Tag Archives: Carson McCullers

Other People’s Bookshelves #52 – Claire Fuller

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves. If you haven’t seen it before this is a series of posts set to feed into the filthy book lust/porn and either give you a fix of other people’s books and shelves. This week we are off to spend some time with author Claire Fuller, whose debut Our Endless Numbered Days has just come out and will be one of the books I will rush to when I finish judging Fiction Uncovered. So anyway, let’s settle with a nice cup or glass of something and find out more about her…

I live in Winchester, occasionally with my teenage children (when they’re not at university or with their dad) and my husband, Tim, who’s a university librarian. I studied sculpture at art school in the 1980s, and still get my chisels or my pencil out now and again. But mostly I’m a writer. Our Endless Numbered Days (Fig Tree/Penguin) is my first novel and I also write a lot of short stories and flash fiction, most of which are posted on my website: www.clairefuller.co.uk. I read a lot: before I get up and before I go to sleep, and I have one of those contraptions to hold my books open so I can read at the table while I’m eating.

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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?

In the last couple of years I’ve let myself give up on books I’ve not been enjoying, and these ones go to the charity shop. All other books get kept. Luckily, at the moment we have spare shelf space – my husband recently built some more shelves – so keeping books isn’t a problem. When I’ve finished a book I leave it on the dining-room table and it gets mysteriously filed away. It’s like one of those returns trollies they have in real libraries. I’m not sure what we’ll do when all the shelves are full. Build some more?

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?

Three and a half years ago, Tim moved in with me, bringing with him over two thousand books. I must have owned five hundred, and we spent about a week sorting them all and when we came across duplicates, deciding which one to get rid of. The only book where we kept both copies was The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers because before Tim moved in we’d both read it at the same time. I’ve always liked the idea of having my books filed properly so I could easily find things but I never got round to it when I lived on my own. But now all the paperback fiction is organised alphabetically, non-fiction is by genre, and hardback fiction has its own shelves because of the size issue. Like I said, I leave the filing to Tim, because I haven’t got the patience to move everything along in order to squeeze in a new paperback.

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

I think it was probably Freefall by William Golding. I won the art prize at school a few times for which I received a book token, so I would go to my local bookshop in Thame, and browse. I probably chose it because of its cover. The bookshop used to be called The Red House; it’s still there but it’s now The Book House. I still have the original copy of Freefall, but I can’t remember anything about the story. I should probably re-read it.

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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?

[Simon – the photo of the Scrabble dictionary (above) is to go with this answer] There’s nothing on my shelves I would be embarrassed by, or at least if there is, I’m hoping it will disappear through sheer quantity of books. Although, I’ve just remembered that I do have a book which lives in a drawer. It’s put away not because I’m embarrassed by it, but because of the state it is in. I really should buy another.

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 first choice, if I’m allowed, would be the book my daughter wrote when she was about four. Actually, she dictated it rather than wrote it and she drew the pictures. She also made the jacket for it out of clay, which is not very practical. It starts, ‘The fairies lived on the mountain’. But of the published books I own, that’s such a hard thing to choose. Perhaps one of those my Dad bought me when I was a child (The Pocket Oxford Dictionary from 1975 or Complete Poems for Children by James Reeves, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone) or the first paperback American publication of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson, which Tim gave to me.

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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 in a mail-order book club when I was growing up in the 1970s, and I remember the excitement when the parcel arrived. I doubt this came from the club, but the first book I remember reading from his shelves was Small Dreams of a Scorpion by Spike Milligan. I must have been seven or eight. This isn’t a funny book; it’s full of sad poems about Milligan’s depression and hospitalisation and I can still recite some of them today. My Mum, who’s German, had very few books, but there was one she kept from her time when she was a nanny. It was a book about childhood illnesses and it was in German, so I couldn’t understand it, but I remember poring over the vivid and gruesome photographs of boils and rashes.

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 do sometimes borrow books from the library and those that I love I always mean to buy so I can read them again, but then another book comes along and makes me forget. Like Waterlog by Roger Deakin; I wish I owned that.

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

It was Aquarium by David Vann. I was lucky to be sent an advance copy by the publishers – one of the perks of being a writer. This is one I’ll definitely be keeping. Tim has filed it away beside all the other David Vann books I own.

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

I’ve met lots of lovely debut authors since becoming one myself, and I’d love to get round to buying and reading all of their books. Some I have read, and others have made it as far as my ‘to be read’ list, which is a start. To name a few – The Ship by Antonia Honeywell, Summertime by Vanessa Lafaye and Ridley Road by Jo Bloom.

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

Someone perusing my shelves might think I know a lot about French film, read many works of Scandinavian fiction in which nothing much happens, and that I have a love of the nouveau roman movement from the 1950s. But unfortunately they would be getting me muddled up with Tim. If they knew which books were mine they might think I read fairly broadly – contemporary authors, some narrative non-fiction, many books from the past forty years – but that I could probably try harder with the classics.

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A huge thanks to Claire for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves! 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 Claire’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Wunderkind – Carson McCullers

I am rather aware that there haven’t been many book reviews on Savidge Reads for a little while and that’s because I am reading slower and thinking more about what I am reading slower. However today you are in for a treat of not one but two reviews of some of the Mini Modern Classics that the publishers Penguin are releasing to celebrate their 50th anniversary. The first is ‘Wunderkind’ by Carson McCullers, an author I have always wanted to read and never quite gotten around to until now.

