Tag Archives: Ayn Rand

Other People’s Bookshelves #65 – Sarah Perry

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 off to Essex to join author Sarah Perry who has just got back from her allotment especially to show us around her shelves. First let’s grab a cuppa and a custard cream and find out more about Sarah…

My first novel, After Me Comes the Flood, came out last year with Serpent’s Tail, and has just been released in paperback. My second novel, The Essex Serpent, is coming out in July 2016 (again with Serpent’s Tail, in an act of spectacular nominative determinism!).  I was once a civil servant – largely working in communications, such as writing speeches for government ministers – and then worked for the Council of the Inns of Court while I did a PhD in Creative Writing and the Gothic. I now write full-time, though not just fiction.

At the moment I’m finishing edits on The Essex Serpent. It’s about friendship, desire, sin, love, death and sea-serpents. I talk quite often about my upbringing, and am always afraid it’s going to grow tiresome, but find I’m still asked about it. I was born to a very strict religious family – often, I joke I was brought up in 1895 – and while other girls my age were surrounded by pop culture I was up to my ears in the King James Bible, classic literature, Victorian hymns and Reformation theology. The Gothic quality of my writing and my preoccupation with madness, sin and transgression is therefore not entirely surprising, I suppose.

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

I’m frighteningly acquisitive when it comes to books, and absolutely hopeless at getting rid of them. About three months ago I attempted a cull, and there have been two large bags of books destined for the local charity shops in the middle of my bedroom floor ever since. I seem to gather books as I walk through the week like a magnet attracting iron filings and with about that degree of discrimination. Proofs arrive in the post, I order them online on a whim, am sent them as gifts, throw them into my trolley in the supermarket, grab paperbacks in charity shops, steal – sorry: borrow! – them from friends. They all wind up in one of the many drifts and piles in the house, and I fear many are destined to remain unread for years, if at all. But I can never quite shake the feeling that the day may come when that 80s edition of The Gulag Archipelago, or that little hardback Rumer Godden novel, is going to be exactly what I need…

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?

Some years ago a friend of mine tried to help me order my books (by genre, and alphabetically by author). It took absolutely hours and lasted for less than a week. I can’t begin to fathom how anyone who has a large number of books maintains any sort of order without a fleet of staff. Everything is all bundled in together – I’m looking at a bookcase right now and on a single shelf I can see a biography of William Gladstone, a guide to Jungian dream-symbols, TH White’s The Once and Future King, two Ishiguro novels next to each other (miraculously!), several crime thrillers, and a Puritan book on the doctrine of repentance. If you’re wondering how I ever find anything: I often can’t, and rage about the house accusing the cat of stealing books. My husband has a better memory than me, and can often lay hands on what I need. I do try and keep to some form of TBR system, and went as far as installing two bookcases on either side of the bed, but then I get distracted by something else, and it all goes out of the window.

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The only truly organised shelves are those where I’m temporary custodian of a friend’s books: he moved abroad, and left them with me, where I’ve taken to calling them ‘The Memorial Library’. I must say I consider arranging books by colour to be the sure sign of a deranged mind (apologies to any deranged readers).

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

I honestly can’t remember, and wish very much that I could! I do have lots of books from my childhood, though. I have on my desk here a very battered little Bible story book which I must have had since before school, and I’m very attached to a hardback Paddington bear collection which was a gift from one of my older sisters.

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?

With very, very few exceptions I really don’t have much truck with the idea of guilty pleasures when it comes to reading. Of course, even the most ardent anti-book snob must draw the line somewhere, and I would sooner go to the stake than have my shelves sullied with Fifty Shades of Grey or Ayn Rand. But I have everything out in the open – so far as the disordered tumult will allow! – and if anyone baulks at the sight of Stephen King, Terry Pratchett and Lee Child jostling cheerfully with WG Sebald, Maggie Nelson and Tennyson then I shall sit them down and have a long, gentle but firmly persuasive chat. I never read romantic fiction, but that is merely a matter of preference, in the same way that I would rather eat cauliflower than mushrooms: it’s not a value judgment. I must confess that if my parents visit I might double check that Catullus or Chuck Palahniuk aren’t knocking about where my Dad might take them off the shelves in an idle moment (there was an awkward moment last year with a Thom Gunn poem).

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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?

