Tag Archives: Cathy Rentzenbrink

Telling Hometown Tales Again… An Update

So, way back when in the depths of the past, I told you all about how I was joining the lovely team at Weidenfeld & Nicolson, part of Orion and the monster (in a large way, not scary or evil) publishing house Hachette. Basically, it is an initiative to find more diverse voices in the landscape of writing from all over the UK. We not only can I tell you what the first four books will be and who the eight authors are (as each book has a published author writing about their home town and then an unpublished author from the same town or region if you flip the book over) for the first in the series AND excitingly I can tell you who the next four published authors are and where we are looking for new voices. One of them could be you…

The first four books out in June are from Glasgow, Yorkshire, the Midlands and Highlands and Hebrides and they are…

  • Hometown Tales: Glasgow will include a “moving” account of growing up in the shadow of Woodilee Hospital by short story writer and author of The Gracekeepers (Harvill Secker) Kirsty Logan, and “a deeply personal portrait of the city” by new voice Paul McQuade.
  • Hometown Tales: Yorkshire will feature Cathy Rentzenbrink, author of The Last Act of Love and A Manual for Heartache(Picador), writing about her childhood home in Snaith, and new voice Victoria Hennison on village life in Holme-on-Spalding-Moor.
  • Hometown Tales: Midlandswill pair a story about a Jamaican girl adopted by a couple living in Fleckney, Leicestershire, by Kerry Young, author of the Costa First Novel-shortlisted Pao (Bloomsbury), with new voice Carolyn Sanderson’s tale of young love in Milton Keynes.
  • And, last in the four-strong tranche, Hometown Tales: Highlands and Hebrideswill include an account of growing up on the Isle of Mull by Colin MacIntyre, author of The Letters of Ivor Punch (W&N) which won the Edinburgh International Book Festival First Book Award in 2015. MacIntyre’s piece will appear alongside a “bold and inspiring” coming-of-age story set in Inverness by new voice Ellen MacAskill.

As you will know if you have been round this neck of the blogosphere for a while I am a huge fan of both Kirsty Logan and Cathy Rentzenbrink as writers and as people. for a while what they have written (because I have read these between Costa submissions and everything else) is ruddy marvellous. As are Colin and Kerry’s, who have both been on my book periphery for a while so I am keen to go and read their novels even more now, and I can’t wait to see what Paul, Victoria, Carolyn and Ellen come up with in the future. Ooh, it is exciting.

Now then, what about the next set of books and the areas we are looking for authors from or to write about their links to? Well we have these fabulous four.

  • Hometown Tales: Birmingham will feature both a new writer and BAFTA award-winning comedian, writer and author Stewart Lee, who will write about the post-punk scene in Birmingham and how music has shaped his memories of the city.
  • Hometown Tales: Wales will be contributed to by Tyler Keevil, a writer originally from Canada, now living in Wales, who will explore the idea of migration. Keevil won the Journey Prize and the Wales Book of the Year People’s Prize, and is is one of the judges for the Wales Book of the Year 2017, while his new novel, No Good Brother, is due topublish with The Borough Press in February.
  • Hometown Tales: Lancashire will see a new voice juxtaposed by novelist Jenn Ashworth’s story set over a pub crawl one night in Preston. Ashworth, who has previously written about what it’s like growing up in a Northern working-class Mormon community and how it influenced her novel The Friday Gospels (Sceptre) for The Bookseller,last year published Fell (Sceptre)and lectures in Creative Writing at Lancaster University.
  • Hometown Tales: South East will welcome a new writer in the company of award-winning BBC broadcaster and founder of Boom Shakalaka Productions Gemma Cairney, writing about her home town of Margate.

I had a sneaky suspicion Jenn Ashworth might be up for it (because I asked her to her face) and I am so thrilled as she is just a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful writer – and also now a pal, but that doesn’t mean I have rose tinted glasses just to clarify. I also nearly passed out from joy when I heard Gemma Cairney had said yes, seriously, almost passed out. I am looking forward to what they, Stewart and Tyler come up with and just as importantly, if not more so, what some new writers come up with and submit.

