Tag Archives: Book Thoughts

Guessing the Man Booker 2016 Longlist

So I said I would hold off sharing video’s for a while, however I thought the easiest way for me to do my Man Booker Prize longlist predictions this year was in that form, so I have. Here it is…

We only have a few hours to go until it is announced, when you will see that none of my guesses were correct and that is exactly why the team haven’t phoned begging me to judge it yet, hahaha. I will share more info, on both the list and my thoughts on it, here on the blog not long after it’s announced and we can all have a good old natter about it. Hoorah. In the meantime what do you think will make the list?

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Books All Over The Underground (They Made Me Do It)

I am down in big London at the moment, which is becoming my second home at the moment, for lots of meetings. What has been lovely to see as I have dashed here, there and everywhere from meeting to meeting is how many adverts there are for books, and not just your usual suspects – you know the big dark thrillers aimed at men or the bright pink ones aimed at women commuters. Okay, maybe I am being slightly harsh, however the ones I have seen have shown books for the joys we know they are; a gift that keeps on giving, a lovely present someone will really get joy from, etc.

So well done Foyles…

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And well done The Folio Society…

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I blame you both for the amount of books that I have bought so far on this trip. I think I need to take shares in Foyles the way I am going. Though I actually popped into Persephone Books yesterday and had a wonderful shopping splurge, one of which was a gift for my lovely pal Polly who I met for lunch. Bookshops eh? I can’t be stopped.

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What is the latest book you bought for yourself and for someone else? I would love to know, because I am a nosey so and so.

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My Worst Reading Slump… Ever!

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness… Who ever thought I would be quoting Charles Dickens on this blog, yet here we are. In all seriousness though the last few weeks/months have felt a little bit like that. In going to America on my Readers adventure, heading to book festivals in Ilkley, Harwarden and Durham and then spending last weekend in London I have been having a gay old time left, right and centre, as it were. I am also really enjoying my new job and my new team. Yet all this has come at a slight cost in the terms of reading. When I say slight I mean epic, I have not read a whole book for over eight weeks the longest time since I gave up reading for 5 years in 1999.

Actually, that is a teeny weenie over exaggeration as I have read some books in full, just with big gaps in between meaning the reading of them felt somewhat disjointed. Yes folks, I was book juggling, that horrid state where several books seem to be all up in the air in your head at once as you read bits of one and then the other and another and go back and forth and around in circles. This was not helped by a secret project I was doing for a book prize, sifting their submissions before they went to judging panel back in late August and early September. I was book juggling with fire and I think I got somewhat burnt, even though it was ever so much fun reading for that prize and then reading for America and trying to read for festivals. But I think it got too much and the slump arrived.

Admittedly, this reading slump arrived without me noticing it – the sneaky thing. On arrival back from The Readers Roadtrip, I was unaware that I had not picked up a book for almost a week, probably because I had spent so much time talking about books. What I did notice was that being away from the buzz and shouting of Twitter, which I love but sometimes you hear the same books being shouted about or the same voices shouting, and that I felt the need to have a bit more calm. My desire for buying books hadn’t left me, I had bought twenty in the USA and then five more in Ilkley and more damage in Durham – yet the urge to sit and read wasn’t there, admittedly in the last two cases my trains were filled with stag and hen parties in both directions which wasn’t conducive to reading.

Yet whilst all this was going on I was still having many a wonderful chat about books (when not at work, though actually we are quite a booky lot at Culture so maybe that is slightly untrue) just not actually picking them up and reading them, then it seemed I couldn’t. I was talking all the book talk rather than actually fully participating. I had done so much dipping in and out and multi reading I just think I needed to stop and so for a week or so I avoided books, reading about them, talking about them, blogging (I know, I have been a quiet bookish bear) about them – the end. It was bliss… For a few days and then I got twitchy, then a bit grumpy, then full on edgy. Then I started to resent all the books in the world, let alone on my shelves, that I have yet to read and all the time that it might take to read them. Ouch, hard times (oh a second Dickens reference, I really am ill) and dire times indeed.

However in the last few days things have changed a little. Whilst in London at the end of last week and over the weekend three things happened that made a switch. Firstly I saw Nina Stibbe (who my boss who was with me is a huge fan of) talking about her book and other books at Stylist Live. Secondly, staying at my friend Catherine Hall’s she told me of a book that she had read and really loved and we chatted about some random books the other had never heard of. Thirdly, I went and had a massive wander around Foyles on Charing Cross Road and just mooched and looked at some books I had never heard of before… the bug was coming back slowly.

