Tag Archives: China Mieville

Other People’s Bookshelves #27 – Matt Cresswell

Hello and welcome to the latest in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves, which must mean it is the weekend and I have survived my first proper full week of work, and have been in blog-hiding after my honest and possibly offending post, and am probably/hopefully curled up with a good book somewhere or watching Kylie on The Voice. This week we are back in the Manchester area (because the north is the best, ha) as we join jack of all trades, as he would call himself, Matt Cresswell, who is a writer, editor and illustrator and soon hopefully bookshop owner. I will let him explain better…

The projects seem to be piling up. I’ve published short fiction in various places, including Icarus Magazine, Hearing Voices magazine and in Shenanigans: Gay Men Mess With Genre from Obverse Books, and, like half the people I know, am halfway through writing a novel – a steampunk/Victorian detective novel with Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle and Queen Victoria as the detective’s gang of assistants. I blog at www.mattcresswell.com, and I also edit Glitterwolf Magazine, a UK-based literary magazine showcasing fiction, poetry, art and photography by LGBT contributors. And I am the creator, writer and co-illustrator of End of the Rainbow, an online webseries (www.endoftherainbow.co.uk) set on Canal Street in Manchester, which has a print omnibus forthcoming in 2014 from Lethe Press. When I’m not balancing all those plates, I put the bread on the table with freelance copy-editing, graphic design and audiobook narration. I am also an avid reader.

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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?

Before I moved to university I never threw a book out. But then when I moved out it was like Sophie’s Choice. From then on I’ve had to be picky about what can take up space on my shelves. I currently live with a flatmate who has almost as many books as me, and we had to negotiate our bookshelves, like negotiating a delicate truce. There’s bookcases in every room, including two in the hallway. I always judge people by their shelves though, so what’s left on display is just the favourites. And when I say ‘just’, that’s still quite a few of ‘justs’… My system for maintaining that is yearly trips back home with boxes of books for the attic because I still can’t bring myself to not in some way possess them.

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 routinely re-organise them, create a complex system, which then immediately goes to pot. Currently there are three shelves of favourites (the top two of the black shelves, and all the shelves by my desk – which also have my slim section for my own publication credits), a shelf of LGBT fiction, about six or seven shelves of to be read, short story collections, non-fiction and what has come be known in the household as the ‘pretentious hardbacks shelf’ which were all the books I bought because Waterstones said I should, and I’ve never read.

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

My god… I’m not quite sure. When I was growing up, my dad was an antiquarian book dealer, and our home didn’t have a television, so I was bought lots and lots of books. We spent half our lives in second-hand bookshops, and because he used to get dealer’s discount on whatever leatherbound tome he’d ferretted out, they just used to throw in all the paperbacks that I’d found for free—so I never had to buy my own books. The first I can remember buying for myself was Outcast of Redwall by Brian Jacques, when I was about seven, bought at a school book fair. I read the whole series, passing the books to my mother who read them after me. I was very sad to hear of his recent death—without exaggeration, it was like bit of childhood fading! It’s not on my shelves anymore, but it’s with the rest of the series on my mother’s shelves, where it’s been read by a few of the generation after me.

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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?

When my parents visited once, I stripped the house of anything even slightly sordid, but missed the tattered paperback of Lolita that my Presbyterian minister dad leafed through then put back hurriedly. I’m not really embarrassed of any of it, although my partner John tells me that I am subconsciously embarrassed of his books – fantasy epics in the vein of Raymond E. Feist, Robert Jordan, Trudi Canavan, etc. – because I relegate them to the bottom shelves or the bookcases in the bedroom.

Mind you, I do get a bit defensive over the presence of both of Belle du Jour’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl books on my favourites shelf. But that just makes me stubborn and determined to put them on display, because I tell myself off for being a book snob.

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?

There’s a 15th century Bible that you can see on the desk shelves. Me, my brothers and my sister all took one book from by dad’s library after he died to remember him by. I have no attachment to the actual words on the page inside it, but the book itself would be the first thing I’d save in a fire. Aside from that one, there are very few things I’d actively be heartbroken about. I have some signed copies that I’d be quite sad about – Neil Gaiman, Paul Magrs, Iain Banks, and, um, John Barrowman – but as long as I can remember the events themselves, the books aren’t as important. 

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 mother had The Lord of the Rings on her shelves – which was very odd, because the rest of her reading was in the line of biographies of missionaries, and books like Harry Potter were frowned upon for their ‘black magic’. I read The Lord of the Rings when I was nine, but had to break the spine of the paperback into the three books because I couldn’t hold it otherwise. My teachers at school didn’t believe I was actually capable of reading it, and quizzed me to check I wasn’t making it up. It’s still on my shelves, the same, split-into-three copy, with covers that I made out of cut-and-stick photocopies. I didn’t think of it as an adult book though – I thought of it as another children’s fantasy that just went on a lot longer. My brother lent me the novelisation of The Fugitive the same year—he meant to censor the first chapters, but I was impatient, read it anyway and scared myself silly.

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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?

Yes! I’m a completionist. I don’t tend to borrow books though – I’m usually the lender. But I’ll buy something for the kindle and if I like it, I’ll feel the urge to have a physical copy to put on the shelf. The reverse of this was The Time Traveller’s Wife, which I bought seven times, after each loaned copy was lent on to someone else in the excitement, and lost.

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

Hal Duncan’s forthcoming short story collection, Scruffians! which I was lucky enough to get an ARC of. I’m recording the audiobook version of it too, which when I was asked, made me giddy with hero-worship. He’s a wonderful, wonderful writer.

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

I’ve recently dipped into the starts of series and am now wishing I had the whole series on my shelves – George Mann’s Newbury and Hobbes, Discworld, Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May, Lev Grossman’s Magician series, Mark Hodder’s Burton and Swinburne and all of China Mievelle’s oeuvre. I’ve made a start with all of them, and am now panicking at the volume of ongoing series I’ve opened a door to. So many books, so little time…

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

My dad popping Lolita back on the shelf, or perusing all the gay fiction titles would probably think ‘Filth!’ but hopefully that’s not what everyone else would think. I was very conscious after English Literature at university of trying to get away from the ‘book-snobbery’ that kind of education brings on, so I hope that my shelves look like a hodge-podge of someone who loves books for the enjoyment, and isn’t trying to check off a list of ‘worthy reads’, as it were.

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

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Other People’s Bookshelves #20 – Gavin Pugh

So this week’s Other People’s Bookshelves is a little bit late but that is because I wanted to do something special for its 20th post in the series and have a special guest and delayed it to match that special guests birthday (21 again). Yes this week it is none other than my bookish beardy best mate the lovely, lovely Gavin C. Pugh. Really he doesn’t need an introduction, many of you will have followed his blog or seen him around Twitter (where he is like a bookish Lady Gaga in terms of followers) as @GavReads.