So there we have it, if you are someone with a hometown tale to tell, or know someone with a hometown tale to tell then please make sure you head here and get in touch. Oh and if you are thinking ‘but my hometown isn’t on here’ we want this series to grow and grow and so please submit for your area too. Basically, get writing because we want to get reading.

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Wellcome Book Prize Shortlist 2016

It has been book list central recently with many prizes announcing their long and short lists in the last few weeks. I have mentioned the Bailey’s Prize as I am half of the Bearded Bailey’s Book Club and would now like to tell you about another prize which I am involved with and will be telling you more about over the next few months… the Wellcome Book Prize.

What exactly is the Wellcome Book Prize? Funny you should ask that, it is “an annual award, open to new works of fiction or nonfiction. To be eligible for entry, a book should have a central theme that engages with some aspect of medicine, health or illness. This can cover many genres of writing – including crime, romance, popular science, sci fi and history. At some point, medicine touches all our lives. Books that find stories in those brushes with medicine are ones that add new meaning to what it means to be human. The subjects these books grapple with might include birth and beginnings, illness and loss, pain, memory, and identity. In keeping with its vision and goals, the Wellcome Book Prize aims to excite public interest and encourage debate around these topics.”

Now when the PR team behind the prize, the lovely folk at FMcM, asked me to work on this years prize from behind the scenes last year I initially responded ‘but I know nothing about medicine, I barely passed science at GCSE’ I was promised there would be books that would make even the science phobic, like myself, be won over by medicinal books and from the looks of the shortlist announced today they are right. Here it is…

For homepage

The shortlist…

  • The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
  • Signs for Lost Children by Sarah Moss
  • It’s All in Your Head by Suzanne O’Sullivan
  • Playthings by Alex Pheby
  • The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink
  • Neurotribes by Steve Silberman

What are they about? Well instead of giving you the full blurbs, or me badly surmising, here is what was in the press release “The two memoirs on the list, ‘The Outrun’ and ‘The Last Act of Love’, are both stories of devastation and recovery, one following addiction and the other a debilitating accident. ‘Neurotribes’ and ‘It’s All in Your Head’, the other two non-fiction contenders, are studies of autism and psychosomatic illness respectively, reflecting society’s interest in the human mind. The remaining two books on the list are works of fiction. ‘Playthings’ is an immersive imagination of a schizophrenic mind, while ‘Signs for Lost Children’ recounts the pioneering work of an early female medic.”

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The lovely judges; Tessa Hadley, Sathnam Sanghera, Joan Bakewell (Chair), Damian Barr, Frances Balkwill

I have only reviewed Cathy Rentzenbrink’s wonderful, wonderful The Last Act of Love on the blog so far but get ready for thoughts on the other five amongst Bailey’s long listed reviews over the next few weeks and maybe a bit more here and there as I will be working with the lovely Wellcome folk over the next month and a bit till the (£30,000 not to be sniffed at) winner is announced including hosting a bloggers brunch at Wellcome HQ with some special guests on April the 2nd. Very exciting.

So what are your thoughts on the list and indeed the idea of prize itself? Have you read any of the shortlisted books and if so what did you make of them?

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Savidge Reads’ Books of 2015 Part Two…

And so we arrive at the last day of 2015 and my last selection of books of the year. Yesterday I gave you the books that I loved the most this year that were actually published originally before 2015 (yes, even the ones that came out in paperback in 2015 but were in hardback before then) and today I am sharing the books that I loved the most that came out this year. You can probably all hazard a guess at the winner. Without further waffle or ado, here are the twelve books I really, really, really loved that came out in 2015; you can click on the titles to go to my full reviews, with one exception…

11.

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Starting off my list is a book by my favourite author which made does something incredible with a single paragraph that changes the whole meaning of book. Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins charmed me, entertained me, thrilled me, beguiled me and then in the simplest, smallest and most understated of moments completely broke me when I never expected it to. It is also a wonderful insight into what it is that makes us human, what can make anyone of us become a hero and the highs and lows that might follow such an act. Kate Atkinson is a master of storytelling, character and celebrating those simple day to day moments (and people) we often overlook.

