Tag Archives: Book Thoughts

What Have You Been Reading & What Should I Be Reading?

On Tuesday the 21st you will all get to finally hear what I have been reading over the summer. Well that isn’t technically true, you will all get to hear about a selection of the particular highlights of my summer reading as the Costa Book Awards 2017 shortlists are announced, including the First Novel selection which I have been judging along with the lovely Sophie Raworth and Sandy Mahal. We have had a wonderful summer of reading and the judging process has been hard (well, choosing the final four books was, the rest was lots of laughing, eating lovely food and having some great discussions about literature and life in general – lovely how books bring people together) because there was a plethora of wonderful books yet only four places allowed on the shortlist, we did ask for five but it was a no go. I can’t even think about how we will decide on a winner. Anyways, let us not think of that now.

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In what seems like a timely fluke two other things have happened which mean I am finding myself much more footloose and fancy free. Firstly my issues with WordPress seem to have been sorted and the site seems to be working now, meaning the end of the great ‘blog freeze’ which I have been fretting with behind the scenes (and then happened again hence why this is back dated) halting the lovely plans I had for the Savidge Reads relaunch and ten year celebrations. However they can continue now and we can all have a jolly time in the lead up to the New Year, which links nicely into the second timely thing…

I have now finished all my events (workshops, author interviews, etc.) for the year which feels very strange and now makes 2018 – and that small thing of hosting Christmas at my house for my family for the first time ever beforehand – feel all the closer and so my brain is now free to start plotting what I want to do next year. At the moment it is just a mulling but really regular routine is top of the list with blogging, podcasting and just life in general, there is still lots to do on the house including finishing the library.

There is also the biggest joy of being able to read just whatever on earth I fancy after a whole summer and most of autumn having a list of required reading. This is both thrilling and weirdly terrifying (I made a video about it here if you want to watch my full panic) as the options seem endless and suddenly I am rusty at just picking what I want to read, when I want to. There are just so, so, so, so, so many books that I could choose from, it is weirdly intimidating.

So I thought you might help, as well as it be a rather lovely way to catch up and have a chat in the comments below, by sharing the books that you have loved and read so far this year that I might like to give a whirl before I share four books I hope you will on Tuesday. So let me know, what books have you loved this year/summer and why should I be rushing to read them myself? I look forward to all the tempting recommendations.

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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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The Culling Game

By giving it the title of the culling game I am of course being ironic, for any booklover that moment when your shelves (or maybe your partner) simply groan with the strain of all those books can be the beginning of what is an emotional, conflicting and painful thing – sorting out all those books you have somehow accumulated. It is something some of us have to go through once a year, some of us much more regularly. Dear readers and fellow book lovers, I am at that point and will be enduring it for the next few days/week. Starting today…

The hardbacks are the first in the line for sorting...

The hardbacks are the first in the line for sorting…

I am going to pace myself though and have a system in place both for how I attack (it sounds so vicious) these books and how I decide to keep them or not. Firstly I am not doing it all in one go. I will firstly go through my shelves of hardbacks and trade paperbacks, then my shelves of recent paperbacks, then my shelves that got mixed up because I had no space and had to buy more shelves and then onto my six boxes of ‘backlist’ books. I am giving myself a day for each of those set of shelves (even though there’s loads in each) and two days to do the boxes. This will stop any small (read as massive) meltdowns I have along the way, as has happened before. It is a long game this one, especially as I want to reduce my books by not a mere quarter, or a tricky half, but a true culling of two thirds of what I own. I know, it’s drastic but I think it needs to be done.

My criterion for books staying are these three simple points (because anymore and you start making excuses and this is a Savidge cull)…

  • Did I buy them/ask for them/are they a special edition?
  • Could I get it from the library, which should be used as much as possible?
  • Have I owned this book for more than two years and if so why so?

