Tag Archives: C. S. Lewis

Other People’s Bookshelves #73 – Dan Coxon

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are in the company of author and editor Dan Coxon. He’s put on a might fine spread of nibbles and drinks for us, so do grab a few and settle down on those comfy chairs as we get to know Dan better and have a right old rifle through his bookshelves….

I’m an author, editor and father, not necessarily in that order. My travel memoir Ka Mate: Travels in New Zealand was published four years ago, and was used as background for the ITV documentary River Deep, Mountain High last year. I also write short fiction, with stories in Gutter, Neon, The Lonely Crowd, The Portland Review, Flash, and many more; forthcoming in Unthology and Popshot. Non-fiction all over the place, from Salon to The Scottish Cricketer. From 2013-2015 I edited Litro magazine, and I’m in the process of editing an anthology of short stories about fatherhood, entitled Being Dad. We’re currently taking pre-sales and raising funds on Kickstarter (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dan-coxon/being-dad-short-stories-about-fatherhood). Please check it out – we have stories from Toby Litt, Dan Rhodes, Courttia Newland, Nicholas Royle and Nikesh Shukla, amongst others. It’s going to be wonderful.

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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?

My natural instinct is to keep everything, good or bad. I guess I’m a hoarder, at least when it comes to the written word. In reality I’ve shed a few books over the years. Generally speaking, every book I read moves onto the shelves shortly afterwards. But some only take up temporary residence, while others are there for good. Signed copies (by anyone) and a few favoured authors (Iain Banks, Will Self, Ian McEwan, William Burroughs, Doug Coupland) will always find a space on my shelves, no matter what. Plus anything by someone I actually know in real life, or anything that blows me away. Basically, I’m always looking for a good excuse to hang onto books.

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?

For almost ten years I worked in the book trade, first as a bookseller, then as a bookshop manager. During that time my shelves were immaculate – arranged according to genre, then by author. It was basically like having a little bookstore in my house. Now that I have two kids, I have less space, and less time. I still have a ‘to read’ shelf, where all my latest purchases and the books I’d like to revisit reside. And a ‘friends’ shelf, stacked with books by authors I know (this is still growing – I may need two shelves at some point soon). Beyond that, I’m ashamed to say that most of my books are arranged according to size. Non-fiction is still separate, but it’s mostly a case of fitting in as many tomes as I possibly can. One day, when I have the time and the space, I’d love to return to a proper system again. I’d love to have all my short fiction in one place.

As for culling, my wife and I went travelling for a year at one point (part of which formed the basis for Ka Mate), and I cut a lot of books from the collection. The remainder were stored in friends’ attics for twelve months, so I had to be ruthless. The same happened when we moved to Seattle for a few years, and on the way back again. We’d fill boxes with the titles we were happy to part with, then we’d invite friends round to take their pick. If they were going to a good home it wasn’t such a tearful parting. I like to think that my shelves are still out there, just residing in my friends’ collections.

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

I’ll come clean – I had to check on this one. I always had so many books around when I was a kid that it’s hard to remember specifics. It turns out that my Mum can’t remember either. It was possibly one of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, although I thought I received those for Christmas. Given my childhood reading habits, it’s quite likely that it was one of the Doctor Who novelisations. I still have the Narnia books (nice editions, that have been passed down through my half-siblings and back to me), but I only have a handful of Classic Who novels in modern versions, nothing like the books I had back then.

What I do remember is that I had a rolling list of books I wanted, written on the back of a Waterstone’s bookmark (these were one-sided at the time, with a maroon front). At first it was just five or six titles that I’d heard of and wanted to read, but within a few years it had expanded to multiple bookmarks, with titles and authors packed in tiny handwriting on the back. I’d give these to my parents at every birthday, without telling them that most of the books were rarities or out of print. I was always interested in reading out-of-the-way books, the ones that everyone had forgotten about. These days there’s probably an app that will hunt them all down for you. But when I was a kid I loved having my never-ending wish list.

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?

To be honest, anything I was truly embarrassed by was thrown out during the culling. I do have a shelf of my juvenilia – Michael Moorcock’s Elric books, those early Doctor Who novelisations, Alan Garner’s The Owl Service – mostly the same editions that I had growing up. These sit directly behind my TV, in plain sight, so I wouldn’t exactly call them hidden. I’m actually rather proud of them. If people don’t ‘get’ them, then they probably don’t ‘get’ me either. I’ve been living with those books for so long that they’ve become part of who I am. Having said that, my wife does have a few Patricia Cornwells that I’ve stowed away, out of sight. Her later novels are just awful.

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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?