10.

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A Place Called Winter is a blooming marvellous story. Gale is brilliant at placing you into the heads and hearts of his characters, mainly because his prose calls for us to empathise with them, even if we might not want to. We have all been in love, we have all done things we regret, we have all fallen for a rogue (or two or three), we have all felt bullied and the outsider at some point, we have all had an indiscretion and left the country to become a farmer in a foreign land… Oh, maybe not that. Yet even when our protagonist goes through things we haven’t Gale’s depiction and storytelling make us feel we are alongside Harry. We live Harry’s life with him; the highs and the lows, the characters and situations good or bad.

9.

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Grief is still something that we modern human folk are pretty rubbish at. It is something that we don’t like to talk about along with its frequent bedfellow death. I have often felt that in The West and particularly in Britain we are told to keep a stiff upper lip and get on with it. In reality this doesn’t help. If we are going through it we bottle it inside, isolate ourselves and tend to make it look like we are fine. When people are grieving we tend to find ourselves unsure what to do and either go one of two ways by being over helpful (and accidentally overbearing in some cases) or by distancing ourselves from people thinking they probably don’t want our help or need us in their faces – or maybe that is just me. Yet until we talk about it more, in all its forms, we won’t deal with it better individually or as a society, so thank goodness for people like Cathy Rentzenbrink who have the bravery, for it is a very brave act, to share their real life experiences with grief in a book like The Last Act of Love.

8.

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Physical is a stunning, raw and direct look at what it is to be male. It celebrates the male physique in all its forms as much as it celebrates the foibles of the male species. It is a collection that asks a lot of questions, primarily ones such as in the poem Strongman, which asks ‘What is masculinity if not taking the weight?’ Be you male or female you need to read this collection. Books, poems and stories are all about experiencing the world of others and walking in their shoes, Physical excels at this and from an unusual and original view point.

7.

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If I told you that you should really read a book set during the Troubles in Ireland which throws in poverty, religion, sexuality and violence, both domestic and political, you would probably look at me in horror, which is why The Good Son is such a brilliant book. It has all of those elements in their unflinching rawness and yet with Mickey’s voice and cheeky sense of humour McVeigh gives us an image of an incredibly difficult and fractured time in some sort of rainbow technicolor whilst with a very black and white viewpoint. It is something I have not experienced before and I thought it was marvellous. It also gives us hope.

6.

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I loved, and hugged, Mobile Library which is frankly some of the highest praise that I can give it. It is a book that reminds you of the magic of books, friendship, family and love without any magic having actually occurred. It is also an adventure story, possibly the most quintessentially British road trip novel you could encounter. It is also a book that despite being marketed for adults, I think many a ‘youth’ should read as I think it will remind them of the brilliance of reading and the fun it can be, as much as it reminds we adults of all ages, of just the same thing. I’m a massive fan of books, Mobile Library reminded me why whilst making me even more of a fan.

5.

Faber and Faber, 2015, hardback, fiction, 128 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Faber and Faber, 2015, hardback, fiction, 128 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It is no surprise that from the title of a novel such as Grief is the Thing with Feathers the subject is going to be, you guessed it, grief. Whilst the idea of members of a family coming to terms with the passing of a loved one and the effect this has on them might not be the newest of subjects, I think it is safe to say that I have never read a book that describes the varying emotions of grief in such an honest and fractured way. We see grief through the eyes of the three people in the house, a father and two sons, as they try to come to a way of understanding the loss that now surrounds them and the blank unknown of what lies ahead. Into this space appears Crow an unwelcome guest who is both helpful and hindering and who will stay put until these three no longer need him.

4.