As odd as it may sound there is actually quite nice about the feeling you get post cull. I find that not only does everything seem neater and more organised (with me actually knowing what books I own) but it also reinvigorates how much I love books. Yes, even when you have just got rid of lots. This is because if you are anything like me books are your addiction and hoarding setting. To get rid of a book, even if they are going to good homes as mine do, is like snuffing out a potential adventure that you might have had within those pages. Yet we have to look forward and the fact that the books we have on our shelves are ones we know we will love and are desperate to read as well as freeing up the space for future reads.

It is this feeling that I will be focussing on along with a) the fact that I want to have all my shelves sorted by June the 23rd when I have an unofficial restart of the blog (so I need to sort the backlogue of reviews I have by then too) giving me a goal b) thinking of all the people who will get enjoyment out of the books I am passing on – this will mainly be my mother who I am off to see this weekend for my sisters 17th (I feel so old) birthday. It is going to be quite a torturous task but I am going to feel so much better after!

Right, less chatting on here and more culling, wish me luck!

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Looking for Something Different?

I have been pondering the direction of this blog for the future. Not in a naval gazing or woe is me way, no one likes those sort of introspective blog posts, actually in a very positive and hopefully exciting way. As the blogosphere grows, seemingly daily, there are now a plethora of places where you can find book reviews in abundance, yet strangely it seems that the more blogs there are the more the same books get discussed. I don’t know about all of you but I sometimes feel like I want something different. A wander round Waterstones Piccadilly last week, where all this posts photos were sneakily shot, made me realise this all the more last week.

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However, I am a fine one to talk. Which is one of the most talked about books in and out of the industry at the moment? Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins. Which book did I review only last week? A God in Ruins. That said, she one of my favourite authors who I have loved ever since Gran introduced me to one of her lesser known novels. Why am I sounding defensive though, isn’t that what we all want from our reading, to read some of the most talked about books AND read a diverse mix of books that you might just find on a random mooch and meander around a bookshop looking on the shelves and the tables. I know I do. I am always keen to hear what books people are talking about, yet I only read them if I really want to not because the world seems to be telling me so.

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Often though (for me) it is the books I might be missing, the hidden gems somehow overlooked, that I am keener to find out about. Judging Fiction Uncovered has shown me there are vast numbers of these books in the UK alone and those are contemporary, when you think about all the ones there must be all around the world be they books published right now or back listed, modern classic or truly ancient, the mind starts to boggle and highlights my point. There are so many books out there not being discussed or seemingly hunted down, and I think that is what I want to do but maybe it is just me?

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The reason why I ask if it is just me is that I have noticed on Savidge Reads that when I review a lesser known book, for example something like the wonderfully quirky Girly which I mentioned yesterday, there seems to be less chatter on the blog and (as I went and had a look) a few less views than when I talk about one of the big buzz books. Now this isn’t an issue as I am not a hits and views chaser, don’t get me wrong they are lovely but I still see this blog as a diary of my journey to find great reads for myself. Selfish so and so aren’t I? I can also understand it as I love seeing what bloggers I respect and follow have thought of books I have read in the past and the potential to have a natter about them (I know my commenting has been rubbish, I have been chastising myself this very morning) as reading can be a lonely activity.

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With their being so many books coming out; being rediscovered, republished and translated and with all the wonderful powerhouse publishers and the new and niche imprints and independents, it is the books I know nothing about that will have me clicking to read further. Maybe that is just me though? Maybe I am just at a stage in my reading life where I need to go off on a tangent and read by the seat of my pants in some unusual and different directions. Reporting back of course along the way!

