Tag Archives: Eleanor Catton

Other People’s Bookshelves #36; Eric Karl Anderson

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 to London to join a great blogger, you so need to be following Lonesome Reader if you aren’t already (his reviews are so good I almost want to hate him frankly, Joyce Carol Oates reads it), and great acquaintance of mine Mr Eric Karl Anderson. Myself and Eric have just started a new cultural project for all the pogonophiles and beardy book lovers out there called Beardy Bibliophiles, which launches officially next week both online and in Central London. You have been warned, ha!  So let us find out more about Eric and have a nosey through his books…

My name is Eric. I grew up in Stephen King country (Maine) in the USA, but I moved to London in 2000 and have settled quite snugly into the city having created my own personal library/study. I’ve always been a keen reader. When I was little I loved being read to. I don’t remember this myself but my father tells me that after my first day of school I came home crying. When he asked what was wrong I complained “They didn’t teach me how to read yet.” I can spend ages just staring at my bookshelf. It’s like my own alter/church. I did a Master’s degree in Studies in Fiction, but I’ve always been more about reading for pleasure than academic purposes. I’ve published several things myself including a novel and a scattering of short stories in literary magazines and anthologies. I’m also keen on disaster movies and baking muffins.

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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?

It would be sensible to adopt a one in one out system, but instead I keep trying to cram more in until I’m pressured into making a book cull. Generally only books that I think are particularly brilliant get to stay on my shelves or ones which have been signed or have sentimental value. Most of the books I read are given away to friends or charity shops. A large portion of books on my shelves are waiting to be read, but will probably go once I get to them. These days a lot of the ones which get to stay are more obscure books which I think would be difficult to track down again.

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?

There’s not much order. By my bedside, I mostly keep books of short stories or poems because I’ll sometimes read aloud from these to my boyfriend before we go to sleep. In my front room I keep hardback books together and most of these are signed by the authors. My boyfriend once tried to get me to alphabetize the books in our study. I got as far a D and gave up. I try to keep books by the same author together. I like the general disorder and unusual pairing even if it makes it hard to find something. Book culling is painful, but unfortunately necessary since I live in London and space is precious.

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

This is really difficult to remember. In the 6th grade my English class had a sort of book club we could join and order books from. That was the first place I started purchasing books from using my allowance money. They were a series of Choose Your Own Adventure books and I particularly liked that they were numbered so appealed to my geeky collector’s personality. All these books have sadly gone with yard sales. There is a new book coming out soon called “The Boy in the Book” by Nathan Penlington which I’m keen to read since it’s about his passion for Choose Your Own Adventure books.

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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?

Probably “Delta Style” by Delta Burke. It was a sort of joke gift and I’ve never read it. But I loved watching Designing Women. I didn’t read them as a child, but I have the entire Mr Men series. I think they are brilliant. At my college graduation I announced to the crowd that it was story time and read “Mr Clever” aloud to them. Otherwise, I have published some naughty stories and my author copies of those books are hidden away rather than being displayed.

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?

It’s so hard to choose! My number one would probably be a holograph edition of Virginia Woolf’s “The Waves.” This contains a rough draft of the novel when it was still titled “The Moths” and has her corrections in the margins. It also contains a more recognizable draft of the novel with more of her corrections in the margins. Since “The Waves” is my all-time favourite novel it’s incredibly fascinating seeing the actual process she went through to get to the finished thing. It’s an incredibly rare book.

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But I also really prize a proof copy of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel “Do With Me What You Will” which has included at the back a typed alternative ending to the book. Both the ending printed in the proof and the typed-up alternative ending differ to the ending which appeared in the final version of the book.

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 the first ‘grown up’ book on my parents’ shelves that I noticed and really fancied reading was James Clavell’s “Shōgun.” I think I was about 12 when I read it which is fairly young considering the length and subject matter – loosely based on historic battles in 1600s feudal Japan. I absolutely loved and devoured it.

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Although you didn’t mean it that way I’m going to tell you anyway. The first ‘grown up’ scene I remember reading in a book was Stephen King’s “The Eyes of the Dragon.” It’s the wedding night where a king married a girl who is somewhat baffled when he undresses. She asks him what that thing is and he replies “It’s my purple-headed warrior.” This made me giggle endlessly and was my first introduction to a bad sex scene.

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?

Even if I love a borrowed book I’ve read I’m usually happy to give it back because of limited space. But if I’m really wild about it I’m more likely to sneak it on my shelf and keep “forgetting” to give it back. That’s wrong, isn’t it?

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

The last book which has gone on the shelves and will be staying there is Jim Crace’s novel “Harvest.” It’s an absolutely beautiful book and I had him sign it when I went to the Booker Prize readings last year. I’m somewhat glad I read what turned out to be the winner “The Luminaries” as an e-book as I would have wanted to keep this on my shelves as well. I’ve bought and received plenty of books since acquiring “Harvest” but I don’t think they’ll be staying on the shelves forever.

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

There are lots of “classic” books I’d love to house on my shelves, but there just isn’t room for them and I know they are easy to acquire should I feel inspired to read them. I’ve read several novels electronically which I’d love to have on my shelves, but the truth is that there just isn’t room. Of course, if I ever get a Beauty & the Beast size library I’ll immediately be filling it up with physical copies of all these e-books.

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

Everyone has different standards they hold people up to when considering their reading tastes. Considering what’s on my shelves they would probably accurately think that I have a taste for contemporary literary fiction as well as first time novelists and slightly more experimental fiction. I have two shelves overflowing with Joyce Carol Oates books so I bet they’d be able to guess my favourite author.

