Tag Archives: Barbara Kingsolver

The Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist 2013

So here are the six books that have made the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist 2013…

Womens-Prize-Shortlist-News-Item-2

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson (Doubleday)
May We Be Forgiven – A.M. Holmes (Granta)
Flight Behaviour – Barbara Kingsolver (Faber and Faber)
Bring Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate)
Where’d You Go, Bernadette – Maria Semple (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
NW – Zadie Smith (Hamilton)

Alas this year I couldn’t play ‘guess the shortlist’ as I knew it in advance so that I could do a feature for We Love This Book from ‘the man’s perspective’, along with my initial thoughts on the short listed books which you can see here on the website (not a Mantel bashing in site). You will also learn there that, yes indeed, I am going to read the whole of the shortlist, including re-reading A.M. Holmes and trying again with Zadie Smith, this year.

Obviously not having read them all I am in no real position to say which one I think will win, however I did randomly decide that it would be Kate Atkinson that would win this year, and so far the signs are good. I have decided that will be the last of the shortlist I read. I am going to start with Kingsolver, partly because it is the one I am the most daunted by and also because I am at Gran’s and she has a copy and I don’t, ha.

Who else is thinking of reading the short list? I am not going to suggest an official read-a-long but if anyone is reading them might be nice to have some support and people to swap notes with. Even if you aren’t planning on reading all of them what do you make of the list? Which have you read and which do you fancy reading?

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The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 Longlist

So they have been announced, the twenty titles that make the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 Longlist, and after my guesses yesterday I can reveal that I guessed a whopping… four! More on that shortly, first though here is the list of the twenty titles…

Kitty Aldridge – A Trick I Learned From Dead Men (Jonathan Cape)
Kate Atkinson – Life After Life (Doubleday)
Ros Barber – The Marlow Papers (Sceptre)
Shani Boianjiu – The People of Forever are Not Afraid (Hogarth)
Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Sheila Heti – How Should a Person Be? (Harvill Secker)
A M Homes – May We Be Forgiven (Granta)
Barbara Kingsolver – Flight Behaviour (Faber & Faber)
Deborah Copaken Kogen – The Red Book (Virago)
Hilary Mantel – Bring Up the Bodies (Fourth Estate)
Bonnie Nadzam – Lamb (Hutchinson)
Emily Perkins – The Forrests (Bloomsbury Circus)
Michèle Roberts – Ignorance (Bloomsbury)
Francesca Segal – The Innocents (Chatto & Windus)
Maria Semple – Where’d You Go, Bernadette (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Elif Shafak – Honour (Viking)
Zadie Smith – NW (Hamish Hamilton)
M L Stedman – The Light Between Oceans (Doubleday)
Carrie Tiffany – Mateship with Birds (Picador)
G Willow Wilson – Alif the Unseen (Corvus Books)

I have made the ones I have read in bold and linked to them if I have reviewed them, I have also put all the ones I have in mount TBR in italics. What you possibly might want to know is what I think of the list overall though maybe? Well, I have to say that I rather like it.

The talking points are of course going to be, firstly, Hilary Mantel. I can only imagine that there will be lots of people groaning about how she is up for yet another award and isn’t it unfair she is winning all these awards because she wrote such a brilliant book – honestly this whole attitude of slating someone for writing something that apparently, I haven’t read it yet though now I am more tempted, many people think is one of the very best books of the year is just mean. She has written a great book, the best books are meant to win prizes, let her enjoy it and please shut the **** up moaning about it and say something positive. Alas in the same vein I think the second point will be the ‘oh my god a crime book is on the list’ with Gillian Flynn and ‘Gone Girl’, a book I loved and am delighted is on the list – indeed I guessed it might be.

Speaking of guesses, yes I am sad that Kerry Hudson, Nell Leyshon, Maggie O’Farrell etc have missed out, especially as the Emily Perkins novel that I really didn’t get on with is on the list, but yippee Kate Atkinson is on it, and I predicted she would win it back on January the 1st in an episode of the Readers podcast. Let us continue on that positive note and look at the thing that really excites me about the list… The books I have never bloody heard of! These are, for me, what a longlist is all about – well, apart from the fact longlists make us look at books and talk about them, a lot.

I am really keen to find out more about the ones I don’t have here at home, especially the authors that I haven’t heard of, I tried the Smith and the Kingsolver and they didn’t grab me when I got them. I have heard of all the books or the authors bar three and those are the ones which really strike me as books I might need to get my mitts on. They are Deborah Copaken Kogen’s ‘The Red Book’, Carrie Tiffany’s ‘Mateship With Birds’ and ‘The People of Forever are Not Afraid’ by Shani Boianjiu. The latter two in particular as the Tiffany sounds right up my street as I love books set in the middle of the countryside/nowhere and how that effects people, the Boianjiu also sounds like it would be outside my normal reading remit which is something I am desperately looking for at the moment. In fact I will be discussing reading diets, and the fact I think I need to change my reading tastes a bit later today.

In the meantime though, what do you make of the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist above? Which of the books have you read and what did you make of them? Are there any books you are shocked to see on there or missing from there? Do you think Flynn vs. Mantel will be the big story? Is anyone planning on reading them all (I am going to read some if the whim takes, probably the two I mentioned I know nothing about, maybe) at all?

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Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 Longlist?

So tomorrow is the announcement of the first, yet technically eighteenth, Women’s Prize for Literature. As has become the routine in the last few years, I do love to have a go at guessing what books might be on it. This isn’t based on what people ‘in the trade’ might be thinking or any of that gubbins, though I love all the speculation, it is simply based on books I have loved, am desperate to read or simply think might be on the list, though I am sure I will be proven delightfully wrong once again this year and a million miles off in my guesses.

