Tag Archives: Charlotte Bronte

Other People’s Bookshelves #30 (Part Two): Kate Neilan

Hello and welcome, to the latest in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves which sees the series of posts turning 30! So to mark this special occasion we are heading to the delights of Essex for a big old party (grab your streamers, some cupcakes, a glass of fizzy and a paper hat) as we are hosted by one of my favourite bookish couples in the whole wide world. Today we join Rob and Kate from Adventures with Words, who I have the pleasure of joining along with Gavin every month to make Hear… Read This. Less about me, and more about them as I hand over to Kate (breaking the tradition of ladies first as I let Rob share his shelves earlier as they haven’t merged shelves yet, I am not judging their relationship on this basis though… much!) to introduce her lovely self and her shelves and all other bookish shenanigans…

I’m Kate – you might know me as @magic_kitten – and I’ve always been a huge reader ever since I can remember, and even before that if you believe my parents.  I work full time as Head of Citizenship and PSHE at a secondary school in Essex, although I originally trained as an English teacher at Cambridge, after doing my English Lit degree at Durham.  While I was there, I took the (very popular) Children’s Fiction module, which reignited my love for Young Adult books, to the extent that I wrote my dissertation on His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. I’m now one half of Adventures With Words, alongside Rob Chilver. He began the blog to discuss books, films, games and stories in general and in 2012 we started recording a weekly podcast too. Recently, I’ve branched out with my own ‘Young Adult Edition’. Do go to www.adventureswithwords.com and have a look.

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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’m a dreadful hoarder and, until recently, I kept every book that I bought, even if I’d read it and not really thought much of it.  My book collection fills three ‘Billy’ bookcases and more; I’ve got two boxes of books that have yet to be unpacked since Rob and I moved in together over a year ago. Lately, though, I’ve had to be more ruthless.  We now have a ‘To go’ pile of books where books I know I’m not going to read again go, although, as yet, they’ve not actually gone anywhere yet! If I’m being honest, these aren’t even all my books. I still have a shelf in my old bedroom at my parents’ house full of all my Point Horrors and teenage reads. I’m thinking about retrieving them but where would they go?!

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?

Before my most recent house move (I worked out recently I’ve moved more than ten times, taking into account university, teacher training and various flats and houses since moving out), I had my bookcases very carefully organised. I had three big red ‘Billy’ bookcases, one ‘half’ bookcase with three deep shelves, and one totally non-matching white one. That one housed my (excessive) CD and DVD collection, then my half-bookcase was for YA, and one large bookcase housed my university books (a mixture of textbooks, anthologies, Complete Works of Shakespeare/Chaucer etc and various novels, plays and poetry). The other two bookcases were organised roughly by genre, then by author; you could glance at the shelves and easily see the Tolkien, Iain (M) Banks, Isabel Allende and so on.

All this lovely system was completely destroyed when we last moved house; putting two sets of things into one house just doesn’t fit, so I gave up my white bookcase…and so it began! As I mentioned earlier, I’ve got two boxes of books that haven’t even seen the light of day yet – there wasn’t any urgency as they’re mostly university texts – but I’m sure I’ll want them one day… Eventually, during as summer holiday, I’ll take all these lovely stories off the shelves and rearrange them. I promise. We do have a “Blog TBR” bookcase (because piling them on the floor was becoming a little impractical) and some of these will graduate onto my own bookshelves after being read, reviewed and enjoyed.

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

Short answer? No, I’m really not sure, although I did spend quite a lot of my summer holiday aged 12 buying Point Horror books for a couple of pounds each from the second hand book stall in Norwich covered market… Still got them!

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 very varied taste in books – I read literary fiction, lots of genre fiction and Young Adult – and I’m not really embarrassed about any of my choices; as far as I’m concerned, it’s fine to read something that’s a bit cheesy or clichéd as long as you enjoy it. I do own the entire Twilight series (and have read them all) and I’ve got The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. No, they’re not literary masterpieces, but yes, they were enjoyable in their own ways.

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 given to me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

I have a lovely set of Tolkein’s fiction with matt black covers and a small picture on the front of each one, which I really love, and a fantastic set of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy in hardback, all first editions. These were from my parents and they’re very precious to me. I also have a very well-loved secondhand copy of Feersum Endjinn by Iain M Banks, my favourite of his science fiction novels, which was sent to me by the wonderful Gav of No Cloaks Allowed, The Readers and Hear Read This. He found it while browsing, opened up the cover, and saw that it was signed. After buying it, he tweeted about it and I jokingly tweeted back saying it would make my day (life) if I’d found it, and he sent it to me! What a lovely guy. Finally, I have one of only eight comb-bound preview copies of the final Artemis Fowl book, Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian. Rob knew I’m a huge fan of the series and managed to get hold of it, without letting on; as you can imagine, I was absolutely thrilled.

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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?

A bit like me, my parents have a house full of books, so I always remember them being there. One of the first “proper” books I read was Jane Eyre, aged 11, but I swiftly graduated to The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and then The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is absolutely hilarious when you’re supposed to be asleep but in fact you’re reading about sweary robots under your duvet using a torch…

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?

Neither a borrower or a lender be! Well, I’m not, anyway. I have a bit of a ‘thing’ about pre-read books; library books always have that slightly funny smell to them, other people crack the spine or turn over the corner of pages, a habit I managed to kick. I’m a huge recommender to others, especially my mum, but she buys her own copy rather than borrow mine because she doesn’t want to give it back in less than pristine condition! I’m very aware that this is all a bit weird; libraries are brilliant, they’re just not how I read. Plus, the last time I lent a book (a first edition hardback of the first in Isabel Allende’s YA trilogy) I didn’t get it back… #fuming

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

Funny you ask that, Simon – you may recognise the titles I’m about to mention.  Only earlier today, Rob came home from work with a lovely bookish goody bag for me. My newest acquisitions are Magda by Meike Ziervogel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough and The Gigantic Beard The Was Evil by Stephen Collins. I’ve also got a fantastic little Reading Journal. I find, when I’m reading, that I’d like to jot down ideas but I don’t fancy ‘texting’ them into my phone, so I’m looking forward to using this from now on. Hopefully, it should improve my reviews, too!

