Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

Other People’s Bookshelves #79 – Sarah Shaffi

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the perfectly natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are in London where we join the lovely Sarah Shaffi, who works for the book news bible that is The Bookseller. There is, as always with these lovely bookish folks whose houses and shelves we invade, quite the spread on so let’s all grab a drink and a snack and get to know Sarah and her bookshelves better.

I’m a journalist by trade, currently working at The Bookseller magazine as online editor, which feeds my book habit. I’ve had a blog for a few years now, mainly focused on books, but also includes a little bit of whatever takes my fancy!

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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 system basically consists of trying to keep my bookshelves at home and at work under control. This means being able to stack everything bar maybe half a dozen or so books on my shelves. I don’t always succeed, but I am thankfully past the days when my floor was taken up by multiple large tote bags full of books. I generally keep books I only really, really, really love now. And even then, something else can supplant that if needs be.

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?

My bookshelves at home are double stacked horizontally, and then those rows have books lying on top of them. The top shelf of my bookcase has some of my university textbooks on it, and some non-book stuff (*gasp*), and at the front is where I keep my graphic novels. The rest of my shelves are a mix of fiction and non-fiction – the back row is ordered alphabetically by author surname. The front rows, which are the ones you can see, used to be for books I hadn’t read but intended to, but given that I have so many books they’re a complete mix now, and I’m sad to say there’s no order – read, unread, fiction, non-fiction, new, old, proofs, final copies. I’ve learned how to live with them.

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

I really don’t remember. I do remember buying an abridged copy of a Dickens’ novel, possibly Great Expectations, on a school trip when I was about eight. And I’m sure I bought something from one of those Scholastic fairs that used to come to school, but I really don’t remember what.

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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 believe in book guilt – read what you want, enjoy what you want, don’t be ashamed of 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?

I love my copy of Anita Desai’s The Peacock Garden, which was the first book I ever read with a non-white protagonist and which I got for completing a summer reading challenge with my local library. I also adore my battered copy of The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton, which was a birthday present. And I have a gorgeous limited edition proof of Ryan Gattiss’ All Involved, which is signed and which I would love to rescue because it definitely can’t be replaced.

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 spent many, many hours at the library, but the grown up books I remember are all from my dad’s bookshelves. I read my way through all his Jeffrey Archer novels when I was about 12, and the book I always wanted to read that he had was Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. I’ve never got round to it – life is too short to spend reading classics you think you should have read.

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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’ll only buy a book I’ve already read and enjoyed if I really, really love it. I just don’t have the room otherwise, and I grew up borrowing books from the library, not owning them, so I’m in the habit of not buying everything I read. But I do have a tendency to buy books I love to give as presents to other people in lieu of buying them for myself.

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

The last book I bought was The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie, for my Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction reading, but I’m constantly bringing books home from work, so I’m not sure that was the last one I added to my bookshelves.

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

When I was little my dad bought me a box set of the Beatrix Potter books, and we gave them away once I’d grown out of them. Now I really regret that, I’d love to have those on my shelves, not least because you never grow out of great books!

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

I like to think they’d think I’m a person who just loves books and words.

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Huge thanks to Sarah 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 Sarah’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

In my last review I talked about the importance of books that make you face, head on, some of the awful things that are going on in the world, the power of fiction being able to send you into the heads of those you wouldn’t choose to be for various reasons. Today I want to talk to you about the supreme power at the opposite end of the spectrum that fiction can have, the ability to take you away to another place, time and world wrapped in escapism and joy that is one of the main reasons that we read. Sarah Perry’s wonderful second novel, The Essex Serpent, is just such a book and one which (as easily one of my favourite books of the year so far) I will be urging you all to go and escape with it as soon as you can.

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Serpents Tail, 2016, hardback, fiction, 419 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Winter comes like a blow to the back of his neck: he feels it penetrate his shirt and go into his bones. The good cheer of drink is gone, and he’s comfortless there in the dark – he looks for his coat, but clouds hide the moon and he is blind. His breath is slow, the air is full of pins; the marsh at his feet all at once is wet, as if something out there has displaced the water. Nothing, it’s nothing, he thinks, patting about for his courage, but there it is again: a curious still moment as if he were looking at a photograph, followed by a frantic uneven motion that cannot merely be the tug of the moon on the tides. He thinks he sees – is certain he sees – the slow movement of something vast, hunched, grimly covered over with rough and lapping scales; then it is gone.
In the darkness he grows afraid. There is something there, he feels it, biding its time – implacable, monstrous, born in water, always with an eye cocked in his direction.

The small close knit town of Aldwinter is in shock, as it seems that the Essex Serpent has returned after over 200 years when it last infamously terrorised the area. One of the townsmen has been found dead, with a petrified look upon his face, and soon enough fear is running rife through the area as cattle and people start to be reported as missing. This is not good news for William Ransom, the local rector, who refuses to believe (or cannot believe) that such a thing exists and refuses to name it as anything other than ‘the Trouble’, yet his congregation are afraid and starting to question his preaching further unsettling the town.

Further afield though nothing could be more exciting, or indeed more needed, for recently widowed Cora Seaborne than a possible adventure. With a fascination for fossils and palaeontology from the moment she hears of the ‘Strange News Out of Essex’ (which is also the name of the first part of the book, each part gets a wonderfully tempting title in a delicious nod to the Victorian sensation novels of the day) she sets off in search of it and any other prehistoric hints in the marshes and estuaries. This being bad news for Dr Luke Garrett, who loves Cora and her rousing spirit and believes that after her grieving there might be a chance for love. But who could second guess such a woman?

‘I daresay you have heard tell of the Essex Serpent, which once was the terror of Henham and Wormingford, and has been seen again?’ Delighted, Cora said that she had not. ‘Ah,’ said Taylor, growing mournful, ‘I wonder if I ought not trouble you, what with ladies being of a fragile disposition.’ He eyed his visitor, and evidently concluded that no woman in such a coat could be frightened by mere monsters.

Cora Seaborne is one of Sarah Perry’s many masterstrokes within The Essex Serpent. It is hard to create a women of heightened independence in the Victorian period, ironic seeing as who the period was named after, who is believable. More often than not you have to go for the cheeky buxom wench like Nancy in Oliver Twist or some monstrous matriarch. However Cora is a widow which both gives her the means to have the independence that she desires yet at what cost? For as we read on behind Cora’s seemingly excitable and joyful exterior there is a vulnerable side and a darker story hidden away. I loved this because it adds layers to her as a character and also to the plot with an additional mystery. Not many authors can pull this off.

Having scoured its river for kingfishers and its castle for ravens, Cora Seaborne walked through Colchester with Martha on her arm, holding an umbrella above them both. There’d been no kingfisher (‘On a Nile cruise, probably – Martha, shall we follow them?’), but the castle keep had been thick with grave-faced rooks stalking about in their ragged trousers. ‘Quite a good ruin,’ said Cora, ‘But I’d have liked to’ve seen a gibbet, or a miscreant with pecked-out eyes.’  

Yet a novel about an independent woman in the Victorian era would almost be too easy for our author, which is one of the things I loved about its predecessor. Perry pushes the boundaries of what we expect, she is all about the deeper layers, rather like the estuaries we visit in the story, and the cheeky winks and nods in this book. Why simply have a mysterious tale of a possible monster and the rector and female amateur scientist who try to hunt it down, with a hint of potential illicit romance and shenanigans thrown in for good measure (though that is a perfect book right there) when you can do more? Why not throw in the question of platonic love vs. sexual attraction and see what can be weaved and unravelled out of that?

Then, if you’re in the mood which Perry clearly was, why not look at other things going on in society then that are still conundrums now. Questions about feminism, class, science vs. religion? Sarah Perry hasn’t just made Cora’s love interests be a rector and a doctor for your reading pleasure, although it adds to it hugely so of course she has, there is more going on here. In doing so certain questions and dynamics make the book brim all the further. Why is it that Luke Garrett is so desperate to mend physical broken hearts after all? Why will William not be ruled by his head or his heart? These all lead off to a wonderful dark subplots that I won’t spoil but I bloody loved.

I also mentioned those lovely winks and nods didn’t I? Well these are further proof of what a superb mind can use to create such a superb book. In the 1890’s sensation novels were all the rage and Sarah Perry takes these wonderful books and pays homage to them and also plays with them. She takes many of the standard glorious Gothic tropes and waves at them joyously. Possible monsters in eerie boggy marshes (which are written so atmospherically) and bodies petrified to death take you to the world of Sherlock Holmes. The Woman in White, and indeed the Woman in Black, are winked at with a Woman in Blue – which in the authors notes are also a nod to Maggie Nelson’s Bluets which made me want to squeeze Sarah to bits with unbridled love and may get me arrested or a restraining order. Servants clearly smitten with their mistresses give a hint of Rebecca. Okay, I know that some of those are the wrong era but two are gothic and some of my favourites. Rather like her writing prose in contemporary English rather than of the period these all add to the atmosphere and yet keep it fresh and different.

