Tag Archives: Arthur Conan Doyle

Other People’s Bookshelves #27 – Matt Cresswell

Hello and welcome to the latest in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves, which must mean it is the weekend and I have survived my first proper full week of work, and have been in blog-hiding after my honest and possibly offending post, and am probably/hopefully curled up with a good book somewhere or watching Kylie on The Voice. This week we are back in the Manchester area (because the north is the best, ha) as we join jack of all trades, as he would call himself, Matt Cresswell, who is a writer, editor and illustrator and soon hopefully bookshop owner. I will let him explain better…

The projects seem to be piling up. I’ve published short fiction in various places, including Icarus Magazine, Hearing Voices magazine and in Shenanigans: Gay Men Mess With Genre from Obverse Books, and, like half the people I know, am halfway through writing a novel – a steampunk/Victorian detective novel with Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle and Queen Victoria as the detective’s gang of assistants. I blog at www.mattcresswell.com, and I also edit Glitterwolf Magazine, a UK-based literary magazine showcasing fiction, poetry, art and photography by LGBT contributors. And I am the creator, writer and co-illustrator of End of the Rainbow, an online webseries (www.endoftherainbow.co.uk) set on Canal Street in Manchester, which has a print omnibus forthcoming in 2014 from Lethe Press. When I’m not balancing all those plates, I put the bread on the table with freelance copy-editing, graphic design and audiobook narration. I am also an avid reader.

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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?

Before I moved to university I never threw a book out. But then when I moved out it was like Sophie’s Choice. From then on I’ve had to be picky about what can take up space on my shelves. I currently live with a flatmate who has almost as many books as me, and we had to negotiate our bookshelves, like negotiating a delicate truce. There’s bookcases in every room, including two in the hallway. I always judge people by their shelves though, so what’s left on display is just the favourites. And when I say ‘just’, that’s still quite a few of ‘justs’… My system for maintaining that is yearly trips back home with boxes of books for the attic because I still can’t bring myself to not in some way possess them.

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

I routinely re-organise them, create a complex system, which then immediately goes to pot. Currently there are three shelves of favourites (the top two of the black shelves, and all the shelves by my desk – which also have my slim section for my own publication credits), a shelf of LGBT fiction, about six or seven shelves of to be read, short story collections, non-fiction and what has come be known in the household as the ‘pretentious hardbacks shelf’ which were all the books I bought because Waterstones said I should, and I’ve never read.

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

My god… I’m not quite sure. When I was growing up, my dad was an antiquarian book dealer, and our home didn’t have a television, so I was bought lots and lots of books. We spent half our lives in second-hand bookshops, and because he used to get dealer’s discount on whatever leatherbound tome he’d ferretted out, they just used to throw in all the paperbacks that I’d found for free—so I never had to buy my own books. The first I can remember buying for myself was Outcast of Redwall by Brian Jacques, when I was about seven, bought at a school book fair. I read the whole series, passing the books to my mother who read them after me. I was very sad to hear of his recent death—without exaggeration, it was like bit of childhood fading! It’s not on my shelves anymore, but it’s with the rest of the series on my mother’s shelves, where it’s been read by a few of the generation after me.

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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?

When my parents visited once, I stripped the house of anything even slightly sordid, but missed the tattered paperback of Lolita that my Presbyterian minister dad leafed through then put back hurriedly. I’m not really embarrassed of any of it, although my partner John tells me that I am subconsciously embarrassed of his books – fantasy epics in the vein of Raymond E. Feist, Robert Jordan, Trudi Canavan, etc. – because I relegate them to the bottom shelves or the bookcases in the bedroom.

Mind you, I do get a bit defensive over the presence of both of Belle du Jour’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl books on my favourites shelf. But that just makes me stubborn and determined to put them on display, because I tell myself off for being a book snob.

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

There’s a 15th century Bible that you can see on the desk shelves. Me, my brothers and my sister all took one book from by dad’s library after he died to remember him by. I have no attachment to the actual words on the page inside it, but the book itself would be the first thing I’d save in a fire. Aside from that one, there are very few things I’d actively be heartbroken about. I have some signed copies that I’d be quite sad about – Neil Gaiman, Paul Magrs, Iain Banks, and, um, John Barrowman – but as long as I can remember the events themselves, the books aren’t as important. 

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 mother had The Lord of the Rings on her shelves – which was very odd, because the rest of her reading was in the line of biographies of missionaries, and books like Harry Potter were frowned upon for their ‘black magic’. I read The Lord of the Rings when I was nine, but had to break the spine of the paperback into the three books because I couldn’t hold it otherwise. My teachers at school didn’t believe I was actually capable of reading it, and quizzed me to check I wasn’t making it up. It’s still on my shelves, the same, split-into-three copy, with covers that I made out of cut-and-stick photocopies. I didn’t think of it as an adult book though – I thought of it as another children’s fantasy that just went on a lot longer. My brother lent me the novelisation of The Fugitive the same year—he meant to censor the first chapters, but I was impatient, read it anyway and scared myself silly.

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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?

Yes! I’m a completionist. I don’t tend to borrow books though – I’m usually the lender. But I’ll buy something for the kindle and if I like it, I’ll feel the urge to have a physical copy to put on the shelf. The reverse of this was The Time Traveller’s Wife, which I bought seven times, after each loaned copy was lent on to someone else in the excitement, and lost.

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

Hal Duncan’s forthcoming short story collection, Scruffians! which I was lucky enough to get an ARC of. I’m recording the audiobook version of it too, which when I was asked, made me giddy with hero-worship. He’s a wonderful, wonderful writer.

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

I’ve recently dipped into the starts of series and am now wishing I had the whole series on my shelves – George Mann’s Newbury and Hobbes, Discworld, Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May, Lev Grossman’s Magician series, Mark Hodder’s Burton and Swinburne and all of China Mievelle’s oeuvre. I’ve made a start with all of them, and am now panicking at the volume of ongoing series I’ve opened a door to. So many books, so little time…

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

My dad popping Lolita back on the shelf, or perusing all the gay fiction titles would probably think ‘Filth!’ but hopefully that’s not what everyone else would think. I was very conscious after English Literature at university of trying to get away from the ‘book-snobbery’ that kind of education brings on, so I hope that my shelves look like a hodge-podge of someone who loves books for the enjoyment, and isn’t trying to check off a list of ‘worthy reads’, as it were.