I would love your thoughts, if my ramblings made any sense? If they didn’t thanks anyway for providing me with a sounding board, it may have muddied the waters your end but they are much clearer here, if you know what I mean? Oh dear Simon, quit while your ahead! Right, chip in with your thoughts below if you fancy…

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What I Have Learnt About Reading, So Far…

I am aware that I have been a little quieter over the last few weeks or so and frankly I blame this all on Fiction Uncovered, in a nice way. On Thursday we are meeting for the first of the ‘whittling out the winners’ meeting (or as I harshly put it ‘the first culling’) and it has been pretty full on in the lead up reading lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of submissions. It has been really rewarding both in finding some utter corkers that I had never heard of before and getting very excited about what the list might look like, though I think there is lots more reading, rereading and discussion before we get to that stage.

On a selfish level it has been like a crash course in reading and I have learnt lots about myself and my own reading habits and prejudices (some of which we have discussed before) in a very condensed period. Though I’m aware reading as a judge is slightly different from just reading as you might normally, with the context of only having a certain not endless books to read and deadlines and the fact these books will a) win the author money and b) could make a real difference to their readership, meaning the judges can be judged on their listing. Anyway… As well as keeping lots of notes on the books themselves I have been keeping notes on what the books have taught me about my own reading and, so far, it looks like this…

  • I can’t always judge a book by its cover, sometimes I really can.
  • Sometimes a single short story in a collection can have as much power as a 500+ page novel.
  • You can tell if a book is for you pretty quickly (probably within 70 – 100 pages) – yes there are books that have an amazing twist at the end, but if you can’t get there without wanting to cry or forcing yourself not to fall asleep then is it worth it.
  • Sometimes that first paragraph really isn’t just a bumpy start, sometimes you can stop reading a ‘quite good book’ when its not giving you life… all in all sometimes Simon you’re really not as ‘Savidge’ as you should be, or savage.
  • Font matters. It shouldn’t but it does.
  • Sometimes I like the idea of a book, or ideas behind it, more than I like it in reality.
  • There are lots of ‘very good books’ the ones you really love and want to hug to a pulp are few and far between. Note – this is not a bad thing.
  • I like dark themes in books, I have my limits though.
  • Some books get better with distance, others burn out.
  • My Kindle still works, I still don’t like it.
  • Some book covers feel funky and can put you off.
  • A brilliant writer will make you enjoy subjects that you wouldn’t imagine they could – yes even horses, world wars, sports, ships etc.
  • One bad sentence can kill.
  • I have prose ticks and serious prose crosses.
  • Ignoring a blurb can really help, a surprise joy is a real buzz. Oh and some lie.
  • I clearly have a very different view on what makes a good book from what might make one for others (this might become even more apparent after the meeting this week, ha!)
  • I don’t like being disturbed from a really, really good book.
  • Certain terrain has been far too quarried by novelists.
  • Life’s too short for books you don’t like.
  • There are far too many good books going unnoticed and maybe it’s time to change the direction of the blog to look at those, after all with so many blogs out there shouldn’t I have a point of difference?
  • I funking love books and reading, even when reading till my eyes might bleed.

I think we will stop there for now or I could go on all day. Of course we never stop learning about how we read and indeed our tastes change, just as they do in food, overtime. I am sure that the meeting on Thursday will enlighten me even further, I can’t wait, and I will report back after – well without giving away any secrets. I am hoping that this year might be the first year ever Fiction Uncovered announce a longlist, I am putting that up for discussion this week. I think that could be really exciting.

Anyway those are some of the things I have noticed about my reading habits in the last few weeks/months, some might just become longer posts over the next few weeks, do we share any? What have you learnt about your own reading habits; the good the bad and the ugly?

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Why I Still Turn to Fairytales…

Some might say it is a little bit queer (rolls eyes at self) that a thirty three year old man would be desperate to see Cinderella as his 33rd birthday treat, yet this was my story just a few weeks ago. Since I can remember when I have loved a good fairytale. This I blame on my family frankly.

