Tag Archives: David Nicholls

#BuyBooksForSyria

The capacity for bookish bods to do wonderful and charitable things is quite something. Not long ago Patrick Ness set up a fundraiser for Syria through Save The Children, which is still taking donations, and has just blown up and now made over $1,000,000. In the last couple of weeks author and vlogger Jen Campbell announced her challenge to write 100 Poems in 24 hours from the 6th to the 7th of October for The Book Bus, a wonderful charity that sends mobile libraries to communities in various places across Africa, Asia and South America to help children learn to read, provide teaching materials and create school libraries. Now the book shop chain Waterstones, one of the few chain stores I love whole heartedly, have announced their Buy Books For Syria campaign….

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They have teamed up with authors and UK publishers to raise £1m for Oxfam’s Syria Crisis appeal. From Today they will be selling books in our shops from a range of authors with all the proceeds going to Oxfam. A wide range of authors are supporting the campaign, including Philip Pullman, Hilary Mantel, David Walliams, Neil Gaiman, David Nicholls, Marian Keyes, Victoria Hislop, Ali Smith, Robert Harris, Lee Child, Salman Rushdie, Caitlin Moran, Julia Donaldson and Jacqueline Wilson.

I was kindly asked if I would like to champion one of the books and once the list was announced I went and chose one of my favourite thrillers of the last year or so which is Tom Rob Smith’s The Farm. If you haven’t read this corker of a thriller then here is my review to give you a taster and to add an extra reason to get your mitts on a copy for this cause.

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Though frankly don’t even go and look at that just please do order the book, using this special link so the proceeds all go to Syria, if you haven’t read it yet. If you have read it then have a look at the rest of the special selection of books which you can buy in store or online using the special links here. Often when we take a moment away from our books and watch the news we feel like we can’t really do anything massive, well with this initiative we can, and all buy buying ourselves and/or our loved ones the gift of a book. Simple really, how can we not? I am off to go and choose a title or two myself!

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Us – David Nicholls

David Nicholls’ One Day is one of the biggest selling books of recent years, it was one of those books that you saw people reading absolutely everywhere. Interestingly it is my second most viewed review on this blog ever, with well over ten thousand views only a few thousand behind Kate Atkinson’s Started Early, Took My Dog so there is some additional trivia for you. It is a book I really, really enjoyed (even if it left me a wreck) and so, like many readers, I was very excited about Us when it came out last year, especially after a five year wait.

Hodder Books, hardback, 2014, fiction, 416 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

One night Douglas Petersen is woken by his wife Connie, automatically he thinks that either their house is being burgled or something awful is happening to her or their son Albie. As it happens there isn’t something wrong with Connie, though she decides to tell him that she feels that their marriage of over twenty years is finished and that once Albie is safely off to University after the summer she is going to leave Douglas and get a divorce. This is devastating news to Douglas who is still completely in love with Connie and also, though admittedly it hasn’t been all fireworks in the last few years, he thought they were happy enough, settled and happy.

On a slightly smaller scale, though not insignificant Douglas, he remembers that they have booked a huge summer holiday as a family, thinking it would be the last with Albie not the last with all of them, on a grand tour of Europe. As this dawns on Douglas so does the idea that maybe this holiday could be what cements them once again as a family and win back Connie’s heart and her love for him. What follows is both what comes after Connie’s sudden revelation and the holiday in questions, which we know is going to be a rollercoaster before we even start on it with them, and also the story of how Douglas and Connie met, fell in love, married and then ended up in the situation they are in.

The device of going back and forth in time from the opening of a novel is, admittedly, hardly anything new or earth shattering in the world of literature. Sometimes these well used tropes in writing can, when done well and by the right writer, can be what makes a novel work so well and I personally really, really liked Nicholls’ use of it in Us. I don’t know about all of you but I am someone who always wants to know the ins and outs of a relationship; how people met, the funny stories of years of a relationship, the highs and the lows etc. With Us, Nicholls’ gives us theses in abundance from the moments a couple will tell you on any night out like how they met (see below) but also and often more fascinatingly the ones they keep just between each other.

I hadn’t spoken this much for years. I hoped, from Connie’s silence, that she was finding me fantastically interesting, but when I looked her eyes were rolled far back into her head.
‘Are you alright?’
‘I’m sorry. I’m just rushing my tits off.’
‘Oh. Okay. Should I stop talking?’
‘No, I love it. You’re bringing me down, but in a good way. Wow. Your eyes look massive, Douglas. They’re taking up your whole face.’
‘Okay. So… should I keep talking then?’
‘Yes, please. I like listening to your voice. It’s like listening to the Shipping Forecast.’

