Tag Archives: E. L. James

Other People’s Bookshelves #65 – Sarah Perry

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 off to Essex to join author Sarah Perry who has just got back from her allotment especially to show us around her shelves. First let’s grab a cuppa and a custard cream and find out more about Sarah…

My first novel, After Me Comes the Flood, came out last year with Serpent’s Tail, and has just been released in paperback. My second novel, The Essex Serpent, is coming out in July 2016 (again with Serpent’s Tail, in an act of spectacular nominative determinism!).  I was once a civil servant – largely working in communications, such as writing speeches for government ministers – and then worked for the Council of the Inns of Court while I did a PhD in Creative Writing and the Gothic. I now write full-time, though not just fiction.

At the moment I’m finishing edits on The Essex Serpent. It’s about friendship, desire, sin, love, death and sea-serpents. I talk quite often about my upbringing, and am always afraid it’s going to grow tiresome, but find I’m still asked about it. I was born to a very strict religious family – often, I joke I was brought up in 1895 – and while other girls my age were surrounded by pop culture I was up to my ears in the King James Bible, classic literature, Victorian hymns and Reformation theology. The Gothic quality of my writing and my preoccupation with madness, sin and transgression is therefore not entirely surprising, I suppose.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I’m frighteningly acquisitive when it comes to books, and absolutely hopeless at getting rid of them. About three months ago I attempted a cull, and there have been two large bags of books destined for the local charity shops in the middle of my bedroom floor ever since. I seem to gather books as I walk through the week like a magnet attracting iron filings and with about that degree of discrimination. Proofs arrive in the post, I order them online on a whim, am sent them as gifts, throw them into my trolley in the supermarket, grab paperbacks in charity shops, steal – sorry: borrow! – them from friends. They all wind up in one of the many drifts and piles in the house, and I fear many are destined to remain unread for years, if at all. But I can never quite shake the feeling that the day may come when that 80s edition of The Gulag Archipelago, or that little hardback Rumer Godden novel, is going to be exactly what I need…

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?

Some years ago a friend of mine tried to help me order my books (by genre, and alphabetically by author). It took absolutely hours and lasted for less than a week. I can’t begin to fathom how anyone who has a large number of books maintains any sort of order without a fleet of staff. Everything is all bundled in together – I’m looking at a bookcase right now and on a single shelf I can see a biography of William Gladstone, a guide to Jungian dream-symbols, TH White’s The Once and Future King, two Ishiguro novels next to each other (miraculously!), several crime thrillers, and a Puritan book on the doctrine of repentance. If you’re wondering how I ever find anything: I often can’t, and rage about the house accusing the cat of stealing books. My husband has a better memory than me, and can often lay hands on what I need. I do try and keep to some form of TBR system, and went as far as installing two bookcases on either side of the bed, but then I get distracted by something else, and it all goes out of the window.

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The only truly organised shelves are those where I’m temporary custodian of a friend’s books: he moved abroad, and left them with me, where I’ve taken to calling them ‘The Memorial Library’. I must say I consider arranging books by colour to be the sure sign of a deranged mind (apologies to any deranged readers).

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

I honestly can’t remember, and wish very much that I could! I do have lots of books from my childhood, though. I have on my desk here a very battered little Bible story book which I must have had since before school, and I’m very attached to a hardback Paddington bear collection which was a gift from one of my older sisters.

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?

With very, very few exceptions I really don’t have much truck with the idea of guilty pleasures when it comes to reading. Of course, even the most ardent anti-book snob must draw the line somewhere, and I would sooner go to the stake than have my shelves sullied with Fifty Shades of Grey or Ayn Rand. But I have everything out in the open – so far as the disordered tumult will allow! – and if anyone baulks at the sight of Stephen King, Terry Pratchett and Lee Child jostling cheerfully with WG Sebald, Maggie Nelson and Tennyson then I shall sit them down and have a long, gentle but firmly persuasive chat. I never read romantic fiction, but that is merely a matter of preference, in the same way that I would rather eat cauliflower than mushrooms: it’s not a value judgment. I must confess that if my parents visit I might double check that Catullus or Chuck Palahniuk aren’t knocking about where my Dad might take them off the shelves in an idle moment (there was an awkward moment last year with a Thom Gunn poem).