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A huge thanks to Matt for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Matt’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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The Longest Night: Five Curious Tales

I have often said that to write a really good ghost story in a modern setting is almost impossible. However a recent collection of five wintery ghostly tales The Longest Night by a collective compiled of authors Jenn Ashworth, Tom Fletcher, Richard Hirst, Alison Moore and Emma Jane Unsworth seems to have proven me wrong. Whilst I read each of these tales, which are designed to emulate M.R James’ tradition on Christmas Eve (so very apt today) of meeting with friends to exchange tales of the supernatural, I found that I often was either chilled, shocked or felt the hairs on my neck slowly begin to rise as I read on.

Curious Tales, 2013, paperback, fiction, ghost stories, 88 pages, kindly sent by Emma Jane Unsworth

The Longest Night isn’t a collection of stories designed to revolutionise or modernise the ghostly tale, as what each author does rather marvellously is give the tale a truly Victorian feeling yet very much in a modern setting. If you are wondering what on earth I mean by that, I mean that the stories feel very traditional with modern twist. We have old haunted houses, slightly scary children who might be possessed or at least can speak to the dead, ghostly ladies returning from the grave and of course the wonderful scares a telephone can provide. Why is it that the simple telephone can be so bloody unnerving? All these tales also have the feeling of you being told the tale firsthand, as Stephen Volk (who created the cult show Ghostwatch) says in the introduction of ‘No listen. This happened to me…’, a celebration of the oral tradition of the ghostly tale. In fact, frankly, I wanted to be sat by a roaring fire with a mulled wine being told these tales by the authors themselves – which if you pop to the site you will see they are doing, well in bookshops anyway. I feel slightly cheated I have missed out.

Now you may have noticed that I am being rather vague, or actually haven’t really mentioned, about what lies in wait within each of the tales. This is because as they are all rather short, again the traditional and best ghostly tales are short sharp shocks, and so I wouldn’t want to spoil them. I think I can get away with saying that Alison Moore (who wrote the brilliant The Lighthouse) and Tom Fletcher’s stories are probably the most traditional in terms of setting and sensibility, both set within empty houses; one the former estate of a famous author, the other a new house in the middle of nowhere where a house husband starts to feel something not quite right is going on and seems to be linking itself to his young daughter. I loved these as they felt like the sorts of tales that Arthur Conan Doyle and M.R. James would indeed write now.

I also greatly admired the three tales by Ashworth, Hirst and Unsworth as whilst each one of them had the traditional feel, they also had something of the urban legend about them mixed in and probably most importantly they had the evocation of modern human base fears mixed in with the supernatural. In each tale there is an underlying completely natural fear be it grief, loneliness or madness. With those feelings we all know so well plus the sense of unease and fearful trepidation they all had a horribly, yet brilliantly, heady mix of the fearful running right into every part of their structure and it was really deftly done.

All in all a marvellous, very well written and indeed incredibly unsettling collection of modern winter ghostly tales which I think would have gladly given the contemporary ghost writers of the past a real case of the shivers. I am hoping this becomes a yearly fixture as I could do with a decidedly chilling evening in the pre-Christmas madness once a year, or more often frankly.

For more information about the last few available copies and indeed where the authors will be reading in the New Year head to the Curious Tales website here.

Which are your favourite ghostly tales for the perfect darkened evening with the roaring fire (I don’t have a roaring fire here, which along with the lack of a bath has confirmed in my mind I need to have moved by next winter just for reading purposes alone) be they new or old? Do you think the Victorians did it best? Have you any other modern ghostly tales that will continue to prove my thoughts on the modern ghost story wrong?

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What Makes a Great Ghost Story?

I do love a good ghost story, though I have to admit I don’t read enough of them. What better time of the year, well here in the UK, is there to read them? No, not just because of the obvious fact it is Halloween today (Happy Halloween). It is autumn, my favourite season of the year as the nights are drawing in and there is a certain chill in the air. Delightful.

Of course today is Halloween and whether you celebrate it or not you simply cannot miss the ghosts, witches, monsters and gargoyles in your local shops (and no I don’t mean the other punters). Naturally for a bookish sort this will lead to thinking about supernatural reads. Or even to Ghost Huntersthe not so bookish as I mentioned the other day that it seemed the supernatural spirit (see what I did there) took over The Beard and two new spooky tales came home from the super(natural)market. I am on fire with puns today, like a witch on a stake. I am currently devouring ‘The Ghost Hunters’ by Neil Spring, all about the infamous Borley Rectory, and its very good. I am most impressed at how in such a long book he keeps the spooky suspense going as I normally like a shorter sharper shock for a ghostly tale. Which of course leads us to today’s (first, there will be another later when it goes darker) post as I was wondering what makes a truly great ghost story?

You see for me ghost stories are a tricky bunch. I am much more of a ‘chills and suspense’ kind of reader than I am a ‘blood and guts and gore’ kind of reader. As I mentioned above I tend to like a sharper ghostly tale, short stories in the main or novella’s maximum, as I find that prolonged tension doesn’t really work as well. For me. I also find ghostly tales set in modern times just don’t work. You can all too easily whip out your mobile phone or some gizmo and the fear vanishes, a good Victorian ghostly tale tends to tick all my boxes. (I actually threw a gauntlet down once that modern settings for a ghost story don’t work and guess what James Dawson was inspired to prove me wrong, this was confirmed from his own mouth!)

So to investigate what I think makes the perfect ghostly tale, whilst also using Neil Spring as a good example of a longer tale, I picked four titles from my newly restructured shelves that I thought I would dip into over this Halloween and autumn too…

Ghostly Tales

Alfred Hitchcock loved a good spooky/horror story and this collection is of some of his favourite ‘Stories Not For The Nervous’. This appeals to me immensely as I love being made to feel nervous in fiction (not in real life, in real life nerves destroy me) and I think these twenty tales and three novelettes which are included will work wonders. Next up is a selection of ‘Ghost Stories’ chosen by Susan Hill (who to me is Queen of the Ghostly Tale) which features my favourite Mr Wilkie Collins and more surprisingly, to me at least, Elizabeth Bowen and Edith Wharton. ‘The Conan Doyle Stories’ are one of my most prized possessions in the world. My Great Uncle Derrick would memorise these and tell them to me when I was very young on walking holidays, ten miles a day roughly, and Gran always said she would desperately try to keep up with us so she didn’t miss the endings. I haven’t read these for ages and should. Finally a renowned author of all things horror (and quite weird), yet new to me, H. P. Lovecraft. I have no idea if I will love these or not but it will be fun finding out.

