Tag Archives: Chinua Achebe

Other People’s Bookshelves #72 – Ayo Onatade

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are in South London to meet blogger, reviewer and crime fiction expert Ayo Onatade and have a nosey at all of her books. However before we do that let’s grab a nice cuppa and a fondant fancy or two (or three)  that Ayo’s put out for us  whilst we get to know a little more about her.

I am an avid reader, blogger and critic of anything and everything crime, detective and mystery fiction related. I live in South London and work as a civil servant with very senior members of the UK Judiciary as my day job.  I hasten to add that my day job has nothing to do with my love of genre. I run the Shotsmag Confidential blog, review books and also write for Crimespree Magazine.  I also give occasional papers and write academic articles on crime fiction. In 2014 I co-edited along with Len Tyler a collection of short stories entitled Bodies in the Bookshop. Amongst my family I am known as the family library. Whilst my main passion is crime fiction I do actually read other types of books though I don’t think my family actually believes me when I say this.

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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 can categorically say that the books on my bookshelves have nothing to do with whether or not they are my favourites or if they are really good.  It is more a matter of having somewhere to store them and being able to get my hands on a book when I need it. I certainly do not have a system of one in one out! God forbid. I can barely get rid of books. If that were the case, what would I do with all my “comfort reads” and books that I want to keep? I freely admit that I am to a certain extent a book hoarder and I can get very upset when books are not treated or looked after very well.  I do however have periods where I look at the state of my study and flat in general and shake my head in dismay when I take in the amount of books that I have. The books that I tend to keep fall into a number of categories and are invariably the ones that I value.  They are my signed first editions (especially those of authors whose works I really love), my reference books and literary criticism on crime fiction, which are incredibly useful when I am trying to write a paper and I don’t want to traipse up to the British Library, my comfort reads and books given to me as presents.  I will give away duplicates (especially if I have my own copy already), books that I know that I am not going to read again and occasionally books that I have been judging. With the cutbacks and the closure of many libraries I have found myself giving quite a large number of books to my local library, which luckily for me is at the end of my road. I think that it is outrageous the way in which libraries are being dismantled.  The other person who gets books is my local postman who reads a lot and it is my way of saying thank you since he is the one who as to lug a post bag full of books up to my flat every Saturday.

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 organised in a very disorganised way. They are not in alphabetical order of author but I have for example all my crime fiction reference books and literary criticism on crime fiction in one place, my short story anthologies are together and most of my historical crime novels are together in one place as well. Also my non-crime books are gathered together. Aside from that I generally tend to group an author’s books together in one place.  However, it doesn’t always work and I am not really too bothered as I generally tend to know where a book is when I am looking for it.  My TBR pile is all over the place.  My TBR pile tends to be split into books that I am planning on reading because I want to review them, books that I want to read for pleasure and books that I am reading because I am judging an award. Culling my books upsets me but over the years I have become a lot more resilient about it.  I do purge my collection but generally tend to do it through gritted teeth and with a lot of angst.

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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 honestly can’t remember the first book I ever bought with my own money.  I can remember the books that have had a significant meaning for me for various reasons.  The first is The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie.  This was the very first mystery novel that I read and unknowingly introduced me to my love of crime, mystery and detective fiction.  The second book is Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I read this whilst I was at secondary school and it was the first African novel that looked at the social and political aspects of Igbo society and the effects of European colonisation on Africa. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, which for me was the first, ever autobiography that I read that did not seem to be an autobiography.  It was funny, full of interesting information about collecting animals and what fun it was to live in Corfu with a rather eccentric family full of love. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett and Farewell my Lovely by Raymond Chandler changed my crime fiction reading tastes forever. Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, which is the first of the Bond books. Reading it after I had started to watch the Bond films certainly confirmed for me the saying “Never judge a book by its movie” by J W Eagan. The first Casino Royale film featuring David Niven is a prime example. I have all these books on my bookshelf and every time I see them they make me smile and bring back memories.

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?

Nope! I think all books are meant to be read whether good or bad. I do have a few books that I read at least ever 18 months and they tend

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

I think my most prized book is actually the collection of Raymond Chandler novels that were published by the Library of America.  When you line them up in the correct order in the box then they show a man wearing a fedora holding a smoking gun.  They were given to me as a surprise present by a former boss who used to collect 1st edition works on William Shakespeare. I was very surprised when I received it as it was unexpected. Which books would I save? Bearing in mind the number of books that I have I would find it rather difficult to choose a few but I would certainly have to ensure that following are rescued. Certainly my Raymond Chandler collection published by the Library of America. My complete works of Dashiell Hammett. My collection of Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher, my JD Robb collection, all my James Lee Burke books and books by George Pelecanos, 100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello.  Finally my collection of crime fiction reference and books on crime fiction literary criticism specifically The Blues detective by Stephen Soitos, Colleen Barnett’s encyclopaedia on Mystery Women and Spooks, Spies and Private Eyes: Black Mystery, Crime and Suspense Fiction of the 20th Century by Paula L Woods. Oops! That seems to be quite a lot.