He describes himself as a social reader and has only recently admitted to collecting books. He was the original co-host of The Readers podcast with me, and will be back at some point, though now does more behind the scenes producing The Readers and You Wrote The Book where he makes me sound better and less inept – oh if only you all knew! He is back with a new podcast called Hear Read This! with Kate and Rob from Adventures with Words any myself too. He’s mainly known for loving SFF but he’ll delve into reality every now and again. He’s currently running NoCloaksAllowed.com and going to be reviewing a piece of shorter fiction a day for the next year. So wish him luck. Now let’s go and nosey through his shelves…

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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?

That’s a huge question. Before I moved to university I had 3 tall book cases 10 years ago and at the time I squeezed as many of those books as I could into my car to take with me. I couldn’t store them all so I had a big cull. Don’t worry too much it was things like Patricia Cornwell and James Patterson, so books that I wouldn’t reread. But I did get a feel for culling books. And I can be quite heartless if I need some space. That doesn’t mean that I have room for books. Right now, I’ve got six tall and wide book cases at the minute and a couple of piles keeping my desk up.

Now, this is a confession… I worked out recently that I had 483 or so unread books in the house so my read books have to be extra special to stay. I’m not sentimental though I sort of wish that I did keep the Anne McCaffery and Robert Rankin books from my teens. I did keep my Terry Pratchett books and those really do need two shelves now especially with the new Gollancz hardbacks coming out as I’ve definitely run out of room. I’ve culled books that I loved as if I’m not going to re-read it usually goes unless there is some other reason. I’ve started collecting certain books so I am now especially keeping books to make collections. You might see Adam Roberts for example and I bought the first edition of Stone as I read it from the library and really missed not having a copy. I buy and acquire more books faster than I can read them. I envy people’s restraint who can do one in one out.

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 shelves are currently quite organised. I’d love to make them alphabetical but I think I’d have to cull them by half so I could see them all rather than have half of them hidden by double spacing as they are now. Before I had a bit of a tidy up the Neal Asher books for example were all over the house they are now all together even if they can’t all be lined up. And that made a big difference to how I looked at my bookshelves. Before it was a case of anywhere that I could find a space! Now I try and keep them together through some sort of link, hover tenuous that is. Though that does mean that Jim Butcher and Peter F. Hamilton have got buried. I do like seeing them together. The yellow-spined SF Masterworks are together but only I know what I’ve read as I don’t keep read and unread separated. And it’s lovely to see The Readers Book Club books all on the shelf together.

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I have this big shelf of writing-related books that’s quite scary to look at – does one person need that many writing books I wonder? But I can’t bear to part with them. Actually, I’m ignoring the elephant in the room. As a reviewer and book-cheerleader I get a fair few review copies and they sometimes get shelf space while they wait but mostly new ones are on the floor in front of the shelves. But without reviewing I’d have a lot of books. I buy a lot of ebooks (sorry Simon) rather than physical copies though I’m swinging the other way and buying physical copies if there is a change I’d want them around to look at after I’ve read them. The other thing I do, like with the short stories, is to be able to pull those books off the shelves and pile them on my desk for reference and easy grabbing.
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What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now? 

You know I honestly can’t remember. I got a lot of books from the library when I learning what I liked as a reader. I’ve always been a reader but I didn’t gain traction until I was 16 and that was all down to The Witches Collection that Gollancz published collecting Terry Pratchett’s Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters and Witches Abroad and that got me hooked and I devoured all the Discworld books and kept myself topped up as they game out every 6 months for a while. I don’t have it anymore but I do have the individual volumes.

The thing I’m really bad at is overbuying books. I’ve not read the Edmund Crispin’s Gervase Fen mysteries yet, but I like having them around. There are some books that I bought when I was first getting into books hidden behind others on the shelves. I’ve always gorged on books. One thing I don’t do is buy second hand books but there is a copy of Storm Constantine’s Stalking Tender Prey as I lost it in a move and couldn’t do without having it on the shelve as battered and smelly as it is.

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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?

You know, I’m a little embarrassed by my poetry collection. It’s very different from SFF that I’m known for reading. It’s probably that I don’t know many people to ‘geek-out’ with the same way I can do with you or with people on twitter. Though I think poetry is a powerful thing that I wish more people weren’t put off by in school.

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 did have a no-burn shelf but since reorganisation they are a bit scattered. I don’t really go for signed books. I have a few signed books but almost all of those are mementoes of meeting an author and that makes a story and a connection. I have signed books by a few of my heroes Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Mark Chadbourn, Storm Constantine, Neal Asher and Garth Nix for example. Some celeb books like Russell T. Davies, John Barrowman, and Barry Humphries. I have books signed by friends that I’d have to try and grab. The Terry Prachett hardcovers. And then there are some ARCS (advanced reading copies) that I’ve been lucky enough to acquire that are special to me like Horns by Joe Hill. Though a lot of books that I would grab because they are OOP have found a new life in ebook so I’d leave those until last like The Great Game by Dave Duncan and the Mark Chadbourn series – sorry Mark. Oh I almost forgot China Miéville – I’d grab those first as most are signed and he’s an amazing writer that I love seeing on the shelves.

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What is the first ‘grown up, and I dont mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Greyway, that you remember on your parents 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 guess you’d say that was Stephen King and Dolores Claiborne. Stephen King for me is very hit and miss author. I’ve tried a good many of his books some like Gerald’s Game, which should be shocking didn’t grab me and some like The Stand I didn’t see why they were talking so long. I love Under the Dome but I don’t have a copy any more but Dolores Claiborne is the book that I’ve bought and given away about 5 times and it’s currently missing. I need to buy another copy soon as I like rereading it. It’s got no horror in it as such but tells the lives of two women as they grow old together.

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?

This is one reason that I’m really sad that libraries are disappearing as I’ve read some books when I was finding myself as a reader that are missing from the shelves like Martin Bauman by David Leavitt that I should have got around to re-buying but it’s not a book I want to read again mostly as it was such a powerful book the first time that I don’t think a second reading will live up to that. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman I did end up buying though I thought I would reread it much earlier than I actually did and then I listened to it as an audiobook so that doesn’t really count as I still didn’t open the actual copy on the shelves. I guess that’s one reason why I’m ruthless at culling is that once I’ve read a book I have to be honest  if I’ll reread them and that I’m not just holding on to books in the vague hope they’ll be useful later. Saying that though now I’ve admitted I’m a collector I have a much better excuse for keeping more books.

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

One thing I love about twitter is that it’s so easy to call out and get good book recommendations. I did that recently and got back suggestions of Murial Spark The Driver’s Seat and Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckingridge & Myron. I can’t remember what the criteria was now but I tend to ask for older books that people love.

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Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you dont currently?

I’ve already mentioned Martin Bauman. I’m a little sad that I gave away Un Lun Dun by China Miéville  as that’s a proper collection gap. Also when I was a student I didn’t by Making Money by Terry Pratchett and a couple of weeks ago I bought a first edition hardback to fill that gap. I can’t find my hardback of Thud!, another Pratchett, and I could swear I bought the hardback so I might have to get a first edition of that soon.

