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Other People’s Bookshelves #59 – Erica Jones

Hello and welcome to the latest 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 down in the garden of England that is Kent and having a nosey around the shelves of fellow book blogger Erica. Now that we have helped ourselves to some Kentish treats and a whole host of lovely beverages we can get to know Erica and her bookshelves a little bit better…

Originally a northerner, I now live in Kent (via Wales). This means I do a lot of travelling to catch up with scattered friends and family. Combine that with an obsession with books and bookshops, and it was inevitable I’d one day find an excuse to visit as many of them as possible, which is how I started writing my blog The Bookshop Around the Corner in my spare time. I’m basically on a one-woman crusade to remind people why they should be buying their books from real (preferably but not necessarily independent) bookshops on the high street. However rather than going on an angry rant I chose to do it in a positive way, sharing the bookshopping fun with anyone who wants to read. Also, I’ll only write about bookshops I like and have spent money in. You can find me on Twitter @bookshopblogger.

Erica full bookshelves

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 like a book I keep it. All the books I own are on display somewhere in my flat – mostly on the shelves in my living room, but also in other strategic points, such as the kitchen, next to the bath or in piles on my dining table (waiting for me to tidy up the shelves, a regular problem given how many books I buy). The only ones hidden away are my old Open University course books. It felt a bit pretentious to have them on show.

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

My shelves are split into three groups: standard paperbacks; misc; bookshop blog. Standard paperbacks is fairly obvious, this is an A-Z of the paperback fiction and non-fiction of my life. However last year I downsized from a house and had to cull around five boxes of books. This section took quite a hit, mostly classics from school (in the hope someone else will fall in love with them) unread university course books (the heavier side of studying English literature) and those I’ve inherited, but I agonised over every volume before putting it into the box. In the end the only reason I was able to give them up was because I knew how much the bookshop they went to would benefit. This section takes up the bottom three rows of shelves and includes the random oversized books on the right of the main picture.

Erica A-Z close

Misc is a combination of hardbacks, larger books and my childhood Sweet Valley High collection. It’s generally in alphabetical order according to size and also took a bit of a hit during last year’s enforced cull. Some of the books that mean the most to me are found in this section. This is the bookcase to the left of the main picture. The third grouping is for the bookshop blog. It takes up the top row of the bookcases and also on top of them. Given how obsessed I can be with alphabetical order, these shelves are the ones that make people look twice: the books are arranged in chronological bookshop order. The first book, The Princess Bride was bought at the first bookshop I wrote about, Big Green Books in Wood Green, London. Then they follow in order, spilling out onto the top of the bookcases as I’ve run out of room. Next to these, acting as bookends and topped with random other bookshop items, are small piles of books relating to bookshops I’ve not yet written about. This is my favourite section and I’m never culling from it, the books are too great a reminder of all the fascinating places I’ve visited and people I’ve met since starting the blog. Nothing beats looking along a row of books for inspiring good memories.

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

This was probably one of my Sweet Valley High books, I couldn’t tell you which one, but they are all proudly on display on the bookshelves in my living room.

Erica Sweet Valley High

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?

There should be nothing guilty about a book. Whether you’re reading Ladybirds, 50 Shades of Grey or Shakespeare, the simple act of reading is something to be proud of. Which is why in my A-Z shelves Dune sits next to The Iliad, and Stephenie Meyer’s spines are just as obvious as John Irving’s or Iris Murdoch’s.

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’m guessing I’m not allowed to keep all the books from the bookshop blog? Instead I’ll pick out a couple of special ones: My first edition of The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, it’s my favourite book and was given to me be someone who’s had a big impact on my life; Perfect Cooking by Parkinson, my great-grandmother’s cookbook, including her notes along the side of the recipes; and Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome, which taught me not to judge a book by its cover.

Erica rescue from 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?

There weren’t many books in my parents’ house, so holidays at my Gran’s generally led to me coveting her shelves. The simple fact she had books meant I coveted all of them. When I was finally allowed to start reading them her Jeffrey Archer collection came first, probably First Among Equals. Then I moved on to Jane Austen and Iris Murdoch. The first developed my fascination with politics, the latter two with reading. I’ve kept the latter two books.

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?

My TBR pile is so large I try not to borrow books! When I can I take part in a bookshare but I use this as an opportunity to read books I’d not normally go for. So far, this has inspired me to buy more of the other books by the authors I’ve been introduced to. Having said that, I am still on the lookout for a copy of We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which I borrowed from my university’s library more than a decade ago. I’d love to re-read it and add it to my shelves.