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As the Yorkshire Ripper began his several years of killing women, Una herself was the victim of sexual abuse. Una looks back on this period in hindsight and looks at how the situation around the Yorkshire Ripper and the attitude towards predatory men and their victims not only caused the murder of many innocent women and the pain and loss to their families and loved ones, but how the ‘victim blaming’ culture of the time also affected people like Una who were the victims of crimes that went undetected/unsolved or people feared reporting. Becoming Unbecoming is a very brave, important and thought provoking book. I urge you all to add it to your reading stacks and talk about it once you have.

3 (=).

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So here is the thing my next choice, Joanna Cannon’s The Trouble With Goats and Sheep, it is not actually out until the end of next month, however I had the delight of reading it in advance early this year and fell completely in love with the writing, the characters, everything. So really I couldn’t save it until my best of 2016 list even though I know I will read it again in the new year! My review is set to go live around release but for now I will tease you with this – England 1976. Mrs Creasy is missing and The Avenue is alive with whispers. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly decide to take matters into their own hands. And as the cul-de-sac starts giving up its secrets, the amateur detectives will find much more than they imagined…

3 (=).

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The Natural Way of Things is a book that will shock many of its readers for all the right reasons. By the end you will be enraged as to why women are still subjected to ‘slut shaming’ and victim blaming if they speak out about something bad? That is the dark root at the heart of this novel from which everything else spirals, only not out of control as scarily you could imagine this happening. That is where the book really bites, its reality and its all too apparent possibility. Shocking all the more because what seems extreme isn’t the more you think about it. This is a fantastically written horrifying, whilst utterly compelling, story that creates a potent set of questions within its readers head and asks you to debate and seek out the answers yourself. I cannot recommend reading it enough. (It is out in the UK in June but already available in Australia, I suggest trying to get it early!)

2.

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I do love it when a book takes me by surprise, even more so when one takes me out of my comfort zone. What makes this all the better is when this comes at the least expected time. This happened with All Involved by Ryan Gattis which when I was first emailed about, being told it was the tale of the 1992 LA Riots from a spectrum of seventeen witnesses and participants, I instantly thought ‘that isn’t my cup of tea’. Thank goodness then for several people raving about it and saying I must read it because one I started I couldn’t stop reading, even when I sometimes wanted to. It is a book that has stayed with me ever since I read it and lingers in my brain, when it is out in paperback everyone I know is getting a copy.

1.

So my book of the year will not surprise many of you. I think A Little Life is just incredible, it is a novel that looks at love, friendship, loss, pleasure, pain, hope, survival, failure and success. It is a book about class, disability, sexuality and race. Overall it is a book about what it means to be a human. It’s amazing, it is also brutal. Saying that you read a book like A Little Life I actually think does it a disservice as it is one of those all encompassing books that you live through. It is rare that a book as it ends leaves you feeling a somewhat changed person to the one who started it, that is what happened to me and is probably why this will be one of my all time reads. (Yes, I stick to that claim and you can hear me on Hear Read This defending that statement in a special that went live recently!)

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So there we are the first half of my books for the year. I do feel like I should give some honourable mentions to A. Igoni Barrett’s Blackass, Everything is Teeth by Evie Wyld & Joe Sumner, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian and two corking crime novels Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, I don’t care if this is deemed as cheating. Let me know your thoughts on those in my first list you have read. Oh and fancy ending the year/starting the new by winning some books then head here. What have been some of your books of 2015?

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Grief is the Thing with Feathers – Max Porter

It has been brilliant having a good old sort out of books wherever they may be shelved, or indeed hiding, in the house as it has reminded me of the books I have to look forward to and also the ones that I have loved and the ones that I have loved and haven’t written about yet. One of the books which has probably made both the biggest impression on me, whilst reading and in the pondering it has left me with since, has to be Max Porter’s debut Grief Is the Thing with Feathers. Such an impression did it leave on me (and so many thoughts did it bring) I had to read it twice within a short space of time.

Faber & Faber, 2015, hardback, fiction, 128 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Once upon a time there were two boys who purposefully misremembered things about their father. It made them feel better if ever they forgot things about their mother.