The first four of my guesses are some of my favourite books of 2012, well, those that fall into the submission guidelines, they are…

The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon
Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole Me Ma – Kerry Hudson
The Lighthouse – Alison Moore
The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

Next up some books that I have read, or in the case of the Atkinson am reading, and am yet to review but have thoroughly enjoyed…

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson
Instructions for a Heatwave – Maggie O’Farrell
Past the Shallows – Favel Parrett
May We Be Forgiven – A. M. Holmes

Next up another four more books that are on the bedside table at the moment…

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie – Ayana Mathis
A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki
Tell The Wolves I Am Home – Carol Rifka Brunt
Origins of Love – Kishwar Desai

Three more books that I am keen to read very soon and also one which I have been mulling over reading or not because of the Jesus factor, if it gets long listed will definitely read it…

The Palace of Curiosities – Rosie Garland
Tigers in Red Weather – Liza Klaussmann
Above All Things – Tanis Rideout
The Liar’s Gospel – Naomi Alderman

Finally a mix of four books that would cause some talking points if they were listed (well one would for me particularly)…

Bring Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel
The Casual Vacancy – J. K. Rowling
Bitter Greens – Kate Forsyth
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

I am pretty much sure that Hilary Mantel is going to be on the list and, unlike the general consensus I have heard of late, I have no grumbles about that at all. It has been really annoying me that people are now laying into her, everyone was really celebratory of her Booker double, after winning the Costa Prize too. Surely great books of the year should be able to win as many book prizes as they are eligible for, no? I can’t be doing with all the gripers, yes I know too much talk can put you off a book but don’t be mean about it. Rant over.

As for the other three, well I don’t think many people are predicting that J.K. Rowling will be on the list yet I would be quite chuffed if she was – it would get people talking, the book deals with current themes and it might get me to finally read it which I have been saying I will for ages. If ‘Bitter Greens’ gets on the longlist I will be talking about it to everyone because it is the retelling of Rapunzel and we all know that is my favourite fairytale and I named my duck after her when I was four. I have just had this in the post and have been sooooooooo excited, I am saving it for some long journeys I have coming up. Finally, the Flynn, why not? It has been a huge seller, everyone has been talking about it and the twists and turns and characters, even if you love to loathe them, are great. Though of course it is a crime novel and so may be written off for that, it could be a dark horse though.

I know I have missed out some of the big hitters like Barbara Kingsolver, Tracy Chevalier, Aminatta Forna, Nicola Barker and Rose Tremain (who I now desperately want to read the works of as though Gran and my mother love her I haven’t but The Beard’s mother yesterday was raving about her and we seem to be on an authorish wavelength) but I wanted to have a different and varied list overall. I wouldn’t be upset if any of them were on it. I also debated ‘The Friday Gospels’ by Jenn Ashworth, yet didn’t think there would be two books with ‘gospel’ in the title, why I don’t know and ‘Red Joan’ by Jennie Rooney. I mulled over some other debuts like  ‘The Innocents’ by Francesca Segal and I couldn’t work out if Katherine Boo was eligible, though I really want to read it but then decided I just couldn’t second guess it could I?

Yet that is part of the fun isn’t it, the fact that no one could guess the longlist because there are so many eligible books that have come out in the last twelve months and we have no idea how many books have been put forward. Plus how dull would it be if we could guess? One of the things that is great about the longlist is finding a whole new selection of books and authors you have never heard of before and want to go and find out more about. I am getting even more excited about the prize now.

I will report back when the list is announced at some point tomorrow, I am hoping really early. In the meantime which books do you think might just make the longlist, which ones would you be particularly thrilled to see?

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Three For Thirty… and a Possible Few For Forty

Thank you all so much for your comments and recommendations on my post about three books I should read before I am thirty and forty books before I am forty. It is exactly three weeks today that my thirties will start and so I have made a decision on the three books I will be reading in the final three weeks of my twenties. It was a tricky choice…

Well actually the first decision was a pretty easy one. I wanted one to be a non fiction novel regardless, and I have always liked letters and diaries and so ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank fitted the bill and is a book I have always meant to read. What has stopped me? In all honesty I have always been worried it might not affect me and what that would say about me. Is that bad?

Anyway that was my first choice. I decided I wanted one of the books to be rather chunky, and ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ by John Fowles ticks lots of boxes. Its set in my favourite period in history, the Victorian era, has a fallen woman at its heart and John Fowles is an author I have wanted to return to. Oh, and it has a gorgeous new cover which popped through the door the other day. Oh, and… the lovely Karen has chosen it for her Cornflower Book Group in April, so maybe a few of you could join in.

Last but not least (and I might not read them in this order anyway) thanks to Annabel of Gaskella who mentioned Beryl Bainbridge, yet another author I have ‘always meant to read’. Well on World Book Day I wanted to buy a book and not something new. ‘The Bottle Factory Outing’ is one I have heard great things about and sounds like a good way in so that is the third and final choice.

So what about the forty to read before I am forty. Well you mentioned some corkers (some I had read and loved but that means we are on a wavelength) and here is the list of the twenty four titles that have come in so far that could end up in the mix.