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

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide, bought at The Kennington Bookshop. I’d actually intended to buy a different book, but another browser beat me to it (it’s all on the blog).

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

I have an ambition to own and read all the Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome. I once found a complete set of first editions (in Stephen Foster Books, Chiswick ) and seriously considered blowing my salary on the lot until reason kicked in. Instead I’m on the look out to buy them one at a time in order, in whatever format I encounter them. Swallowdale, the second in the series, is proving surprisingly difficult to find. I’m also always on the hunt for more titles by Elizabeth Gaskell and Edith Wharton.

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

I’ve no idea what anyone would think of my shelves. The best compliment anyone looking at my bookshelves could pay me would be to think my bookshelves look accessible, varied and interesting – and ask to borrow something.

Erica bookshop blog close

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

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Other People’s Bookshelves #57 – Sandra Danby

Hello and welcome to the latest 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 having a nosey around the shelves of author Sandra Danby who spends her time between the UK and Spain, though has this weekend kindly opened her doors to us in her UK home but do grab some polverones to have with your horchata, which she kindly brought back on her last trip. Now that we have helped ourselves to those we can get to know Sandra and her bookshelves a little bit better…

I grew up on a small dairy farm at the bleak edge of East Yorkshire where England meets the North Sea. I started reading early and have never stopped. When I was eight a friend of my mother’s emigrated to New Zealand and their house was emptied of furniture, I was given a small oak bookcase. My very own bookcase. I shared a room with my older sister, so this was a really big deal. I filled it with Puffin books [I was a member of the Puffin Club], alphabetized: I still organise my bookshelves the same way. And some of those first Puffin books are still on my shelf, the faded letters still visible on the spines. The only difference is that after +35 years as a journalist, I now write fiction as well as read it.

Orwell, Murakami, Murdoch

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 everything I read. I do keep favourites, series, anything I know I will want to read again. Everything else is donated to Oxfam, I believe firmly in recycling books and buy quite a lot of mine second-hand either from my local Oxfam shop or via Oxfam online. I review books for my blog [www.sandradanby.com] and so receive advance e-books which tend to pile up on my Kindle, I do have a periodic clear out and delete the ones I know I will never want to read again. If I read a book on Kindle and I absolutely love it, I buy the paperback. I buy hardbacks of my favourite authors, the ones I know will be 5* – Kate Atkinson, Sarah Waters, PD James, Jane Smiley, Hilary Mantel, William Boyd.

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 a to-read shelf in our spare bedroom, hidden away behind the door. Books are scattered around the house in various bookshelves, and some seem to have migrated into my husband’s study: he has all my old William Boyds, for example, and old Grishams. 95% of my books are on the shelves in my study, and in piles on the floor. There is a system but at the moment it is a bit out of control. The fiction is A-Z without genre separation, shelves for poetry, short stories and drama, two shelves of Spanish language text books and novels [we live in Spain some of the year which I blog about at www.notesonaspanishvalley.com], and a shelf of journalism and creative writing text books dating back to when I taught journalism. My reference bookshelf includes the usual suspects plus research books for my novels, so lots on adoption and family history for the ‘Rose Haldane: Identity Detective’ series [I’m writing book two now, book one Ignoring Gravity is available at Amazon] plus World War Two which I am fascinated about and will write about ‘some day’.

the to-read shelves

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

Yes, I still have it and re-read it. When I was 10 I was given Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome as a present and loved it. I bought Swallowdale, the second in the ‘Swallows and Amazons’ series, with my own money. Every birthday of Christmas present after that was another S&A book.

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?

Guilty pleasures? I am fond of crime [I like the intellectual puzzle, not the violence] and often pick up a familiar Susan Hill or Stieg Larsson. I recently blogged about reading a Simon Serrailler novel and called it a comfort read, which Susan Hill took me to task over – I meant comfort in the sense of ‘relaxing into the familiar’. Also I find children’s/YA series addictive: Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight, Wolf Brother, Swallows and Amazons. But they are not hidden: they are either on my bookshelves or my Kindle. And they do get re-read.

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 father’s copy of Treasure Island. It’s a beautiful thing, not worth anything I don’t think, but I love its green and gold binding. It is more than a book: it is a memory of my father who encouraged me to look at books and newspapers even before I could read the words. It’s because of him that, as a farmer’s daughter from a remote seaside corner of Yorkshire, I made my own magazines full of stories and drawings, and seemed destined to read English at university. He always gave the impression that everything was possible.

