Tag Archives: Graham Greene

The Weightless World – Anthony Trevelyan

Sometimes the title of a book can call to you and for some reason The Weightless World was one such title from the moment it arrived in the post. It intrigued me without even having to have read a page (or as you can see below without any illustration on the cover, though in its own way that is also intriguing enough). Throw in the fact that it was a debut (I do like a debut novel, all those idea’s all that energy) and was from an independent press, the press who published A Girl is a Half Formed Thing no less, and three of my favourite ‘I am strongly inclined to read this’ boxes were ticked. Before I knew it, I was off adventuring with an unlikely group of fellows in India.

Galley Beggar Press, 2015, paperback, fiction, 265 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Raymond Ess is going to kill me.
This is the thought I can’t stop thinking. One way and another I have been thinking it for years, though I used to mean something like Raymond Ess is going to be annoyed at me or Raymond Ess is asking too much of me. I don’t mean either of those things now. I just mean he is going to kill me.
One night soon, when he find out what I’ve done. Raymond Ess is going to slip quietly into my room and murder me in my bed. He’s going to stab me through the sheets with a kitchen knife, crush my throat with his speckled hands, and he’s not going to do it because he’s mad, though he is (stark, staring); he’s going to do it because it’s what I deserve. Because it’s the only punishment that fits the crime.

They say that the opener of a book should instantly draw the reader in. The Weightless World  pulls you in with some force. We soon discover that the Raymond Ess is not some psychopathic monster hunting our narrator, Steven Strauss, down but actually his boss and Steven has done something he believes is so terrible it is worthy of murder. But what? Well, obviously that is the question that a lot of the book is based around so I am not going to tell you. What I can say is that Steven has ended up on the other side of the world from his home in England and is now on a trip to India with his boss to go and find an antigravity machine. Yes, an antigravity machine.

What makes this all the more intriguing, and frankly bizarre, is that Ess found this antigravity machine when he was away in India finding himself after having a mental breakdown of sorts which meant he had to take leave from the company he cofounded, Resolution Aviation. The company he has also almost driven to bankruptcy after a big gamble that went massively wrong. Whilst on his travels in India he got lost from his guide Asha and found himself in the middle of nowhere where in a wooden hut near a river he found recluse Tarik Kundra who just happened to have build a machine that can make anything (including concrete moulds of swimming pools) defy gravity. Now, with Steven and Asha in tow, he wants to find him again and make the company and himself millions once more.

Now I have to say as the novel went on I was slightly unsure I was going to get along with it. The reasons for this being I don’t like books based around business and work colleagues (hence why I was one of the only people on earth who didn’t like Joshua Ferris’ And Then We Came To The End) and also because on the mention of antigravity, whilst making the wonderful title make complete sense, I had an ‘uh-oh this is going to end up going to space’ moment. I was wrong on the latter count as we don’t go to space, well maybe one character does, and whilst yes this is a book about business I rather enjoyed it because at its heart I think The Weightless World is something of a farce.

In actual fact as I was reading Trevelyan’s debut I kept thinking of Graham Greene and both The Ministry of Fear and also in particular Our Man In Havana. Not because this is a spy story, though there is an element of that thrown in, but because The Weightless World  is very much a tale of a bumbling white middle class male a little bit lost and out of kilter with everything, except his girlfriend Alice when he can reach her on Skype, who somehow starts to find himself in the most random and adverse of situations, as his naturally complicates them no end. Also, like Greene, it is brilliantly written with some stunning prose even when Trevelyan is merely writing about the complexities of a Skype call.

I stare at the screen. The circles ping, ping. Then the wifi icon shrivels, the circles dim then blip to nothing and the screen holds nothing but futile light.
Somewhere on the face of the earth Alice is staring into her laptop. She’s waiting for it to conjure me, incarnate me. But the magic has failed. She is there and I am here and the curve of the planet turns stubbornly, irreducibly between us.

I have to admit that on occasion I did get a little lost. As the characters build, from just Ess and Steven to Ess, Steven, Asha and Harry (a slightly smarmy and seemingly untrustworthy business man who tags along after he invites himself) there are occasionally moments you feel that you haven’t quite got a handle on them and indeed sometimes they haven’t quite got a handle on themselves. There is a lot of ‘do you know what is going on?’ said to one another which is often both funny and slightly confusing and distancing so I would have to go back and figure things out. This is a minor grumble as Trevelyan offers a lot more going on below the farces facade.