So before I head off and start reading these dark delights, and hopefully scaring myself silly, I wondered what it was that makes the perfect ghostly tale for you all and what ghost stories you would most recommend?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #15 – Janet O’Kane

So after ANOTHER small hiatus Other People’s Bookshelves is back… Hoorah! Thank you to everyone who has responded to my plea for more of you to share your book porn with us, keep them coming as I would love this series to run and run. If you haven’t heard back from me, have sent them before but not been featured or you have held back thinking there’s a queue (it’s a small one) then do please email savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves and they will be featured. I have been a bit slack. Anyway, for the fifteenth in the series we get to have a lovely nosey through Janet O’Kane’s shelves, first though (I know you are desperate to see the books, the books, the books) let us find out a little bit more about Janet…

As Janet grew up in rural Dorset her parents instilled in her an immense love of books. They tried not to spoil her (she was an only child) but she was provided with all the books she ever wanted, either from the library or bought from a local second‑hand shop. For a long time she answered the question, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ with, ‘A librarian’. Despite this, her first job was in Harrods, the London store, where she sold Wedgwood china to rich tourists and underwear to the then 007, Roger Moore. She also worked for Boots for many years, although that company’s lending libraries were long gone. Now living in the Scottish Borders with her husband John, two dogs, two cats and numerous chickens, Janet still reads as much as she can and has a deep mistrust of anyone else who doesn’t. She mostly reads crime fiction, despite the best efforts of an Open University degree course and the Berwick Book Group to entice her away from that genre.

Janet has always written for pleasure, and remembers winning a Brooke Bond writing competition at the age of ten with a short story inspired by Mary Norton’s The Borrowers. She started writing in earnest when she moved to Scotland and early on was delighted to have a poem published in Forum magazine. Unfortunately, she couldn’t cash the £10 cheque because she had been too embarrassed to submit under her own name.  The idea for the opening of Janet’s first novel, No Stranger to Death, which will be published on November 5th, came to her at a Guy Fawkes party held in the village where they used to live. When she suggested to John that a huge bonfire would be a good way to dispose of a dead body, he said, ‘Go on then, write it’. And over the next few years, in between jobs and studying for a degree, she did. She now writes fulltime. Janet blogs about writing and her life in the Scottish countryside at www.janetokane.blogspot.co.uk and is also an avid fan of Twitter, where she is @JanetOkane

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 wish I had the space to keep every book I read, but instead I have to be ruthless. I try to find space for signed copies and novels I’ve really enjoyed. I also won’t part with some of the books I studied for my recent Open University degree, and a few teenage favourites, like The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. The rest I pass on to friends or our local charity shop. There is one exception: I’ve kept a copy of the worst crime novel I’ve ever read, and no, I’m not going to say what that is.

Janet Okane bookshelves 001

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

I group the books I’ve read by subject or genre. While many – okay, most – of my shelves hold crime fiction, there are also reference, travel, gardening, art and film books. Guides to writing are on a separate shelf unit. Unread books – of which I have over 100, excluding what’s on my Kindle – are grouped together on two TBR shelves. I’ve promised myself I won’t buy any more until I’ve considerably reduced that number, and regularly but cheerfully fail to keep that promise.

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

From an early age I spent all my pocket-money on books but I confess I don’t own a single Enid Blyton or Angel Brazil now. I do though, still have that copy of Martin Amis’s The Rachel Papers I bought at the age of 17 to read on the journey up to London for a job interview. My Mum travelled with me and I remember sitting awkwardly to stop her from seeing what I was laughing at.

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 don’t think anyone should feel guilty about what they read, as long as they do read! My tastes are there for all to see.

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?

To me, a book is just a book and easily replaced, so I don’t have an emotional attachment to any in particular. I’d concentrate on getting my husband, cats and dogs to safety and making sure the fire didn’t spread to the henhouses.

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 Dad only read non-fiction, usually about World War Two or football, while my Mum was a huge fan of crime fiction by the likes of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham. Guess whose books I moved on to when I outgrew my own! I have a few Christies on my shelves but tend not to reread books except for a specific reason, like a competition. Revisiting The Murder of Roger Ackroyd proved worthwhile as I won a weekend pass to the 2010 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Festival in Harrogate for summing it up in 50 words.

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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’m lucky to be able to buy most of the books I want to read, although I struggle to justify buying hardbacks or expensive books about art. I enter competitions and drop hints at Christmas for those.

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

I recently went to an event in Newcastle by crime-writer Margaret Murphy and forensic scientist Professor Dave Barclay who write together under the pseudonym A.D. Garrett. It was a great evening and I’ve enjoyed Margaret’s writing in the past, so I bought their first book, Everyone Lies. I started reading it on the train going home and was hooked. I finished it a few days later and it’s now rubbing shoulders with my permanent collection of Reginald Hill novels.

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

I’ve got my eye on Barry Forshaw’s British Crime Writing: An Encyclopedia, which has a cover price of £90, although I’m sure it is well worth that much. Moving away from crime fiction, I’d really like to own Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer and Build by Peter Goodfellow, The Chicken: A Natural History by several authors including my poultry ‘guru’ Andy Cawthray, and Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing.

Janet Okane bookshelves 002

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

I like to think they’ll see further than all that crime fiction and realise I’m a person with a wide range of interests who just happens to enjoy reading and writing about people being murdered.

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A huge thanks to Janet for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint) in the Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Janet’s responses and/or any of the books that she mentioned?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #13 – Simon Savidge

Okay, so I thought I would do something a bit different with Other People’s Bookshelves by taking part in it myself. My thoughts behind this were that a) no one likes to be number thirteen (and indeed I am really, really superstitious about the number myself) and b) as it is my birthday tomorrow I might as well make the whole weekend all about me. I am half joking with that last comment, sort of. Ha! So today I will share with you my shelves and indeed my book boxes and who knows you might even get to know me a little better. How weird to be interviewing myself…

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 every single book that I read, yet this all stopped when I was living in London as after a few years I simply didn’t have the room and so I had to get tough. I have to admit I did use to keep books on my shelves that I didn’t really love but just wanted people to see that I had read, so was good to be tough. However now I have much more room and indeed have bought lots more bookshelves so I can see my old ‘hoard everything’ tendency is creeping back. That said though when the new shelves were sorted I rearranged everything and did get rid of ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘The White Tiger’ so maybe the habit won’t die out. You do have to be careful of mood though, some books you love some days and less the next. It is tricky. Excuses, excuses, excuses.

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

I have always had them in alphabetical order on the shelves of books I have read in the lounge. Until the weekend before this I did actually have crime on separate shelves from fiction and non-fiction, I think I was playing at having a bookshop in my head, now though everything is mingled together genre wise, but in author surname order.

