against our better selves.

Angel Catbird – Margaret Atwood (Dark Horse)

9781506700632

On a dark night, young genetic engineer Strig Feleedus is accidentally mutated by his own experiment and merges with the DNA of a cat and an owl. What follows is a humorous, action-driven, pulp-inspired superhero adventure with a lot of cat puns.

The Lesser Bohemians – Eimear McBride (Faber)

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One night in London an eighteen-year-old girl, recently arrived from Ireland to study drama, meets an older actor and a tumultuous relationship ensues. Set across the bedsits and squats of mid-nineties              north London, The Lesser Bohemians is a story about love and innocence, joy and discovery, the grip of the past and the struggle to be new again.

The One Hundred Nights of Hero – Isabel Greenberg (Jonathan Cape)

From the author who brought you The Encyclopedia of Early Earth comes another Epic Tale of Derring-Do. Prepare to be dazzled once more by the overwhelming power of stories and see Love prevail in the face of Terrible Adversity! You will read of betrayal, loyalty, madness, bad husbands, lovers both faithful and unfaithful, wise old crones, moons who come out of the sky, musical instruments that won’t stay quiet, friends and brothers and fathers and mothers and above all, many, many sisters.

October

The Fat Artist and Other Stories – Benjamin Hale (Picador)

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Benjamin Hale’s fiction abounds with a love of language and a wild joy for storytelling. In prose alternately stark, lush, and hallucinatory, occasionally nightmarish and often absurd. The voices in these seven stories speak from the margins: a dominatrix whose longtime client, a U.S. congressman, drops dead during a tryst in a hotel room; an addict in precarious recovery who lands a job driving a truck full of live squid; a heartbroken performance artist who attempts to eat himself to death as a work of art.  From underground radicals hiding in Morocco to an aging hippie in Colorado in the summer before 9/11 to a young drag queen in New York at the cusp of the AIDS crisis, these stories rove freely across time and place, carried by haunting, peculiar narratives, threads in the vast tapestry of American life. Weaving a pleasure in the absurd with an exploration of the extraordinary variety of the human condition and the sway our most private selves and hidden pasts hold over us, the stories in The Fat Artist reside in the unnerving intersections between life and death, art and ridicule, consumption and creation.

Thin Air – Michelle Paver (Orion)

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The Himalayas, 1935. kangchenjunga. Third-highest peak on earth. Greatest killer of them all. Five Englishmen set off from Darjeeling, determined to conquer the sacred summit. but courage can only take them so far – and the mountain is not their only foe. As the wind dies, the dread grows. Mountain sickness. The horrors of extreme altitude. A past that will not stay buried. And sometimes, the truth does not set you free.

The Last Days of Leda Grey – Essie Fox (Orion)

During the oppressive heat wave of 1976 a young journalist, Ed Peters, finds an Edwardian photograph in a junk shop in the brighton Lanes. It shows an alluring, dark-haired girl, an actress whose name was Leda Grey. Leda is living still, in a decaying cliff-top house once shared with a man called Charles beauvois, a director of early silent film. A horrific accident left her abandoned and alone for more than half a century – until Ed Peters hears the secrets of her past, resulting in a climax more haunting than any to be found in the silent films of Charles beauvois.

Autumn – Ali Smith (Penguin Books)

9780241207000

The first of four novels in a shape-shifting series, wideranging in timescale and light-footed through histories. Fusing Keatsian mists and mellow fruitfulness with the vitality, the immediacy and the colour-hit of Pop Art – via a bit of very contemporary skulduggery and skull-diggery – Autumn is a witty excavation of the present by the past. The novel is a stripped-branches take on popular culture, and a meditation, in a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, what harvest means. Autumn is part of the quartet Seasonal: four stand-alone novels, separate yet interconnected and cyclical (as the seasons are), exploring what time is, how we experience it, and the recurring markers in the shapes our lives take and in our ways with narrative.

The Power – Naomi Alderman (Penguin Books)

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In The Power the world is a recognizable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge, with devastating effects. Now, with the flick of a switch, teenage girls can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

Hag-Seed – Margaret Atwood (Hogarth)

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‘It’s got a thunderstorm in it. And revenge. Definitely revenge.’ Felix is at the top of his game as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. His productions have amazed and confounded. Now he’s staging a Tempest like no other: not only will it boost his reputation, it will heal emotional wounds. Or that was the plan. Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by memories of his beloved lost daughter, Miranda. And also brewing revenge. After twelve years, revenge finally arrives in the shape of a theatre course at a nearby prison. Here, Felix and his inmate actors will put on his Tempest and snare the traitors who destroyed him. It’s magic! But will it remake Felix as his enemies fall?

November

London Lies Beneath – Stella Duffy (Virago)

9780349007847

In August 1912, three friends set out on an adventure. Two of them come home. Tom, Jimmy and Itzhak have grown up together in the crowded slums of Walworth. They are used to narrow streets, the bustle of East Lane market, extended families weaving in and out of each other’s lives. All three boys are expected to follow their father’s trades and stay close to home. But Tom has wider dreams. So when he hears of a scouting trip, sailing from Waterloo to Sheppey – he is determined to go. And his friends go with him. Inspired by real events, this is the story of three friends, and a tragedy that will change them for ever. It is also a song of south London, of working class families with hidden histories, of a bright and complex world long neglected. London Lies Beneath is a powerful and compelling novel, rich with life and full of wisdom.

Another Day in the Death of America – Gary Younge (Faber)

9781783351015

On Saturday 23 November 2013, ten children were shot dead. The youngest was nine; the oldest was nineteen. They fell in suburbs, hamlets and ghettos. None made the national news. It was just another day in the death of America, where on average seven children and teens are killed by guns daily. Younge picks this day at random, searches for their families and tells their stories. What emerges is a sobering, searing, portrait of youth and guns in contemporary America.

Rotten Row – Petina Gappah (Faber)

In her accomplished new story collection, Petina Gappah crosses the barriers of class, race, gender and sexual politics in Zimbabwe to explore the causes and effects of crime, and to meditate on the nature of justice. Rotten Row represents a leap in artistry and achievement from the award-winning author of An Elegy for Easterly and The Book of Memory. With compassion and humour, Petina Gappah paints portraits of lives aching for meaning to produce a moving and universal tableau.

Wowsers! So thatwas quite a list, it is slightly extended since we recorded The Readers because, well why not? There will be many more I discover or hear about too I am sure. Anyway, quite a few for you to go and find out more about and a good list for me to have when I am stuck in a bookshop without a clue of what to by next – as if that ever happens. Right, I better get reading then. Which of these do you fancy? Which books are you looking forward to in the next six months?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #75 – Deborah Fischer-Brown

Hello and welcome, after a five month sabbatical – come on guys get sending me your shelves, to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are in the company of Deborah Fischer-Brown who blogs over at BookBarmy (great name) and her wonderful shelves. Deborah has put quite the spread on for us with something for everyone, so let’s all grab a cuppa/glass of something and a nibble of something and join her on her deck and get to know her before we have a nose through her bookshelves and learn more about her. 

My name is Deborah.  I live with my very tolerant husband, in a book-cluttered San Francisco row house that boasts a view of the Pacific ocean. I’ve been surrounded by books all my life – grew up in a family of book lovers, inherited by grandfather’s extensive library and have created my own reading nook in our little San Francisco home.   Once again – I’m happily surrounded by books. I blog over at BookBarmy.com. There is nothing better on a foggy San Francisco morning, than browsing my bookshelves of books I haven’t read yet – just to find the perfect book for my morning tea and reading. I’m retired from a career in high tech marketing.  We are able to travel extensively because we do international home exchanges.  I occasionally do some consulting – mainly helping non-profits hone and clarify their communications.  I’m also a volunteer with the San Francisco public library – see, more books. I tend a garden of roses, but also have herb and vegetable beds.  I love to entertain and cook for friends and loved ones – I cherish long meals and conversations that go on to the late night.