Nicholls is brilliant at characters and their relationships. He can build a character in a sentence using the oddest yet most realistic and human of quirks, like them being described as the shipping forecast by others etc. He is particularly good at relationships, be they platonic friendships (which we see less in this novel), those between a couple and those between a parent and a child, which is really the second biggest theme in the book alongside middle age. Us is very much about the relationship between a father and their son, something which was particularly close to Nicholls when he wrote the book. This comes up particularly on the trip away, which reminded me quite a lot of one of the strands in David Park’s The Light of Amsterdam which if you loved this you should most definitely read.

Douglas himself makes for an interesting narrator. He is a quirky ‘nice guy’, someone safe, someone inoffensive and someone who sometimes doesn’t quite get or click with the world around him. That isn’t to make him a victim, though sometimes I did think he was the cruel butt of some of Nicholls jokes, he is just someone that you initially find a bit odd and then warm to him. Like many of us with our unusual quirks. His distance to the world, which is how I saw it, did occasionally make me feel a little distanced from him and therefore occasionally less sympathetic or empathetic to his plight. I also wondered sometimes if Nicholls was using this device to hold back a little and I wasn’t sure why. That said even in holding back, and indeed with distance, Nicholls is still very funny and as always human.

Other people’s sex lives are a little like other people’s holidays: you’re glad that they had fun but you weren’t there and you don’t necessarily want to see the photos. At our age too much detail leads to a certain amount of mental whistling and staring at shoes, and there’s also the problem of vocabulary. Scientific terms, though clinically accurate, don’t really convey the heady dark intensity, etc., etc. and I’d like to avid a simile or a metaphor – valley, orchid, garden, that kind of thing. Certainly I have no intention of using a whole load of swear words. So I won’t go into detail, except to say that it worked out pretty well for all concerned, with a pleasant sense of self-satisfaction, as if we’d discovered that we were still capable of performing a forward roll. Afterwards we lay in a tangle of limbs.

I have to admit I had a few niggles with the book. Occasionally the father/son stuff and Douglas being so try hard got a little bit much for me, having thought about it I think this might be that as I had no relationship with my dad, then a very difficult one before going back to no relationship, I wonder if this is just something I don’t connect with. Nicholls won me back over with family dynamics and mishaps with them as a whole on the holiday though, again because we have all been in those situations. I was reminded by my mother not long ago of the time she accidentally booked us into a brothel in Greece thinking it was a hotel, the ladies were lovely to us though – I was about eleven before that gets misconstrued, and isn’t far off what happens to the Petersen’s.

My biggest quibble was the lack of Connie’s voice in the story which occasionally I would have really liked to counteract Douglas’. Nicholls makes much of how they are polar opposites, he is a scientist and she is an art curator, so it would have been interesting to hear that voice as well as seeing what made her fall for Douglas, something Douglas himself doesn’t get, filling in a couple of the blanks I felt were occasionally left. Maybe Nicholls thought that would be too like One Day though, I wish I had asked him now, anyway… Again this was countered by the fact that Nicholls does, albeit through Douglas, look at the huge question of the sciences vs the arts (Douglas isn’t bookish, Connie devours them) which gives the book additional layers and depth. So all my niggles were flattened by the positives.

All in all, Us is another very good Nicholls novel indeed. It is a story of falling in and out and in and out of love, it is a coming of middle age novel and also a family drama, with an emphasis on comical drama, all rolled into one. I think it is also a novel that looks at marriage in modern times and how once upon a time we would fall in love with people we might grow apart from and have to put up with them, now we don’t but what does it mean for us all? I expected a novel that would leave me broken again; instead I got one that had hope.

If you would like to David talking about Us further, you can hear him chatting to me on You Wrote The Book here. I should also add that both my mother and step father have read it and were raving about it this very weekend just gone and they are much tougher critics than me (my mother even said I was being tough on it, I think this may have been that a) it was described as a divorce comedy which when you’re going through a divorce is anything but comical b) I loved One Day so much anything that followed it would have to super impress c) I did like this book a lot so get off my case mum, ha) so there is some extra impetus to read it! What about any of you, have you read it and what did you think?

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Gone Girl – The Movie (And Some Other Bits and Bobs)

Just a quick post from me as I am a) I have been feeling a bit ropey since I came back from London and b) I am reading like a demon for some episodes of You Wrote The Book (I have Victoria Hislop on this week and then the following fortnights am joined by David Nicholls and Neel Mukherjee – I am beyond chuffed, so apologies for the proud moment of over sharing) being ill of course is the perfect thing when you have got lots of lovely reading to do. It is not so good for making you have any urge to sit in front of the computer. Gosh I ramble on don’t I? Anyway…

As I mentioned I am not long back from a very speedy trip to London where I had the pleasure of going to see the advance first UK screening of Gone Girl with lots of lovely bookish types (including Rob and Kate of Adventures with Words, who were also at the lovely champagne and canapé pre-show gathering with me and I might hop on the podcast of) it was all very hush hush, phones were locked away while we watched it in the West End cinema…

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I am not sure how much I am allowed to say about it because of the fact (like the book) there are so many twists and also because of embargos, so I will keep it unusually short for me. It was bloody brilliant, two and a half hours whizzed by. I am thrilled Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay as it was spot on flawless. And, some people might think I am mad and it isn’t something I thought I would ever say, I will be amazed if Rosamund Pike doesn’t get an Oscar nod and lots of prizes for her utterly brilliant performance as Amazing Amy, she was – erm – amazing. (This also shows why I review books not films normally!)

