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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