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?

Argh! I can’t remember that far back. I wish I could. For me the division between when I stopped reading children’s books and moved to adults is rather blurred. We are all readers in my family. My brother and sisters and I used to spend a lot of time in the library when we were younger.  I do have books on my shelves that I have solely because they bring back memories of my childhood for example T H White’s Once and Future King, but aside from that my mind is blank.

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

I can’t remember the last time that I borrowed a book. I tend to resist doing so.  We are talking about over 25 years ago. It generally ends up being the other way around and nowadays I hardly ever loan my books out.  The only people that I will consider lending my books to are my family and very close friends.  I am quite lucky because of the amount of blogging and writing that I do on crime, detective and mystery fiction I get sent quite a lot of books.  I have been known to buy a book (sometimes second hand) if I have wandered into a bookshop and have seen a book that I have been looking for to add to my collection or a book (mainly American authors) that I can’t get here in the UK.  I generally tend to buy most of my reference books and literary criticism as well as my non-crime books.  I freely admit that I am a bit paranoid and precious about my books as I tend to believe that they won’t be treated well.

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

The Killing Kind by Chris Holm.  Chris Holm is much better known in the States as opposed to here in the UK.  However, he has a UK publisher and The Killing Kind was published in August this year. He is an award winning novelist and he has written a brilliant trilogy of  Collector novels which is a mash-up of fantasy and crime pulp.  The Killing Kind is a page turner of a thriller where an assassin that solely kills assassins finds himself on the run from both the FBI and the Mafia.

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

There are too many! Where do I start?  The geek in me would very much like the four volume hardback edition of 100 Bullets.  I would also like a colour version of House of Leaves by Mark L Danielewski, which was published in 2000.  A postmodern novel I first encountered it when I was doing my Masters degree.  The layout and page structure is very unconventional and you certainly have to have patience to read it. The novel is also distinctive for its multiple narrators, who interact with each other in elaborate and disorienting ways.  There is a coloured version and a red version.  Either one would do. Would it be too greedy for me to also want a complete set of original Penguin Greens and the complete works of James M Cain?

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

The first thought would be “how the hell can you find anything” as my shelves are not neat and tidy. The word eclectic also comes to mind. I would think that anyone perusing my shelves would initially think that I read too much crime fiction and that I need to get a life and that I am a bit of a book hoarder.  On the other hand I would also hope that they would ask me about my favourite books and authors and possibly ask me for recommendations as well. I would like them to think that my taste spans different sub genres of crime, detective and mystery fiction and that my bookshelves are an insight to my love of reading. I think that it would also depend on whether or not they are readers themselves. Other readers tend to be a lot more understanding and interested in what is on other peoples bookshelves but non readers are more likely to be disinterested.

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A huge thanks to Ayo for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Ayo’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #47; Alice Farrant

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the filthy book lust/porn and either give you a fix of other people’s shelves to stave you off going on a buying/borrowing spree, or making you want to run and grab as many more books as you can. This week, the series returns after a rather long hiatus, with the lovely blogger Alice who has been a long time commenter on this blog and who I feel like I know even though I don’t. She too loves Rebecca making her even more special. Anyway, grab a cup of coffee/tea and lets settle down with Alice and have a nosey through her books…

I’m Alice, a late 20s book devourer from the south of England. By day I’m a Marketeer, and by night I worry about what on earth I am going to write in bios about myself. My favourite book is Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford, which I suppose technically is a series. It was the first novel where I physically experienced the anxiety running through the story (Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier being the second). Fun fact: I’m terrified of Jenga. Despite a someone grumpy exterior I am always in favour of making new bookie friends, and you can find me at my literature blog, ofBooks, or on Twitter (@nomoreparades).

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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 have one book shelf, bowing under the pressure of all the paperbacks I insist on buying. Unless I have really enjoyed a book, once it’s read it’s gone. You would think that would stop me buying extreme amounts of books, but it doesn’t. Once all the space is filled it is time to be ruthless once more and part with the books I ‘don’t need’.*

* I need all books, this kills me every 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 would like to say that I have a wonderfully thorough alphabetical system, organise into fiction and non-fiction. But, I don’t. My system makes no sense to anyone but me. I have a to-be-read collection on top of the shelving. Then I have a ‘very favourite’ shelf in the middle, with the rest to-be-reads sitting in front of it. Other favourites go on the top shelf and ‘difficult to fit anywhere’ books and ‘other unreads’ live at the bottom. I’ve also got academic books down the side of my shelves, from my University days.