She also flip reverses (if any of you now have that Blazin’ Squad hit single in your head I now love you) many of these tropes on their head. When is the rector ever a sex object or the rich widow doing anything but being a bitch or scheming to marry and kill off another husband, for example? Sarah Perry also uses some wonderful knowing hindsight between the reader and herself with them. A prime example is Cora’s son who everyone thinks is just a bit sinister and odd, who we all see as clearly being autistic and misunderstood – well I thought so. Sarah is enjoying writing this book as much as you are reading it and there is a communication going on between author and reader that is rare and wonderful when it happens. Suffice to say all these additional layers, elements and nods are what takes The Essex Serpent from being a brilliant book to being a stand out fantastic book. Goodness me I loved it. Can you tell?

I don’t normally advice that you judge a book by its cover; I will make an exception in the case of The Essex Serpent, for its insides are as wonderful as its outsides. It is a beautifully and intrinsically crafted and tempts, beguiles and hooks its readers into a vivid and ever so sensational and gothic world. I think it is a wonder. It is a ripping great yarn and also so much more. Delicious. As I said at the beginning Sarah Perry has written a novel which has been one of the highlights of my reading year and after the wonders of this and After Me Comes the Flood I simply cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.

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Some New Ambush – Carys Davies

The first book of the year to me is always an important one. I used to pick them willy nilly and then would have willy nilly reading years, as it were. In the last few years I have got wiser and so now take a bit of time deciding which book to read. I chose Carys Davies’ debut collection Some New Ambush because I hoped it would fit the bill of what I want in the reading year ahead. I want to read corking writing, marvellous stories and things that are a little quirky which might be lesser known. Oh and I really want to read quite a few beloved authors back lists this year too, and last year with The Redemption of Galen Pike Carys immediately was sent into that category. So I opened Some New Ambush and promptly devoured it in a day.

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Salt Publishing, 2007, paperback, short stories, 110 pages, bought by myself for myself

It is very difficult to try and categorise Some New Ambush because with every story Carys Davies takes you somewhere totally different. We might be in a bookstore cafe in America, and then off to a small welsh town. We might head to an island where everything is red or we may take a wander in an airport on the outskirts of London. In a similar vein time varies as much as place sometimes we are in a magical land and time; like the island of red in Red Rose, we may be off with Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins visiting an asylum; as we do in The Visitors or we could be in the present day in a school possibly just down the road; as with Historia Calamitatum Mearum or we may be in a story that could take place in any time. There is no boundaries to where these stories may lead to, which is wonderful, no story is anything like the others.

There are however some similarities with the stories and some themes. In the latter case, in all fifteen of Carys Davies stories something is lost. What is really, really difficult though to do is try and explain this in a way which will not give anything away as with every tale of Davies’ there is always an element of surprise somewhere and I defy you to be able to see any of them coming. It might be a friendship or it might be hope. So where was I? Oh yet loss and losing things, this seems to be a theme in every one of the tales in Some New Ambush. It might be a friendship or it might be your dry cleaning. It might be a bracelet, it could be a child. It could be love, it could be hope.

I always hoped it wasn’t someone old who took Bobby. He was afraid of old people. He’d look at the yellow whites of their eyes and their ugly teeth and the shiny brown skin on their hands and then push his face into Lily’s skirts and hide. He was afraid of old people and dogs and witches, though he was very fond indeed of fairy tales and I always thought it likely that he was lured away, not with the offer of sweets or a drive in a nice car, but with the promise of a story.

If this sounds all a bit maudlin, fret not for one of the things that I love most about Carys Davies’ writing is that there is always humour within, some of it might be pretty dark but the humour is there all the same. There is also always the sense of the fairy tale and the magical within the stories too, without these ever really being fairy tales, well with the exception of Rose Red I suppose which feels more like a fable. Instead I think Carys leaves in a hint of the magical and more often that not she pays homage to fairy tales, which were really the first short stories, and then twists them in a modern more ‘natural’ way. Tales like Pied Piper, Waking the Princess, Ugly Sister and Gingerbread Boy may have names of fairytales past or nod to them yet the magic that Carys is celebrating really is the everyday and it works wonderfully. Even in other stories like The Captain’s Daughter when you think you are getting a fairy tale or something supernatural a surprise will come along and give you something quite different. Those surprises again, how I love them as they are always better than what you could imagine.

These days he seems worse. He appears frightened now, when I leave the room, a look of startled alarm freezes his features. There are times when we are out in the street when he truly does not seem to know where he is, and if I let go of his arm for two seconds to go and post a letter, or to go and get the Pay & Display sticker for the car, I come back to find him standing next to it, apparently bewildered and afraid, anxiously toeing the gravel with the point of his shoe. One day in the kitchen a while ago he was making one of his Bakewell tarts and he couldn’t remember what an egg was.
Then last Thursday morning, he came downstairs without his hand.

Just as it is hard to talk about any of these stories in depth for fear of spoiling them, as obviously you are all going to go and get your hands on them straight away, it is also very hard to pick favourites when a collection such as this one is so strong. Naturally I loved going to an asylum with Wilkie Collins and (to a lesser extent, ha) Charles Dickens in The Visitors. Opener Hwang is a wonderful tale of two friends regular meeting and bitching about their scary dry cleaner, which soon becomes a very upsetting and then darkly funny tale of revenge. Monday Diary might just break your heart as a boy discusses why his mother calls him a gift from god. Historia Calamitatum Mearum is a tale of a feud between a latin teacher and a technology teacher, which looks at history vs modernisation in a very witty way. Ugly Sister is a tale of two sisters who have become inseperable, now living together in their older years still trying to get men and taking it in turns to win them with a twist you will not see coming and possibly another one after that. Metamorphosis starts as a tale of mild stalking in a library that leads to madness. See I could go on.

That said, Pied Piper did completely blow me away, which is honestly saying something when you love every single story out of a whopping fifteen. A woman who has been unable to have children finds a baby abandoned in the sand dunes on her birthday whilst taking one of her regular trips out to see the sea. As there is no one there and as the baby needs care she takes it. Back in her village everyone, from her husband to her neighbours, each knows the baby isn’t hers and they keep up the pretence for years and then something happens that changes the life of everyone in that village. I can’t say what, or really say much more, but it completely shocked me, broke me and left me unable to do anything except make a strong cup of sweet tea before I could go on. It is an absolutely amazing short story and does in ten pages what some novels don’t manage to achieve in 400.

As you might have guessed I simply adored Some New Ambush. Having read this and The Redemption of Galen Pike there is no dout that Carys Davies is my favourite writer of short stories. She can create a character in a single sentence, build complete worlds in a mere paragraph and create entire lives in mere pages. She is just wonderful. I am only sad there isn’t a new collection on the horizon, though I have heard one is being worked on thank goodness. If you haven’t read her work then please, please, please do. What a start to my reading year, the only worry now is if anything else can live up to this?

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Filed under Books of 2016, Carys Davies, Review, Salt Publishing, Short Stories

Other People’s Bookshelves #63 – Jackie Law

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 down in Wiltshire, a county I lived in for about 7 or 8 years of my childhood, to join the lovely Jackie Law who keeps the blog Never Imitate, which I highly recommend you give a read. Before we have a nose around her shelves lets all get some lovely afternoon tea that Jackie has laid on for us and find out more about her…

I always struggle to know how to answer when someone asks me about myself. I am a wife of twenty-three years, a mother to three teenagers, a back garden hen keeper and a writer. These are the roles I consider important, but I earn my money as a director of a small IT consultancy. I do all my work from home. I was born and grew up in Belfast during The Troubles, leaving when I graduated from university with a degree in computer science. I moved to rural Wiltshire and have been here ever since. I adore the county with its beautiful, rolling countryside and easy access to cities such as Bath, Bristol and even London, although it is rare for me to travel further than my legs can carry me. I write on my blog about books and life but most of my posts are now reviews. Occasionally I will create short fiction pieces, the quality of which has helped me appreciate the talent of authors. I spend a lot of my time reading and very little on housework. Both my home and myself epitomise shabby chic.

Bookshelves

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?