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

Having a wall of books in the living room, which is four of the bookcases, is an impressive sight. I think it shows a person that loves reading. To be honest I’m sure that they’d know a fraction of the authors that I have. They’d probably be more impressed by the soft toys that have been placed here and there amongst the shelves.

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A huge thanks to Gavin for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Also, without sounding daft, a huge thanks to him for being a brilliant bookish bud, he’s ace.  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 Gav’s responses and/or any of the books/authors that he mentioned? Don’t forget to wish him a Happy **th Birthday too!

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Other People’s Bookshelves #16 – Jared Shurin

This week, in the latest of the Other People’s Bookshelves series, I am honoured to be sharing the shelves with someone who I consider to be a real legend in the book world. His enthusiasm for books, reading, publishing, promoting, prize giving, you name it, is amazing. He is the powerhouse that is Jared Shurin. Before we have a nosey at his books, let’s find out even more about him and his fabulous bookish projects and the like.

Jared is, among other things: a trained BBQ judge, a licensed (but not particularly talented) bartender, a proud holder of a passing grade (barely) in freshman Latin, a struggling baseball fan, accidental cat owner, passionate alphabetiser and level 230 in Avengers Alliance. His best celebrity sighting so far has probably been Angelina Jolie. He is co-founder of The Kitschies award. He also runs a small press, Jurassic London where he has edited and co-edited eight anthologies (including a couple on mummies, one on space and a Western) which publishes original fiction in partnership with museums, charities and other not-for-profit institutions. He can be found at Pornokitsch and on Twitter as @pornokitsch. Here are his shelves…

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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?

Yes. (To all of the above!) Our shelves are at maximum capacity, by which, I mean everything is double-shelved, plus books are wedged in at the top, plus we have a half dozen piles on the floor plus we have storage units all over the place from various moves. For the past year, we’ve been trying for one in, one out, but it never seems to work out that way.

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?

Kind of. There are separate shelves for proofs, “fragile old stuff”, history, books on books, “London books”, “creepy books”, “ridiculously over-sized stuff”… the landing is for art books and comics, the bedroom is for all the vintage paperbacks. The bulk of our collection is hardcover fiction. It is vaguely alphabetical (by author), but there are a lot of exceptions. Certain publishers get separated out, as do certain authors (basically if there are enough of them to make the alphabetical shelving aesthetically awkward, they get their own corner). This leads to a weird series of prioritisation. Like a proof goes on the proof shelf unless it is by x publisher, in which it goes on that shelf, or by y author, in which case it goes on this shelf… If China Miéville and Dorothy Sayers ever co-author a book by Hard Case Crime, the whole system will collapse. No one – not even us – can find anything. I use a catalog software – Collectorz – which at least tells me what we have. But as to finding it on a shelf? Doomed.

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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’m not sure I know. I think one of the first commercial transactions I ever engaged in – full stop – was buying several Handbooks of the Marvel Universe from my friend Jori when I was… really young. There was probably money involved, but I think the lion’s share of the negotiation involved Muscles (anyone remember those?). Those and all my other books are currently stored in Kansas City. There are these caves on the outskirts of town and companies use them for temperature controlled storage and paintball (hopefully not at the same time). So my books are actually under a mountain. Which makes me feel a bit like Thorin Oakenshield.

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 secrets. Anne’s astounding collection of books on the history of science? Impossible to see. My collection of Midwood Press pornographic pulps? In plain view. We have no shame. (I swear, this shelving arrangement was her decision, not mine.)

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 hell, at the first sign of smoke, I’ll be renting a forklift. We have one glass case. I say “glass” – it is an IKEA Billy case and we shelled out the extra 46p for the glass door component. (Which I promptly built on upside-down, because I’m useful.) Anyway, after much fussing about which books go in there – value? Rarity? Fragility?! – Anne and I went with the books that have the best stories. By this, I don’t mean the text of the books, but our connection to them. So it is a weird mix: Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is rubbing shoulders with Watchmen, Ghost Dance, She, The King in Yellow and about fifty other oddities. It is a strange sort of cocktail party. Anyway, I say all this because, if there were a fire, I’m sure I could muster one of those crazy “read-about-it-in-the-tabloids” feats of adrenalin-fueled strength and chuck the whole thing out the bedroom window.

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

My parents used to have a zillion of the old leather-bound Franklin Library books – I’m pretty sure they were hand-me-downs from a family friend. I used to stare at them like they held ALL THE SECRETS IN THE WORLD, and, as soon as I could, I read the hell out of them. It was amazing to learn how dull the world’s secrets are, especially when they come packaged as The Last Days of Pompeii.

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?

The only problem with borrowing books is that then you’re under pressure to read them right away. I’d rather buy everything and then pick my way through them at my own pace. Generally speaking, if I want to read something, I buy the cheapest edition I can find (or better yet, an ebook). Then when I’m done with it, I’ll pass it on. But if I like it, like, like-like, in the “I’ll ask your best friend if you think I’m cute” kind of way… I’ll actively hunt down the best copy I can find: hardcover, signed, proof, the author’s mummified hand, whatever.
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What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

Last five, in reverse chronological order: the novelisation of Short Circuit, Something Wicked Volume 2, The Lowest Heaven, Bonjour Tetris, Life After Life.

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

A billion. I mean, there’s the big stuff, why yes, I’d love a manuscript of The Magus with John Fowles’ annotations as he prepared the revised version or a presentation copy of D’Israeli’s memoirs that he sent to Gladstone inscribed with “My Reform Act now, HA HA – Dizzy”. But it is more the little things – it bugs the hell out of me that my Engineer trilogy is made of mixed US and UK editions and that I never have a reading copy of Kraken and there’s that one damn volume of The Walking Dead that I always forget and there are several holes in the Hard Case Crimes and don’t get me started on the D-series Ace Doubles and I’ve been missing one – one – of John D. MacDonald’s books for as long as I can remember and… and…

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

Not really sure. Some friends have been a little disconcerted by the landing filled with comics, but then, what are they going to think, that we’re big geeks? Odds are they knew that before they stepped through the front door… It is always fun to watch people browse our shelves. It is the first thing I do when I step into everyone else’s homes, so it is only fair that they return the favour.

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A huge thanks to Jared for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. 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 Jared’s responses and/or any of the books that he mentioned?

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Two Bookish Books I Think We Should All Be Reading…

I try not to bark ‘read this now’ as an order too often on Savidge Reads. If I really love a book then I hope the enthusiasm comes of the screen and you might want to go and have a look at it in a book shop or read about it more online. It’s very unusual then that I am pretty much going to bark the orders ‘read these now’ about two books that I actually haven’t read myself the whole way through…

 

‘Stop What You’re Doing And Read This!’ and ‘The Library Book’ are two books from separate British publishers which are all about books, reading and libraries. Really that should be enough to have you rushing to your nearest bookshop or book selling website shouldn’t it, in fact it might already have done just that, however I thought I would tell you a little more about both – just to really push you over the edge.