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

To be honest, I think I’m extremely lucky when it comes to books; there are very few that I don’t have but do wish for. I’d love a hardback copy of Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales for Young and Old and I’m awaiting the arrival of All the Birds Singing by Evie Wyld, but, other than that, it’s books that haven’t been published yet. I know they’re coming, because they’re part of series I’m reading: the final Heroes of Olympus book by Rick Riordan, and the next book in Charlie Higson’s The Enemy series, not forgetting the conclusion of Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne trilogy and James Dawson’s new book, Say Her Name.

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

I’m sure they’d think I’ve got very eclectic tastes – there’s a little bit of everything – but hopefully I’ve picked some great books from every genre, and hopefully they’d see things they’d love to try themselves.

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A huge thanks to Kate for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, though she really had no choice! If you haven’t go and visit Rob’s shelves, imagine all those books in one house, here! 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 Kate’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #23 – Helen Fennell

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

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

Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc

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

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

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

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

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

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

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

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

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

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

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

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What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

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

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A huge thanks to Helen for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves and almost making me sick with jealous at her shelves. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Helen’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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The Third Miss Symons – F.M. Mayor

And so here is the first review of the year and aptly it is for the first book read in 2013, even if I have got a small backlog of books to tell you about from last year. I have mentioned before that I am very superstitious about the first book of the year as it seems to me it will reflect, or predict, the reading experience that I will have in the year ahead. Odd I know, yet true. Aptly I have whim (my main reading resolution of 2013) to thank for my first read being F.M. Mayor’s ‘The Third Miss Symons’ as I had started a few books and not been quite taken with any of them. However on a trip to Shrewsbury last week I spotted this in the Oxfam bookshop, bought it and then spent a few hours in a cafe not long after, while waiting for The Beard to finish a meeting, reading it from cover to cover – before you think I am some super reader it is only 144 pages of rather large print.

**** Virago Modern Classics, paperback, 1913 (1980 edition), fiction, 144 pages, from my personal TBR

Henrietta, or Etta, Symons is the ‘Third Miss Symons’ of the title and this book is really the tale of her life. As the third daughter, and fifth child, of seven she becomes the ‘middle child’, true at a yojng age she does have her time as everyone’s favourite, yet from then onwards she becomes a rather plain and unremarkable woman and we see how this unintentionally effects the rest of her life and her circumstances.

 It is also F.M. Mayors way of talking about a large amount of women who found themselves in a very similar situation at the end of the Victorian era leading into the suffragette movement. A group of women who seemed to somehow be out of kilter with the world though for no fault of their own, even if it might have made them bitter towards the ends of their lives. We still know some people like this I am sure, as youngsters I am sure we were all aware of a ‘local witch’ or ‘crazy cat lady’ somewhere down the road or in the area that we lived. Did we ever try and understand them? No, yet here in ‘The Third Miss Symons’ Flora MacDonald Mayor tries to do just that and explain it all in the life of Henrietta.

“It was clear she was to be lonely at school and lonely at home. Where was she to find relief? There was a supply of innocuous story-books for the perusal of Mrs. Marston’s pupils on Saturday half-holidays, innocuous, that is to say, but the fact that they gave a completely erroneous view of life, and from them Henrietta discovered that heroines after their sixteenth birthday are likely to be pestered with adorers. The heroines, it is true, were exquisitely beautiful, which Henrietta knew she was not, but form a study of ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Villette’ in the holidays, Charlotte Bronte was forbidden at school owing to her excess of passion, Henrietta realized that the plain may e adored too, so she had a modest hope that when the magic season of young ladyhood arrived, a Prince Charming would come and fall in love with her. This hope filled more and more of her thoughts, and all her last term, when other girls were crying at the thought of leaving, she was counting her days to her departure.”

It is not the easiest of reads in part because Henrietta is going to be a victim of circumstance, you pretty much know this from the start, and also because she is never really that likeable mainly as the product of her situation. Often there is a tone to the novel which is rather melancholy, which made me wonder if was the reason for the fact it verges on a novella in terms of length. I should add here that I didn’t find the book depressing in itself, more the society of the time and how it treated women who did end up as spinsters and how this even reflected the way a family might choose to interact with one in their own midst. I make single women sound like lepers here but in some ways that is how families seemed to feel about them, unless of course they could be good for money or should the lady of the house day and a replacement be needed or someone to use for their own gains or motives as they got older, otherwise they were really seen rather as a burden.

“Her aunt’s life was the sweetest and happiest for old age, but could she at twenty settle down to devising treats for other people’s children, or sewing garments for the poor? It made her feel sick and dismal to think of it. Besides, there circumstances were not similar. Her aunt, fortified by the spirit of self-sacrifice, had resigned what she loved, but she had the reward of being the most necessary member of her circle. Henrietta had no scope for self-sacrifice, for she had never had anything to give up.”

I found ‘The Third Miss Symons’ an utterly fascinating and rather different read. Partly this was because of the insight into that period of British history and how women were treated, or ill treated, in that time and partly because of the character of Henrietta which Mayor has created. I am hard pushed to think of another female character I have encountered quite like her. I was thinking of Harriet in ‘Gillespie and I’, Mrs Danvers in ‘Rebecca’ or Miss Havisham in ‘Great Expectations’ yet Harriet is not as unreliable, bitter, warped or feisty as any of them she is ordinary, yet that is what makes her tale all the more extraordinary. It’s an unusual perspective and an unusual read yet brilliantly so. I was also impressed with how Mayor wrote a whole life, and its ups and downs, in such a short book. If my reading year is to be filled with quirky, unusual and such vividly character filled and prose lead as this book then I am in for a very good reading year.

This shows the joys of whim reading, and turning to more golden oldies, instantly doesn’t it? I hope that the rest of my reading year carries on like this. Anyway, who else has read this book and what did you think? I know Susan Hill loves it as she wrote the introduction in my Virago edition, she is also a huge fan of F.M. Mayors ‘The Rectors Daughter’ which is somewhere in my TBR, have any of you read that one at all and if so what did you think of it?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #2 – Marina Sofia

Normally this new series of Other People’s Bookshelves will go live on Thursdays, however I have done a little swap around of posts this week and so it is here a day early. This week we have the lovely Marina Sofia, who regularly comments on Savidge Reads (for which I am hugely grateful as I am to anyone who does). Marina Sofia is a serial expat, currently living in the French Alps near Geneva. She loves reading books of any kind, with a particular weakness for Japanese and German literature, and crime fiction from any country.  She is currently writing her own crime novel and blogs about poetry, the books she reads and the joys and pains of finding time to write.  Marina is also a regular reviewer for the website www.crimefictionlover.com. She also has the blog http://findingtimetowrite.wordpress.com Do give them both a visit.

Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

In an ideal world, I would have all of my books up on the shelves.  However, I currently have books in 3 countries. We are temporarily living in rented accommodation in France, so I have a few old favourites and new purchases here (hence the limited number of bookshelves).  In the attic of our house in the UK I have boxes and boxes of books, which I had to clear out of my beloved bookcases for our tenants. And I still have quite a pile of books waiting to be reunited with me at my parents’ house in Romania.  However, I do have big clear-outs and give away books to charity or local libraries a few times a year.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

I used to be really anal about organising books by topic, alphabetical order, colour, size etc.  I’ve mellowed a little over the years and only organize them by topic.  So, all my crime fiction is in one place.  All my books in foreign languages are in another place.  My professional books are in one corner, with my ancient teddy bear to keep them company. And so on.  I can usually find any book in just a few seconds, so there is some kind of system there which works for me.

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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 wasn’t given pocket money as a child, so I didn’t buy books with my own money!  Although, to be fair, my parents were very good about buying me books, because they thought it was educational. Hmmm, not so sure all those Secret Seven, Mallory Towers and Chalet School books really qualified as educational, but I adored them all!

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 don’t feel guilty about any of my reading choices. But I do have a tendency to push out my husband’s books out from ‘my’ shelves and hide them somewhere. Luckily, he has taken to using his Kindle now, so I can claim full possession of the study now!

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?

It would be painful, but I think any books can be replaced.  I would be more likely to try and save my manuscripts and old diaries.

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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?

Back in the 1970s or 1980s, parents had bought a Pan Classics collection of all of Austen’s novels, all the Brontë novels, most of Dickens, some Thackeray and ‘Moll Flanders’ for some reason.  I am not sure that they actually read them (they are not native speakers of English), but they had probably been told it would be a good investment for me in the future.  So I started dipping into them from the age of 10 or thereabouts.  My parents never censored me, but I had the sensation they were a bit of a forbidden fruit nevertheless, so I enjoyed them and probably became far too precocious for my own good.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I borrow a lot of books from the library; otherwise my house would soon overflow with books completely! However, if it’s an absolutely brilliant book that I can’t live without, I will buy it after reading a copy of it. The most recent example of that is a collected edition of Simenon’s noir fiction (the so-called ‘romans durs’).

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

A hardback edition of ‘Burying the Typewriter’ signed by the author, Carmen Bugan. It’s a beautifully written, very poignant memoir of an idyllic childhood in the Romanian countryside which comes to an abrupt end when the author’s father decides to protest against the Communist regime in Romania in the 1980s.

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

I do like collected or complete works of my favourite authors.  I would love to own the whole set of Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen crime novels. And I am still searching for that perfect edition of Marcel Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’.

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

I hope they would think I am a very open-minded reader, ready to try all genres, all kinds of writing.  What my friends and family usually think, however, is: ‘How are you going to take them all back to England again?’

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A big thank you to Marina for letting me grill her. 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 Marina’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?

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As Good As Jane Eyre?

I have had the utter joy, amongst several children’s parties this weekend where I think I had as much fun as the children, in watching the latest film adaptation of ‘Jane Eyre’ which came out in cinemas last year. Adaptations are a tricky beast, in fact Gavin and I were discussing this on The Readers earlier in the week, and I have to say that I think that this latest version of Jane Eyre is utterly superb.

Director Cary Joji Fukunaga manages to perfectly capture the brooding atmosphere (it made me jump a lot), its dark mysterious aspects and secrets and the wonders of the Yorkshire countryside and also the gothic nature of it all. It does help that Michael Fassbender is a little bit brilliant as Mr Rochester and that Judi Dench is superb in it as Mrs Fairfax and most importantly Mia Wasikowska is a very understated, subtle and powerful Jane Eyre too. It might have missed a few set pieces I love from the book but no adaptation can ever be as perfect as the film version in your head can it. It actually made me want to re-read ‘Jane Eyre’ all over again.

I really do love the book so wasn’t expecting much from the film but I do recommend it, I could also do with some recommendations from you. As I mentioned it has made me ponder a re-read of ‘Jane Eyre’, however it is not long since I have read it and there are so many other classics I really should read (I bet a few of you have just muttered ‘Dickens’ or ‘Austen’ under your breath haven’t you?) and I would like to know which you would recommend for when the dark autumnal nights* draw in? They need to have a brooding atmosphere, some mystery and characters that will walk off the page and hold me through a good few hundred pages. I already have ‘Anna Karenina’ and ‘Villette’ as possibilities, do they fit the bill? What else would you recommend?

*I am not wishing the autumnal night upon us by the way, I just won’t be able to start on these until October/November when Green Carnation reading dies down.

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Filthy Lucre – Beryl Bainbridge

I always find it fascinating to read the earlier works of authors that I love as, in my head, it is a way of looking at their writing in the raw and how they went on to develop it. So when I saw that Annabel of Gaskella was doing Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week, and it was Annabel that made me read Beryl, I knew just which book I was going to read to take part. ‘Filthy Lucre’ was not Beryl Bainbridge’s debut novel in the published sense (that was ‘A Weekend with Claude’) yet it was a book she wrote at the tender age of thirteen. My mother had a copy and so I pilfered it from her shelves on my last visit, oops, sorry Mum.

Fontana Books, paperback, 1986, fiction, 144 pages, pilfered from my mothers shelves

‘Filthy Lucre’ is a tale of cheating and deception all around money.  We meet Martin Andromikey on his death bed in 1851, right until his last breath Martin believes that he was cheated of his inheritance by the Ledwhistle family. Asking his friend Richard Soleway to impersonate him, and keep his death a secret, he requests that Richard wreak revenge on them through the thing they love most, business and a business that he is set to be a partner of and so our story starts. What follows though is not unlike many Victorian melodrama’s and sensation novels that have gone before with twists and turns, murders, deceptions, love affairs and even treasure islands.