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

The only one I remember with any significance is Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and yes it’s still on my shelves. I borrowed the first three books off my sister, and finished the third just before the fourth was published. It was the beginning of a long love of the HP Universe and J.K Rowling. However, there were many books that came before and after, which may have been bought with pocket money, I can’t be certain.

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, but only because I have so little space. Also, I have a Kindle (I know, I know, the thing of evil) so anything I wouldn’t want people to see on my shelves I can hide on there.

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?

My copy of Persuasion by Jane Austen. I say my copy, it’s actually my mother’s. It was one of the first books that I read as I got enveloped into reading veraciously. It was the first Jane Austen I read and it is to this day one of my favourite books. Being so far outside of what I recognised as Austen (feisty young heroines) and in Anne I saw myself. I would save it, not only because it’s not technically mine, but because it would be like leaving a little bit of myself behind to burn.

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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?

It wasn’t on my parents shelves, as most of my Dad’s books where historical or maps, but on my Aunts. We were visiting and I was allowed any book from her shelf. I chose an American psychological thriller called Tell Me No Secrets by Joy Fielding. I was too young to understand half of what was happening, but over fifteen years later I still have it. It was the first non-classic, adult book I ever read of my own volition.

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

If I have loved it enough, yes. I do the same with e-books. If I have loved it in digital format I have to buy the paperback, e-books just aren’t the same. I find I don’t borrow books unless a friend has recommended one to me and lent me their copy. I get nervous with other people’s books, in case I were to scuff them in any way.

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

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I’ve read the former already, it was delightful.

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

The new Foyles in London stocks a two-part hardback copy of the Parade’s End series by Ford Madox Ford. They are gorgeous and I need them in my life, once I have £80 to spare anyway.

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

I think I would like anyone looking to think I had a wide ranging taste in fiction and was relatively well read, but I’m not sure that is the vibe it would give off. If anything I probably give off the impression I own a somewhat ramshackle collection of literature. Due to the lack of organisation and bowing nature of the shelves. Ultimately I would hope they would look at my shelves and think of books they would want to recommend to me. If I achieve that, I will feel I am reading successfully.

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A huge thanks to Alice for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves! If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the series then drop me an email tosavidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Alice;s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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40 Books Before I’m 40 (Redux)…

So today is my birthday and I have turned the ripe old age of thirty one, which means I officially can no longer pretend I am in my ‘very late’ twenties, rather like at New Year I use my birthday to put the last year into perspective and focus myself for what I want in the year ahead. As it was the big 3-0 last year I pondered looking a decade forward and choosing forty books to read before I was forty. I promptly then went off the idea and popped it on the back burner for another time.

Well that time has arrived. I have spent the last few days whittling over books that I feel it would be good to give myself, albeit rather loosely, a nudge in the direction of reading. Some of the books were ones, like ‘Middlemarch’ which will get a special mention shortly, which I have been simply meaning to read, other more modern books I have been intrigued about. I was also greatly helped with my new edition of ‘1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die’ (not that I am suggesting this will be on my 40th heaven forbid) which I have spent long periods mulling over.

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The rules, for there must always be some guidelines or things just get silly (see I even sound older), were simply that the books must be published by an author that I hadn’t tried before – thought I better throw that in there before I get some emails/comments telling me I have missed some absolute gems. Simple as that! And here is the list…

  1. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
  2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
  3. Before Night Falls – Reinaldo Arenas
  4. Nightwood – Djuna Barnes
  5. The Heat of the Day – Elizabeth Bowen
  6. Wild Swans – Jung Chang
  7. Claudine’s House – Colette
  8. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
  9. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
  10. Middlemarch – George Eliot
  11. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
  12. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
  13. The Well of Loneliness – Radclyffe Hall
  14. Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
  15. For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
  16. Smilla’s Sense of Snow – Peter Hoeg
  17. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  18. A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
  19. Schindler’s Ark – Thomas Keneally
  20. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
  21. Independent People – Halldor Laxness
  22. Lost Language of Cranes – David Leavitt
  23. The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing
  24. Embers – Sandor Marai
  25. Fugitive Pieces – Anne Micheals
  26. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
  27. The Country Girls – Edna O’Brien
  28. Quartet in Autumn – Barbara Pym
  29. The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radcliffe
  30. All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
  31. Pamela – Samuel Richardson
  32.  Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
  33. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
  34. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
  35. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
  36. Restoration – Rose Tremain
  37. Myra Breckinridge – Gore Vidal
  38. The Colour Purple – Alice Walker
  39. Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham
  40. Therese Raquin – Emile Zola

So there they are! I have also made sure I miss some famous classics (‘The Leopard’, ‘The Iliad’, etc) and some lesser known ones (‘The Odd Women’, ‘A Crime in the Neighbourhood’) but those are on my periphery too plus I also need to have some for when I do my fifty before fifty don’t I?