Maps for lost Lovers – Nadeem Aslam
Miss Hargreaves – Frank Baker
The Regeneration Trilogy – Pat Barker
2666 – Robert Bolano
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
Famous Last Words – Timothy Findley
Through a Glass, Darkly – Jostein Gaarder
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell
The Major of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy
Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
For Whom The Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer
Independent People – Halldor Laxness
Three Horses – Erri de Luca
Night Train to Lisbon – Pascal Mercier
A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
The Raj Quartet – Paul Scott
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
The Map of Love – Adhaf Soueif
The Life and Loves of a She-Devil – Fay Weldon
In Great Waters – Kit Whitfield

Isn’t it a great and rather diverse list? Would you second any of these? Are there any that I might be missing and should consider (there is still space for sixteen more, and I might change some), if you think so do let me know. What do you think of my three before thirty? Let me know if you fancy reading any of them too.

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Why Don’t Men Read Books By Women… Or Do They?

Today’s post title might seem like a silly question initially but actually it is a rather pertinent one as it is a common fact that a lot of male readers will only read books by men. I can hear people here there and everywhere saying ‘pah, that’s not true’ and if that is the case then that’s great, but as I am one of the speakers on ‘Why Don’t Men Read Books By Women?’ at the Lucy Cavendish Woman’s Word Literary Festival in June this year, which I will also be reporting on from behind the scenes too, I thought it was a subject that we could have a good old natter about on Savidge Reads today please.

As I am sure you will have gathered by now I am definitely a man who does read books written by women, in fact I think I read more books by women than I do by men actually. I myself have a whole host of varied female authors in Mount TBR some of which, as pictured above, that I am going to be reading in the lead up to this event. I have chosen some modern crime, some classics (I didn’t feel that I could do this even having never read a full novel by Jane Austen, oops, it is frankly high time I did, I do think the reasons I have been put off are possibly rather like a lot of blokes I know – more on that in due course), some recently released contemporary novels (which nicely combine with my decision to read the whole of the Orange longlist, currently on hold at the halfway point as I have slight Orange overload at the moment) and some of the female greats I have loved in the past and want to read more of. Where oh where to start with a lovely loot like this?

I have noticed that apart from two modern debut novels and a Booker winner from many moons ago, I haven’t plucked out any books by female authors I haven’t tried before so any recommendations for those are welcome if you have any?

So in the name of research, and also because I am rather nosey and fascinated by other peoples reading habits, what about all of you? Which men will happily put there hands up and say that they too read lots of books by women? Any male readers of this blog who are happy to say they don’t and if so why not? And my lovely female readers what about your male relatives and partners do they read books by women or not and if so which titles have they particularly loved? Oh and let me know your thoughts if you have read any of the books pictured above and what you thought of them please. Oh and of course if you are a female reader, do you find you read more books by women than you do men, or vice versa? All thoughts welcomed and, as ever, most appreciated.

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Savidge Reads Grills… Tess Gerritsen

When I sent Tess Gerritsen a cheeky email asking if she would please, please, please do a Savidge Reads Grills I was thrilled that she pretty instantly said yes. Ever since the lovely Novel Insights bought me ‘The Surgeon’ to read when I was having an operation a few years ago (not the wisest of timely choices, I read it when I was recovering at home rather than in the hospital) I have been gripped by the Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles series. As you might have seen yesterday I loved ‘The Bone Garden’ which was a departure into historical fiction. So without further ado here is Tess Gerritsen getting Savidgely Grilled…

For those people who haven’t read any of your series Isles and Rizzoli novels can you try and explain them in a single sentence?

It’s a crime series starring two very different, very capable female investigators: homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles, who are colleagues and friends.

How does each book come about?  Where are the ideas born?

I start with an idea that intrigues me, something that makes me excited to find out what happens next.  The inspirations come from different places.  Vanish, for instance, was inspired by a real case in Boston of a woman who was mistaken for dead and woke up in the morgue.  The writer in me immediately wanted to know how she ended up there, and what she did next.  ‘Body Double’ came to me while I was standing in the autopsy room and thinking: “What if I were to watch myself get autopsied?  Wouldn’t that be a horrifying thing?”  And it’s what Maura Isles almost goes through when she watches her twin sister, a sister she never knew she had, get autopsied.

How much of what we read in these books has actually been something you experienced in your career such as bodies waking up?

Thank heavens most of these tales are things I’ve NEVER experienced.  A lot of the source material is from the news, or from my voracious reading of all matter of material, from gossip magazines to scientific journals.

Has there ever been anything that completely creeped you out?

Quite often, in fact.  I am completely creeped out by shrunken heads, which is why I wrote about them in ‘Keeping The Dead’.  And autopsies although I’ve watched at least a dozen of them continue to disturb me.  I just don’t like watching them, even though they were part of my training.  Most of all, I’m creeped out by the horrifying ways that some people have expired.  In small, enclosed spaces.  In great pain.  Or in locations that are just out of reach of help.

Do you have a favourite between Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles as characters?

I love Jane Rizzoli as a role model, as a woman who is sure of herself and knows what she wants.  But I identify more with Maura Isles because of her scientific background and because I am an introvert, just like Maura.

They can be quite gory fiction in some ways; do you ever wonder if you have gone too far?

I think I pull back before I get too gory.  At least, from my point of view, I do!  I suppose there are readers who think I go over the top.  But in my books you seldom see the cruelty and depravity acted out on the page.  What I portray are the investigators coming onto the scene after the terrible acts have happened, and my investigators must piece the sequence together.  I do include details of autopsies, but I think of that as simply people doing their jobs.  It’s what I’ve seen as a doctor, and it doesn’t seem gory to me, simply clinical.

One of the many things I really love about the books is there seems to be no limits to what could happen, twins are suddenly found, people fall from planes it’s all fantastical and perfect escapism. Where do you come up with these varying twists and storylines?

