Tag Archives: Armistead Maupin

Other People’s Bookshelves #76 – Christoph Fischer

Hello and welcome 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 Wales to join Christoph Fischer wonderful shelves. Christoph, whose blog you can head to here, 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 him in his wonderful lounge meets library before we have a nose through those tempting bookshelves and learn more about him.

I’m a German expat living in West Wales with my partner and three Labradoodles. I was born by the German/ Austrian border, studied in Hamburg and then came to the UK 23 years ago where I lived in London, Brighton and Bath. I’m a trained librarian and worked for the British Film Institute, local Libraries, Museums and for an airline. Three years ago I’ve taken voluntary redundancy and started writing and publishing my own books. I still spend far too much time reading. (Simon says this is not possible!)

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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?

If I have a hard copy I always want to keep it – unless it was REALLY bad (and even then throwing or giving it away feels wrong. The librarian in me cannot let go of them). I have lost a lot of literary treasures because of my move from Germany to the UK and I deeply regret that. Now I’m over-compensating, I guess. Sadly, a lot of my books are e-books now, and I don’t develop the same kind of bond with those. I never get to see the cover or hold it, and once I’ve read it, the file sinks to the bottom of the electronic ocean, never to be seen again.

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. Once a German librarian, always a German librarian… (My partner likes me to Monica from Friends). I’ve organised them into General Fiction (alphabetical), Crime Fiction, Scandinavian Fiction, Travel Literature and Non-Fiction. I also have a corner for my own books.

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

I think my first book was “Five Go to Mystery Moor” by Enid Blyton. As I said earlier, I don’t have any of my childhood books. Briefly after I moved to the UK my father passed away and I didn’t have the means to ship everything over, so they went to a charity shop.

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

I have a stack of ‘adult’ themed gay comics from Germany. They are humorous, not ‘erotic’ but I wouldn’t want my father-in-law to find them. I’ve positioned them on a shelf that he can’t reach.

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 have a small selection of signed books from author events at Toppings Booksellers in Bath; most notably from Lionel Shriver, Simon Mawer, Armistead Maupin and Christos Tsiolkas. Your question is a good reminder for me to put them all together in a place so I can save them in case of a fire.

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?

“The Good Soldier Švejk” by Jaroslav Hašek. I had seen a fringe play that my father directed when I was ten, but I was told that I wasn’t old enough to fully understand it. I loved the funny illustration by a Czech artist on the cover and read it anyway, but did find the book too difficult at the time. I’ve rediscovered it a few years back during research for one of my own novels and loved it. My father was born in Czechoslovakia and the book reminded me much of him and his sense of humour.

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If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I probably would have to buy it if I borrowed a good book, but I usually buy all of my books in the first place. In the indie author community and the blogo-sphere I come across so many interesting books, and then there are the book fairs and trips to book shops. I’m also reviewing books for the Historical Novel Society, so really, I’m drowning in books….

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

I’ve organised the Llandeilo Book Fair and came back with 15 books from it: Most looking forward to “Motherlove” by Thorne Moore, “The Beaufort Bride” by Judith Arnopp and “The Man Who Never Was” by Olga Ninez Miret. More traditional late additions are: Haruki Murakami’s “Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki”, Simon Mawer’s “Tightrope” and my fourth copy of “Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts (I keep giving it away to friends).

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

“The Slap” by Christos Tsiolkas – I keep giving copies of that away, too, to visitors and friends. I really would like to read it again…

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

I’d like them to think that I’m open minded to all types of books and am neither a snob nor fixated on one genre.

