Tag Archives: Booktopia Asheville

The Year That Was & The Year That Will Be

I was asked just the other day, by Gavin as he returned for The Readers briefly, how my reading year had been in 2014? It was something I had been thinking about but had thought I might leave to one side, but then I thought sod it I will talk about it anyway as we d tend to have a bit of a think as one year ends and another year starts don’t we?

In no way was my reading year a bad one. I read some absolute corkers, as I shared with you the other day. I even read a book that will probably become one of my all time favourites. Yet I would say it was a year where I was slow cooked over a long period of time rather than completely set afire by in a great flambé. Do you know what I mean or have I been spending too much time with a chef?

You see in terms of reading, not to say anything against all the books that I read last year, I felt it was slightly mono and that maybe it all got a bit too obvious or something. Planned reading might have been part of the problem; with Hear Read This and You Wrote The Book plus two book clubs in the flesh I have been planning what I read rather than just by whim. I am working on this. That said, You Wrote The Book is one of the many things that shows where the highlights in my year and books were and that was going out and meeting lots of lovely booky people. I was thrilled to chat with so many authors over Skype, yet to sit in a room with Rose Tremain and interview her for 30 minutes and then sit and gossip for another 30 mins was AMAZING. Yet the three complete highlight moments (Rose was a firm number 4) of my booky year for me were these, which all focus around the relationships/friendships I have made through books…

  1. Getting to Meet Ann & Michael from Books on the Nightstand/Booktopia Asheville

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The day before I flew off to have my American Adventure (which consisted of Booktopia, a trip to Washington for a mini break and NYC for all sorts of stuff) one of my friends asked ‘Do you not think it’s weird that you are flying thousands of miles away to share a room with someone you know through their podcasts and some emails?’ My answer was instantly ‘No.’ And I was right, spending so much time with Ann and Michael (who was the best roomie you could ask for), whose podcast, Books on the Nightstand, I have listened to for years was an utter joy, the bonus on the fantastical booky baked cake was I also got to meet lots of other amazing readers who attended Booktopia too. I had always dreamed of going to Booktopia but hadn’t thought it would be possible, then it was! Surreal and brilliant. Oh and then there was hosting an event with Anthony Marra whose book I was obsessed with last year.

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Imagine a whole weekend of readers, podcasts hosts and authors all meeting together and spending the weekend discussing books and reading and just having a lovely laugh filled time… that is Booktopia. If only there were four podcasts hosts in the UK who did something like that here…

  1. Recording The Readers In Reality aka Spending Time with Thomas of My Porch

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Thomas and I have been commenting, well we used to, on each others blogs for years. Weirdly every time he came over to the UK I wasn’t in London, it wasn’t intentional I promise. Then we became podcast cohosts. So when I decided to go to the USA a stay at his (with the lovely John and Lucy) was a no brainer. We had the most wonderful few days ever. We went round all the Washington sites, we wanted round book shops buying lots of books, we laughed as we went and when we lounged by the pool. Recording the podcast live sort of became an afterthought. Thomas is like my big booky brother, and I mean that in THE nicest of ways.

  1. The Green Carnation Prize Announcement Party at Foyles

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This is probably the proudest booky moment I have had in quite some time. After managing to get the lovely folks at Foyles to partner in association with The Green Carnation Prize, which I cofounded a few years ago, we decided we would have a party when the winner announced. Initially this seemed light years away, initially I didn’t think I would have to give a speech in front of lots of publishers, authors, journalists and literary folk. Then suddenly I did and without sounding up my own bottom I was chuffed with myself, I couldn’t believe what I had quite accomplished for the love of books and for getting good books into peoples hands.

It is that point, the love of books and getting good books into peoples hands, which leads me onto this year but first I should discuss some of the highlights of my reading year before you think I didn’t love it. I liked it very much. 2014 might have been the year I blogged the least and read the least in quite some years but it was the year I rediscovered the short story and have had rather a love affair with it and also discovered Rose Tremain and of course these books and THAT book in particular. So for me that is a good reading year by any stretch of the imagination.