It then took and actual bug to break the book slump curse. As on Monday night I was felled by a stomach bug from hell and spent most of that night and 50% of yesterday being sick (the rest of the time I was trying to work from home at my kitchen table, dedication) and then today feeling rather delicate. At lunchtime I was feeling a bit woe is me and the like and so I settled down on the sofa with…

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…A children’s book and  I was hooked. All I needed was something simple, stunning and magical. Now it seems the sickness bug has gone and the book bug is back, which will hopefully mean the blogging bug is back to. Though I think I need a good cull this weekend to get me fully back on track, I have my sights on my unread books and the piles (and piles and piles) of books I have read and haven’t reviewed. Maybe a fresh start of sorts and a spring, well autumn, clean is called for? Anyway I am back, nice to be back in the bookish world with you all again.

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Books on the Nightstand Summer Book Bingo 2015

I don’t know about you but I sometimes feel that I need a bit of a mix up when it comes to my reading. Okay, aside from judging a book prize and being given a reading prescription with deadlines. When I am reading normally I have noticed that I seem to flit from new book to new book a little like a magpie looking for the next new shiny book, and actually that isn’t the way to read all the time is it? What about the older books, those books for a rainy day or those books you might have forgotten you have amongst your own shelves or in the boxes down the side of the wardrobe. This summer I am combating it with a second whirl of Books on the Nightstand’s Summer Bingo which gives you an unusual and fun way of tackling your TBR.

If you are wondering what on earth this marvellous sounding things is then fret not I shall explain. Basically the lovely hosts of Books on the Nightstand podcast, Ann and Michael, have come up with over 140 possibly categories for you which form a bingo card that you can work through, getting a line or full house, and base your reading around over the summer months. It is genius! I tried it last year and lost count of which books, erm, counted. This year however The Readers, aka Thomas and I, have decided it’s a competition to see who can get a full house, you can hear us talking about it here.

All you have to do to create your own, because I know you are desperate to and why not its super fun, is press on this link here and it should randomly generate a bingo card for you. You can see mine below, which I am having some issues with…

So what am I having problems with? Well initially it was Popular Psychology, because I didn’t know what the funk that was, Ann and Michael being the legends they are have talked about it very recently on the podcast and recommended many books including one I had which is The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks, which sounds like it will be utterly brilliant. No these are the ones I am having problems with and I would love your suggestions on books that are…

  • By or about a celebrity (which isn’t utter drivel, the only one I can think of is Angelica Huston’s memoir which is apparently stunning)
  • Humour or satire (I know of no books that are meant to be intentionally either of these things, help!)
  • Fantasy (wails and starts pulling out hair)
  • Sports related (I mean hello, have we met?)

These are the ones that are defeating me. I may even have some perfect ones, I just might not know I have them or realise that a book I have may count. Don’t forget if you would like to join in do follow the link above, or listen for more details here, the more the merrier. Right now I need your wisdom and book recommendations. Help!

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Finding The Hidden British Literary Landscape…

So whilst my judging role with Fiction Uncovered has been and gone, the essence of what it has taught me and how it has made me think about what I read and how I read it is lingering. Even more so after some of the conversations I had at the winners party and also on Resonance FM (don’t worry I will be reporting on both of these and sending you the radio shows when they are all up) this weekend too. While I mull all that over and before I unleash a new Savidge Reads next week here is the first of two posts I have written for other blogs about the prize. I wrote this for the wonderful Foyles blog last week about the importance of a prize that finds brilliant British authors we should all be reading, as well as the British literary landscape. I hope you like it and have some thoughts on it…

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Sometimes I feel for the British novelist. In a country where well over 150,000 books were published last year from all over the world it is a tough market to break, even on your home turf, especially when the number of readers in the UK is roughly staying around the same figure. I should add that this is the case in every country where books thrive, though when less than 10% of books published here in the UK are translated it makes it all the shoddier to my mind. Anyway, it is of course therefore much harder for a British writer to get the attention they often deserve unless they become ‘the next JK Rowling’, write ‘the next Gone Girl’ or become the next debut sensation. It’s tough.

