Tag Archives: Douglas Coupland

Other People’s Bookshelves #73 – Dan Coxon

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are in the company of author and editor Dan Coxon. He’s put on a might fine spread of nibbles and drinks for us, so do grab a few and settle down on those comfy chairs as we get to know Dan better and have a right old rifle through his bookshelves….

I’m an author, editor and father, not necessarily in that order. My travel memoir Ka Mate: Travels in New Zealand was published four years ago, and was used as background for the ITV documentary River Deep, Mountain High last year. I also write short fiction, with stories in Gutter, Neon, The Lonely Crowd, The Portland Review, Flash, and many more; forthcoming in Unthology and Popshot. Non-fiction all over the place, from Salon to The Scottish Cricketer. From 2013-2015 I edited Litro magazine, and I’m in the process of editing an anthology of short stories about fatherhood, entitled Being Dad. We’re currently taking pre-sales and raising funds on Kickstarter (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dan-coxon/being-dad-short-stories-about-fatherhood). Please check it out – we have stories from Toby Litt, Dan Rhodes, Courttia Newland, Nicholas Royle and Nikesh Shukla, amongst others. It’s going to be wonderful.

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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?

My natural instinct is to keep everything, good or bad. I guess I’m a hoarder, at least when it comes to the written word. In reality I’ve shed a few books over the years. Generally speaking, every book I read moves onto the shelves shortly afterwards. But some only take up temporary residence, while others are there for good. Signed copies (by anyone) and a few favoured authors (Iain Banks, Will Self, Ian McEwan, William Burroughs, Doug Coupland) will always find a space on my shelves, no matter what. Plus anything by someone I actually know in real life, or anything that blows me away. Basically, I’m always looking for a good excuse to hang onto books.

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?

For almost ten years I worked in the book trade, first as a bookseller, then as a bookshop manager. During that time my shelves were immaculate – arranged according to genre, then by author. It was basically like having a little bookstore in my house. Now that I have two kids, I have less space, and less time. I still have a ‘to read’ shelf, where all my latest purchases and the books I’d like to revisit reside. And a ‘friends’ shelf, stacked with books by authors I know (this is still growing – I may need two shelves at some point soon). Beyond that, I’m ashamed to say that most of my books are arranged according to size. Non-fiction is still separate, but it’s mostly a case of fitting in as many tomes as I possibly can. One day, when I have the time and the space, I’d love to return to a proper system again. I’d love to have all my short fiction in one place.

As for culling, my wife and I went travelling for a year at one point (part of which formed the basis for Ka Mate), and I cut a lot of books from the collection. The remainder were stored in friends’ attics for twelve months, so I had to be ruthless. The same happened when we moved to Seattle for a few years, and on the way back again. We’d fill boxes with the titles we were happy to part with, then we’d invite friends round to take their pick. If they were going to a good home it wasn’t such a tearful parting. I like to think that my shelves are still out there, just residing in my friends’ collections.

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

I’ll come clean – I had to check on this one. I always had so many books around when I was a kid that it’s hard to remember specifics. It turns out that my Mum can’t remember either. It was possibly one of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, although I thought I received those for Christmas. Given my childhood reading habits, it’s quite likely that it was one of the Doctor Who novelisations. I still have the Narnia books (nice editions, that have been passed down through my half-siblings and back to me), but I only have a handful of Classic Who novels in modern versions, nothing like the books I had back then.

What I do remember is that I had a rolling list of books I wanted, written on the back of a Waterstone’s bookmark (these were one-sided at the time, with a maroon front). At first it was just five or six titles that I’d heard of and wanted to read, but within a few years it had expanded to multiple bookmarks, with titles and authors packed in tiny handwriting on the back. I’d give these to my parents at every birthday, without telling them that most of the books were rarities or out of print. I was always interested in reading out-of-the-way books, the ones that everyone had forgotten about. These days there’s probably an app that will hunt them all down for you. But when I was a kid I loved having my never-ending wish list.

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?

To be honest, anything I was truly embarrassed by was thrown out during the culling. I do have a shelf of my juvenilia – Michael Moorcock’s Elric books, those early Doctor Who novelisations, Alan Garner’s The Owl Service – mostly the same editions that I had growing up. These sit directly behind my TV, in plain sight, so I wouldn’t exactly call them hidden. I’m actually rather proud of them. If people don’t ‘get’ them, then they probably don’t ‘get’ me either. I’ve been living with those books for so long that they’ve become part of who I am. Having said that, my wife does have a few Patricia Cornwells that I’ve stowed away, out of sight. Her later novels are just awful.

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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?