This year I have no blog or reading resolution or goal. Not a single one. My motto for the year is an anagram the Savidge family used a fair few moons ago when we made a cake for my great grandparents Doris and Arthur on one of their BIG wedding anniversaries with their names. It is ‘Sod it and Hurrar’. Excuse the spelling, there weren’t enough h’s, yet I think it captures the gist of what 2015 will be in all aspects of my life, including blogging and most importantly reading. I have set myself the lowest GoodReads challenge number ever, I have sworn off ‘official’ challenges and have said goodbye to freelance work (note – unless anyone wants me to judge a big book prize, ha or go on Radio 4 as thats a dream) in the book field for 12 months.

This year I just want to see where the books take me, be they new or old, fiction or not. Let’s see what happens.

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What A Lovely Christmas

I am hoping you have all had as lovely a Christmas as I did. I was at my mothers for the first time in a few years and it was a full house as I brought The Beard (first Christmas away from his parents in almost two decades), both my stepsisters were there with their partners, plus my Mum stepdad and my little sister and brother. And so ten of us all spent a lovely 24 hours in my mother and step fathers converted old pub. You can see me playing Where’s Wally here after dinner, when I had unsurprisingly hidden away with a book for a while, though I didn’t really read anything much…

Where's Wally?

Where’s Wally?

I got some lovely presents, though I won’t list them or show you pictures of them all as I find that whole oversharing of the commercial side of Christmas makes me feel a little bilious. I will share the two books I received both by Peter Mendelsund, a book designer who I learnt all about in America when I went to Booktopia Asheville and Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness, who host Books on the Nightstand, as well as several of the Booktopians were raving about both his books, so Cover and What We See When We Read came all the way from the US and will be being read in very early 2015…

Cover & What We See When We Read

Cover & What We See When We Read

Apart from the slight bit of reading, present unwrapping and mass eating we also played lots of board games, made more than one trip to the pub, went walking, drank rather alot and were generally a very jolly bunch, and I get a second Christmas Day on Sunday which I am really looking forward to, that and another week off reading. Bliss.

Me, The Beard, my stepdad, Mum, little brother and sister; all having far too jolly a time!

Me, The Beard, my stepdad, Mum, little brother and sister; all having far too jolly a time!

What about all of you? Did you have a wonderful day? Did you get any lovely books? Which ones did you give to people? What did you read?

Small additional note – this is my 2000th post! That’s madness!

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Byrd – Kim Church

One of the things that I said I really wanted to do with Savidge Reads was to try and uncover some books that I hadn’t heard about and therefore maybe you hadn’t and introduce you all, like some kind of book and reader dating site. I think that Byrd by Kim Church is one such book. It is a book I had the pleasure of reading sharing a room with the person who recommended it to me first, the lovely Michael Kindness, and on a bookish retreat in North Carolina which the author was also on too. Yes, Booktopia Asheville, part of my American trip which I still haven’t told you all about – I will honest. Anyway, it is a book that is not released here in the UK but I would urge any agents, editors and publishers to hunt down and publish pronto as it is a gem of a novel.

Dzanc Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 239 pages, kindly thrust into my hands by Michael Kindness

Addie Lockwood thought, as a young girl, she would become a famous writer and marry Roland Rhodes (the boy at school who mainly ignores her) who himself would become the next Bob Dylan. Life didn’t turn out that way. Yes, she and Roland had a relationship of sorts both as teenagers and again in a mad whirl of nostalgic romance in their thirties. Yet these romances didn’t end up as a love story in a fairy tale, instead they ended up with Addie pregnant in her early thirties with a baby she is just not ready for, not now, maybe not ever and so she gives her child, who she calls Byrd as it is a name no one else will ever give him, up for adoption.

Byrd opens with a letter that cleverly sums up all this in a letter, which we later learn social services have advised she writes to her son. What follows on from this are the four main parts of Addie’s life, and indeed Byrd’s, as she would define them; Unborn, Born, Missing, Grown. We follow Addie as she first meets Roland and that flush of teenage awe and obsession over flow her, and then as life moves on reality sets in more and more, the question we are always trying to find the answer to is will Addie, Roland and Byrd ever be united.

