Tag Archives: Edmund Crispin

Other People’s Bookshelves #23 – Helen Fennell

Hello and welcome to the latest in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves where we get to have a good old nosey through other peoples book collections. Grab some yourself a cup of tea and settle down, as we are off to the Hampshire to join Helen Fennell, who blogs at Fennell Books, in her lovely home, which frankly I want to move into. By the end of the day her Victorian looking turning bookshelf might sadly have vanished and transported itself to the Wirral – I have always wanted one of those. Anyway, before I get myself arrested, I will hand over to her to tell us more about herself before we go routing through her shelves…

I am an engineer living in Hampshire in the UK, and my earliest memory is of my Mum teaching me to read. I can remember her holding up a flash card and explaining that the letters “tion” make a “shun” sound, and that is how I learned the word “station”. Oddly, although my Mum taught me to read when I was very young, none of the rest of my family were readers. Such was my appetite for reading that nearly all the books in the house were in my bedroom and I loved my birthdays and Christmas, as I would get stacks and stacks of books. In fact I still love my birthday and Christmas for that reason! I’ll read pretty much anything, from classics through to modern literary fiction, Sci-Fi, fantasy and translated fiction. I draw the line at Bridget Jones. I always want to give her a good shake and tell her to pull herself together.

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 find it really hard to get rid of books, and since my husband is also a big reader, mostly of non-fiction, we can easily become overrun. I have books which will never leave the house, either because they are of sentimental value or I re-read them at regular intervals. I like to think of those as my personal library. All other books are read, and then if I think they may be read again, they join the keepers on the shelves, and if not, they get passed on to friends, or the charity shop. It is only recently that I have realized that just because a book doesn’t sit on my shelves doesn’t mean that the fact that I have read it is erased from history! I do review most of the books I read on my blog, but I also keep a book journal of my own, which I started back in 2005 and lists all the books I have read. It is nice to look back and see how my tastes and reading change over time.

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

I used to organize them alphabetically for the fiction, and then via Dewey for the non-fiction (yes, I know, that is a little extreme). Then we moved house and it was pouring with rain, water was soaking up the outside of the cardboard boxes the books were in and we had to quickly unpack them to prevent damage, so they became muddled up. I recently went through them and put all the books by the same author together, and the non-fiction grouped by topic, so it easier to find what you are looking for. I probably won’t revert back to the ultra strict way I did it before, I can find things, so that will do for now. We have several book areas in our house. We live in an eco house, and so it is very open plan and has lots of wall space for books. Downstairs we have a big open area with litographs on the walls, which are posters that have an entire book on them, in readable print. They are real talking points when people come to visit. In that area we also have the Fitness and Martial Arts section (hubby’s) and then my Folio collection and my Vintage classics books.

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In the study we have a glazed bookcase which my parents gave us on our wedding day which houses my complete collection of Agatha Christie books. About half are first editions, and the other half are facsimiles, I can’t justify a four figure sum for the earlier firsts!

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Upstairs we have the library where most of the rest of the books are housed in four large bookcases. We have some comfy chairs in here, and we retire here of an evening to read and wind down before bed. In the bedroom we each have a rotating bookcase next to the bed, and this is where the To Be Read books are kept. Mine is full…

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

I am not absolutely sure, but I suspect it was either a box set of Narnia books, which I still have, or an encyclopedia of British Birds, which I still have too. Both were bought from a bookshop in Bristol called Georges, which I don’t think is there now. Each year my granddad would give me some money to choose a book and it was always a real treat to be taken there to pick any book I wanted.

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

I am not embarrassed by any of my books. A few years ago I was slightly ashamed of some of the children’s books I had and enjoyed as an adult, but not now. Children’s literature is like any other literature, some is wonderful, some is rubbish, but the literature that is good is excellent, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t enjoy it now as much as I would have done when I was ten years old. 

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?

Wow, your Great Uncle was cool! My “must risk my life to save” book is a very battered paperback copy of Over Sea Under Stone by Susan Cooper. I can’t remember when I was given this book, but I remember reading it for the first time and being mesmerized by it. My Grandad (he of the birthday money) gave me a torch so I could read under covers at night. The whole of the Dark Is Rising Sequence were the first books I truly fell into and felt I was there, and I re-read them every year or so. Last year my Husband gave me the Folio Society editions as my poor paperback isn’t going to stand up to many more reads. It now lives in our library where it is safely hidden from direct sunlight.

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

I can really remember wanting to read Jane Eyre. I overheard some older girls at school talking about it, and seeming to be so taken with it I wanted to know what it was all about. I did get a copy, but struggled with it, I was only about eleven at the time. I subsequently read it several years later for an English assignment, and didn’t like it at all, but that might have been because I was forced to read 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?

I rarely borrow books from other people, and generally once I have read them I don’t buy copies for myself. I do borrow from the library a lot, especially for books I am not sure that I will like. If I like them enough to think that I will re-read them, or they are part of a series I might collect then I will buy a copy.