I was expecting before I opened the cover that ‘Wunderkind’ would a small novella that Carson McCullers had written at some point and hadn’t seen the light of day for a while. In fact it’s a collection of four short stories, which make up just over sixty pages, taken from a collection of hers called ‘The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Works’ originally published in 1951. It’s always hard to write a review of a short story collection, especially one so short, and not give anything away. I will however try and give it a go. Though I don’t think I understood ‘The Jockey’ and anything it was trying to say in its ten pages and so will steer clear of that one.

The first story in the collection, and the title story, ‘Wunderkind’ was actually Carson McCullers first piece of work ever to be published which she wrote aged 19 and makes a lot of sense. It’s the tale of a specific music lesson between Frances who after being proclaimed a prodigy isn’t becoming one. The tale is basically a wrought set of intense emotions and desires which overcome her during this one session. The fact Carson herself was not far from the narrators age and could possibly well remember these feeling gives what in some ways is a tale we have all seen before have a certain edge, its believable, it rings true and you are left feeling as puzzled as the narrator at the end.

‘A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud’ is another intense emotional tale but is the polar opposite of ‘Wunderkind’. In a small town a man tells of his wife of “one year, nine months, three days, and two nights” and how her leaving him and his obsession with finding her wherever she might be has taught him to love and what loving really means. This sounds rather abstract but is done in rather a haunting way, both sad and hopeful through the way McCullers leaves the reader at the end.

My favourite of the four was ‘Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland’. This to me hard a certain Sparkness to it which I think was why it appeal so much. It’s an initially light hearted tale of a new teacher at Ryder College in New York who seems to be perfect, however as the tale goes on little signs that there may be more to Madame Zilensky than meets the eye creeps into the reader. That’s all I can say on it without giving anything away and therefore spoiling the read.

I guess the best thing is to end with reviewing the collection as a whole. It’s definitely a mixed bag, I wasn’t fussed about ‘The Jockey’ yet despite some of them feeling a little unfinished I think all the others will stay with me for quite some time. This collection excels in doing what I think Penguin are aiming for in a small £3 pocket sized book… it has introduced me to an new author and left me wanting to read more of her work, which is of course published by Penguin. There is a certain sadness in McCullers work that doesn’t depress but haunts and I have found that strangely enticing. I must read more. Who new a 61 page pocket book could provide so much food for thought?

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Filed under Carson McCullers, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review, Short Stories

What I Bought Back From The North

Nope I still havent quite been able to finish reviewing Midnight’s Children though I have officially finished it. It has to be one of the hardest books to review, so while I recover from being a bit ill yesterday and try again to crack a worthy review I thought I would let you know of my latest bookshopping from while I was away up north last weekend! Naturally the bookshops of Matlock and the surrounding area were simply too good to miss. Can anyone tell me why charity shops arent as cheap as they are in the north of England everywhere? Mind you if they were I would be forever shopping and never have enough money to eat. I was slightly reserved and only bought four books and had valid reasons for buying them all frankly (and yes I will keep telling myself that)…

E.M. Forster – A Passage to India
I am having a real love affair with India through my reading so far this year (The White Tiger and Midnight’s Children to name two) and so this one being such a classic has always been on my radar. Reading the blurb how could I then resist “When Adela and her elderly companion Mrs Moore arrive in the Indian town of Chandrapore, they quickly feel trapped by its insular and prejudiced British community. Determined to explore the real India’, they seek the guidance of the charming and mercurial Dr Aziz, a cultivated Indian Muslim. But a mysterious incident occurs while they are exploring the Marabar caves with Aziz, and the well-respected doctor soon finds himself at the centre of a scandal that rouses violent passions among both the British and their Indian subjects.” Well frankly I couldn’t at 99p! It goes towards my aim of reading more classics in 2009 too.

William Golding – Rites of Passage
Well as I am planning on trying to read all the Booker winners within the next twelve-ish months this, the 1980 winner, has elluded me in recent shopping trips. I shamefully have still not read Lord of the Flies which I am quite embarrased about… I mean I call myself a reader!!!!

Carson McCullers – The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
I have to admit I bought this for the cover (I love the new silvery Penguin Modern Classics) and also for the title, come on you must all surely have done that before. However it does sound like it could be wonderful “Set in a small town in the American South, it is the story of a group of people who have little in common except that they are all hopelessly lonely. A young girl, a drunken socialist and a black doctor are drawn to a gentle, sympathetic deaf mute, whose presence changes their lives.” I might read this soonish!

Kate Grenville – An Idea of Perfection
I have been waiting and waiting to see a copy of this as I am holding off reading ‘The Secret River’ until I have managed this first. I dont know why I originally came up with that pact with myself but I did and am sticking to it. Plus with my soon to start Orange Short-list-a-thon I am going to read some previous winners and some of the other books the winners have written before I delve in!

What was the latest book you bought? Have you read any of the above or any of the authors mentioned? I would love to know! (Oh and dont forget the competition below!)

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Filed under Book Spree, Book Thoughts, Kate Grenville