Now you may have noticed that there is one book which breaks the trend slightly and that is ‘Middlemarch’. Which leads me to a little announcement, and I hope those of you joining in with Classically Challenged won’t be cross, as I have decided to postpone writing about it on the last Sunday of March and am moving it to the end of June. I know, I know, June is ages away. However after some thought, and having only got eight chapters in so far, I decided I don’t want to rush this read (and I am enjoying it so far) because of a deadline and with a fairly long trip to London next week, plus a literary festival to prepare and read for, oh and those solo podcasts too… you get the picture. I simply want to enjoy ‘Middlemarch’.

So what do you make of the list? Which have you read and which have you been meaning to? Let me know and I promise I will be back next week, well tomorrow, catching up on all the comments that I have been meaning to for ages. In the meantime there are things to unwrap, candles to blow out, cake to eat and some serious applying of anti-aging cream to be done!

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How Many Book Groups Make Too Many?

I love books. I know that sounds like a rather obvious thing to say with a book blog, but sometimes my love of books gets me into trouble. For example at the moment I am in the midst of reading the Green Carnation Prize submissions, of which we have easily had double or maybe treble what we did last year and there are more to come. I also have a big pile of books on the bedside table which I keep ‘meaning to read next’, some advance reading to do for ‘Discovering Daphne’ and another project for the blog which starts in August. Phew! So you might think considering I am part of two book groups the very thought of joining another would seem idiotic… and yet I think I have.

It’s not the fault of the other two book groups that have made my eyes wander. It’s definitely me.

You see with the book group I first joined (that in my own head I call ‘the lovely ladies of Levenshulme book group’ because it is lots of lovely women and me and Paul Magrs) I love the banter and I love the people but until this month a lot of the choices have been re-reads for me. This is of course my fault for reading too much frankly and not theirs at all. However this month, though I have no idea what day it’s happening, we are reading ‘The Lost Daughter’ by Diane Chamberlain which is a book I have never read and would go as far as to say from the cover looks like a book I would possibly avoid. It looks a bit Jodi Piccoult. However this is the very point of a book group isn’t it?

Sadly at the moment the book seems to be avoiding me. I ordered it from the library, they went and loaned it after I ordered it. I have tried book shops and no avail. I could go online, but I feel all funny about online sales after the latest Book Depository news. So if I get it and if I find out when the meeting is I shall of course be going.

The next book group I joined in part because it was organised by one of my lovely new friends up in the north and secondly because I hadn’t read the book, which was ‘Purple Hibiscus’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, one I had wanted to read for ages and ages but not quite got around to. The only issue is that I have read the next book that’s been chosen (again my fault not theirs) but I really don’t want to read it again. What is it? ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy. This seems odd, especially as you can see from a review of it back in 2008, when I had read it for a book group too, I came away confused but overall liking it. So wouldn’t this be just the sort of book that could do with a re-read? After all this was a few years ago. The answer screaming at me is no. I don’t want to be confused by it again, and one thing I missed in that review was how long that book took to read. I have it by the bed in case but I will see, I did love the people who went so much – a really lovely mixture. Can I not go without having to re-read it and see if I can remember it fully? I admit I remember one horrid scene in a cinema all too well.

Fate seemed to extend a hand when I found a new book group in Manchester through twitter completely randomly. I think Waterstones Deansgate retweeted them, they are the @NQbookclub. This group are a little specific with what books they choose, which is what attracts me so much – as well as meeting new book lovers that is, as they only read post war classics it seems… Classics such as ‘Revolutionary Road’ by Richard Yates, ‘Things Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe and next up to read is ‘Rabbit, Run’ by John Updike. Many of you will of course have read these, but I haven’t and yet they have always been books I have fancied (I did read Updike’s ‘Couples’ for a book group and was impressed with the read and the discussion was great) so should I add another book group to my reading schedule?

I am torn, especially as with ‘Bookmarked’ starting soon (exciting announcement about that soon) and the reading I will need to do for that… maybe it is too much? Do I need to give up one? I don’t really want to. How many book groups are too many? Has anyone else found that they go to a book group and each month it’s a book they have read? Does it matter if you pick and choose which meetings you attend, what are your thoughts on etiquette?

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