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

I just got hold of a copy of The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr, which is a book I have wanted to read for a long time. I love classic English crime, and this one is a must read as one of the best locked room mysteries ever written. In fact I feel slight embarrassed that I haven’t read it to date. The other book that I received at the same time is Gargoyles Gone AWOL by Clementine Beauvais. It is a children’s book about a young girl in Cambridge who solves crimes. It is one of the best child detective stories I have read, and is a part of a series. It is funny and touching in equal measure. All grown ups should read it to remember how to have good, proper fun.

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

Like most readers I have a very long list. I have all the Edmund Crispin books which are currently published, and would like to fill in the gaps. I have a little hunt around every time I pass a second hand bookshop.  I would also like to complete my Wodehouse Everyman Edition collection, but I have a long way to go there. Along side my Great Agatha Christie Challenge on my blog, where I am reading all the Christie’s in order, I have my What Ho! Challenge, to do the same with Wodehouse. You can’t go wrong with a bit of Wodehouse to bring some cheer into your day.

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

Hmmm… I think mostly people are a bit bemused by my reading taste. It is very varied and swings wildly depending on my mood. My love of classic crime, particularly a good poisoning can be a bit alarming to some, and my ability to quote large chunks of Terry Pratchett at my husband which makes us both fall about laughing can seem a bit strange to outsiders. Recently I have really fallen for Scandinavian literature, which can be almost complete devoid of plot, but utterly beautiful and ethereal. That does make people wonder if I heading in to a phase of deep introspection. Generally those close to me understand that books are a huge part of the way I decipher life, cope with life and escape from life, and without them I would be a little lost.

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A huge thanks to Helen for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves and almost making me sick with jealous at her shelves. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the Other People’s Book Shelves 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 Helen’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #20 – Gavin Pugh

So this week’s Other People’s Bookshelves is a little bit late but that is because I wanted to do something special for its 20th post in the series and have a special guest and delayed it to match that special guests birthday (21 again). Yes this week it is none other than my bookish beardy best mate the lovely, lovely Gavin C. Pugh. Really he doesn’t need an introduction, many of you will have followed his blog or seen him around Twitter (where he is like a bookish Lady Gaga in terms of followers) as @GavReads.

He describes himself as a social reader and has only recently admitted to collecting books. He was the original co-host of The Readers podcast with me, and will be back at some point, though now does more behind the scenes producing The Readers and You Wrote The Book where he makes me sound better and less inept – oh if only you all knew! He is back with a new podcast called Hear Read This! with Kate and Rob from Adventures with Words any myself too. He’s mainly known for loving SFF but he’ll delve into reality every now and again. He’s currently running NoCloaksAllowed.com and going to be reviewing a piece of shorter fiction a day for the next year. So wish him luck. Now let’s go and nosey through his shelves…

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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?

That’s a huge question. Before I moved to university I had 3 tall book cases 10 years ago and at the time I squeezed as many of those books as I could into my car to take with me. I couldn’t store them all so I had a big cull. Don’t worry too much it was things like Patricia Cornwell and James Patterson, so books that I wouldn’t reread. But I did get a feel for culling books. And I can be quite heartless if I need some space. That doesn’t mean that I have room for books. Right now, I’ve got six tall and wide book cases at the minute and a couple of piles keeping my desk up.

Now, this is a confession… I worked out recently that I had 483 or so unread books in the house so my read books have to be extra special to stay. I’m not sentimental though I sort of wish that I did keep the Anne McCaffery and Robert Rankin books from my teens. I did keep my Terry Pratchett books and those really do need two shelves now especially with the new Gollancz hardbacks coming out as I’ve definitely run out of room. I’ve culled books that I loved as if I’m not going to re-read it usually goes unless there is some other reason. I’ve started collecting certain books so I am now especially keeping books to make collections. You might see Adam Roberts for example and I bought the first edition of Stone as I read it from the library and really missed not having a copy. I buy and acquire more books faster than I can read them. I envy people’s restraint who can do one in one out.

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

My shelves are currently quite organised. I’d love to make them alphabetical but I think I’d have to cull them by half so I could see them all rather than have half of them hidden by double spacing as they are now. Before I had a bit of a tidy up the Neal Asher books for example were all over the house they are now all together even if they can’t all be lined up. And that made a big difference to how I looked at my bookshelves. Before it was a case of anywhere that I could find a space! Now I try and keep them together through some sort of link, hover tenuous that is. Though that does mean that Jim Butcher and Peter F. Hamilton have got buried. I do like seeing them together. The yellow-spined SF Masterworks are together but only I know what I’ve read as I don’t keep read and unread separated. And it’s lovely to see The Readers Book Club books all on the shelf together.