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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?

There are so many of these! May I have a wheelbarrow full? I have a complete Sherlock Holmes which my father gave me: it is a long out-of-print edition, and identical to his own copy, which I grew up reading, and which he is evidently not ready to part with. I have a beautiful vintage edition of Finnegans Wake which a friend gave me when I left London, and since really he deserves it far more than I do I secretly think of it as being in joint custody, like the child of an amiable divorce. When I sold my first novel a friend gave me a copy of A Literary Life by Posy Simmonds, which has got truer and more comforting as the years have passed. There are about half-a-dozen King James Bibles knocking about, most of them associated with events in life: my wedding, or a gift when I was tiny bridesmaid at my oldest sister’s wedding. Once when I had been away for a fortnight my husband met me at the airport with some marmalade sandwiches, two Calvin and Hobbes books and a copy of the Communist Party Manifesto, so I would like those. And I suppose I would like to take the first proof copy of my first novel, with all my anguished handwritten corrections.

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 never really remember there being much of a division between children’s books and grown up books, and I more or less read what I wanted, when I wanted to. Which isn’t to say that I was reading terribly inappropriately (however one defines that) – there wouldn’t have been anything like that in the house, and I wouldn’t have sought it out: since there was so much to read, I was quite content. And so I remember reading Jane Eyre at eight, because it was in an illustrated hardback edition that I mistook for a children’s book, and my father gave me a copy of Tess of the D’Urbervilles when I was ten (greatly to my teacher’s horror). My elder sisters would occasionally conceal slightly fruity novels beneath their beds, which I unfailingly found and would read in a single sitting. The most memorable of these was probably Flowers in the Attic, which I still adore – and which is somewhere on my shelves.

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?

Greatly to my shame, I never borrow books (unless from friends, in which case ‘borrow’ is often pronounced ‘steal’), and only ever darken the doors of reference libraries, in order to do research. I am simply not to be trusted with library books: they’ll be lost, dropped in the bath, battered, and never returned. It’s a moral failing I’ve long given up trying to remedy.

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

In the last week, I’ve bought Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (her memoir Bluets had a profound effect on me last year), Miranda July’s The First Bad Man (which I cannot imagine I will enjoy, having a very low tolerance for quirky books by privileged young New Yorkers, but I though I’d try and conquer my prejudices), Stephen King’s Mr Mercedes, JG Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition, John Wyndham’s The Trouble With Lichen, and an Anaïs Nin book I immediately lost and can’t remember. I have also been sent a debut novel by Tasha Kavanagh called Things We Have in Common, which I’m looking forward to. Sorry, that’s several books, isn’t it?

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

Heaps and heaps! I am very close to mugging someone for an advance copy of Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life: its August release date seems a terribly long way away, and literally everyone on Twitter has a copy except me. I also would like a facsimile edition (or a real one, if possible) of the Tyndale New Testament, because who wouldn’t? There are also a number of collected letters that I would like. For many years I had a curious ethical disinclination to read the ‘remains’ of writers: I felt that we should read only their work, not diary entries and correspondence they would never have intended for a general readership. But it turns out my principles are paper thin, and I’d particularly like the letters of Virginia Woolf, which I could cross-reference against her diaries.

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

I imagine their first thought would be that I am spectacularly untidy, and furthermore could do with doing some dusting. I wonder if they might then think that these are the books of several people, not only one – if they did, I’d be delighted. I honestly believe we all have a duty to read as widely and deeply as possible. The worst possible reader is the one who wishes only to affirm and bolster their existing world view, and the worst possible response to a book is this: “I just didn’t identify with any of the characters.” As to what I’d like them to think of my reading tastes: I couldn’t give a single solitary toss, I never have, and I never will.