I follow my instincts as a writer.  I ask myself, what’s the next intriguing, completely unexpected thing that can happen next?  And I make it happen.  I love to be surprised as a reader, and that’s what I try to do in my stories.  Keep my readers, and myself, off balance.

Your novels have become a TV series – how much involvement did you have with it? Was it hard to say yes to the project initially, because it’s something you created?

I don’t write the episodes.  “Rizzoli & Isles” has its own writing team, headed by executive producer Janet Tamaro, who wrote the pilot script.  I know Janet, and I feel perfectly comfortable shooting her an email with an idea or a suggestion, and occasionally she’ll ask for my opinion.  But it’s her baby now, and she’s managed to turn it into a hit TV show.  Although I created Jane and Maura, I’m realistic enough to know that I can’t maintain control of who they are in different media.  They’ve changed from their original book versions. As Janet likes to say, “You’re the birth mother and I’m the stepmother.  And now that they’re under my roof, they have to do what I tell them to.”

‘The Bone Garden’ was a slight change in your recent novels, what sent you off into the Victorian period? Are you planning more novels like this?

I loved writing that book.  It was inspired by some reading I’d done about childbed fever.  The details of the illness and the deaths so horrified me that I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  And when I can’t stop thinking about a topic, I know it’s going to end up in a book.  Here in the US, one of the historical heroes in medicine was Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, a physician who was the first to advise American doctors (in 1843) to wash their hands before attending women in childbirth.  He was probably responsible for saving the lives of thousands of women, yet his suggestions were ignored for a decade.  I wanted to write a story set in that filthy, disease-ridden era, when women were dying in childbirth. Where doctors were labouring under antiquated ideas of science.  And where conditions for the immigrant poor were horror stories in and of themselves.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? Was it an easy thing for you to do?

I knew I was a writer when I was seven years old.  I’ve never given up the dream.  But since I come from very practical immigrant stock (Chinese) I was talked into choosing a more secure profession, medicine.  Still, that dream of being a writer never left me and when I went on maternity leave from hospital work, I wrote my first book.

How long have you been writing for? Which books and authors inspired you to write?

My first published novel, a romance, came out in 1987 (Call After Midnight).  I’ve written about a book a year ever since then.  So it’s been 23 years as a professional novelist, which makes me feel old indeed.   As for which books inspired me, I can point to the same books that so many other female mystery writers point to: the Nancy Drew mystery series.  Those books reinforced my belief that women could not only be intelligent and independent, they could also solve mysteries.  While driving their own cars and staying up past midnight!

Are there any books you wish you had written yourself?

Too many to mention!  I wish I’d written Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.  I wish I’d written Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. I wish I’d written The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.

Which contemporary authors do you rate who are writing right now?

I’d like to mention two debut authors, just because debut authors have a harder time getting noticed. Their books are about to come out in 2011.  The first is Taylor Stevens, whose novel ‘The Informationist’ has a smashing new heroine.  And the second is S.J. Watson, a male author who absolutely and astonishingly nails a female voice in his book ‘Before I Go To Sleep’, about a woman with a peculiar form of amnesia who must re-make her past every morning when she wakes up.

Describe your typical writing routine, do you have any writers quirks or any writing rituals?

No rituals except breakfast and coffee, and then I sit at my desk and try to write 4 good first-draft pages.  I guess the most unusual thing about me is that I write those first-draft pages with pen and paper.  I’m an old dog who just can’t learn new tricks.

What is next for Tess Gerritsen?

I’m finishing up my next Jane and Maura book, The Silent Girl, about a mysterious murder in Boston’s Chinatown.  It allows me to explore some of the Chinese folktales of my childhood.

You can find out more about Tess Gerritsen on her website and indeed read her very own blog.

I want to say a huge thanks to Tess Gerritsen as I know how busy she is and so the fact that she did this so quickly and so eagerly was lovely. It’s always nice when authors you really like to read are lovely in real life, I know it shouldn’t matter but lets be honest it does. Has this interview made you want to read more Gerritsen? Have any of you tried the novels she wrote pre-Rizzoli and Isles? I haven’t tried any yet and want to very much.

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The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver (Reviewed by Granny Savidge)

As many of you may or may not know I tried (really hard) and failed with The Orange Prize winning ‘The Lacuna’ by Barbara Kingsolver earlier in the year. I was actually quite narked at myself initially because I hate to give up on a book but the constant waves of loving this and then really not ground me down and so I stopped. Fortunate then that Granny Savidge Reads needed to read it for her book group so when I last went up I took it in tow to find a new home and she has kindly done a post on her thoughts, so without further ado I shall hand you over…

“I have a problem with what I call Faction i.e. serious books that include historical figures in the plot (though I loved Wolf Hall). To what extend are the facts correct, where does fact end and fiction begin?

Apparently Barbara Kingsolver took 7 years to write this book and during that time she researched everything she could that went into the writing of the novel. She read everything she could about Trotsky, Rivera and Kalo; she visited all the sites mentioned in the book, she even climbed the pyramid in Mexico as Harrison does in the book.  She studied the fashions of the time and she visited Ashville where most of the second half of the book takes place. I found unbelievable the account of the Bonus Army and the camps and the riots and the army firing on the innocent and setting fire to their homes so I rushed to the computer and there it was, even a picture of some of the buildings burning. Apparently all the dates she gives are accurate such as Rivera’s and Kahlo’s visits to the U.S. and Kahlo’s fling with Trotsky. However she does give a very sympathetic portrayal of Trotsky who from all I have read was just as ruthless and murderous as Stalin.