Initially I did think that because Beryl Bainbridge wrote this when she was so young it was quite possibly going to be a precocious rather annoying book, that’s the cynic in me. This is not the case. The only time I could sense it was the fact that almost every chapter ended with ‘ruin’, ‘disaster’ or ‘forever’ but this in a way is because it is also a Victorian melodrama. Here you can see an author and her influences. The Victorian sections of the novel are rather Dickensian, with the darker and occasionally other worldly elements of Wilkie Collins. There is also a real flavour of Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle when the book sets sail to distant shores, and ‘dear reader’ there is also a flavour of Charlotte Bronte in the very prose.

“We will leave now, dear readers, the bright Ledwhistle parlour, and, like a bird, pass out into the November night. We will journey down to a wharf where the slimy Thames moves like some loathsome adder, and the houses huddle together in squalid patterns. Here the lamplight falls on wasted limbs and shaking hands. It lights up sin and filth, all aware, the cruel river twists its reptile course.”

Yet this is more than just a homage though, it is a book where the characters live and breathe and where the atmosphere of London really comes off the pages. The prose is tight and what I should mention here, because it impressed me so much, was that for a book with some legal elements that reminded me of the case in ‘Bleak House’ (while I haven’t read the books I have seen the TV series) this novel is 144 pages long, not 500 plus and I found that quite incredible.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from ‘Filthy Lucre’ when I opened it, especially with the young age at which it was written and the fact that it is no longer in print. What I got was a tale of intrigue and deception that took me on a real escapist adventure and entertained me for a good hour or two as I read it in a single sitting. Like all Beryl Bainbridge’s books that I have read so far I would highly recommend you give this book a whirl.

Do pop and visit Gaskella to see Annabel raving about more of Beryl’s books, if you haven’t read her you really should. I will be doing another post which features Beryl and a new Savidge Reads project (not a read-a-thon, I am now in Green Carnation submission mode reading wise) tomorrow and then another Beryl review on Sunday as I finished this one and wanted to read more. I also wanted to read a Dickens novel after finishing this but that opens a whole can of reading worms I am not quite ready for. If you have read any Beryl, including this one, do let me know what you thought and what books I should read next, as always.

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My Top Victorian Reads by Essie Fox; Part One

Yesterday on the blog I was discussing my latest desire/reading whim seems to be for Victorian books be they written at the time or contemporary novels set in the period. (I also said that I would have another review of a book set in the era, thing is they are so full of twists and turns its hard to do anything without spoilers, it will appear honest.) This was in part, as I mentioned yesterday, thanks to reading Essie Fox’s debut novel The Somnambulist’ and I had an idea. With her blog Virtual Victorian who would be better than to give her suggestions for just these types of books? Essie of course, and so here is the first of her selection of novels from the time, tomorrow she will be giving us her recommendations of modern novels set in the period…

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Said to be one of the earliest examples of English detective crime fiction, Wilkie Collins’ thrilling sensation novel is full of unnerving gothic twists – not to mention one of the most hideous anti-heroes that you will ever chance to ‘meet’ in the obese personage of Count Fosco. Once you start reading, you will be gripped.

Note from Simon – “this is one of the best books ever written and if you haven’t read it then you must, or else.”

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

From Wilkie’s good friend Mr Dickens. Such a wonderfuly ‘human’ psychological drama which really has it all – love, lust and deception, class and wealth, not to mention one of the finest gothic heroines in the tragic yet dangerous form of Miss Havisham. And then, there is the house in which Miss Havisham lives, a brilliant realisation of materialised decay and corruption: Satis House, where every clock has been stopped, Satis House, where Satis means ‘Enough’. And it is, in every sense of the word.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I had to think very hard about my favourite Bronte novel, and although I might prefer to read Charlotte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ these days, if only for the beauty of the novel’s style and construction, in my heart Emily still has me enslaved, just as she did when I was seventeen, when I first read the story and wept for days at the doomed love of Healthcliff and Catherine. But, for those who may not have read Wuthering Heights, it is so much more than a simmering tale of thwarted love…think more warped passions and violent revenge, the twisted ambitions that result from desire for inheritance and wealth that seed like a canker in the flesh of those who live on after Catherine’s death.  It also has a very interesting structure – with varying levels of narration opening up like magic boxes to reveal the truth at the novel’s heart.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Oh, this was so hard – and again I had to really think to choose between Bram Stoker’s work and other supernatural tales such as Stevenson’s Doctor Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, or Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray. But ultimately Dracula wins out for sheer gut wrenching terror imbued with a dark sensuality that still has the power to draw one in to such a compellingly dangerous world. And my, what fan fiction it has produced!

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Flaubert’s debut, and his masterpiece. How a male writer so convincingly enters the mind of his passionate ‘heroine’ Emma Bovary is in itself a wonder. This is a far more ‘realistic’ novel than any of my other choices. It shows, with enormous psychological awareness, the unravelling of a woman’s mind – a woman who sees her life as if a romantic novel. But dreams and ideals are soon to be dashed in the mire of adultery and social ambition. A devastating cautionary tale. A woman born before her time.

NB: I realised too late that I’ve not included any Thomas Hardy, which is terrible omission. Perhaps ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’, or ‘Jude the Obscure’, of the tragic ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ should replace my ‘Madame Bovary’ – but why not read and decide for yourself?

What a great selection of books Essie has chosen, and she is another person to recommend ‘Great Expectations’ by Dickens who as you know I have somewhat struggled with in the past. Maybe it’s time to just give him another whirl? Which books have you read from Essie’s list? Which Victorian novels would you add?

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Books of 2010 Part One…

I do like a nice top ten list of some kind and here is the first of two that cover my favourite reads of the year. 2010 has been a fairly vintage year for reading both with discovering some wonderful new books along with some older classics and so I thought what I would do is one list which is the top ten book I read in 2010 which were published before the year started and another list which covers all the books published in 2010 be it in hardback or paperback. So let us start with the top ten books I read in 2010 but published before it, links to the full review can be found by clicking on the titles…

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte (Vintage Classics)

“I will simply say that ‘Jane Eyre’ has instantly become one of my all time favourite novels. I have even given ‘Villette’ a few enquiring sideways glances since I finished this yesterday. I would give ‘Jane Eyre’ an eleven out of ten only that would be breaking the rules. I shall simply have to give it a ten out of ten in bold… a simply MUST read book, it’s even made me think about the way I read – and it takes the most special of books to do that to us I think personally.”