For my 21st birthday my Dad bought me a 1st edition boxed set of Lord of the Rings, so that would be the easy choice. Quite apart from the sentimental attachment, it’s also worth more than any other books that I own, by a rather large margin! Beyond that, there’s a copy of The Swiss Family Robinson that my dad stole from a local library about fifty years ago. I’ve been dragging that around for so long that I couldn’t bear to part with it now. The same goes for the copy of Moby-Dick that I pilfered from our school supplies when I was 17. (They’ll probably read this now and demand it back. It’s not even a particularly nice copy, but we spent an entire term wandering the playing fields reading excerpts from it, imagining that we were the Dead Poets’ Society. If nothing else, it’s an irreplaceable reminder of what a pretentious tosser I was in my teens.)

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

I think it was the Selected Stories of H.G. Wells. My dad is a rabid science fiction reader, and our shelves were always dominated by his books. I seem to remember an illustrated edition of this book, although I may be making that up. I read these stories fairly early, and loved the sense of imagination and adventure that came with them. I was lucky that my parents encouraged my reading habit, and didn’t mind me dipping into their shelves on occasion. I haven’t read them in a while, but there’s a copy still buried on one of my shelves somewhere. ‘The Time-Machine’ probably looms larger in my subconscious than any other single story, and I’ve taken a few shots at writing a time travel story over the years. Maybe it also explains why I’m still an unrepentant Doctor Who fan.

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

I borrow quite a lot of books – I firmly believe in the library system, and if we don’t use it, we may lose it. Whenever I read something that I like, which I’ve borrowed, I have to ask myself whether I’m likely to read it again. If I will, then I’ll buy a copy (especially if I want to make notes on it, I wouldn’t deface library property!). In most cases, though, upon honest reflection, I decide that my shelves probably can’t take the extra weight.

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

I’ve been cutting back on book purchases this year. I have such a backlog of wonderful reading that I want to dedicate some time to catching up with the pile. I have made a couple of purchases in the last month or two, though. Most recent was at the Green Man Festival, in Wales. I’d read most of the book I’d taken with me on the train, and it rained solidly for much of Saturday and Sunday, so I was tent-bound with nothing to do. Luckily there was a well-stocked book stall, where I bought J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World (irresistible, given the weather) and Christopher Priest’s The Affirmation. I’m happy to say that both were excellent.

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

There are always books that I want to own, but I’ve gradually come to realise that I’ll never have the time to read them all. Currently, as I type this, I’m craving Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, as well as Jonathan Evison’s latest, This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!. But I will resist, for now at least.

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

I think they’d probably be a little confused. My shelves are quite a mess at the moment. But I like to think that they’d pause for a moment and find an unsuspected gem or two hidden in the stacks. Reading is always at its most exciting when it serves up unexpected pleasures, and there are some genuine treasures in among the chaos. Or maybe they’d just see a Doctor Who-loving geek with a love of impenetrably pretentious modern literature – either is fine by me.

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A huge thanks to Dan for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, you can check out his short story collection kickstarter here. 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 Dan’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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Do I Want To Read…?

Do you have books that you think you really want to read but aren’t quite sure? Some books you read about or hear about have you instantly wanting to give them a read and then other books you waver a little. Its not that they don’t sound good it that you just want a helpful nudge either way. Well that’s where my ‘Do I Want To Read…?’ posts come in and today I have three books that I wondered if you could give me your thoughts on plus a few thoughts on the authors too.

First up is a book I heard discussed on a podcast (and more on those soon) though I now cannot remember which one annoyingly. Initially for some reason I thought that I had already read it because the premise sounded so familiar, like bookish déjà vu but I am certain I haven’t. Anyway the book is ‘Dark Places’ by Gillian Flynn and from the blurb it sounds utterly brilliant. Has anyone read it that can back my imaginings of the book up?

Libby Day was just seven years old when her older brother massacred her family while she hid in a cupboard. Her evidence helped put him away. Ever since then she has been drifting, surviving for over twenty years on the proceeds of the ‘Libby Day fund’. But now the money is running out and Libby is desperate. When she is offered $500 to do a guest appearance, she feels she has to accept. But this is no ordinary gathering. The Kill Club is a group of true-crime obsessives who share information on notorious murders, and they think her brother Ben is innocent. Ben was a social misfit, ground down by the small-town farming community in which he lived. But he did have a girlfriend – a brooding heavy metal fan called Diondra. Through her, Ben became involved with drugs and the dark arts. When the town suddenly turned against him, his thoughts turned black. But was he capable of murder? Libby must delve into her family’s past to uncover the truth – no matter how painful…

Now the first of two books which I would not only love to hear about but any suggestions of other books by them that I might like and you have read. The first I have read nothing by and yet have always thought I would enjoy and that is China Mieville. I have ‘Un Lun Dun’ by him from the library already, which is young adult fiction, and yet of course it’s the titles I don’t have about me that are calling to me the most. The book that I thought might be a good place to start is ‘The City & The City’ as sounds like it has a crime edge to it.

