Tag Archives: Cormac McCarthy

Beastings – Benjamin Myers

There are some authors you know you really ought to read. You like the look of their face, you enjoy the cut of their social media jib and, most importantly, lots of the people you trust have read their books and raved about them. Oh and you know they write dark novels that in the most recent cases tend to be about the British landscape. It’s just an endless list of ticks and pointers. Then you finally do and discover all these thoughts were right. This is what has happened with Benjamin Myers, who graced the blog with his bookshelves and his bibliophilic charm yesterday, and his latest book Beastings.

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Bluemoose Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 222 pages, bought by myself then kindly sent by the publisher for Fiction Uncovered

Rain fell like steel rivets.
It came down hard pile-driving into the ground. It was the first full fall in the weeks since she had left St Mary’s.
She had departed while the embers were still glowing. Upped and went before Hinckley started hacking in his pit. She’d bundled the bairn and gone out the back way. Taken one of the tracks out of town. Away from the streets and into the trees.
It was the best for both of them. To get out of that house. The only way
.

Benjamin Myers fourth novel throws you in at the deep end from the off, as all the best books tend to do. You know a lot and yet very little. We know it is raining, we know that a young woman has fled the house she was living in with a baby that isn’t hers, we also have the sense that both her and the baby were in danger. We soon learn that she is being followed, although hounded/stalked sounds more sinisterly appropriate, and is heading for a secret island somewhere off the coast. Because on an island in the ocean no-one can sneak up on you. The question is if she can get through the forests and mountains of Cumbria and head to the ocean without being caught and without hardly any supplies.

What is so blinking clever about Beastings is the nature of its simplicity, which also makes it incredibly powerful. In the main we only have four characters simply known as the girl, the baby, the Priest and the Poacher (who the Priest has hired, along with his dog, to track the girl down). We have the seemingly simple premise of a girl who steals a child and is being hunted down. Yet we also have the question of why she is being hunted so coldly and ruthlessly, and without giving away any spoilers, the question of what links this girl to the Priest who is following her rather than the child’s father or mother. There are grey areas that we need to learn about.

Myers prose initially seems incredibly sparse, for a start not a word is wasted. There’s no waffle, there’s no filler, every word counts. Yet this is less a case of scarcity and more a case of hidden depths and leaving the reader to do some of the work and fill in the aforementioned grey areas, rightly or wrongly, as things are slowly revealed. The girl herself is mute and so her actions are what show us her true character whilst also making her plight and escape all the more difficult. The Priest doesn’t really want to talk, apart from when in his sleep he becomes loose lipped, other than when absolutely necessary.

In case you are thinking this book sounds like it is relentlessly dark, fret not. Firstly it reads like a mix of adventure and thriller (whilst astoundingly written) so you will whizz through it as in its essence it is a chase novel. When things get particularly bleak Myers often throws in some black comedy, it’s really dark but it will make you chuckle, occasionally despite yourself. I found this particularly so in the relationship between the Priest, who is odious, and the Poacher, who is like a village idiot meets hit man. That said overall this is not a book for those of you who like a cosy love story, this is a story of humans in their most unflinching rawness.

The Poacher looked at the back of the Priest’s pale thin neck – a neck that unlike his had not seen sun this past season. He looked at the Priest’s neck and thought how easy it would be to snap it with some snaring wire and then he idly wondered whether the punishment for putting a man of God in the soil was greater than that of a common man and then he thought of all the different ways he would dispose of a body out here if he had to. Of course pigs were the best way. Any countryman knew that a half dozen hogs could do to a body in half a day that which time and the elements and the scavengers would take half a year or longer to do. Because it’s the bones and the skull that are the tricky parts. And the teeth. Especially the teeth.

This is why Beastings is the perfect title and why Myers names it so. That’s the beastings he said. The mother’s first milk for the newborn. The best bit. Tit-fresh. When I said this novel was about the rawness of humans, I probably actually meant their most animalistic. The most base and in some cases utterly beastly ways in which they behave when trying to survive, for each of our four characters is fighting for survival in one way or another whatever their motives.