Unless I really dislike a book I want to have a copy on my shelves. I will sometimes buy a second copy of a book that has been borrowed and not returned despite knowing that I am unlikely to read it again. I tell myself this is because I wish to offer my children the opportunity to enjoy these fabulous stories, but in all honesty I am doing it for me. I wish to be surrounded by books. Like photographs, they bring back memories. I remember why I chose that book or who gave it to me, and the way I felt when I read it. My reaction to a book is a reflection of the experiences I was having at the 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?

My fiction books are ordered alphabetically by author. I have separate shelves for non fiction books which I arrange by subject matter. I have a few shelves for young children’s book although I culled this collection a number of years ago, something that I now regret. I loved reading to my children and wish I had held on to more of the books we shared. I rarely give books away unless I have multiple copies. My TBR pile (the books I buy) is crammed onto two shelves, double packed. I probably have about a year’s worth of reading there. The books I have committed to review are on top of my piano in piles ordered by publication date. My family tell me off if those piles get too high.

Some of the TBR mountain

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

I can’t remember which book I first bought. My father, who is also an avid reader, was always happy to buy me books and I read just about every title available in our local library. I do still have a number of my childhood books: ‘Teddy Robinson’, ‘The Adventures of Gallldora’; but many of my old books fell apart when I gave them to my children. I bought new copies of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories as I couldn’t bear not to have copies of those. I regret giving away my original ‘Famous Five’ collection we did a clear out of my children’s books.

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 have an eclectic book collection but keep them all on my shelves. Having said that, I’m not sure that I choose to read books that would be thought of as embarrassing. I dislike formulaic ‘best sellers’ including romances. I have been known to stop reading a book when the writing veered into descriptions of anything even slightly racy as it makes me inwardly cringe. I cannot comprehend the whole ‘Grey’ phenomena, but hold to the view that reading books is good and everyone should be free to enjoy whatever they choose without criticism.

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 have a small, slim book of Kipling’s verse published in 1931 which belonged to my father. I value it for the association, the memory of the man who gifted me my love of books. If there were a fire though I would save the teddy bears who also sit on my shelves. Books can be replaced, their value to me is the story more than the physical object. As someone who eschews ebooks and who relishes being surrounded by physical books this view may seem contrary but I have few possessions that I value for more than the service they provide. I do not need to own the original book to be reminded of the way I felt when I first read it which is why I replace books that disappear.

Kipling verse

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?

The first book that I wanted to read from my father’s shelves was ‘The Lord of the Rings’. I read it when I was fourteen and went on to read every book that Tolkien wrote. When I left home I took my father’s copy with me and each of my children read it. My younger son reread it so many times that it fell apart. I now have a replacement copy.My mother rarely read books but talked of enjoying ‘David Copperfield’ when she was younger. I picked it up with great expectations (I read that one as well) but was disappointed. I have never been able to understand the appeal of Dickens but still hold on to the books. I used to look at my father’s Penguin Classics collection and wonder if I would ever manage to read such weighty tomes. Again, when I left home I took them with me. I have read most of these over the years but still have some Homer, Ovid and Plato on my TBR pile. I am grateful for my father’s tolerance in allowing me to take his books. Years later he admitted that he bought replacement copies after I left.

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?

These days I mostly buy a book if I wish to read it whereas in the past I would have borrowed many from libraries. Occasionally I will remember a book and go to my shelves to reread a particular passage. I feel irritated if I cannot find it there. I like to own all of the books that I have enjoyed.

Teddy and Penguin Classics

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

I read several books a week so my collection is constantly growing. As I write this, the last book that I shelved as read was a children’s novel, ‘Deep Water’ by Lu Hersey. The last book added to the pile on my piano was ‘Pretty Is’ by Maggie Mitchell which I am very much looking forward to reading. My most recent purchase for myself was ‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Stanley Kubrick.

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

This is a long list! ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ by Matt Haig; ‘The Good Son’ by Paul McVeigh; ‘Bitter Sixteen’ by Stefan Mohamed; ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce; ‘The Gospel of Loki’ by Joanne Harris; ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho; ‘American Psycho’ by Brett Easton Ellis; ‘Malcolm Orange Disappears’ by Jan Carson.  There are more but I should probably stop…

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

I hope that they would be unable to pigeon hole me. I would like them to be inspired to talk to me about my collection, perhaps even ask for recommendations. Other than reading, there is little that I enjoy more than discussing books.

Books to review

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A huge thanks to Jackie 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 Jackie’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #49 – Rosemary Kaye

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, the first of 2015 indeed. 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 to stave you off going on a buying/borrowing spree, or making you want to run and grab as many more books as you can. Now I have had a few emails about the fact this series has been quiet for a while and people have been wondering where it had gone. Well, the fact is if people don’t participate then it goes quiet. So thank heavens for Rosemary who has kindly shared her shelves with us and invited us for a nosey round her lovely Edinburgh abode. Before we have a good route around let’s settle with a nice cup or glass of something and find out more about her…

I live in Edinburgh, which is one of the best places I have ever lived – it has so much going on and is such a beautiful city. I especially like the fact that almost everything is within walking distance, yet on a Sunday morning, up in the eyrie of our top floor flat, all I can hear is the sound of bells and birdsong. In a previous life I was a solicitor in Cambridge, London and most recently in Aberdeen; I’m very glad to say that is now all behind me. I now write for an online site, The Edinburgh Reporter – mainly arts reviews and listings, but other things creep in from time to time – I’ve done everything from Springer Spaniel Rescue to Edinburgh’s Top Five Scones (my most controversial article to date – feelings run high…) and I enjoy every minute of it. When I’m not writing (and even when I am) I am a slave to two Siamese divas. I also have a husband and three children…somewhere.

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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 husband would say I keep far too many books, but over the years he’s learned to live with that. In return I don’t throw out all his weird Scandinavian jazz CDs. I do occasionally have a cull, but I have to be in the right mood – and I get in an awful tizzy about making sure the ejected books go to the right places. I can only really get rid of very light novels, disappointing cookery books and old textbooks, I’m afraid. I’ve even got duplicate copies of some of my very favourite novels (Barbara Pym, I’m looking at you…), as if I see one languishing unsold at a book sale I feel obliged to rescue it and give it a home.

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 do put my fiction books into a vague alphabetical order – I resisted this for years, but even I realised that I was wasting far too much time looking for particular novels. And yes, I too have my detective stories in one overflowing bookcase and my old children’s books on special shelves. I still can’t find anything…

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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 imagine it was an Enid Blyton – I was obsessed with the Famous Five (not the Secret Seven, who were as wet as I was) and later with Malory Towers, St Clare’s and The Naughtiest Girl in the School, and used to buy the Dragon paperbacks from WH Smith. It’s interesting to me that my own children, when younger, also loved these books – whereas Malcolm Saville, whose books I used to love, was a complete failure with them – and I could see why. Blyton has many critics but she’s lasted.

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?

No, I am totally unembarrassed by all of my books – even my Debbie Macomber Blossom Street series, which is my guilty pleasure and I’m proud of it. I would also be happy for anyone to see my collection of Jilly Coopers, though they won’t be able to as one of my daughters has appropriated the lot. I’m glad she loves them though.

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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?

Oh definitely Josephine, John and the Puppy, by Mrs HC Cradock. I used to borrow the Josephine books from Bromley Library, which my parents took me to every Friday from a very early age. Even in those days the stories were severely dated, but I loved them then as I do now. Josephine lives in a flat in Knightsbridge and has her dolls sent round from Harrods. I lived in Bromley, which was as unfashionable then as it is now, and my dolls were mostly hand-me-downs from my idolised cousin Sally, but it didn’t matter – Josephine, for me, brings back many happy hours of sitting on the little wooden chairs in the Children’s Library, then going to Wilson’s bakery on the way home to get jam doughnuts. I never actually owned a Josephine book until quite recently, when I saw a copy in the Oxfam Bookshop in Stockbridge. I made myself leave it on the shelf, dragged myself up the hill back to where we then lived – then ran all the way down it again in a blind panic in case someone else got there first. I paid £5 for Josephine and she was worth every penny.

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 parents had left school at a very early age because their families needed their incomes. They were both very keen on self-improvement and as well as the library (and the long-gone Boots version too) they were always going to one evening class or another. My father had bought a second-hand set of Dickens, and I remember very much wanting to read them – but my mother always said ‘You won’t be able to, they’re all written in Old English’. I’m not quite sure why she thought that, as she was and still is an avid reader – presumably someone had said it to her at some point. I didn’t read Dickens until I was in senior school, and the experience of being forced through David Copperfield put me off him for years. It was only when my children were young that I went back to him, reading Great Expectations on the beach at Crail and being amazed at how good it was – and how easy to read!  I do have a copy of Great Expectations now, but sadly not my parents’ one.

