Tag Archives: Books on the Nightstand

Other People’s Bookshelves #80 – Mary Doria Russell

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week is a very special week as we are joined by Mary Doria Russell who you will all probably know as the writer of the cult novel The Sparrow. I had the pleasure of reading The Sparrow for part of a special panel at Books On The Nightstand (I miss it so) Booktopia in Petoskey last year (which I also miss terribly) where myself and Thomas (of the Readers) joined Ann and Michael to talk about all our favourite books Ann’s being The Sparrow. You can here that conversation here. Anyway this week we are joining Mary, who I owe a small apology as she sent me this last year but I wanted her to have a special post, like this 80th, but the volunteers trickled so it has taken some time. Better late than never huh? So let us all join Mary and have a chat with her about the books she loves, has read and then have a nose through her shelves…

I grew up near Chicago. Dad: ex-Marine, Mom: ex-Navy nurse. Me: a shocking vocabulary. Didn’t know it was bad language until Kindergarten. BA in cultural anthro, MA in social anthro, Ph.D. In biological anthro; post-doc in craniofacial biomechanics, all of which prepared me for high-class unemployment in the mid-1980s. Fortunately, I’d married Don Russell in 1970. His income as a software engineer allowed me to stay home, raise our kid, and write stories about Jesuits in Space, all while living under a roof and eating regularly. Full-time novelist since 1991: The Sparrow, Children of God, A Thread of Grace, Dreamers of the Day, Doc, and Epitaph.

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

I’ve become pretty ruthless about culling. Each of my novels has required an extensive library of research material, but not all the background books actually contribute anything memorable to their novel. I keep the ones that provided something factual that a reader might inquire about. The others get donated or sold.

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

I don’t color-code books – I arrange them categorically – but I do pay a lot of attention to the aesthetics of the bookcases: mixing in photos, art, vases, small mementos, etc. I’ll fuss for hours to make things look pretty on the shelves, but the initial organization is rational. The research libraries for published novels go into bookcases in a guestroom; the sheer mass of books makes that room feel hushed and comforting. They’re grouped by the novel they contributed to.

guest_room

The working library is in my office. Those are books that have a direct bearing on the novel in progress.

working_library

The office also has a sort of trophy bookcase that holds all my published work, including translations, audio books, etc. When I despair of making the current story work, I gaze at the earlier books and think, “Don’t panic. You’ve done this before.”

published_books

We recently commissioned new cabinetry to flank my husband’s ginromous TV with shelves for books that have a personal significance for me: those by authors who are friends of mine; books I’ve blurbed or reviewed in the Washington Post; inscribed copies of books sent to me by their authors.

new_bookcase

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

There were the usual children’s stories – I was partial to tales about horses. None of those remain. The first significant book I bought for myself was acquired with my babysitting money in 1963: a used copy of T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom. That is now surrounded by a collection of TEL biographies that became part of the research library for Dreamers of the Day, in which Lawrence is a character along with Winston Churchill and Gertrude Bell.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

Nope! Not ashamed of anything I read!

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

I don’t have any precious books. I’d grab our elderly dachshund and run! If we had time to evacuate before a natural disaster (not that there are many of those in Ohio), I’d fill the car with artwork that can’t be replaced. Books are more like tools to me: I am more pragmatic than sentimental about them.

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

I read Mom’s copy of Gone with the Wind when I was a young teenager. And I did reread that while writing Doc, which is about the frontier gambler Doc Holliday. He and Margaret Mitchell were cousins and many of the episodes in GWTW are echoes of his childhood in Georgia. GWTW is a really brave book – Mitchell was willing to hang the whole novel on a thoroughly dislikeable central character and didn’t redeem Scarlett O’Hara or make her more likeable 833 pages later. [I just went to the Doc library in the guestroom to check on the page count!] There’s a lot I admire in the book, though it’s not fashionable today.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I mostly borrow recreational reading from the public library. I buy books for the working library – a tax-deductible expense!

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

Rachel Holmes’ biography of Karl Marx’s daughter: Rachel Marx. My next novel is about the early days of the American labor movement, so I’m boning up on Marx; his daughter is WAY more interesting than Das Kapital.

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

YES! I want Karen Joy Fowler’s next book! Karen is a friend and she has been talking about doing a novel about Edwin Booth, the brother of Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth. I nagged her for years to finish what she called “my chimp book,” and I was right about that one! We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves was short-listed for the Booker Prize and won the Pen/Faulkner Award.So this interview is just one more way to nag her to write the Booth book!

living_room

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

“My God, is there anything this woman isn’t interested in?!” Mathematics. Not mathematics. But pretty much everything else.

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And a huge thanks to Mary for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, apologies again for the delay but it was so worth the wait. If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance, I am catching up with all the latest volunteers. In the meantime… what do you think of Mary’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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It’s Back… BOTNS Summer Book Bingo!

I have been meaning to write about this for a few weeks but my emotions have been running high. Hang on, I am all ahead of myself. You will probably know that I am a huge fan of the Books on the Nightstand podcast and have been for quite some time. Well, sadly (some of you will know this already and so I am probably picking at the emotional scab that is beginning to heal) Ann and Michael have decided to end the show after 8 years. I know, I am bereft. For those of you who may not have found the podcast do go and seek it out, you have over 300 episodes to catch up on and another two years to do it – as then it may disappear. So there is that.