I said there were only four characters and actually that is a lie. There is one huge fifth main character and that is Cumbria and her mountains. Snarker Pike, Troutbeck Park, Seat Sandal, Dollywaggon Pike, Lyulph’s Tower, Prison Crag, Poadpot Hill and many more all brood in the background as our heroine makes her route of escape. Sometimes Cumbria is the perfect idyll of a place to hide, more often a threatening, dangerous and trickier customer. Always beautiful, always present, always watching, always celebrated. In essence what we have here is a literary thriller of the highest order and one that really stands out from the crowd and packs an intense, unflinching and disturbing punch as you read to its dramatic climax. It is also a love letter to Cumbria, be it a dark twisted one that has got covered in mud and torn as it was blown through a few hedges and down a few dells.

When asked to give a quote for Beastings recently, I described it as ‘Thomas Hardy meets Cormac McCarthy, need I say more?” I actually wanted to say “imagine if Thomas Hardy and Cormac McCarthy had a bastard lovechild” but I didn’t think that the literary world might be ready for such a statement or the images that it conjurors in so many ways. Anyway, I gave that quote firstly because Beastings is one of those books that feels like it has elements of classics of the past, feels contemporary and discusses issues (religion, nature vs. nurture, nature vs. humans) of the here and now plus could actually be set in some apocalyptic wasteland of a British Isles of the future. Clever, huh? Also secondly Myers writing and storytelling is just that bloody good. If I were a cult leader here is where I would endeth my Sunday Sermon from the Savidge Mount. So go forth and read it. Now.

Don’t forget to go and see Benjamin’s shelves and read about his utter passion for books here. It made me want to be his new beardy best mate and start a beardy book club with him. Who else has read Beastings and what did you make of it? Have you read any of Myers’ other novels? I think I am going to give Pig Iron a whirl next!

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Filed under Benjamin Myers, Bluemoose Books, Books of 2015, Review

Other People’s Bookshelves #54 – Susan Halligan

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 books and shelves. This week we are off to Manhattan, to join Susan who has nicely just popped the kettle on and will be serving us all some pastries and the like, so kind. Before we have a nosey through her shelves, let’s find out more about her…

I’m a digital marketer and work (mostly) with non-profits on social media strategy, online and offline communications integration, content development, analytics and implementation. You can learn more about my work here. I’ve lived in Manhattan for most of my adult life and grew up in Baltimore, that wonderful, complex city that manages to be both Anne Tyler as well as The Wire and is home to the beautiful Enoch Pratt Central Library. I spent a lot of time in libraries as a kid (I was parked there after school, because both my parents worked) and remain an advocate of them as an important community resource. I even worked in one — The New York Public Library — one of the worlds greatest. I began my career in book publishing and still have many friends in the industry. I thank them all for continuing to send me free books.

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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?

A book does not have to be a masterpiece for me to wedge it into the shelves. If I like it, I generally keep it. I have a weakness for fast-paced mysteries (The Girl on the Train is the most recent example) and I very often pass those along to family and friends. About a quarter of the books on my shelves are unread. Should I admit that? The reasons vary: someone sent me the book and I just wasn’t interested in the subject, but I appreciated the gesture; I started the book, but couldn’t get going with it (and these include a couple of literary masterpieces); and the books that I am determined to read … one day, like The Adventures of Augie March.

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 organized very broadly: cookbooks all together, by cuisine or subject. Art books — one long bottom shelf — together, Rembrandt next to Michelangelo. They painted, right? Oh, yes, Michelangelo sculpted. Perhaps I should move him next to the Rodin. Fiction, by author. As I glance over I do see that all the Highsmith’s and Cormac McCarthy’s ‘s are together, one after the other. Half my shelves are devoted to biographies (from Princess Diana to the LBJ of Robert’s Caro’s magisterial biography) and history, mostly 20th Century, everything from Margaret Macmillan’s Paris 1919 to Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower about the lead up to 9/11. I love big, sweeping looks at lives — the famous and the forgotten — and history. I consider these two particular interests my continuing education.

I do not alphabetize and rarely cull.

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

Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (Second Edition.) I bought it in a bookshop in Lagos, Nigeria. I wasn’t particularly drawn to Communism (likely I had no idea what it was), I simply loved the red plastic cover. And, yes, it still has a place on my shelves.

Here’s one of Chairman Mao’s quotes: “We are now carrying out a revolution not only in the social system, the change from private to public ownership, but also in technology, the change from handicraft to large-scale modern machine production, and the two revolutions are inter-connected.” Hmm.