It is no surprise that from the title of a novel such as Grief is the Thing with Feathers the subject is going to be, you guessed it, grief. Whilst the idea of members of a family coming to terms with the passing of a loved one and the effect this has on them might not be the newest of subjects, I think it is safe to say that I have never read a book that describes the varying emotions of grief in such an honest and fractured way. We see grief through the eyes of the three people in the house, a father and two sons, as they try to come to a way of understanding the loss that now surrounds them and the blank unknown of what lies ahead. Into this space appears Crow an unwelcome guest who is both helpful and hindering and who will stay put until these three no longer need him.

In other versions I am a doctor or a ghost. Perfect devices: doctors, ghosts and crows. We can do things other characters can’t, like eat sorrow, un-birth secrets and have theatrical battles with language and God. I was friend excuse, deus ex machina, joke, symptom, figment, spectre, crutch, toy, phantom, gag, analyst and babysitter.

What or who Crow is changes on the page as often as it will in the readers mind. Is this actually a crow that has just happened upon the scent of loss and wants to do some good? Should we judge him on his dark and pointed exterior for the trickster we see? Is Crow a manifestation of a husband’s way of dealing with the emptiness that invades every thought or is the manifestation of the two boys missing their mother? Is it a father’s madness taking on the form of his slight obsession with the poet Ted Hughes* as some sort of coping mechanism and/or breakdown? Is he an entire emotion come to life filling every piece of emptiness in these three’s house and worlds post death? Could Crow be all of these things? It is up to the reader to make up their own mind.

One of the reasons that I was so gripped/intrigued/horrified by Grief is the Thing with Feathers was the character of Crow, who is a riddle in himself and a puzzle you want to solve. I was also completely captivated by the writing. I felt whilst reading that I was under some kind of spell in the way it mixes the reality of grief, and the horror of it, with a slightly giddy yet unnerving sense of the fairytale or the supernatural. There’s a raw modern narrative and a very quintessentially gothic essence to it which I also loved. It also feels in many ways like an essay to grief that is also a poem, the language is wonderful even when it seems utterly bizarre, you are hooked.

Look at that, look, did I not, oi, stab it. Good book, funny bodies, open door, slam door, spit this, lick that, lift, oi, look, stop it.

The main thing that I really loved (if that is the right word) about this book however was the depiction of grief. I always have huge admiration for writers who tackle the difficult or the ugly things in life and, no matter how hard it might be to write or to read, embrace them and give us them with their full honesty, unflinchingly. As I mentioned when I read Cathy Rentzenbrink’s The Last Act of Love, grief is something which we really do not like to talk about and yet we all face and when we do we really need someone to talk about it with. Max Porter has created a novel which does this with a rage and a beauty that moved me so much.

Without sounding too daft, as I read this book I felt like I was going through grief again, in a strange way both for this fictional family that I have never met (because they don’t exist Simon) and for anyone I have lost in my life. On one page I would be slightly confused, the next I would be laughing like a drain, the following I would be howling and then there were those particular brutal bittersweet moments where we mourn everything we have lost and celebrate everything that we had, those memories which break our hearts but remind us of the wonder of love and the people we love or have loved.

The house becomes a physical encyclopaedia of no-longer hers, which shocks and shocks and is the principle difference between our house and a house where illness has worked away. Ill people, in their last day on Earth, do not leave notes stuck to bottles of red wine saying ‘OH NO YOU DON’T COCK CHEEK’. She was not busy dying, and there is no detritus of care, she was simply busy living, and then she was gone.

So to put it simply, I think that Grief is the Thing with Feathers is a rather exceptional book. It is one which puts you through the ringer, leaving you distraught and then hopeful. It is the sort of book you rush through once and then have to go back through and read slowly taking all the intricacies in and then pondering over it all afterwards. It resonated with me and affected me, which is all I ever hope for from a book – one of my books of the year.