Before I get accused of xenophobia I should add that the main reason I love reading is that I can escape to anywhere in the world, or even in space should the mood take me. Sometimes I also want to read about my homeland; be they books that celebrate our landscape of bustling cities or the brooding atmosphere of our countryside, or more locally the things that could be going on behind the net curtains of Number 8 down my street as they look a right rum lot. As a reader I want a varied diet and too often we are offered the same things over and over and over again, which isn’t even the good stuff. I’m a blogger and even I am sick of seeing blog tours where one book is on almost every blog for a week, or when you see the same titles appear again and again on social media or advertised on the bus. I want to feel like I have found something a little off the beaten track, something a bit different, don’t you?

Thank heavens then for the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered prize which celebrates not one great British author, who you might not have heard of yet, but eight of them – in fact since announcing the longlist for the first time this year make that fifteen authors. This is a prize which looks for those authors who we should all be reading yet might not have had put into our hands and gives us a different, eclectic and diverse selection of books to read. As judges this year we were both treated to and had our eyes opened by over 80 submissions of which, and I have quite a keen insight into the industry, I had previously read two and heard of no more than ten. This was exciting for all of us.

Creating a longlist was no easy task, the one that we have I think shows the breadth of what is being written in this country from all over the country. We have short stories, fairytales, magical realism of foreign lands, alternate histories, crimes, high drama and most importantly blooming good stories. These coming from all over the shop; writers from Swansea, Newcastle upon Tyne, Bath, Brighton, Lancaster, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Glasgow and London, and publishers from Yorkshire, Wales, Scotland and Norfolk. The fifteen strong list showcases the breadth and vibrancy of British writing today, which is clearly alive and kicking and we might be missing.

Last night we rewarded eight authors with £5000 each which we hope will go towards buying them time to write the next book, or maybe towards a new kitchen (no to the next book please) whilst highlighting them to a whole new legion of readers. As well as being a winner for those authors who make the list it is also a winner for those of us who love a good book. Firstly there is the diversity of fiction that it brings before our eyes. Secondly these ‘new to us’ authors have a backlist of titles that we can go on and discover afterwards and then introduce to other people. That is what I shall be doing as soon as I take my judges hat off.

For me, Fiction Uncovered is a prize that gives to deserving talented authors. It also gives (and keeps on giving) to us the readers and I am all for that. I can’t wait to see who and what it will introduce us to for the next five years.

Don’t forget to keep your eye on Foyles blog too as it always has great bookish articles and introduces you to some corking reads. Now I want to hear from you, I would love your thoughts on this. Be it on the literary landscape wherever you are or your thoughts on prizes in general. 

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Could I Read Books Only By Women For A Year?

This is the question that I have been asking myself on and off all week as the book world is all a chatter about the lack of equality, which also equates to the lack of diversity in both the reading industry and it seems the habits of the reading public. Questions around women have been high on the agenda with a report that novels with female protagonists or narrators being less likely to win an award, then Kamila Shamsie wrote a provocation asking publishers to only publish women for a year and then today one publisher, And Other Stories, saying that they were indeed going to do just that in 2018. Let’s all catch our breath for a second and calm down…

My initial reaction to all of this was ‘well do you know what; I will read only female authors for the next year’. But that is just reactionary and equality is about more than just reacting on the spot. For equality to work we need all those parties/genders/minorities involved to make things equal. I know that sounds obvious and makes it all sound so easy, yet at the heart of it that is the truth. We all have to take responsibility in enabling equality with our own habits first, yet sometimes we don’t even realise what our habits are.

Let me be really honest. When I read a book, be it for work or pleasure, I just want to be lost in a bloody brilliant book. Call me naive but I don’t tend to think about the gender, age, colour or sexuality of the author. I honestly don’t think many general readers do either. I think I read more women than I do men by a mile, at the end of the year it tends to almost be 50/50 which always surprises me. Another prime example was with judging Fiction Uncovered, we had X amount of submissions and as judges we all went off read like loons and then came back with the books we thought were the best (for all sorts of reasons, a whole different discussion for another time) and we discussed them and whittled them down to a longlist of fifteen. Until we looked at that final selection we hadn’t even been aware that it was a selection of four men and eleven women, it was about the books and the way those books and their words and language had affected us, isn’t that what reading should be all about? Not once did we then think ‘oops better add some more men into that mix’, and this was a panel of two men and two women completely equal but the outcome was what it was. Those were just the best of some utterly corking books. End of.