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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 will never let go of my extensive library of classics which I inherited from my grandfather — most all are Heritage Press editions. And, while they are not worth much in today’s market they are precious to me.   I grew up with these books, I was allowed to read anything from his shelves and have fond memories of being curled up in our parlor pouring through Treasure Island or Arabian Nights.  Today, with my own books, I keep favorites with optimistic plans to re-read then, but otherwise, most books get donated or passed on to family or friends.  I have never been able to uphold a “one in-one out” discipline – there are just too many books I want to read and bring home to shelve, pile or stash somewhere in the many bookcases throughout the house.

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? 

Although I have great plans of one day organizing my many bookshelves, as yet, there’s no real system.  I am saved by the fact that I have a sort of “rain man” ability to locate almost any book on my bookshelves — even those I haven’t read yet.  I just remember where I put them without any trouble. That being said, I do have a shelf of what I call my “anglophile, English country manor” book collection. I also enjoy travel literature and have all those books on one shelf and a pretty impressive collection of cook books. 

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

Growing up in multi-generational family of book lovers and rooms of books, I never had to buy a book.  I was given books at every occasion and had a house full of books at my whim.  I do remember using my allowance money one summer to buy trashy romance comics to share with a neighborhood girlfriend.  When I got married and moved to our first apartment, my first book purchase at a used book store was Christopher Morely’s classics Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop.

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 slightly bemused by my weakness for British women’s literature from authors such as Marcia Willett, Joanna Trollope, Rosamund Pilcher, Erica James.  There’s nothing better than a book wherein all problems can be solved over a cup of tea by the Aga.  I’m just a sucker for those veddy British reads – an Anglophile at heart.

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?

I would have to choose my grandfather’s two volume copy of The Jungle Books, which he read to me and my younger siblings for many years – even after I could read I would happily pile into the chair to listen.  The books are richly illustrated and looking at them brings happy memories.

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

I don’t know if they were my dad’s or my grandfathers, but for a while, there was a collection of Ian Fleming’s James Bond paperback thrillers.  One summer, I secreted them, one by one, up to our backyard treehouse, reading them for the excitement and slightly suggestive sex scenes.  Then one day they were gone. I’ve since tried to read them and they no longer hold any interest for me. A passing pubescent obsession.

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 volunteer at the Friends of the San Francisco Library bookstores, where we sell donated books to benefit the city’s library programs.  Volunteers get 30% off books, so eventually, yes I purchase most every book I want to read – and many I had no idea I wanted read.   I am also a strong supporter (much to my husband’s dismay) of  independent book stores here in the city and when we travel.  You know that famous Eramus quote:  “When I get a little money I buy books, and if  I have any left, I buy food and clothes” – That’s me all over.

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

I just brought home A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. Not a book I would normally choose, but so many book lovers I respect and admire have recommended it. 

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

In a mindless fit of clearing out, I donated my childhood set of all four vintage Mary Poppins books. I would probably never have re-read them, but I sometimes regret getting rid of them. I’ve toyed with the idea of replacing them. But then again, maybe they are happy and loved in some child’s bookcase.

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

An eclectic reader who favors the classics, historical fiction, memoirs, travel literature, epistolary novels, anything British, and the classics. A bit of a “Pollyanna” with no taste for horror, true crime, or anything wildly violent – the real world has enough of that already.

Intro Photo B

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Huge thanks to Deborah 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 Deborah’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Happy World Book Day 2016

It is World Book Day, hurrah, and I thought as we can’t physically swap our favourite books with each other today it might be nice to swap some recommendations of some favourites. I have chosen a few catagories of books that I would love to give copies to everyone if I could and thought you might like to do the same in the comments below…

Your favourite book: Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (no surprises there)
A recent reading highlight: The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota (so newly a highlight I haven’t reviewed it yet)
A book people might not have heard of or read but really should have: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (because it is brilliant on so many levels)
A book which might get someone who doesn’t think they like reading back into books: The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies (a short story collection where every story could charm everyone and anyone)
A book you can’t wait to read by a favourite author: The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain (it arrived yesterday and my joyous bellowing could be heard throughout the land)

Now your turn, over to you. I look forward to your five recommendations…

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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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Double Delights (And End of Year Thank You Giveaway)

As it is unusual that anyone buys me books as Christmas presents, because understandably they think that I have probably read it or have it within reach, and so to make up for this I treat myself to a book or four two to compensate. Well imagine my surprise when after I ordered myself the treat of Anthony Marra’s collection of short stories The Tsar of Love and Techno (which has been out in the US for a few months but isn’t out until August 2016 and I couldn’t wait after loving A Constellation of Vital Phenomena so much) and then a parcel from America turned up in the post, which I had no idea was coming, and I opened it to discover… A signed copy of that very book, which then was followed by the one I ordered on Tuesday!

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So I thought as a lovely person has done such a lovely thing and I like to think I am a lovely person (most of the time) I would give one of you a copy as a thank you for being lovely folk who pop by, leave comments, have a chat on Twitter etc. Then I thought why not go one step further. You see after the shelve sorting I not only discovered all the books I meant to read this year, I also discovered all the books that I had doubled up copies of, so I thought I would give those away too. So joining a copy of Anthony’s The Tsar of Love and Techno are the following…

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  • Nora Webster – Colm Toibin
  • Stammered Songbook – Erwin Mortier
  • The Well – Catherine Chanter
  • How To Be Both – Ali Smith
  • The Room – Jonas Karlsson

Yes, I think that is a decent thank you for popping by, commenting or lurking and lingering, ha! Oh and it is open worldwide as you lovely lot visit from all over the place! So what do you have to do to win these treats? Well as The Tsar of Love and Techno is a book that was out in 2015 and will be out in 2016 (which sounds bonkers doesn’t it?) I would like to know which book was your favourite read of 2015 AND which book you are most looking forward to in 2016? You have until the clock strikes midnight  in the UK and 2016 officially begins, then I will announce the winner in this post (which will be updated, so keep your eyes peeled) sometime on the 1st of January 2016! Good luck, and thank you again for being a lovely bookish bunch.

Update: Very belatedly, because of being a bit busy, I have finally pulled a draw for the winner from the 47 eligable responses and the winner is…

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Who is Frances Evangelista (@nonsuchbook), congratulations! I have dropped you an email and will be winging that pile of books out to you next week, hoorah! Commiserations to everyone else, though there will be many more giveaways in 2016 I am sure.

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The Year That Was & The Year That Will Be

I was asked just the other day, by Gavin as he returned for The Readers briefly, how my reading year had been in 2014? It was something I had been thinking about but had thought I might leave to one side, but then I thought sod it I will talk about it anyway as we d tend to have a bit of a think as one year ends and another year starts don’t we?

In no way was my reading year a bad one. I read some absolute corkers, as I shared with you the other day. I even read a book that will probably become one of my all time favourites. Yet I would say it was a year where I was slow cooked over a long period of time rather than completely set afire by in a great flambé. Do you know what I mean or have I been spending too much time with a chef?

You see in terms of reading, not to say anything against all the books that I read last year, I felt it was slightly mono and that maybe it all got a bit too obvious or something. Planned reading might have been part of the problem; with Hear Read This and You Wrote The Book plus two book clubs in the flesh I have been planning what I read rather than just by whim. I am working on this. That said, You Wrote The Book is one of the many things that shows where the highlights in my year and books were and that was going out and meeting lots of lovely booky people. I was thrilled to chat with so many authors over Skype, yet to sit in a room with Rose Tremain and interview her for 30 minutes and then sit and gossip for another 30 mins was AMAZING. Yet the three complete highlight moments (Rose was a firm number 4) of my booky year for me were these, which all focus around the relationships/friendships I have made through books…

  1. Getting to Meet Ann & Michael from Books on the Nightstand/Booktopia Asheville

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The day before I flew off to have my American Adventure (which consisted of Booktopia, a trip to Washington for a mini break and NYC for all sorts of stuff) one of my friends asked ‘Do you not think it’s weird that you are flying thousands of miles away to share a room with someone you know through their podcasts and some emails?’ My answer was instantly ‘No.’ And I was right, spending so much time with Ann and Michael (who was the best roomie you could ask for), whose podcast, Books on the Nightstand, I have listened to for years was an utter joy, the bonus on the fantastical booky baked cake was I also got to meet lots of other amazing readers who attended Booktopia too. I had always dreamed of going to Booktopia but hadn’t thought it would be possible, then it was! Surreal and brilliant. Oh and then there was hosting an event with Anthony Marra whose book I was obsessed with last year.