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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 used to borrow much more from the library, but I’m so busy with the writing just now that I was ending up with horrendous fines; if I want a book I do buy it and yes, if I’ve borrowed one and really loved it, I do have to buy a copy, much as I try to resist. I recently bought an old copy of James Beard’s ‘Delights and Prejudices’, which is a cookery book of sorts, really more of a memoir; again, I first borrowed this from the library maybe 45 years ago, and was so taken with it that I can still recall many of the stories. Beard grew up in an affluent turn of the century household in Portland, Oregon, and one of the chapters I particularly remember is about making a pudding with TEN eggs ‘and if it goes wrong, throw it away and start again’. My mother grew up in a very poor family, and then experienced rationing during the war – to her, eggs were (and are) a luxury not to be wasted, and even now I can hardly bring myself to make a cake that requires more than three of them. My daughters quite rightly think this is ridiculous, when eggs are now often one of the cheaper ingredients, but it’s a hangover from my childhood that I can’t get rid of.

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

Rosemary at St Anne’s by Joy Francis, of which the first line is ‘”I’m rather looking forward to school” Hazel remarked, dividing the last remnants of simnel cake among the three of us, Stella, Hazel and me.’ How could I not? I also recently bought New York Masjid: The Mosques of New York City; I like finding out about other people’s lives. And I was thrilled to find Richard Holloway’s ‘memoir of faith and doubt’, Leaving Alexandria, during a charity shop trawl; he used to be the Bishop of Edinburgh but now calls himself ‘post-religion’, and he is one of the best speakers I have ever heard – fiercely intelligent, wonderfully humane – and human – and a tireless supporter of the people.

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

Oh lots! One I am really coveting is Judith Kerr’s biography, Creatures; she wrote The Tiger Who Came To Tea, which was one of the first books I read to my son as a baby. I loved her Mog books too. Last summer I was privileged to see Judith at the Edinburgh Book Festival – what an amazing woman! She’s 90 but you’d never believe it. She was married to Nigel Kneale of Quatermass fame, and her stories about helping him with the special effects for the films, which were all performed live, were priceless; she appeared at the Festival with her son Matthew, who’s also a writer. The patent warmth and happiness of their family life was lovely.

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

Haha – I’d like them to come away with the impression that I was a well-read and open-minded intellectual, but they’d probably think I was a complete airhead.

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A huge thanks to Rosemary 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 Rosemary’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #48; Ruth Lawrence

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the filthy book lust/porn and either give you a fix of other people’s shelves to stave you off going on a buying/borrowing spree, or making you want to run and grab as many more books as you can. This week we head ‘oop North’ (not too far from me, so do pop by after) to join Ruth between bike rides. So let’s all grab a cuppa and get to know Ruth better as we have a nosey through her bookshelves and reading life…

I’ve spent most of my twenty five years in the North West of England, at present in Lancaster having escaped from Burnley, where I grew up. Reading has been my love ever since I was taught how. Once I could read I grabbed anything that had words in order to get my fix. I’d like to say that I am more selective now than I was then, but I think that I will still read anything that I can get my hands on. When I’m not absorbed in a book then I will be out cycling. Sometimes I wonder which I enjoy more, the reading or the cycling. If I could work out a way to do both at the same time then I would die of happiness.

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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?

All my books go on my shelves. Well, that’s not true, I’ve run out of shelf space so there are towers of books growing up all over the place. I try to confine them to my room, but they seem to be springing up all over the place. Also if I buy a duplicate of a book by mistake (happens more frequently than I would like to admit) the duplicate is banished to a box before it goes to a new home. I’ve created a spreadsheet of my books to try and prevent this from happening, an idea I stole/borrowed from my housemate.

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?

They are separated loosely by genre and then alphabetically by author. I read them in that order too, I know it’s mad, but it takes away the horrible feeling of having to choose a new book when there are so many to choose from. Breaking the system is allowed, but only if there is a very good reason. I’ve thought about culling, mainly because if I don’t stop buying books soon, I will run out of space. When I have thoughts like that I do something to distract myself and the thought soon goes.

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

Probably When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr. I remember buying it when I was eleven just before we moved half way across the country. It was a comforting thing having a new book when everything else was in a state of chaos. I bought it with a gift voucher that I had been given as a leaving present from my church. Book vouchers are the best presents to get, they chose well! Clearing out my stuff from my parent’s house I found it again, about a year ago, and have brought it back to a prominent place on my bookcase.

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?

My Redwall series by Brian Jacques is probably the only set of books that I would feel slight embarrassment about. Only slight though. I loved them when I was a child and intend to read them through again one day. There’s something about mice in a medieval setting that just can’t be beaten.

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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?

I suppose the obvious ones would be the novels by Alexandre Dumas that have collected, just because I’ve spent so long finding and collecting them. If there was just one book to save it would be The Whitehouse Boys by R. A. H. Goodyear. I have no idea what it is about but it was a present from my great grandmother to my dad. In the front it says To Derek, wishing you a happy xmas from Nanny and Uncle Tom xx. One day I will get round to reading it.

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?

When I was younger I remember my parents watching a BBC adaptation of Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens. What I saw I enjoyed and then I saw a copy of the book hidden away somewhere. I think that must have been the first book that I really wanted to read and it annoyed me that I couldn’t. It may also have been one of the books that I have enjoyed the most, just because I had finally expanded my reading ability enough to be able to read it. No book was out of reach after that.

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?

For most books, probably yes, but I’m trying not to because I’m worried that I will run out of space. I haven’t been very successful yet though.

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

The Divine Comedy by Dante, but that will probably have changed within the next twenty four hours. I bought it because it is a book that I have heard a lot about but never had the opportunity to read. Also it was only a quid.

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

I would like to complete my Dumas collection, but not all of them have been translated into English. I may end up learning French so that I can read them all. Other than that I’m looking forward to getting a copy of the new Lauren Oliver book that is out this year.

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 that it is quite eclectic, given how many different genres I can have on one shelf. I’d like people to think that I was well read, I keep my classics on view partly for that reason (I also like looking at them).

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A huge thanks to Ruth 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) in the series then drop me an email tosavidgereads@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 #37; Catherine Hall

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 have a doubly apt host, Catherine Hall. Firstly because they are one of the authors who has been selected for Fiction Uncovered in the past, which I am guest editing at the moment, and also I happen to be staying in her house (so she is literally hosting me) while London Book Fair is on, in fact I took the pictures and almost took some of the books. Oh, did I mention that she is one of my most lovely friends who I have become chums with since I read The Proof of Love a few years ago. Anyway, I could waffle on more but I shall not, let us find out more about Catherine and have a nosey through her books…

I was born and brought up on a sheep farm in the Lake District where we lived with another family in a vaguely communal way. I always loved books and ended up doing English at Cambridge. Part of me loved it, but I found it a bit odd that we didn’t read anything written after 1960 and not that much by women. After that I went to London and got a job in a television production company making films about the environment and development issues, and then worked for an international peacebuilding agency doing communications. I left when I inherited some money from my grandmother and have written three novels: Days of Grace, The Proof of Love and The Repercussions, which will be published in September. I live in London with my two little boys, their dad and his boyfriend.

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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 of them because it was like a diary of my life, sort of marking where my thinking was at different times. Now I have to have liked them enough to want to live with them, otherwise I pass them on to Oxfam. Having said that, I’m quite a generous reader – I usually find something I like in most books. But my shelves – and there are a lot of them in our house – are pretty overflowing.

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?

There’s a sort of system, or at least there was when we moved in which is that they’re divided by genre – fiction, history, biography, travel, poetry, plays – and then within that vaguely alphabetically as in by author surname but not strictly, because that would mean rearranging everything every time I bought a new book. I have a massive pile of books to be read next to my bed. Since I had kids it’s all gone a bit messy, and of course they have loads of books that end up all over the place.

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

It was Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton. I loved her books as a child and would save up my pocket money to buy them. It’s on my boys’ bookshelf now waiting for them to be old enough to read it.

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’ve got lots of guilty pleasures but I’m pretty out and proud about them. There’s a lot of Jackie Collins and Jilly Cooper on my shelves sitting next to Dickens and Doris Lessing. At college my friend Cath and I used to buy Jilly Cooper’s books as soon as they came out and retire to bed to read them in one go instead of reading Chaucer or whoever it was that week. Her politics are questionable but I learned a lot about character and plot.

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?