Firstly my highly over imaginative grandfather who made me believe that the tower at the top of our hill (actually part of The Heights of Abraham) was where Rapunzel lived (who I named my pet duck after) and who also wrote me magical tales with me in them when I was three upwards. Secondly my pair of wicked ugly aunties (only joking Caz and Alice, honest, gulp) who told me tales of witches who lived on the hill, which I think they made up. Thirdly my mother who would read and reread (and reread and reread and reread) the wonderful Ladybird Well Loved Tales to me as a child. Fourthly my Gran who also read me those and would watch the Slipper and the Rose (one of the best versions of the Cinderella story, end of) at least four or five times, with a break in between for The Wizard of Oz or the odd Doris Day movie, when I would stay in the school holidays. I know, this explains so much right there doesn’t it?

My old family home, surrounded by forest – Sleeping Beauty much?

So I guess fairy tales were a safe haven when I was growing up and indeed have been my turn to books whenever I am feeling a little off kilter, ill, out of sorts or have the dreaded readers block. There are the odd exceptions but Into the Woods was a film not a book and probably shouldn’t be mentioned ever again. Oddly enough once I realised how much darker they were than sanitised Ladybird or Disney incarnations I loved them all the more, though still haven’t read all the ‘fairy tales uncut’ as it were. That was why there was really no other first tattoo option for me; I am planning a ‘woodland fairytale scene’ on my other arm as we speak. Seeing Cinderella, which was extremely good indeed thank you for asking, and having the new routine of watching an episode of Once Upon a Time with my breakfast and coffee and sometimes my lunch – the urge for me to read the originals and the new homage’s and the like has come back really strong.

I thought instead of me just asking you for advice on which ones I should look out for, though you all know I am going to ask that later let’s not pretend, I decided I would share with you some fairy tales and fairy tale themed books I have loved and some I have been buying and hoarding and planning to read at some point.

Just a selection from my shelves...

Just a selection from my shelves…

First up are some books that I would really, really recommend and indeed have reviewed. There are of course the originals but you all know about all of them. There have been some wonderful authors who have taken on the fairytales and given them their spin. Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is one fine example, as is Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales (which do what they say on the tin) and I would highly recommend Sarah Pinborough’s trilogy of Poison, Charm (which I have read but yet to review) and Beauty (which I have yet to read) which give the tales of three princesses a much darker and saucier feel, and cleverly interweaves them all.

If you fancy some new fairytales then you can’t go wrong with the fantastically gothic graphic novel collection of both Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods and Isabel Greenberg’s An Encyclopedia of Early Earth one which will give you the horrors, the other which looks at myths, fairytales and legends and their creation. Then there is the wonderful collection by Viktor and Rolf, which safe to celebrates the campiness of the fairytale, disco hedgehog anyone? Oh and how could I forget the sublime, sublime, sublime Diving Belles by Lucy Wood which is one of my favourite short story collections every and will have you seeing magic, mermaids and witches everywhere when you leave the house.

There is one standout though that both reinvents and invents. With Bitter Greens I think Kate Forsyth, who is actually a Doctor of Fairytales yet who we shall just call Queen of the Fairy Tales for now, has done something incredible that any fairy tale or story lover of any type should read. In it we meet three women all isolated from society for various different reasons, a storyteller locked in a nunnery, a woman locked into getting revenge and a young girl locked in a tower. These women’s tales come together to create a wonderful novel about storytelling, history, and fairytales and of course my favourite tale of all the story tales… Rapunzel. Just read it. I need to read The Wild Girl which I believe looks at the Brothers Grimm themselves and nicely links in to some books I haven’t read yet but have bought.

So what of the books to read?  I didn’t realise this until recently, and now it seems so obvious, but Kate Hamer’s debut about a child abducted The Girl in the Red Coat is one I am itching to read, as is Kirsty Logan’s collection of modern fairytales The Rental Heart. Then there is the series that I have seen lots and lots and lots of people going crazy over, the dystopic Lunar Chronicles which sees Cinderella as a cyborg, Little Red Riding Hood turn detective/street crime fighter and Rapunzel a computer hacker. I. CANNOT. WAIT!