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Imagine a whole weekend of readers, podcasts hosts and authors all meeting together and spending the weekend discussing books and reading and just having a lovely laugh filled time… that is Booktopia. If only there were four podcasts hosts in the UK who did something like that here…

  1. Recording The Readers In Reality aka Spending Time with Thomas of My Porch

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Thomas and I have been commenting, well we used to, on each others blogs for years. Weirdly every time he came over to the UK I wasn’t in London, it wasn’t intentional I promise. Then we became podcast cohosts. So when I decided to go to the USA a stay at his (with the lovely John and Lucy) was a no brainer. We had the most wonderful few days ever. We went round all the Washington sites, we wanted round book shops buying lots of books, we laughed as we went and when we lounged by the pool. Recording the podcast live sort of became an afterthought. Thomas is like my big booky brother, and I mean that in THE nicest of ways.

  1. The Green Carnation Prize Announcement Party at Foyles

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This is probably the proudest booky moment I have had in quite some time. After managing to get the lovely folks at Foyles to partner in association with The Green Carnation Prize, which I cofounded a few years ago, we decided we would have a party when the winner announced. Initially this seemed light years away, initially I didn’t think I would have to give a speech in front of lots of publishers, authors, journalists and literary folk. Then suddenly I did and without sounding up my own bottom I was chuffed with myself, I couldn’t believe what I had quite accomplished for the love of books and for getting good books into peoples hands.

It is that point, the love of books and getting good books into peoples hands, which leads me onto this year but first I should discuss some of the highlights of my reading year before you think I didn’t love it. I liked it very much. 2014 might have been the year I blogged the least and read the least in quite some years but it was the year I rediscovered the short story and have had rather a love affair with it and also discovered Rose Tremain and of course these books and THAT book in particular. So for me that is a good reading year by any stretch of the imagination.

This year I have no blog or reading resolution or goal. Not a single one. My motto for the year is an anagram the Savidge family used a fair few moons ago when we made a cake for my great grandparents Doris and Arthur on one of their BIG wedding anniversaries with their names. It is ‘Sod it and Hurrar’. Excuse the spelling, there weren’t enough h’s, yet I think it captures the gist of what 2015 will be in all aspects of my life, including blogging and most importantly reading. I have set myself the lowest GoodReads challenge number ever, I have sworn off ‘official’ challenges and have said goodbye to freelance work (note – unless anyone wants me to judge a big book prize, ha or go on Radio 4 as thats a dream) in the book field for 12 months.

This year I just want to see where the books take me, be they new or old, fiction or not. Let’s see what happens.

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Watch Out USA, I’m Coming Your Way…

After much organisation, faffing, missing out on the right flights, then being unable to book the next-right ones and then sitting in a dejected mess because my bank thought I was a fraudster – I can now confirm that I am officially booked, signed, sealed and everything for a trip to the USA in August. And what a trip it is going to be…

First up I am heading, via Munich and Chicago oddly, to Asheville in North Carolina where (and I am start struck already) I will be spending a long weekend at one of the Booktopia’s which Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness, of the marvellous Books on the Nightstand Podcast, organise every year around America. The itinerary looks marvellous and I have been reliably informed I may just be mentoring an event with Anthony Marra (of whose A Constellation of Vital Phenomena I was all over) which gain is just too exciting, in fact so exciting it is almost untrue. Ann, Michael and myself may even make time to record a special edition of The Readers!

Speaking of The Readers, once the Booktopia weekend is over the blues I am sure to feel will fly away (quite literally) as I then head to stay with my lovely co-host and unofficial travel agent Thomas in Washington for a few days. This I am imaging will involve some touristy sightseeing, book hunting and lying down by the pool rather a lot, all with lashings of bookish banter. Again, I am excited and beyond about this.


Then, because I won’t have done quite enough travelling, I am off to New York for a while where I am going to be doing more (slightly secretive) bookish stuff and wandering around being a tourist before I fly home at the beginning of September… Phew!

I have just realised I haven’t booked in a theme park on this trip and American theme parks are the best! DratsI Anyway… So if you are in any of these places; Asheville, Washington or NYC then do let me know. I am planning on packing Gone With The Wind (it is almost North Carolina, no?) for the long flights and the seven hours in Chicago airport on the way but as always if you have some recommendations for books set in Asheville, Washington or NYC I would be thrilled to get some ideas, or indeed for any of the ‘Great American Novels’ I have yet to read…

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Other People’s Bookshelves #30 (Part Two): Kate Neilan

Hello and welcome, to the latest in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves which sees the series of posts turning 30! So to mark this special occasion we are heading to the delights of Essex for a big old party (grab your streamers, some cupcakes, a glass of fizzy and a paper hat) as we are hosted by one of my favourite bookish couples in the whole wide world. Today we join Rob and Kate from Adventures with Words, who I have the pleasure of joining along with Gavin every month to make Hear… Read This. Less about me, and more about them as I hand over to Kate (breaking the tradition of ladies first as I let Rob share his shelves earlier as they haven’t merged shelves yet, I am not judging their relationship on this basis though… much!) to introduce her lovely self and her shelves and all other bookish shenanigans…

I’m Kate – you might know me as @magic_kitten – and I’ve always been a huge reader ever since I can remember, and even before that if you believe my parents.  I work full time as Head of Citizenship and PSHE at a secondary school in Essex, although I originally trained as an English teacher at Cambridge, after doing my English Lit degree at Durham.  While I was there, I took the (very popular) Children’s Fiction module, which reignited my love for Young Adult books, to the extent that I wrote my dissertation on His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. I’m now one half of Adventures With Words, alongside Rob Chilver. He began the blog to discuss books, films, games and stories in general and in 2012 we started recording a weekly podcast too. Recently, I’ve branched out with my own ‘Young Adult Edition’. Do go to www.adventureswithwords.com and have a look.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I’m a dreadful hoarder and, until recently, I kept every book that I bought, even if I’d read it and not really thought much of it.  My book collection fills three ‘Billy’ bookcases and more; I’ve got two boxes of books that have yet to be unpacked since Rob and I moved in together over a year ago. Lately, though, I’ve had to be more ruthless.  We now have a ‘To go’ pile of books where books I know I’m not going to read again go, although, as yet, they’ve not actually gone anywhere yet! If I’m being honest, these aren’t even all my books. I still have a shelf in my old bedroom at my parents’ house full of all my Point Horrors and teenage reads. I’m thinking about retrieving them but where would they go?!

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?

Before my most recent house move (I worked out recently I’ve moved more than ten times, taking into account university, teacher training and various flats and houses since moving out), I had my bookcases very carefully organised. I had three big red ‘Billy’ bookcases, one ‘half’ bookcase with three deep shelves, and one totally non-matching white one. That one housed my (excessive) CD and DVD collection, then my half-bookcase was for YA, and one large bookcase housed my university books (a mixture of textbooks, anthologies, Complete Works of Shakespeare/Chaucer etc and various novels, plays and poetry). The other two bookcases were organised roughly by genre, then by author; you could glance at the shelves and easily see the Tolkien, Iain (M) Banks, Isabel Allende and so on.