That’s a really hard question. I love the proof copies of my novels – they’re the things that I’m most proud of producing in my life. I also love my ancient copy of The Golden Notebook because that really changed the way I thought about things, and Oranges are Not the Only Fruit because I remember coming down to London on a school trip and sneaking to the Silver Moon women’s bookshop and buying – shocker – a lesbian novel. So I’d definitely save them, and then I think I’d want to save some of my children’s books because they remind me of reading to them as they’ve grown up.

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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?

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong. That’s another book that I’d definitely save. I have two copies of it, one annotated, the other clean for reading. It introduced me to psychoanalysis and of course the concept of the ‘zipless fuck.’ It was probably the most thrilling book I’d ever read. For my A levels I wrote a long dissertation type thing about Freud’s question on what women want, and the way it was answered in literature, ranging from Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Fear of Flying. It was my favourite essay ever. I go back to Fear of Flying every couple of years to read it again and it’s still relevant to me now.

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 to have the book if I love it, so I’d go and get a copy. I borrow books sometimes if people have them to hand but generally I just buy what I want to read. I find it very satisfying to have a pile of books just waiting for me to dive into.

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

My dad, Ian Hall, just wrote a memoir called Fisherground: Living the Dream about the farm that we grew up on. I was very proud to add it to my bookshelves. The last books I bought were Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and Taiye Selassi’s Ghana Must Go.

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

I’m dying to read Charlotte Mendelson’s Almost English, Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing, and The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. Oh, and of course Armistead Maupin’s Days of Anna Madrigal. I’m so excited to read that.

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 think it’s quite eclectic and pretty wide-ranging. Perusing shelves is the first thing I do when I go to someone’s house – it really does tell you a lot about the person, and I’ve bonded with people or fancied them because of their taste. So I hope my taste makes me look good!

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A huge thanks to Catherine for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, as if she had any choice, and for letting me stay so often when I pop down to London town. She is rather a legend. If you haven’t read The Proof of Love, which is one of my favourite books and if you have read this blog for a while you will know that, then you must get a copy NOW! 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 Catherine’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #32; Clare Axton

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a weekly series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. This week we are back ‘oop’ north in England in Nottingham (which will instantly have you thinking of Robin Hood) where we join Clare and get to have a nosey at her shelves not a million miles from my old hometown of Matlock Bath. So grab a cuppa and a few biscuits which Clare has kindly laid on and have a rummage through her shelves…

My name is Clare and I live in Nottingham. I have a great and very deep love for books and even more so for bookshops my long held dream to be the owner of one. I think I can trace my love for books back to my Great Grandad who had a wonderful library in his home that I loved to spend my time perusing. I am also a collector of original Penguin books and copies of Punch magazine, the oldest I have is 1908. The best way I can think to spend a day is finding somewhere nice for tea and cake then bookshopping of course. I am currently discovering London and it’s bookshops too also love Lincoln and it’s wonderful bookshops.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites?

I have recently had a sort of my shelves so now I do have sections for my favourites especially for example my Penguin originals together and classics together. I normally carry a book or two with me for those moments when I can find a quiet spot,the table next to my bed holds one or two or maybe more of my favourites which usually have bookmarks trying to remind me to finish them before I start another.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way?

Only very recently before it was very haphazard but now I hope there is some sort of structure to my shelves. I do like the spines of one author to be together especially when they are a classic author for example I have my Dickens all together and including the very lovely spine of a Sketches By Boz edition of 1904.

What was the first book you ever brought with your own money?

I think that would be Charlie and The Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. We had a wonderful bookshop in my village when I was little and a lot of my pocket went on Dahl and Beatrix Potter Books which are all still happily on my shelves.

Are there are guilty pleasures on your bookshelves?

Maybe Lady Chatterley’s Lover obviously considered such a scandalous books at the time of its trial it does feel like a very guilty pleasure although Lawrence is one of my favourite writers.

What is the first grown up book you brought?

Well the book was actually on my Aunt’s shelves and it was “Forever” by Judy Blume. I felt very grown up when I read it in my teens and now it does have a special place on my shelves.

If you love a book but have borrowed it do you find you have to then buy the book?

I have found many wonderful books through the library first, for example my love for Thomas Hardy started when I borrowed Far From The Madding Crowd read it at least three times before it went back then quickly visited the nearest bookshop to buy it and many more of his novels and poetry.

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What was the last book you added to your shelves?

I think it would have to be two books… Where’d you go Bernadette by Maria Semple and On The Road by Jack Kerouac both wonderful novels. My next purchase needs to be The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt which I have seen people raving about and I’m very much looking forward to reading.

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

I have always wanted a complete set of novels by Nancy Mitford a writer whose life and family I find fascinating. Also original penguin copies of Lucky Jim and the James Bond books these I hope to find on my next London Trip.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste?

I think they would see my book tastes as quite eclectic and I hope they would find something on each shelf that they would enjoy too.

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A huge thanks to Clare for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, who is off with me to go and have a hunt through the caves under Nottingham Castle before heading to Sherwood Forest?  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 Clare’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #26 – Lucy Rock of Relish Reads

Hello and welcome to the latest in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves, and the first of 2014 so I thought we would have someone rather special to start the year with in the form of Lucy Rock who blogs at Relish Reads. Lucy became one of my best bookish chums when I was living in Manchester for a year, after I had left London. We went to the Women’s Institute to talk books and help set them up a bookish group and set up our own one in Manchester which is still going only now with Just Lucy at the helm *coughs – nothing to do with Lucy making me read Elizabeth Gaskell*  swiftly moving on before I dredge all that up I will hand you over to lovely Lucy and her shelves…

My day job takes up huge swathes of my day, come playtime I reach for my books and bury my head in characters and fantastical lands far, far away. I grew up in a close family full of avid readers where a full bookshelf in every room of the house was ordinary and a trip to the library a huge excitement for my little brother and me. Although I can’t say I really started reading ‘properly’ (i.e. at least one book a month) until I had grown up a bit, I still remember taking the maximum amount of books out just for me to pop on the shelves and dream about picking up! Nothing’s changed really… I have been book blogging for the past three years and the vibrant and friendly community online has truly transformed by reading experiences.

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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?

Unless something was absolutely dire, I used (much to my boyfriend’s dismay) to keep every single book I read, regardless of whether it would just sit on the shelves for the rest of all time collecting dust. However, our local train station now has a wonderful little library where you can take and leave books as you please, no strings attached. I now have a mini rule with myself; if neither of us will ever pick it up again/lend it to someone, it goes in the box for someone else to enjoy. Even if I hated the book, I like to think that everything I leave in there is pretty decent and I therefore get REALLY mad if it’s still sitting there after a day!

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?

Because I like to just pick books to read on whim – apart from those I have to read for reviews/book club, etc – I try to keep our books almost entirely randomly organised, which I know would drive most avid readers potty!  That said, we recently had our local joiner do us some lovely shelves and there is now some slight organisation going on. Classics downstairs (because the room is pretty and it makes us look clever) and everything else in ‘Lucy’s Room’ upstairs; where we aim to have an entire wall of modern fiction, climbing, outdoorsy books, maps, coffee table books and rafts of foreign fiction, which I always buy on a whim telling myself I’ll bother to read it in the original language and never do. As you can see from the photo, our ‘wall of books’ is looking a little bare at the moment, which is pretty depressing. There are many books still holed up in our loft from moving house, I must liberate them immediately!

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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 think the answer to this question is either Junk by Melvin Burgess or Great Expectations by you-know-who. Junk was, as far as I can remember, a marvellous, incredibly enlightening tale of teenage angst which I read and re-read as a teen and, for nostalgia’s sake, still resides on my shelves to this day. I had only ever read the first few chapters of t’other one until a couple of months ago, but my lovely Vintage copy, not the original version I panic-bought and I think is now with my brother.

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?

The only people in my life who read as avidly as I do is my family so really, any kind of book seems to make a cosy impression upon our friends. I’m not easily embarrassed and believe that, as long as you’re reading, that’s the most important thing of all. I’ve read everything from Charles Dickens to Barbara Erskine this year and I’m dead proud.

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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?

I have a number of old books my parents have bought me over the years that I treasure. Some of them deal with medieval French history, courting and troubadours, which I studied at University and one particular fave is an old collection of Prosper Mérimée’s short stories. It has a lovely old inscription to the recipient and was obviously a Christmas gift. Mine was too and there’s now a message for me in there. All in all though, I’m not too precious about my books and most of them are very paperbacky/drop-in-the-bathable.

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?