‘Stop What You Are Doing And Read This!’ is an anthology which asks the question ‘why should you stop what you are doing and read a book?’ The ten essay responses collected here are from the likes of authors such as Jeanette Winterson, Blake Morrison, Mark Haddon and Zadie Smith, along with Jane Davis founder of ‘The Reader Organisation’ and Carmen Callil who founded Virago and rather famously quit the International Man Booker judging panel. These ten essays simply tell you, in varying ways, the power of the book and the joys of reading. I have only dipped in and out of a few so far but from what I have seen it’s only going to make my love of reading and desire to read all the stronger. I know that Simon T of Stuck in a Book loves this book.

There is a different twist on the joys of reading with ‘The Library Book’ as this book is of course celebrating the library itself. Some of my favourite authors like Susan Hill, Val McDermid and Alan Bennett (there are lots more Kate Mosse, Julian Barnes, China Mieville, Stephen Fry – I could go on, there are 23 pieces in this collection) have all contributed works to this book, not all of them are essays though as of course we go to libraries for fiction, and so some of the authors have made fictional shorts along with the other essays throughout – all about the library, of course. Again, I have only had a glimpse at this book (as it only arrived this morning) but I am very, very excited about what’s inside. In fact what am I doing here writing this? I should be reading them already!

What I think is another thing that’s special about these books, if I haven’t sold these two you by now you may be a lost cause, is that they are working with the charity The Reading Agency (all the proceeds of ‘The Library Book’ are definitely going to this charity, it doesn’t say with ‘Stop What You’re Doing And Read This!’) which encourages people to read in all sorts of ways and is developing exciting library programmes. What could be better?

I am hoping some of you have stopped reading the blog by now and run off to find out more, or even gone and got the book. I am off to sit with my copies for a while. I will report back, I hope you will too!

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Boxing Day Books (The Savidge Reads Advent Winners)

Hello one and all, I do hope you have a lovely Christmas Day? Thank you for your festive wishes. Mine was very nice; I had goose for the first time and found it rather delicious. I have also been playing card games (mainly spite and malice, which my thirteen year old sister has been teaching me), scrabble, drinking rather a lot and worn my party hat all day long. Oh and I had presents, no books but I got a really funky set of psychedelic proper chef knives for my new pad (I am moving at the end of Jan, oh the books are going to have to be sorted), lots of Jelly Belly – too many is never enough and my favourite present so far has been three pairs of Mr Men lounge pants (Messy, Tickle and Bump) so there was one present with a literary twist. I have been reading but not as much as I would have expected, that is normally left for today, Boxing Day, my favourite Christmas Day.

There is something about Boxing Day that I have always found rather joyous, and not just the left-over’s from Christmas dinner which normally end up in a sandwich (though my Mum is currently off making pastry for a pie this year) and the endless supply of crisps and chocolates that we all buy for Xmas day and then don’t eat because we are too full. I love the fact it’s a delightfully lazy day, well at Savidge Christmas’s it is, we generally spend most of the day lounging around reading before a big TV fest in evening (Miranda Hart going trekking with Bear Grylls will be my Christmas TV highlight) so I am looking forward to that, I have already recorded an episode of The Readers so I feel I can now slob – that was my hard work of the day, now it’s time for my good deed of the day. It’s time for present giving…

Boxing Day can be another day of presents as the family you didn’t see might pop round, we won’t be seeing any other family members so today I have plucked all the Savidge Reads Advent Calendar winners from a random number generator and here are the winners…

Day 1; The Complete Nancy Mitford – Reading With Tea
Day 2; Burned by Thomas Enger – Harriet and Ellen B
Day 3; Smutt by Alan Bennett & Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan – Steel Reader and Gaskella
Day 4; Godless Boys by Naomi Wood & Snowdrops by A.D. Miller – Louise and Dog Ear
Day 5; The Great British Bake Off Book – Dovegreyreader and Janet D and Novel Insights
Day 6; Jennifer Egan books – TBA
Day 7; The Proof of Love by Catherine Hall – Rhonda Reads and Simon Saunders and Belinda
Day 8; Shes Leaving Home by Joan Bakewell  – Gaskella and Mystica
Day 9; Sophie Hannah’s series – Emma
Day 10; In Other Worlds by Margaret Atwood & China Mieville books – Louise and Ragamuffinreader
Day 11; Sue Johnston autobiography – Sue and Simon T and Ann P
Day 12; Wait for Me by Deborah Devonshire – Janet D and Dominic
Day 13; Selected Agatha Raisin books – Kirsten and Victoria
Day 14; The Beautiful Indifference by Sarah Hall – Janet D and Ann P
Day 15; When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman – Femke and Ruthiella and Alex and Joanne In Canada
Day 16; all David Nicholls novels – Sue
Day 17; Patricia Duncker novels – Gaskella
Day 18; A Tiny Bit Marvellous by Dawn French – Ann P and Gabrielle Kimm
Day 19; all the Yrsa Siguardardottir novels – Kimbofo
Day 20; Frozen Planet & White Heat by MJ McGrath – Emma and Mystica
Day 21; A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse & The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey – Nose in a Book and Novel Katie
Day 22; The Hunger Trace by Edward Hogan – Jenni and Ann P and Femke
Day 23; Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series  – David
Day 24; Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles series – Harriet

Merry Christmas to both those of you who won (and some of you won a few times) and those who didn’t. If you did email me savidgereads@gmail.com with the book/s you have won in the subject and your address and I will make sure these are sent out in the first week of January. Right, I am off to go and pick at some stuffing before curling up with my book. Hope you are all having a wonderful time, what did you get for Xmas?

Oh and a MASSIVE thank you to the publishers who got involved: Penguin, Faber and Faber, Profile Books, Hodder, Picador, Atlantic, Serpents Tail, Ebury, Corsair, Constable and Robinson, Portobello, Little Brown, Virago, John Murray, Headline, Bloomsbury, Europa Editions, Mantle, Macmillan, Simon and Schuster & Transworld

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Margaret Atwood and China Mieville – The Savidge Reads Advent Calendar Day 10

I was thinking about this the other day and I would absolutely love to have Margaret Atwood and China Mieville round for tea, or even at Bookmarked, to discuss and debate literature and science fiction. After reading Atwood’s ‘In Other Worlds’ recently and seeing China Mieville talk about ‘Embassytown’ earlier in the year I can imagine the conversation would be scintillating. They both merge the two wonderfully and as its been on the brain I thought I would make them a joint giveaway.