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I have this big shelf of writing-related books that’s quite scary to look at – does one person need that many writing books I wonder? But I can’t bear to part with them. Actually, I’m ignoring the elephant in the room. As a reviewer and book-cheerleader I get a fair few review copies and they sometimes get shelf space while they wait but mostly new ones are on the floor in front of the shelves. But without reviewing I’d have a lot of books. I buy a lot of ebooks (sorry Simon) rather than physical copies though I’m swinging the other way and buying physical copies if there is a change I’d want them around to look at after I’ve read them. The other thing I do, like with the short stories, is to be able to pull those books off the shelves and pile them on my desk for reference and easy grabbing.
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What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now? 

You know I honestly can’t remember. I got a lot of books from the library when I learning what I liked as a reader. I’ve always been a reader but I didn’t gain traction until I was 16 and that was all down to The Witches Collection that Gollancz published collecting Terry Pratchett’s Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters and Witches Abroad and that got me hooked and I devoured all the Discworld books and kept myself topped up as they game out every 6 months for a while. I don’t have it anymore but I do have the individual volumes.

The thing I’m really bad at is overbuying books. I’ve not read the Edmund Crispin’s Gervase Fen mysteries yet, but I like having them around. There are some books that I bought when I was first getting into books hidden behind others on the shelves. I’ve always gorged on books. One thing I don’t do is buy second hand books but there is a copy of Storm Constantine’s Stalking Tender Prey as I lost it in a move and couldn’t do without having it on the shelve as battered and smelly as it is.

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

You know, I’m a little embarrassed by my poetry collection. It’s very different from SFF that I’m known for reading. It’s probably that I don’t know many people to ‘geek-out’ with the same way I can do with you or with people on twitter. Though I think poetry is a powerful thing that I wish more people weren’t put off by in school.

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 did have a no-burn shelf but since reorganisation they are a bit scattered. I don’t really go for signed books. I have a few signed books but almost all of those are mementoes of meeting an author and that makes a story and a connection. I have signed books by a few of my heroes Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Mark Chadbourn, Storm Constantine, Neal Asher and Garth Nix for example. Some celeb books like Russell T. Davies, John Barrowman, and Barry Humphries. I have books signed by friends that I’d have to try and grab. The Terry Prachett hardcovers. And then there are some ARCS (advanced reading copies) that I’ve been lucky enough to acquire that are special to me like Horns by Joe Hill. Though a lot of books that I would grab because they are OOP have found a new life in ebook so I’d leave those until last like The Great Game by Dave Duncan and the Mark Chadbourn series – sorry Mark. Oh I almost forgot China Miéville – I’d grab those first as most are signed and he’s an amazing writer that I love seeing on the shelves.

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What is the first ‘grown up, and I dont mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Greyway, that you remember on your parents 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 guess you’d say that was Stephen King and Dolores Claiborne. Stephen King for me is very hit and miss author. I’ve tried a good many of his books some like Gerald’s Game, which should be shocking didn’t grab me and some like The Stand I didn’t see why they were talking so long. I love Under the Dome but I don’t have a copy any more but Dolores Claiborne is the book that I’ve bought and given away about 5 times and it’s currently missing. I need to buy another copy soon as I like rereading it. It’s got no horror in it as such but tells the lives of two women as they grow old together.

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?

This is one reason that I’m really sad that libraries are disappearing as I’ve read some books when I was finding myself as a reader that are missing from the shelves like Martin Bauman by David Leavitt that I should have got around to re-buying but it’s not a book I want to read again mostly as it was such a powerful book the first time that I don’t think a second reading will live up to that. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman I did end up buying though I thought I would reread it much earlier than I actually did and then I listened to it as an audiobook so that doesn’t really count as I still didn’t open the actual copy on the shelves. I guess that’s one reason why I’m ruthless at culling is that once I’ve read a book I have to be honest  if I’ll reread them and that I’m not just holding on to books in the vague hope they’ll be useful later. Saying that though now I’ve admitted I’m a collector I have a much better excuse for keeping more books.

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

One thing I love about twitter is that it’s so easy to call out and get good book recommendations. I did that recently and got back suggestions of Murial Spark The Driver’s Seat and Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckingridge & Myron. I can’t remember what the criteria was now but I tend to ask for older books that people love.

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Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you dont currently?

I’ve already mentioned Martin Bauman. I’m a little sad that I gave away Un Lun Dun by China Miéville  as that’s a proper collection gap. Also when I was a student I didn’t by Making Money by Terry Pratchett and a couple of weeks ago I bought a first edition hardback to fill that gap. I can’t find my hardback of Thud!, another Pratchett, and I could swear I bought the hardback so I might have to get a first edition of that soon.

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

Having a wall of books in the living room, which is four of the bookcases, is an impressive sight. I think it shows a person that loves reading. To be honest I’m sure that they’d know a fraction of the authors that I have. They’d probably be more impressed by the soft toys that have been placed here and there amongst the shelves.

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A huge thanks to Gavin for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Also, without sounding daft, a huge thanks to him for being a brilliant bookish bud, he’s ace.  If you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the Other People’s Book Shelves 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 Gav’s responses and/or any of the books/authors that he mentioned? Don’t forget to wish him a Happy **th Birthday too!

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