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

I am completely unembarrassed to admit that I love books about the movies. This includes bios, cheesy as well as scholarly, and inside Hollywood accounts. Barry Paris’ Garbo, Katharine Hepburn’s Me, A. Scott Berg’s Goldwyn, Debbie Reynolds’ autobiography and tons of others have a home on my shelves. Anything that gives me a look behind-the-scenes at the movies — Old Hollywood, New Hollywood — delights me. Steven Bach’s Final Cut about the disastrous meet up of money v creative in the making of the movie, Heaven’s Gate, is probably the best inside-Hollywood account ever written and should be required reading for any entrepreneur today. Brooke Hayward’s Haywire, about the disintegration of the marriage of her parents, the 1930s cult actress Margaret Sullavan (The Shop Around the Corner) and the bigger-than-life Broadway producer, Leland Heyward, and its eternal effect on the lives of their three children, remains a devastating read.

Fun fact: Katharine Hepburn and Leland Hayward had a romance in the early 1930s before his marriage to Margaret Sullavan. In Me, Hepburn describes their relationship this way: “I could see very quickly that I suited Leland perfectly. I liked to eat at home and go to bed early. He liked to eat out and go to bed late. So he had a drink when I had dinner and then off he’d go. Back at midnight. Perfect friendship.”

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?

The Junior Illustrated Library signed by my maternal grandparents and given to me between the ages of six and eight.

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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?

“Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” I was 14. I thought I could learn something from Scarlett. A friend gave me a boxed 60th Anniversary edition of Gone With the Wind.

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?

Timely question. A friend’s mother just loaned me Thomas Beller’s J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist. I will definitely add to my shelves just to reread the section where Beller is in the Princeton University library moving between two tables of Salinger papers, the one with his laptop set up and a box of material that he was allowed to quote from, and the other, with letters, that he was prohibited to quote from. At that table, he’d read a bit, try to memorize something and then scoot back to the table with the laptop and start typing. A librarian never stopped him.

I got my first iPad about four years ago. From that moment, every book I read was digital. I did not add them to my shelves (just the cloud.) And then about six months ago, I began to weary of the screen and the swipe and long for the pinch of paper between thumb and forefinger as I turned the page. To test whether this was a phase or a physical need, I reread three books in hard cover — all novels — that had made especially powerful impressions on me at one point. Could I still read a physical book? Were the books as wonderful as I remembered?

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The Great Gatsby still glistens. Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist is still one of the most thrilling-paced and potent novels that I have ever read. And that end? I still don’t know exactly what happened. It’s haunting. Twenty odd years ago, I read Peter Taylor’s exquisitely written A Summons to Memphis in the back seat of a car as my parents drove me back to New York after the Christmas holidays in Baltimore. It’s a story about a sympathetic older widower who falls in love and wants to remarry, but is thwarted by his evil children. That’s how I remembered it anyway. This time? Still beautifully written (and if you haven’t read Taylor’s two novels and his many short stories, get thee to a bookstore.) But my conclusions about the family completely flipped: the father was far less sympathetic, now revealed as selfish and emotionally absent from his children while they were growing up. The children remain manipulative and cruel, but the reasons why are far more complex. An interesting exercise to read a book when you are young and then re-read after you’ve experienced more of life’s nicks.

So I have a new rule: I will only read fiction on paper and I will buy the books in stores, not on the Internet.

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

Charles Blow’s Fire Shut Up In My Bones. Blow is a New York Times columnist that I admire a lot. He writes with a clarity that has cumulative power. He’s been an important voice in much of the recent anguished conversation about racism in the United States, from the death of Trayvon Martin to the Oscar snubs of the movie, Selma. The book is a memoir of his growing up in rural Louisiana. Months before the book’s publication, Blow began to tweet and Facebook like mad about the book to build interest. Turns out he’s a genius marketer, too. Authors should closely study his pre-publication, digital promotion model (@CharlesMBlow)

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

Lemony’s Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. I’ve read them all, borrowed from my niece, Amy, but I only have the first, The Bad Beginning. Never was a book so inaptly named, it was a fantastic beginning. I also must find a hard copy of Mommie Dearest 🙂