For my 21st birthday my Dad bought me a 1st edition boxed set of Lord of the Rings, so that would be the easy choice. Quite apart from the sentimental attachment, it’s also worth more than any other books that I own, by a rather large margin! Beyond that, there’s a copy of The Swiss Family Robinson that my dad stole from a local library about fifty years ago. I’ve been dragging that around for so long that I couldn’t bear to part with it now. The same goes for the copy of Moby-Dick that I pilfered from our school supplies when I was 17. (They’ll probably read this now and demand it back. It’s not even a particularly nice copy, but we spent an entire term wandering the playing fields reading excerpts from it, imagining that we were the Dead Poets’ Society. If nothing else, it’s an irreplaceable reminder of what a pretentious tosser I was in my teens.)

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 think it was the Selected Stories of H.G. Wells. My dad is a rabid science fiction reader, and our shelves were always dominated by his books. I seem to remember an illustrated edition of this book, although I may be making that up. I read these stories fairly early, and loved the sense of imagination and adventure that came with them. I was lucky that my parents encouraged my reading habit, and didn’t mind me dipping into their shelves on occasion. I haven’t read them in a while, but there’s a copy still buried on one of my shelves somewhere. ‘The Time-Machine’ probably looms larger in my subconscious than any other single story, and I’ve taken a few shots at writing a time travel story over the years. Maybe it also explains why I’m still an unrepentant Doctor Who fan.

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 borrow quite a lot of books – I firmly believe in the library system, and if we don’t use it, we may lose it. Whenever I read something that I like, which I’ve borrowed, I have to ask myself whether I’m likely to read it again. If I will, then I’ll buy a copy (especially if I want to make notes on it, I wouldn’t deface library property!). In most cases, though, upon honest reflection, I decide that my shelves probably can’t take the extra weight.

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

I’ve been cutting back on book purchases this year. I have such a backlog of wonderful reading that I want to dedicate some time to catching up with the pile. I have made a couple of purchases in the last month or two, though. Most recent was at the Green Man Festival, in Wales. I’d read most of the book I’d taken with me on the train, and it rained solidly for much of Saturday and Sunday, so I was tent-bound with nothing to do. Luckily there was a well-stocked book stall, where I bought J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World (irresistible, given the weather) and Christopher Priest’s The Affirmation. I’m happy to say that both were excellent.

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

There are always books that I want to own, but I’ve gradually come to realise that I’ll never have the time to read them all. Currently, as I type this, I’m craving Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, as well as Jonathan Evison’s latest, This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!. But I will resist, for now at least.

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

I think they’d probably be a little confused. My shelves are quite a mess at the moment. But I like to think that they’d pause for a moment and find an unsuspected gem or two hidden in the stacks. Reading is always at its most exciting when it serves up unexpected pleasures, and there are some genuine treasures in among the chaos. Or maybe they’d just see a Doctor Who-loving geek with a love of impenetrably pretentious modern literature – either is fine by me.

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A huge thanks to Dan for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, you can check out his short story collection kickstarter here. 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. In the meantime… what do you think of Dan’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #67 – Ruth F. Hunt

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are in Lancashire to meet author and painter Ruth Hunt and to have a nosey around her bookshelves. Before we do though do grab yourself a cuppa and some of those biscuits and let’s get to know Ruth a little better…

I live in West Lancashire and I’m a writer, putting together features for The Morning Star, and the occasional article for other publications. My debut novel, The Single Feather is out now, about a paraplegic young woman, trying to forge a new future despite a traumatic and abusive past. I also paint, mainly for commissions, though I do have paintings in galleries and exhibitions. I’m currently studying Creative Writing with the Open University. I’m disabled following a nasty accident when I was 18. I emerged with ‘life-changing injuries’ which includes spinal cord injuries and an amputation.  One of the ways reading is so important to me, is most of the time I’m housebound, only getting out when I have help. Books are my social life.

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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?

My TBR books are on my coffee table. If I like the book, I then have the first problem, which is I have no more shelf space. So if I REALLY love a book, I take out one that isn’t loved as much, and put it in its place.  ‘The book that isn’t loved as much’, will end up in a pile somewhere, usually in my study.  The books I don’t get on with go to my mum or my cleaner, who then will either read them or take them to a charity shop. I have a cull each time I move, but it’s never a drastic cull – maybe four or five carrier bags.  I quickly find I have more books than I culled in my new home in a matter of weeks.

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?

Whenever I move, I start off with organised shelves, usually organised according to genre.  However, that doesn’t last. Looking at my shelves today you wouldn’t think that five years ago they were organised.  The only shelf that has a semblance of order is one row in my study with lots of ‘How to Write’ books.  I obsessively buy these, usually around 11:30pm at night, when I’m at my most vulnerable for impulse buying. As my shelves are so disorganized, I sometimes have to locate books using old photo’s I’ve taken of my bookshelves. It’s a reliable method, so if you are disorganized like me, regularly take photos of your bookcases.