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A huge thanks to Eric for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, I am very excited about next weeks beardy bookish get together. If you are in central London next Thursday and fancy a natter do check the website to see how you could be there with a bookish beardy beverage. 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 Eric’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2014

One of my favourite prizes of the bookish year is what we now know as the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. I have been a supporter of it for many a year now, trying to guess the longlist and then trying to read them. I normally stay up until the midnight announcement but as I appear to have aged by about 20 plus years in the last few weeks I couldn’t. I did wake up at about 5am, when Oscar decided to be sick behind the wardrobe, and then have a sneak peak and it’s a really interesting list…

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Before I go on to share the list can I just say there is so much that is brilliant about the above picture it is almost too much. Imagine being on a panel of judges with Mary Beard and Caitlin Moran, you’d just be in heaven. Anyway, the list of twenty books in full is as follows…

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
MaddAddam – Margaret Atwood
The Dogs of Littlefield – Suzanne Berne
The Shadow of the Crescent Moon – Fatima Bhutto
The Bear – Claire Cameron
Eleven Days – Lea Carpenter
The Strangler Vine – M.J. Carter
The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton
Reasons She Goes to the Woods – Deborah Kay Davies
The Signature of All Things – Elizabeth Gilbert
Burial Rites – Hannah Kent
The Flamethrowers – Rachel Kushner
The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri
The Undertaking – Audrey Magee
A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing – Eimear McBride
Almost English – Charlotte Mendelson
Still Life with Bread Crumbs – Anna Quindlen
The Burgess Boys – Elizabeth Strout
The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

Amazingly though I don’t have all of them I do happen to have thirteen (I am hoping this is not an omen) of them in the house 4.5 of which I have read.

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I didn’t try and guess the longlist this year (what a party pooper) because I didn’t feel after last year being my slowest and quietest year for reading what with Gran (who was a huge fan of the prize, I think it lead her to Rose Tremain, and would be happy I have posed the books on what were her sofa’s on which she did much reading and I will carry on the tradition of) and all that jazz I didn’t feel that I could give a good enough insight. Plus there is always the worry you look super smug, then the mild embarrassment when I am sooooo wrong and the invariable almost moan of ‘why wasn’t x and y book on the list?’ Speaking of which Naomi Wood, Fiona McFarlane? Moving swiftly on…

I would have stabbed a guess at All the Birds, Singing, A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, Burial Rites and Almost English being on the list as they were all highlights of my reading year last year, so naturally I am thrilled for those to be on the list. I may also have hazarded a guess at Americanah and MaddAddam being on the list as they are by two of my favourite authors though shockingly I didn’t read these upon release, strange. I also would have guessed The Luminaries, The Goldfinch and The Flamethrowers as they have been three of the most talked about books and also interestingly three books which seem to really divide people, interesting.

Berne, Bhutto, Cameron and Carter I am excited about because I have them on my shelves, The Bear was actually one of the books I mentioned in The Readers ‘Books To Be Excited About January to June’ show. Yet, as always with me, it is the books I know very little or nothing about that are the ones that I instantly go off and look up.  Deborah Kay Davies is an author I have already read and was equally impressed and disturbed with True Things About Me so I will have to get my mitts on her knew one, Elizabeth Strout I know through Olive Kitteridge which I still haven’t read but Gran raved about, Lea Carpenter and Audrey Magee are completely knew to me which is most exciting.

So it is a really interesting list, some big names with big books, some debuts, some lesser known authors all in the mix. Now I just have to choose which one to start with… I was umming and ahhing about doing a shadow jury of beardy blogging blokes but I think to try them out as and when the whim takes me might be a better plan of action. So while I decide which one gets read next (I am leaning towards The Bear) which of these books have you read and what did you make of them? Which books are you keen to read? And what do you make of the list overall?

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The Amber Fury – Natalie Haynes

I have always liked Natalie Haynes, when I have seen her on the telly being very funny or talking on the BBC’s Review Show (which should be on more regularly and back on the mainstream Beeb) I have always found her thoughts really insightful. Ok, maybe we fell out a bit over The Luminaries when she was judging the Man Booker last year, but I couldn’t have agreed more with what an amazing book The Song of Achilles was when it won the Orange Prize and she was a judge. I then got slightly jealous about how many book prizes she was judging but we moved on, it was fine. Note – she knew none of this until we met for an interview on You Wrote the Book just to clarify, this isn’t a review of a friend’s book; though she would be a great friend to have a cocktail or two and meal with and discussing putting the cultural world to rights. Anyway, I have really digressed, Natalie has her debut novel out and it might not be what you are expecting…

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Corvus Books, hardback, 2014, fiction, 307 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

Alex Morris is trying to escape her life. The only way she feels she can do this, without turning to suicide which isn’t in her nature, she feels is to get as far away from her old life in London and escape to Edinburgh where hardly anyone knows her and there won’t be the constant reminders of the loss of her fiancé under dreadful, and initially mysterious, circumstances. Through her friend Robert Alex has landed a job teaching at The Unit, an initiative set up for ‘difficult kids’ expelled by any other school. Here she will teach Classics, yet what Alex doesn’t realise is that as she teaches these Greek tragedies a tragedy may be playing out right in front of her eyes.