*Oh, before I go I should mention the Ted Hughes connection which I have seen has caused some discussion over the interweb with many a bookish sort. If any of you are wondering if you need to have an appreciation of Ted Hughes and his Crow in particular my answer would be no… Because I have read very little Hughes and I had no idea that the Crow collection existed. Before you call me a heathen (possibly too late) I can say that having read Grief is The Thing With Feathers I have got a copy waiting for me at the bookshop to pick up on pay day. So not only did the book affect me greatly, it also got me heading for a poetry collection which is not my normal bag at all. What can I say? Something about the soul of this book resonated with me that I want to find out more around it, even though it is fiction. Yes, this book is that good, not that I needed to tell you again.

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Filed under Books of 2015, Faber & Faber, Max Porter, Review

The Last Act of Love – Cathy Rentzenbrink

Grief is still something that we modern human folk are pretty rubbish at. It is something that we don’t like to talk about along with its frequent bedfellow death. I have often felt that in The West and particularly in Britain we are told to keep a stiff upper lip and get on with it. In reality this doesn’t help. If we are going through it we bottle it inside, isolate ourselves and tend to make it look like we are fine. When people are grieving we tend to find ourselves unsure what to do and either go one of two ways by being over helpful (and accidentally overbearing in some cases) or by distancing ourselves from people thinking they probably don’t want our help or need us in their faces – or maybe that is just me. Yet until we talk about it more, in all its forms, we won’t deal with it better individually or as a society, so thank goodness for people like Cathy Rentzenbrink who have the bravery, for it is a very brave act, to share their real life experiences with grief in a book like The Last Act of Love.

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Picador Books, 2015, hardback, memoir, 246 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I was drifting off to sleep when I heard someone shouting outside in the car park. Nothing unusual about that. Customers often pitched up in the middle of the night looking for their wallets or keys or wives. I opened my window to see what was going on. The man below didn’t look mad or drunk. He was standing next to his car. The headlights were on and I could see a woman in the passenger seat.
‘Is this where Matthew Mintern lives?
‘Yes, I’m his sister.’
‘You’d better come then, he’s in trouble.’
Trouble. It was a worrying word but a small one.

Trouble does not cover what follows as Cathy Rentzenbrink describes how after a night out with her younger brother Matthew, where she left earlier and he stayed on, he is hit by a car. Cathy arrives not long after to be by his side as the ambulance staff arrive and take him to the hospital, all she can think of is to pray that he survives, pray that he will get better, pray that he will live. Yet in the days, weeks, months and years after his accident pass Matthew, or Matty, shows very little sign of mental (and therefore physical) recovery from the accident and remains in a persistent vegetative state (which is a term I really, really hate and think should be changed for the record) the idea of life becomes less of a blessing and more of a curse. The Last Act of Love follows Cathy and her family as they come to terms with this and the life they all lead alongside Matty afterwards and question what ‘a life’ actually means.

There is so much that I admired about The Last Act of Love it is almost impossible not to fawn over it because I think it is such a beautiful, honest and important book. It is utterly heartbreaking, yet strangely hopeful and uplifting too. Cathy manages to build a full picture of relationships and situations in a few paragraphs which give her memoir an extra intensity. For example whilst the accident happens early on Cathy swiftly builds up the wonderful relationship that she had with her brother, who was also clearly her best friend and who she loved without end. Not long after the book opens we are taken with them as they discuss love together while Matty fixes an old motorbike, it is just a few paragraphs yet instantly we see the dynamic and depth of their love, which of course makes what follows all the more heartbreaking and Cathy’s despair and emotions all the more engulfing in the aftermath.

Everything apart from being with Matty seemed irrelevant. I’d always kept diaries and notebooks, but now I wrote nothing. My words had gone AWOL. I couldn’t bear to read the pointless, silly rubbish the old me had written so I tied all my diaries up in two carrier bags and chucked them into the skip at the back of the pub.
Reading was still my friend, though. I read constantly and compulsively, drowning out the sounds of my own thoughts with the noise of other people’s stories. I no longer turned out the light before going to sleep – I had to read until the moment my eyes closed. There could be no gap for the demons to jump into.