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A huge thanks to Sarah for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, you can stalk her on Twitter here, you can also see her not once but twice at Gladfest this September, where you may just also see me! 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 Sarah’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #63 – Jackie Law

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 down in Wiltshire, a county I lived in for about 7 or 8 years of my childhood, to join the lovely Jackie Law who keeps the blog Never Imitate, which I highly recommend you give a read. Before we have a nose around her shelves lets all get some lovely afternoon tea that Jackie has laid on for us and find out more about her…

I always struggle to know how to answer when someone asks me about myself. I am a wife of twenty-three years, a mother to three teenagers, a back garden hen keeper and a writer. These are the roles I consider important, but I earn my money as a director of a small IT consultancy. I do all my work from home. I was born and grew up in Belfast during The Troubles, leaving when I graduated from university with a degree in computer science. I moved to rural Wiltshire and have been here ever since. I adore the county with its beautiful, rolling countryside and easy access to cities such as Bath, Bristol and even London, although it is rare for me to travel further than my legs can carry me. I write on my blog about books and life but most of my posts are now reviews. Occasionally I will create short fiction pieces, the quality of which has helped me appreciate the talent of authors. I spend a lot of my time reading and very little on housework. Both my home and myself epitomise shabby chic.

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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?

Unless I really dislike a book I want to have a copy on my shelves. I will sometimes buy a second copy of a book that has been borrowed and not returned despite knowing that I am unlikely to read it again. I tell myself this is because I wish to offer my children the opportunity to enjoy these fabulous stories, but in all honesty I am doing it for me. I wish to be surrounded by books. Like photographs, they bring back memories. I remember why I chose that book or who gave it to me, and the way I felt when I read it. My reaction to a book is a reflection of the experiences I was having at the time.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

My fiction books are ordered alphabetically by author. I have separate shelves for non fiction books which I arrange by subject matter. I have a few shelves for young children’s book although I culled this collection a number of years ago, something that I now regret. I loved reading to my children and wish I had held on to more of the books we shared. I rarely give books away unless I have multiple copies. My TBR pile (the books I buy) is crammed onto two shelves, double packed. I probably have about a year’s worth of reading there. The books I have committed to review are on top of my piano in piles ordered by publication date. My family tell me off if those piles get too high.

Some of the TBR mountain

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

I can’t remember which book I first bought. My father, who is also an avid reader, was always happy to buy me books and I read just about every title available in our local library. I do still have a number of my childhood books: ‘Teddy Robinson’, ‘The Adventures of Gallldora’; but many of my old books fell apart when I gave them to my children. I bought new copies of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories as I couldn’t bear not to have copies of those. I regret giving away my original ‘Famous Five’ collection we did a clear out of my children’s books.

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 have an eclectic book collection but keep them all on my shelves. Having said that, I’m not sure that I choose to read books that would be thought of as embarrassing. I dislike formulaic ‘best sellers’ including romances. I have been known to stop reading a book when the writing veered into descriptions of anything even slightly racy as it makes me inwardly cringe. I cannot comprehend the whole ‘Grey’ phenomena, but hold to the view that reading books is good and everyone should be free to enjoy whatever they choose without criticism.

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

I have a small, slim book of Kipling’s verse published in 1931 which belonged to my father. I value it for the association, the memory of the man who gifted me my love of books. If there were a fire though I would save the teddy bears who also sit on my shelves. Books can be replaced, their value to me is the story more than the physical object. As someone who eschews ebooks and who relishes being surrounded by physical books this view may seem contrary but I have few possessions that I value for more than the service they provide. I do not need to own the original book to be reminded of the way I felt when I first read it which is why I replace books that disappear.

Kipling verse

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?

The first book that I wanted to read from my father’s shelves was ‘The Lord of the Rings’. I read it when I was fourteen and went on to read every book that Tolkien wrote. When I left home I took my father’s copy with me and each of my children read it. My younger son reread it so many times that it fell apart. I now have a replacement copy.My mother rarely read books but talked of enjoying ‘David Copperfield’ when she was younger. I picked it up with great expectations (I read that one as well) but was disappointed. I have never been able to understand the appeal of Dickens but still hold on to the books. I used to look at my father’s Penguin Classics collection and wonder if I would ever manage to read such weighty tomes. Again, when I left home I took them with me. I have read most of these over the years but still have some Homer, Ovid and Plato on my TBR pile. I am grateful for my father’s tolerance in allowing me to take his books. Years later he admitted that he bought replacement copies after I left.