Church does many wonderful and admirable things with this novel. Firstly there is the way that it is all structured. As I mentioned the book is made up of four parts, within which there are short chapters which themselves are made of short bursts of paragraphs. This gives the novel a real pace and you whizz through thinking ‘oh go on, just another chapter’ as you race to find out what comes next. Additionally what might have made this confusing, but doesn’t which is a sign of how good Church’s writing is, is that as we go on we see Addie’s life through the eyes of others not just hers. Sometimes we will flip into the head of her brother, mother, father, lover, friend etc and so her character becomes more and more vivid.

Interspersed throughout all this are the letters from Addie to Byrd. In the wrong hands these could have been over dramatised and clichéd pieces of prose that made you want to roll your eyes, stick your fingers down your throat or throw the book across the room (and so could a book with a character called Byrd) yet Church writes these with a brutal and honest clarity which Addie has of her situation that again they add to her character, and not always in good ways, and give a true insight into the way she feels at particular points. It’s cleverly and subtly done, poignant without ever verging on saccharine.

Dear Byrd,
I would like to tell you your father and I loved each other. Maybe we did; maybe love is the right word, though it’s not one we ever used. What I can tell you is, he trusted me. He let me see the purest part of him, the music part.
Trust is a sweet thing, and fragile. I was not always as careful with your father’s as I should have been.

Addie is one of the main reasons you will keep reading this novel, Church creates a brilliantly complex character. She is endlessly flawed. She sleeps with her tutor, she can be horrible to her siblings, she sleeps with Roland without protection and when he has a girlfriend, hides her pregnancy from everyone including Roland, tries to have an abortion and then gives her child up for adoption. In the wrong hands you would read her as heartless bitch or she would be the villain of the whole piece. Instead because we see her as she tries to love her family, with a distance because her father is a bit of an alcoholic and so family life is turbulent when she is young, how she tries to keep her life on the straight and narrow despite temptation and rebellion, how she is with her other lovers in the future etc. Oh and she loves books, winner right there. All in all she is human, she is like us, we have all made mistakes, done some bad things but we try and be better, we try and be the people we know we should be or can be.

Addie believes in books. They are more interesting than real life and easier to understand. Sometimes you can guess the ending. Things usually work out, and if they don’t, you can always tell yourself it was only a book.

I also really admired the way that Church looks at adoption with Byrd. All too often we are given fiction about adoption that looks at the hard and difficult times of a child given up for adoption, rather than how actually their life might be better than if they hadn’t been. Or they will be tales of young mothers who have to give their child away or have them taken away. I have never read a book before where a woman in her early thirties gets pregnant and knows the time isn’t right, and may never be right, so makes what she thinks is the only and right choice. How her choice affects her and those around her is what follows, all told without judgement either way.

If I am making this sound all doom and gloom and a bit melancholy, fret not. Church combats this in a few ways. Firstly there are the short sharp bursts in which the novel is written which means when things get very emotional, and they do, it is a quick pin prick or two. That makes it sound throw away, it is actually very effective because the emotion is intense. Yet she also throws in some wonderful set pieces, some of which come when Addie works in a bookshop and then gets her own and with some of the customers she meets and the second hand books she is given, did I mention this book is very, erm, booky? There are also some wonderful scenes between Addie and her brother Sam in her youth, plus all the awkward moments of adolescence, and then with William later on, which I loved.

William believes that no act, if it’s purposeful, is too small. He protests junk mail by filling postage-paid return envelopes from one company with advertisements from another. Addie follows his example and sends Time magazine the fake check for $58,000 dollars that came from the credit card company.

Too often you read about coming of age tales which focus on your teens as if after that everything is tickety-boo, it  blooming isn’t! When we are young we think that life is all we could want it to be. We think we could meet the prince or princess of our dreams, we think we could one day be superhero’s or if not then surely a life as a vet, pop star, wizard or famous writer awaits us. Life however has other intentions and the dreams we have get turned and twisted a little, chipped slightly now and again by situations we didn’t expect and circumstances we often didn’t ask for. Byrd is a story which conjures that wonderfully, encapsulating the difficult times and yet with a wonderful sense of humour, even when times are tough, and with a sense of hope. There need to be more tales about coming to terms with your ages as you go through your life, Byrd is an example of that. I cannot recommend it enough.