All this lovely system was completely destroyed when we last moved house; putting two sets of things into one house just doesn’t fit, so I gave up my white bookcase…and so it began! As I mentioned earlier, I’ve got two boxes of books that haven’t even seen the light of day yet – there wasn’t any urgency as they’re mostly university texts – but I’m sure I’ll want them one day… Eventually, during as summer holiday, I’ll take all these lovely stories off the shelves and rearrange them. I promise. We do have a “Blog TBR” bookcase (because piling them on the floor was becoming a little impractical) and some of these will graduate onto my own bookshelves after being read, reviewed and enjoyed.

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

Short answer? No, I’m really not sure, although I did spend quite a lot of my summer holiday aged 12 buying Point Horror books for a couple of pounds each from the second hand book stall in Norwich covered market… Still got them!

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 very varied taste in books – I read literary fiction, lots of genre fiction and Young Adult – and I’m not really embarrassed about any of my choices; as far as I’m concerned, it’s fine to read something that’s a bit cheesy or clichéd as long as you enjoy it. I do own the entire Twilight series (and have read them all) and I’ve got The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. No, they’re not literary masterpieces, but yes, they were enjoyable in their own ways.

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 given to me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

I have a lovely set of Tolkein’s fiction with matt black covers and a small picture on the front of each one, which I really love, and a fantastic set of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy in hardback, all first editions. These were from my parents and they’re very precious to me. I also have a very well-loved secondhand copy of Feersum Endjinn by Iain M Banks, my favourite of his science fiction novels, which was sent to me by the wonderful Gav of No Cloaks Allowed, The Readers and Hear Read This. He found it while browsing, opened up the cover, and saw that it was signed. After buying it, he tweeted about it and I jokingly tweeted back saying it would make my day (life) if I’d found it, and he sent it to me! What a lovely guy. Finally, I have one of only eight comb-bound preview copies of the final Artemis Fowl book, Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian. Rob knew I’m a huge fan of the series and managed to get hold of it, without letting on; as you can imagine, I was absolutely thrilled.

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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?

A bit like me, my parents have a house full of books, so I always remember them being there. One of the first “proper” books I read was Jane Eyre, aged 11, but I swiftly graduated to The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and then The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is absolutely hilarious when you’re supposed to be asleep but in fact you’re reading about sweary robots under your duvet using a torch…

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?

Neither a borrower or a lender be! Well, I’m not, anyway. I have a bit of a ‘thing’ about pre-read books; library books always have that slightly funny smell to them, other people crack the spine or turn over the corner of pages, a habit I managed to kick. I’m a huge recommender to others, especially my mum, but she buys her own copy rather than borrow mine because she doesn’t want to give it back in less than pristine condition! I’m very aware that this is all a bit weird; libraries are brilliant, they’re just not how I read. Plus, the last time I lent a book (a first edition hardback of the first in Isabel Allende’s YA trilogy) I didn’t get it back… #fuming

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

Funny you ask that, Simon – you may recognise the titles I’m about to mention.  Only earlier today, Rob came home from work with a lovely bookish goody bag for me. My newest acquisitions are Magda by Meike Ziervogel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough and The Gigantic Beard The Was Evil by Stephen Collins. I’ve also got a fantastic little Reading Journal. I find, when I’m reading, that I’d like to jot down ideas but I don’t fancy ‘texting’ them into my phone, so I’m looking forward to using this from now on. Hopefully, it should improve my reviews, too!

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

To be honest, I think I’m extremely lucky when it comes to books; there are very few that I don’t have but do wish for. I’d love a hardback copy of Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales for Young and Old and I’m awaiting the arrival of All the Birds Singing by Evie Wyld, but, other than that, it’s books that haven’t been published yet. I know they’re coming, because they’re part of series I’m reading: the final Heroes of Olympus book by Rick Riordan, and the next book in Charlie Higson’s The Enemy series, not forgetting the conclusion of Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne trilogy and James Dawson’s new book, Say Her Name.

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

I’m sure they’d think I’ve got very eclectic tastes – there’s a little bit of everything – but hopefully I’ve picked some great books from every genre, and hopefully they’d see things they’d love to try themselves.

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A huge thanks to Kate for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, though she really had no choice! If you haven’t go and visit Rob’s shelves, imagine all those books in one house, 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 Kate’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Books of 2013; Part II

Blimey, it is the last day of 2013 and before we know it 2014 will be upon us. I hope you have something lovely planned for your New Years Eve? I will be back home in the Peak District with my Mum, aunties and all their children which will be lovely, we are combining Christmas and New Years all in one so much merriment will ensue I am sure. Anyway time for more of my books of 2013. I am continuing the tradition of the last few years, and my inability to whittle books down as favourites, and so this is the second of my books of the year post. Today I celebrate my top ten books that were published for the first time in the UK this year, yesterday I gave you all a list of ten corking books published prior to this year – do have a gander. So without further ado here are my favourite books published this year…

10. The Crane Wife – Patrick Ness

I absolutely adored ‘The Crane Wife’. It made me cry at the start, possibly at the end and a few time, with laughter, through the middle. It has been a good few weeks since I read the book now and I still find myself pondering what has happened to the characters since, always the sign of a good read, and the writing just blew me away.  Patrick Ness says in this book that “A story forgotten died. A story remembered not only lived, but grew.” I hope this story grows to be a huge success as it certainly deserves to be read and loved.

9. The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil – Stephen Collins

There is one word that sums up the whole reading experience of The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil and that is ‘sublime’. I loved everything about it; the imagery, the atmosphere, the message at its heart, everything. It’s a very moving book and one you cannot help but react to, I even shed a tear or two at the end. There is no doubt that to my mind The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil probably has the best title of any book this year, it also looks set to be one of the most memorable books of the year for its contents too. A quite literally, or maybe that should be quite graphically, stunning book and one of my reads of the year.

8. Maggie & Me – Damian Barr

I really loved ‘Maggie and Me’. I related to it – something that only happens to your very core or bones once or twice in a blue reading moon – and empathised with it. It was the sort of book my younger self was crying out for someone to put in my hands. I can only hope some lovely relatives, librarians, teachers or other influential bods make sure this is passed on to both the younger generation, especially those who call rubbish things ‘gay’, and to everyone they know really. Books like this help make being different both more acceptable and understandable, we need them.

7. Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

There is no question that Hannah Kent has crafted an incredibly beautiful novel with ‘Burial Rites’. It is a book which has a sense of isolation and brooding menace throughout and a book where the prose is as sparse (you feel not a word has been wasted) as the Icelandic landscape it is evoking. It is one of my books of the year without question and one lots of people can expect in their season stockings in a few months time. I strongly suggest you read it.

6. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena – Anthony Marra

‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena’ is one of those books that Gran would say ‘manages to educate you on something you have little knowledge of’ and ‘makes you walk in a strangers steps, even if the stranger is fictional’. It is a book that isn’t a comfortable read by any stretch of the imagination yet, and I know I am sometimes stuck on repeat when I mention this, I don’t think that fiction should always be neat and comfortable. Sometimes we need brave bold books and authors like this to highlight what is going on or has gone on which we know little about.  Anthony Marra took on a challenge that even an author on their tenth book might not take on and he excels at it. I urge all of you to give this book a try.

5. Alex – Pierre Lemaitre

What Lemaitre actually does with ‘Alex’, which is far more interesting and potent is make you question, as the twists come, what you think is and isn’t morally right and soon this gripping thriller starts to ask so really serious questions of its reader and their ethics. A very clever move indeed, provide a book that makes you think hard about what you might do or what you find to be the ‘right’ thing for someone to do whilst also creating a read which is a complete page turner that has the readers jaw dropping as they go. That is what has made it my thriller of the year so far, it’s genius, and I personally cannot wait for the next one in the Camille series.