The S's

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’s copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover was the one I wanted to read, knowing it was controversial but not understanding why. I did read it, much later, in fact I took it to university with me though the paper was thin and fragile by then. I am proud of Mum, who ordered the book from our village newsagent and brought it home in a brown paper bag. By some quirk, the warden of my college – Goldsmiths, London University – was Sir Richard Hoggart who was an expert witness at the obscenity trial of LCL in 1960 when Penguin published the full unexpurgated edition.

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?

It is rare that I borrow a book from a friend. I do borrow library books, particularly for research or to try out a new crime series. If I like it, I will buy it. I do not want to know how much I spend every year on books. Best not calculated.

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

This week I bought the new poetry volume by Clive James, Sentenced to Life. Very moving, very true, a difficult but beautiful read.

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

Early Warning by Jane Smiley and A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson.

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

I have no idea what someone else would think of my shelves, it is such a broad mixture. I don’t mind what a visitor might think of my reading taste: I buy and read the books I want to read, I don’t buy them because of labels or image. If I did I wouldn’t have The Hobbit next to William Trevor, or Orwell next to Spike Milligan, Murakami and Murdoch. I find book snobbery pointless.

comfy sofa

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

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Other People’s Bookshelves #44; Jon Morgan

Hello and welcome to a return of Other People’s Bookshleves, a series of posts set to feed into the filthy book lust/porn and either give you a fix of other people’s shelves to stave you off going on a buying/borrowing spree, or making you want to run and grab as many more books as you can. After a small break we are back and visiting Jon Morgan, a Savidge Reader, who has kindly offered to tell us more about his books, himself and let us have a nosey round! Before we do let’s find out more about him…

I am a 52 year old soon-to-be retired London senior police officer (yes some of us can read – the old East German joke – why do the police go around in threes – answer: One who can read one who can write and one to watch the other two dangerous intellectuals) subscribing to Rupert Brooke’s dictum that ‘Life is so flat you can see your tombstone from the other end.’ And Graham Greene: ‘Point me out the happy man and I will point you out either extreme egotism, evil or else an absolute ignorance.’ As well as Baudelaire: ‘Ma jeunesse ne fût qu’un ténèbreux orage, traversé ça et là par de brillants soleils.’ My book interests are eclectic, reflecting early middle and late interests. Philosophy – ‘Even a bad book is a book and is therefore sacred’ and following Erasmus ‘If I have money I will buy books, if I have any leftover I may buy food.’ Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read…’ Arthur Ransome said many wise things (Better drowned than duffers, if not duffers, will not drown) and produced the greatest children’s literature ever. He wrote ‘Any book worth reading by children is also worth reading by adults, but children begin by being omnivorous, to them, the miracle of being able to read, makes any book miraculous. A couple of second rate books can blunt that new-found faculty of reading… A real book becomes part of a reader’s innermost life.’ Genius!

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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?

Books deserve to see the light and almost all are on the shelves. Childhood books are unfortunately in the loft WE Johns, CS Forester, CS Lewis etc due to a real and pressing lack of space. I don’t buy book I do not want to read and rarely get rid of them unless I have seriously misjudged.

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?

Usually grouped by author although the system I had in my last place displayed some favouritism. Nowadays all the French books are displayed by era and biogs included with subject author. I prefer some chaos it is more natural….The constant changing of size by publishers is frustrating i.e. paperbacks of a particular author are all the same size until some idiot in the marketing dept. decides to make the new one bigger and the location and shelf space wont comply…. Leads to author separation and a frustrating few minutes when I want to find something – not easy amongst three floors of books and 7000 plus in total. Books to be read i.e. recently bought, used to be on two tottering piles by the bed. They grew to over 6 feet tall and one night I was woken by what seemed and earthquake. Two piles fell over. I managed to squeeze a large bookcase into a small space to accommodate them but the piles gave re-formed. Recently read are on a pile on the other side of the bed….. Cull, what is this cull concept. Books are friends. You do not cull friends.

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

Probably a WE Johns ‘Biggles’ book, which are all in the loft. I remember being in hospital as a young teen in central London and sneaking out to Charing Cross Road and buying The Fabulous Mr Wilkes, about the 18th century rake, rebel and politician. I still have it and it is still a good read.

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?