Like I said at the start, publishers here there and everywhere should be fighting to get their mitts on this and publishing it all over the shop.If you have read Byrd then do let me know what you thought of it. If you haven’t then you should be trying to get your hands on a copy. If you have read any gems like this that aren’t published everywhere yet and you think they should be I would love to hear about those too!

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And I’m Back!

Safe and sound from the US of A and have had an amazing time! Seriously from the wonders of the utter bookish brilliance of Booktopia in Asheville, with the legends of Books on the Nightstand and utterly lovely Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman (we found time to do a joint podcast or two coming soon), to the joys of spending lots of time (for the first time) with my Readers co-host Thomas in Washington…

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To having a crazy and wonderful whirlwind of a time in NYC…

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Amazing! All of which I will be reporting back on in much more detail in due course, once I have caught up on the world, jet lag and had a small mini break in London with The Beard later this week (it is all go, go, go) but in the meantime you want to know all my bookish news don’t you? And probably are pondering about the threat statement I made about changes to Savidge Reads!

Well, while I was away I did lots of relaxing and thinking but not actually any reading. Nope not on the plane flights and no not on the Booktopia weekend (get a big group of readers together and they don’t shut up about books), not with Thomas (again too much gossiping along with book shopping and sightseeing) and NYC (more of the same). I finished one book on the flight back and am a little into another plus am about a third way through Gone With The Wind, which I am now dipping into regularly; as some of the language and themes are much harder going than I was expecting. I left The Goldfinch in Washington, hang on before you judge me, I have a copy here and needed the space for new books – I came back with one more bag of luggage than I left with.

Now before I move on I must mention Trespassing with Tremain, my reading of Rose Tremain in memory of Granny Savidge, which has been slightly waylaid – which she would have approved of as she loved travelling and it was a very bookish travelling trip away. So the NEW dates for your reading diaries, as I know a fair few of you are reading along and loved Trespass which was amazing, are…

  • The Road Home – Sunday September the 14th
  • The Darkness of Wallis Simpson and Other Stories– Sunday October the 5th
  • Sacred Country– Sunday October the 26th
  • Restoration– Sunday November the 16th

Yes I have made it every three weeks. Part of this is because so far I simply adore her writing so much  so I don’t want to rush it – yet at the same time I almost want to binge on it, but I must be strong! (Oh The Road Home, you wait!) Part of this is because of the way Savidge Reads will be changing in the coming weeks, well when it turns 7 years old (I know, seven years, blimey) a week on Monday on the 15th. I know, I am such a tease. In the meantime get ready for the answers to all the questions you asked, as well as some mini reviews as I have a clear out and catch up with myself.

But before all that, enough about me, what have you all been up to over the last few weeks? Even more importantly what have you been reading? I want the good, the bad and the ugly!

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Watch Out USA, I’m Coming Your Way…

After much organisation, faffing, missing out on the right flights, then being unable to book the next-right ones and then sitting in a dejected mess because my bank thought I was a fraudster – I can now confirm that I am officially booked, signed, sealed and everything for a trip to the USA in August. And what a trip it is going to be…

First up I am heading, via Munich and Chicago oddly, to Asheville in North Carolina where (and I am start struck already) I will be spending a long weekend at one of the Booktopia’s which Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness, of the marvellous Books on the Nightstand Podcast, organise every year around America. The itinerary looks marvellous and I have been reliably informed I may just be mentoring an event with Anthony Marra (of whose A Constellation of Vital Phenomena I was all over) which gain is just too exciting, in fact so exciting it is almost untrue. Ann, Michael and myself may even make time to record a special edition of The Readers!

Speaking of The Readers, once the Booktopia weekend is over the blues I am sure to feel will fly away (quite literally) as I then head to stay with my lovely co-host and unofficial travel agent Thomas in Washington for a few days. This I am imaging will involve some touristy sightseeing, book hunting and lying down by the pool rather a lot, all with lashings of bookish banter. Again, I am excited and beyond about this.