4. All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

The way Evie weaves all of this together is just masterful. She doesn’t simply go for the route of alternating chapters from Jake’s present and her past, which would be too simple and has been done before. In the present Evie makes the story move forward with Jake from the latest sheep mauling, in the past though we go backwards making the reader have to work at making everything make sense. I had several ‘oh bloody hell that is why she is where she is’ moments with the past storyline before thinking ‘what there is more, that might not be the reason…’ Jakes mistrust of things it seems it catching. This style is a gamble and admittedly initially requires a leap of faith and chapter or two of acclimatizing to the structure, yet it is a gamble which pays of dividends by the end and if you see the end coming, and aren’t left completely jaw droppingly winded by it, then you are a blooming genius. I was honestly blown away.

2= Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

Atkinson is a master of prose in my eyes. I love the way she gives the readers discreet asides and occasional knowing winks. I love her sense of humour, especially when it is at its most wicked and occasionally inappropriate. I think the way her characters come to life is marvellous and the atmosphere in the book, particularly during the strands during World War II and during the London Blitz (though I didn’t think the Hitler parts of the book were needed, even if I loved the brief mention of Unity Mitford) along with the tale of her possible marriage were outstandingly written. There is also the element of family saga, the history of Britain from 1910 onwards and also how the lives of women have changed – all interesting themes which Atkinson deals with throughout.

2 = Magda – Meike Ziervogel

Two of the biggest powers that books can have are to make us think outside our usual periphery or be a spring board to discovering more about subjects we think we know. Some books can do both, they are a rarity though. Magda, the debut novel from Meike Ziervogel, is one such book which gave me both a different outlook on something I thought I had made my mind up about and left me desperate to find out more when challenged. It is the sort of book where I simply want to write ‘you have to read this book’ and leave it at that so you all do, yet it is also one that is designed to be talked about and the questions it raises be discussed.

1. The Language of Dying – Sarah Pinborough

I thought The Language of Dying was a wonderful book for its rawness and emotion. It is a book that I really experienced and one which I am so glad I have read for the cathartic and emotional effects it had on me (I was openly weeping often) and proved that sometimes books are exactly what you need and can show you truths you think no one else quite understands apart from you. I can’t recommend it enough, without question my book of the year.

I have to say I struggled with this list rather a lot. If any of you have listened to the latest episode of The Readers you will have heard me shamelessly cheating as Gavin and I discuss twelve books we are each looking forward to in 2014. So I will here cheat slightly and say that Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go, Charlotte Mendelson’s Almost English, Maggie O’Farrell’s Instructions for a Heatwave, Bernadine Evaristo’s Mr Loverman, and particularly both Deborah Levy’s Black Vodka and Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, could all easily have made the cut. Maybe I should have created a top twenty?

So which of these have you read and loved? What have been your books of 2013? What are you doing for New Years Eve?

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Confronting vs. Comforting Fiction

I have always been puzzled when I have heard someone say the words ‘oh no, I couldn’t read that, it sounds just too awful’. This has happened on various occasions but most recently when I have been telling people about Meike Ziervogel’s Magda, which I told you about on the blog yesterday. Despite me having raved about it to people’s faces/over the phone/via email the idea that they would be reading about a woman, who was not only part of the Nazi Party but who also killed her own children, is just abhorrent. Initially it makes me cross (no, not because they are questioning my judgement of a book, though now you mention it…) because it seems so closed minded, then it makes me feel a bit sad because without reading some books, not all, that challenge and confront us how do we learn. Especially in the safety that fiction provides.

Confronting Books

A selection of books I own deemed ‘too confronting’. Or are they?

Of course it is all dependent on why we read I suppose. Some people just want to escape life with a book and I completely understand the joy a comfort read can bring. Not just in hard times though that is when they can work their magic the most, if I am ever feeling down or things are a bit much then nothing works its charm like Agatha Raisin will, just in the day to day and that is how it should be. Reading should be fun and escapist. Yet surely sometimes we need to mix things up a bit don’t we?

I used to be in a book group with some colleagues of an old workplace many moons ago and we had one member who, lovely as they were, would frustrate me endlessly. The amount of books we couldn’t read because they would be offended was incredible. No murder, no war, no third world poverty, no torture, no child abuse/abduction, definitely no Nazi’s (mention of the holocaust would cause panic), no gratuitous violence, no hardcore sex… the list went on. Note:- this is not a list of things I go out of my way to look for in books. It didn’t leave much we could read. I ended up leaving after having read The Other Boleyn Girl this person announced they couldn’t read it because incest was suggested so they had to stop.

This I understand was an extreme case, though it thrilled me that it made my aversion to horses and boats in books seem minor. Even so I remember at the time thinking ‘how on earth do you watch the news?’ Some of the best books I have read have been ones that have completely taken me out of my comfort zone and confronted and challenged me. They are the books which have made my view on the world now, Magda is one and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is another, the latter about the conflict in Chechnya which horrified me with its unflinching descriptions of what has been going on in such recent history, yet was an incredibly moving and thought provoking piece of work. Both will be in my books of the year.

Yesterday I mentioned how as I started to understand Magda through Meike’s telling of her story I started to feel slightly uncomfortable that people might think I was a Nazi sympathiser, this obviously couldn’t be further from the truth. It was something that Meike herself said worried her before the book came out, especially when she wrote about her grandfathers involvement in the Nazi’s, yet to deal with its past she felt there needed to be a book like that as it is still something that has to be dealt with rather than brushed under the carpet.

I love a good crime novel especially with a really evil psychopath at its heart, particularly the ones with all the autopsies no pun intended. I won’t lie to you all, I find it grimly fascinating. Some people can’t read crime though. Unlike me they don’t like being scared, chilled and thrilled in the comfort of their own home on the sofa with a nice cup/glass of something. I do but this doesn’t mean I want to go off on a killing spree next weekend, or indeed perform an autopsy ever in my life for that matter. Just as, should I read Lolita, Tampa etc, it doesn’t mean I want to sleep with underage youths – nor does the author. I don’t hunt them down, well not the latter, I do a good crime novel though. I want to be horrified or challenged in a fictional safety net, like jumping on a rollercoaster only with optional biscuits and less g-force. Fiction, with its slight distance, can make characters come alive we don’t want to get in the minds of , be they complete inventions or fictionalisations of real people, but might learn something by understanding. At least that is how I see it.

What about you lovely lot? Do you prefer a comforting read or a confronting one? Do you worry what people will think of you if you read a book on a certain subject? Do you only read comfort reading or confronting reading and if so why? Do you think fiction is a safe place to be confronted by the controversial? Are there any subjects that should be taboo?

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A Constellation of Vital Phenomena – Anthony Marra

I am a bit cross with myself for leaving it so long to write a review of what is possibly one of my favourite books of the year. In the time since I have read this book much has happened and annoyingly I have lost the notepad where I kept all the page numbers of my favourite/most haunting or apt passages of which this book has many. However one thing that hasn’t happened in this time is that the memories of ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena’, Anthony Marra’s debut novel, have in no way lessened and the book its prose and the characters have stayed with me ever since. It is also one of those books which is so good and holds so much within its pages it is an absolute nightmare to write anything that can do the book justice.

9781781090053

Hogarth Press, 2013, hardback, 416 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

A few books I have read recently have shamed me by highlighting how little I know about world history. I know we can’t know everything yet it seems to me (and this is apt with what is going on in Syria now) that sometimes I need to be made more aware of what has happened in my lifetime away from my home shores. In the case of ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena’ it is Chechnya which is highlighted and which Anthony Marra gives an unabashed account of; it is fiction but as he says in his authors note it is very much based on real life sources of ‘essential and courageous testimony’. It is this background Marra has researched and witnessed that seeps into the book making it a vivid and sometimes quite difficult book to read yet one that is also incredibly powerful and thought provoking.

As the novel opens we meet Havaa, a young girl living in the tiny village of Eldar that has been devastated by the effects of war, the night after something newly awful has happened to her (for we learn there has been more). “On the morning after the feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones.” She finds herself in her neighbours, Akhmed, house who took her in after she miraculously escapes. However Akhmed knows that Havaa will never be safe in her village and so decides to take her to a complete stranger, Sonja a doctor who left the safety of Britain to look after her people and find her sister back in her home country, in a bombed out (though still running) hospital in the city.