One of the things that I admired most of all throughout was Cathy’s honesty and directness, both in the good times and the bad. I mention the good times because, as we all know, even in the darkest times there are some very funny (often inappropriately so) moments amongst the sadness. Yet where I think The Last Act of Love excels and is at its most potent and poignant is in the darker moments. The moments where you have to update people on a horrific situation, how you tell people who don’t know (which during Cathy’s reflection on college she gives a list of the options and the likely responses to telling new friends about her brother), the guilt you feel, the spectrum of emotions, the way you think physical pain might take away mental pain, how you cope at points when you feel you simply cannot endure  any more and how you do or don’t deal with all these things.

It would be very easy for anyone writing something like this to leave out the bad bits, or as in some things I have read simply move all the bad bits around loss, grief and emotional turmoil and project them onto someone else making yourself look the martyr. Cathy doesn’t do that, in fact she often does the opposite. She openly talks about the intense anger and rage you feel, how uncontrollably sorry for yourself you can feel, how hard it can be to support someone who is seriously or terminally ill and indeed be the person who brings up the difficult question of whether someone really should ‘live’ through all of this – which is what makes up the second section of the book. All this before the guilt and grief that follow after someone’s death which she discusses just as honestly.

There was no pleasing me. I was angry with people who wanted to ask me about Matty, but also angry when they stopped asking and didn’t want to see him. A tragic accident and a coma are exciting, but the prospect of permanent severe brain damage much less so. People didn’t want to see him. They had loved him – not quite like one of their own, but they had loved him – and it was distressing for them to see him so transformed. They gradually drifted away.

Not to make this all about me, though as it is my blog and my reaction to books is always an emotive one as a reader it’s hard not to, but I think all of these aspects of the book were what really chimed with me and also made me think it was ok to have had those dark thoughts and moments before myself. As many of you will know I  often looked after Granny Savidge during her terminal illness and had many of these moments. I can remember having blazing rows with her and everyone else in the family because emotions were so high yet loving them all so much. I remember wanting to ignore the phone the third time in the night she wanted help on the commode because I was so, so tired. I can also remember laughing endlessly when she thought a Crunchie bar wrapper was She-Ra’s bustier or when she told me to ‘shove it in your pipe and smoke it’ after I offered her a strawberry. I remember the moments in her last weeks when I felt guilty that I wanted her to die and then the  fear when I would say to her ‘you can go now Gran, it’s ok, we don’t mind, we love you’ worrying that she might and it would be all my fault. It was reading Cathy’s story that made me realise that that was all ok, it was grief, it was normal, it was human and it was how I coped even when it wasn’t pleasant under an emotionally crushing time. I hope I haven’t over shared there too much.

Speaking of which, before I wrap up, one of the other things that I loved about Cathy’s writing was the fact that while she lets you into some very intimate and personal parts of her life not once does it feel like it is over sharing or exploitative. It is simply a book that is emotionally open and honest and in telling both her story and the story of Matty The Last Act of Love is a book that once read will help or sooth the pain or guilt that anyone who has cared for or lost a loved one feels. Oh the power of reading.

If you hadn’t guessed already I would highly recommend people read The Last Act of Love. It is a warm, engaging, emotional yet hopeful book that I think truly is the last act of love from a sister to her little brother. And an act that will provide solace to many, many readers.

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Filed under Books of 2015, Cathy Rentzenbrink, Non Fiction, Picador Books, Review

Other People’s Bookshelves #56 – Nina Pottell

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 hub of London metropolis and are just finishing having a lovely trim with the lovely Nina. You know when you ‘meet’ someone on Twitter and think they are probably really ace in real life, then you meet them at a bookish party say a few words and think you should be best friends for life so stalk them afterwards, sound familiar? Well, that is what happened with me and Nina. I was the stalker to clarify, it happens often, look at the results…

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Anyway, now we are back at her house with a good cuppa and some lemon drizzle, it’s over to Nina and her lovely bookshelves which I have been asked to say a big thanks to John the Builder for. Thank you John the Builder!