Peyton Place – Grace Metalious (Virago)

“I cannot pretend that I didn’t originally want to read this book in part because it sounded like a wonderfully shocking and slightly trashy romp of a tale. Yet to label the book trashy is unfair on ‘Peyton Place’ because Grace Metalious (possibly the best name for an author ever?) writes wonderfully and as a piece of fiction it’s really rather complex, as there are so many characters and undercurrents, and also has a lot to say. Fear not though never once does the author baffle you or over complicate things.”

Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber & Faber)

“If I gave anything away I would be so cross with myself because knowing nothing about this book is probably the best way to let the emotional impact hit you as it unfolds. I will say that Ishiguro creates such a realistic story and scenario that rather than thinking ‘Never Let Me Go’ is set in an ‘alternative England’ in the 1990’s I could very well believe that all that happens in the novel could have really happened and still be happening and you would never know. You might find yourself looking at people you pass in the street a little bit differently. I know I did after finishing the book and to me that shows how real and engrossing a modern masterpiece Ishiguro has created.”

The Drivers Seat – Muriel Spark (Penguin Classics)

“I think this has almost instantly become my favourite Spark yet. In comparison to some of the other works of hers I have read this has the darkest undertone despite its bright cover and flamboyant lead character. It also packed one of the hardest punches yet, and I will say I thought The Girls of Slender Means had a dark twist; this one hits you early on.  It also see’s Muriel dabble in a genre that I wouldn’t have seen her try and yet she does brilliantly in her own Sparkish way. I realise I sound vague but I do so hate to spoil things and this is a book that should not be spoiled in any way at all and in fact if you haven’t read must be read immediately.”

Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks (Vintage)

“It is incredibly hard to try and encapsulate ‘Birdsong’ in a mere few paragraphs and I am sure I haven’t done it justice. The writing is incredible, as I mentioned above I don’t think I have ever had war depicted to me – especially life in the trenches themselves – with such realism. By turns dramatic yet never melodramatic you find you heart racing as much as you do feel the longing of a love affair that seems doomed from the start in the first section. I did initially get thrown by the addition of the modern narration through Elizabeth, Stephen’s granddaughter; however Faulks uses this to add a further dimension to the journey we are already on whilst adding a further tale of the effects of war. The only word for it really is epic, ‘Birdsong’ is a book you’ll want to get lost in for hours and yet be unable to put down.”

The Loved One – Evelyn Waugh (Penguin Classics)

“I laughed out loud a lot with this book and I wasn’t expecting it (though maybe with a dedication ‘to Nancy Mitford’ inside I should have guessed) it charmed me. I loved the irony, comical cynical attitude of the author and random plot developed and it entertained me and took me away from everything for the two hours that I couldn’t put it down. Ten out of ten! This is a lesser known work of Waugh’s that has left me looking forward to reading many, many more of his books in the future… It’s wickedly entertaining and a real riot to read, if in some slightly dubious taste, I bet this caused quite the stir when it was published in 1948.”

Skin Lane – Neil Bartlett (Serpent’s Tail)

“I will admit it left me a bit of a wreck (am not doing spoilers but feel free to in the comments), it was all utterly worth it for a reading experience like this as they don’t come around all that often… I could go on and on raving about this book, the other wonderful characters that Bartlett creates (Mrs Kesselman is a wonderfully drawn formidable yet secretly caring middle aged woman who works with Mr. F), the descriptions of London in 1967 with its living and breathing atmosphere, the parallels with the much mentioned and alluded to ‘Beauty and the Beast’, the role of a victim as a tormentor, sexuality… the list is endless.”

Stiff – Mary Roach (Penguin)

“It might not be a subject that you would think you would want to read about but death is really the only guarantee that we have in life, and though we might not openly admit it aren’t we all a little bit fascinated (in a morbidly inquisitive or scientific way) by it? Well in ‘Stiff’ Mary Roach is very intrigued by just that and meets all the people who have dealings with us when we die and asks all the questions that we would if we honestly could… You get history, you get insight, you get emotion and laughter – yes I was in hysterics at some points – and you get reassurance in a strange way. All the while in the company of Mary Roach who by the end of the book I felt I was firm friends with, if only all nonfiction whatever its subject could be as readable as this.”

On The Beach – Nevil Shute (Vintage Classics)

“Nevil Shute has created possibly one of the most brilliant ‘tart with a heart’ heroines in Moira, who from her first drunken arrival on the pages (and soon followed up with a hilarious ‘accidental’ bra loosing moment which made me laugh out loud) promptly steals any scene that she is in. You could actually say to a degree it is the tales of Moira and Mary that in part make the book such a special read. I know I have picked a few holes in it but I still ended up coming away from ‘On The Beach’ feeling very emotional and it’s made me do quite a lot of reflecting and thinking which all the best books should do. It’s one of those books that will stick with you for days and days, I am sure I will be mulling this book and the question it raises over for weeks and weeks to come. Like I said before ‘On The Beach’ is not the perfect book but it’s an incredible one.”

Firmin – Sam Savage (Phoenix)

“It was the ending and then surprisingly the authors note that popped it back to being five star as I didn’t realize the period in which the book was set was a strange time for Boston and in particular those in Scollay Square. Don’t look that up though until you have read it as the impact of that and the ending left me feeling a little winded and a little more emotional… I would call this ‘a tale of a tail whose owner who loves tales’ and a book that will leave you with more book recommendations than you could shake a tail at!”

You can find the rest of my top books of the year here. Which of the books above have you read and what did you think? Have any of these books been on your must read lists? What were your favourite reads of 2010?

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Prequels, Sequels and Spin Off’s…

I mentioned when earlier in the week when I discussed adaptations that I had been to see the musical ‘Wicked!’ again with The Converted One, my mother, my little sister and her best friend. Now many of you thought it was for the second time, it was actually the fifth!! Anyway it started me thinking about prequels, sequels and spin offs NOT written by the original author and this discussion has come up again a few times in the last week so I decided I should bring the discussion on here too. I hope you will all join in?

It was actually ‘The Wizard of Oz’, and therefore ‘Wicked’, as opposed to instant titles you might think of that have been spinned such as ‘Rebecca’ or indeed ‘Pride and Prejudice’ that got a conversation started on just this subject between myself and one of my fellow Green Carnation judges Nick Campbell when we were out at a book launch on Tuesday night. You see as a child I was rather obsessed with the film ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (and indeed ‘Return to Oz’ though I think people thought that film was rather uncool so maybe I shouldn’t admit to that) ask Granny Savidge Reads… I used to insist on watching it once a week apparently. It seemed that so is Nick and not just of the films but of the books. So I of course asked if he had read ‘Wicked’ by Gregory Maguire and ‘Was’ by Geoff Ryman (the answers were yes and no).