What I think The Weightless World is about on deeper level is the relationship between India and the UK (and indeed the Western World). As Steven and Ess adventure on India broods in the background both with its trading, be it big business or on the market stalls in the streets, its western interference to dominate and ‘make good’ whilst also making profit (there is a poignant moment involving a collapsed warehouse) and also the instability India has with and without interventions; as Steven and Ess arrive there is a huge bomb in Banaglore. It is also a book about the brilliance, nightmare and reliance that we put on technology and how sometimes, with a very moving story back in the UK with Steven’s girlfriend Alice, we feel the world has got much smaller and that technology can placate and replace reality. An interesting debut indeed.

2 Comments

Filed under Anthony Trevelyan, Galley Beggar Press, Review

Trespassing with Tremain…

It has been a year since Gran died. A year which seems to have gone all too quickly and also weirdly slowly all at once. How does time do that? Naturally I have thought about her daily since, at the weirdest of times, and missed her a huge amount both as my Gran and also as being one of the most bookish influences I had around me. I miss speaking three times a week about anything and everything and ending up on seeing how we were getting on with X or Y book, I still finish a book and wondering if she would like it, I miss reading the same book and having the same good or bad thoughts on it or polar opposite thoughts which we could get into heated debates about, I miss discussing our latest book group lists and meetings. The list could go on.

I was umming and ahhhhing how to mark the year since her passing. Did I mention it? Did I just let life go on? Having recently read one of the books I inherited from her, A Month in the Country, and loving it so much I thought maybe it was time to do something like Greene for Gran again and see if, like you all did amazingly last year, you would like to join in. The question was who or what to read?

My initial thought was to go for authors that she loved that I had read like Graham Greene last year. The choices could be Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood, John Updike, William Trevor, Antony Trollope (gulp) and Anne Tyler etc. Yet the bittersweet joy, because I couldn’t talk to her about it afterwards, in reading A Month in the Country was that she had introduced me to a new author and favourite book, even though (annoyingly) she doesn’t know it. I also decided that I quite fancied a more contemporary, and indeed living, author would make a change. So I ransacked my brain for the authors she had lots of books by and I had read and the answer was obvious…

Trespassing-With-Tremain2

Rose Tremain, Gran raved and raved about Restoration, The Colour, The Road Home, Music and Silence and Trespass. In fact I seem to remember giving my proof/new incoming copies of anything Tremain because I knew the buzz she would get from having them early. I think she had almost all of Rose Tremain’s thirteen novels and a few of her short story collections. I can also remember how annoyed she would get when she asked if I had read any of them, ironically forgetting I had sent them her way, and my response would be ‘not yet, but I will’ with the response ‘you’d better.’

Trespassing-With-Tremain4

Well Gran, guess what, in honour of you I am going to try Trespassing with Tremain into all the different era’s and lives that she writes about. I am thinking of reading and writing about four of her books and one of her short story collections – one every fortnight – from the 10th of August until the 5th of October. I will announce which ones when in due course, after your recommendations really. So where to start and who is up for joining me and hopefully finding some more great reads?

 

20 Comments

Filed under Random Savidgeness, Trespassing with Tremain

Other People’s Bookshelves #44; Jon Morgan

Hello and welcome to a return of Other People’s Bookshleves, a series of posts set to feed into the filthy book lust/porn and either give you a fix of other people’s shelves to stave you off going on a buying/borrowing spree, or making you want to run and grab as many more books as you can. After a small break we are back and visiting Jon Morgan, a Savidge Reader, who has kindly offered to tell us more about his books, himself and let us have a nosey round! Before we do let’s find out more about him…

I am a 52 year old soon-to-be retired London senior police officer (yes some of us can read – the old East German joke – why do the police go around in threes – answer: One who can read one who can write and one to watch the other two dangerous intellectuals) subscribing to Rupert Brooke’s dictum that ‘Life is so flat you can see your tombstone from the other end.’ And Graham Greene: ‘Point me out the happy man and I will point you out either extreme egotism, evil or else an absolute ignorance.’ As well as Baudelaire: ‘Ma jeunesse ne fût qu’un ténèbreux orage, traversé ça et là par de brillants soleils.’ My book interests are eclectic, reflecting early middle and late interests. Philosophy – ‘Even a bad book is a book and is therefore sacred’ and following Erasmus ‘If I have money I will buy books, if I have any leftover I may buy food.’ Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read…’ Arthur Ransome said many wise things (Better drowned than duffers, if not duffers, will not drown) and produced the greatest children’s literature ever. He wrote ‘Any book worth reading by children is also worth reading by adults, but children begin by being omnivorous, to them, the miracle of being able to read, makes any book miraculous. A couple of second rate books can blunt that new-found faculty of reading… A real book becomes part of a reader’s innermost life.’ Genius!

photo_4

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?