However something was highlighted to me the other day that showed I don’t always read as diversely as I think, and at the end of the day it is only you yourself who can make you read more diversely, no one else is going to read for you. Nikesh Shukla, who will be sharing his shelves with you all this weekend, was asking on Twitter for recommendations of BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) authors books for a summer reading list. Off I skipped to my shelves thinking this would be a doddle… I only had about ten such books on my shelves, which are plentiful, I was horrified. I genuinely thought I read much more diversely than that. It bothered me.

So how do we combat these reading habits we get into, what can we actually do to change things? We can do things like starting prizes/ initiatives/readalongs etc that highlight voices or people that might be going under the radar. That is why  I co-founded the Green Carnation Prize, I wanted to highlight LGBT authors (not the gayest books as some journalists lazily think) and so I put my money where my moaning mouth was, and created something positive with all that energy. However first I think we have to start much closer to home and with our very own choices of books.

So could I read only books by women for a year? Yes, easily and I bet it would be a real treat at times and less of a success of times, just like and (and every) reading year. Will I do it? No. You see only reading books by women by its very nature wouldn’t be me reading for equality, it would be halving the experiences I could have in missing out great male authors of all walks of life and backgrounds. Narrowing your reading options really doesn’t do anyone any good. For example, if I chose to only read BAME authors or LGBT authors I would be missing out on white or straight novelists of both genders. In any of these scenario’s I am going to be cutting out some wonderful reads and with books that is what I want wonderful reads, so only I would be missing out really.

So rather than ‘not’ read or ‘only’ read any particular group of authors, I will try to do my best to make sure I read as equal amount of books by men and women, of all different races, backgrounds and sexualities (more translated fiction would do that which is something we need to be looking at with a very fine toothcomb frankly) as I can. After all, surely that is going to give me the best future reading life possible, the best of all worlds, walking in all sorts of different types of people’s shoes – or stories.

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When You Fancy An Author Binge…

As I was going through my book cull I was astounded by how many authors I didn’t realise I had rather a lot of works of. This is the problem with housing your books on doubled up shelves and in boxes. Admittedly some of them had been sent to me, yet I wouldn’t have kept a hoard of an authors work if I hadn’t read one of their books or didn’t think that they would be my cup of tea, would I? In many of the cases of these authors whose backlist I didn’t realise I owned lots and lots of I kept a note that I really should get a wriggle on and read some of their books. (I have started to wonder if I should try the whole book jar thing to make this happen more often!) In one case though as I looked at their books, and remembering what I have read of them before, I suddenly had the urge to have a complete book binge on one author.

This does not happen often. In fact I don’t think, apart from Discovering Daphne way back when or with the Sensation Season when I had a big Wilkie Collins binge, is it something I have done more than two or three times since I have started this blog seven and a bit years ago. Yet on rare occasions I have been tempted to just have a big old binge (mainly with crime series) and have held back. Why? I am not 100% sure, I think it is magpie syndrome and I simply always have a peak at all the other books I have to read between every few chapters, well when I am reading in bed anyway. I also don’t want to run out of reading material, which is why with Discovering Daphne I only selected a certain amount of books as I don’t think Du Maurier is going to publish anything else anytime soon being dead and all, though maybe some gems will suddenly be found.

This time though I am going to follow my gut instinct and see what happens as I head off into the world of Philip Hensher.

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As you can see the binge urge took over so much I went to the library and got King of the Badgers and The Northern Clemency  from the library even though I had The Emperor Waltz, The Missing Ink and Scenes from Early Life on my shelves. You see I have actually read one and a quarter of his books before. The first was King of the Badgers which I got from the library, it was a huge hardback and some other so and so ordered it so I had to give it back and have always meant to re-read/finish off, the second was Scenes from Early Life which I read for The Green Carnation and we shortlisted. I haven’t reviewed it for that reason and actually fancy re-reading it without the judging pressure. I also want to read some new to me stuff and will be taking The Northern Clemency, a book that is actually on my draft 40 before 40 list I am recreating, to Newcastle with me next weekend when I need a nice long read or two.

I think I will restart The King of the Badgers tomorrow after I finish the new Kate Grenville. Whilst I say this is a binge, I will probably read something or some things in between the two though, and maybe if once I have discovered I love his writing (I am going for the positive because its in my nature and because of what I have read before) I want to save The Emporor’s Waltz for a rainy day that is fine too – I am getting better at no pressure.

Does that make this more of an author urge (which sounds filthy) than an actual binge? Either way I am following my gut. Have you read any of Philip Hensher’s work and what did you make of it? Which authors have you binged on and how did the binge go, or have you never binged at all?

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