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?

These days I mostly buy a book if I wish to read it whereas in the past I would have borrowed many from libraries. Occasionally I will remember a book and go to my shelves to reread a particular passage. I feel irritated if I cannot find it there. I like to own all of the books that I have enjoyed.

Teddy and Penguin Classics

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

I read several books a week so my collection is constantly growing. As I write this, the last book that I shelved as read was a children’s novel, ‘Deep Water’ by Lu Hersey. The last book added to the pile on my piano was ‘Pretty Is’ by Maggie Mitchell which I am very much looking forward to reading. My most recent purchase for myself was ‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Stanley Kubrick.

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

This is a long list! ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ by Matt Haig; ‘The Good Son’ by Paul McVeigh; ‘Bitter Sixteen’ by Stefan Mohamed; ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce; ‘The Gospel of Loki’ by Joanne Harris; ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho; ‘American Psycho’ by Brett Easton Ellis; ‘Malcolm Orange Disappears’ by Jan Carson.  There are more but I should probably stop…

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

I hope that they would be unable to pigeon hole me. I would like them to be inspired to talk to me about my collection, perhaps even ask for recommendations. Other than reading, there is little that I enjoy more than discussing books.

Books to review

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A huge thanks to Jackie for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, you can find her on Twitter 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 Jackie’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #35; Persephone Nicholas

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a regular series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. This week we are heading off to Australia to meet a lady who is named after my favourite Greek mythical character and one of my favourite publishing house, ok maybe the last bit wasn’t true, Persephone Nicholas. Before I start making more things up about Persephone let’s get to know her a little bit better and have a nosey through her bookshelves…

My name’s Persephone and I’m a UK born author and freelance writer now living in Sydney. I’ve always loved books and writing, but I didn’t start writing for a living until I moved to Australia almost a decade ago. I write for newspapers, magazines and a few corporate clients. Last year my first novel, Burned, won a Random House literary award and has since been published as an eBook and in print in Australia and New Zealand. I’m now working on my second novel. I also blog about books and writing at: http://thebookorme.blogspot.com.au/ and am on twitter: @PersephoneNich.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I used to hold on to every single book that came my way. My dad worked in publishing, my mum was a compulsive reader and I was a very bookish kid who went on to read English at uni. So at one point I had thousands of books. When I moved to Australia almost a decade ago, I had a huge cull. I decided that unless I’d loved a book so much I wanted to read it again, I would let it go. Looking back, I think I was too ruthless – I probably got rid of 90 per cent of my books. At the time I was so stressed at the prospect of moving my family to the other side of the world, that it seemed easier to get rid of things than organise them. The upside of all that is that I’m looking forward to buying some of my old favourites again, Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series for example. I don’t keep a lot of books now. I don’t have a problem with getting rid of things I haven’t especially enjoyed and I love to share good books with friends, so I often lend my favourite books. Occasionally one gets lost, but I prefer to think of books being read, rather than languishing on bookshelves.

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?

A casual observer might think that my bookshelves aren’t organised at all. But I know exactly where everything is. I have shelves for books I want to read, shelves for books I’ve read and want to keep and another shelf for books that I’m happy to pass on. I also have shelves of reference books; on creativity and writing; and also on interiors as I regularly write for one or two home magazines. I’ve kept a few books that my kids loved when they were younger too. I’ve always enjoyed reading to them and keeping some of those picture books brings back happy memories.

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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 have absolutely no idea what the first book I bought was. I must have been quite young and I absolutely loved Mary Norton’s The Borrowers and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series so it might have been one of either of those.

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’m always interested to read books that are hugely popular. I like to know what everyone’s talking about. That’s what made me pick up the first Harry Potter, Twilight and Fifty Shades. Only Harry Potter still has shelf room in our house though.

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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?