So two of you lucky readers could win Margaret Atwood’s latest collection of essays ‘In Other Worlds’ and China Mieville’s novels ‘The City and the City’ and ‘Kraken’

All you need to do is read my review of the Margaret Atwood here and give your response to the last question I ask and your thoughts on it in the comments there, causing some delightful debate and the possibility of three wonderful treats to read. You have until 11am GMT on the 14th December 2011. Good luck, get debating.

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May’s Incomings…

If you don’t like blog posts about lots of books arriving look away now… However if like me you love them you are in luck. So without further ado here are the books that have arrived throughout the month of May at Savidge Reads HQ. First up are the paperbacks which have come from the lovely people at Oxford University Press, Quercus, Vintage, Atlantic, Pan MacMillan, Serpents Tail, Peirene Press, Capuchin Classics, Beautiful Books, Faber, Gallic, Penguin and Myriad Editions…

  • Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell (unsolicited proof, this one came at a very fortuitous time as they are discussing this on The Archers for their village book group, love the new cover OUP have done)
  • The Crossing Places – Elly Griffiths (the first of a crime series which has been getting lots of buzz, I like to start at the beginning)
  • The Upright Piano Player – David Abbot (I have been wanting to read this since I saw it on the World Book Night debut novelists Culture Show special)
  • Loaded – Christos Tsiolkas (unsolicited proof, another book I whooped at, have wanted to read this for year since I saw the film, pre-The Slap fame – a book I realised I read twice last year for The Green Carnation Prize and never blogged bout, and it’s been reissued)
  • Tell-All – Chuck Palahnuick (unsolicited proof, another book I read last year as a Green Carnation submission, maybe I should dig out all my thoughts on those, what do you think?)
  • Mr Peanut – Adam Ross (unsolicited proof, another book I was sent in Hardback, this a reminder I still haven’t read it and heard lots of good things about it)
  • On Black Sisters Street – Chika Unigwe (I begged for this one after seeing a wonderful review of it here)
  • The Wolf/Taurus – Joseph Smith (unsolicited proof)
  • Silence – Jan Costin Wagner (unsolicited proof, and another scandi-crime)
  • Kamchatka – Marcelo Figueras (unsolicited proof)
  • Kraken – China Mieville (I saw him talk at the beginning of May in Manchester thanks to his publishers who then sent me this after my loving ‘Embassytown’)
  • Union Atlantic – Adam Haslett (unsolicited proof, another book read for The Green Carnation last year and never discussed)
  • Wish You Were Here – Travis Elborough (unsolicited proof)
  • Tomorrow Pamplona – Jan van Mersbergen (I love the Peirene Books, so am sure their fifth will be brilliant)
  • The Undiscovered Country – Julian Mitchell (TGCP2011 submission)
  • Role Models – John Waters (TGCP2011 submission)
  • The Observations – Jane Harris (will be discussing Gillespie and I tomorrow, this is one of my favourite books ever and am really excited as I have been asked to write the reading guides for book groups and libraries for both Jane’s books, eek – a re-read is coming)
  • Hector and the Secrets of Love – Francois Lelord (I was one of the very few people who loathed the first Hector book, lets see how this one does it came with the below book which I am desperate to read)
  • Monsieur Montespan – Jean Teule (really excited about this as I loved ‘The Suicide Shop’ and this is Teule’s 17th Century French romp)
  • In the Country of Men – Hisham Matar (loved ‘Anatomy of a Disappearance’ so have high hopes for this one)
  • Hurry Up and Wait – Isabel Ashdown (unsolicited proof, I have her debut ‘Glasshopper’ very high on the TBR so am hoping this is a new author to love)

Next up are the trade paperbacks and hardbacks from the publishers Persephone, Quercus, Pam MacMillan, Vintage, Picador, Bloomsbury, Doubleday, Penguin and Atlantic…

  • Mrs Buncles Book – D.E. Stevenson (this was actually the present Claire had sent me for my birthday but the sequel arrived and Persephone kindly sent this one and let me keep the other, a present that kept on giving)
  • Monsieur Linh and his Child – Philippe Claudel (we read ‘Brodeck’s Report’ for the first Not The TV Book Club and so I am very excited about this)
  • Phantoms on the Bookshelves – Jaques Bonnet (a book about books and bookshelves, too exciting)
  • The Ritual – Adam Nevill (unsolicited proof, I just recently read ‘Apartment 16’ which I will be discussing in the far distant future as its my next book group choice in like five turns, I changed my mind but everyone had bought it, oops)
  • The Winter of the Lions – Jan Costin Wagner (unsolicited proof)
  • Mr Fox – Helen Oyeyemi (unsolicited proof, but a very exciting one as I am really keen to read Oyeyemi’s work)
  • The Sickness  – Alberto Barrera Tyszka (a book I have heard a lot about, was drawn in by the cover, and want to read)
  • The Dubious Salvation of Jack V. – Jacques Strauss (I begged for this one after reading this review)
  • State of Wonder – Ann Patchett (unsolicited proof, though I have a feeling Patchett could become a new favourite author)
  • Before I Go To Sleep – S.J. Watson (any book that has Sophie Hannah, Val McDermid and Tess Gerritsen singing its praises has to be a book for me, this is also a submission for TGCP2011)
  • Do No Harm – Carol Topolski (another beg after seeing this review by Kim who loved it, I got ‘Monster Love’ from the library too)
  • Last Man in Tower – Aravind Adiga (unsolicited proof, very excited about this as I liked ‘The White Tiger’ a lot, must read his short story collection too)   

Finally are four books that I have bought/swapped in the last month…

  • The Memories of Six Reigns – Princess Marie Louise (this book is really hard to get hold of but I found it early in the month in a pub that sold books for charity for 50p, it’s a book Neil Bartlett recommended to me,and you, last summer, I might have whooped when I saw this, ok I did)
  • The Ice Princess/The Preacher – Camilla Lackberg (I managed to swap these at the Book Exchange early in the month, I have heard a lot of praise for this author and the fact she is one of the female scandi-crime writers intrigues me)
  • The Hypnotist – Lars Kelper (I bought this with some birthday vouchers from Gran, its yet more scandi-crime but with a difference having been written by a couple and being a thriller meets horror, interesting, and a book I have been more and more desperate to read)

That’s the lot, and it is a lot I have noted, that have come in this month. I think its time for a clear out of the book boxes and mount TBR again isn’t it? Eek! That always fills me with dread. Anyways because I love getting books, and I know you do too I have teamed up with Headline to give away some books to all of you, you’ll have to pop here to find out how. It’s a good book though, one of my favourites of the month just passed.

So which of these would you like to hear more about and see me reading, on a whim of course, and which books or authors have you read and what did you think?

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Those Hard To Encompass Books…

Isn’t it difficult when you read a book that you simply can’t seem to describe or encompass? I am not just talking from the perspective of a book blogger, though I will say that trying to encompass yesterdays book thoughts on China Mieville’s ‘Embassytown’ was possibly one of the hardest I have done of late, but we all have those moments when we are trying to explain what we thought about a book and how the book played out and we simply can’t don’t we?