So that was that I just thought I would share.  A big thanks to Orion for inviting me! Whilst away I also met up with the lovely Kim of Reading Matters for lunch which was lovely, much discussion of books and blogging was had too! Oh actually I forgot to tell you I saw the adaptation of S. J Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep the other week at the cinema and that was bloody marvellous too. Right, I am back to lie on the sofa and watch another adaptation, Jack Reacher. I haven’t read the books, I have no expectations, I am ill and in need of some escapism. What great adaptations have you seen recently? Have you seen Before I Go To Sleep? Will you be rushing out to see Gone Girl? Oh and if you have any questions for David Nicholls and Neel Mukherjee let me know… Book reviews are back in earnest from tomorrow, promise!

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Man Booker 2014 Musings

Unless you were like me, in which case you were far too busy moving furniture, walls and the like, then you all probably saw the longlist for the Man Booker Prize 2014. With its rule changes last year, becoming open to any book written in English anywhere in the world published for the first time between October 2013 and September 2014, the long list was one which many felt would now be an American full house. It doesn’t seem to be the case, yet weirdly it doesn’t seem to be a longlist that is doing very much for me.

Here it is in full in case you too were otherwise engaged and have been since…

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour – Joshua Ferris (Viking)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan (Chatto & Windus)
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler (Serpent’s Tail)
The Blazing World – Siri Hustvedt (Sceptre)
J –  Howard Jacobson (Jonathan Cape)
The Wake – Paul Kingsnorth (Unbound)
The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell (Sceptre)
The Lives of Others – Neel Mukherjee (Chatto & Windus)
Us – David Nicholls (Hodder & Stoughton)
The Dog – Joseph O’Neill (Fourth Estate)
Orfeo – Richard Powers (Atlantic Books)
How to be Both –  Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)
History of the Rain – Niall Williams (Bloomsbury)

Man Booker Five

I have only actually got five of them, I would have had six but I found the Niall Williams gratingly pretentious when I tried to read it a while back, and have read not a one so I can’t judge them on what’s inside yet very little really excites me here. Actually that is not 100% true or fair. I am excited by the Karen Joy Fowler because that is a book I have been wanting to read ever since I saw it on the sadly (and criminally) now defunct Review Show. I have also heard amazing things about the Flanagan in all the right places, from Marieke Hardy to  Kim of Reading Matters. I have also read Mukherjee, Nicholls and Smith before and really, really liked their work. I am also intrigued by the Kingsmith, which would be a marvellous winner as it is a debut and Unbound, who publish it, are a crowd sourced publishers, exciting. Yet I am still not really that excited and really with a prize like the Man Booker I should be.

The Williams-effect might be part of it, I may be judging the books on that. I may also be feeling indifferent to it because a) I am knackered post festival b) Ferris and Mitchell are two authors many people love yet I just simply do not get. It could be that it just all feels terribly white middle classed male (with the exceptions of the women and Mukherjee) and not the exciting, vibrant, diverse list I always hope it is going to be. I also think it is really strange that at present so many (5) of the books aren’t even out, Jacobson not coming out until the 25th of September, it doesn’t seem a list that can yet excite the public does it? And does it mean if the dates don’t change then the publishers are breaking this rule – Each publisher of a title appearing on the longlist will be required to have no fewer than 1,000 copies of that title available in stock within 10 days of the announcement of the longlist. Will they be withdrawn/disqualified? Today it seems about the only exciting thing that might happen from this list.

It makes me wonder if the Man Booker is really the prize for me anymore. Maybe I should just stick to the Women’s Prize (which I find very difficult to call the Bailey’s, and I love that tipple) and Fiction Uncovered as it seems that is where the well written AND diverse voices most seem to be found with very similar prize remits. Maybe I should read a few and reserve judgement? What do you all think?

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The Best Love Stories Ever Told…

So before a week of reviews next week (well maybe a week of mainly reviews as I have become terribly behind with them all) I thought I would ask all of you lovely readers out there a bookish Valentine’s Day, for that is what today is, question. No, it isn’t will you marry me, ha. What I would really like to know is which are the best love stories ever told?