Now whilst they are leaving us in a couple of weeks they are also giving the gift that keeps on giving again this summer. The brilliant Books on the Nightstand Bingo is back, woohoo. In case you haven’t been lucky enough to play (and win or fail, I tend to do the latter but it is still fun) it before, you simply head over to this link here and then press refresh to get your card, as the first one is a static/generic card. Once you have refreshed you simply save or print your bingo card off and start reading books that match the categories, that simple and oodles of fun. Which comes to my card, as featured below…

BOTNS Bingo 2016

Well. I need some help. Some of the rows I am fine with, like the bottom one, and the free square obviously, there are some of the squares that are trickier for me though. A topic currently in the news is one, how many books come out that swiftly as instant news hits? I am thinking of something about the refugee crisis possibly, but would love some other suggestions – though not around Donald bloody Trump or the EU referendum as they are doing my wick in. I would also like some suggestions about good books by celebrities, I have been considering Magda Szubanski’s Reckoning as I think she is amazing. More suggestions welcome on that. Steampunk, recommendations please. Finally, a book mentioned in the Gilmore Girls, what even is that? Help, help, help. Ha.

So really I was just informing you of the BOTNS Bingo so you can join in; do let me know when you do – share your bingo card – so we can play together, hoorah! Also, as always, recommendations please.

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The Readers Roadtrip Days 4 & 5; Booktopia Petoskey

There have been a couple of days of radio silence, this is because I have had the utter joy of attending Booktopiaover the past two and a bit days in Petoskey. It has been a whirl of fun, book chatter, book recommendations and book buying – especially in the case of Thomas which I am sure he will fill you in on via his blog soon!

Now if you’re wondering what on earth Booktopia is, I will describe it thus… Imagine around 100 booky people/addicts/nerds (nerds in a good way) two hosts and seven authors who take over a hotel and a local bookshop (and in some cases a whole town) for two days with lots of author discussion, chances to take literary tours, discuss books over lovely dinners – that pretty much sums it up. It was (because this was the last one, sorry if you’ve missed out) organised by two of my favourite people and podcast hosts Ann and Michael (who I hope I can also now call friends) from Books on the Nightstand, who crazily let Thomas and I not only visit but join them in panels too!

 
We were one of the first two sessions discussing our favourite books; Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, Any Human Heart by William Boyd, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell and The Professors House by Willa Cather. You will get reviews on them here soon but even better you’ll get to hear those chats on both our podcasts in the next month or so! Very exciting. We also got to visit some author events, record The Readers Live! and just hang out with some wonderful, wonderful, wonderful people.

There’s almost too many brilliant moments to highlight and bore you discussing for ages but two had to be firstly, being asked to sign copies my favourite book (Rebecca as if you need to be told) which was very surreal but lovely…

And also getting an amazing gift from and amazing woman, Karen Brown you are a star, who had our four favourite books made into prints by none other than Jane Mount who makes the amazing Ideal Bookshelves prints, how stunning and delightful is this?!? We were all unusually speechless and very moved.  

There were lots of other highlights with lots of wonderful people so instead of going on here are some pictures that sum up the whole two days… 

  
  
  
It has honestly been amazing, thank you to everyone who made Thomas and I feel so welcome and discussed books with us for hours! I think we need a Booktopia UK don’t we? I also need a big sleep. I’ve done three cities and five bookstores today so I’m quite tired, more on that tomorrow.

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I’m Off to America… The Readers Roadtrip is Finally Here!

It feels like I have been talking about, and indeed plotting, my trip to America for ages and ages when in actual fact it was only back in June that it was all discussed and booked. If you have been under a rock or somehow missed the excitement today, as this goes live, I will be taking off or flying away on my journey over to Washington DC where I will be meeting my lovely friend, blogger and co-host of The Readers podcast Thomas of Hogglestock, formly My Porch. We are then immediately off on a six day road trip recording the podcast as we go and falling into every bookshop we pass (and Dairy Queen or Mexican restaurant) as we head to Booktopia in Petoskey on Lake Michigan.

America

If you are wondering what Booktopia is, well, it is a two day bookfest of listeners of Books on the Nightstand (and in some cases The Readers too) organised by its hosts Ann and Michael (who I adore) and we will be on some panels with Ann and Michael talking about our favourite books as well as recording a special live episode of The Readers with an audience. Then hitting the road and many more bookshops on the way back to DC where I will then have a few days of mooching around – and seeing baby panda’s fingers crossed.

Now shamefully last year when I went to Booktopia Asheville, followed by Washington DC to stay with Thomas and then onto New York I seemed to tweet and facebook it and not blog about it – which was both foolish and bonkers. Not this time. This time I am going to do a series of posts over the next week and a half as Thomas and I make our booky journey around some of North America, and popping into Canada, so you can join us, sort of. It’s something a bit different but hopefully you will enjoy it! (If not book reviews will resume on September 29th!)