Be it a book that you thought was wonderful or one you really didn’t, it really gets under your skin when you have read a book, understood it and yet you simply can’t explain it. In the flesh with friends I would just go quiet, or probably try and explain it all in so many ways they are left utterly confused. When it’s on or for the blog, like yesterday as I edited and re-edited and re-edited my thoughts on ‘Embassytown’, I wonder if in actual fact I am doing the book a disservice and I should simply not talk about it? Or do people like a ramble that makes no sense?

It did have me feeling both really frustrated and like a book blogging fraud. Something similar happened at book group the other day when I was trying to explain my personal emotional reaction to Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye’ and yet I couldn’t get it across, I had a mind funk, my personal passion for the book seemed to get lost in translation somewhere down the line.

So which book or books have you found really hard to discuss, encompass or write about? Why did they have you in a muddle or a whirl, was it the scope or just your reaction to it? I wonder if there will be a book that gets mentioned more than once.

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Embassytown – China Mieville

A while back I was asking you all about your thoughts on genre fiction and said that I would try some books that were out of my normal reading ‘comfort zone’. The first book that I chose was ‘Embassytown’ by China Mieville which is said to be his most sci-fi of novels to date. I really struggle with sci-fi yet having read and really enjoyed his novel The City & The City’, which merged science fiction with an edgy crime thriller, and came away feeling like I had understood a genre I didn’t normally. So I had high hopes that with China holding my hand (figuratively of course) through the unknown world of unknown worlds and life forms I might just find myself fully immersed in a new world of reading genre.

I’d best get this first bit out the way and say that to try and describe ‘Embassytown’ to anyone who hasn’t read it yet it going to be hard work. Not because the book is completely flummoxing, though I will admit I had a pen and notepad to hand for the first 100 pages or so but that could simply be me, but because there are so many strands and themes and, well, ‘things’ encompassed in it that to try to define its 432 pages in one set of thoughts is going to be pretty tough. I could simply say that I am not the biggest sci-fi fan and yet I finished it and I really rather liked it, but that wouldn’t be enough would it. So here goes…

In another world, Areika the home of many life forms, we follow the story of Avice. Avice has returned to her homeland of Embassytown after spending many years as an immerser in the ‘immer’, a substance or lack of substance that can send you from star to star “the sea of space and time below the everyday”. As she returns at the bequest of her new husband Scile (she has been married thrice before to people of both sexes), a man of language, who wants to observe the way Embassytown operates and how the three species it hosts all communicate and live together.

This return leads her to look back from her childhood onwards and an event with The Hosts (an alien species comprised of a mixture of of winged insect and horse who speak simultaniously with two mouths, only the Ambassadors can understand, and who cannot lie), that made her literally become a story in the Areika consciousness that helps them bend the truth in the future, for if something happens it is truth? Well thats what Mieville sort of implies and its an interesting idea.  However on her return she finds that the homeland she knows is changing under the new rule of the Ambassador EzRa and something sinister has started and that something truly awful lies ahead, but in order to stop it Avice is going to have to do something that is almost impossible.

That is possibly the easiest, though by no means best, way of trying to describe the way the book starts. It’s hard to say more without giving away too much plot or discussing how Mieville throws in some unexpected, and often rather weird, twists as the book moves on. The thing is there are so many more strands to the book and for me the main one was the fact this is a book that is in some ways Mieville’s ode to language. The fact Avice actually becomes a story, or in fact a ‘simile’, I found fascinating, and this happens before the main story really gets started. I liked the fact that language could almost be a religion, though the book is also a tale of revolution.

Avice makes for an interesting narrator, if occasionally rather infuriating, as though you are told Avice’s ‘similie’ for the Hosts meant she had to eat something which caused her pain you never fully know what she went through. She does have this slight distance and mystery the whole way through the book even though you get snippets of her past and hints of her previous marriages etc she keeps something back. I always felt just a touch removed from her. Was this intentional, were we meant to question her as a narrator, is she a blank canvas on which we put our own feelings or create our own visions of the world Mieville has created? I was never one hundred percent sure. Interestingly it was characters like Ambassador EzRa that made the book come alive, there was something wonderfully creepy about the fact that unlike all the other Ambassadors these were not genetically cojoined twins with simulatneous thoughts and from the moment we met them the book seemed to light up, even if it was with a sinister and mysterious foreboding glow.

You see I am still left feeling that I haven’t actually done ‘Embassytown’ any favours of explained it well enough to do the book justice. I am sure it won’t be for everyone, and indeed the blurb does seem to miss out how much language is almost worshipped in this novel which could be a selling point, but if someone like me who knows very little about science fiction could get so deeply immersed in it then surely it’s got to be good, right? 8/10

This was kindly sent by the publishers.

A science fiction novel such as ‘Embassytown’ is unfortunately hardly likely to make it onto the Booker longlist simply because it’s a genre novel. This is a great shame because, to me at least, ‘Embassytown’ reads like a true celebration of language and words surrounded by an unfamiliar world that celebrates them too, surely that’s literature and what its all about at its most concentrated? Who knows, maybe this years judges could surprise us? I do feel like I owe this book a small apology because I simply can’t sum it up. Can anyone else who has read it do any better? Any other thoughts on any other Mievilles as I really want to read more, particularily ‘Kraken’, do let me know.

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April’s Incomings…

Where oh where do the months seem to be going? Can you believe that a third of the year has already been and gone? Well it has! So being the last day of April its time to share with you all the latest incomings that have arrived at Savidge Reads temporary HQ in the last month, however they might have gotten through the door.

First up are the gifts that I have bought myself, or indeed exchanged at the lovely local café, and my reasons why. I think you will find I have been rather reserved this month…

  • Deja Dead & Death Du Jour by Kathy Reichs – I have seen reviews all over the shop about Kathy Reichs and have been meaning to read her forever, especially as I have been told she is on a par with Val McDermid and Tess Gerritsen. A review of another of Reichs books by Harriet Devine made me pick these up at the book exchange.
  • Nocturnes by John Connolly – I loved, loved, loved ‘The Book of Lost Things’ (pre-blogging) and rather liked ‘The Gates’ so this selection of short stories is sure to be right up my street.
  • Fresh Flesh by Stella Duffy – I have recently read the second, review pending, of the Saz Martin crime series by Stella Duffy and they are rather hard to get hold of so this one was snapped up the moment I saw it.