Initially as a reader you are left with lots of questions. Why does Akhmed believe a little girl could be safe in a dangerous city with a stranger? Why did Sonja come back and where is her sister? Why have the Russian feds taken Havaa’s father, where is he and what might happen to him? Through Marra’s masterfully crafted story we slowly but surely learn all of the answers as he unwinds all the strands of each characters story. Cleverly, and never with a sense of cliché, we soon come to see how all their lives are indeed interwoven even when they themselves don’t.

The sense of endless questions for a reader is a bold move at the start of any book, it can create a great tension of mystery or leave the reader lost and confused. It is definitely a case of the former with ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena’. Yet Marra doesn’t stop with the risks here which is really exciting to see in a debut novel. There is of course the level of ‘shock and awe’ that he throws into the book, we are left in no doubt as to how many people have died and how, or what goes on in the torture camps set up for traitors – one of the tales of a villager turned spy is horrendous but brilliantly written.

His biggest gamble however is the fact that he doesn’t tell you the book in any sense of chronological order. The book takes place over ten years of conflict (from 1994 to 2004, the proximity of which shocked me all the more) yet we flit between these years randomly (though each chapter is headed by the year) Marra asking the reader to stitch it all together the right way themselves by the end and it works.

What made the book come completely alive for me were the characters. The main characters ‘walk of the page’ (cliché alert, true though) which makes the book all the more harrowing and emotional in parts – I cried a few times, I won’t lie. So do all the background characters too. Some are secondary characters like Deshi, a nurse who works with Sonja, a woman who has had many lovers though all have ended in disaster and so she despises all men bringing a comic tone to the book often (there are quite a few comic moments you wouldn’t expect throughout the novel, even in the worst of times people laugh).  Others simply appear for a page or two or a paragraph, yet Marra does something brilliant here by telling you their life to come in a sentence. True sometimes this can be in the form of ‘when he was to die of a tumour six years later’ though it can also be ‘he would watch his grandchild fascinated by the escalators in a decade’s time’ – I am paraphrasing here as I haven’t the exact quotes to hand annoyingly. It is the characters along with Marra’s ability to catch an atmosphere of terror, bewilderment and hope, during such a time which makes the book all the more real, harrowing and powerful.

‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena’ is one of those books that Gran would say ‘manages to educate you on something you have little knowledge of’ and ‘makes you walk in a strangers steps, even if the stranger is fictional’. It is a book that isn’t a comfortable read by any stretch of the imagination yet, and I know I am sometimes stuck on repeat when I mention this, I don’t think that fiction should always be neat and comfortable. Sometimes we need brave bold books and authors like this to highlight what is going on or has gone on which we know little about.  Anthony Marra took on a challenge that even an author on their tenth book might not take on and he excels at it. I urge all of you to give this book a try.

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Savidge Reads of the Summer Part One…

At the weekend I was a little vocal on Twitter about how disappointed I was in The Guardian’s Holiday Reading Guide for the summer. Here I do want to preface that a) I know that I am probably not the person that this guide is aimed at… but b) I normally like these guides because they introduce me to some books I would never have heard of. To my mind this was not the case with the produced list of books which frankly look like they have gone through all the prize long lists, the best seller lists and then popped them into a very long guide. There seemed to be no diversity, nothing particularly new to liven the bookish blood on a break away over the summer. Post rant several people said I should have a go and so I thought ‘sod it, I will’. However to be a bit different I decided that I’d compile two lists. The first, a list of books I have read and would recommend. The second, books I haven’t read but I have on my list of summertime reading material (if the sun ever bloody turns up) as I thought that might make it less predictable and will appear tomorrow. Here are today’s titles…

Fiction… Which might not be to everyone’s taste as each one of them has quite a punch not normally associated with ‘a good beach read’ but I like a bit of depth on a holiday read like I do anytime of the year.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena – Anthony Marra (Hogarth Press, £14.99, out now)

In a snow-covered village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as her father is abducted in the middle of the night by Russian soldiers. Their life-long friend and neighbour, Akhmed, has also been watching, and when he finds Havaa he knows of only one person who might be able to help. For tough-minded doctor Sonja Rabina, it’s just another day of trying to keep her bombed-out, abandoned hospital going. When Akhmed arrives with Havaa, asking Sonja for shelter, she has no idea who the pair are and even less desire to take on yet more responsibilities and risk. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis, revealing the intricate pattern of connections that binds these three unlikely companions together and unexpectedly decides their fate.
Possibly one of the most amazing books I have read in a long, long time. So much so the review has taken me over two weeks to write, it will be on the blog over the weekend. In the interim, this is one of the most affecting books on war I have ever read. It won’t be everyone’s ideal summer read as it is incredibly confronting but it is a book that will quite possibly change your life let alone your summer.

Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma – Kerry Hogan (Vintage Books, £7.99, out 4th of July in Paperback)

When Janie Ryan is born, she is destined to be the latest in a long line of Aberdeen fishwives. Ahead of her lies a life filled with feckless men, filthy council flats and bread & marge sandwiches. But Janie isn’t like the rest of them. She wants a different life. And Janie, born and bred for combat, is ready to fight for it.
It is a very assured, bluntly honest and highly crafted debut novel filled with laughter and heart ache, it is full of reality, it can be grim but it also celebrates life and all walks of it and might have you reassessing some of the subconscious assumptions you find you make about some of the people you pass in the street, and about books with quirky long titles.

Ghana Must Go – Taiye Selasi (Viking Books, £14.99, out now)

A stunning novel, spanning generations and continents, Ghana Must Go by rising star Taiye Selasi is a tale of family drama and forgiveness, for fans of Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This is the story of a family – of the simple, devastating ways in which families tear themselves apart, and of the incredible lengths to which a family will go to put itself back together. It is the story of one family, the Sais, whose good life crumbles in an evening; a Ghanaian father, Kweku Sai, who becomes a highly respected surgeon in the US only to be disillusioned by a grotesque injustice; his Nigerian wife, Fola, the beautiful homemaker abandoned in his wake; their eldest son, Olu, determined to reconstruct the life his father should have had; their twins, seductive Taiwo and acclaimed artist Kehinde, both brilliant but scarred and flailing; their youngest, Sadie, jealously in love with her celebrity best friend. All of them sent reeling on their disparate paths into the world. Until, one day, tragedy spins the Sais in a new direction.
It is a book filled with hidden depths and one that left me feeling a real mixture of emotions; heartache, shock, horror and also hope. At a mere 318 pages I think that is an incredible accomplishment and am very much in agreement with anyone else who thinks Taiye Selasi is one author to most definitely watch out for.

All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld (Jonathan Cape, £16.99, Out now)

Jake Whyte is the sole resident of an old farmhouse on an unnamed British island, a place of ceaseless rains and battering winds. It’s just her, her untamed companion, Dog, and a flock of sheep. Which is how she wanted it to be. But something is coming for the sheep – every few nights it picks one off, leaves it in rags. It could be anything. There are foxes in the woods, a strange boy and a strange man, rumours of an obscure, formidable beast. And there is Jake’s unknown past, perhaps breaking into the present, a story hidden thousands of miles away and years ago, in a landscape of different colour and sound, a story held in the scars that stripe her back.
I love books where the brooding sense of atmosphere and menace are palpable to the reader at all times, even in the lightest of moments. ‘All The Birds, Singing’ is such a book… It is a book that I simply cannot recommend to you enough. You will be intrigued, horrified, laugh (when you possibly shouldn’t) and thrilled by an author whose prose is exceptional. I know everyone is talking about this book at the mo but sod it, its f**king brilliant.