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

I think the first book I bought with my own money wasn’t actually until my twenties because I had relatives that bought me books and I was hooked onto the library at an early age thanks to my mother. I also had a spell from my mid teens to early twenties where I went completely off reading and didn’t pick up a book for, wait for it, six years. Can you believe that? The first two books I bought then were Agatha Christie’s ‘4.50 from Paddington’ and ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier, both of those are definitely on my shelves.

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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 did used to have my Agatha Raisin books, and indeed my favourite childhood books, hidden away in the bedroom because I thought people would judge me. Now they too are mingled in with everything else since the new shelves have come in. I have decided that I am not going to feel to feel guilty about books anymore, especially if they are a pleasure to read, life is too short. Yet I think I might start to tell myself off if I don’t get better at giving up on books I am just not enjoying. I am guilty of that quite often and it causes reading funks.

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?

Funnily enough Simon, it would be the Conan Doyle book of short stories to which you refer. I also have lots of books that my Granddad, Bongy, made for me when I was younger. Those are both to be found stored away by the bed just in case.

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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?

It was ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Suskind and it was indeed one of the first forays into adult fiction that I had. My mum was always keen to let me read whatever I fancied really, she vetted everything but only with a quick glance and I think, like with my much younger siblings, she just wanted us to embrace reading without forcing it down our necks. Best way to do that was just to let us all read pretty much what we want and never refer things as adult, young adult or kids fiction. I have read ‘Perfume’ twice now, the second time – back in my early mid-twenties – I felt I was reading a completely different book, I don’t think I got all the nuances at a younger age which only added to the initial delight of the book second time around. Oh and yes, it is on the shelves 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 am lucky in the fact that I get a fair few books free through the blog and work. That said I am amazed at the fact that no matter how many books I have there are always more and more books that I want. I have the library for those books, or indeed charity shops though the library is now my place of preference, and if I really, really, really loved them then I would definitely want it on my shelves.

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

I am going to cheat with two. ‘Chocolat’ by Joanne Harris which I finished a few days ago and adored, I now want to read EVERYTHING she has ever written. I have also just popped ‘The Life of Pi’ on the shelves, I leant it to my other halves mother (who I talk about books with a lot) but I don’t really like lending books and so when I spotted a pristine second hand one bought it to go back on the shelves so I don’t have to ask for mine back. It is a weird tick I have, I know she will look after it, and yet… Ha!

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

Hmmmm, I would sound spoilt if I said yes. If you mean on my ‘books I have read’ shelves in the lounge there are a few books I have loaned and never seen again, especially swapping my tie in edition of ‘Wicked’ for the stunning American import I had, and a few that have gone missing in my many moves. If you mean in the ‘books to be read’ shelves and boxes in the bedroom I should say no with over 600 of them – yet Deborah Levy’s ‘Black Vodka; Ten Stories’ and Chris Ware’s ‘Building Stories’ are calling out to me. I am hoping I get some vouchers tomorrow and can get those. Oh and all the Persephone books that I don’t have of course. No rush though, a good library is built slowly.

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

That it is an explosion of eclectic tastes and voices from someone who reads widely and clearly can’t decide what genre of book they really love or what their particular taste or penchant is in books… something I am getting more and more comfortable with as I get older.

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Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in the Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of my responses and/or any of the books I mentioned?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #12 – Layla of Impossible Alice

Hello and welcome to another nosey through Other People’s Bookshelves. Today we are joining layla to have a gander at just what she has on her shelves and why. Before we do though lets find a little more out about Layla. She has a government office job and lives in the gorgeous city of Norwich which thankfully has an independent bookshop, The Book Hive. She has been an avid reader since she was little, when she used to carry on reading under the covers long after she was supposed to be asleep! Both of her parents love books and so the house she grew up in was always full of books to read, and they took her to the library once a week – libraries are still magical places of discovery for her! She has been blogging for only a few months at https://impossiblealice.wordpress.com/ mostly about books, but sometimes about coffee and cake. Besides books, she is really into music and plays the guitar and has written a few of her own songs. Now to her shelves…

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?

It’s been my ambition since I was little to have my own library, but I had to downsize a few years ago so most of my books are now in my parents’ attic. In my current flat I have limited space, but I tend to keep most of what I buy. I use the library much more these days and so buy fewer books, but I still buy a lot second hand. The only ones I don’t keep are ones I haven’t enjoyed or know I won’t read again.

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

I have them in alphabetical order by author, in the fiction section. I also have sections for poetry, biography, and then all the other non-fiction in a bit of a huge muddled up section together. Or at least I did initially. Now I’m running out of room I’ve found myself shoving books wherever they’ll fit. Eventually I’ll pull them all off the shelves and reorganise, which is probably the point where I’d cull anything I know I’m not going to re-read.

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

I can’t remember exactly what it was, but I did have a phase when I was around 10 or 11 of being obsessed with The Babysitter’s Club! Every Saturday my sister would go to ballet class, and I’d spend that hour in the bookshop round the corner. When the new book in that series came out I’d get it with my pocket money, as they only cost around £2. I think I kept most of them, but they’re in the attic at my mum and dad’s. I was so proud to have the whole series, which really amuses me now.

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

I have a pile of Sweet Valley high books which I picked up really cheap a few years ago to re-read after reading a really amusing blog written about someone re-reading them all and making fun of them. They’re hidden on a low shelf so aren’t on immediate view – not exactly literary masterpieces!

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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?

I’ve always been a big Arthur Ransome fan, and I have some lovely hardback editions of the Swallows and Amazons books (not first editions, but some 1950s ones) that I picked up at book fairs. I don’t have the whole set, but they’re definitely important to me. Aside from that, I’ve got a copy of Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield that I read so often it now has no cover, and some books I got signed by favourite authors that mean a lot to me, especially the Jeanette Winterson and Neil Gaiman ones.

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 dad gave me Thomas Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree to read when I was about 11, I remember my teacher at school being really impressed that I was reading it. I really should re-read it now as I can’t remember much of it. I also remember finding Agatha Christie books in the library and reading every one I could get hold of. I don’t have a copy of Under the Greenwood Tree now, but I do have some Agatha Christie mysteries on the shelf.

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’m using the library a lot lately in an effort to save money and space, but if I really loved a book and thought I’d re-read it, I’d definitely buy it. I always buy new books by my favourite writers though, as I know I’ll want to keep them and am too impatient to wait to get them from the library!

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

I recently picked up Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn on your recommendation, Simon, but haven’t started it yet. I’m really looking forward to it as I’m a big crime fan.

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

I would really love the annotated Sherlock Holmes editions that came out a few years back, but they’re huge and really expensive, so I doubt I’ll be buying them soon. I keep looking at them when I see them in bookshops, they’re fantastic.