Never be ashamed of any book you own!

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?

It is a book I used at university and it was so cogent and clear of thought that I determined to buy my own copy after leaving. L.T.T Topsfield’s study of the medieval author Chretien de Troyes. It was a small fortune £45.00 in 1983. The other one is a study of the work of Jean Racine which again I used a college, heavily annotated, It was not until I got it home one holiday that my late father told me the author had taught him at Cambridge in the 50’s Odette De Mourgue’s Jean Racine -The Triumph of Relevance.

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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?

The Railway Navvies – Terry Coleman. Fantastic study of the construction of the railways and of the perilous life of the navvies and their gross exploitation by the boss class

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?

To my shame, I rarely borrow from the local library, and I know that I am one of those who would shout loudest if it were threatened. Unlike when I was young I can now afford to buy the books I want, ether second-hand or new and sometimes even from the behemoth that is Amazon if my conscience does not overrule my wallet. That is such a privilege. Like Erasmus I would rather go hungry than not buy books!

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

Martin Walker’s latest Bruno, Chief Of Police – the Children of War. A great character set in la France Profonde.

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

None specifically although no doubt I will think of one after pressing ‘send’!

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

Odd, eclectic, Have you really read all of these? / Not really sure what I would like them to think. Books are, or become, friends. They do reflect my tastes, interest and personality. They are not there for show. They demonstrate a profound love of the book as a human achievement – long may it rule!

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

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Other People’s Bookshelves #28 – Simon Wilder

Hello and welcome, after a small hiatus while I was in London too hung-over to blog thanks to Kerry Hudson’s bad influence, to the latest in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves. This week we are in London town (though I will be sticking to non alcoholic beverages as we peruse these shelves) and are all round book designer Simon Wilder’s for the day. I am very jealous of Simon’s shelves indeed and I think you may all get a slight book porn overdose, but before you do, here’s Simon with more about himself and his book and blogging addictions…

I’m 55, a graphic designer – I design books. Picture books; cookbooks, reference books, coffee table books. I have recently designed some fiction covers for Helena Halme for the Kindle, and now she’s started putting them into paperback. You can see some of them here. I also take pictures. Too many. I blog them. I’m an over blogger. http://999faces.tumblr.com http://waiterpix.tumblr.com http://maybeitsabighorse.tumblr.com http://wereallgoingona.tumblr.com I expect to finish my 999 faces project towards the end of next summer and am hoping to have an exhibition of it. I could spend a long time talking about it, but it’s not what we’re here for today. And I’ve lived in London all my life.

Bookshelves

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

A book only has to be hardback for me to keep it. A few years ago I gave 30 years worth of paperbacks to the charity shop. Hundreds of them. I was giddy about it. They weighed me down. I also loved having so much extra space. Since then I give a laundry bag of newer paperbacks to the charity shop whenever it becomes full. I really dislike the smell of old books. I hate the brownness of the paper. Hardbacks are made from different stock, and I prefer them as objects. It’s really about decoration. I’m aware that this is all slightly soulless of me, but, really, the content of books is what’s most important, and I’ve read that.

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 one bookcase for cookbooks, another for ‘reading books’. Both are arranged by colour of spine. The reading books are fiction to the left, and much smaller section of non fiction to the right. They’re also arranged by height. I know this is all a bit silly. I much prefer fiction, rarely read anything else in book form (Although Damian Barr’s Maggie and Me was one of my favourite books of 2013). Arranging them all by colour is no problem for reading books – I so rarely reread that I never have to look for them. It’s more of a problem looking for a cookbook. But then you get taken places that you hadn’t thought of, which I love. I sometimes think it would be brilliant to have all the recipes listed alphabetically, by ingredient and by country on my iPad. But one of the things I love most about books is that they make you discursive. I may think I want beef stew, but maybe I really want bouillabaisse, I just hadn’t thought of it. And if I do decide on beef stew, will it be Provencal or Irish? So many choices. Everything is about choice. And talking of Kindles (and their like), I tried one for six months. I don’t feel sentimentally attached to traditional book technology. I gave it a proper go. But for all Kindle’s virtues, turning a real page is still exciting to me, seeing how far I’ve read, how much is left of a book, is part of the pleasure of reading. I don’t think I’m too old to change, but I prefer an actual book. My 79 year old mother, far more conservative in all areas of life than me, very happily changed to reading on a kindle. Although, after two years of it, she went back to printed matter, for pretty much the same reasons as me.