It is very, very difficult to say too much more about the plot without giving anything away. With this being a psychological thriller (who else would, as I did, have assumed initially that this was going to be a comedy?) there are lots of plots and twists that get revealed along the way I wouldn’t want to give away. Yet what I found so brilliant about The Amber Fury is that Haynes manages to give very little away both in the past and in the present narratives until she really wants two, doubly clever when the book is also in two narratives.

The first thing they will ask me is how I met her. They already know how we met, of course. But that won’t be why they’re asking. It never is.

From the very first line of the novel Haynes has you in her web, yet you are also rather confused (without ever being so baffled you throw the book across the room in despair) as you realise that something awful has happened very recently in Alex’s past, after the awful way in which she lost her fiancé before fleeing to Edinburgh in the hope of escape, fat chance there Ms Morris. Slowly Alex tells us both her tales, meaning sometimes you are trying to work out which awful thing she is discussing, whilst also we have a diary of one of her pupils. I won’t say which one it is obviously, safe to say though that they become rather obsessed with Alex and the new knowledge she is bringing into their lives. On top of this Haynes also throws several twists, turns and a few red herrings which are frustratingly brilliant and never make you quite cross enough to throw the book across the room either.

Brilliant stuff, and all that would be quite enough to make a great thriller yet Haynes has also weaved in themes which give the book weight and added depths, some as dark as the mysteries at the heart of the book. She brings up the subject of obsession and what it could take to make someone become obsessed, or not take actually thinking about it, and where obsession can lead. It also looks at education, and how ‘difficult kids’ are perceived as well as why the classics are important and not a dead subject as many believe. It is also about grief.

In fact I would say grief and hurt are probably the two themes that underline The Amber Fury. The grief and pain of losing someone you love so much and build your world around in the case of Alex, but also the grief and hurt that can be caused by people telling you that you’re no good, that you are a waste in society and have no future. How do we react to those things as humans be it good or bad? Haynes looks at these two themes unflinchingly and with a raw realism which I found incredibly moving and disturbing to read. These rather raw and moving moments propel The Amber Fury and give it additional layers which create a real impact. As with The Night Guest which I mentioned earlier this week, we have a dark, atmospheric and twisty tale that thrills but also has real depths to it, these are the sort of marvellously written and thrilling novels I want many more of in the months and years to come.

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If you would like to hear more about the book (which I am sure you would) you can hear Natalie in conversation with me on the latest episode of You Wrote the Book here. Have any of you read any thrillers that had multiple layers (I have another review of another one coming soon actually) behind it and made it all the more brilliant for it? Do you think this is why thrillers and crime novels are becoming more and more popular, showing people from all walks of life and their hidden depths whilst also being a compelling book to read? Let me know, and of course let me know your thoughts once you have read the book too!

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Leaving The Luminaries…

Giving up on a book for me is no easy thing. I have always had the feeling that people don’t tend to talk about the books they give up on as it seems like a failure. Here I may just be imposing how I feel onto everyone else, as for me if I give up on a book I always feel rather cross with myself. Though not as wracked with guilt as I used to get when I had the, now seemingly rather mad, attitude that any book I started I simply had to finish. I do have a page 50, with a page 60 clause, rule now with books and if they aren’t working by then, then it is fine (and indeed time) to put them down and move on to something else. This year I have noticed though that there have been a few books I have simply stopped half way through one of them being one of the most infamous books of the year, Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries

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It’s all a blur…

In so many ways this should have been a book that I adored. A tale set in 1866 containing mystery, murder, madness, fallen women, I could go on. In many ways the tale that Walter Moody finds himself soon embroiled in after his arrival in the gold mining town of Hokitika, in New Zealand, could fall under one of my very favourite genre’s ‘the sensation novel’. As I started I had the highest of hopes, especially hearing the author loved Wilkie Collins, we were set to be best friends and this book would cement that friendship. Instead I found myself stuck and feeling more and more demoralised as I went on.

I have tried and tried, or struggled and struggled as the case may be, to love or at least like The Luminaries three times this year. The first time I simply read it in big gulps, the chapters initially being (a rather densely packed) 40 pages in length, yet these were taking me ages to read. I kept notes of all the characters and goings on, how the spider’s web was being woven etc, yet still I couldn’t get a grip on it all. So I stopped, it was making me resentful. Then I tried listening to the audio book, this worked until I got a few chapters past my previous pit stop and then as more and more characters and twists were introduced I found myself once again dumbfounded. A few weeks ago I tried again from the beginning -reading a chapter at night, then listening to it again the next day, then reading the next chapter the next night and so on and so on. This got me further but the same issues came up, too many characters, too many twists and I also started to feel like I was being played and not in an altogether friendly way.

Eleanor Catton is clearly a very clever woman, yet something about The Luminaries becomes a little smug along the way. The characters are clearly symbols and pieces of a much bigger jigsaw piece (from reviews like the lovely and normally very patient and positive Rachel have confirmed this) yet for me this was all done at the expense of getting to know them and giving a monkey’s about them. Catton has over 800 pages in this book, I started to feel if she spent as much time fleshing out each character so I started to like them and spot differences in their personalities rather than focusing on retelling and retelling the story from points of view and endlessly describing the scenery I might have got to grips with it. Whilst I understand all characters are there to tell a story or be a part of a plot or a device I am a firm believer that you should never see it. I could see the strings linking the characters to their puppet master (that is simply an analogy, not meant to sound rude) above on one too many occasions and it kept breaking the spell.