Up next are gifts that have been kindly sent/lent by people that I know. I realised I forgot to include some of the books I had for my birthday from people in my March Incomings which is rather shoddy of me, so…

  • Bedside Stories (a birthday pressie), and two treats of a World Book Night edition of Erich Maria Remarque’s ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ and ‘Cloudstreet’ by Tim Winton all from the lovely Kimbofo when she came to stay.
  • ‘Bel Canto’ by Ann Patchett from Lou of I Hug My Books as she loved it and thinks I will, we do have quite similar taste.
  • ‘Miss Buncle Married’ by D.E. Stevenson, a get well/birthday pressie from the Persephone purveyor herself Claire of Paperback Reader.
  • After seeing her review of ‘Love in Idleness’ by Charlotte Mendelson and letting Harriet know I loved the author she kindly offered me her copy of the only Mendelson I don’t have.
  • ‘The Middle Age of Mrs Eliot’ by Angus Wilson was a lovely old edition for my birthday from Paul Magrs. I haven’t heard of the author, but from the title I am guessing it might just be perfect for my love of books about women of a certain age.

So onto the books from the lovely publishers and lets start off with the paperbacks, a big thanks to Vintage, Virago, Picador, Myriad Editions, OUP, Hodder and Headline for these books…

  • Deloume Road by Matthew Hooton
  • What The Day Owes The Night by Yasmina Khadra
  • The Stars in the Bright Sky by Alan Warner
  • In-Flight Entertainment by Helen Simpson
  • The Death of Lomond Friel by Sue Peebles
  • Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead
  • The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
  • The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller
  • Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco
  • Hurry Up and Wait by Isabel Ashdown
  • Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder by Catriona McPherson
  • Touch The Stars by Jessica Ruston

And thanks to Headline, Macmillan, Atalantic, Serpents Tail, Harvill Secker, Picador, Portobello and Simon & Schuster for this joyful collection of an audiobook, trade paperbacks, proofs and hardbacks…

  • When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
  • Scenes from Village Life by Amos Oz
  • Embassytown by China Mieville
  • The Fox in the Attic by Richard Hughes
  • The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale
  • Walking on Dry Land by Denis Kehoe
  • The Reinvention of Love by Helen Humphries
  • The Winter of the Lions by Jan Costin Wagner
  • The Sly Company of People Who Care by Rahul Bhattacharya
  • The Proof of Love by Catherine Hall
  • The Rest is Silence by Carla Guelfenbein
  • Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith

Phew, quite a loot. Without showing any preferential treatment I have to say that the new Tom Rob Smith is really, really exciting me. Which of the books and authors have you tried and tested? Any you would recommend or would like to see me get too sooner rather than later?

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Are We Reading Eclectically Enough?

I don’t want to keep banding the cancer word about, yet I do think its interesting that since I was told that those evil cells were now firmly friends of mine I have been thinking differently about reading. I mentioned last week how I went from racing through lots of books and today I wanted to discuss how it made me wonder if I was actually reading eclectically enough, and eclectic reading in general, so I hope you will all offer your thoughts.

I was actually eavesdropping at the hospital waiting area where they have a book exchange, which I find an interesting idea in a hospital, I mean the NHS have been great but no one wants to be coming back and forth to a hospital do they really no matter how necessary – sorry I have digressed. So anyway I was eavesdropping as a couple were routing through the shelves. They came across a copy of an unnamed but incredibly pastel coloured book and the woman said ‘oh even I wouldn’t read that it looks like utter chick lit nonsense’. On a separate visit a different pair were routing through the books on the shelves and came across a book that she described as ‘dafty alien rubbish, that’s the kind of thing you would read’ before shooting an eyebrow up at him. I found this interesting as both assumptions I had made about the same two books yet hearing them out loud I thought ‘oooh what snobs’ and then thought ‘oh dear does that make me a snob?’

I am hoping it doesn’t as really I would classify sci-fi and chick lit not as books that I am snobby about but just ones that aren’t really to my taste. This used to be the same for non-fiction books, however I have slowly but surely started to convert myself, and the same applies to classics actually (though these were more books that English Literature lessons at school put me off rather than me being adverse to them in the first place) which I have been trying harder at… occasionally, in fact I should be making more of an effort with the classics again and finally read a Jane Austen, Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy if I am honest.

Why don’t I think I like sci-fi, fantasy and chick lit? Well I have never been a huge fan of aliens in books, in films and TV it’s fine, I used to love The X Files and am still a fan of Doctor Who (though not to excess), but for some reason on the page its never quite washed with me. I have yet to read a book that has convinced me by an alien world. The same applies to fantasy, I tried Lord of the Rings when I was younger and just thought it was ridiculous and have carried that thought, without testing it again, ever since. Weirdly though I love a good tale of the supernatural or ghost story, not that they are the same but its interesting a spooky world can ignite me (yet I don’t tend to read horror either) yet an alien or troll filled one doesn’t seem to.

Chick lit and I used to be friends. Who hasn’t read Bridget Jones Diary, and what made people less sneery about that book than others? My friend Gemma has been telling me for ages I must read Marian Keyes and I have always winced a little and said ‘really?’ I have been told to read Jenny Colgan often by Paul Magrs and the same response has been given. Yet I used to read everything by Lisa Jewell, and ‘A Friend of the Family’ is still one of my favourite books, and yet I havent picked up another in years and years. Why not?

So maybe its time to challenge myself, I have pulled four books I have been sent (I couldn’t find any fantasy) out of the TBR and they are by the bedside and will be little tests, to be read on a whim of course, that will gently test the waters with my tastes once more (the Daisy Goodwin sounds up my street, I have seen the film of I Am Number Four, Jessica Ruston is Susan Hills daughter so have always wanted to try her and I have had success with China Mievilles crime novel so might with his full on sci-fi)…

But I think its time for a gauntlet to be thrown down and see if maybe I need to be a bit more adventurous. So I thought you could all help by suggesting your favourite books in various genres (because I am aware that while I love crime fiction books there are lots of you who don’t) and seeing if we could enlighten each other to what books we have loved that might open new reading paths for each other. So here are the categories and I have put my favourites in and left question marks in the ones I have no idea about .I have missed out literary fiction as I never really know what that means; I just think that’s general fiction isn’t it or have I opened a can of worms there? Have I missed any other genres?

Chick Lit: ?
Crime Fiction: Any of the series by Tess Gerritsen, Sophie Hannah or Susan Hill
Horror: ?
Fantasy:  ?
Non-Fiction: In Cold Blood – Truman Capote, Letters Between Six Sisters edited by Charlotte Mosely
Science Fiction: ?

Anyway it could be a fun little exercise for a Tuesday. If you don’t fancy giving it a go then do let me know your thoughts on eclectic reading (or do both) in general. Are there any genre’s out there you avoid and if so why? Do you often test the waters with genres you think you don’t like to see if your mind can be changed or do you think with so many books out there life is just too short and it’s best just sticking to what you know? Is all of this just a question of taste, can you be converted?

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The City & The City – China Mieville

Sometimes I can get cross at myself as a reader (please tell me some of you do this too), as you are reading a really entertaining and interesting book such as ‘The City and the City’ by China Mieville yet because of everything else going on in your life you go into some sort of funk and you can’t read. Its not the books fault, and really its not your fault as the reader its just life, but if you are like me then you get really annoyed with yourself. However the sign of a good book is when you can have a break from it for a week or two rejoin the plot and characters and not only be straight back into the story you are also swept away by it again once more and this was one such book and considering its synopsis I actually thought I would struggle to get into it at all the first time.