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

I would guess that I read quite widely – I have classics, modern novels, fantasy, crime, biography, history, popular science, poetry. I don’t stick to only one kind of writing. A comment I’ve had a lot is that I have lots of books, but I don’t feel like I have as most of them are in storage!

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A big thank you to Layla for letting me grill her and sharing her shelves with all of us. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in the Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Layla’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?

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What Makes Us Tougher or More Forgiving Of The Books We Read?

I am currently reading ‘Fanny and Stella; The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian London’ by Neil McKenna and so far I am really enjoying it. As many of you will know I am fascinated by the Victorian period and will generally purchase or seek out any book that is set in that era either written at the time or the contemporary neo-Victorian novels. One of the things that I have noticed lately, though less with non-fiction like ‘Fanny and Stella’, is that I am much, much tougher on these books, particularly the latter and I have been meaning to chat on here about it for a while. Do you think we are tougher on the books that we assume we will love when we start them?

I noticed recently that with two really good books, ‘When Nights Were Cold’ by Susanna Jones and ‘Tom-All-Alones’ by Lynn Shepherd, which I had picked up in part because they were set in the Victorian era and so the Victoriana magpie in me had simply had to have them both. Yet I think, in hindsight, I was tougher on them than if I had read anything by either author set in another period. So therefore what drew me to the books was what made me all the more critical of them.

I think this is partly because of my personal knowledge of, and fascination with, the time (the amount I studied to be a tour guide at Highgate Cemetery, which involves tests and allsorts or did when I joined) and also because I read so many of them. It is natural that the more we read the tougher we are with what we do and don’t like isn’t it? Here I may as well say that I now compare more Victoriana novels to Jane Harris’ ‘Gillespie and I’ or something by Arthur Conan Doyle or Wilkie Collins. I am not sure it is such a fair comparison with the latter two as they are classics of the time and two of the great writers of the time. Yet that does stick in my mind a tiny bit.

This doesn’t just happen with books on my favourite subjects or set in my favourite eras though, it can happen with hyped books or the latest book by our favourite authors. I find it harder to be so impartial with those books too. I know that I am always harder on books that have received a lot of hype from the press, bloggers, friends etc. I am also much more forgiving if the latest novel by my favourite author is not as great as I was expecting, just because it is my favourite author. Fickle aren’t I? Though aren’t we all to varying degrees? It is something I have been pondering so I thought I would throw it out there to all of you.

Do you find that you are harder on books when you love the subject, genre or author or do you find it is the other extreme? What are those subjects, genres, authors or even types of literature? Do you think the more we read the pickier we naturally get? Do you have books that you set as milestones for other books to be compared to and if so what are those books and why?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #8: Sylvie aka Sly Wit

This week we get to have a good old nosey around the bookshelves of Sylvie, who some of you will probably know better as her blogging alias Sly Wit. As it says on her blog she is “half American, half French, and all-around opinionated”, which she thinks pretty much sums her up, but I think you need more than that. She grew up in New England, studied finance in college, and then worked briefly in investment consulting. However, soon realized that wasn’t really for her and going back to school. After doing time in both New York and Paris, completing her Ph.D. in French Studies and teaching classes in everything from British politics to French literature and film, se left academia about five years ago to move to San Francisco and work in textbook publishing as a development editor in French and Italian. She now works as a freelance editor. She is an avid reader, runs a book salon and blogs regularly at Sly Wit, you can also find her, less regularly, at Worth the Detour, where she documents her quest to visit all the U.S. national parks and other travel adventures. So now to the shelves and finding out even more….

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?

When I moved from the east coast to California five years ago, I gave away over half my books (shock! horror!) and now most of my reading comes from the library, so a book has to be really good to be on my shelves. More importantly, it has to look good. That’s right, the first question and it’s already confession-time: I care far too much about the aesthetic look of my bookshelves! They are hyper-organized, certain colours are better than others (and yes, I am tempted to weed out favourites that have ugly spines), and most books are in excellent condition.

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?

Where to begin? Fiction is in the living room and generally divided into English and French, and then alphabetical by author, and then chronologically by title within each author (hyper-organized, remember?). The shelves in the hall are grouped according to subject, with books from my days as a professor grouped chronologically within subjects (French history, French language and culture, Franco-American relations, national film industries, film criticism) and then other subjects by whatever makes sense for that subject (travel, bande dessinée, children’s books, philosophy and religion, poetry). I also have a number of reference materials for my work as an editor. I try to cull at least once a year.

Fiction Hallway 2

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

One of the first books I remember buying myself was a boxed set of Sherlock Holmes at a tag sale. They had great covers. Unfortunately, they were well loved when I bought them and I read them multiple times, so they eventually fell apart. For my last re-read, I took them along with me on a trip to Brazil and left one book behind (held together with a rubber band) at each place I stayed.

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?

No guilty pleasures per se, but the paperbacks I pick up here and there (from work, friends, and library sales) that don’t meet the ‘standards’ of the shelves, end up in the hidden tbr pile by my bed to eventually be given away to the library. In fact, I was thinking my book challenge this year would be to read them or lose them at the end of the year.

Holmes and Christie double-stacked

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?

My most prized possession is the complete set of Agatha Christies that I started collecting in high school. It took me over seven years of dutifully sending in a check once-a-month to Bantam Books to receive the entire collection of faux-leather hardbacks. Sadly, since there are 81 volumes, there is no way I could save them in a fire. I’m afraid all efforts and first instincts would probably mean that my childhood companion (a stuffed Winnie-the-Pooh) would emerge from any blaze.

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 didn’t really have books I considered too grown-up for me or that I aspired to read, but, in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, I do remember sneaking Judy Blume’s first adult book, Wifey, out of the library and keeping it hidden under my bed while I read it. This was after my friends and I had already passed around Forever (her book on teen sex) at school. The only book I currently have by Judy Blume is my original copy of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

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

No, most of my current reading comes from the library and I’m generally fine with not owning those books. Most new additions to my shelves are practical—usually cookbooks, travel guides, or second-hand books about San Francisco. However…

Booze and books

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

After reading A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving for my readers’ choice book challenge, I decided to buy a matching set of three Irving favourites. Because, yes, I like books by the same authors to match (see above re: organizing and aesthetic issues).

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

More classic favourites probably, especially older or interesting editions, or if part of the clothbound classics series designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith. She does fabulous covers. [Simon, you should take a look at the set she did for Sherlock Holmes: http://www.cb-smith.com/]. I keep meaning to replace a collected works of Edgar Allan Poe that I loaned out and never got it back. And I’m always on the lookout for a good book on opera, a newfound passion of mine.