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

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Ten LGBT Books That You Might Not Have Read But Should…

I don’t normally think about doing posts especially around Pride, not because I am not proud – I’m out and happy about it, I never know if proud is the right word – but because I always think that co-founding a prize like The Green Carnation Prize (which celebrates LGBT writing) means that I promote LGBT stories and LGBT authors. However with the reissue of three Vintage Classics, which you can win here, then the amazing news in America yesterday it felt the time was write for me to share my top LGBT novels, until I realised I had done it before. Oops. I then thought about doing a list of ten contemporary books you might not have read but should until I saw that Eric of Lonesome Reader had already done one this morning. Drats! However once he gave his blessing for me to do the same I popped a list together and neither of us have a book or author in common. Interesting. Here are mine, if I have reviewed them I have linked them in the title so you can find out more…

With A Zero At Its Heart – Charles Lambert

A collection of snippet like stories which create the whole of a human life. Experimentally it wonderfully evokes the story of a (rather bookish) young man as he grows up, discovers he is gay, finds himself, travels, becomes a writer and then deals with the death of his parents and the nostalgia and questions that brings about the meaning of life and how we live it. You can read a full review here.

Grasshopper Jungle – Andrew Smith

Now if I told you that a book about an impending apocolypse caused by giant horny mutant grasshoppers could be one of the most touching stories I have read this year about friendship and love and the blurred (and often confusing) lines between the two, you would probably think that I was mad. This is how I felt last year when everyone, and I mean everyone, who had read Grasshopper Jungle in America raved about it to me and said I simply had to read it. I did and they were right. It had also lead me into more YA fiction which by the looks of it is where some of the most exciting and intellegent LGBT themed writing is coming from. You have to read this book. I have to post my review sooner than soon.

He Wants – Alison Moore

Alison Moore’s writing is so deft in so many ways it is hard to try and do it justice, or without spoiling any of the many delights, twists/surprises and ‘did I just actually read that then?’ moments which the novel has in store as we discover the ins and outs of widowed Lewis’ life. It is a story of the everyman and a story that, if you are anything like me, will leave you feeling completely uplifted and utterly devastated, all at once. It is a perfect example of the sort of book I want to be reading. I loved it and you can see my full review of it here, was one of my books of 2014.

Physical – Andrew McMillan

Slight cheat here because this collection of poetry is not actually out for another two weeks (my blog, my rules) however you might want to order or put a copy on hold now. McMillan has the power to titillate and disturb in each of the poems that he writes whilst also, in particular the middle section, constructing poems the like of which I have never seen or read before. It is playful and also perturbing, saucy and sensual aswell as being masculine and moving. I haven’t read or experienced anything quite so like it, or so frank about all the forms of male love.

The Borrower – Rebecca Makkai

The Borrower is a road trip tale started when which ten year old Ian and his local librarian Lucy accidentally kidnap each other. This book is not only a love story to the powers of books and a good story, it looks at friendship and also the scary reality of some of the extremist views in certain parts of America (where I bet they are seething today) and the movement of ‘straightening therapy’. Bonkers and brilliant, it is one of those books that you hug to yourself afterwards and also cleverly packs one hell of a punch over a subject that is current and we need to talk about more – find out more here.

A Life Apart – Neel Mukherjee

In part the story of Ritwik a man who survives a horrendous childhood living on the breadline in Kalighat, India until his mother’s death when Ritwik moves to Oxford to find himself. Yet also a story of his elderly Oxford landlady Anne Cameron. As Ritwik experiments with his new found freedom and who he really is as a person he must also face is past and find a friend in Anne like he never expected, the story of their relationship is beautifully told. It is also a very vivid and, occasionally quite graphically, honest look at the life of some gay men in the early 1990’s – which as someone reminded me rudely today on the radio is over 20 years ago. I feel like I need to read this book again.

Hawthorn & Child – Keith Ridgway

I could have chosen this or The Long Falling also by Ridgway as they are both exceptional. Is Hawthorn & Child a novel or is it a series of short stories, who cares when it is this good. One of the many stories that make up the book will stay with me forever, ‘How To Have Fun With A Fat Man’ manages to several clever things in just fewer than twenty pages. Firstly it’s three separate narratives; one is Hawthorn at a riot, the second Hawthorn cruising for sex in a gay sauna and the third a visit to Hawthorn’s father. The way Ridgway writes the riot and the sauna sequences in such a way that sometimes you can’t tell which is which and plays a very interesting game with so called acts of masculinity. Brilliance. A sexy, quirky, stunningly written book which should have won the Booker.