The Poisonwood Bible is one of my favourite modern books (and one I keep telling Simon to read) so I looked forward very much to reading this one but having read it find myself confused as to what to say about it. In some parts I think her prose was brilliant so why did I find myself so often bored with it and would I even have bothered to finish it were it not for this book group. The parts about food and cooking I found especially tedious.

This is a book in two parts, the first in Mexico sort of setting the scene for the second part, but I found the combining of the two unsatisfactory maybe as some reviewers have suggested it should have been two books. As I read all the details of life in Mexico I was aware that the writer was giving an account of her own observations rather like a journalist might rather than a writer of fiction and this was before I knew about the amount or research that had gone into the book. And by the way was anyone else annoyed by the use of so many Spanish words in the first part of the book. What are carpas, or pulque or guapo or Tejamo hats? I know that Spanish is widely spoken in the States but should we poor Anglo Saxons be left to guess or continually interrupt our reading to look up words?

There are a few fictional characters in the book, the feckless mother, the wonderful cook, Leandro, my favourite minor character, Archie the lawyer. The friend Tom, I couldn’t quite see the purpose of him other than to show that even your friends desert you when the state is after you. These people float in and out of the story leaving centre stage to Harrison who is there on every page though we really only know him through his diary and notebooks and to the wonderful Violet who of course is only there in the second half although she is really making possible our journey through the book.

Despite his omnipresence I found Harrison a shadowy figure, something missing, a lacuna maybe. Neglected as a child, becomes a servant/cook/secretary and then later when he realises his true vocation as a writer he is so persecuted by the state that he gives up the thing that has always given meaning to his life. Violet Brown I loved. Sensible, down to earth and utterly loyal and reliable, a marvellous force for stability in what, until meeting her, had been an unstable life. Despite the fact that I found Harrison’s character somewhat elusive the last few pages of the book almost reduced me to tears, after all we had followed this character from childhood to manhood through all the vicissitudes of his life and we see it end so tragically or did it? Can I just say that the final part of this book is wonderful writing so for anyone who may think of giving up I would say don’t.

So what was is this book really about? How despite the passage of thousands of years man never really changes neither better or worse than he ever was. How death can come suddenly out of a sunny sky whether it be for Trotsky, or Pearl Harbour or for those killed on 9/11. How easily the power of gossip and innuendo fuelled by the press can destroy a man and can lead to the erosion of those liberties that a nation has fought for, such as freedom of speech and freedom to hold a view opposed to the prevailing opinions. It also highlights the loneliness of a writer,  in Mexico when he was hard up Harrison was always surrounded by people, in the U.S. ,as a successful writer, he spends a solitary existence apart from the company of the faithful Violet.

I read this for our U3A book group and had to give a rather nerve wrecking presentation. The other members of the group had really enjoyed the book. The meetings take place in Ellen’s house, and as we talk, over home made cakes and tea; we can watch the local bird life flitting amongst the trees that surround the house in this special corner of England.

I haven’t mentioned the title yet, I thought maybe it referred to the gaps in his life or the missing notebook or some such. Barbara Kingsolver says ‘This story is about all the things you don’t know-the other side of the story-the piece of history that has been erased.’ What do you think? Who else has read this, tried to or wants to? Simon and I would love to know your thoughts.”

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What Do You Want & Expect From An Award Winning Book?

This is a question which I have been asked rather a lot recently. Actually the exact question has been ‘what do you look for in an award winning book?’ So I thought I would open it up to all of you for all your thoughts on that very subject. We all do it, we judge the panel that judge the award and we always have opinions of why a winning book should/shouldn’t or did/didn’t win don’t we? (If anyone is saying no then you are fibbing!) I am also interested, as ever, in what you all think because I would like to see just how different or similar our expectations are with these books. 

I could easily think of some recent titles that show just how much discussion/controversy book winners can cause. The first that came to mind were these two both winners of awards in 2010.

First up is ‘Truth’ by Peter Temple, which I have now decided I need to get my hands on imminently, this book seemed to shock everyone by being a ‘crime/thriller’ that won the literary prize The Miles Franklin Award 2010. Why should that be so shocking, does the genre really matter? There seems some great surprise, like when Tom Rob Smith’s brilliant ‘Child 44’ was put forward for the Man Booker, that a crime book could be well written and yet they are well written (need I send you in the direction of Kate Atkinson or have I raved about her enough?) in fact I think some of the plots in some of the best thrillers published could put some of the more prose heavy contenders to shame yet you wouldn’t.

Also a shock winner this year was ‘The Lacuna’ by Barbara Kingsolver (which I gave up on and am giving to Gran at the weekend as she’s doing it for one of her book groups and a ‘guest review’ on here) which caused a lot of controversy for winning the Orange over what many believed was the better novel ‘Wolf Hall’. It appeared the judges couldn’t let the latter book win as it won the Booker the year before, which strikes me as slightly odd because surely if its won one award already it’s because its bloody good and deserves to win more? Or is it just me that belongs to that rare school of logic?

Turning to another subject on award winners I was interested that reviews of one of this years Man Booker long-listed titles ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue have suggested that despite the fact people think its absolutely brilliant they doubt it will be Man Booker winning material because its too accessible. I am not berating that because that’s what I thought too, why though? Shouldn’t the books that go on to win awards, not only by being very well written, be able to reach out to a mass of people and just be a cracking good read as well as everything else?

Really with most awards it’s down to a group of people rather than us and what they think makes a cracking read. They aren’t able to please everyone and yet we expect them to, which brings me nicely to my next point.  