There are so many of these! May I have a wheelbarrow full? I have a complete Sherlock Holmes which my father gave me: it is a long out-of-print edition, and identical to his own copy, which I grew up reading, and which he is evidently not ready to part with. I have a beautiful vintage edition of Finnegans Wake which a friend gave me when I left London, and since really he deserves it far more than I do I secretly think of it as being in joint custody, like the child of an amiable divorce. When I sold my first novel a friend gave me a copy of A Literary Life by Posy Simmonds, which has got truer and more comforting as the years have passed. There are about half-a-dozen King James Bibles knocking about, most of them associated with events in life: my wedding, or a gift when I was tiny bridesmaid at my oldest sister’s wedding. Once when I had been away for a fortnight my husband met me at the airport with some marmalade sandwiches, two Calvin and Hobbes books and a copy of the Communist Party Manifesto, so I would like those. And I suppose I would like to take the first proof copy of my first novel, with all my anguished handwritten corrections.

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 never really remember there being much of a division between children’s books and grown up books, and I more or less read what I wanted, when I wanted to. Which isn’t to say that I was reading terribly inappropriately (however one defines that) – there wouldn’t have been anything like that in the house, and I wouldn’t have sought it out: since there was so much to read, I was quite content. And so I remember reading Jane Eyre at eight, because it was in an illustrated hardback edition that I mistook for a children’s book, and my father gave me a copy of Tess of the D’Urbervilles when I was ten (greatly to my teacher’s horror). My elder sisters would occasionally conceal slightly fruity novels beneath their beds, which I unfailingly found and would read in a single sitting. The most memorable of these was probably Flowers in the Attic, which I still adore – and which is somewhere on my shelves.

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?

Greatly to my shame, I never borrow books (unless from friends, in which case ‘borrow’ is often pronounced ‘steal’), and only ever darken the doors of reference libraries, in order to do research. I am simply not to be trusted with library books: they’ll be lost, dropped in the bath, battered, and never returned. It’s a moral failing I’ve long given up trying to remedy.

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

In the last week, I’ve bought Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (her memoir Bluets had a profound effect on me last year), Miranda July’s The First Bad Man (which I cannot imagine I will enjoy, having a very low tolerance for quirky books by privileged young New Yorkers, but I though I’d try and conquer my prejudices), Stephen King’s Mr Mercedes, JG Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition, John Wyndham’s The Trouble With Lichen, and an Anaïs Nin book I immediately lost and can’t remember. I have also been sent a debut novel by Tasha Kavanagh called Things We Have in Common, which I’m looking forward to. Sorry, that’s several books, isn’t it?

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

Heaps and heaps! I am very close to mugging someone for an advance copy of Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life: its August release date seems a terribly long way away, and literally everyone on Twitter has a copy except me. I also would like a facsimile edition (or a real one, if possible) of the Tyndale New Testament, because who wouldn’t? There are also a number of collected letters that I would like. For many years I had a curious ethical disinclination to read the ‘remains’ of writers: I felt that we should read only their work, not diary entries and correspondence they would never have intended for a general readership. But it turns out my principles are paper thin, and I’d particularly like the letters of Virginia Woolf, which I could cross-reference against her diaries.

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

I imagine their first thought would be that I am spectacularly untidy, and furthermore could do with doing some dusting. I wonder if they might then think that these are the books of several people, not only one – if they did, I’d be delighted. I honestly believe we all have a duty to read as widely and deeply as possible. The worst possible reader is the one who wishes only to affirm and bolster their existing world view, and the worst possible response to a book is this: “I just didn’t identify with any of the characters.” As to what I’d like them to think of my reading tastes: I couldn’t give a single solitary toss, I never have, and I never will.

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A huge thanks to Sarah for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, you can stalk her on Twitter here, you can also see her not once but twice at Gladfest this September, where you may just also see me! 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 Sarah’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Filed under Other People's Bookshelves, Sarah Perry

Anthem – Ayn Rand

A while back now I set upon the idea of trying authors that I have always felt I should have read yet had been daunted by, yet starting with some of their shorter works. ‘Anthem’ is by far and wide the shortest work that Ayn Rand ever wrote. In fact it is for her much more famous ‘The Fountainhead’ (at a substantial 752 pages) and ‘Atlas Shrugged’ (at a whopping 1184) that Ayn Rand is most probably known by many. I also liked the sound of it because it had a dystopian edge and I am also trying to dip my toes in the world of science fiction as and when the mood takes.

Penguin Classics, paperback, 1937, fiction, 112 pages, broowed from the library

‘It is a sin to write this. It is a sin to think words no others think and to put them down upon a paper no others are to see. It is base and evil. It is as if we were speaking alone to no ears but our own. And we know well that there is no transgression blacker than to do or think alone. We have broken the laws.  The laws say that men may not write unless the Council of Vocations bid them so. May we be forgiven!’