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

Whenever someone comes over, even repeat visitors, they spend some time eye-balling the shelves. The shelves run floor-to-ceiling along a 21-foot wall and are hard to ignore. Sometimes the objects displayed attract attention — especially my grandmother’s clock and the pieces of African art — but, mostly it’s the books. I have a lot of interests (did I mention the boxes of board games at the bottom of one shelf?) and am endlessly curious. I hope my shelves reflect that. I love it when a visitor pulls a book off the shelf and opens it up…

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

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Books To Film #1

I do like seeing people’s thoughts on books that they have read and how they feel about them when they are turned into films. In fact I almost took part in the ‘Read The Book, See The Movie’ challenge that quite a lot of people seem to have participated in. I do find though that if I know one of my favourite books is going to be turned into a film I almost instantly take a certain dislike to it, I am currently building some dislike for the film version of ‘One Day’ before its even finished being made. There is occasionally the flipside when sometimes you watch a film and it’s as good as if not better than the book like for example the first book-to-film I am going to address today which is…

…‘Eclipse.’ You will probably know that I have had rather a rollercoaster ride with Stephenie Meyer’s works, I didn’t like the first but then saw the film version of ‘Twilight’ and was completely hooked, in fact I rushed to see both ‘New Moon’ and ‘Eclipse’ on the weekends they came out. I cannot explain this compulsion and I am not sure how I feel about it, ha. I think because I found the book so slow and the fact the movie really started from about page 350 in the book (where all the action begins) I enjoyed it more. The humour in the third film is at the forefront which I really liked and there are some great comic scenes between Edward and Jake, but there is also the endless longing and Bella (Kristen Stewart looks exactly like mt Aunty Caroline did at her age – spooky) wandering about in trees almost looking for danger or driving around advertising in a Volvo through mountains. Having said that its good escapist fun, though why did they change Victoria? 7/10

I think possibly the most beautiful and cinematic film I have watched in some time is ‘A Single Man’ which is Tom Ford’s directorial debut and his take on Christopher Isherwood’s marvellous book. I thought the imagery and the way it set that period of time was just wonderful. Colin Firth was absolutely superb as George a man dealing with the loss of his lover Jim in a world where being gay is not the most acceptable of lifestyles. Julianne Moore as Charley (a drunken fellow Brit) absolutely stole the show for me though, every scene with her in it seemed to have certain energy, but that’s also down to characters as Firth had to play a more restrained role in George. I thought both of them deserved Oscars and Ford certainly did. I saw ‘The Hurt Locker’ and was soooo disappointed, this cinematically is just beautiful. 9/10

I will admit that I expected to utterly loathe the film version of ‘The Road’. In part because I thought Cormac McCarthy’s book was so devastating and so haunting I didn’t think anything could touch it and secondly because I didn’t rate the leads and don’t like films with precocious little boys in them (Sixth Sense anyone?) especially when they have a rather pivotal part. Yet I thought this was a great version, it was atmospheric, the road they walked was very like the one I envisaged and it both scared and moved me which I really didn’t expect the film version to do. The young boy was a superb actor too and I didn’t even get too irritated by Charlie Theron in the role, that was none existent and only hinted at in the book, as the mother either. 8/10

I think Tim Burton is an utter genius when it comes to films; in fact I was always a little surprised he never got his mitts on the Harry Potter movies. Sadly I just didn’t get on with his remake of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ based of course on the famous Lewis Carroll story. It was crazy and psychedelic enough, whilst of course being nothing like either of the stories more a mesh with all the popular characters. Johnny Depp didn’t shine for me like I expected him to as ‘The Mad Hatter’ and Helena Bonham Carter (or as the Savidge family call her Helena Bonkable Carter – think Bongy, Granny Savidge Reads husband, made that up years ago and still lives on now) was good but not amazing as ‘The Red Queen’ maybe he should stop giving his wife and friend jobs instantly and shake it up a bit as Anne Hathaway was ace as ‘The White Queen’. 6/10