The big Russian door-stop novels by Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy have always been hugely fascinating for me. Even now I’m a grown-up and have them on my shelves I still haven’t read them! My Dad can be rather philosophical and his collection of Jean-Paul Sartre novels also always intrigued me. I thought I might have some kind of awakening one day and discover myself….I still haven’t read them.

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?

Back in the days where I would keep every book I read without discrimination, I would also go on uncontrollable book-buying frenzies, the speed of which my reading can simply never keep up with. Nowadays, if I’m lucky enough to be in the vicinity of a good indie/charity bookshop (which I happily do have locally) I’ll have a peruse and go a bit mad and, to keep my faith in the chain bookstores going (we sadly don’t have any decent independent bookshops in Manchester) I’ll purchase my monthly book group book full price if it doesn’t look completely rubbish. Even if I don’t manage to read them all, I make a point of taking books out of the library and renewing them until I’m forced to take them back! The decent loans I do read I won’t buy myself but WILL then buy as gifts for other people.

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

Something I bought would be Misfortune by Wesley Stace, our latest book group read. Thoroughly entertaining and quirky and we had an excellent discussion on gender-identity, etc, to boot. The latest thing I’ve been sent is Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, which I am very excited about. Sounds like the perfect wintery, fantastical read.

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

I really don’t think you have the room on your blog for a frank answer to this question BUT, what I will say is, there isn’t enough life to read everything I want to read. That scares me and means I simply couldn’t have everything sat there staring at me. The pressure would be too great.

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

I think my boyfriend and I’s little library reflects the reading of open-minded, thoughtful people who are as at home with Solzhenitsyn as with Joanne Harris. Considerate, left-of-centre, intellectual, outdoorsy, unpretentious and INTERESTING. All the things I would love to be.

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A huge thanks to Lucy for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, if we don’t meet up much more often this year I will be simply furious! Anyway… 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 Lucy’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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A Very British Murder

There simply are not enough shows on the telly about books, fact! So when one does come along invariably I will watch it just because it is about books, occasionally though one comes along that is so up your street and so brilliant you want to tell everyone about it. This is exactly how I feel about ‘A Very British Murder with Lucy Worsley’ the second episode of which is on tonight on BBC Four at 9pm and which I insist you watch. But here is a teaser, without spoilers, of why (if you missed it) the first episode was so brilliant…

Lucy Worsley, who hosts the show, is Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces where she puts on exhibitions like ‘Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber’ which is currently on at Hampton Court Palace. She is also a writer of several historical non-fiction books the latest of which just so happens to be ‘A Very British Murder’ and is now on my bedside table to be read between bouts of ‘The Luminaries’ (which I am still making very slow progress on bit by bit) though for the purposes of this post I moved it by the telly as you can see below…

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You can tell you are in good hands with Lucy, and that she loves a good book, as before the opening credits of the first show have rolled she states “Grisly crimes would appal us if we encountered them in real life, but something happens when they are turned into stories and safely places between the covers of a book.” It is of course the history of the British crime novel which this series celebrates, from Dickens to Christie and onwards, and to start it all Lucy looks at the first real cases of murder (The Ratcliffe Highway Murders, The Murder in the Red Barn and The Bermondsey Horror) which really got the public talking about murder and gave them an appetite for the salacious and sensational, which authors of course switched onto and as ‘the Detective’ was born, so of course was ‘the Detective novel’.

Well I was spellbound for an hour. I have since been recounting several people will facts like ‘did you know that in 1810 only 15 people were convicted of murder?’ or ‘did you know of The Bermondsey Horror and that Maria Manning was Charles Dickens inspiration for Hortense in ‘Bleak House’?’ It has made me desperate to go off and find some old ‘Broadsides’, newspapers/pamphlets solely aimed at chronicling the most horrid of murders for the public, also Thomas DeQuincy’s essay ‘On Murder’ from 1810 and dig out some modern books, which didn’t get mentioned on the show, like ‘The Maul and the Pear Tree’ by P.D James and Thomas A. Critchley (a non-fiction about the Ratcliffe Highway Murders) and Nicola Upson’s new novel ‘The Death of Lucy Kyte’ (a fiction with shadows of The Murder in the Red Barn). Plus with autumn in the air here in the UK I have been pondering dusting off some Wilkie Collins etc and bringing back a sensation season myself! I love it when TV makes you want to switch it off and read a book instead, don’t you?

Suffice to say Lucy is marvellous, and brilliantly camp or ghoulish when required which makes it all the more enjoyable, as she hosts often sat beside a fire making you feel like she is almost telling you a bedtime story brimming with murder in itself, which I suppose it is really. Anyway if me going on and on about its brilliance wasn’t enough I will just mention the facts that Simon Callow is on it tonight as we discover what the Dickens, erm, Dickens thought and was inspired further by and Kate Summerscale will be on discussing the case which inspired ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’. What more could you ask for on a Monday night?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #11 – Laura Caldwell

So after a small break ‘Other People’s Bookshelves’ is back, I have decided to make it a less frequent and scheduled event so from now on it will be every few Saturdays rather than every Thursday. Anyway let’s get on with this week’s guest, Laura Caldwell. As a child she grew up in a very “literate” household.  Both of her parents were English majors and my father is now a retired English professor.  Both her and her sister spent most of their free time reading and nothing made them happier then to come home from the library with a new stack of books.  Her reading interests as a child were mostly historical fiction and mysteries, although she also had a great love as a child for school readers that her public library had quite a few of.  Funnily enough she now has a collection of antique ones. As a teen, while still loving historical fiction, she developed an interest in SciFi that didn’t last too long, she is now rekindling that interest.  In young adulthood, she read mostly fantasy which she still enjoys from time to time. Nowadays, she reads about half classics and half other genres, also a large number of non-fiction: mostly history and theology.  She have been an autodidact her whole life having only a high school education. Children’s books have always been a great love of her (as you will be able to tell from her pictures) and she read to her three children (now grown) profusely.  As well as owning a number of books, she borrows MANY from the library. Welcome to her shelves…

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?

The books that I keep are either non-fiction (especially theology), books that I love and anticipate rereading, or ones that I have yet to read (many).  I also have a number of shelves of children’s books that I enjoyed reading to my children and hope to read to grandchildren someday. (My youngest child is 18 now, middle 21, oldest 34.) As well, I have a collection of school books from the 1800s and a small collection of antique or vintage children’s books. A Nook and old ipad hold many more possible reads.

D. Vintage children's 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?

I am a very detail-orientated person but you wouldn’t know it by looking at my shelves. The children’s books are together, as well as my antique school books, and vintage children’s books.  My non-fiction tends to be by subject, but otherwise not in any order, and my TBR and favorites-to-keep are all jumbled together.  Most of my comfort reads are together on one shelf.

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

Wow, that would be a long time ago!  It probably was a Nancy Drew mystery which I loved and collected.  I went on to purchase and read Agatha Christies.  I do not have either collection anymore, but mixed into my children’s books are a few books from my childhood.

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?

My guilty pleasures are probably my Miss Read books which I have a few of, although I have probably read the whole collection from the library over the past 25 years.  They are with my other books on my “comfort read shelf.”  Most of my books are in what I call my library (with my desk and computer) that doubles as a guest room also, so they are not really out in public.

B. Comfort reads

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

I don’t really have a “most prized” book.  I have some books that I hold more dearly than others like my Della Lutes books published in the 1930s and 40s.  They are a kind of “Little House on the Prairie” set for adults. It took me a while to collect all five. They tell the story of Ms. Lutes’ life in small town southern Michigan in the late 1800s.  They reside on my “comfort read shelf.”  I would try to save that shelf’s contents if there was a fire.  (Under that circumstance, I would need comfort reads!) I would also grab my hardcover copy of The Secret History, my favourite book. This past Christmas season I have found need for my comfort reads because I live in the community of West Webster, NY that lost fire-fighters to an insane gunman Christmas Eve.   Circumstances like this are exactly why I have my “comfort reads,” sometimes it is very hard to focus on much else.

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 parents were English teachers so there were a lot of books and bookshelves in my home growing up.  I can’t remember wanting to read any of them.  They looked boring.  They had lots of English classics that I have only gotten interested in reading in the past few years, and poetry that I never have gotten into, except for Wordsworth. (Simon, I completely understand your issues with Greek classics.)

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?

Yes, if I borrowed a book from the library and loved it, I would want to own it, but would probably wait to find it for sale used somewhere-most likely at the library sales.  Most of the books that I buy new are theology books.  They are not easy to find used, although I do have a number of those too. (no, I am not a pastor or theology student, just an interested Christian, self-educated.)