Blue-shelf

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

Almost certainly something by Enid Blyton, or EE Nesbit. Maybe Peter Pan or a Mary Poppins. Oh, Swallows and Amazons? Doctor Doolitle? I can’t remember which, although I remember the experience and how brilliant it felt to be able to choose like that. I loved all the Edwardian children’s classics when I was growing up. I was one of those few boys who loved reading. I belonged to the Puffin club! I, most unusually for a boy, loved reading when I was a teenager, and I still love it. The only one I still have is Peter Pan. It’s a hardback.

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 try not to do anything that I feel embarrassed by. I have enjoyed some TERRIBLE books, although I’ll defend Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls to the end. No, I read whatever I’m drawn to. I don’t read much chick lit or science fiction. Ok, none of either. I think Zadie Smith is horribly overrated and I’m maybe embarrassed that I bought THREE of her novels, never got further than page 50, before I admitted this. I may find it too easy to discard a book if I’m not enjoying it after, say, fifty pages, but often fewer. If I’m going to get more pleasure flinging a bad book across the room than I’ll get from continuing to read it, I’ll fling.

Grey-cook-2

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 Peter Pan, maybe. Or my copy of Catcher in the Rye that I read and reread when I was 17. It’s the only paperback I’ve held on to. I might want to keep my signed copy of The Boys: my father was a survivor of the holocaust. He was in concentration camps before being brought here in 1945. The brilliant Martin Gilbert wrote this book about him and the few other teens they could find alive that came here at the same time. It was incredibly important to my father that his story was told to the world. I have an album of photos of generations of my family who lived before I was born, many of whom I never met. That’s the book I’d miss. Otherwise I don’t think I’d care if they all burned.

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

I was desperate to read The Dice Man, Portnoy’s Complaint and The Exorcist when I was 13, but they were forbidden to me. My mother was so frightened by The Exorcist that she burned it. Brilliant. She read all of Harold Robbins, and I wasn’t allowed to look at them, either. I think it was the sex that drew her and what made her want to keep them from me. So, all a bit Fifty Shades, although I suspect better written. I have since read Portnoy’s Complaint, and almost everything else Philip Roth has written. He’s one of the greatest 20th century authors. The Dice Man was a sensation when it was first published and still sells, but I remember finding it dull when I eventually read it. I don’t think I finished it. The Exorcist so scared me in the cinema that not only did I never read it, I didn’t make it to the end of the film.

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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 buy every book I want to read. Of course, I don’t want to read every book that makes it to my home. I don’t know what happens between the shop and my bedside table. I find it difficult to read anything because someone tells me to. I prefer, somewhat neurotically, to be the first reader of a book. I don’t want to find bits of other peoples’ dunked biscuits on the pages. I really love books of photography, but don’t buy them these days – I treat them like magazines – flick through then not open them again. It’s an expensive hobby.

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

Oh, The Goldfinch. I finished it two weeks ago and it is the book of the year. Sensationally good. I’m already sad that, because she writes so slowly, we only have a few more Donna Tartt novels to look forward to, at best. And she’s spoiled me for other writers. I’ve started – and abandoned – SIX books since finishing the Goldfinch. Nothing compares to it. Everything else tastes like ashes.

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

Only the unwritten Donna Tartt novels

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 I’m a suave sex god.

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

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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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The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey

I normally avoid books that are getting either a lot of hype in the book world in general or suddenly appearing in a flurry of rapturous reviews on book blogs. I am not sure quite why this is, but it is indeed the case. ‘The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey has been one such book, rumblings about it started at the end of last year when proofs went out, then it got chosen for the Waterstones 11 and in the last few weeks I have seen it mentioned, with rave reviews, on several book blogs I visit. I have to admit had it not been for the fact that Gavin and I are interviewing Eowyn for The Readers tonight I would have left it a while, instead I am now going to add to the glowing reviews that you may well have already come across here, there and everywhere. This is a marvellous book.

Headline Books, hardback, 2012, fiction, 432 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

I have always been a fan of fairytales for adults. Books which spell bind you as an older, wiser reader and yet in some way bring back the comfort, endless magical possibility and thrills of your early reading years. Eowyn Ivey’s debut novel ‘The Snow Child’ is a prime example of a writer getting the mix of these two elements just right. Ivey takes the reader on a rather magical journey in Alaska in 1920, cleverly though she actually gives the book a timeless feel, as apart from a few famous authors of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s which feature in the book this could actually have been set at any period in the remote snowy wilderness, more on that later, lets discuss the story first.