Black Bread White Beer – Niven Govinden (The Friday Project, £7.99, out now)

Amal is driving his wife Claud from London to her parents’ country house. In the wake of Claud’s miscarriage, it is a journey that will push their relationship – once almost perfect – towards possible collapse. In this, his latest novel, Govinden casts a critical eye on a society in which, in spite of never-ending advances in social media communications, the young still find it difficult to communicate. A devastatingly passionate and real portrait of a marriage, ‘Black Bread White Beer’ keenly captures the abandon, selfishness, hazards and pleasures that come with giving your life to another.
This is technically cheating as I have not quite finished this as I type, however I will have by the time this goes up and a review will follow shortly. Safe to say I love this book, its one where you feel the author is speaking just to you and you want to hug the book (and maybe the author) as you read it and whenever you stop, or in my case are made to stop to clean, work or some other annoying thing.

Crime… Where I shocked myself as I only had two recommendations and yet love crime but have learnt how little I have read of it this year. Shameful. To make up for it one will give you nightmares, the other will probably make you laugh quite a lot.

Human Remains – Elizabeth Haynes (Myriad Editions, £7.99, out now)

How well do you know your neighbours? Would you notice if they lived or died? Police analyst Annabel wouldn’t describe herself as lonely. Her work keeps her busy and the needs of her ageing mother and her cat are more than enough to fill her time when she’s on her own. But Annabel is shocked when she discovers her neighbour’s decomposing body in the house next door, and appalled to think that no one, including herself, noticed her absence. Back at work she sets out to investigate, despite her police officer colleagues’ lack of interest, and finds data showing that such cases are frighteningly common in her own home town. A chilling thriller and a hymn to all the lonely people, whose individual voices haunt the pages, Elizabeth Haynes’ new novel is a deeply disturbing and powerful thriller that preys on our darkest fears, showing how vulnerable we are when we live alone, and how easily ordinary lives can fall apart when no one is watching.
With its mixture of an unusual crime, if it is indeed a crime, a compelling and disturbing psychopath/sociopath at its heart, Annabel’s domestic drama and Haynes dark sense of humour, I would say, even at this early stage, that ‘Human Remains’ will easily be one of my thrillers of the year. It is one of those thrillers that is more than just a page turner (though s clichéd as I am aware it is to say this, I literally could not put it down) and works on several layers with many hidden depths and much to say, especially about forgotten people. You think you know what is coming at the start and you have absolutely no idea then, just when you think you have it all figured out, Haynes does it over and over again with more twists and turns as you go on.

Speaking From Among The Bones – Alan Bradley (Orion Books, £12.99, out now)

It is almost Easter in Bishop’s Lacey, and the villagers are holding their collective breath as the tomb of St Tancred in the church that bears his name is about to be opened after five hundred years. And as luck would have it, it’s inveterate eleven-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce who is first at the scene. But the body she finds lying there is clearly not that of a desiccated saint. For a start there’s the pool of fresh blood, and then there’s the gasmask, from under which an unmistakeable shock of golden hair identifies the corpse as that of Mr Collicutt, St Tancred’s celebrated organist. Despite her tender years, Flavia is no stranger to murder – but even she is baffled by the peculiar circumstances of Collicutt’s death. Especially when soon after, an effigy of St Tancred appears to be weeping blood onto the church floor. Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, Flavia soon finds herself exploring a secret maze of underground passages beneath the church – and is drawn into the equally dark and fetid world of one of Bishop’s Lacey’s most peculiar families.
I utterly adored ‘Speaking From Among The Bones’ and I think it might be one of my favourite Flavia De Luce mysteries yet. I have to say though, Alan Bradley how could you do it to us? The cliff hanger that you are left with is just too much! (Whatever you do, do not read the last line in the book until, erm, the last line.) How are we meant to wait until next year for a new book? How?

Classics… Where I choose two titles that might not be the best known classics, I think would make a delightful read over the summer months.

Mariana – Monica Dickens (Persephone Books, £9, out now)

Mariana is the story of a young English girl’s growth towards maturity and happiness in the 1930s. We are shown Mary at school in Kensington and on holiday at her beloved Charbury; her attempt at drama school; her year in Paris learning dressmaking and getting engaged to the wrong man; her time as a secretary and companion. Like Dusty Answer, Rebecca, I Capture the Castle or The Pursuit of Love, this is one of those novels about a young girl growing up and encountering life and love which all have the common characteristic of being funny, readable and yet perceptive. But Mariana is more than this. As the Observer’s Harriet Lane wrote in her Preface, critics may have tended ‘to dismiss its subject matter: crushes, horses, raffish uncles, frocks, inconsequential jobs, love affairs…but it is Mariana’s artlessness, its enthusiasm, its attention to tiny, telling domestic detail that makes it so appealing to modern readers. As a snap-album – as a portrait of a certain sort of girl at a certain time in a certain place – it now seems, sixty years after first publication, entirely exotic.
It has elements of the real social history of the time, only fictionalised and is a proper story of our heroine growing into adulthood and all the highs and lows that this brings. It also has a cast of characters that I am desperate to revisit again and again. As I mentioned earlier on, it is an epic of the everyman really. It isn’t often I read a book and think ‘ooh I must re-read you one day’ yet I have the feeling I will be rejoining Mary many more times in the future.

Peyton Place – Grace Metalious (Virago Books, £9.99, out now)

Switch off those TVs, kill your mobiles and settle down with the most controversial book ever written. Once denounced as ‘wicked’, ‘sordid’, ‘cheap’ ‘moral filth’, Peyton Place was the top read of its time and sold millions of copies worldwide. Way before Twin Peaks, Survivor or Big Brother, the curtains were twitching in the mythical New England town of Peyton Place, and this soapy story exposed the dirty secrets of 1950s small-town America: incest, abortion, adultery, repression and lust. Take a peek …
I got the page-turning escapism that I was looking for but I also got so much more, the humour, the sadness, the shocks. I found a book that was so well written and so believable (yet incredibly and quite delightfully melodramatic) it made me care about a community and feel a part of it. I also found some characters that I will never forget and a book I will have to go back to time and time again.

Non-Fiction… Where in trying to find titles I was saddened to discover my yearly attempt to read more non-fiction is just not happening!

The End of Your Life Book Club – Will Schwalbe (Two Roads Books, £7.99, out now)

Mary Anne Schwalbe is waiting for her chemotherapy treatments when Will casually asks her what she’s reading. The conversation they have grows into tradition: soon they are reading the same books so they can have something to talk about in the hospital waiting room. Their choices range from classic (Howards End) to popular (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), from fantastic (The Hobbit) to spiritual (Jon Kabat-Zinn), with many in between. We hear their passion for reading and their love for each other in their intimate and searching discussions. A profoundly moving testament to the power of love between a child and parent, and the power of reading in our lives.
‘The End of Your Life Book Club’ is touching without ever being saccharine, confronting and honest without ever being emotionally manipulative. It also celebrates life and highlights that we are part of each other’s ‘life-book-club’s’ through the discussions we have at book groups, on blogs, to our friends and family, or randomly on public transport about books and the power that they have. It has also left me with a list of books to go off and read as long as my arm.

Maggie & Me – Damian Barr (Bloomsbury, £11.99, out now)

It’s 12 October 1984. An IRA bomb blows apart the Grand Hotel in Brighton. Miraculously, Margaret Thatcher survives. In small-town Scotland, eight-year-old Damian Barr watches in horror as his mum rips her wedding ring off and packs their bags. He knows he, too, must survive. Damian, his sister and his Catholic mum move in with her sinister new boyfriend while his Protestant dad shacks up with the glamorous Mary the Canary. Divided by sectarian suspicion, the community is held together by the sprawling Ravenscraig Steelworks. But darkness threatens as Maggie takes hold: she snatches school milk, smashes the unions and makes greed good. Following Maggie’s advice, Damian works hard and plans his escape. He discovers that stories can save your life and – in spite of violence, strikes, AIDS and Clause 28 – manages to fall in love dancing to Madonna in Glasgow’s only gay club. Maggie & Me is a touching and darkly witty memoir about surviving Thatcher’s Britain; a story of growing up gay in a straight world and coming out the other side in spite of, and maybe because of, the iron lady.
I related to it – something that only happens to your very core or bones once or twice in a blue reading moon – and empathised with it. It was the sort of book my younger self was crying out for someone to put in my hands. I can only hope some lovely relatives, librarians, teachers or other influential bods make sure this is passed on to both the younger generation, especially those who call rubbish things ‘gay’, and to everyone they know really. Books like this help make being different both more acceptable and understandable, we need them.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Magical/Other… A section which I tried so hard to make simply a sci-fi section but showed that I clearly barely read any and that to even try and sound au fait with the sci-fi genre would have diehard fans chastising me, but I honestly did try!