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American Editions and Additions

The grass is always greener isn’t it? The amount of times I have seen a cover in America/Canada/Australia etc. of one of my favourite books (or actually lots of books that I haven’t read if I am being really honest) and instantly wished that that was the cover they had chosen in to use in the UK is high. Interestingly the same happens, well the opposite happens, when I talk to fellow book lovers across the various oceans that divide us. See, the grass is always greener like I said. In fact this went to quite an extreme when I wanted to read Anna Krien’s Night Games but loathed the UK cover (really bland) and one of my lovely twitter friends Anna very kindly sent me the Australian copy which is stunning, and much more apt, from the other side of the world. Anyway…

This time next week I will either be in the air flying to Washington DC, or I will be in a car with Thomas as we start to make the first leg of our Readers Road Trip around some of the north of America and dip into Canada. Yet as we visit every bookshop that we can as we drive, the US edition of Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life will not be on my list of books to buy – not because I don’t love it as we all know it is one of my favourite books of the year (and I do I think the cover is so much better than the UK one and much more appropriate). Instead I will be looking for lots of exciting and unusual books that are out in the grand old US of A but which haven’t reached our waters yet.

Books like these…

IMG_0960

Now the books (The Water Museum by Luis Alberto Urrea, Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell and The Dog Master by W. Bruce Cameron) above are actually a small cheat as these books were very kindly sent from Michael Kindness as they are all books by authors who will be at Booktopia Petoskey where myself, Thomas, Ann and Michael (of Books on the Nightstand) will be hanging out with them and also doing some panel events and the like. None of them were available in the UK, all of them looked amazing. It is more of these books that I will be looking for.

I already have a few which are very much on my radar. The first is the new collection of short stories by Rebecca Makkai whose novel’s I have loved and have come out in the UK, yet this short story collection currently has no publication plans here. I am going to also see if I can find some of Ryan Gattis’ earlier novels pre All Involved. I also really, really, really want to get my hands on James Hannaham’s Delicious Foods which I have heard amazing things about. However I am taking a very large case and so I would love recommendations of other books which I should get my hands on while I am in the US and indeed in Canada.

So which books would you recommend I get my mitts on if I can find them in the bookshops of the USA? And if you are on non-British soil, are there any British editions of books you would love, or any that have yet to be published where you are yet are available here in the UK? I wonder if there will be any trends, publishers might want to take note, ha!

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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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A Readers Road Trip & A Readers Retreat

I am very, very excited. Some of you might have seen mumblings of this on Twitter, or may have heard it on The Readers Podcast earlier today, but if you haven’t… I am going on a Readers Road Trip in September through Northern America with Thomas of Hogglestock, who is my cohost on the podcast! How ace is that?

Some of you may remember I went to Ann and Michael of Books on the Nightstand’s wonderful Booktopia in Asheville, where book lovers and authors meet and have a whale of a time (where does that expression come from?) over a few days, last year. Well this September sees the last ever Booktopia (for now) in Petoskey and after much planning, plotting and some magic Thomas and I are going to be there to take part in all the fun and have the most bookish few days of our lives. Only that wasn’t enough for Thomas and I, we needed to take it further and make it bigger. So we decided that we would turn it into something I have wanted to do all my life… A road trip through America.

I am thinking of it being like Thelma and Louise (which shockingly Thomas has not seen) but with less police chases and more bookshops.

I will be arriving in Washington DC and then instantly be whisked, or driven, away (after an eight hour flight) and heading up through West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Far Western New York to Niagra Falls, then going through Canada and possibly stopping in Toronto and Stratford Ontario before heading back down into the US to Lake Michigan and Petoskey, obviously staying for a few days there. Then we drive back via Ohio and Cleveland before returning to DC where I will have a few days to recover. So if you have any places, basically bookshops and lovely fooderies, in those places and Pittsburgh, Ann Arbour etc then please let me know where we should head to, I would be grateful for your recommendations. I cannot wait to see Thomas, Ann, Michael and some of the wonderful folk I met in Asheville as well as meeting some lovely new bookish sorts. It’s going to be ace.

If that isn’t enough excitement for one week I am also off on an exciting reading retreat this week as I will be heading off on the train back down to London tomorrow for an unusual Reading Retreat for one, in the Shangri La Hotel in The Shard. I know, bonkers.

Shangri-La-Hotel-At-The-Shard-London-Hero

This is because they are hosting a new and really interesting selection of Cultural Events and Salons in order to add something extra special to guests and London locals. This week sees author and poet Tishani Doshi talking about her books and her life, there might still be some tickets going so head here for more. I will be reporting back on the event, and the hotel, next week and letting you know more about their future line ups.

Blimey, that is quite enough excitement for me. Do let me know if you have any recommendations of bookshops, booky tourist hot spots or good places to eat for my trip around the Northern US  as you are always great with recommendations. Also, do let me know of any unusual and amazing reading places you have been and if you would like a series of reading retreats to start to feature on the blog more often such as this trip to the Shard or more like when I went to Sweden. I think it could be an interesting new range of potential posts. Anyway, over to you.

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