Finally, and get read for me to be scathing, comes ‘The Lovely Bones’ which I thought Peter Jackson (who is normally so good) turned into a mediocre saccharine family drama when it should have been far darker. I am sure it made Alice Sebold a lot of money for adapting the book but it’s tarnished the memory of it for me and I just thought ‘sell out’, strange as I wouldn’t normally feel that way to an author. Rachel Weisz (again normally not bad) seemed unsure what she was meant to do with the role, Mark Wahlberg kept forgetting it wasn’t an action movie and Saoirse Rohan as Salmon was just to breathy and sunshiny even in death, a million miles away from her superb performance in ‘Atonement’. There were two great actors and those were Stanley Tucci who was perfectly despicable and Susan Sarandon as a wonderful drinking, forthright, sex talking grandmother who stole every scene she was in. I wonder if they only have her parts on youtube, if so just watch those. 3/10

And there you have it my first foray into books-to-film thoughts. Hope you enjoyed it? There will be more next week when I also look at film to TV adaptations (and not the new series of ‘Sherlock’ we have here in the UK). In the meantime let’s hear what you have to say about books to film? Have there been any that have done it marvellously, any that have appalled you, or any that shock, horror was actually better than the book?

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Summer Reads Suggestions… From Publishers

Yesterday you saw the summer selections from The Not The TV Book Group, so how about some more? As I mentioned on Saturday when I started my week long ‘Summer Reads Season’ I decided that this week I would get a selection of bookish people’s favourite summer read suggestions and have a nosey at what people are looking forward to reading in the future weeks. I have asked bloggers and authors and the stars of today’s post… the publishers, who I am not sure get mentioned quite enough on the blogosphere. Here are what some of the lovely publishers I emailed came up with…

Andrea See, Canongate Books

A perfect summer read could be either so trashy you don’t need to pay real attention to it while you’re enjoying your summer, or so absorbing and compelling that you don’t care what anyone else is doing, or where you are. Last summer I read ‘The Road’ while I was in the Bahamas and I couldn’t care less about the weather, it was such an amazing book.

Um, I have a mountain of books I’d love to read. I’ve just borrowed Close Range (Annie Proulx) from the library, but I’m also keen to get into Eleven Kinds of Loneliness (Richard Yates), One Day (David Nicholls), The Ascent of Money (Niall Ferguson), Pereira Maintains (Antonio Tabucchi)… sorry, I don’t just have one! These (hopefully) fall into the latter category.

Judith Greenberg, Little Brown/Virago

It has to be something truly engrossing not just mildly diverting .This is also the time for something to savour, a sprawling saga or a Dickensian tome as there is that sense of time unfolding slowly ahead. It seems fitting to share that with some literary companions with whom you can really bond. I look for something with the sweep and heart of a beach read but the challenge and substance to satisfy and inform. Last summer I became a little obsessed with The Kilburn Social Club by Robert Hudson, a zingy debut about the fate of a London football club and the dynasty that owns it.  It is a state of the nation novel with a sense of humour. As much about the fun and the fear of coming of age and finding love as it is about the future of the FA. It has, dare I say it put the beautiful into the game for this footie sceptic!

Sophie Mitchell, Orion Books

I love to travel but I hate the “getting there” part so for me, a perfect summer read has to be something that can help me survive a flight (the boredom, the misery of being sardine tinned into a tiny seat with no personal space, the icky tummy…) I need a book with an engrossing plot and characters I really care about and can become invested in. I remember reading Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights on a flight to somewhere, and my surroundings completely disappeared. At one point, my husband had to lean across the aisle and ask me to please stop acting like such a freak because people were starting to watch me. Apparently I had been alternately gasping, giggling and crying, all out loud, without even realising it.

I’m off for a trip round Ireland in a couple of weeks and I’m really looking forward to reading the recent Lost Man Booker winner, Troubles by JG Farrell, while I’m there, though I will probably take something a little less challenging as well just in case.

Meike Ziervogel, Peirene Press

Because I am a publisher of short novels and novellas and therefore spend a lot of my time  reading short books, I do love to indulge in long books during my holidays. Moreover, they are usually books I feel I ought to have read a long time ago but for some reason have so far missed out on. Last year I read the whole of Dante’s Divine Comedy (in German translation) – absolutely fantastic, especially “Paradiso”, extremely poetic and beautiful. I can whole heartedly recommend it for a summer read (make sure you get one with good commentary, as some of the passages would otherwise make no sense) – challenging, yes, but definitely rewarding. 

Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” – over the years I have read excerpts here and there but never the entire 6 volumes from the first to the large page. Although I’d love to read all six this summer – I know that is illusionary. But I will definitely read “Swann’s Way” and “Within a Budding Grove“.

Joe Pickering, Penguin Books

I don’t really have an ideal ‘summer read’-type book. I’d just hope that if I had time to read whatever I wanted that I picked something good. That time usually happens on planes as I don’t tend to take beach holidays, so I guess I wouldn’t want something too heavy, literally or linguistically. I read The Sportswriter by Richard Ford on the plane to New York recently and that seemed to fit well.

Along those lines I’m hoping this summer to tick off a couple of books I’ve been meaning to read for a while: Netherland and Remainder, because I think they might be my kind of thing and because I want to know what all the fuss is about.

Rebecca Gray, Serpents Tail/Profile Books

Summer reading for me is all about being absorbed in a book, but I don’t want anything too challenging or upsetting. My guilty pleasure (except I’m pretty unrepentant and happy to stand up for it, so not that guilty) is Jilly Cooper, a genius of the summer read. Rivals is one of my all-time favourites. I’ll put Thackeray’s Vanity Fair on a shelf with it, because it’s definitely got a sense of pace and gossip in common – I want a book I can’t bear to tear myself away from. My favourite kind of holiday is one where I’m allowed to read all day, including at meals (my boyfriend fiercely disapproves of this, but sometimes I can persuade him).

I’ll be re-reading Elliot Allagash by Simon Rich, which we publish in August – it’s perfect summer reading because it’s laugh-out-loud funny and everything works out ok in the end. An inventive, fun book for a sunny afternoon – I first read it on a Friday night and was so excited I didn’t go to the drinks I was supposed to, choosing to stay in on my own, not eat dinner and ignore all distractions, including things like turning on the lights and taking off my shoes, because I was enjoying the book so much.

Well its given me a few books to add to the never ending TBR I have to say! So which of those have you read or have added to the TBR?

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Filed under Penguin Books, Profile Books, Serpent's Tail

Twilight – William Gay

We all have to admit that we can guilty of buying books for their covers, I know I am. My latest read Twilight by William Gay was one, though bizarrely when I used to work next door to the TLS (it was lethal they gave us free books weekly, in fact I blame this particular period as being the route of my never ending TBR piles) a review copy with the hardback cover crossed my path and I thought it looked cheap, dreary and generally dreadful and never thought I would read it. The lesson it seems to have taught me, though isn’t actually the rule, is never judge a hardback by a bad cover and always judge a paperback by a good cover. Doesn’t that equate to just buy any book you can get your hands on though?

Twilight is a dark and twisted tale set in America’s Deep South. It starts with a brother and sister, Kenneth and Corrie Tyler, digging up the grave of their father. Why on earth would they be doing such a thing? They are suspicious, though you are never quite sure why, that his burial wasn’t as it should have been and when they find they are right (I will cut out the details for the faint of heart) and when they open more graves they realise that local undertaker Fenton Breece is up to no good and so they feel that they should bring him to justice. When Kenneth steals Fenton’s briefcase and finds some very disturbing and very incriminating photos of the undertaker and the dead they have all they need for a case of blackmail, only when Fenton hires the towns local convicted murderer to take back the evidence and get rid of the siblings things take a very nasty turn and Kenneth and Corrie are on the run through the wastelands.

I thought this book was marvellous and though it is incredibly heavy on plot at no point does the author let this take the attention or detail away from the prose or from the characters like many novels do. The book is essentially about evil people and the darkness within us all and with a character like Fenton Breece I didn’t think you could get much darker or disturbed and then you are introduced to an even more dangerous psychopath in the form of Granville Sutter a character that is incredibly vivid and I wont forget in a hurry, he is the type to give you nightmares. Yet both of these dark and dangerous characters are very different.

I also thought the landscapes created by William Gay were just wonderful, I have never been to the Deep South but as the book takes chase through defunct mines, ghost towns and abandoned mansions I felt I was actually there and being hunted and only able to rely on the strange inhabitants of those parts. It took me on a journey that truly captivated me and also had me on the edge of seat, a brilliant, brilliant novel.