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

The first book I bought with my own money was called Flowers in the Attic by Virginia C Andrews. It was very popular in school, and so I used some of my Saturday job money to buy it.  I’m 99.9% certain it’s not on my shelves now. However, I found a school library book the other day, so you never know!

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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?

I do hide guilty pleasures on my shelves, often using postcards and ornaments to hide books I feel embarrassed about. I also have a space behind my TV where I discreetly hide them.  The book that earns the spot as a current guilty pleasure is ‘Where’s Nigel?’  All it is, is cartoon pictures of events with lots of people at it, and you have to spot where Nigel Farage is.  For some reason it makes me chuckle every time I open it.

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?

When my dad died, my mum gave me all his poetry and set texts he had during his university days. He died when I was a teenager, and I’m to this day sad, that I never chatted to him about his love of books. So, I would plead with a fireman to save those.  The other book I’d want to save has already been moved out of my house to my mum’s wardrobe and no, not in anticipation of a fire!  I won a beautiful copy of Birds Drawn for John Gould by Edward Lear, which is a Folio Illustrated book with a print enclosed and a signed letter from David Attenborough from The Guardian. It was worth £899 when I go it, and so I’m hoping it appreciates in value over time. Jokingly, I say it’s to pay for my mum’s care costs when she’s older, but we both know it’s more than likely to be me that needs it first.

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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?

My dad was a vicar and my mum is a churchgoer too, so when I was a child I remember seeing a lot of CS Lewis on their bookshelves.  When I first had a flat, I bought a couple of his books but really struggled with them. Recently I’ve had another go at reading a CS Lewis novel, but I didn’t find it a pleasurable experience.

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?

If I really love a book, say for example All Involved by Ryan Gattis, then even though I had a proof copy I had to buy the book. Sometimes, I might buy something on Kindle which turns out to be great – then I will buy the book even though I’ve read it on Kindle. I do re-read books, and I see them as a visual representation of my life, almost like photographs in an album. I’ll pick up a book and remember where I was when I first bought it, who I was with and what year it was and so on.  I also put cuttings from newspapers that are related to the book inside. So I can pick up a book and a faded and yellow tinged review from the 1980’s will tumble out…

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

The last book I added was The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood.  I got it signed in my local independent bookshop and devoured it in the evening.  His description of the creative process was spot on, and got me in the mood for painting!

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

I’m really not sure what they would think. I hope they would think I’ve got a broad taste, though that’ not strictly true as my books are probably heavily weighted towards the literary end of things – you won’t find many crime or romance books, or that much non-fiction.

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A huge thanks to Ruth for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, you can find her on Twitter here. 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. In the meantime… what do you think of Ruth’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #23 – Helen Fennell

Hello and welcome to the latest in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves where we get to have a good old nosey through other peoples book collections. Grab some yourself a cup of tea and settle down, as we are off to the Hampshire to join Helen Fennell, who blogs at Fennell Books, in her lovely home, which frankly I want to move into. By the end of the day her Victorian looking turning bookshelf might sadly have vanished and transported itself to the Wirral – I have always wanted one of those. Anyway, before I get myself arrested, I will hand over to her to tell us more about herself before we go routing through her shelves…

I am an engineer living in Hampshire in the UK, and my earliest memory is of my Mum teaching me to read. I can remember her holding up a flash card and explaining that the letters “tion” make a “shun” sound, and that is how I learned the word “station”. Oddly, although my Mum taught me to read when I was very young, none of the rest of my family were readers. Such was my appetite for reading that nearly all the books in the house were in my bedroom and I loved my birthdays and Christmas, as I would get stacks and stacks of books. In fact I still love my birthday and Christmas for that reason! I’ll read pretty much anything, from classics through to modern literary fiction, Sci-Fi, fantasy and translated fiction. I draw the line at Bridget Jones. I always want to give her a good shake and tell her to pull herself together.

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 used to find it really hard to get rid of books, and since my husband is also a big reader, mostly of non-fiction, we can easily become overrun. I have books which will never leave the house, either because they are of sentimental value or I re-read them at regular intervals. I like to think of those as my personal library. All other books are read, and then if I think they may be read again, they join the keepers on the shelves, and if not, they get passed on to friends, or the charity shop. It is only recently that I have realized that just because a book doesn’t sit on my shelves doesn’t mean that the fact that I have read it is erased from history! I do review most of the books I read on my blog, but I also keep a book journal of my own, which I started back in 2005 and lists all the books I have read. It is nice to look back and see how my tastes and reading change over time.