Mr Loverman – Bernadine Evaristo

Yes I too now have Shabba Ranks in my head. Back to the book though, the tale of Mr Barrington Jedediah Walker, Esq is one you are unlikely to forget, just like its protagonist. As his elderly years start to approach more and more Barrington decides it is time to leave his wife and follow his true heart which lies with his best friend Morris, much to the horror of his family and many people he knows. Evaristo writes a wonderful, funny and moving novel which gives a much missed voice in the literary scene and in the LGBT scene a change to be heard, understood and by the end celebrated. You have to read this book.

Sacred Country – Rose Tremain

Possibly the oldest out of this selection of books but one which I think addresses something that we need to be discussing more and seems to be missing in literature in general, unless it is just me… the transexual story. Tremain introduces us to Mary Ward, who has felt different from everyone all her childhood, as she realises that she should actually be a boy. We then follow her journey from the turbulence of her youth in Northern England to London where believes she will be able to live just as she was meant to, yet can she?

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

So with my last choice, I have slightly cheated again as this isn’t out in the UK for another month and a half (though if you’re in the US it has been out a while) yet this is probably a book I am going to urge everyone, no matter their sexuality/class/colour, that they have to read as not only is it one of the best books I have read on love and sexuality and friendship, but one of the best books I have ever read on what it means to be human. Seriously that good. I cannot praise it enough, it’s tough to read but so it should be. Will easily be one of my books of the year and very likely to be one of the best LGBT books I ever read. Yep, that good.

Now if you are wondering about my favourite LGBT books that I hinted at back at the start, well below is a video I made discussing them when I was flirting with the idea of being a booktuber. Have a gander as there are ten more tip top recommended books, even if I do say so myself.

If you need a list of the titles they were; Pilcrow – Adam Mars Jones, The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller, Running With Scissors – Augusten Burroughs, The Proof of Love – Catherine Hall, A Single Man – Christopher Isherwood, My Policeman – Bethan Roberts, In Cold Blood – Truman Capote, Skin Lane – Neil Bartlett, A Boy’s Own Story – Edmund White and Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin.

If that wasn’t enough, and as if there can ever be enough book recommendations, then do check out Eric’s blog post today (where I have gained ten new to me recommendations) and also the Green Carnation Prize website for all the previous long and shortlists. Oh and don’t forget you can win those Vintage Pride Classics here. Happy Pride and well done America! Love wins.

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World Book Night 2014

Today/tonight is World Book Night which has become one of my favourite nights of the year, yes along with such joys as Christmas, my Birthday and the second night on a long holiday (when you have gone past the first day and night of being knackered from travel and have all that blissful time ahead, I need a holiday abroad soon). Any venture that sends you out into the world, without putting yourself in danger, to give people copies of books is a marvellous thing and in the UK alone they are giving a million books away. Great stuff.

I have been thrilled to have been chosen again, I initially had a sulk thinking I hadn’t until I checked my spam mail, for the fourth year running. I have been very lucky so far giving away copies of some of my favourite books; Half of a Yellow Sun, Rebecca (which I also read from to lots of people that year) and The Reader (at the first night of Liverpool’s first literature festival which really should come back). This year I think I have topped them all, yes even Rebecca, as I am giving away the first in my favourite ever series of books which I read in my teens (and made me feel less alone) and have re-read and re-read since. Yes, I am giving away Tales of the City.

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Now as is tradition, because it means a lot to me, I am giving most of these away to the local cancer hospital where the staff, patients and their loved ones can have copies that hopefully might shine some light in a very difficult time and then be passed on to others again and again.

I am keeping some back though this year and, as a giver who just loves to go on giving, four of them are going to come into work with me tomorrow, two being left on the train in the morning on the way in and two on the way home, with a little note hopefully finding them some new temporary homes and fans who will pass them on again. I am also sorting through my own books to pass some on to people at work and leave more in the library I made in the communal hall a while back.