Looking at some reviews and on a certain encyclopaedic site I was interested to learn of a new genre of fiction I have never heard of and which apparently this is a very good example of. Has anyone else heard of the term ‘Southern Gothic’ and where can I get my hands on more of this sort of stuff. If its like this and also like some of Cormac McCarthy’s work which interestingly William Gay has been criticised for, and I could see shades of No Country for Old Men in this (only because of the psycho in the Deep South part), then I really need to read more of this genre. It could be something to look into in the New Year after the sensation season is through. What Southern Gothic could you recommend? Have you read any William Gay and if so was it this good?

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Filed under Faber & Faber, Review, William Gay

The Reader’s Table

I mentioned a while ago that whilst I was milling in Waterstones I happened upon  a table filled with an authors favourite books. The Waterstone’s Writers Table is a great idea, have a very popular author who many people love to read telling you what their favourite reads. Well it works if you love the author and so far the ones they have chosen apart from Philip Pullman I havent read a word of but I feel I would love Faulks and Mosse should I read them.

I then had the thought that a writers table is great, but wouldn’t a readers table in a bookshop be great? Well I decided that I rather than just start rearranging a display in Waterstones there and then I would go home and think about my forty favourite reads of all time and then make an all new page on the blog so you can see them. And I have almost done it…

You see forty books is actually much harder than you think and after hours and hours of listing I came up with 24, then I went away from it and came back with 57. I started whittling this down until I came up with around 43 considered 37 of which where definates leaving six of them are fighting as to which will make it into the final three. Well tha battle is still on and so am leaving it for a few days but leaving you with my Top 20 as it stands today and you can find them here.

The top ten was really, really easy… in fact actually the top fifteen was really easy then then it gets harder and harder. Which was my favourite? Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier of course though it was a close fight to the death between that and Wilkie Collin’s ‘The Woman in White’. There is another thing that has come out of this delightful little excercise and that is the desire to re-read quite a lot of my favourites. Rebecca, The Woman in White and The Time Travellers Wife all may have to go back onto my TBR in the neare future. Is this something that any of you ever do at all?

I also noticed that despite having written some of my favourite books I have never read another book by some of the authors in the top 20 let alone the top 40. Obviously some of them have only written one book, however I definately need to read more Wilkie Collins (I am desperate to try ‘Armadale’ and may now have to treat myself as have more long train journeys this weekend to see my mother and my Gran), John Boyne, Evelyn Waugh and Cormac McCarthy. I am also aware I need to read a lot more classics as I think this will change the list, which is a constant everchanging work in progress.

If any of you want to do your own ‘Readers Table’ page do let me know, and do say where you saw it hahaha! So which books would you have in your top twenty? Can you guess what might make it in my my top 40 – 21? i look forward to your thoughts and hope you like the new page!

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The Road – Cormac McCarthy

This book is a prime example of why I love Book Group. I would never have read a Cormac McCarthy, ok it would be unlikely rather than never, unless Matt hadn’t put this on his list of five (of which he had some other brilliant sounding books which I have been on RISI for) though I have seen ‘No Country For Old Men’ and loved it I wasn’t sure that I would read anything by the actual author of the book.

Picador Books, paperback, 2007, fiction, 320 pages, bought by myself for myself

The Road is a tale of an apocalyptic world, you are left to your own devices as to what might have caused it, a burnt America where you follow a father and son as they travel endlessly in one direction looking for the sea. On their journey they must beware of anyone as some remaining humans have become carnivores (some of the most shocking scenes in the book) searching for humans they can stockpile for flesh. The tale of the father and son on this long journey is tense and heartbreaking, they have little hope of finding food, allies or civilisation and the boy asking ‘Am I going to die today?’ was incredibly moving.

McCarthy uses his language like the landscape it’s a sparse novel to match the sparseness of the scenes in which it is set the prose stripped down like the lands upon which they walk. I can totally understand why this book has been such a huge success, it manages to effortlessly capture your fears of what could happen to the world, it’s a book set in a time of no hope, a book set in a world of fear and yet you read on. Though they are walking through endless grey and dust he tells the story in such a way that you are hooked and cannot help but read on.

I actually read this in one sitting and I have never said this of any book before but I think it’s the best way to read it. It has no chapters anyway and before you know it you’re engrossed and four or five hours have passed. This is a must read novel. I can say nothing else.

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Filed under Book Group, Books of 2008, Cormac McCarthy, Picador Books, Review