C. Antique school books and family bibles

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

My purchase (used): Of Human Bondage, W. Somerset Maugham $.50; Dombey and Son, Dickens $.50; Mrs. Dalloway, V. Woolf $.50 (I have read before); Ruth, Elizabeth Gaskell $.50; Mary Anne, Daphne du Maurier, hardcover $1. Christmas gift from youngest son (18): An Edible History of Humanity, Tom Standage (I loved A History of the World in Six Glasses).

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

Millions!  A small portion of those millions will eventually be there.  I cull all the time, especially donating the TBRs as I finish them and know that I won’t be reading them again.

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

Well they would certainly notice my three and one half over-stuffed shelves of theology, then a good number of history books. The rest would be a real mixture of classics and newer fiction.  Anyone could find a book that they would like on my shelves-except my husband who only reads techno-thriller/spy stories. Yuck!

A. Main bookshelves

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A big thank you to Laura for letting me grill her and sharing her shelves with us all. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in 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 Laura’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #10 – Claire King

Wow. We are already in double figures now with ‘Other People’s Bookshelves’, that ten weeks has flown by. Are you still enjoying the series? I do hope so as I have plenty more coming, so it is tough if not. Anyway this week we get to meet the author Claire King and have a nosey through her shelves all the way in France. Claire has been living in southern France for the last ten years – currently inhabiting what she calls ‘quite a shabby stone house in the middle of nowhere’ with her husband and two young daughters. She grew up in Mexborough, South Yorkshire and studied economics at Newnham College, Cambridge and then spent twenty years working in business before finally deciding what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her debut novel, which I have in my TBR, ‘The Night Rainbow’ is out TODAY! She also writes short fiction, which has been published online and in print and has been recognised by fancy places such as BBC Radio 4 Opening Lines, New Scientist, The Bristol Short Story Prize, the Sean O’Faolain Short Story Competition and Metazen. Her website is here. So let’s have a riffle through her shelves and get to know her better…

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 don’t have room for all my books. We moved here eleven years ago and I still have boxes and boxes of books in the cellar. Even though building bookshelves ought to take some kind of priority, we went for an indoor bathroom first, and then windows, that kind of thing. So instead I have piles of books distributed about the house in odd corners, a bit like Tetris. But you need to leave room to walk around, and places to put down a cup of tea. One of the great things about doing this piece was that I went down into the cellar to have a look in the boxes. I thought I might find my old copy of The Life of Pi (I didn’t). Mostly down there I keep books that visitors might like to read, but which I never will again, as well as travel books, old economics and business books, the 1996 Writers & Artists Handbook, that kind of thing. I’m obliged to keep a lot of good novels down there too though. Occasionally I make a foray into the cobwebs, and fish out some different ones for the shelves, putting others away for a while, but it happens very rarely.

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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?

Not really no, apart from my TBR pile, which grows all sinister and precarious, on my bedstead. I tend to keep books I think might most interest other people in our sitting room, where they can be grabbed easily. Every now and then I move things around. I think you stop seeing things when they stay the same way too long, which is why sometimes you go mooching round other people’s shelves and go “Oooh! Louis de Bernière, I haven’t read that him ages,” despite having several on your own shelves. They look different and more appealing out of context. So I’m a shelf fidgeter.

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

It was probably one of Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books, if pocket money counts. Otherwise a Jilly Cooper book in my teens with money I earned myself. Probably Riders. Jilly Coopers are boxed. The children’s ones have resurfaced, including a huge stack of faded well-leafed famous five books.

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?

Not really. My books are like me, what you see is what you get. Although now my children are reading, and often help themselves to books off my shelves – they are particularly interested in Nelson Mandela’s autobiography for some reason – I do need to move a few age-inappropriate books off the accessible shelves. I have things that people might want an explanation for, like Mein Kampf. But some books you don’t read for pleasure, but to try and comprehend something incomprehensible.

Sitting_shelf Kitchen_shelf

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?

Do you know, I love having books, and I have so many treasured books. We have a first edition 1927 A.A. Milne NOW WE ARE SIX , which was given to my husband’s granny when she was little, as well as some Rudyard Kipling books from the same era. They’re magical. And books that my husband and I annotated as kids. Books with messages written in from friends many years ago. Collections of poetry I read and re-read and memorised as a student. It’s the personal element that makes them special. But if there was a fire they could burn, to be honest. I’m not desperately attached to things, it’s the stories that go on.

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 parents only had on small book shelf, belonging to my father. My mother had no books (since her divorce she has since become a voracious reader). The shelf had Readers Digest hardbacks on it – the entire collection of Charles Dickens and a family health book – and an atlas. That was it. I devoured the health book and the atlas as soon as I was old enough to read, which made me a bit precocious…but I never did read the Dickens. I inherited them though, and they’re now in a box in the cellar.

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?

Normally if I borrow a copy, I’ll only buy it if it’s one I want to read or refer to again. It’s more likely I would buy a copy as a gift for someone else and buy other books by the same author for myself.

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

We’ve just had Christmas and my birthday, so I’ve a big pile of new books off my wish-list. They include Canada, Rook, To the Lighthouse and The Great Gatsby, which I’ve never read. I know I have also been given a copy of Maggie O’Farrell’s new novel Instructions for a Heatwave via pre-order, and even though it’s not in my hands yet, it’s there in spirit.

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

My hardback of Vanessa Gebbie’s Coward’s Tale, which I loaned to someone and don’t think I’ll ever get back now. Otherwise no, although I do have a big wish-list for the 2013 crop coming up. I’ll buy things when I know I’ll have a chance to read them.

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

It would depend where they look. I’ve kept books for over 30 years, so there’s quite an evolution there. They all mean something to me, they say something about a certain era in my life, I can remember where I was when I read most of them for the first time. I think my oldest friends can see that too. But for others? It probably looks like a confusing and erratic collection. Being in the South of France we do get a lot of visitors, and I hope when people stay and ask to borrow a certain kind of book, I can find them something to their taste. I hope there’s something for everybody.

Sitting_bookends

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A big thank you to Claire for letting me grill her and sharing her shelves with us all. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in 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 Claire’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?

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Tom-All-Alone’s – Lynn Shepherd

I have always been a little dubious about books that are sequels, prequels or tales that combine a great classic in them. I have tried a few spin offs in my time and firstly there is the question of if they can live up to the classic itself and secondly can they provide anything original to the world we most likely already know, this has also made me wonder how limiting it can be or is it just an author regurgitating another authors ideas? So when Gavin chose ‘Tom-All-Alone’s’, or ‘The Solitary House’ as it is known in North America, for the latest Readers Book Club, I have to admit I went into it with some trepidation, especially as I had not read Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’ which this book runs alongside.

*** Corsair Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

As ‘Tom-All-Alone’s’ opens in 1850’s London we meet Charles Maddox, a former policeman and now private investigator in the days when ‘the Detective’ is a role that is just forming. Maddox has just been given a second case to track down the writer of some threatening letters by the eminent and feared lawyer Edward Tulkinghorn, a new case being just what Maddox needs as the only other case he has got, finding a long lost girl in London (rather like finding a needle in a haystack) is dragging, even if the new case seems a small one. However as Maddox investigates people start to die and he realises that there is much more than meets the eye of these letters and indeed the man who hired him to solve the riddle.

The premise of the book is an intriguing one. I have to admit though that I was thrown from the start by the narration of the novel initially. The voice we get is a modern one and one that tells us the tale in an all-seeing and all knowing way. If a character misses something, the narrator points it out and the fact the character misses it, there a quips and factual asides and whilst there was no denying it was readable it initially jarred with me a bit. Who was this narrator, why were they so all knowing, was I being patronised, was I being played with? I couldn’t work it out, which initially annoyed me but then intrigued me. Then suddenly everything changed again and we were being told a completely different story from a completely different perspective in the form of a young woman named Hester. Stranger and stranger as I read on and found Dickens himself appearing in the book I found myself thinking ‘blimey, Ms Shepherd likes to take a risk with her readers’.

“As we wait for the slow dark hours to pass, we might do no worse than stand, as Dickens himself once stood, in the irregular square at the crossing point of the seven narrow passages that give this place its name. Dickens talked of arriving ‘Belzoni-like, at the entrance’, and if you’re thinking that you’ve heard that name before and recently, then you’re right. It was this same Giovanni Belzoni who brought back the sarcophagus that holds pride of place in Mr Tulkinghorn’s labyrinthine collection. It was the same Belzoni, moreover, who was the first to find entrance to the inner chamber of the second pyramid of Giza, and the first to penetrate inside. Hence, I suppose, Dickens’ choice of analogy. It is certainly true that Egypt can hold no darker ways, no more obscure secrets, and no more foreboding, claustrophobic tunnels than those that confront us here. In the brightest daylight it’s hard to see far, the air is so dense with grit and coal smoke, and even a ‘regular Londoner’ would hesitate to come here by night, as we have. So let us explore a little, while we wait for Charles.”