Of course the one thing I should remind myself more often is that, like people and music and many other things, we can’t always get on with everything we read. It doesn’t stop me from being really cross when this happens though, the last time it happened  on this scale was with Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad which oddly enough was a book as equally fawned over whilst I was sat wanting to throw it around the room. Interestingly that book I also went between reading, listening and even using the app – though I finished it maybe I need to learn if I need that much help with a book then it is a lost cause to me. It is horrid to feel like the only one at the party not really enjoying yourself and I wonder if without all the buzz on blogs and social media maybe I would have given up on The Luminaries long before, instead I wanted to join in and so only finally gave up the ghost last week. Sigh.

I don’t tend to talk about the books I don’t finish or why I don’t finish them, but in this case because the book has been such a huge book of the year and because it has taken up so much of my reading time I thought I should, maybe I should more often – though these wouldn’t be reviews, you can’t review a book you haven’t finished can you? I could bring back unreviews I guess, what do you think? Also if any of you have tried or even conquered The Luminaries I would love your thoughts on it be they good, bad or indifferent. I would also love to know about the books everyone else has loved or have reached mass critical acclaim and have left you thinking ‘WTF?’ Ha! Oh, and anything else about giving up books really, not that I ask a lot of you all!

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Other People’s Bookshelves #18 – Victoria James

It is time to spend a little while leisurely nosing around someone elses collection of books with the latest installment of Other People’s Bookshelves. This time around we are having a nebby through one of my most recent delightful bookish acquaintances, Dr Victoria James, one of the most well travelled and well read people I have met in some time. Victoria and I bonded earlier in the year as we judged the Not The Booker Prize for the Guardian and have been messaging and emailing about the books we have been reading ever since. I am currently buttering her up to work on a bookish TV project together. I’m delighted, between flying here there and everywhere she has taken the time to share her shelves with us and so will stop waffling on and hand over to the lovely lady herself.

Firstly can you tell us a bit about yourself and where your love of books came from…

I’ve always wondered if the thing I’m very best at isn’t TV (I’m a television producer) or journalism (I was Tokyo Correspondent of New Statesman, and have written for many papers and magazines), or travelling (which I do often and well) – but reading. During my childhood, each night after bedtime my parents would check on me and pluck off my face the book I had fallen asleep reading. I’ve got four degrees in English, yet to this day feel as desolate on closing the last page of a wonderful book as I did when I first reached the end of the Narnia sequence, or ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’. I love my life, and I really love the way reading has given me thousands of lives in the pages of beloved books.

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

For years, I kept all my books, but because I live in a tiny place in London most of them were stored at my mum’s house. When she wanted to move, I did a comprehensive sort-through and took about half down to the local Oxfam shop. Every now and then my mum rings me up to tell me with great annoyance that Oxfam has sent her a running total of the cash raised from my books – it’s in the hundreds of pounds, now. My criteria for retaining/discarding books were simple: was a book (i) ever going to be read again, (ii) of emotional value, or (iii) a beautiful or rare volume? If not, down to Oxfam it went. I try to stick to the same policy now for acquisitions – books that don’t meet any of those criteria but which I want to read anyway I buy for my e-reader.

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 tend to group my books by ‘collections’. I studied English at uni and have loads of ‘classics’ – they are all on one bookcase, and modern fiction on another, both ordered alphabetically by author. I lived in Japan for years and have a great number of Japanese books: these are grouped together, then subdivided by fiction and nonfiction (and alphabetically within those). I’ve a smaller collection of books on nature, wildlife and ecology, which go together (alphabetically), and travel (alphabetical by destination, not author). My most recent small collection is of books about Vikings, as for the past 18 months I’ve been writing both a Viking-themed novel and a travel book. These shelves are a glorious mashup of fiction, poetry, sagas, histories, nonfiction, catalogues and picture books (and are not remotely alphabetical).

With the exception of the last, this probably makes me sound borderline-obsessive about my books. Perhaps I am – but the rest of my life is a joyous, freeform improvisation. When a sixth-former I volunteered at my local library, and as a graduate student I earned cash manning my college library desk, so my neat books could be simply the product of a scant few good habits, learned early!

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

As a child I never had pocket money, but my mother joined no fewer than four local libraries to keep me plentifully supplied with borrowed books. The first time I got to ‘buy’ a book myself was when I won the class prize at my new school (I’d got a scholarship to a private school, where they did posh stuff like prizegivings). I chose a beautiful hardback of ‘The Hobbit’. It was part of a series of six hardbacks, along with the three ‘Lord of the Rings’ books, ‘The Silmarillion’ and ‘Unfinished Tales’ and I asked my mother to buy the whole lot, as I was worried that particular edition would go out of print and I wouldn’t have a matching set. ‘But you’d have to win the form prize every year,’ my mother said. ‘Don’t worry,’ I replied, ‘I will’. And I did. And I still have those six lovely volumes today.

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

I adore gloriously lowbrow sensation fiction, and I have more books by Wilkie Collins than any other author apart from Yukio Mishima. I also love children’s fantasy fiction (such as Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and the Wolf Brother books), and am an unrepentant, lifelong sci-fi fan. But I’m not embarrassed by a single book I own. What a terrible notion – that’s like asking if people hide their naughty children when visitors come round!

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?

This probably sounds heretical, but one part of me would be quite delighted if everything I owned went up in flames. I’ve always been bit of a believer in the principle of nonattachment to material things – books are the glaring exception to my attempt to lead a nonaccumulative life. I do have a few books that were given to me and inscribed by good friends, or bought at meaningful moment of my life, but the important things are the friends and the memories; I can always buy the books again.