I personally loved ‘Wicked’ when I read it several years ago and it has indeed become one of my very favourite books because it took something I adored and turned it on its very head (making Elphaba a misunderstood witch who was actually best friends with Glinda at university in Shiz not far from Munchkinland. Interestingly though I was then really rather disappointed when I went onto read Gregory Maguire’s sequel to his ‘Oz’ spin off ‘Son of a Witch’ it didn’t cast the spell (pun intended) that I wanted it to once more. Maybe ‘A Lion Among Men’ will? I wonder if I would be such a fan of ‘Wicked’ if I had actually read the original Oz books or would I instead consider it some kind of barbaric sacrilege?

I mean most of the people I know who love ‘Pride and Prejudice’ think anything that is a spin off of that novel they hold in such high esteem is the work of Satan simply doesn’t cut the mustard no matter how good it is. The very fact that it is a spin off of from such a successful story is deemed an author cashing in or writing a book rather lazily to be honest (not my words a rather toned down watershed version of some of my friends actually). Is this the case or are their some gems out there they are simply being too snobbish to admit to? I mean look at ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ by Jean Rhys which has become rather an acclaimed novel and yet is a prequel of sorts to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre’.

I applied the notion of prequels and sequels written by another author to my favourite book which is of course ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier. Whilst I have copies of Sally Beauman’s ‘Rebecca’s Tale’ and Susan Hill’s ‘Mrs De Winter’ I have not touched either of them or really been tempted to and considering the latter is one of my favourite authors I am wondering if there is something in this. Can I simply not bear the idea of my favourite book being ruined by another great author who no matter how good or how hard they try simply cannot recreate the atmosphere Daphne did? I suppose I won’t know the answer till I try… but just having looked at them again, I got that same unsure feeling, so I don’t think I will know for quite some time.

Are there any prequels, sequels or spin offs by your favourite authors or the ones mentioned above that have really, really worked for you and managed to embody/channel the voice from the original? Have any ever been better than the original itself? Which prequels, sequels and spin off’s really should never have happened?

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Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

For my first ‘Spending Sunday With A Classic’ I thought I would go for what is seen as one of the classics in literature ‘Jane Eyre’. I can’t lie to you and say I wasn’t slightly daunted at the prospect of a classic over 500 pages long, because I was. I don’t always tend to fair too well with the classics on the whole. However I can report back that I owe everyone who has told me to read this book a huge thank you (my mother is staying at the moment and keeps saying ‘I told you so’ every so often as we have been talking about it a lot) as I think in Jane Eyre I may have not only found the perfect narrator but also what I could say is a near perfect book and read. The only problem now is how to do it justice with my thoughts but dear reader I shall try.

I admit that I didnt start ‘Jane Eyre’ with the highest of hopes - I will be honest. First of all there was my ‘history’ with Charlotte’s sister Emily’s novel Wuthering Heights’, which I thought was tosh, but we shouldn’t judge an author on their siblings efforts (Byatt and Drabble or vice versa for instance) should we? There was also the length, 500+ pages, to contend with, the fact it is labelled a ‘classic’ and also the fact it started of with an orphan. Books with orphans as the lead character have, to my mind, become the great cliché of writing however this is one of the earliest and therefore if anything people will have stolen/paid homage to this.

When we first meet Jane Eyre it is under the begrudging guardian ship of her venomous (and therefore I liked her a bit) Aunt Mrs Reed in Gateshead with her vile cousins who contanstly bully and blame her. We are of course instantly on Jane’s side; we always want the underdog to come through after all. Soon enough things come to ahead and the aunt who can never love her  sends her to Lockwood a charity institution for young girls where the uncaring Mr Brocklehurst believes the devil can be taken from the child. I could add in so much here it’s untrue, such as the wonderful Miss Temple and the delightful and tragic Helen Burns, but if there is anyone out there who hasn’t read it I wouldn’t want to spoil a second of the wonderful read you have ahead of you before the main story really starts, yes this wonderful first few chapters is just a warm up for Bronte.

Well, when I say main, I mean more the story we all think we know if we haven’t read the book which is starts as Jane leaves Lowood as a teacher and becomes a governess for the mysterious Mr Rochester’s rather irritating ward Adele. From the moment she ‘bewitches’ his horse something starts between the two characters and takes the story into a darker and more eerie setting in the grand house of Thornfield Hall.

Despite being much older and a bit of a grumpy arse so and so there is something about Rochester that attracts Jane despite herself, and it appears Rochester can see something in Jane despite her plainness (is this where we get the term ‘plain Jane’?) and situation. Only Charlotte Bronte doesn’t let things run smoothly or the way you would assume and instead provides twist after twist taking her reader on a rather heartbreaking, occasionally shocking, slightly enraging, but immensely readable and gripping journey. She also takes you on it with an utterly wonderful narrating heroine who Bronte really puts through the mill and therefore also the reader on an emotional rollercoaster (not that they had rollercoaster’s in Charlotte’s day). Can you tell I loved it?

I still don’t think I have anywhere near done this book justice but then I don’t think I ever could. I could happily rattle on for a good thousand words or more though… However rather than give anything more away to those who haven’t read it and possibly ruin their enjoyment of it (as we can discuss it in more detail in the comments) I will simply say that ‘Jane Eyre’ has instantly become one of my all time favourite novels. I have even given ‘Villette’ a few enquiring sideways glances since I finished this yesterday. I would give ‘Jane Eyre’ an eleven out of ten only that would be breaking the rules. I shall simply have to give it a ten out of ten in bold. 10/10 There we go, a simply MUST read book, its even made me think about the way I read – and it takes the most special of books to do that to us I think personally.

Now can we all have a good old natter about it as I am simply bursting to!?!

(And yes I will be catching up with almost three weeks of comments today too when I can – as Mum is staying so to be on the computer too much might be deemed rude, apologies for my comment rubbishness of late!)