You see earlier in the week when myself and Thomas were gearing up to record the latest episode of The Readers we wanted to talk about love stories but realised we hadn’t really read any. I could think of three; Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, Jojo Moyes Me Before You and David Nicholls One Day. All of these I have loved (pun intended) but have to say they don’t all end in the most delightful of ways, yet maybe that is what I think the nature of love is set to end like? Anyway, my old faithful response of Rebecca didn’t seem right and Jane Eyre is debatable as Rochester is a bit of a bastard really on occasion. Oh and of course I haven’t read Pride and Prejudice.

So I would love (did it again) some recommendations of old and new books that are love stories, yet aren’t so saccharine I might vomit in my own mouth. There I have thrown the gauntlet down, do your worst 😉

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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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David Nicholls – The Savidge Reads Advent Calendar Day 16

Thank you all so much for your thoughts on ‘happy-sad’ books, do keep them coming as I would love lots of recommendations. One book which I almost classified as such was ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls (which, random fact alert, is the most popular review post on Savidge Reads there has been) which I loved but doesn’t really quite fit into the happy-sad genre I have in my head, but then again it is my head.

So anyway, today I thought it would be nice to not only give two of you a copy of ‘One Day’ but all of David Nicholls novels…

  

All you need to do is tell mw which book to film adaptation had been your favourite that you have seen this year and why? It doesnt have to be a film out this year like ‘One Day’ it could be a golden oldy. That simple. You have until 11am GMT December the 19th. Good luck.

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Those Happy-Sad Books…

I have been mulling this over for a while, yet it still might come out a little jumbled so bear with me. I was watching ‘The Café’ (a drama on the telly, but this post is about books) the other day and from about ten minutes in I knew I was going to love it. It’s situated in a café on a British seafront where the owner, her mother and her daughter (a jobless budding writer) spend most of their day chatting with its frequent customers. Sounds a bit non-descript so far but it’s honestly not. There’s a wonderful array of characters (a competitive old woman and a gay man who makes his living as a human statue are my favourites) a possible love story, but it’s the tone of the show that gets me the most. It’s in some parts utterly hilarious, in a gentle yet knowing way, and yet also in another moment quite heartbreaking – it is from some of the people behind The Royale Family so makes sense. I love the balance, which is pitch perfect in this case and am now desperate for books that match that balance of happy and sad in equal balance.

I should state I don’t mean any melancholy books, I also don’t just mean hilarious books. You see after an episode of the café I am left feeling a little emotional (I haven’t cried yet, but I can’t promise I won’t) but generally extremely uplifted and happy (from all the giggling) and like I have actually been part of the place, emotions and lives these characters inhabit.

I have been trying to think of examples and one, though it wasn’t quite perfect, was ‘A Spot of Bother’ by Mark Haddon (read pre-blog, its hard to imagine that time now). The last one I can recall doing just this was ‘When God Was A Rabbit’ by Sarah Winman which hit the exact note of making me laugh out loud before that heartbreaking sense in your gut from page to page, beautiful and spot on. I am sure there are others out there. I was tempted to say ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls (watch out for a Nicholls giveaway tomorrow) as it almost has that feel yet not quite. Maybe that’s because it is a love story (hence I haven’t mentioned ‘Bridget Jones Diary’ etc) rather than a family tale, and I am now thinking if a family at the heart of a happy-sad novel is what makes it work… Or maybe not? Maybe the atmosphere, tone, pitch and delivery have to be just right? Maybe it is just me and the mood I am in, maybe ‘happy-sad’ isn’t really a type of book, I think it is out there though, what say you?

Anyway if you have any recommendations of these sorts of stories I would love to hear about them (and you could win such a book as part of the Savidge Reads advent calendar today too) as I would like a lot more of them to immerse myself in during 2012, suggestions anyone?

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The Literary Prize vs. Readability

Yesterday the bookish world, well in the UK at least, seemed all a twitter with the story of a new literary prize, called, erm, The Literature Prize. I am a big fan of any new book prize, both having co-founded one myself and because they promote books which is no bad thing in the current book climate, books need all the pushes they can get. However it seems to be that The Literature Prize has started out with some interesting, if unsettling, intentions and in a blaze of retaliation towards another prize, not the most positive of starts is it.

Books, glorious books, would any of these have won The Literature Prize?

When I jumped on board co-founding the Green Carnation Prize last July it was from a place of positivity. Ok, we did give it the name ‘The Man Fooker’ and it was from a comment of frustration on twitter by Paul Magrs that there was no platform/prize for works by gay men (now we include all LGBT authors) in the UK. Yet we set the prize up in a whirl of excitement and positivity, we didn’t start slagging other book prizes off, we weren’t snide, and we don’t aim to be. We simply wanted to make it happen. We also wanted to be inclusive of all works of literature and their diversity like readers and their reading habits, not just The Literature Prize’s specific aim to “establish a clear and uncompromising standard of excellence”. Yet who is setting/deciding the standard? It appears that the answer to that won’t be revealed for another few weeks.