I’m a born and bred Londoner and a massive book lover. I’m a hairdresser and work in the West End and love my job a lot as it’s so varied. I have very loyal clients, lots of whom are avid readers so am always recommending books for them to read, be it just the one or a whole summer reading list. In between appointments you’ll find me sitting in my chair reading. I am also a huge tweeter of books (and tweet as @matineegirl) which started after being part of a Reader’s Panel for PanMacmillan and Picador. A blog related to books is currently a work in progress………

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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?

I used to keep all my books but before moving into my flat two and a half years ago I had to do a heavy cull! Also my tastes have changed a lot so it felt right to do it. When I moved I had 40 odd thrillers that I didn’t feel I needed to take with me, I’d overdosed a little on serial killers! They were destined for a charity shop until a work friend said she’d have them. She has since read them all AND kept them! I’m very fortunate to have books sent to me, if I’m sent something that isn’t my cup of tea I always pass on to a friend or client, I keep all the rest.

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?

Mine are arranged a little haphazardly. I do have all my poetry books together, the rest are grouped by authors or ones I just feel belong together. Last year was the first time I kept a list of everything I’d read and they are all grouped together, as are my reads of this year so far! This is where I get a little nervy, as where do those current reads by authors I have grouped together go? I keep my ever growing TBR on their own shelf/shelves/floor.

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

I’m not sure what my first bought book was? Far too long ago to remember… I’d hedge a bet on it being Enid Blyton or Judy Blume possibly. I adored reading as a child though was often told by my parents to put my book down as I needed to go and get some fresh air occasionally! Many of the first books I read were library books, my sister and I nearly had a residence in Primrose Hill library.

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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 don’t have any books that I hide! I have a couple of odd books that maybe don’t seem to fit in with the rest of mine. 95% of my books are fiction and every now and then I’ll buy something spur of the moment. For example I went to Prague last year and found it fascinating so bought a book on communism – which has never been 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 think my most prized books are a recipe book which belonged to my Nan. This was mysteriously in the boxed books that moved in with me though I didn’t put it there?!? It was published by Selfridges & Co in 1936. Bizarrely I’ve just tried to find it to take a pic but I can’t?!? Also my school edition of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird because it’s a favourite and reiterates my love of reading and books. And I’d probably add How To Be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward and Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler because they are both books I’ve wanted to hug or as Simon would say gave me the ‘book tingle‘.

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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?

Regarding what grown up books I first read. My Dad was and still is an avid reader and I suppose it was him that made me read and love John Wyndham because they were on the shelf at home. We weren’t a ‘classics’ family by any means but I loved William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and George Orwell’s 1984 because of my Dad. I don’t own any Wyndham but particularly enjoyed The Chrysalids.

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 borrow a book and love it I will definitely buy a copy of my own. As a whole I buy the books I want.

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

My newest editions added to my shelves include The Repercussions by Catherine Hall as I’m a massive fan of her first two. The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain because Twitter was shouting about it and Daunts had a beautiful window display. And Kung Fu High School by Ryan Gattis because his new book All Involved is phenomenally astounding so wanted to read his first. One kindly sent to me, added to my shelves recently is The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink which is a very special book and really resonated with me, for personal reasons.

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

I wish I had more of my books from childhood on my shelves. I still have Heidi and Mallory Towers but there are lots I don’t….I shall be having words with my parents later….

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

I’m proud of my bookshelves and the books on it. All my friends know I massively love reading and books so scan my shelves seeing which ones they should read next, as they value my recommendations. I’m rather anal about the condition of my books and have ‘rules’ should somebody wish to borrow one, which include, using a bookmark if you can’t remember the page number! My wonderfully prized possession proof copy of Shotgun Lovesongs was placed in a ziplock bag by a work colleague as she was scared of ruining it!!

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A huge thanks to Nina for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, and for my lovely haircut and bookish nattering this week in London, you wait till you see what she is going to do to my hair for the Fiction Uncovered party! 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 Nina’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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