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Filed under Books of 2010, Charlotte Bronte, Review, Vintage Books, Vintage Classics

Something Sporadic in the Eyre (Reading Slower)

Get ready for a bit of a rambling post today as I am trying to tie a few things together that are still a little loose in my mind and it might work or it might not. But its of course something that I would love your thoughts on, as usual this post ends with lots of questions aimed at all of you. Anyway I am rambling and digressing already! So back to the matter in hand… I didn’t do a post on Sunday which is very unlike me. I normally have a post up my sleeve or more realistically I normally have lots to say. Yet I was very busy, very busy sleeping. In fact I had over ten hour’s straight and then woke up in a mild panic that I hadn’t put anything on the blog… before promptly falling back to sleep again. Lethargy is what seems to be in the air in Savidge Towers at the moment and I don’t think I am alone.

Actually from various chats I have been having with various people it seems to be around London in general full stop. I think it’s the time of the year, is anyone else that I haven’t spoken to feeling this, anyone outside London too? Some of you lucky so and so’s will be spared this currently as you will be heading for your Spring and Summer but you might know this feeling from when your autumn hit. That’s the thing you see autumn has come and it appears drained me of all energy… so thank goodness for Jane Eyre.

I thought this old postcard of Haddon Hall most appropriate both in a sense of this time of year and it is just how I picture Thornfield Hall... as did the BBC when they filmed Jane Eyre here.

I won’t discuss Jane Eyre too much right now as I am saving that for Sunday when I am hoping that you will all be joining in for a bit of a chat about it. My mother is staying that weekend and I have already asked her to have her thoughts at the ready especially as she has taught it so that could add an interesting insight.  Suffice to say I am really enjoying my first Charlotte Bronte book so far in fact it was another reason I didn’t blog on Sunday and has rather cleverly highlighted how I am unintentionally reading at the moment. But let’s take these things one at a time.

You see I was enjoying my first few chapters, as I started it a little later than wanted, of Jane Eyre so much that the thought of leaving the book, turning on the computer, writing a post, then getting distracted by other lovely blogs would suddenly mean half my Sunday is gone and Jane is left unattended and possibly rather vexed with me. It is after all reading that sparked this blog and sometimes in writing it and commenting back (which I have been a little lax with of late) I actually end up missing out on the reading. Though both make me happy if I have not read anything then what do I have to discuss.

Now to how Jane has made me aware how I have been rather unintentionally reading of late. In fact it’s actually Charlotte Bronte and Daphne Du Maurier that made me spot this. No its not that I read newer fiction over classics, though it can be the case, its that sometimes I am not taking as much time as I should with a book. I find if I am loving a book I want to hurry it up so I can talk to all of you about it, and actually I should be taking my time letting the full effects of what’s going on in the book take hold and building a picture of the book that’s going to last longer than a blog post. Does that make sense?

This isn’t a post about me not writing blogs ever again or every day, because I have done the latter before – I have never wanted to give up the blog – and then carried on as I was (and I have noticed I have posts scheduled to the end of the week). It’s much more about time and how precious time with special books is and finding the balance. So there might be less posts when I am concentrating on a classic, or re-reading the longlist for The Green Carnation Prize which I keep forgetting to do despite them looming over me on my desk – after Jane I will though. There might be the same amont of posts, who knows, but while autumn hits and with it this strange lethargy I think I might spend more time curled up on the sofa with a book on my lap… rather than the laptop, especially as this is the time of year the longer books seem to come off the shelves.

Are we all feeling like this, or do certain books or times of year make us sit back a little and take stock now and again? If you’ve had a book thats made you think differently about how you read I would love to hear about it. Do you find autumn and the shorter days and longer nights mean you, like me, start to pick up the bigger books you have been meaning to read? Over to you…

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Books on Trains

I just realised that the title of this mini-post looks like I am about to talk about books about trains, and I swear I’m not though I do have a train themed question coming for you slightly later on. The reason for todays post is that I will be spending about 8 hours on trains and tubes this weekend as I am off up north again this time to visit my youngest Aunty Alice, her husband (who I have a big bag of books for as he is a mammoth reader too) and my two year old twin cousins. So this gives me the perfect chance for some reading time and so I selected four, yes four – in case of all possible reading errors as mentioned in Back Up Books earlier this week, books for my trip away which are…

  • The Birds & Other Stories by Daphne Du Maurier – I am halfway through and this will be ideal if any of the others don’t quite do the trick (which I am sure they will) and if I finish one of the novels this can be a palate cleanser.
  • Wavewalker by Stella Duffy – I havent followed up on Stella Duffy’s crime series since reading ‘Calendar Girl’ and I swore I would so this has been on my hit list a while and both crime and Stella Duffy tend to do me well so a mix should be ideal.
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – I need to crack on with this for our discussion on the 26th of this month with ‘Spending Sunday with a Classic’. I always forget how big it is till I actually take it off the shelf.
  • C by Tom McCarthy – One of this years Man Booker contenders and one I think I might struggle with but really want to try so will be cracking (though not literally spine cracking) this one open first and seeing, or c-ing ha, how I get on.

So that is what I should be reading over the weekend (not all of them of course but bits of or a few of), what will you be reading this weekend? How many books do you take a way for a weekend vacation? Oh and trains… I was desperately looking for books which are set on trains and other than the Agatha Christies which I have read I couldnt think of any, can any of you help? I do like the idea of a good train journey to read on a train journey.

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Spending Sundays With A Classic?

No, no you haven’t gone mad and neither have I. I am well aware that today is Saturday and not Sunday. However today seems a befitting day to launch a little something new, that gets me (and maybe some of you if you fancy) back into those classics. It’s also something I will need – oh how demanding of me – I mean I would love your recommendations and suggestions with. Right let me explain…

A few things have conspired with me in the last few weeks that have made me start to yearn for some classics. One factor has been that suddenly August has become really autumnal in the UK (I am hoping it is going to be better for the three day weekend we are all having here) and in London the main view from my windows has been rather like this:

A photo by my good friend Dom Agius (www.domagius.com)

Yes that’s right, rain ready, delightfully dramatic but also most certainly autumnal. The perfect sort of weather to curl up on your sofa or in bed and get curled up with some classics. It seemed most serendipitous then that I had decided that as I was reading so much modern fiction (for a certain something) for a change of scene I would join in with reading ‘I Capture The Castle’ by Dodie Smith for Cornflower’s Book Group which will be being discussed today. (I am supposedly on an internet ban by The Converted One this weekend as I have been overdoing it with work and everything and we have very few free weekends before we head for Brazil, if not I will catch up after.) I will be spilling my full thoughts on ‘I Capture The Castle’ very soon, but getting back to something older, not that it felt dated, had a certain something about it – especially seeing as it was a book I bought ages ago and have been meaning to read anyway. I wondered, have been getting swept up in the modern a little too much?