The bit that made me get all the more cross was the snidely aimed “For many years this brief was fulfilled by the Booker (latterly the Man Booker) Prize. But as numerous statements by that prize’s administrator and this year’s judges illustrate, it now prioritises a notion of ‘readability’ over artistic achievement.” Firstly that to me sounds like ‘let’s get some press off another prize which is very successful’ (and it has been successful this year there’s a couple of great books on the shortlist and they are selling like hotcakes). Secondly it implies that the judges, people who read are too stupid to understand artistic achievement and so go for dumb down ‘readability’ instead.

Within hours of this announcement there started a raging debate about what the difference is between ‘literary’ and ‘readability’ or if indeed there really is one. I think the two can be mutually compatible. In fact the best books have that mix of being stunningly written, transporting you to another place in time or culture and living with its characters for however long the read takes. I think this can be done whilst making the reader want to do nothing but read that book whether it is plot or prose driven. The reader gives their dedication, time, energy and imagination to the book and the partnership between reader and writer is cemented. A book is designed to be read, learnt from and enjoyed. It shouldn’t be so ‘artistic’ no one can cope with it, unless you are a scholar, which leads me to my next annoyance.

The ‘academy of judges’. Now, if I am being generous I am hoping that my initial ‘you elitist bunch of *****’ reaction is unfair and that actually The Literature Prize will find a diverse ‘lottery’ of judges, not as I fear a bunch of academics who may alienate the common reader (that isn’t meant offensively). I think a perfect panel of judges would be a group of writers, journalists, literature teachers, bloggers, librarians, book group leaders but most importantly ALL avid readers. The main criteria for a book judge should simply be that they love books; they want excellent books to be getting noticed and they want to recommend their favourites to all in sundry.

My final annoyance is that, and apparently it is being currently procured, I bet you this prize gets a stupid amount of money thrown at it. Part of me in all honesty is disheartened because The Green Carnation could do with some for promotion etc, the judges do it all for free, but more importantly what about established prizes like the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize which didn’t happen this year due to  lack of funding and has been doing a wonderful job for decades? That to me seems unfair, but then life is I guess.

There is also the fact reading and readers are changing as they have for decades. Who knew back in the day that a popular romance novelist would become a classic and admitted author, she’s called Jane Austen, I don’t know if any of you have heard of her. Or that a serialised newspaper author or three would become deemed some of the greatest writers of British history, like those guys called Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. They wouldn’t have won The Literature Prize if it had been conceived then would they? That said they probably wouldn’t have won the Booker either.

Aren’t we as readers always changing? Don’t our tastes change from book to book? Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I don’t want a book that meanders forever and ever in its own glory and prose and self satisfied nature, I believe that great characters, plots and escapism can be readable and literary, or maybe that’s just my taste. I bet Susan Hill isn’t looking for the same criteria in a book as she judges the Man Booker now as she did in the 1970’s, her reading and its tastes will have evolved even if in subtle or unconscious ways as life changes as it does for all of us. Some of us like to go from an Alan Hollinghurst to an Agatha Christie, from a Charles Dickens to a Stephen King or from David Nicholls to Umberto Eco. That’s the joy of reading, its diversity.

Who knows what the future of the The Literature Prize is, indeed the cynic in me says it could simply be a bit of pre-Booker announcement hype with its shroud of mystery; as with no announcement of who the board is, who is funding it or if indeed it will make its debut in 2012. Hmmm. I wish it luck, should it come to fruition, I think maybe it needs to change the way it holds itself in public in the future though, be less a prize trying to do what another prize already is (and sulking it’s not doing it as it feels it should) and then find its own voice and the ears of all readers out there. It has one thing going for it; it has certainly caused some interesting debate about books, readability and literature.

What are your thoughts on the new prize? Do you think readability and ‘literary merit’ are mutually exclusive, or should the best books have a percentage of both?

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The Prose Practice – Is There Another ‘One Day’ Out There?

The other day I had a direct book recommendation question which I thought you could all help me with. I do find it very odd when people I weren’t aware had read my blog and then ask me in the flesh for a recommendation of something to read next. I tend to go a bit flustered and then my mind goes blank.

This happened the other day when one of my aunties friends had read ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls then gone to look up some reviews of it and had happened across mine (which is the most popular post on Savidge Reads ever so far – random). It seemed we were on a complete wave length with the book and so she wondered if I could recommend any other books like it that she would love just as much.

Initially I thought ‘ooh that’s easy’ but actually it’s really not. I do think ‘One Day’ is a book rather unlike many I have read. Some people have labelled it chick-lit by a man, which I think under sells it to be honest and I would rather call it an accessible page turning modern classic. So my initial list included such titles as ‘Small Island’ by Andrea Levy and ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ by Rebecca Skloot however they only have the fact they are wonderfully written books that kept me reading spellbound into the early hours like ‘One Day’ did. They aren’t another ‘One Day’ really, but then again is there one? Or do I recommend something that’s really a modern love story, which is of course rather serendipitous being the day today is.