Written in a tunnel which no one else is found this is the how Equality 7-2521, who we will call simply Equality from now on, starts telling us his story. His world is one that is both familiar and unfamiliar world in where society has changed and free thinking is banned. Equality is different from everyone else though and has been told ‘we are born with a curse… we know that we are evil’ as well as physically being 6ft tall which is again seen as freakish and ‘a burden’. Initially I have to admit that as he refers to himself as ‘we’ all the time it did take a while for me to really that Equality was a singular person, but then again in the world he lives being independent minded is not something that is promoted.

Ayn Rand has you intrigued from the very start with ‘Anthem’, and as you read on this is a world which is in many ways a very familiar one and also such an unknown quantity too. You want to learn the new hierarchy of this society from its ‘Home of the Street Sweepers’ to the ‘Palace of Corrective Detention’  and I was particularly keen to learn more about the ‘Unmentionable Times’. Yet my interest started to fade. In part it was the use of language the never end ‘we this’ and ‘we that’ started to grate, by the end of the novella I could see why she had done this yet while I appreciated what she was doing it was rather an effort not to put the book down due to the irritation of the repetition. I didn’t though and did go on in part because finally when Equality meets Liberty 5-3000 (or ‘the golden one’ as he calls her) we start to get a plot that moves and intrigues a little more. And yes, note how they are called Equality and Liberty, that didn’t hit me for a while possibly as my mind kept focusing on ‘we’ every sentence.

‘Anthem’ did sort of save itself in the end, though as I don’t want to give anything away I can’t really say why. I thought mid way through that I should give up because I wasn’t really enjoying it as much as I had hoped and I felt I had read this before. I should say even though it does sound very ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ like and Orwellian ‘Anthem’ was in fact written before that, it seems like what has come since has rather bettered it whilst extending on it. If ‘Anthem’ had been a novel it probably would have bitten the dust with me. As it was only 112 pages I just kept on, even though they were a long 112 pages if I am being totally honest. After finishing it I am not sure I would rush out and read any more Rand, as while I liked the ideas behind the book I didn’t really care for the execution, even though when I had finished it I was strangely glad that I had read it.

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Filed under Ayn Rand, Penguin Classics, Review, Taking Little Novel(la) Risks

Taking Little Novel(la) Risks…

I am deep in the middle of reading Man Booker longlisted novels for We Love This Book and also the submissions for the Green Carnation Prize and it’s made me realise, and often without those two excuses, that I do tend to read a lot of contemporary fiction. In fact looking at my reviews most of them now veer towards books published in the last year or soon out. I have started to feel I am missing out on books pre-2010/11 and I think I need to combat that.

I also worry I’ve not read enough of ‘the greats’ either. I’m not just talking about Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens (seriously I haven’t read them, I shouldn’t call myself a lover of books should I?) but also writers like Somerset Maugham or Forster and what about modern-ish classic writers like Philip Roth or Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Well the other day I had a slight epiphany.

Going to the library one lunch time this week (as I don’t already have enough books do I?) I saw ‘Lesley Castle’ by Jane Austen. It was very short, it would be a taster of her writing. I had a brainwave, why not search the shelves for some authors I have meant to try/heard are masters from all eras and find the shortest books by them too? This is the collection I pulled off the shelves…

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I wanted a real mixture from all eras, areas of the world etc and so I ended up with ‘Lesley Castle’ by Jane Austen, ‘Claudine in Paris’ by Colette, ‘Memories of my Melancholy Whores’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, ‘The Lady and the Little Fox Fur’ by Violette Leduc (which Simon T has mentioned), ‘Up At The Villa’ by W. Somerset Maugham and ‘Anthem’ by Ayn Rand. What a collection!

I am going to read them randomly at whim, well I have already devoured two on trains in and out of town this week, but I like the idea of slowly upping my classics in take and being introduced to new older authors between more ‘current’ reading.

What do you all think of this idea? Do any of you do all this already? How do you try and keep a more stable reading diet combined with a whim routine? Or do you not?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness, Taking Little Novel(la) Risks

Wallflower at the Orgy – Nora Ephron

One of the things I do like about my local library is that they have a huge set of shelves that greet you when you walk in; in fact you almost walk into them because they are so in your face when you arrive. It was on these shelves that I spotted Nora Ephron’s ‘Wallflower at the Orgy’ which grabbed my attention from the title and the image that it threw in my head. Pulling it off the shelf I saw that it was a collection of her early essays and after reading and thoroughly enjoying ‘Heartburn’ earlier in the year and so I decided to give this a go.

Nora Ephron is known around the world for her script writing and films such as ‘When Harry Met Sally’, ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ and ‘Julie & Julia’. I had no idea that she had started her career as a journalist. From the title you might be expecting ‘Wallflower at the Orgy’ to be Nora Ephron writing about sex, which I could imagine would be hilarious and brilliant; however it’s not the case. This collection was actually published back in 1970 and was Nora Ephron’s first collection of early journalism and some of the articles she had written in various magazines.