Another question which I have been asked a lot is ‘what qualifies you to be a judge of what is a good book or not?’ My answer so far to that one has been ‘I read enough of them to know what I like, what makes a book special or amazing rather than just another good read, it’s a very personal thing too.’ Which left me wondering what my criteria is for an award winning book and I don’t think it would match some other peoples, and maybe people will be asking the question at the start of this paragraph even more after seeing what it is.

Though because we have sworn to secrecy I can’t tell you how many books have been submitted for The Green Carnation Prize 2010, which ones they are/might be or which publishers sent them… I do feel I can tell you what I personally will be looking for regardless of genre, length etc;

  • The writing has to be captivating. I don’t mean that it has to be the most beautiful prose that has ever graced a page – though that helps – I do need to be spell bound by it, every word should count without being calculated and together as a whole work have an effect on me.
  • It needs to be readable and accessible. I don’t want to be able to put it down (this doesn’t mean it has to be trashy books like the marvellous ‘The Hand That First Held Mine’ by Maggie O’Farrell can be stunningly written and also page turning) yet I don’t want to enjoy it and forget about it as soon as its on the shelf.
  • I want narrators who I believe the whole way through no matter how lovely or vile or how reliable or not they may be.
  • It needs to be a book I would rush out and buy for anyone and everyone (hence why no thoughts on any of the long listed or short listed books of a certain prize will appear on my blog or be discussed by me in specifics in the real world until the winners announced) because because its a great story and one I want others to read asap.
  • Most importantly I want a book that stands out and etches itself in my brain in some way, it doesn’t have to change my life or world completely, but it does need make me think and linger with me for days, weeks and months after.  

So what makes the perfect award winning book for you? By all means mention a few titles but what I would love to get to the crux of, and am much more interested in, is just what those perfect award winning books had about them for you? What made them work for you personally? Which criteria would you be looking for if you were judging a book award? What would instantly stop you from wanting a book to go further through the process? Which book award winners have mystified you and more importantly why?

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Simon’s Bookish Bits #24

Well after a little holiday my Bookish Bits are back with a catch up to some links around the blogosphere, my thoughts on a book everyone has been talking about, and an update on some of the places that you read and what sums up your reading tastes.

First up I want to say a thank you to all the people who commented on the post I did on ‘Where Do We Read’ (if you haven’t commented then do as I want to do a post on the results over the next few weeks) I am still waiting for some pictures from some of you of where you are reading at the moment or the strangest places you have read.

One picture I did get sent this week was from Norman in Australia, who asked for your advice on literature about men in cardigans, in response to Simon of Stuck-in-a-Books request to get us to find pictures that sum up our reading tastes. (You can see all the bloggers who have contributed so far here.) I asked for non bloggers to have a go and here is Norman’s which “depicts my interest in “calm loneliness”. Single men and single women managing bravely to survive outrageous fortune. Some writers who explore this empathetically are Anita Brookner, Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Taylor, Penelope Lively, E.M. Forster, Graham Greene, Camus, Kafka, Pinter, Patrick White, and Elizabeth Riddell (a little known Australian poet)”

Who else has any they would care to share? Send them to savidgereads@gmail.com and I will pop them up on ture Bookish Bits.

I thought that I would try something a little different with my bookish links this week and simply list a selection and see how that all goes with you all?

The last link brings me onto the book that everyone is talking about this week which is the winner of this years Orange Prize ‘The Lacuna’ by Barbara Kingsolver. I have to say I was a little surprised that it won. I am not sure about it being rigged, of course you never know. I do think that not letting a book win because its won other awards is a bit silly though – if a books bloody brilliant it should be allowed to win everything surely?

Myself, I am currently in the Kirsty of Other Stories camp on the book so far. I have been reading it on and off for about five or six weeks and I love it, then don’t and then just leave it with no desire to get started again. I am reserving final judgement though until I hit the very last word of the very last page. In terms of the Orange though this year seems to have been a weird one almost like no one quite knew what to do with it, or be ballsy? Am I being overly harsh?

I may well finish ‘The Lacuna’ this weekend as I am planning on a big weekend of ‘finishing off’ several books that I have been juggling. Book switching in terms of reading is not a talent that I am really blessed with and maybe that’s what a recent reading funk was slightly about?  What have you got planned this weekend both reading wise and in general?

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The Orange Prize Shortlist 2010…

…Well it hasn’t been announced yet but I think it’s probably going to be the thing everyone is talking about today so I thought I would do a quick post on it (a non Orange related post is coming later, if it hasn’t already – I am doing this before the shortlist is announced purposefully) and as I love a good guessing game I thought I would give you the Savidge Reads guess of the short list.

I think that it will be/would like it to be…

  • Andrea Levy – The Long Song (Headline Review)
  • Attica Locke – Black Water Rising (Serpent’s Tail)
  • Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate)*
  • Kathryn Stockett – The Help (Fig Tree)
  • Lorrie Moore – A Gate at the Stairs (Faber and Faber)
  • M.J. Hyland – This is How (Canongate)

I am sure I will be miles off the mark but there we go! I am wondering if I should have stopped one of the top two with Amanda Craig? Oh I could chop and change forever couldn’t I? I will update the post with what actually makes the cut after its announced at 9.30am!