I think that excerpt shows both sides pro and con of the prose style whilst you are getting used to it. There is the all knowing, the factual references and yet there is a sense of mystery and also the atmosphere of the city at the time. This is a Marmite technique though as people will either love it or hate it. I have to admit that if ‘Tom-All-Alone’s’ had not been a book that I was reading for the Readers Book Club then I think I probably would have stopped reading at this point as I was feeling so thrown by it all even though I was loving the world Lynn Shepherd was creating. However, as with any book group read I encounter no matter how tricky it is I do read on (yes Elizabeth Gaskell and that ‘Mary Barton’ I am thinking of you) and in this particular case I am really glad I did because I would have missed out. As the book went on I stopped noticing the style and found myself completely immersed in the era and the twists and turns in the tale.

Lynn Shepherd clearly loves the Victorian era and that comes across in every single page and becomes contagious. It was some of the observations of London at the time, and the aside stories of prostitutes, unwanted babies and what happened to them, grisly murders etc, and little set pieces off the central story that really hooked me in. I also thought the fact that she weaves several mysteries, as there are really four at the heart of this book, so cleverly and so confusingly (in a good way) really added to its charms.

So what about its relation to ‘Bleak House’? Well, whilst I have not read the book I decided – in the name of research and so we could have a more rounded discussion with Lynn for the podcast, I would watch the BBC adaptation (which The Beard oddly adored) so I could compare. I was amazed how little of the whole story she used though Tulkinghorn and an important thing that happens to him in ‘Bleak House’ does very much become part of the mysteries here. Speaking to Lynn, which know not every reader will be lucky enough to do, did make sense of the narration in the book though, that is how Dickens’ does it in ‘Bleak House’ and makes me think that while it stands alone, as Gavin’s review will tell you as he had not read ‘Bleak House’, I think having read the classic might help you get into the book better.

Overall I enjoyed ‘Tom-All-Alone’s’ yet like another Victorian based book I read recently I would have liked it to have been longer as so much is going on, and I am not saying that because ‘Bleak House’ is a monster book. I was happy with what I got out of the book yet I would have liked more of Charles Maddox’s domestic story, how he moves in with his uncle (another crime mastermind who reminded me of an elderly Holmes, also called Charles Maddox) who is in the start of what I hazarded was dementia and the relationship between Maddox and Molly. I would also have liked longer for the threads to build up and a slightly more drawn out ending which all comes so quickly, the book suddenly revs up about two thirds in and that bit is addictive. This is all, though I am worrying it doesn’t sound it, a compliment to Lynn Shepherd’s writing… I wanted more of it over a longer tale. I loved the atmosphere and her characters, so I am hoping a Maddox standalone of any literary nod is on the cards, though I will be interested to see what he does with the Shelley’s next too. Oh and biggest compliment of all – I now want to read, and have indeed bought, ‘Bleak House’ all for myself. I never thought I would find myself saying that.

You can see Gavin’s review here and listen to us talking to Lynn here. Who else had read ‘Tom-All-Alone’s’ and what did you think? If you read it without reading (or watching, cough) ‘Bleak House’ how did you find it? What about if you had read (mumbles again, or watched) ‘Bleak House’ what was your reaction? Did anyone wonder how Dickens might have reacted to Shepherd’s twist on Tulkinghorn’s character at the end? Are you planning on reading this at any point? I would highly recommend this as a book group choice as it would be sure to create some lively discussion. All thoughts welcomed as always.

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Filed under Constable & Robinson Publishing, Corsair Books, Lynn Shepherd, Review, The Readers Podcast

‘New Adult’ Fiction; What is the Point?

One of the many things that I love about recording The Readers every week, with Gavin of Gav Reads, is that it makes me think about (and in this case have a rant about) things that I wouldn’t expect it to. This week Gavin wanted to talk about the genre of ‘New Adult’ fiction, I have to admit I knew very little about it to be honest and so I went off and did some research. Having done so I have to admit that my main thought with it is… What is the point of ‘New Adult’ as a genre?

If we use the trusted source (my tongue is slightly tickling my cheek here) Wikipedia for a definition then it is “New-adult Fiction or post-adolescent literature is a recent category of fiction for young adults first proposed by St. Martin’s Press in 2009.St. Martin’s Press editors wanted to address the coming-of-age that also happens in a young person’s twenties. They wanted to consider stories about young adults who were legally adults, but who were still finding their way in building a life and figuring out what it means to be an adult.” What is all the more interesting/odd is that the age range for this new type of genre is according to several sources the age range of 14 – 35.

Now we will slightly gloss over my main issue that this is a genre simply created by some marketing people in a publishing house to sell more books which is no bad thing, until you see some of the quality of some of the books and the sort of stories they are. Snobbish? Maybe! It seems like a cash cow and one which I find a mixture of patronizing and perturbing.

My first concern is that the first book which has been published as a ‘new adult’ novel is Tammara Webber’s ‘Easy’, which starts with the protagonist of the book getting raped. I am aware this happens in the world and that younger people need to be taught the hardships of life (though in my day it was being taught about death by being bought a hamster or goldfish that would invariably pop it’s clogs in a month or two) but at the age of fourteen, really? This for me becomes all the more disconcerting as apparently the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ trilogy has now, along with ‘Twilight’ but not Harry Potter, been put into this category. Do we really want anyone, not just girls, under the age of 18 reading books with graphic sex in them, regardless of the tin of S&M worms that come opened with it? Weren’t we all calling these books ‘Mummy Porn’ just months ago, now because we are so stupid forward thinking and ‘out there’ let’s pass it on to some youths. I am inwardly groaning as I type. I am not a prude but this does all just seem wrong.

The question is what next? Will the ‘Mummy Porn’ become a genre alongside ‘Tragic Life Stories’ (groan) and ‘New Adult’ (I have just seen how appropriate that title is for books that seem to technically be Baby Black Lace/Black Lace for Beginners), will there be a ‘Ready Meal for One/Spinster/Lonely Man in a Cardigan/Eternal Bachelor Fic’ to run alongside ‘Romance’? Will I be dashing to buy from the ‘True Tales of Animals Daring Do’s’ shelves? Will ‘Grey Fiction’ suddenly take off? The mind boggles, though if any of those do become ‘the latest thing’ I want royalties.

Also what annoys me about it is that those publishers pushing this genre are actually closing off a world of books to people rather than opening the eyes of many to more wonderful books. Are we all going to have to follow the same reading trajectory? You start with picture books, then children’s books, then YA, then NA, then ‘fiction’ and that is the only option? What happened to just getting to an age where you read what you want? For me, who is from a generation prior even to YA (yes I am that old), it was a case of reading from Robin Jarvis to Patrick Suskind, possibly via some Point Horror, because I just naturally progressed at my own pace in my teens. Are the ‘New Adult’ book police going to stop my 14 year old sister from her current read of ‘An Evil Cradling’ by Brian Keenan (no she really is) or make my 13 year old cousin stop reading Charles Dickens and C.J Sansom because apparently he isn’t ready for them yet, instead handing them ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ to have a think about as that is what they should be reading at their age? Erm, no thank you! It all seems preposterous to me. And what about YA is this defunct, down graded or what?

Is this 'NA' or is it 'YA' or simply just fiction?

Is this ‘NA’ or is it ‘YA’ or simply just fiction?

That said, as this is a rather one way set of thoughts on the genre I have recently got a ‘New Adult’ book, though it was just in ‘Fiction’, from the library in the form of ‘Dare Me’ by Megan Abbott. I thought I really should try one of the books from the genre I am writing off a) to see what I make of it b) see if really it is just fiction or YA under an addition unnecessary pigeon hole c) because Jessica of Prose and Cons Book Club (who I love and wish blogged every day, no pressure) loved this tale of crazy evil cheerleaders and it might be a laugh. I will report back, I might end up eating my hat, or I might find out this ‘New Adult’ tag is just a bonkers new genre that need not be, we will see.

As you might have noticed this subject has brought out the rant filled part of me, which you can actually here in the last section of The Readers this week, and I could go on all day. I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on it. Regular readers of this blog of course, but also some of the NA lovers out there and maybe even some of their authors. So what do you think about NA, am I just being a grumpy old git or what?

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