Who else is giving books away for World Book Night, which title have you got to give and how are you going to give it away? If you haven’t been a giver have you planned on passing some of your favourite books? Oh and just out of interest, if you could give away a million copies of just one book which would it be and why? Suggest a few and who knows I may pick some of you at random to send a bookish treat through the post!

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Other People’s Bookshelves #37; Catherine Hall

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a regular series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. This week we have a doubly apt host, Catherine Hall. Firstly because they are one of the authors who has been selected for Fiction Uncovered in the past, which I am guest editing at the moment, and also I happen to be staying in her house (so she is literally hosting me) while London Book Fair is on, in fact I took the pictures and almost took some of the books. Oh, did I mention that she is one of my most lovely friends who I have become chums with since I read The Proof of Love a few years ago. Anyway, I could waffle on more but I shall not, let us find out more about Catherine and have a nosey through her books…

I was born and brought up on a sheep farm in the Lake District where we lived with another family in a vaguely communal way. I always loved books and ended up doing English at Cambridge. Part of me loved it, but I found it a bit odd that we didn’t read anything written after 1960 and not that much by women. After that I went to London and got a job in a television production company making films about the environment and development issues, and then worked for an international peacebuilding agency doing communications. I left when I inherited some money from my grandmother and have written three novels: Days of Grace, The Proof of Love and The Repercussions, which will be published in September. I live in London with my two little boys, their dad and his boyfriend.

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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 used to keep all of them because it was like a diary of my life, sort of marking where my thinking was at different times. Now I have to have liked them enough to want to live with them, otherwise I pass them on to Oxfam. Having said that, I’m quite a generous reader – I usually find something I like in most books. But my shelves – and there are a lot of them in our house – are pretty overflowing.

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?

There’s a sort of system, or at least there was when we moved in which is that they’re divided by genre – fiction, history, biography, travel, poetry, plays – and then within that vaguely alphabetically as in by author surname but not strictly, because that would mean rearranging everything every time I bought a new book. I have a massive pile of books to be read next to my bed. Since I had kids it’s all gone a bit messy, and of course they have loads of books that end up all over the place.

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

It was Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton. I loved her books as a child and would save up my pocket money to buy them. It’s on my boys’ bookshelf now waiting for them to be old enough to read it.

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’ve got lots of guilty pleasures but I’m pretty out and proud about them. There’s a lot of Jackie Collins and Jilly Cooper on my shelves sitting next to Dickens and Doris Lessing. At college my friend Cath and I used to buy Jilly Cooper’s books as soon as they came out and retire to bed to read them in one go instead of reading Chaucer or whoever it was that week. Her politics are questionable but I learned a lot about character and plot.

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?

That’s a really hard question. I love the proof copies of my novels – they’re the things that I’m most proud of producing in my life. I also love my ancient copy of The Golden Notebook because that really changed the way I thought about things, and Oranges are Not the Only Fruit because I remember coming down to London on a school trip and sneaking to the Silver Moon women’s bookshop and buying – shocker – a lesbian novel. So I’d definitely save them, and then I think I’d want to save some of my children’s books because they remind me of reading to them as they’ve grown up.

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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?

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong. That’s another book that I’d definitely save. I have two copies of it, one annotated, the other clean for reading. It introduced me to psychoanalysis and of course the concept of the ‘zipless fuck.’ It was probably the most thrilling book I’d ever read. For my A levels I wrote a long dissertation type thing about Freud’s question on what women want, and the way it was answered in literature, ranging from Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Fear of Flying. It was my favourite essay ever. I go back to Fear of Flying every couple of years to read it again and it’s still relevant to me now.

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 have to have the book if I love it, so I’d go and get a copy. I borrow books sometimes if people have them to hand but generally I just buy what I want to read. I find it very satisfying to have a pile of books just waiting for me to dive into.