Then, because I won’t have done quite enough travelling, I am off to New York for a while where I am going to be doing more (slightly secretive) bookish stuff and wandering around being a tourist before I fly home at the beginning of September… Phew!

I have just realised I haven’t booked in a theme park on this trip and American theme parks are the best! DratsI Anyway… So if you are in any of these places; Asheville, Washington or NYC then do let me know. I am planning on packing Gone With The Wind (it is almost North Carolina, no?) for the long flights and the seven hours in Chicago airport on the way but as always if you have some recommendations for books set in Asheville, Washington or NYC I would be thrilled to get some ideas, or indeed for any of the ‘Great American Novels’ I have yet to read…

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Other People’s Bookshelves #34; Shannon Nemer

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a regular series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. This week we are off to Virginia to meet the lovely Shannon of River City Reading. Now I should warn you that this post may contain pictures of a shelving system so pristine it puts us all to shame, and may make some of us slightly jealous. First though let’s learn a bit more about Shannon…

I’m Shannon from River City Reading, which is based on the nickname for Richmond, Virginia, the place my books and I call home. Though I’ve had my nose in a book for as long as I can remember, I’ve only been serious about keeping and collecting the books I read for a few years, now that I have a house of my own with more space. Or so I thought. Somehow, these bookshelves never seem to be big enough.

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

For a long time, I was borrowing more books than I was buying, so keeping all the books I owned was a possibility. Once I started blogging, the number of books that came into the house (both from publishers and my own purchases based on the great recommendations I was getting) made it almost impossible to keep everything. I would say I keep maybe 75% of what I read and the rest go to friends or my neighbourhood Little Free Library.

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 have two shelves in my living room and a larger library in my office upstairs. I am a serial organizer, alphabetizer and occasional culler. One of the downstairs shelves is favourites, signed books and “serious TBR” (I can’t believe I even need to have this category). The other living room shelf is non-fiction, including a book for every special exhibit the art museum my husband works for has had in his time there. Upstairs is all fiction, except for a small row of essays, biographies and autobiographies that spilled over when the non-fiction shelf filled up. I also have a basket for ARCs for the next few months, which I label with the publication date in an effort to stop them from landing in random piles around the house. It’s only somewhat effective.

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

Though I’m not sure it was the first purchase, I have a distinct memory of buying the first Babysitter’s Club book at a Scholastic Book Fair in elementary school with my (parent’s) own money. That was the start of an incredible friendship that I hung on to until I was “too cool” for them in middle school. I still regret letting those books go.

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?

Did you notice the movie tie-in edition of Atonement? In any other case, I would banish a movie tie-in from my bookshelves, but I adore that movie and I have no shame. I blame it on Keira Knightley’s green dress.

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?

My husband found a gorgeous, old leather bound copy of Thoreau’s Walden at one of the used bookstores here in Virginia not too long ago and, though it’s not worth much, I just love the way it looks. I’m also partial to my copy of The Blood of Heaven by Kent Wascom, which was the first time an author left a really lovely little message about my blog in the inscription.

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

I just had to read The Exorcist after seeing my Dad carry it around for a few weeks, even though I was way too young. I don’t know if it was better or worse that I hadn’t seen the movie yet, but I was traumatized regardless.

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 have a terrible habit of this, but not just with books I’ve borrowed! I also tend to do it with books I’ve read and loved in e-book or ARC format.

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

The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Keirnan, which I’m looking forward to reading before Booktopia Asheville! (Simon interrupts to shout ‘Guess who might just be there?!!!!!!’)

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

There are tons of books I wish were on my shelves, but they are the ones I love to hunt for at used stores and library sales. I have to keep up hope that I’ll stumble upon them eventually.

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

They would probably think I own too many new books and wonder where the classics are, which is a valid criticism. Other than that, I think I have a pretty diverse reading taste that ranges from non-fiction and graphic novels to literary and historical fiction.

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A huge thanks to Shannon for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, who else feels slightly envious for the neatness, why is it everyone else’s bookshelves can make us feel jealous of our own lovely ones? Anyway… Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Shannon’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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