When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Bes el, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger. Borlu must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other. With shades of Kafka and Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and 1984, “The City & The City” is a murder mystery taken to dazzling metaphysical and artistic heights.

It also sounds like it could completely throw me, so any thoughts on this would be great. I also really fancy ‘Kraken’ too if any of you have read that, or anything else by Mieville for that matter.

Finally an author I have read one work by, though all I can say about it at the moment is that I thought it was very good and nothing more. Douglas Coupland is an author I had always fancied reading and thought would be too difficult for me but ‘Generation A’ which I read and we have long listed for ‘The Green Carnation Prize 2010’ and another podcast I heard mentioned ‘JPod’ which I think sounds really interesting and maybe that would be a good book to try next though its had mixed opinions on it, what do you think?

Ethan and his five co-workers are marooned in JPod, a no-escape architectural limbo on the fringes of a massive game-design company. There they wage battle against the demands of boneheaded marketing staff who torture them with idiotic changes to already idiotic games. Meanwhile, Ethan’s personal life is being invaded by marijuana grow-ops, people-smuggling, ballroom dancing, global piracy and the rise of China. Everybody in both worlds seems to inhabit a moral grey zone, and nobody is exempt, not even his seemingly strait-laced parents or Coupland himself.

Anyone read that? I did see ‘All Families Are Psychotic’ in the library and couldn’t decide if I would like that one or not. I also wondered if the renowned ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’ or ‘Generation X’ should be my next dalliance with Coupland? As you can see I am in a ‘Coupland Confusion’ so any help would be good.

Right… so thoughts on ‘Dark Places’, ‘The City & The City’, ‘JPod’ and any additional thoughts on the authors of the latter two, China Mieville and Douglas Coupland and your experiences with them would be wonderful. I am off to catch up with comments in the meantime, I have been a bit slack, I do apologise.

Oh and before I forget… Do any of you have books you would like to hear peoples thoughts on that you are umming and ahhing about? If so I could compile a selection and do a post on ‘Do You Want To Read…?’ so if you have any books like that let me know those too!

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The Green Carnation Longlist 2010

A very tired man writes this up for you this morning. The Green Carnation judges met last night to sort out the submissions and after a long night of discussion, lively debate and frankly lots and lots of laughing (which is the way all good meetings should be)  we’ve got you a lovely longlist, well we hope you think its lovely. However, some of the judges didn’t go to bed until gone 1.30am, can’t think who one of them was!!

Anyway enough of that shenanigans, you all just want to know what this years Green Carnation Longlist (or the Green Carnation Bunch) 2010 is don’t you? So without further ado here are the eleven titles…

  • Generation A by Douglas Coupland (Windmill Books)
  • Bryant and May Off the Rails by Christopher Fowler (Doubleday)
  • Paperboy by Christopher Fowler (Doubleday)
  • In A Strange Room by Damon Galgut (Atlantic Books)
  • God Says No by James Hannaham (McSweeney’s)
  • London Triptych by Jonathan Kemp (Myriad Editions)
  • Mary Ann in Autumn by Armistead Maupin (Doubleday)
  • Children of the Sun by Max Schaefer (Granta)
  • Man’s World by Rupert Smith (Arcadia Books)
  • The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (Tuskar Rock Press)
  • City Boy by Edmund White (Bloomsbury)

None of us are going to release any official thoughts about the long list or each and every title and they were chosen as we feel if people read them then the books will speak for themselves. I do think its interesting that we have such a nice mix of debut authors, prolific and yet lesser known authors and some writing giants in the mix which is all unintentional because you judge on the writing… but more on that from me tomorrow. We also have two of the Man Booker Longlist which I think is quite interesting, and one author twice which I think will prove a talking point!

Rather than go on and on here I will hand over to you to start some discussion on the list. So what are your thoughts on the very first Green Carnation Longlist/Bunch? What have you read? What or who have you not heard of? Are any of you tempted to give some of them a go (we really would love it)? Are there any surprises?

I will pop back and chatter with you all day (when I am not dozing) and try and answer any questions I can and am allowed to! Oh and don’t forget to pop to The Green Carnation website where there is a rather smashing shot of the judges together. Right, let’s get discussing… oh and do spread the word if you can and would be so kind!

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