The books I cherish most were given to me by my mum. She’s always been a great reader and spent hours choosing books she thought my sister and I might love when we were younger. She bought Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth for me and introduced me to The Kite Runner many years ago. She still gives me great book tips. The other special book I have is my debut novel, Burned. I was very surprised – and honoured – to receive an award from Random House for it last year and it was amazing being able to put a copy of a book I’d written on my bookshelves. I’m writing another novel now and have definitely learned a lot about the process since Burned was published, but I think the first one will always be special.

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

My parents were pretty liberal and let us read everything when we were growing up. I don’t remember anything ever being deemed inappropriate, so if there was something I wanted to read on their shelves (which were absolutely jam-packed), I would have just got on with it.

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

If I’ve borrowed a book and loved it, I will often buy a copy. It might not go on my shelves, I might give it to someone else as a gift, but I do like to support writers whose work I’ve enjoyed.

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

An Australian girlfriend recently gave me The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea by Randolph Stow. He’s widely considered to be one of Australia’s finest writers, but I hadn’t heard of this book until she told me about it. That’s what I’ll be reading next.

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

Their first thought would probably be that I don’t have many books. If they looked a little more closely, I hope they’d think that I enjoy intelligent writing by a wide range of authors.

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A huge thanks to Persephone for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves and for taking the time to chat with us all. Anyway… Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) 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 Persephone’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Un-Reviews #2

Earlier in the year, in fact so far back I was still in my twenties (starts weeping), I started what I thought was going to be a rather regular new feature of Un-Reviews. A series of posts where I could discuss the books I didn’t finish and, without being harsh or mean (though possibly wry), I could explain why I didn’t get on with the book and couldn’t finish it. I have discovered, more surprisingly than I thought, that I either a) keep reading the books I don’t initially like b) don’t start many books I don’t like, because this is the second of these posts and its some months later. Anyway let’s get to the three books in question shall we?

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

I have to admit that I wouldn’t have read this book if I hadn’t bought it for The Beard’s mother as she so politely asked and as there was a few days between its purchase and seeing her I thought ‘well I should really give it a go’. Only twenty pages in and I was thinking ‘this prose is not for me’ but also ‘I don’t believe a girl like Ana could exist’. For those of you who may have been to Mars in the last few months and so don’t know what the book is about Ana, a fresh graduate and seemingly importantly a virgin, who by chance meets Christian Grey a man who likes to domineer in more than just his business ventures and with whom she starts an S&M relationship with. I admit I was intrigued by Christian and in another authors hands why he was into what he was could have been really interesting but for me this book, and the totally unbelievable Ana, were just written for the sex bits, which I of course went on and rushed to and found mildly titillating the first time, then boring and slightly offensive the more I read. If you won’t take my word for it here is the review of The Beards mother sent via text…

“Managed two thirds of the book, was very badly written, trite and totally without humour. As erotic as DIY shopping, with maybe a few more uses for the items those shops stock. Jilly Cooper in her heyday far more erotic. Can’t for the life of me think why it’s become so big, but once it starts its self perpetuating hence why I wanted to read it. There that’s me done, have passed it onto John [her husband].”

The Villa Triste by Lucretia Grindle

I feel slightly mean writing about this one as the publishers very kindly sent it me (the publishers of Fifty Shades said they sent it but it has been lost in Royal Mail, see even postmen are reading it) as it was set in Florence and so would be ideal for my trip. I could see why they would think so as the story is a thriller set in the 1940’s, when Italy was invaded by Germany, and then in the present when an aged partisan is killed by being shot and having filled himself with salt. The crime element of the book and how it was connected with the past almost made me read on past page one hundred and something but sadly the author seemed to have a tic which just grated on me. Too many similes, way too many, I think in one paragraph I counted six ‘likes’. It became so noticeable it took over from the prose and I started to sigh a lot. When a police procedure gone embarrassingly wrong and was compared to ‘like grannies disco dancing’ I decided enough was enough. A shame as it had a lot going for it.