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 might wonder why I have so little fiction, and almost no contemporary works. However, although my shelves don’t represent my reading now, they are very much filled with books that represent either my life story (my dual citizenship and work as a historian/editor) or my taste, with favourite authors such as Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, Graham Greene, and Émile Zola as well as all-time favourite books like Cold Comfort Farm, Théophile Gautier’s Récits fantastiques, The Lord of the Rings, and Rebecca.

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A big thank you to Sylvie for letting me grill her. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Sylvie’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #1: Dorothy Savidge aka Granny Savidge Reads

A while back I said I wanted volunteers for a new series of posts called ‘Other People’s Bookshelves’, as you may know things have been a bit manic of late and so I simply haven’t gotten back to anyone who said yes (I will be emailing you all though, you have been warned) as yet. Though when I was sat chatting with Gran I suddenly thought ‘ooh, I must get her to do Other People’s Bookshelves. She seemed the perfect person to start it off with. So instead of emailing her the questionnaire, as she is quick on an iPad with one hand but not for too long, I thought I would ask her over a cup of tea, and she trusted me enough that my notes would ‘sound like me, and not like you’. So here goes…

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 my books on one set of bookshelves, whether I had read them or not, though eventually they became full and so I have had to change it. Mainly the ones in the lounge are the ones that I have read though I think there are some exceptions, Barbara Cartland for instance which I think you bought me because I had never read her and for some reason I felt I should. Funnily enough I still haven’t read that one. I don’t keep every book I read but then I don’t buy every book I read now.

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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?

Alphabetical order yes, well except non-fiction. As I mentioned I used to keep them all together on one set of shelves but now they are almost overflowing. So now though new books tend to go in the study, by my bed or in a pile in the lounge or dining room now. Oh, and I keep my non-fiction separate. As for culling… once a year I tend to have a tidy up.

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

I don’t think so, no. It would have been an Enid Blyton novel though I would imagine, probably one of the Famous Five. I have a few here but I doubt they are the original that I bought.

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 do not! Have a separate bookshelf I mean, no shame. I don’t tend to feel guilty about books, it seems a silly idea, books are to be enjoyed. I would be more ashamed if I didn’t have any books at all, imagine! Oh… well there is that Barbara Cartland we mentioned.

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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, your brother, gave me as a child? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

I thought that was a bit of an odd question at first. Uncle Derrick would be delighted about you still having that book I am sure. As for prized books, I don’t think I have any fictional ones, most you can replace and fiction is a wide subject, how can people say they have a ‘favourite’ single book. I would save some of your Grandfather’s, Bongy’s, art books as some of them are quite rare, if battered. Yes, those I would save in 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?

Hmmm. ‘Eastern Approaches’ by Fitzroy Mclaine, which has become a classic, I have now read it and really enjoyed it. There was an edition of ‘Home Doctor’ I used to be intrigued by though I never read that but do have a modern version of sorts. Oh and Margaret Mitchell’s ‘Gone With The Wind’ which I started to read in my teens whenever I was sick, I have that on my shelves now but I think it is the only one of them. I suppose actually I would like the editions of those I remember on my shelves.

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

I wouldn’t buy a book after I had read it unless I really, really loved it. I doubt it. Especially now the shelves are so full. It would have to be really special. I try and borrow books from the library or from friends now, or get them from a certain family member. I would only buy a book now if I heard it was a real classic, like ‘The Good Soldier Svejk’ by Jaroslav Hasek which is a classic no one seems to like. It is rare though. You don’t have to own a book to remember how much you love it do you, unless I suppose you plan on reading it again one day.

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

I think it would be someone else who would have added them to my shelves now I suppose. It was Journey’s End… no, ‘The Casual Vacancy’ by J.K. Rowling which you gave me. I liked it, it got better again by the end.

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

Apart from some really antique ones, or editions from my childhood, no not really. I think I am quite lucky in the fact I could get any I really wanted, should I need to. Oh actually… I wish I had all the books I have lent people and they have not returned.

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

That I was “discriminating, but universal in taste”.

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A big thank you to Gran for letting me grill her, and trusting my note taking and typing up not to be too different to what she said or would have liked to have written if she could. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Gran’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?

*Note: I know lots of you emailed about taking part in this, I am struggling to find these emails, could you email me again? Sorry, very embarrassed!*

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Second Hand Book Binge

There is always something nice about going to small towns or villages and having a good old nosey through their second hand book or charity shops looking for a bargain or two. I have noticed that in the bigger cities you tend to get more of the modern or contemporary books whilst in the towns and villages there is a wider range of treats to be had. This seemed the case when I extended a trip to do some shopping for Gran, as she had guests so wasn’t just left on her own, and I managed to pop to see what I could find in Matlock. Alas I didn’t find any Persephone books, as I was secretly hoping, but I did come away with all of these…

Second Hand Book Binge

I do like to read true crime now and again, though actually not as much as I think I do in my own head, and ‘The Killing of Julia Wallace’ by John Gannon seemed like the ideal find. Apparently this was ‘Liverpool’s most enigmatic and brutal murder’ that has remained unsolved since it happened in 1931. Now living so near Liverpool, on the Wirral, I have seen this book in lots of the ‘local interest’ sections of bookshops and so I snapped it up (with that ‘ooh I have a bargain’ feeling) there and then.

I had never heard of Tadeusz Borowski or his book ‘This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen’ but when I saw this Penguin Twentieth Century Classic that was partly what made me buy it. This book is actually a selection of accounts from Borowski himself from his time in Auschwitz as well as other people who survived and indeed those who didn’t but he witnessed or learnt the stories of. I have a feeling it is going to be a rather difficult read but one that I think I should experience if you know what I mean.

On a much lighter note, well that said its meant to have some very dark parts, next up is Patrick Gale’s ‘The Cat Sanctuary’. I picked this up for three reasons, firstly I seem to have rediscovered my love for Gale’s books after a few years absence and so want to get them all, secondly it is a tale of siblings torn apart which I always find an oddly compelling premise and thirdly because I am slightly worried I may end up becoming a crazy old cat man or turn this house into a cat sanctuary with the rate I have gained felines this year.

The next three books were all bought for the same reason… I love the authors but didn’t have copies of these books. Actually not quite true, my mother lent me her copy of Muriel Spark’s ‘The Only Problem’ and will want it back at some point so I thought I would pre-empt that. Speaking of my mother this edition of Margaret Atwood’s ‘Lady Oracle’ makes me think of her as most of my mother’s Atwood editions are these, I think now, rather brilliant bold 80’s editions. I think I have ‘The Edible Woman’ in the same cover edition too. As for ‘The White Company’, well you can never have too many short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as far as I am concerned and I loved this old edition – makes me think of what the books history might be.