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

My dad, Ian Hall, just wrote a memoir called Fisherground: Living the Dream about the farm that we grew up on. I was very proud to add it to my bookshelves. The last books I bought were Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and Taiye Selassi’s Ghana Must Go.

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

I’m dying to read Charlotte Mendelson’s Almost English, Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing, and The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. Oh, and of course Armistead Maupin’s Days of Anna Madrigal. I’m so excited to read that.

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

I think they’d probably think it’s quite eclectic and pretty wide-ranging. Perusing shelves is the first thing I do when I go to someone’s house – it really does tell you a lot about the person, and I’ve bonded with people or fancied them because of their taste. So I hope my taste makes me look good!

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A huge thanks to Catherine for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, as if she had any choice, and for letting me stay so often when I pop down to London town. She is rather a legend. If you haven’t read The Proof of Love, which is one of my favourite books and if you have read this blog for a while you will know that, then you must get a copy NOW! Anyway… 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 Catherine’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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The Days of Anna Madrigal – Armistead Maupin

I am not very good with goodbyes, nor am I very good with endings. There are all those mixed emotions; denial, upset, happy tears, sad tears – it is all a bit much really. I think it is a mixture of all these that has caused me to pause rather often as I have been putting my thoughts together about The Days of Anna Madrigal, Armistead Maupin’s final in the Tales of the City series which I have loved since I was in my teens.

Doubleday, hardback, 2014, fiction, 288 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Anna Madrigal is now 90-something and in the prime of old age, she has become something of a legend within the LGBT community, not only in her hometown of San Francisco where she is an institution, but all over the place. However Anna is filled with nostalgia and the events that happened when she was a young boy Andy, a boy who knew he was very different from the other boys and girls and who did something that Anna has been keeping secret for a very, very long time.

I am of course very delicately tip toeing around any spoilers because I really don’t want to give anything away to have those of you who love the series and haven’t read this one yet, or those are just discovering it (and should really go back to the start as then you have nine books to get through) because you have such joys ahead – you lucky things. What I can say is that Anna decides that she will go back and face her past and rectify, if she can, any of the wrongs that she may have caused in her past.

They shared a merry moment of bonding until Brian interrupted it. “Wait a minute,” he said to Anna. “You told me you chose your name for the anagram.” The old woman shook her head slowly. “I told you it was an anagram. There’s a big difference.” Brian’s face turned pouty. “So you were just blowing smoke up my ass.” Anna smiled dimly. “You may have been inhaling, dear, but I wasn’t blowing.”

This gives the book a wonderful sense of resolution and (if you have read it) to the whole series going full circle. Anna Magrigal has always been the heart, and in many ways the link that binds, the Tales of the City series and indeed the wonderful characters, Mouse, Mary Ann Singleton, Mona, Brian etc, together throughout. Wherever she is they end up being (Burning Man is involved in this novel) or somehow finding themselves linked to her in another fateful or coincidental way. At the same time she has always really been its biggest mystery and enigma in the series. Where did she come from? What happened that made her lose contact with her mother and the whore house in Winnemucca? Well we go back to the 1930’s and find out thanks to some wonderful (and vividly described and created) flashbacks which brings the hardship of anyone ‘different’ to the full force and in a way looks back at LGBT history and, of course, supplies us with a great story.

It is this mixture of a great stories with more serious issues lying in the background, sneaking into your brain, which is what I have always loved so much about Armistead Maupin’s writing. There’s levels and there’s bigger issues underlying to make you think, while the characters you love and the situations they find themselves in make it all the more real. The main theme for me in The Days of Anna Madrigal for me was ‘ageing’. Be you in your late twenties or thirties, your sixties or your nineties it is something we all think about, even if for the briefest of moments. Maupin looks at ageing and looks at its pitfalls, like your body failing you or not feeling able to keep up with the rest of the world or being at odds with it. I must point out it also celebrates it in many ways too. I often found it all incredibly touching.