So I am now thinking that I should come up with three lists and of course I will need your help with this. We all love recommending books to someone who is keen to read lots after all don’t we? I am aware that some of you haven’t read ‘One Day’ (if you haven’t then you simply must) but you can join in two as I have three sort of books I am looking for, which are;

  • Can you recommend accessible well written page turners be they fiction or non, ones that kept you glued to your book until the small hours, made you miss stops on public transport, late for work and the whole outside world disappear?
  • Are there any other books that are like ‘One Day’? Would any of the other David Nicholls books have the same effect on a reader?
  • What are the best modern love stories?

So let’s show some love and lovely recommendations on this loving day for a new book lover. I know you will come up with some great reads and as ever I am as interested in your responses as my aunties friend will be when I pass them on. Much love to you all for joining in!

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Books of 2010 Part Two…

So in my second list of books that I loved in 2010 I decided to go for books that were published in hardback or paperback for the first time in 2010. There are some exceptions though and I have not included any of The Green Carnation Prize long or shortlisted books as I don’t know if I could rate them in the same way I do the books I read randomly and pop on the blog, is that fair of me? I will have to think about that more going forward in 2011 maybe? Right anyway, as Miranda Hart would say, let’s get on with the show…

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot (Pan Books)

“…there is so much in this book that it’s really, really hard to do it justice in any kind of way. It’s book that will open your eyes to some of the most important times in modern science, the not that distant injustice of racial segregation was still going on (Henrietta was on a coloured only ward) and a real life family drama that you couldn’t possibly believe isn’t fiction, but it’s all very real and makes for an incredibly emotional and utterly brilliant book. I cannot recommend this enough; it’s definitely one of my books of the year, if not the book of the year so far for me. It’s emotional, angering, thought provoking and mind expanding; it’s also incredibly readable and an important book too.”

Purge – Sofi Oksanen (Atlantic Books)

“Sofia Oksanen has written something quite amazing. It is a rare book that takes me on such an emotional journey and to such dark places and yet leaves me almost unable to put the book down. Her prose is absolutely stunning (and here I should credit Lola Rogers on a fantastic translation) and without ever being too graphic she manages to drop in enough information to let the reader work out what’s going on and yet leave enough unsaid that we create the scenes in our own minds which is often the more disturbing and effective than spelling everything out.”

One Day – David Nicholls (Hodder)

“I am well aware that this book won’t be for everyone but anyone who is looking at it and thinking ‘chick-lit by a man with no literary merit’ (and I have heard that said) would be wrong. The prose is incredibly readable without being throw-away. I laughed and cried whilst reading this book in one sitting, it was rather like spending a day on an emotional rollercoaster I have to say and yet once I had put it down I really just wanted to start all over again and I don’t say that too often. It’s not a modern masterpiece but I hope it becomes a contemporary classic… A book that will leave you an emotional wreck, make you want to hug it and also start all over again all at once possibly.”

Beside The Sea – Veronique Olmi (Peirene Press)

“I know there are some people out there who think that if you don’t have children then you can’t relate to tales about mother’s (or father’s) feelings for their child or children. I think that’s a load of rubbish, I believe that a wonderful author can take you absolutely anywhere, into any mind or situation, that’s the wonder of books. Olmi is just such a writer who put me into the mind of a mother thinking of her and her children’s lives and left me rather an emotional wreck and not any books can leave me almost feeling physically winded.”

The Long Song – Andrea Levy (Headline Review)

Slavery is always going to be a tough subject and yet the way Levy writes it both hits home the horrors of what took place, sometimes in quite graphic detail, and yet through her wonderful narrators voice there is a humour there… If you haven’t read any Levy then this is a great book to start with. If you have already had the pleasure then this book continues to show that Levy is a wonderful author who can take you to faraway places with wonderful characters and make it all look effortless… This is a truly wonderful book that haunts you in both its humour and its horrors.”

A Life Apart – Neel Mukherjee (Corsair)

“It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel as to read it feels so accomplished. Unlike other books that could have made you feel almost too much is going on everything is measured and paced, themes are explored but not overly so. No puddings are overegged by Mr Mukherjee here where some authors might have gone into melodrama or overkill. The prose is both lush and stark in parts and has a wonderful flow to it. The only slight tiny niggle I had was that Maud Gilby’s tale is all in bold which played a bit with my eyes, as I said a small niggle though…  Not only, as I mentioned above, is it a book that leaves you feeling a little differently about life, not on a grand scale but in subtle ways and haunts you after you finish the last sentence.”