In this collection we get an insight into what is expected and what women want in the late 1960’s which makes for rather interesting reading. Ephron herself worked for Cosmopolitan as a freelance writer and so is writing ‘current women’s pieces’ (such as a hilarious make over that Ephron herself endures in a very funny essay) and meeting with those ‘current women’ including the founder of Cosmopolitan, one of the most powerful women at the time, Helen Gurley Brown who often finds herself in tears.

The novel also deals with journalism at the time, I was expecting Ephron’s 1970’s world of journalism to be very different from mine yet actually its not, in fact I would say that without such joys as the worldwide web, ‘google’ and the like journalists had to work a lot harder. Ephron starts the book telling how she was taught to write minimally and yet write around a person rather than simply repeat exactly what your interviewee tells you which a lot of modern journalists could do with learning. We get lovely Ephron features on clothing, self help, cooking, visiting movie sets (for Catch 22) and also a horrendously brilliant sounding gossip magazine called Women’s Wear Daily which is still running.

The book lover in my really honed in on the sections where Ephron discusses books. She had me debating actually picking up Ayn Rand’s works as she discusses ‘The Fountainhead’, her thoughts on ‘Love Story’ by Erich Segal, which became a cult classic and I had never heard of so may have to look up, and a wonderful piece on Jacqueline Susann who wrote ‘Valley of the Dolls’ which has made me want to run off and read that now.

It’s a real mixture of essays which have one common thread which is Ephron’s wonderful narrative which is filled with honesty and also humour. There’s a knowingness which rather than making her sound a little bit smug and patronising actually makes you feel like when you have come to the end of each article you have just had a good natter with one of your friends. It’s not ‘Heartburn’ it’s something rather different and yet equally enjoyable, a book you can dip in and out of at your leisure. 7.5/10

This collection was from the library, I think it’s only out in actual shops in America though you can get it on a certain bookselling website.

Have any of you read any of Nora Ephron’s other collections? I have spotted there is a new one coming in 2011 which I am quite excited about. Have any of you read Erich Segal’s ‘Love Story’ and what did you think of it? Do you think I would like Jacqueline Susann’s ‘Valley of the Dolls’ as much as I now think I might?

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Filed under Nora Ephron, Review, Transworld Publishing

Do I Want To Read… Ayn Rand?

I have to admit from a purely materialistic view I have often seen the massive books of Ayn Rand in book shops and merely wanted them because of the wonderful covers that the Penguin Modern Classic editions have. This, whilst natural, is also rather ridiculous as actually when they are on the shelves, after what would possibly be about two months it could take to read, all anyone is going to see is the massive spines. Yet it does seem like fate has been pointing me in her direction lately and this has got me wondering.

On The First Tuesday Book Club, possibly my favourite book based show, one of the choices for this months discussion (which you can see on their website) was ‘Atlas Shrugged’ which is one of host Jennifer Byrne’s favourites. It ended up, bar Byrne, being universally disliked and accused of being overly long and less a novel more a book of philosophy. Yet strangely I ended up thinking ‘oooh maybe that would be a monster I could try and tackle one day’ though of course I have said the same about ‘Ulysses’ and look where that got me… absolutely nowhere. I tried it failed, but have kept it on the book shelves for a rainy day or ninety.

Now, in fact just yesterday, I am reading (one of my naughtily ignored until now library loots) Norah Ephron’s collection ‘Wallflower at the Orgy’ and who is one of her essays about? You guessed it, Ayn Rand and also her book ‘The Fountainhead’ which Ephron seems to rather praise and which became rather a cult classic against all odds. This has piqued my interest yet again and I am left wondering if actually this is an author who not only has come out in delightful editions of late (I cant loose the materialistic streak, sorry) and who it seems can write a blinking long yarn or three.

I am tempted by the two mentioned ‘The Fountainhead’ and ‘Atlas Shrugged’ but am wondering whether I should really start at the beginning with ‘We The Living’ which has a rather saucy cover it has to be said. I haven’t yet looked at the blurbs and maybe that would be the place to head to next. However I thought you lovely lot might be the perfect place to start really, so…

Have you read any Ayn Rand? Was it a pleasant affair or really just hard work with no real rewards? Where would you suggest I start or would you actually say that the idea of even contemplating one of her novels doesn’t bear thinking about? Would anyone else be willing to join in with some ‘Rand Reading’ and maybe we could provide each other with some support and hand holding through the blogosphere?

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Filed under Book Thoughts