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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?

My father seemed to spend years of my childhood reading James Clavell’s ‘Shogun’, while my mother bought Oswald Wynd’s ‘The Ginger Tree’ (about a Scottish woman in early 20th-century Japan) after it was adapted by the BBC in the 80s. I don’t have either on my shelves today, but I spent most of my 20s living in Tokyo, so I guess both books made their mark!

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 buy every book I want. It’s like a sickness, Simon. I’m sure you understand…

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

The latest added to my shelf is ‘The Gentle Author’s London Album’, a largely pictorial book about London life and recent history. It’s exquisitely produced, with golden endpapers – to handle it is to covet it. The latest added to my e-reader is Eleanor Catton’s ‘The Luminaries’. I know some people don’t much like e-readers, but they make me a better buyer of newly-released fiction when the alternative is a hefty hardback for which I have neither shelf-space or bag-space.

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

My Big Wish for my bookshelf in the future is (cough!) a copy of my own first novel: a stirring (cough!) tale of Greenland’s last Vikings, who are suddenly confronted with proof that their world – and their dreams – are much larger than they ever imagined. There’s just that small matter of finishing it (10,000 words to go) then securing an agent and publisher.

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

They can think what they like! But you wouldn’t need to be too perceptive to deduce the following: My reading tastes – omnivorous and insatiable. Me – an outdoorsy, well-travelled bookaholic with a thing for Japan, Vikings and spaceships.

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A huge thanks to Victoria for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. 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 Victoria’s responses and/or any of the books that she mentioned?

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On The Reading Horizon…

Now that we are back from a week away in the Netherlands, metaphorically, I thought we could all have a little catch up about our ‘Reading Horizon’s’. On The Readers podcast Gavin and I used to do a section called ‘What We Have Read, Are Reading and Want To Read Next’, which was a bit of a mouthful, and I thought I might do the now and next with you as a) I am reading an absolute chunkster at the moment and so thought a nice short post while I crack on with that might be an idea b) I always want to hear what you have been reading and this seems like a nice post to do irregularly regularly from now on. My current reading horizon looks like this…

Reading Horizon

No, that isn’t a delightfully attired breeze blog in front of you, it is indeed Eleanor Catton’s currently Man Booker shortlisted second novel ‘The Luminaries’ (which I embarrassingly spent weeks calling The Illuminaries, oops) with the Women’s Prize Fiction 2013 winner, A.M. Homes’ ‘May We Be Forgiven’, sedately waiting in the shadows to follow it up. It is only now that I have realised my reading would look to a stranger as being a bit ‘prize’ driven and that I am following the herd, they would be slightly right but also slightly wrong.

I wish I could remember who called ‘The Luminaries’ a modern authors version of a sensation novel, because whoever it was is the person who saved it from being given to a friend who loves loooooong books more than anything, ever – well, maybe with the exception of cake, which is why we are friends. It was that comparison that made me sit back and think ‘well, I have to bloody read that don’t I? And I must read it right now!’ Alas, right now might not have been the best time as with finishing my contract at Culture Liverpool (which I am really sad to be leaving, even though it looks like I have a very exciting work project coming in the autumn, as the people and the events have been amazing) and the final few events have not been ideal for getting into a mammoth book. I am about 150 pages and characters and possible plot lines, as it is a mystery, were still being introduced and despite notebooks I wasn’t keeping up even though it is written BRILLIANTLY. So I have had a break but am getting back to it now.

Question… If you are starting a massive book (and I am planning on reading Vikram Seth’s ‘A Suitable Boy’ on a long trip to London in a few weeks so this will be very helpful) do you read it in little bits, possibly keeping notes, or do you need big hour or longer reading sessions to gulp it down and get a real handle on it? I would love to know. I am definitely in the latter category, which helps with ‘The Luminaries’ also as the chapters are quite long too – it is a book in proportion, ha.

The other book, almost quite literally waiting in the shadow of ‘The Luminaries’ , is A.M Homes latest novel which won the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year. This is actually a re-read for my book group and one I am really looking forward to because the first time I read it, for The Green Carnation Prize last year, I had a ‘loved it and also hated it’ reading experience so I am looking forward to going back and then chatting about it all over again. After those two I think it might be time for a crime novel.

So that is what I have on my reading horizon, have you read either or these and if so what did you think? More importantly, what is on yours, what have you been reading, what are you reading and what might you most likely read next? Let me know, oh and also share your habits when starting a really, really long book too please, little reading bursts or big reading gulps?

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Now We Are Six!!!!!!

“Happy Birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy blogging birthday dear Savidge Reads, happy birthday to me…” Imagine that sung in my most beautiful of singing voices! Yes, today Savidge Reads is officially six years old though weirdly it feels older than that. It was six years to this very day that I first put my tentative toes (or tapping fingers) into the blogosphere and wrote a review, of sorts though I am quite embarrassed by it now, of Susan Hill’s ‘The Various Haunts of Men’. More dreadful reviews/bookish thoughts followed, most of which I have since deleted because they were mortifying, and no one read it for ages and ages. And now here were are…

Now We Are Six

To actually celebrate a blog birthday seemed rather a bonkers idea in years past, however this year with all that has gone on (and, without blowing my own trumpet, the fact that the blog went to number one here) The Beard decided we should celebrate it and has only gone and made me the blog-birthday cake above – any excuse for us to eat cake – and also bought me two new books. This was made all the more special as they came with the Books Are My Bag bag after a little jaunt out yesterday to Linghams. Anyway the books are ‘Coco Chanel; The Life and the Legend’ by Justine Picardie (which I was so sure I had in hardback but couldn’t find the other day) and ‘New Ways To Kill Your Mother’ by Colm Toibin (the title of which I love) which is some literary history and criticism all rolled into one I believe. Both non-fiction too as now I am six I really feel I should be challenging myself more.