 Jack and Mabel are a married couple who since the still birth of their first and only child have been drifting apart in their own separate insular isolated worlds within the very real world of isolation that is the Alaskan wilderness. This was meant to be the place that made them, a place where they started a whole new life together. Now in their 50’s what was once paradise has become a snowy frozen wasteland and not just in terms of their surroundings but also their emotions. Neither feels that they have a bond with the other, all the unspoken things becoming chasms rather than cracks in their relationship. Mabel in particular, who wanted this so much, if not the most, seems to be dealing with all of this the worst.

‘They were going to be partners, she and Jack. This was going to be their new life together. Now he sat laughing with strangers when he hadn’t smiled at her in years.’

One night however things change, thanks to a random snowball fight which proved to be one of the most moving scenes I have read in years (you need to read it to believe it – I admit I welled up), and the couple decide to build a snowman, only soon they have created a snow girl, yet the next morning it has vanished, replaced by a trail of a child’s footsteps from where it stood leading into the forest. It is not long after this that Jack and Mabel start to see, initially always in the peripheral, glimpses of a young girl and a fox dashing through the fields and woods near their house, they even separately start to talk to her. Could they have magically somehow created a child of their own from snow?

I will leave the plot at that point for fear of spoilers. I will say that Eowyn Ivey plays a very clever game of making the reader wonder if this girl could be real or not early on as when she does start to speak back it is never in quotation marks it is just inserted in the narrative. Could this therefore be a figment of this couples imagination or their way of dealing with grief, after all the other locals (including the wonderful Esther) have never seen this young girl and they have lived there longer and therefore must know everything. Also, because we get the internal dialogues of Jack and Mabel as the reader while they themselves barely communicate with one another, we wonder all the more.

Another clever device in Eowyn Ivey’s tale was including the Russian fairytale ‘Snegurochka’ (which inspired Arthur Ransom’s ‘The Little Daughter of the Snow’, which inspired Eowyn to write this novel itself) in the book as a favourite tale of Mabel’s as a child. She couldn’t read the language, but she could certainly understand the illustrations of this tragic children’s bedtime story. That tale too is of a man and woman, unable to have children, creating a girl out of snow, but could this mean that Mabel already knows the fate her snow child’s before her life has truly begun? If of course she exists.

If I have made that sound complicated I apologise as it’s not at all, it is all woven together wonderfully and this leads me to Eowyn Ivey’s writing which is second to none, and what a storyteller too. When I started the book I was thinking ‘how on earth is this going to last over 400 pages’ but it whizzed by, no saggy dragged out middle and most importantly no endless descriptions of snow. Without ever over egging the snowy pudding and mentioning snow every other word the cold atmosphere is always present but never mentioned too much. In fact I have probably mentioned snow much more in every sentence of this review than Eowyn does in the book herself. That said when she does its beautiful, especially in the dreams that haunt Mabel. A possible sign of cabin fever closing in?

‘Snowflakes and naked babies tumbled through her nights. She dreamed she was in the midst of a snowstorm. Snow fell and gusted around her. She held out her hands and snowflakes landed on her open palms. As they touched her skin, they melted into tiny, naked newborns, each wet baby no bigger than a fingernail. Then wind swept them away, once again just snowflakes among a flurry of thousands.’

I think the best thing which Eowyn Ivey did for me on top of all the above (this sounds like a gushing review because it is, I can find no real fault with the book at all) was that I really cared about all her characters, especially Jack and Mabel. With so much time to think and so little distraction they often reflect on their lives leading to this point. We, as the reader, are then given their background through these reflections and can see how much they loved each other, how it has all changed since and of course how it changes after the snow child appears. I really cared about them and hoped beyond all hope that this fairytale might have a happy ending for all concerned. Does it? Well, you would have to read the book to find out.

I was enjoying ‘The Snow Child’ so much from the start that I did something I hardly ever do. Rather than read it in chunks when I could, I simply devoted almost a whole day to it. I could have saved it and made it last, but sometimes you have to think ‘stuff that’ and just get lost in it all. So I did and read the book in pretty much one go just gorging on it. Now that is the sign of a truly magical book, I was completely spellbound… apart from having to pop the heater on and making the occasional hot drink as the snow really does feel like it’s coming off the page. This is a highly, highly recommended read.

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