I had mulled over doing another ‘Sensation Season’ a month or two ago and then again a few weeks ago but I thought maybe it was time for something a bit different. So instead what I am going to do is be ‘Spending Sundays With A Classic’. Not every Sunday mind you just a few here there and everywhere but I will let you know which ones are coming up and when (should I simply give you a few weeks notice or have a sort of schedule, what do you think?) and maybe if you would like to you can join in.

Now before I ask you lots of questions about classics I thought I would share my initial six possible contenders (don’t judge me on not having read them sooner, ha) which are…

  
  

  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  • The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
  • Emma – Jane Austen
  • Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

Is there anyone out there left who hasn’t read those already? I bet I am one of the last people ever to the party of these books, but maybe some people will want a re-read, or I am happy to read alone. This isn’t the definite list of six, just the initial one that called to me from my TBR pile. Now what I want is for you to answer some classic questions and they are these;

  1. What do you define as a classic?
  2. What is your favourite classic of all time so far that everyone on earth should be made to read?
  3. Which classic have you just never really managed to get on with?
  4. Which classic books have you yet to read but really must get around to?

Right… over to you then…

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The Book Buying Ban… The Update (Part II)

Only earlier this week I mentioned that though it was in many ways painful and was taking some serious avoidance my month of no book buying hasn’t been quite as difficult as I thought it would. This is both thanks to ReadItSwapIt and the Library as I mentioned in the earlier post. I also said I had received some lovely parcels from some lovely publishers and would let you know what had arrived and so I thought as its a Saturday and book shopping is so tempting I would tease you with these delights that you could run out and buy; as none of you are doing anything as silly as a self imposed ban like I am hopefully!! First up some classics…

I have been making a concerted effort to read more classics and two publishers you cant go wrong with are Vintage Classics and Oxford University Press. When a rather large thud resounded through the building from the letterbox I came down and found ‘The Bronte Collection’ which includes Wuthering Heights, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Villette and Jane Eyre. I will admit I didnt love Wuthering Heights but after reading The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan which is all about the sisters earlier this year I think a Bronte-Binge is on the way and the season after New Year seems perfect for this don’t you think? Might be a good Xmas pressie for relatives this Christmas maybe. (Hang on did I just mention the C word before December starts – I should be ashammed!) They also sent The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever and a huge collection of his letters. I havent read any Cheever but am thrilled about these two delights. Oxford University Press kindly sent the last of the Sensation Season novels (don’t cry they may be back again next year) in the form of Charles Dickens ‘Great Expectations’ along with George Moore’s ‘Esther Waters’ which hit my attention waves on BBC Radio 4′s Open Book show when they looked at neglected classics. Be warned – the neglected classics are dangerous list of books which could lead to a huge spree.

From the people at Harper arrived a very diverse collection of books in one big parcel, the postman is not a fan of this address – his arms certainly aren’t, quite an eclectic mix indeed. Two of the books are from thier new imprint Blue Door ‘The Ballad of Trench Mouth Taggart’ (great title) by M Glenn Taylor and Mots d’Heures: Gousses, Rames by Luis d’Antin Van Rooten the latter can only be described by a post on their new blog. Sounds bizarre but will give it a go. They also sent me Snow Hill a thriller by Mark Sanderson, who has written a memoir so heartbreaking I have owned it for years and never able to read, Mark will be doing a Savidge Reads Grills very soon. Last but not least by any means as actually this is one of the books I have been most excited about in weeks (as you know I am having an Agatha Christie binge) is ‘Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks’ compiled by John Curran, I had to stop myself reading it as soon as it arrived. It’s a treat for a very lazy Sunday.

Now in a few weeks I will be doing a piece on the books to look forward to over the next year, you can see the predictions I made for this year here should you wish. Already some are coming through the letter box and Sceptre have done some very clever marketing with a collection of three books and three characters “you simply must meet in 2010″. They are called Nevis Gow, Lindiwe Bishop and Jack Rosenblum and I shall tell you more about them in the forthcoming weeks. I just love how they have packaged it all, no titles or authors on the cover, intriguing.  Books already out arrived too and they are The Sorrows of an American by Siri Hustvedt, which I think has a stunning cover, and Incendiary by Chris Cleave and you all know how I loved The Other Hand.

Another massive parcel has arrived from Orion. I have succumbed to the latest in the Twilight Saga and it seems more Vampire delights await me with the first two of Charlaine Harris’ series about Sookie Stackhouse (great name) which have become the incredibly successful True Blood tv series. I haven’t heard much on the blogosphere on these but am very much intrigued by them as have seen tonnes on the tube.  The final tome that you can see is one thats not out until June next year but I have been priviledged enough to be asjed to take a very early look at. ‘The Passage’ by Justin Cronin is massive, comes with very little, though intriguing blurb and has already had the film rites bought by Ridley Scott, more on that soon too as I think this is going to be huge (and not just in size) next year. And finally…

It’s always nice when a publisher emails you be they big or small. I have to admit I hadn’t heard too much about Honno Press when they emailed me asking if they could send me a catalogue. Honno Press is an independent publisher of Welsh Women’s fiction (so a bit like a welsh version of Persephone if you are a fan) and they have a wonderful selection of books, they also go the extra mile as they went through my blog and picked three books they thought I would love. A welsh sensation novel ‘A Burglary’ by Amy Dillwyn, a book where “each generation looks back into the tragic past, loves, secrets and lies are hauled into the open with surprising consequences for all” in ‘Hector’s Talent for Miracles’ by Kitty Harri and finally a collection of witty, wry and sharply observed stories about women with ‘Stranger Within The Gates’ by Bertha Thomas. Sounds like they have got me spot on!!!

Blimey. Now over to you… are Bronte’s and other classics the perfect pressies for Christmas and reading as Spring… erm… springs up? Who has read the Charlaine Harris books, are they like Twilight? Who has tried Honno Press and what did you think?  What will you be curling up with this weekend? What books have you accumulated of late?

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