**UPDATE**

So here are the actual shortlist contenders…

  • Attica Locke – Black Water Rising (Serpent’s Tail)
  • Barbara Kingsolver – The Lacuna (Faber and Faber)
  • Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate)
  • Lorrie Moore – A Gate at the Stairs (Faber and Faber)
  • Monique Roffey – The White Woman on the Green Bicycle (Simon and Schuster)
  • Rosie Alison – The Very Thought of You (Alma Books)

Three out of six isn’t bad though it shows I know nothing, which I was already quite certain of, as I have read two of the books, though not written on here about them yet (my new rule of letting books sit with me somewhat before I post – I also noticed I still haven’t put my thoughts of some of the Man Booker long list from last year up!!!) that made the short list so you will see my thoughts on those in the next few days/weeks when I have digested them all. Well apart from the one I wasn’t a fan of. What do you all make of the list? Are you thrilled, annoyed or not bothered?

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Simon’s Bookish Bits – An Easter Special

Ahhhh… and relax! Here in the UK it is the second day of a lovely long extended weekend because it is of course Easter. I have to admit the closest thing to a religion I have is my books, but I do always find Easter a very calming time of year and this weekend nothing has been planned, no volunteering has been scheduled and it’s a rare thing at Savidge Towers. The main agenda, apart from some services (as The Converted One is Catholic) at the church, is mainly books and movies (such as Clash of the Titans in 3D).

Before I go on to mention my possible reading plans over Easter I wanted to draw your attention to a post this week that I think you can all help with. The lovely Polly of Novel Insights as she goes on a quest to find long forgotten books by authors we love. Do pop over and leave some suggestions, I am interested to see what this list ends up being and am sure we will all want to give some unknown-to-us titles a whirl.

So then, Easter reading plans. I always have a nice little pile of maybes on my bedside (or actually on my bed in the case of the picture below) that I have been meaning to read a while or have just come in and are instantly tempting that I might just give a go over the break. This four day weekend I will be finishing off some pesky books I have meandered through but am enjoying, so not actually that pesky, and seeing if I can get along with any of these…

  • Skin Lane – Neil Bartlett (at the top because of next weeks NTTVBG)
  • I’m Not Scared – Niccolo Ammaniti (for my unchallenging sort of challenge ‘Lost in Translation’)
  • Necropolis – Catharine Arnold (because I start my tours next weekend at Highgate)
  • The Seamstress – Frances De Pontes Peebles (it’s a tome of a novel, I like to try and read something mammoth over a break, plus its Brazilian which I resolved to read more books from)
  • As The Earth Turns Silver – Alison Wong (new in and sounds very me, Evie Wyld’s boyfriend sent me it so I have a feeling it must be good… or else, ha)
  • The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver (haven’t read her before and do really want to, also want to get through my hardbacks and it’s an Orange contender)

There you have it a short-ish post from me as have so much reading I want to do. Do pop by to Polly’s post and leave some suggestions and also let me know what you are planning on reading over the next few days, or books that you have started and are reading right now.

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The Actual Orange Prize Longlist 2010

So here it is the actual Orange Prize List and ok so it doesn’t really resemble my list from yesterday (and before anyone asks I have no idea whats going on with images on the site today – apols) in anyway shape or form but I did actually guess 6 and mentioned ‘The Little Stranger’ and am indeed kicking myself as I thought that ‘Black Mamba Boy’ might get in there and didn’t pop it in my final 20. I would have guessed 8 then… though that still isn’t half the list, ha!

Anyway in the name of fun I have popped the ones I actually guessed in italics and the ones that I have actually read, all two and a half of them, in bold and then the ones I own (though I think a couple of these I don’t are on the way to Savidge Towers) and might read, no pressure if I don’t, before the winner is announced have stars next to them.

Rosie Alison – The Very Thought of You (Alma Books)
Eleanor Catton – The Rehearsal (Granta)
Clare Clark – Savage Lands (Harvill Secker)*
Amanda Craig – Hearts and Minds (Little, Brown)
Roopa Farooki – The Way Things Look to Me (Pan Books)
Rebecca Gowers – The Twisted Heart (Canongate)
M.J. Hyland – This is How (Canongate)
Sadie Jones – Small Wars (Chatto & Windus)*
Barbara Kingsolver – The Lacuna (Faber and Faber)
Laila Lalami – Secret Son (Viking)
Andrea Levy – The Long Song (Headline Review)*
Attica Locke – Black Water Rising (Serpent’s Tail)
Maria McCann – The Wilding (Faber and Faber)
Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate)*
Nadifa Mohamed – Black Mamba Boy (HarperCollins)*
Lorrie Moore – A Gate at the Stairs (Faber and Faber)
Monique Roffey – The White Woman on the Green Bicycle (Simon and Schuster)
Amy Sackville – The Still Point (Portobello Books)
Kathryn Stockett – The Help (Fig Tree)*
Sarah Waters – The Little Stranger (Virago)*

What do you think of the list? It’s given me food for thought.

Do you think Wolf Hall will just clear up again? Could Lorrie Moore’s first full novel win? Is this Sarah Waters year? And what about those left off? I am gutted not to see Evie Wyld on the list and could actually have a small wobbly about it, but I shan’t – its not dignified. What about Margaret Atwood’s lacking presence? Which other books would you have loved to see on there but haven’t?

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Tackling The Tomes

Following on from yesterday’s post about reading at leisure and just going off at a tangent I was mulling through my shelves and spotted one that has been getting no attention since I moved into my new house. Now I am a big fan of seeing other people’s shelves on their blogs, for example Claire of Paperback Reader has done a series of colour co-ordinated shelves which looked stunning. I tried this back in February and though it looked lovely I couldn’t ever find anything and so that became a bit of a nightmare, if an aesthetically pleasing on, I know it works wonderfully well for a lot of people though.