Oh and then there are two nonfiction books I should mention. Once Upon a Time which is Marina Warner’s short history of the fairytale (apparently she is an expert so I might end up wanting her entire backlist) and I am also desperate to read, Gossip from the Forest by Sara Maitland which comes with the subtitle the tangled roots of our forests and fairytales which I have had on the shelves for far too long and needs to be read.

Phew I think that is enough! As you can see this list is not exhaustive and I am sure there are many, many recommendations you would love to pass onto me. Hint, hint. Has Margaret Atwood not done some fairytales, it will be a crime if not. If you would like to hear Kate Forsyth and I talking fairytales, you can do so here, oh and if anyone would like to be a secret benefactor and send me to Australia to do a doctorate of fairytales and follow in Kate’s footsteps do let me know. Right over to you; which of the above have you read and what would you recommend?

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London Diary #2 – Foyles Fills Me With Excitement

So one of the meetings that I had booked for my trip to London was to meet with the lovely folk at Foyles. I have shared my love of Foyles, and indeed their new flagship store, with you before on the blog. One of the reasons I was meeting them was to discuss the plans for the second year of partnership with The Green Carnation Prize in 2015, already it looks like the prize will have another exciting year ahead and (without spoilers) it might be a bit edgier this year, so watch this space. I was also there to discuss something else which I have been floating ideas about with them since last autumn and, though I can’t tell you everything about it yet, they have agreed to let me curate a week long festival in their flagship store over the summer. I can’t quite believe they have said yes, but they have…

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Now obviously I have to go into major planning mode, without being funny what could be more fun for a complete book geek than planning a book festival? I have lots and lots of idea’s and once things are all more formalised, shaped and sorted I will share more with you. I am really excited about this summer, with this news and some very exciting news I will be sharing next week about something else I am doing over the next months I think it is going to be booking brilliant!

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No More Book Buying Until March the 24th…

Dear readers it has come to my attention that I have been book bingeing. I don’t mean the occasional binge of just happening to pass a lovely bookshop and going a bit crazy one weekend, I am talking throwing myself into bookshops (almost every other lunchtime) and ‘clicking and collecting’ online whilst at my work desk/walking home/in bed upon waking. I know we need to buy books to keep the book industry a float yet in the last month I have bought over 40 books, that is more than one a day which is verging on it being a sickness or just being a naughty greedy sausage. So I decided January the 31st was the last day for buying books, so I went on a binge yesterday of course, until March the 24th.

I present a piece of evidence below for you to help you understand, be warned this image contains serious book porn…

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The column/tower of books on the left isn’t actually all the books I have bought, some have been read and some are being shipped from the US, but it is most of them. The rest are from lovely publishers, in most cases unsolicited bar five or six I actually asked for. When I am getting this many books it does beg the question (well the one The Beard has been asking, hands on hips) why do I need to buy so many more.

Part of it might be that I am buying my feelings in books. The last month has been a bit rocky in a few ways (and I am not just talking about joining the gym, ha) so I have been giving myself rewards as I get certain stuff done and tricky/awkward/tough objectives done, and nothing makes you feel better than buying some books does it. I also think it is partly a slight amount of guilt that I am getting all these free books, again most of which I don’t ask for but am so thrilled I receive, yet I know BUYING books is what means authors get paid and therefore more books can come – so I am buying.

The main reason is probably just the fact that I have wanted to and have been able to. I am currently lucky enough to have some spare cash to splash on books I am treating myself. This may not last, so I have embraced it for a bit. Now for a rest though, well until March the 24th(which just happens to be my birthday, I am no fool) and a chance to have some actual ‘reading rehab’ – mainly so I can catch up on some of the books I have bought, though I do think I am buying for the library of my future many, many, many years.

Do you ever have to bring your reading binges into line or get over buying guilt? Do any of you have rules that you set yourselves and/or limits in regard to buying books?

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