Room – Emma Donoghue (Picador)

“Emma Donoghue does something incredibly special with ‘Room’. By putting us in the mind of 5 year old Jack she makes us see things from both the innocence of the child narrating and the cynical knowledge the reader has as an adult and rather than play it for a schmaltzy tale of woe, or a calculated tear fest, though the book is emotional in parts. It’s also very funny in parts too and that’s all down to the child eye observance of Jack and his voice. Child narrators can sometimes really grate on me, let alone books that are written in a slightly childish dialect, yet I could have listened to Jack describing his life for pages and pages more.”

Started Early, Took My Dog – Kate Atkinson (Black Swan)

“Not only do you have a mystery or two in the book to work out, you have this overall mystery of just how on earth everything interlinks and with ‘Started Early, Took My Dog’ she draws out the process by introducing each character and bringing their circumstances and personalities to the fore. No one dimensional characters here, not even if they are merely in the book for a page or two. All the main characters are marvelous, readable and real. In doing so she also gets to voice her thoughts on both issues from the past (in this case the serial killings in the seventies which gripped the nation and left many women in fear) and in the present (prostitution, child welfare, the recession, dementia) through their back stories which makes it even a fuller read.”

The Hand That First Held Mine – Maggie O’Farrell (Headline Review)

“I should say it will be hard to do this book justice full stop, it will also be hard to say too much without giving everything away and spoiling it for the reader… For me the star of the whole book was the writing. Every single sentence was a real joy to read and seemed to have been crafted with care as if every word counted and that is a rare find I think. In some ways it reminded me of the way Brooklyn was crafted though the stories are nothing a like at all. The fact that on top of this atmospheric and beautiful writing are two such interesting women, a whole cast of wonderful crafted characters and a plot makes this a wonderful book for the reader, you won’t want to rush it rather savour every line page by page.”

The Clay Dreaming – Ed Hillyer (Myriad Editions)

If I said to you that ‘The Clay Dreaming’ was a book about an aboriginal cricket team arriving in London in 1868 it might not sound like the type of book you would instantly rush down to your nearest book shop to grab… The prose is masterly, the characters are full drawn – apart from the mysterious ones of course and I could easily imagine this having been published in installments in the papers/magazines of the late 1800’s… It’s not a book to be read quickly, nor an easy read by any means (ideally it’s one to be read slowly with no great rush and allowed to unfold in front of the readers eyes – perfect for on your holidays) but it is one that I don’t think people should miss out on.”

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

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One Day – David Nicholls

Don’t judge me for the next paragraph because it’s me laying my reading soul bare for you and ridicule would vex me, ha! There are some books I read that whilst not putting me into a life changing state, I find I have to give a hug because they sort of touch me in some way, or just make reading a pure unadulterated pleasure. ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls is one such book. It didn’t leave me in such awe I couldn’t breathe (though it did make me cry) but I when I finished it I wished I still had pages and pages to go. Maybe we should look at this in more detail?

The title of David Nicholls third novel ‘One Day’ is rather brilliant as in part it sort of sums up the plot in which we meet two people on the same day over twenty years, and it sums up the slightly nostalgic feel to the book of ‘oh, maybe one day…’ I am pretty sure we have all experienced that feeling at some point (if not several) in our lives; which of course is a master stroke because if you can empathise with a book naturally you are much more drawn into it, just as I was in this case. But let’s look at the plot a little more before I go off on a tangent about me.

As the book opens in on St Swithun’s Day (July 15th) in 1988 we meet Dexter and Emma who have just spent a drunken night together at the end of their university studies in Edinburgh. It’s that awkward morning after, and one Dexter is rather prone to, however in this instance for some reason they decide to keep in touch both with that feeling that this could be something special, but neither really having the guts to say so, or being made a fool off in case of getting rebuffed. Over the next twenty years we meet these two people wherever they might be and follow their lives which interlink and separate with a slight feeling of inevitability but nothing, as we learn, ever goes the way you think it might. I don’t want to say anymore as I wouldn’t want to spoil what a treat the reader has in store, I will say that Nicholls pulls the rug from under you several times so just when you think ‘aha, I see where this is going’ you’re proven wrong.

Really the book is about Dexter and Emma and their journeys from early twenties until their forties and the almost present day. The cast of additional characters that come in and out of their lives are well drawn and real but because of the nature of the book they never become big characters. Dexter becomes a celebrity bringing out ever more the arrogance that he has from the start whilst Emma dreams of being a writer whilst serving food from hell in a horrid restaurant chain. Again I won’t say how things progress for fear of plot spoiling. I mentioned Dexter is arrogant, yet he’s not a complete twit, in fact both our lead characters have flaws which would normally make you think ‘eurgh’ but with Nicholls writing makes them all the more real, we know people like them and in some instances we have even been people like them.