The Machine – James Smythe (Blue Door Books, £12.99, out now)

Haunting memories defined him. The machine took them away. She vowed to rebuild him. From the author of The Testimony comes a Frankenstein for the twenty-first century. Beth lives alone on a desolate housing estate near the sea. She came here to rebuild her life following her husband’s return from the war. His memories haunted him but a machine promised salvation. It could record memories, preserving a life that existed before the nightmares. Now the machines are gone. The government declared them too controversial, the side-effects too harmful. But within Beth’s flat is an ever-whirring black box. She knows that memories can be put back, that she can rebuild her husband piece by piece. A Frankenstein tale for the 21st century, The Machine is a story of the indelibility of memory, the human cost of science and the horrors of love.
I found ‘The Machine’ was a book as chilling, and thrilling, as it was emotional and thought provoking. It is also one of those books that delightfully defies any labels of genre, delightful both for the reader and as one in the eye for those who want a book to be pigeonholed if at all possible. It is the sort of book – from the sort of author – that ought to be winning lots of prizes and being read by lots of people.

The Crane Wife – Patrick Ness (Canongate,  £14.99, out now)

One night, George Duncan – decent man, a good man – is woken by a noise in his garden. Impossibly, a great white crane has tumbled to earth, shot through its wing by an arrow. Unexpectedly moved, George helps the bird, and from the moment he watches it fly off, his life is transformed. The next day, a kind but enigmatic woman walks into George’s shop. Suddenly a new world opens up for George, and one night she starts to tell him the most extraordinary story. Wise, romantic, magical and funny, “The Crane Wife” is a hymn to the creative imagination and a celebration of the disruptive and redemptive power of love.
It made me cry at the start, possibly at the end and a few time, with laughter, through the middle. It has been a good few weeks since I read the book now and I still find myself pondering what has happened to the characters since, always the sign of a good read, and the writing just blew me away. Patrick Ness says in this book that “A story forgotten died. A story remembered not only lived, but grew.” I hope this story grows to be a huge success.

Diving Belles – Lucy Wood (Bloomsbury, £7.99, out now)

Along Cornwall’s ancient coast, from time to time, the flotsam and jetsam of the past can become caught in the cross-currents of the present and a certain kind of magic floats to the surface…Straying husbands lured into the sea can be fetched back, for a fee. Houses creak, fill with water and keep a fretful watch on their inhabitants. And, on a windy beach, a small boy and his grandmother keep despair at bay with an old white door. In these stories, hopes, regrets and memories are entangled with catfish, wreckers’ lamps and baying hounds as Cornish folklore slips into everyday life.
There are those rare books that come into your life and once finished you feel a little bereft because they were so good. Lucy Wood’s debut collection of short stories ‘Diving Belles’ is one such book, in fact I loved it so much I had to ration it out to the point I was only reading one or two stories a week. I simply didn’t want to it end.

So there you are, if you managed to stay with me for the long haul then well done. Tomorrow I will be sharing with you the books that I haven’t read yet which I really fancy getting to over the summer months (if summer decides to show itself) and think some of you might like too! In the meantime don’t forget to share you thoughts on the books you have loved the most so far in the first half of the year. Also let me know what you think about the selection above, which ones have you read or been meaning to read? Also, if any of you fancy doing summer reading guides, or already have, do let me know as I would love to have a gander.

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Radio Silence/Radio Savidge

That blinking thing called work is a pesky so and so isn’t it? Every time I think I am going to get back into the swing of things something like an International Music Festival comes along and reading, let along blogging, goes out of the window. On a serious note – I am actually really, really loving my new job. Second to books in my life is definitely music (family and friends are somewhere along the pecking order) so to work on a new exciting project like this is bloody amazing really. If that wasn’t enough the people are also bloody lovely (it is all bloody lovely really) and they are being really supportive with everything that is going on with Gran, no change there at the moment.

The blog has been suffering a little though I will admit, though I think (blowing my own trumpet maybe, as you may all disagree) that my reviews have become more ‘me’ I think. Still a work in progress as always but I feel much happier putting them out, even if they are taking (and becoming) a bit longer. Let me know if you think otherwise!

Anyway, I realised that whilst my blogging has gone a bit more sporadic there are three other ways you can catch up with me being bookish and those are the podcasts I am on, and this got me thinking about Radio Savidge. You see there are the three podcasts I do (The Readers, The Readers Book Club) and also the podcasts that I am always listening to and so I thought I should share some of them with you so that, should you fancy, you can hear me waffling on about books or listen to a few of the podcasts I have in my ears at the moment.

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So as some of you will know I host two book groups, one which also has a monthly spin off. The first is ‘The Readers’, which has now gone fortnightly, which I co-host with the bloody lovely Gavin of Gav Reads. We subtitled it ‘Book Based Banter’ because generally we waffle on, and off on tangents, about books for roughly 30/40mins per episode. We also have a monthly book club which we have now made seasonal. For the summer selection we have gone for ‘The Case of the Missing Servant’ by Tarquin Hall, which you can hear here and see my review of here, and for July we have ‘Snake Ropes’ by Jess Richards (which we are recording next Wednesday) and ‘The Last Banquet’ by Jonathan Grimwood in August. Each show features Gav and I discussing the book, being joined by the author and sometimes a special guest PLUS asking your questions. So, if you have any for Jess or John let me know.

The final podcast I am involved with is the one I host alone. You Wrote The Book! is a fortnightly ‘in conversation’ show where I (lightly) grill an author. Some people love author interviews, some people loath them, I love them as I find authors brains rather fascinating and I have been very, very lucky as already I have had Evie Wyld, John Boyne, Xiaolu Guo, Alan Bradley, Taiye Selasi, Joanne Harris, Patrick Ness, Damian Barr and Maggie O’Farrell on the show! Eek, squeal. If you fancy having a listen to them you can do here.

Sorry about that slightly shameless plug, I will now redeem myself by sharing three of my favourite bookish podcasts that I listen to every episode without fail and think you should be checking out too. First up is ‘Books on the Nightstand’ which I think I have raved about endlessly already on several occasions. Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness have become firm friends of mine, though we have never met, simply through hearing them and tweeting bookish stuff with them. They both work for random, know their books, love their books and are brimming with recommendations – recently they discussed ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon’ by
Anthony Marra which had completely gone under my radar and was absolutely amazing, A–MAZ–ING! Next up are another duo, who also happen to be boyfriend and girlfriend (does playground giggle behind hand) too, in the form of Rob and Kate who make up ‘Adventures With Words’, this is another weekly podcast and I often sit with a cuppa and listen, occasionally responding to them before realising I am not in the same room as them, oops. Finally, another duo, only this time related as Trevor of Mookse and Gripes blog now does a podcast with his brother discussing NYRB classics, with the occasional extra show thrown in for good measure.

I could of course mention the vodcast of the ABC Book Club, formerly The First Tuesday Book Club with my heroine Marieke Hardy, and also the Radio 2 Arts Show with Claudia Winkleman, who I am currently slightly obsessed by and who I would like to steal many an interview technique off as well as spend many hours with discussing books. They are two further goldmines of audio joy, well one is visual too. Oh, I mentioned them anyway.

So which podcasts do you listen to regularly that I should be adding to my own Savidge Radio Station? Do we listen to any of the same ones?

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