If only he knew, though Michael. Sixty-two was a lot like twelve and hormonal. Teenagers rage against the end of childhood, old people against the end of everything. Instability is a permanent condition that adapts with the times.

The other themes of the book, which link to age in many ways, look at endings and goodbyes – I have already mentioned I am not very good at these. Goodbye’s don’t have to mean death, they can mean goodbye to friends you’ve moved on from, places you loved which maybe aren’t for you anymore, goodbye to guilt or the past. There is so much in any goodbye and again Maupin looks at this in a wonderful way which will move you, unless you happen to be dead inside in which case you don’t deserve the mixed tears of joy and sadness that might be ahead.

She regarded him benignly until she caught his gaze. “So this is the end of candlelight?” He hesitated. “Well… if you wanna put it that way.” “How would you have me put it?”

It was the sense of pleasant nostalgia that I was left with the most having closed The Days of Anna Madrigal knowing it was the end of the series. A nostalgia for all the joy that the characters and their tales have brought me, along with the sense of having gone full circle. After all more often than not, the ending of something is actually the beginning of something else, or the start of a new cycle, isn’t it? I guess I just have to start all over again don’t I and relive the memories and stories that I am most grateful and thankful Armistead Maupin has brought into many of our lives.

Actually, the end of the Tales of the City and Simon Savidge story, as I like to think of it, isn’t quite over yet. For one, I have just got my mother reading them and she loved the first. Secondly, I am giving it away on World Book Night, so I will be passing on the Tales that way too. So who else is a fan of the Tales of the City novels? Is anyone else gutted, even though we have all these to re-read, that the series has now come to an end? Oh and if you would like to hear Armistead talking more about the book, you can do so with me (who turned into a bit of a fan boy) here on You Wrote The Book. Are there any other series that are so endearing you could recommend to fill the void these will now leave?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #35; Persephone Nicholas

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a regular series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. This week we are heading off to Australia to meet a lady who is named after my favourite Greek mythical character and one of my favourite publishing house, ok maybe the last bit wasn’t true, Persephone Nicholas. Before I start making more things up about Persephone let’s get to know her a little bit better and have a nosey through her bookshelves…

My name’s Persephone and I’m a UK born author and freelance writer now living in Sydney. I’ve always loved books and writing, but I didn’t start writing for a living until I moved to Australia almost a decade ago. I write for newspapers, magazines and a few corporate clients. Last year my first novel, Burned, won a Random House literary award and has since been published as an eBook and in print in Australia and New Zealand. I’m now working on my second novel. I also blog about books and writing at: http://thebookorme.blogspot.com.au/ and am on twitter: @PersephoneNich.

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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 used to hold on to every single book that came my way. My dad worked in publishing, my mum was a compulsive reader and I was a very bookish kid who went on to read English at uni. So at one point I had thousands of books. When I moved to Australia almost a decade ago, I had a huge cull. I decided that unless I’d loved a book so much I wanted to read it again, I would let it go. Looking back, I think I was too ruthless – I probably got rid of 90 per cent of my books. At the time I was so stressed at the prospect of moving my family to the other side of the world, that it seemed easier to get rid of things than organise them. The upside of all that is that I’m looking forward to buying some of my old favourites again, Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series for example. I don’t keep a lot of books now. I don’t have a problem with getting rid of things I haven’t especially enjoyed and I love to share good books with friends, so I often lend my favourite books. Occasionally one gets lost, but I prefer to think of books being read, rather than languishing on 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?

A casual observer might think that my bookshelves aren’t organised at all. But I know exactly where everything is. I have shelves for books I want to read, shelves for books I’ve read and want to keep and another shelf for books that I’m happy to pass on. I also have shelves of reference books; on creativity and writing; and also on interiors as I regularly write for one or two home magazines. I’ve kept a few books that my kids loved when they were younger too. I’ve always enjoyed reading to them and keeping some of those picture books brings back happy memories.

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

I have absolutely no idea what the first book I bought was. I must have been quite young and I absolutely loved Mary Norton’s The Borrowers and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series so it might have been one of either of those.