I didn’t think hopping from year to year would work. I didn’t think I would bond with our leading duo or be able to follow the stories from the previous year. Once again I was wrong on both counts as Nicholls manages to convincingly, without it ever feeling forced, drop small hints as to what has happened since – even when Dexter and Emma don’t speak for several years but meet mutual friends – so really you feel you live the whole story with them. In fact it’s like those friends you catch up with year to year but it’s like you only saw them last week and by the end these two fictional characters do weirdly feel like your mates.

I am well aware that this book won’t be for everyone but anyone who is looking at it and thinking ‘chick-lit by a man with no literary merit’ (and I have heard that said) would be wrong. The prose is incredibly readable without being throw-away. I laughed and cried whilst reading this book in one sitting, it was rather like spending a day on an emotional rollercoaster I have to say and yet once I had put it down I really just wanted to start all over again and I don’t say that too often. It’s not a modern masterpiece but I hope it becomes a contemporary classic.

A book that will: leave you an emotional wreck, make you want to hug it and also start all over again all at once possibly. 9/10

Have you read this and if so what did you think? I know it has had some real Marmite reviews of both loving and loathing but I was so pleasantly surprised! Has anyone read anything else by David Nicholls, I am hoping they are all this brilliant? I have had to put my thinking cap on for some perfect prose partners for this, any suggestions from any of you?

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Filed under Books of 2010, David Nicholls, Hodder & Stoughton, Review

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

Man Bookers and More…

I have had quite an influx of books at Savidge Towers from some lovely publishers and thought I would share with you what titles you may well be seeing much more of on Savidge Reads. The first set of books that have been coming very kindly through the letter box are of course my main source of reading through August and that is the Man Booker Long List.

Booker Books

Now I have ordered them into “read” which are standing up vertically, “going to read” horizontally and then ‘The Children’s Book’ which is my “steady progress” I actually should have put The Wilderness slightly at an angle as I am re-reading that one again as I think I read it to fast earlier this year and missed some of the magic you have been mentioning. ‘Love & Summer’ was read this week and ‘The Little Stranger’ I read a while ago, I am still finding the latter is one I think about a lot in hindsight. I have just finished ‘Heliopolis’ so expect a review of that soon, possibly later today. I am feeling quite chuffed I have gone from having read one and a half of the list to 4 and 3/4 in a week. Now which should I read next? I still have two more to come which are apparently in the post and those are ‘How To Paint A Dead Man’ by Sarah Hall and ‘The Glass Room’ by Simon Mawer… I hope they arrive in time before the shortlist is announced! Eek! There has also been some non Booker books arrive…

Non Booker Books

We have in the picture (do you like my new bedding?) just in case you cant see the books are;

  • One Day – David Nicholls ( we meet a couple of people on the same day every year for twenty years and see how their lives entwine)
  • Serena – Ron Rash (don’t know much about this but sounds like an epic novel)
  • Border Songs – Jim Lynch (haven’t read him before but have always wanted to try The Highest Tide)
  • A Beginner’s Guide To Acting English – Shappi Khorsandi (I think she is a brilliant comic and a tale of escaping to Britain should be quite funny)
  • Of Bee’s & Mist – Erick Sethwan (not out till December this is meant to be an amazing debut of magical surrealism based on folklore from Erick varying family cultures, apparently this has been quite big in America)
  • The Other – David Gutterson (someone I have always wanted to try)
  • Julie & Julia – Julie Powell (I won’t lie I will be reading this pronto!)
  • The Monsters of Templeton – Lauren Groff (a debut novel thats sounds very exciting and me and I have been wanting to read since it came out in hardback)
  • The Bronte’s Went To Woolworths – Rachel Feruson (I seem to be late on the uptake with this re-released classic)
  • Henrietta’s War – Joyce Dennys (Paperback Reader and Stuck-in-a-Book have both loved this so I am sure I will)
  • The Angels Game – Carlos Ruiz Zafon (loved Shadow of the Wind, VERY excited about this one)

 Now if this wasnt enough I had two more deliveries (my Gran is staying and has been flabberghasted at the arrivals) one which isgoing to remain secret and be a theme for Septembers blogs and I will announce at the weekend and hope some of you will join in. The other wasn’t for me… or my Gran, but for ‘The Converted One’.

Brazilian Books

The lovely people at Bloomsbury had sent two Brazilian authors works they are publishing this year, or have published sorry. ‘Equator’ by Miguel Sousa Tavares which ‘The Converted One’ is “going to read next, is so kind of them” and ‘Ashes of the Amazon’ by Milton Hatoum which won the Brazil Jabuti Prize for Best Novel in 2006. After enjoying Heliopolis (even though not by a Brazilian but set there) I am going to have to piler these myself!

Which of these books have you been tempted to read or have your read? Have you read anything else by one of the authors? As ever do let me know, I love all your opinions. What books are at the top of your TBR and are you itching to start?

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