I am also going to have a little mini bookish party of my own later today as I finally settle down to read (in big fat gulps) my current bookish obsession ‘The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Catton. But before that we are off on a Famous Five like adventure to a lighthouse. I am hoping for a picnic with some of that cake with lashings of ginger beer or pink lemonade once we get there.

Anyway, a big thanks to those of you who have joined in the fun here at Savidge Reads over the last few years and all the lovely bookish banter and the like, it has been bloody lovely. Here’s to the next six…

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Savidge Reads Grills… Charlotte Rogan

Yesterday I told you all about ‘The Lifeboat’ a truly accomplished debut novel with wonderful prose which also gripped me like a thriller, is narrated by a wonderfully unreliable narrator and amazingly also bowled me over considering as it was a book set on a boat – and I don’t normally like those at all. Well today its author, Charlotte Rogan, takes part in a Savidge Reads Grills to discuss the novel, the hidden manuscripts locked away in her drawers and her writing and reading habits. You can also quite possibly win a copy of the book yourself today, read on for more…

Firstly can you describe the story of ‘The Lifeboat’ in a single sentence without giving any plot spoilers?

Grace Winter survives three weeks in an overcrowded lifeboat only to be put on trial for her life, but is she telling the truth at her trial or is she merely saving herself again?

Where did the idea for ‘The Lifeboat’ come from?

The idea for the story came from my husband’s old criminal law text. I was particularly intrigued by two 19th century cases where shipwrecked sailors were put on trial after being rescued. At the time, sailors thought they were protected by something called the Custom of the Sea, which was an unwritten code of conduct meant to govern the actions of those who found themselves far beyond the reach of any civil authority. For instance, it held that the captain should be the last one to leave a sinking ship, that the women and children should be saved first, and that the ship’s crew owed a special duty to the passengers. It also held that the concept of necessity made it acceptable to kill other people in order to survive as long as the victims were chosen fairly by drawing lots. The moral issues involved in lifeboat situations are what hooked me—not only on an individual level, but on a social level, for lifeboats can be used as metaphors for all sorts of situations faced by society today. And the law is so interesting. It is a way of telling a story so we can judge it, but in order to do that, it leaves out the fraility of mind and body, the human will to surive, the nuance, and the fear. The left out bits are what I wanted my story to be about.

This year has obviously been the anniversary of the Titanic’s disaster, was this something that inspired the book at all? Did you use anything from that case for ‘The Lifeboat’?

I was obviously aware of the Titanic disaster, but I was not thinking about it as I started to write the book. Later on in the writing process, though, it proved to be an invaluable resource. The volume of information gathered and written about the Titanic made it easy for me to research elements that were important to my story, such as lifeboat sizes, launching mechanisms, wireless communication devices, and shipping routes, to name a few.

How much research did you have to do for the novel, obviously you couldn’t blow a dingy up and just ask friends or relatives to push you out into the middle of a lake etc? Was there a particular story in history?

Besides researching technical details and reading some non-fiction accounts of survival at sea, I tapped into my own experiences growing up in a family of sailors. My father was intense and competitive, which had the effect of turning a casual family outing into a high-stakes, all-hands-on-deck game. We children would be lured onto the boat with talk of cruising to some far-off shore and cooking marshmallows on the beach, but sooner or later we would find outselves racing with the other boats we saw. My sister and I were too little to be of any help in this endeavor, and it was our job to not fall overboard and to stay out of the way. The weather sometimes turned bad, but we were not quitters! It made us seasick to go into the boat’s cabin during a storm, so I know what it is to huddle in the rain for hours on end surrounded by people who are stonger than I am.

Now I am rather renowned through Savidge Reads for not being a fan of a books set on boats (though I was a fan of this one) as I instantly think that with minimal characters and nothing but ocean around this could limit a novel, this isn’t the case with ‘The Lifeboat’ though is it? What were the pro’s and con’s of writing a novel primarily set on a lifeboat lost at sea?

I, too, have had the experience of not being taken with the premise of a novel and then absolutely loving the book. I think the best novels defy expectations, whether it be through unusual characters or surprising language or intricate plots. I also think closed room novels can be both challenging and liberating. Just the way having their options and horizons severly curtailed forces the characters in the lifeboat to draw on deeper parts of themselves, the novelist, too, has to reach beyond setting and plot when she limits herself in this way.

One of the advantages of fiction is that it has so many dimensions: there is the surface of the words and sentences; there is the linear dimension of plot; and there is the depth, which encompasses the myriad things that are going on in a charater at any particular moment in time: motives and memories, hopes and fears, sensations and thoughts. So there can be a wonderful freedom in limits—freedom to dig and magnify and explore more than just the who did what of a linear plot.

Now Grace, our protagonist, is a very interesting character and we never know if she is reliable or not as a narrator. Did you have fun with this element?

I did. My characters take on a life of their own, and I remember the first time I realized: “Grace isn’t telling the truth!” But my very next thought was: “Well, who does?” I love how Grace is by turns calculating and honest and how we catch her in a truth the way we might catch other people in a lie. I also liked the chance to explore how a woman might use her innate talents in order to survive just the way a stong man would use his. Grace is a keen observer and highly attuned to social cues and nuance. Those are traits that help her in the lifeboat, and at her trial, they help her again.