Now you may be wondering why I didn’t include Susan Hill in my favourite author sweeping statement above, after all she is one of them. Yet this collection of ‘Ghost Stories’ is just that; a collection of spooky tales as selected by Susan Hill. I have to say I had no idea this book even existed but was thrilled when I spotted it and so it simply had to leave the shop with me.

Though all these books, and in particular John Gannon’s and Susan Hill’s, thrilled me as I found them I think that ‘Agatha Christie’s Murder in the Making’ was the one that had me doing a secret little jig of joy when I spied it. I thought that John Curran’s previous book on the Queen of Crime ‘Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks’ was wonderful when I read it (I reviewed it almost two years to the day) and I always meant to get my hands on this latest when it came out last year. So seeing this (and this was the most expensive of my purchases) for just £2 really thrilled me. I was so excited to see it that I didn’t look at any of the other books on the shelves in the final shop as I just wanted to escape with this find. I probably looked quite shifty.

All in all, for a whopping £5.25 I don’t think I did too badly, do you? Have you read any of these and if so what did you think? What are your thoughts on second hand books? I recently shockingly discovered that Gavin doesn’t like them! Is he mad? What are the best bargains you have found? I don’t think anything beats my Persephone haul as yet.

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Packing in the Classics

After the weekend with the homophobic and verbally abusive neighbour from hell, which I might share with you at some point though as the police are involved am not sure if I am allowed, I then had the joys of babysitting my 4 year old twin cousins before coming to Grans where I will be staying for a while. It has already been a whirlwind with a big hospital visit today and then I needed to go out and do some chores and shopping so while I have dinner on and she is gripped by Strictly It Takes Two (don’t ask) I thought I would finally share a post on the books I have packed for this stay, and as you will see I have gone for some classics of all era’s…

Packing in the Classics

I have been thinking about my reading habits and I do seem to spend a lot of time reading those shiny new books. This is no bad thing of course yet I do think this means that I tend to miss out on the classics, be they modern or canon, and I want to address that and so I thought that this trip might just be the time and so I smuggled, well shoved, this five motley crew of a selection.

‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a series I have read but these I have brought as comfortable tales I can revisit, also (most importantly and meaning these will be my main reading fodder) they can be read in random sittings when I am not rushing around. The others however are just books I have meant to get on and read for a while. ‘Madame Bovary’ because both Polly of Novel Insights and Gran herself have both said that it has ‘a real bitch in it who you might really like’; I am taking that as a compliment of sorts. John Wyndham is an author I have always wanted to try and ‘The Chrysalids’ is meant to be very accessible and has an apocalyptic theme which might stand me in good stead if everything kicks off in a few weeks on the 21st ha, ha. ‘Miss Smilia’s Feeling for Snow’ by Peter Hoeg sounds like a literary crime thriller that I would love and some say is the first Scandinavian crime, lovely stuff – I am craving crime at the moment. Finally there is the one I am most nervous about ‘Great Expectations’ by a certain unknown author called Charles Dickens. In fact I think I want to move on swiftly or the worry might start…

Anyway I wondered what older classics, modern or properly olde, you have been meaning to read or revisit of late and why, and if you too ever feel like you end up reading more new books than old or the other way round?

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Ghostly Tales, Can They Still Scare Us?

Happy Halloween one and all! I hope you have something suitably spooky planned for your evening? I don’t know if I have mentioned this on the blog before or not, but Halloween is one of my very favourite days of the year. I think the mixture of the legends and folklore and my secret belief that maybe there are witches, ghouls, vampires and werewolves out there somewhere and the fact its just a really dark time of the year for us in the UK makes it very atmospheric. So naturally my plan is to curl up with a good ghostly tale, ‘Dolly’ by Susan Hill since you asked, but I do wonder if ghost stories still scare us like they did in times of old and if they do scare is it easier to do it set in the past than in modern times?

This is something I have been discussing on and off for weeks but actually a lot more due to The Readers and recording the Halloween Special and talking to both Gavin, as always a joy, and Jeremy Dyson who has scared hundred and thousands of people with the stage show ‘Ghost Stories’ (which I saw and really scared me) and is hoping to do so again with ‘The Haunted Book’ which I will be telling you all about tomorrow. He is a firm believer that modern ghost stories can still scare you, however myself and Gavin both remained a little more sceptical oddly. I think me personally though much more than Gavin to be honest.

Why is this? Well I think first of all I simply don’t find werewolves and vampires scary anymore. With series like ‘Twilight’ and ‘True Blood’ vampires have become much more sexualised, not to mention glittering like diamonds, and sadly this has taken the fear factor out of them. This doesn’t stop me from wanting to watch the movie or TV shows but I am not covering my eyes in fear when I watch or when I have read some of them. The same applies, only I think it is a million times better written, with Glen Duncan’s novel ‘The Last Werewolf’ (which I really recommend as a Halloween read) it’s a gripping and fast paced thriller and full of sex, violence and gore but I was much more thrilled rather than scared. This leads to another issue, I don’t really ‘get’ gore in books.

I discovered this when I was reading Adam Nevill’s ‘Apartment 16’, the atmosphere and everything was brilliant and there were some really creepy going on until it all suddenly went too far. There were blood soaked people screaming out of walls and half centipede half humans running around hallways, the spell broke for me it was too visual. This is fine in films, though I am the sort of person that laughs their way through a Saw film, but for me to be really scared things need to be much simpler. It is all about unease, too much gore and freakish sights and it falls into ‘camp’ for me or gorey for the sake of it, if I just get that slight sense of unease tingling down my spine giving me a quick shudder and chill then I am sold.

This is why I think that older ghost stories, like the amazing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Tales of Mystery’ etc, or modern novels set in the past, like Susan Hill’s ‘The Woman in Black’, work the best for me. Part of it is that in the olden days, pre the 1950’s really, I think it’s easier for the atmosphere to be created better. You don’t have the internet and mobile phones, in fact in some of the best ones a lack of electricity helps, and so the world seems more other worldy from what we know now and yet we recognise it. It is that unknown and uneasy element in what we know that tends to scare me a little bit more. It is also harkens back to our base instincts, we see things out of the corners of our eyes and in the depths of the shadows. For me really, what is better than a big old mist encompassed spooky manor house?