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’m always interested to read books that are hugely popular. I like to know what everyone’s talking about. That’s what made me pick up the first Harry Potter, Twilight and Fifty Shades. Only Harry Potter still has shelf room in our house though.

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

The books I cherish most were given to me by my mum. She’s always been a great reader and spent hours choosing books she thought my sister and I might love when we were younger. She bought Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth for me and introduced me to The Kite Runner many years ago. She still gives me great book tips. The other special book I have is my debut novel, Burned. I was very surprised – and honoured – to receive an award from Random House for it last year and it was amazing being able to put a copy of a book I’d written on my bookshelves. I’m writing another novel now and have definitely learned a lot about the process since Burned was published, but I think the first one will always be special.

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

My parents were pretty liberal and let us read everything when we were growing up. I don’t remember anything ever being deemed inappropriate, so if there was something I wanted to read on their shelves (which were absolutely jam-packed), I would have just got on with it.

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’ve borrowed a book and loved it, I will often buy a copy. It might not go on my shelves, I might give it to someone else as a gift, but I do like to support writers whose work I’ve enjoyed.

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

An Australian girlfriend recently gave me The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea by Randolph Stow. He’s widely considered to be one of Australia’s finest writers, but I hadn’t heard of this book until she told me about it. That’s what I’ll be reading next.

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

Their first thought would probably be that I don’t have many books. If they looked a little more closely, I hope they’d think that I enjoy intelligent writing by a wide range of authors.

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A huge thanks to Persephone for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves and for taking the time to chat with us all. Anyway… 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 Persephone’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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An Afternoon with Armistead…

More and more often I literally have to pinch myself at what a lucky young man (I nearly said boy but those days are long gone) I am, and all the joy that a love of books have brought me. Would the 15 year old me ever have thought that he would meet one of his literary idols sixteen years later? Never! Yet that is what happened yesterday when I got to see, and indeed meet, one of my bookish hero’s Armistead Maupin who’s Tales of the City series have been a comfort, a friend and a place I can escape to for all those many years.

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Armistead was in Liverpool to do an event at the Museum of Liverpool in conjuncture with the wonderful Homotopia which celebrates queer arts and culture – I must talk to them about bookish stuff. Homotopia has an amazing exhibition on April Ashley at the moment. April was one of the first people who underwent gender reassignment, rather like the fictional Anna Madrigal, and so Armistead coming to celebrate The Days of Anna Madrigal seemed perfection – and it was. The audience loved him and he made us laugh, get a bit emotional and most of all think.

Then, being a very lucky little so and so, once all the signings were done I got time to sit and chat and interview him all by myself. Well, by myself with his wonderful publicist (of several decades) Alison Barrow and of course The Beard who had made special Anna Madrigal themed cupcakes* (Anna loves her garden and a joint, the joint isn’t real but is filled with popping candy – fantabulous) which proved a wonderful talking point…

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And talk we did. I have to admit I went into utter fan boy momentum for a few minutes and then managed to regain some kind of cool. We chatted about Tales of the City, how much it means to people (how much it meant to me at 15 and now) and also some rather naughty bits and bobs. I won’t say anymore, you will have to wait for You Wrote the Book next week.

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I can say it was, after the nerves went, an utter joy. I wanted to pinch myself to check that it wasn’t some kind of crazy dream. However I have proof in the pictures and also in the, erm, proof. Yes that does say ‘a great interview’ – head explodes with joy!

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So all in all it was one of the most amazing afternoon’s ever, and ended with myself, Armistead and The Beard not only discussing Armistead writing something racy under a pseudonym, but also his possible one man tour. We have offered to be his back up dancers/singers/luggers or maybe even become a new boyband…

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…The thing is, what would we be called? Anyway, I thought I would share one of the biggest bookish highlights I have had yet. See, books are brilliant, so are blogs.

*Note not all authors I meet get specially made book themed cakes, though I have told The Beard that there could be a marvellous business in this!

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