When I moved house back in July I inherited lots of new shelves in my room as well as the shelves “for books I have read” in the lounge. The question was how to organise them so I did a hardback shelf, a review paperback shelf, a non fiction shelf, a mixture shelf (books by Daphne, Man Booker winners and dare I say it books I haven’t finished), a short reads shelf and the shelf of today’s post The Blinking Big Books shelf.

Blinking Big Books

Now some of the titles have been must reads for ages and I think one or two of them may end up in my packing for my long weekend up north that’s coming up. The ones I have heard lots about and am looking forward to reading are…

  • Small Island – Andrea Levy (on of my Gran’s fav’s)
  • A Widow for One Year – John Irving
  • The Little Friend – Donna Tartt
  • The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radcliffe
  • Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
  • Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood
  • The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver (another of Gran’s favourites)
  • The American Boy – Andrew Taylor
  • Beyond Black – Hilary Mantel
  • Crime & Punishment – Dostoevsky

The ones I am not so sure about which have either been bought for me, sent to me or randomly purchased in shops ‘because they look nice’ (and could do with your thought on, though do give them on the ones above too) are…

  • Of Human Bondage – W Somerset Maugham
  • At Swim Two Boys – Jamie O’Neil
  • The Impressionist – Hari Kunzru (one my Mum very much liked)
  • Special Topics in Calamity Physics – Marissa Pessl
  • The Forsythe Saga – John Galsworthy
  • Rebecca’s Tale – Sally Beauman (a Rebecca sequel/prequel)
  • The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova
  • The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters – G. W. Dahlquist
  • The Madness of a Seduced Woman – Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
  • The Grave Diggers Daughter – Joyce Carol Oates

There are a few more (such as the book We Need To Talk About Kevin that I may try and re-read after failing miserably) but that’s quite enough for now. I would just like your thoughts on them especially as I always find really long books quite hard work. I don’t know why this is, one possible explanation is the fact I think about how many shorter books I could be reading. Or the fact they are a bit of nightmare to carry around with you when you are commuting, though I won’t be for quite a while so that’s another excuse down. It could of course just be I am reading the wrong ones?

What are your thoughts on great big books? Which have been your favourites? Do you avoid them at all costs? Do I have any gems above that I simply must read now? Anything big bookish to add?

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Granny Savidge Reads

So Granny Savidge Reads (who it would appear is very popular and indeed in demand on this blog) has been staying and I know you have all been desperate to hear from the delightful Dorothy but we have been very busy hitting the museums, restaurants, galleries, cafes and of course bookshops of London town a city which my Gran ‘never tires of’ and still ‘gets excited by’.

Now I did ask Gran to write a blog but being such an upto date trend setter she has a mac and finds my computer a little bit daunting plus we didnt have much time and so until her next visit we decided she would do a top ten of her favourite books. This became a top twenty and I have been told to say that “at 67 years of age when you have been reading for almost 64 years having a top ten is impossible as you have read too many great books… well if you are lucky!” So here is Granny Savidge Reads (though if she ever heard me call her Granny she would be so unimpressed) top twenty books “in no particular order”…

  • Rabbit Run – John Updike
  • Emma – Jane Austen
  • Barchester Towers – Anthony Trollope
  • The Quiet American – Graham Greene
  • Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
  • Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
  • For Whom The Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
  • East of Eden – John Steinbeck
  • Snow Falling on Cedars – David Gutterson
  • A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
  • The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  • English Passengers – Matthew Kneale
  • Oscar and Lucinda – Peter Carey
  • The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
  • A Month in the Country – J.L. Carr
  • Reading Tugenev – William Trevor
  • The Secret Agent – Joseph Conrad
  • Small Island – Andrea Levy
  • The Naked and the Dead – Norman Mailer
  • All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque

When I said I had only read one of those (I didn’t feel mentioning I had read half of Anna Karenina would count) which is of course Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ I could have sworn she muttered “call yourself a book blogger” hahaha, before realising “but I have bought you three of them… haven’t you read any of the books that I have bought you?” I was fortunately forgiven. Though I do think that ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’, ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ and ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ need to climb my TBR sharpish before Dorothy descends again. Have you read any of these?

We naturally, especially in the 5th floor cafe/bar of the huge Waterstones in Piccadilly, talked alot about books. In fact Gran is one of the few people I can talk to about books on and off for two days without either party getting bored. We don’t agree on all books at all. I loved ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife” (which we discussed because of the movie being advertised everywhere) Gran thought ‘it wasnt up to much… and a naked man meeting a young girl, no its not right’ which of course made me guffaw.

I had lots of authors to ask her about and she came out with some gems. On Angela Carter “well its all this surrealism, and then she just rewrote someone elses stories no, not for me”. On Anita Shrieve “well I read one or two but by the third she is much of a muchness”. On Diana Athill (who’s ‘Somewhere Towards The End’ she read and cracked the spine of – I was shell shocked) “you wouldnt warm to her would you, and I don’t like all this pretending that she is poor”.

We do of course love some of the same authors. I have only just started reading William Trevor but agree “his prose is absolutely stunning” and that Margaret Atwood “isn’t one to be missed, even when I don’t like her – which is rare – she is still very good” and Anne Tyler “oh I do like her, does she have a new one out, can you get me a preview copy?”.

She has already booked her next visit, and may indeed be here for one of my theme’s coming up, either the whole September theme (I am teasing you all with that one) or for the special fortnight I am now planning in October which is also her birthday month and we are going to do afternoon tea at The Ritz just before or just after. On that visit she has promised she will do a blog or two “and you can show me how to create and work one of these blogs… I wouldn’t mind having a go.” Which sounds interesting!

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