There is a certain amount of mystery to the book, hence why we have to be rather cloak and dagger, how hard was it to come up with twists in order to leave the reader wondering and wanting to know more throughout the novel?

Plot for me is difficult—and, frankly, it is not the first thing I read for. More important for me are the language and the characters and an author’s attempt to hit on something universal. But I eventually realized that most readers read for plot and that if I was going to increase my chances of finding a publisher, I was going to have to pay attention to it.

The key to most aspects of writing is revision, which includes something I call layering—going back over and adding and refining and intentionally making more of whatever I find in the pages I have written. The first draft is little more that hints and impulses, with the twists and complications accruing over time.

‘The Lifeboat’ has been chosen as one of the Waterstones 11 and been praised all over the book world, how has this been for you?

I spent the first six weeks after publication in a state of heightened anxiety. I was being asked to do a lot of things I had never done before and wasn’t particularly good at, like giving interviews and speaking in front of groups. My publishing team had shown such faith in me that I didn’t want to let them down.

Another scary thing about sending a novel out into the world is that a lot of very smart and knowledgable literary people will not only see it, but will publicly comment on it. I have fairly ambitious ideas about what a novel can be, so I am happy and grateful that some of the people who know about these things have understood what I was trying to do.

An unexpected and wonderful aspect to being published has been the opportunity to connect with a lot of people who are just as passionate about books and writing as I am. I didn’t know a lot of book people before, and meeting them has been both eye-opening and fun.

I have heard that while ‘The Lifeboat’ is officially your debut novel, you actually had/have several novels locked away in your drawers. Why is ‘The Lifeboat’ the first one that got published? Did you know it had something special about it? Do you think any of those other novels will be published in the future?

As I said, I got better at plotting over the years, which I think is one of the things that made The Lifeboat appealing to the publishers. But it was also the manuscript I was working on when I was introduced to my literary agent. I actually sent him two manuscripts, and while he liked the other one, he thought The Lifeboat would be easier to sell.

Once I finish a project, I tend to move on. While I could imagine going back to one of my old manuscripts, I don’t spend a lot of time looking back or worrying about all those pages in the drawer.

Before we discuss books further, let us discuss writing! When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? How long have you been writing for?

At this point, I have been writing for 25 years. I did not always want to be a writer—I wanted to be an architect. When I was in my mid-thirties, I took a leave of absence from my job at a construction company, and it seemed an opportune time to try something new. I decided I would write a novel, and I was lucky enough to take an inspirational creative writing workshop with Harold Brodkey. He is the person who opened my eyes to the layered and multi-faceted thing that writing can be.

When I started writing, I started reading differently. I read and re-read with the aim of figuring out how my literary heroes did it. I was not content to write something that didn’t work on several levels at once, and I think that is why I didn’t really care if I got published early on. What I wanted was to get good at the writing itself—for a long time, getting published seemed very secondary to that.

Describe your typical writing routine, do you have any writers quirks or any writing rituals?

The key to fitting writing into life as a parent is to take advantage of the corners of time, wherever you might find them. I used to have a beautiful fountain pen, and I would sometimes spend a good bit of my writing time tracking it down or racing off to buy cartridges when I was out of ink. I got used to the weight of it, which made other pens seem to lack substance. When the pen broke, I went through a period of withdrawal, but I realized I was better off without it. I became very happy to write in waiting rooms and carpool lines, on the backs of envelopes and receipts—whenever and with whatever I had at hand in those precious bits of time. My first writing space was in a basement, where I sat at a workbench amid the tools, and my second space was a funny room off the garage. Now I have the luxury of time and a pretty desk, but I am trying not to get too used to it.

Back to reading now… What is your favourite ‘guilty pleasure’ read?

I recently read a Michael Connelly mystery and enjoyed it. While that is not the type of book I usually go for, I didn’t feel guilty about it. I like literary fiction, but some of the books I am drawn to can only be read in small chunks, like A Book of Memories by Peter Nádas, which I am reading now. I am also reading everything by Albert Camus and A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash.

Which book, apart from your own, would you demand Savidge Reads and readers run out and buy right this instant, a book you would call your favourite?

Reading choices are so personal, and I don’t have a favorite. How about if I suggest four books I read in the last year and found worthy of my Life List? They are Remainder by Tom McCarthy (a novel as remarkable for what the author leaves out—expostition and explanation—as for what he puts in), The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton (a strange and compelling novel of performers and voyeurs), Zone One by Colson Whitehead (astonishing language and powers of observation, no plot), and The Unlikely Pilgrimmage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (another Waterstones 11 pick; gorgeous language and story that touches the heart). I can never describe what I look for in a book, because the books that knock my socks off do so by being completely unpredictable, which is one of the things I love about them.

What is next for Charlotte Rogan?

My biggest challenge now is to juggle my new responsibilities so I can get back to the novel I am working on. I am superstitious when it comes to talking about unfinished work, so the only thing I will say is that it is set in South Africa. My husband and I spent almost a year in Johannesburg and fell in love with the country and the people.

Huge thanks to Charlotte for taking time to answer all my questions. ‘The Lifeboat’ is a truly wonderful book, you really need to give it a read. Oh… as if by magic you might just be able to win one of five copies, for more details pop here. Don’t say I don’t always think of you all.