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 used to organize them alphabetically for the fiction, and then via Dewey for the non-fiction (yes, I know, that is a little extreme). Then we moved house and it was pouring with rain, water was soaking up the outside of the cardboard boxes the books were in and we had to quickly unpack them to prevent damage, so they became muddled up. I recently went through them and put all the books by the same author together, and the non-fiction grouped by topic, so it easier to find what you are looking for. I probably won’t revert back to the ultra strict way I did it before, I can find things, so that will do for now. We have several book areas in our house. We live in an eco house, and so it is very open plan and has lots of wall space for books. Downstairs we have a big open area with litographs on the walls, which are posters that have an entire book on them, in readable print. They are real talking points when people come to visit. In that area we also have the Fitness and Martial Arts section (hubby’s) and then my Folio collection and my Vintage classics books.

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In the study we have a glazed bookcase which my parents gave us on our wedding day which houses my complete collection of Agatha Christie books. About half are first editions, and the other half are facsimiles, I can’t justify a four figure sum for the earlier firsts!

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Upstairs we have the library where most of the rest of the books are housed in four large bookcases. We have some comfy chairs in here, and we retire here of an evening to read and wind down before bed. In the bedroom we each have a rotating bookcase next to the bed, and this is where the To Be Read books are kept. Mine is full…

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

I am not absolutely sure, but I suspect it was either a box set of Narnia books, which I still have, or an encyclopedia of British Birds, which I still have too. Both were bought from a bookshop in Bristol called Georges, which I don’t think is there now. Each year my granddad would give me some money to choose a book and it was always a real treat to be taken there to pick any book I wanted.

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?

I am not embarrassed by any of my books. A few years ago I was slightly ashamed of some of the children’s books I had and enjoyed as an adult, but not now. Children’s literature is like any other literature, some is wonderful, some is rubbish, but the literature that is good is excellent, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t enjoy it now as much as I would have done when I was ten years old. 

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?

Wow, your Great Uncle was cool! My “must risk my life to save” book is a very battered paperback copy of Over Sea Under Stone by Susan Cooper. I can’t remember when I was given this book, but I remember reading it for the first time and being mesmerized by it. My Grandad (he of the birthday money) gave me a torch so I could read under covers at night. The whole of the Dark Is Rising Sequence were the first books I truly fell into and felt I was there, and I re-read them every year or so. Last year my Husband gave me the Folio Society editions as my poor paperback isn’t going to stand up to many more reads. It now lives in our library where it is safely hidden from direct sunlight.

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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 can really remember wanting to read Jane Eyre. I overheard some older girls at school talking about it, and seeming to be so taken with it I wanted to know what it was all about. I did get a copy, but struggled with it, I was only about eleven at the time. I subsequently read it several years later for an English assignment, and didn’t like it at all, but that might have been because I was forced to read it!

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 rarely borrow books from other people, and generally once I have read them I don’t buy copies for myself. I do borrow from the library a lot, especially for books I am not sure that I will like. If I like them enough to think that I will re-read them, or they are part of a series I might collect then I will buy a copy.

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

I just got hold of a copy of The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr, which is a book I have wanted to read for a long time. I love classic English crime, and this one is a must read as one of the best locked room mysteries ever written. In fact I feel slight embarrassed that I haven’t read it to date. The other book that I received at the same time is Gargoyles Gone AWOL by Clementine Beauvais. It is a children’s book about a young girl in Cambridge who solves crimes. It is one of the best child detective stories I have read, and is a part of a series. It is funny and touching in equal measure. All grown ups should read it to remember how to have good, proper fun.

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

Like most readers I have a very long list. I have all the Edmund Crispin books which are currently published, and would like to fill in the gaps. I have a little hunt around every time I pass a second hand bookshop.  I would also like to complete my Wodehouse Everyman Edition collection, but I have a long way to go there. Along side my Great Agatha Christie Challenge on my blog, where I am reading all the Christie’s in order, I have my What Ho! Challenge, to do the same with Wodehouse. You can’t go wrong with a bit of Wodehouse to bring some cheer into your day.

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

Hmmm… I think mostly people are a bit bemused by my reading taste. It is very varied and swings wildly depending on my mood. My love of classic crime, particularly a good poisoning can be a bit alarming to some, and my ability to quote large chunks of Terry Pratchett at my husband which makes us both fall about laughing can seem a bit strange to outsiders. Recently I have really fallen for Scandinavian literature, which can be almost complete devoid of plot, but utterly beautiful and ethereal. That does make people wonder if I heading in to a phase of deep introspection. Generally those close to me understand that books are a huge part of the way I decipher life, cope with life and escape from life, and without them I would be a little lost.

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A huge thanks to Helen for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves and almost making me sick with jealous at her shelves. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the Other People’s Book Shelves 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 Helen’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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