So what about you? Which books really have had you spooked be they at Halloween or any other time of the year? What ghostly or supernatural tales would you recommend? Are you planning on a night with a ghostly tale or two tonight and if so which ones?

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Vicariously Through The Victorians…

As I mentioned a few weeks ago I really do love the autumn, especially for reading. I have been going through my TBR pile on and off over the last week and with certain worrying matters going on off the blog I have been looking for thrilling yet comforting books which will keep me reading. I tend to get readers block when lots of things are going on, I am sure this happens to all of us, and so these reads should combat this. However my version of thrilling yet comforting might not be the same as yours, as mine tend to involve the foggy, mysterious and dark streets of Victorian London, as the hoard I pulled down shows.

Now because I was being all arty-farty by having them on my ever-so suitable Victorian reading chair in the lounge you might not be able to make them all out. Well, it is quite a mixture. First up we have the fiction from the time in the form of ‘The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes’ by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which I think sums up Victorian London at that time wonderfully, along with ‘The Odd Women’ by George Gissing which I have to admit I really bought (ages ago) because of the title, it just sounds quite me. I am also planning, through my new venture ‘Classically Challenged’, on finally reading two of the authors that many say are the literary greats, Anthony Trollope and the Charles Dickens.

I have thrown in some non-fiction into the mix too. I really struggle with non-fiction, it has to have a narrative and drive or I just get bored. In the case of ‘Beautiful Forever’ by Helen Rappaport (which I think my mother bought me two maybe three Christmas’ ago, oops) there should be no worry at all as it is the tale of Madame Rachel of Bond Street who ‘peddled products which claimed almost magical powers’ ripped people off and blackmailed them. I cannot wait for this, why have I left it so long. The same goes for Mary S. Hartman’s ‘Victorian Murderesses’ which I found in a book swap cafe last year. I don’t tend to mention that I like true crime writing, well I do, and this one looks great. Finally, non-fiction wise, I have ‘Wilkie Collins’ by Peter Ackroyd (I should have read this in the spring) which I am hoping if isn’t a narrative based non-fiction book will hook me in because I am such a big fan of Wilkie, full stop.

Finally I have thrown in three neo-Victorian novels, interestingly all by female authors about fictional women who stood up to Victorian ethics by all accounts, ‘The Journal of Dora Damage’ by Belinda Starling, ‘Little Bones’ by Janette Jenkins and ‘Beautiful Lies’ by Clare Clark. So there is some really exciting reading to look forward to. Yet before I start all these I am going to be meeting some very special ladies who I will be asking for more recommendations from as I will be discussing Victorian books, why they are so tempting to read and to write with them on Tuesday at Manchester Literature Festival

 

Yes, Jane Harris of one-of-my-all-time-favourite-ever-novels ‘Gillespie and I’ fame, who has also rather luckily become a lovely friend and the lovely Essie Fox, who did a special Victorian episode of The Readers and has written ‘The Somnambulist’ and has ‘Elijah’s Mermaid’ coming out soon (which I have read in advance and cannot wait to tell you all about at the start of November. I will be asking them for recommendations from the period, about the period and set in the period – and reporting back of course.

Now… do you have any recommendations of books about/set in the times of/written by Victorians and if so what? Oh and if you have any questions for Jane and Essie let me know and I will ask them especially.

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Filthy Lucre – Beryl Bainbridge

I always find it fascinating to read the earlier works of authors that I love as, in my head, it is a way of looking at their writing in the raw and how they went on to develop it. So when I saw that Annabel of Gaskella was doing Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week, and it was Annabel that made me read Beryl, I knew just which book I was going to read to take part. ‘Filthy Lucre’ was not Beryl Bainbridge’s debut novel in the published sense (that was ‘A Weekend with Claude’) yet it was a book she wrote at the tender age of thirteen. My mother had a copy and so I pilfered it from her shelves on my last visit, oops, sorry Mum.

Fontana Books, paperback, 1986, fiction, 144 pages, pilfered from my mothers shelves

‘Filthy Lucre’ is a tale of cheating and deception all around money.  We meet Martin Andromikey on his death bed in 1851, right until his last breath Martin believes that he was cheated of his inheritance by the Ledwhistle family. Asking his friend Richard Soleway to impersonate him, and keep his death a secret, he requests that Richard wreak revenge on them through the thing they love most, business and a business that he is set to be a partner of and so our story starts. What follows though is not unlike many Victorian melodrama’s and sensation novels that have gone before with twists and turns, murders, deceptions, love affairs and even treasure islands.

Initially I did think that because Beryl Bainbridge wrote this when she was so young it was quite possibly going to be a precocious rather annoying book, that’s the cynic in me. This is not the case. The only time I could sense it was the fact that almost every chapter ended with ‘ruin’, ‘disaster’ or ‘forever’ but this in a way is because it is also a Victorian melodrama. Here you can see an author and her influences. The Victorian sections of the novel are rather Dickensian, with the darker and occasionally other worldly elements of Wilkie Collins. There is also a real flavour of Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle when the book sets sail to distant shores, and ‘dear reader’ there is also a flavour of Charlotte Bronte in the very prose.

“We will leave now, dear readers, the bright Ledwhistle parlour, and, like a bird, pass out into the November night. We will journey down to a wharf where the slimy Thames moves like some loathsome adder, and the houses huddle together in squalid patterns. Here the lamplight falls on wasted limbs and shaking hands. It lights up sin and filth, all aware, the cruel river twists its reptile course.”

Yet this is more than just a homage though, it is a book where the characters live and breathe and where the atmosphere of London really comes off the pages. The prose is tight and what I should mention here, because it impressed me so much, was that for a book with some legal elements that reminded me of the case in ‘Bleak House’ (while I haven’t read the books I have seen the TV series) this novel is 144 pages long, not 500 plus and I found that quite incredible.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from ‘Filthy Lucre’ when I opened it, especially with the young age at which it was written and the fact that it is no longer in print. What I got was a tale of intrigue and deception that took me on a real escapist adventure and entertained me for a good hour or two as I read it in a single sitting. Like all Beryl Bainbridge’s books that I have read so far I would highly recommend you give this book a whirl.

Do pop and visit Gaskella to see Annabel raving about more of Beryl’s books, if you haven’t read her you really should. I will be doing another post which features Beryl and a new Savidge Reads project (not a read-a-thon, I am now in Green Carnation submission mode reading wise) tomorrow and then another Beryl review on Sunday as I finished this one and wanted to read more. I also wanted to read a Dickens novel after finishing this but that opens a whole can of reading worms I am not quite ready for. If you have read any Beryl, including this one, do let me know what you thought and what books I should read next, as always.

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