The title ‘The City & The City’ really hints at what you might be expecting from this book (I don’t think China Mieville would have been able to get away with calling it ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ which could have been a good option) as the reader is rather quickly drawn into a world we almost know, a dystopian idea of some part of the edge of Europe, we must also accept that two cities can actually reside in the same place. It sounds complicated and like it might be hard work, which I thought it was going to be, but Mieville somehow makes the whole idea seem incredibly easy to imagine.

In the city of Beszel people are aware that there is another city, Ul Qoma, that occupies the same space as them and yet as they grow up they are trained in the art of ‘unseeing’. This comes into jeopardy on occasions when either something like a car crash happens in one city and for a while everyone can see both, possibly to do with the shock or the extremity of the situation. As we find ourselves in Beszel a murder of a young woman that seems unsolvable has occurred, and its not until Inspector Borlu, our protagonist, realises someone could be murdering people in Ul Qoma and leaving them in Bezsel that ‘unseeing’ may have to go out of the window and that ‘Breach’ (which is an all seeing all knowing eye, slightly in the vein of Orwell’s Big Brother in ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’) may have to be consulted and assessed.

To say too much more would be to undo some incredibly clever twists, turns and imagination that Mieville creates and passes onto any reader coming to the book afresh and I wouldn’t want to ruin that. I will say that the murder mystery does take on a further twist or seven as we discover the murdered girl was looking for a third ancient city (yep, one more but fear not by this point you will be open to eight cities being in the one place as Mieville makes them so clearly different) which brings a whole new historical level to the book and that the powers that be may be hiding something creating a taught thriller that will have you furiously reading to its incredible dénouement.

Mieville has officially won me over with this novel, the characters are fully built, no one dimensional inspector in sight as some authors might have gone for in favour of story over substance. I know in the hands of another author most of this novel could have gone over my head and frustrated me to the point of throwing my book across the room. Not so in the case of Mieville, he’s clearly a masterful writer and incredibly inventive and clever but without a hint of smugness ever appearing on the page. ‘The City and the City’ is a book that has to be read to be believed, and for someone who doesn’t normally go for this type of book Mieville has gained a huge new fan! It’s a book to get lost in. 9/10 (I actually wanted it to be longer and unfold a little though what he achieves in only 312 pages is incredible.)

So I have found a new author now who I want to read the entire works of. In fact I was most annoyed that this was from the library and I had to give it back. I think had I not had the rush of that deadline, someone selfishly requested it (ha); I might have started the book over and loved it even more. That’s not the book or authors fault, and not really mine its just sods law. I think Mieville fans it seems were slightly let down by this book, have any of you read it? If this is his poorest as some, not all, of his fans believe which books are his best I wonder? Can any of you could recommend where I should head to next, which Mieville books have you read and been blown away by?

This book I borrowed from the library, and returned rather grumpily as I would have liked to have it on my shelves to read again one day, its one of those books you could get something new from every time you read it.

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Filed under Books of 2010, China Mieville, Pan MacMillan, Review

Library Lunacy?

I have not long just been online to renew my library loans and am now feeling rather guilty. You see I currently have fifteen books out… and I have renewed them for the THIRD time, eek! The problem is that when I look at them all I still don’t want to cull any, even though I know there are other people who might have read them and returned them by now. (Actually having said that no one has reserved them and they could have.) Also, I do feel I shouldn’t be getting books from the library, as I do have a library of my own indoors. Oh it’s a bit of a dilemma really isn’t it?

So what are the books that I have been hoarding for the last month or two with selfish intent…

  • The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
  • Portnoy’s Complaint – Philip Roth
  • Un Lun Dun –China Mieville
  • The Worst Street in London – Fiona Rule
  • Solo – Rana Dasgupta
  • Ghost Hunters – Deborah Blum
  • Honor & Other Peoples Children – Helen Garner
  • The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack – Mark Hodder
  • Dimanche & Other Stories – Irene Nemirovsky
  • Still Missing – Beth Gutcheon
  • Wallflower at the Orgy – Norah Ephron
  • Dark Places – Gillian Flynn
  • Barbequed Husbands – Betty Mindlin
  • The City & The City – China Mieville (half read)

I do want to read them all, its just not knowing where to start. I am off in Manchester for a few days so am only talking library books with me as my choice reads as I really do need to get through them, I am not allowing myself to press the renew button one more time. I am not!

Do you ever have a library loot dilemma? Any advice on how I should stop this naughty habit? Recommend any of these titles get read instantly, I always love your recommendations? What have you taken out of the library of late?

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Multiple Reading… How Did That Happen?

I don’t know if it’s me not being at my best currently or just what seems to be before me but I have realised at the moment I seem to be reading about six books at once, or have been as actually for the last two days I haven’t picked up a book, which again is rather strange. I have never been into multiple reading so how is it that this has come about?  Why is it nothing seems to be grabbing me as much as it could and I have tried all sorts and do want to be reading.

In fact on the go in the last week I had…

The City & The City by China Mieville – I really liked this but the multiple cities and the ‘unseeing’ of each seemed a little too much for my brain.
The Shadow Guests by Joan Aiken – I fancied something dark and thought going to some classic 80’s young adult fiction (which is shockingly no long in print) might appeal, it did but then I trailed off onto something else.
If On A Winters Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino – As you can see I couldn’t finish this one off for sheer annoyance at it all.
Agatha Raisin & The Love From Hell by M. C. Beaton – has been in my bag all the time but not opened it.

I have also been dipping into the five Green Carnation Short Listed books again and yet can’t quite get on with those either, not because I have read them before as I am actually looking forward to reading all five of those books again. I have been managing to read lots of newspapers though which is most unlike me and have actually started to buy one daily, the new ‘i’ paper. Every day is has excellent mini book reviews which then brings back the pang for a good read. That’s the thing you see I do want to read something most desperately, I want to be lost in a good story and don’t know why I can’t.

I am going to my Mums hopeful though. And have packed a selection of books that I am hoping to spark my reading properly once more. They are all quite different so hopefully one of them will grab me and start the reading ball rolling once more.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice – I have been fancying reading this for ages.
Agatha Raisin and the Love From Hell by M.C. Beaton – I do genuinely fancy some Beaton although maybe I should try one of the new Edwardian books?
The City & The City by China Mieville – I am determined to finish this and time is ticking before its due at the library soon, mind you that pressure could cause issues in itself.
Was by Geoff Ryman – This sounds so up my street am just worried in my mind set I won’t give it the chance that it really needs.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – This is the next choice at book group and I always start book group choices a little late and at 544 pages this might be worth getting a crack on with now.

I only hope that I come back from the north with a book or two read and not another set of books that I have only gotten a quarter or half of the way through.

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