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The Actual Orange Prize Longlist 2010

So here it is the actual Orange Prize List and ok so it doesn’t really resemble my list from yesterday (and before anyone asks I have no idea whats going on with images on the site today – apols) in anyway shape or form but I did actually guess 6 and mentioned ‘The Little Stranger’ and am indeed kicking myself as I thought that ‘Black Mamba Boy’ might get in there and didn’t pop it in my final 20. I would have guessed 8 then… though that still isn’t half the list, ha!

Anyway in the name of fun I have popped the ones I actually guessed in italics and the ones that I have actually read, all two and a half of them, in bold and then the ones I own (though I think a couple of these I don’t are on the way to Savidge Towers) and might read, no pressure if I don’t, before the winner is announced have stars next to them.

Rosie Alison – The Very Thought of You (Alma Books)
Eleanor Catton – The Rehearsal (Granta)
Clare Clark – Savage Lands (Harvill Secker)*
Amanda Craig – Hearts and Minds (Little, Brown)
Roopa Farooki – The Way Things Look to Me (Pan Books)
Rebecca Gowers – The Twisted Heart (Canongate)
M.J. Hyland – This is How (Canongate)
Sadie Jones – Small Wars (Chatto & Windus)*
Barbara Kingsolver – The Lacuna (Faber and Faber)
Laila Lalami – Secret Son (Viking)
Andrea Levy – The Long Song (Headline Review)*
Attica Locke – Black Water Rising (Serpent’s Tail)
Maria McCann – The Wilding (Faber and Faber)
Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate)*
Nadifa Mohamed – Black Mamba Boy (HarperCollins)*
Lorrie Moore – A Gate at the Stairs (Faber and Faber)
Monique Roffey – The White Woman on the Green Bicycle (Simon and Schuster)
Amy Sackville – The Still Point (Portobello Books)
Kathryn Stockett – The Help (Fig Tree)*
Sarah Waters – The Little Stranger (Virago)*

What do you think of the list? It’s given me food for thought.

Do you think Wolf Hall will just clear up again? Could Lorrie Moore’s first full novel win? Is this Sarah Waters year? And what about those left off? I am gutted not to see Evie Wyld on the list and could actually have a small wobbly about it, but I shan’t – its not dignified. What about Margaret Atwood’s lacking presence? Which other books would you have loved to see on there but haven’t?

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Guessing The Orange Prize Longlist 2010

I do like a good guessing game, I can almost guarantee I will always be pretty much wrong but I still like to have a go anyway. The last bookish year saw me trying and failing (though I did better than the previous year) to guess the Man Booker Longlist (I did guess the winner though) and the winner of the Orange Longlist both of which I got wrong. It is my dream to one day be on a book prize panel of some sort and as it will never be the Orange I thought I would list you what I would put forward before the actual 20 are announced tomorrow. I haven’t read them all but really want to, all bar two I haven’t read are on my TBR.

It was quite hard choosing though as the books can’t be translated, have to have been published in the UK between the 1st April 2009 and 31st March 2010 (one book in my list is due out on both the 31st of March and 1st of April depending where you look so it may not make it, I went under the assumption that the 31st was correct) and all must be novels, no novellas. 

I have popped them all alphabetically in order of author surname so as you can’t guess my favourites…

   

Ms. Hempel Chronicles – Sarah Shun-lien Bynum
The Rehearsal – Eleanor Catton
War on the Margins – Libby Cone
Isa and May – Margaret Forster

   

How To Paint A Dead Man – Sarah Hall
Blueeyedboy – Joanne Harris
Dog Boy – Eva Hornung
Small Wars – Sadie Jones

   

The Long Song – Andrea Levy
Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
The Confessions of Edward Day – Valerie Martin
A Gate At The Stairs – Lorrie Moore

    

White is for Witching – Helen Oyeyemi
Where The Serpent Lives – Ruth Padel
The Boy Next Door – Irene Sabatini
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – Helen Simonson

   

The Help – Kathryn Stockett
Trespass – Rose Tremain
Dancing Backwards – Salley Vickers
After The Fire, A Still Small Voice – Evie Wyld

I will say another two titles were fighting for a place in the top twenty and they were ‘Black Mamba Boy’ by Nadifa Mohamed and ‘The Rapture’ by Liz Jensen so if the judges pick either of these then I will be kicking myself. I also originally had ‘A Beginners Guide To Acting English’ by Shappi Khorsandi not realising it was a memoir (have now seen the very tiny word on the back of the book, thank you Justine! You see it started off being quite tough and then I kept thinking of ‘just one more’ several times.

You might notice some big contenders of last year are missing from my list, titles such as Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood’, Sarah Water’s ‘The Little Stranger’, Audrey Niffenegger’s ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’ and A. S. Byatt’s ‘The Children’s Book’ (though I don’t think she allows hers to be put forward) all four of which I read last year and thought were very good I just think they have had enough publicity already. You could say the same for Wolf Hall but I adored it more than very much liking it so it made my selection. It wouldn’t be a shock or a scandal to see any of those on the list though. 

So will I be anywhere near right? Quite unlikely, would be hilarious if I was though. What about all of you, what do you think might be seen on the Longlist this year? I am not planning on intentionally reading whatever the final twenty or even the short listed titles are, is anyone else?

Note: This was a post I scheduled the other week and I didn’t realise Jackie was doing one too which you can see over at Farmlanebooks if you havent already. Let me know if any more of you are doing this!

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