Ancient Light by John Banville

I have been told by so, so many people that I must read John Banville (Gran is a big fan) and so as everyone was saying it was a dead cert for the Man Booker I thought I would give it a try. I don’t know why this book didn’t work for me, for a start I really liked the prose in many aspects, I just didn’t get hooked and was longingly looking at other books on the TBR. This tale of Alexander Cleave (and his wife’s) grief was intriguing as was how Alexander consoles himself in the memory of an affair he had with his best friend’s mother when he was younger, but something wasn’t there. Maybe this just wasn’t the time for me to read it? Since I have put the book down I have learnt that the narrator is also in ‘Eclipse’ and ‘Shroud’ and so maybe subconsciously I felt I was missing part of the story, would I go back and read those books, hmmm, I am not sure. I liked something about the prose though so maybe I should try one of his other books instead, any recommendations?

So those are the latest books I have started but been at a loss to finish for various reasons. What about all of you? Have any of you read these and managed to get all the way through, if so what am I missing?

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The School of Whoredom – Pietro Aretino

What I think is interesting with the whole phenomenon of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is the fact that it seems to have opened up the whole debate of reading erotica amongst the masses. What I also find funny is the fact that some people think this is the first time such a book has been written. It seems D. H. Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ and the furore that caused has been long forgotten, not to mention Anais Nin or even Pietro Aretino, a name not many would say they know and yet is the man who it is believed wrote the first erotic novels back in the 1500’s. I have been reading his books for the last few years and like Nin and Lawrence yet unlike E. L. James (from the small amount I read of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ before giving it up and away) story, prose and characters are as important to the books as the erotica is.

Hesperus Press, 1535 (republished 2003), paperback, fiction, 99 pages, kindly sent by publisher

I am rather confused as to whether ‘The School of Whoredom’ is the first or the last in the series of three novella’s (the other two being ‘The Secret Life of Nuns’ and ‘The Secret Life of Wives’) featuring the wonderfully forthright, blunt and no nonsense Nanna. Either way it is a tale of Nanna advising a young woman, this time her daughter Pippa rather than Antonia (who does get a mention), in the art of whoredom and how to be the perfect courtesan.

Initially this may seem like a simple excuse for the author to write something sensational and a little bit vulgar and, if I am being honest, there is something about those qualities that make it so readable. As the book has dated it really isn’t that shocking, though I seem to remember I was a little shocked at ‘The Secret Life of Nuns’, it is more slightly titillating and then more of a fun romp than anything else as Nanna explains all the skills you need as well as all the wiles. However the more I have thought about this novella the more I think that Aretino actually depicts society and people in Italy at the time he wrote it in the 1500’s and that is what makes the book all the more interesting and more than just a bit of historical raunch.

As Nanna advises Pippa on what her clientele will want she also tells Pippa all about them. Initially there are the different ages of men, then the different walks and positions in life these men have and finally how different men from different parts of Italy will also differ and yet have things in common. This, along with her insights and experience in the world of the courtesan, really does give conjure up the atmosphere and life at the time. I found it quite fascinating.

One of the things I have always loved about the series is Nanna. As all three of these books have been told as a two woman dialogue you really feel like you are eavesdropping on a very private conversation. Nanna makes it all the more entertaining with her exaggerations, dramatics and rather saucy sense of humour. She really is one of my favourite characters in literature (and yes I would say these books are deemed literature) and one I am definitely going to miss now I have read all three.

“Nanna: Pippa, though I make people believe you are sixteen, you’re twenty clear and plain; you were born just after the end of Leo’s conclave, and when all Rome was shouting ‘Balls, balls!’ I was screaming ‘Oh God, oh God!’ And it was just as the arms of the Medici were being hung on the door of St Peter’s that I had you.”

Some people may be rather shocked or disappointed that I have chosen to include a review of a book like ‘The School of Whoredom’ on the blog, but to be honest as the whole world is discussing the Fifty Shades series I would like to send you in the direction of some erotica which has deeper characters, finer prose, a sense of irony and some historical context. You get all of those and a good titter too with this series and with each one being under 100 pages you don’t have to get to page 131 for the, erm, action to kick off as it were. Plus I am pleased Fifty Shades has got erotica out there more, I mean why should you be ashammed to read it? Go on; give them a whirl I say!

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Filed under Hesperus Press, Pietro Aretino, Review