Books deserve to see the light and almost all are on the shelves. Childhood books are unfortunately in the loft WE Johns, CS Forester, CS Lewis etc due to a real and pressing lack of space. I don’t buy book I do not want to read and rarely get rid of them unless I have seriously misjudged.

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?

Usually grouped by author although the system I had in my last place displayed some favouritism. Nowadays all the French books are displayed by era and biogs included with subject author. I prefer some chaos it is more natural….The constant changing of size by publishers is frustrating i.e. paperbacks of a particular author are all the same size until some idiot in the marketing dept. decides to make the new one bigger and the location and shelf space wont comply…. Leads to author separation and a frustrating few minutes when I want to find something – not easy amongst three floors of books and 7000 plus in total. Books to be read i.e. recently bought, used to be on two tottering piles by the bed. They grew to over 6 feet tall and one night I was woken by what seemed and earthquake. Two piles fell over. I managed to squeeze a large bookcase into a small space to accommodate them but the piles gave re-formed. Recently read are on a pile on the other side of the bed….. Cull, what is this cull concept. Books are friends. You do not cull friends.

photo_2

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

Probably a WE Johns ‘Biggles’ book, which are all in the loft. I remember being in hospital as a young teen in central London and sneaking out to Charing Cross Road and buying The Fabulous Mr Wilkes, about the 18th century rake, rebel and politician. I still have it and it is still a good read.

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?

Never be ashamed of any book you own!

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 is a book I used at university and it was so cogent and clear of thought that I determined to buy my own copy after leaving. L.T.T Topsfield’s study of the medieval author Chretien de Troyes. It was a small fortune £45.00 in 1983. The other one is a study of the work of Jean Racine which again I used a college, heavily annotated, It was not until I got it home one holiday that my late father told me the author had taught him at Cambridge in the 50’s Odette De Mourgue’s Jean Racine -The Triumph of Relevance.

photo_33

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 Railway Navvies – Terry Coleman. Fantastic study of the construction of the railways and of the perilous life of the navvies and their gross exploitation by the boss class

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?

To my shame, I rarely borrow from the local library, and I know that I am one of those who would shout loudest if it were threatened. Unlike when I was young I can now afford to buy the books I want, ether second-hand or new and sometimes even from the behemoth that is Amazon if my conscience does not overrule my wallet. That is such a privilege. Like Erasmus I would rather go hungry than not buy books!

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

Martin Walker’s latest Bruno, Chief Of Police – the Children of War. A great character set in la France Profonde.

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

None specifically although no doubt I will think of one after pressing ‘send’!

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

Odd, eclectic, Have you really read all of these? / Not really sure what I would like them to think. Books are, or become, friends. They do reflect my tastes, interest and personality. They are not there for show. They demonstrate a profound love of the book as a human achievement – long may it rule!

photo_32

***************************************************

A huge thanks to Jon for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. 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 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 Jon’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

12 Comments

Filed under Other People's Bookshelves

Books of 2013; Part I

With two days of 2013 to go, I thought it was time to share my books of the year. In the tradition I have set over the last few years, and my inability to whittle books down as favourites, there will be two posts of my books of the year. Today it is the books that were published before 2013 and tomorrow the ones that were published for the first time in the UK this year. Interestingly today’s list has proved so much easier than tomorrows as it seems I didn’t really read many books published before 2013 – and when I did only a few of them blew me away, those ones were…

10. Chocolat – Joanne Harris

I have to say that even though I had seen the film, though it has been a while, ‘Chocolat’ as a book was a whole lot darker and less twee than I thought it would be before picking it up. One of the many things that I admired so much about it was that under the tale of outsiders coming to a place, and quietly causing mayhem, there was the huge theme of people’s individuality and that being different should be celebrated and not ostracised, yet ‘Chocolat’ is also cleverly not a book that smacks you over the head with a moralistic tone.

9. The Detour – Gerbrand Bakker

‘The Detour’ won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize earlier this year and having read it you can easily see why. Bakker creates a story that is subtle and slow burning yet all at once brimming with a sense of mystery and menace. It is also a book that will linger on with the reader long after you have read it and, if you are like me, long after it devastates you with both its prose and most importantly its story. A much recommended book.

8. The Ministry of Fear – Graham Greene

Greene shows what a master he is not only of atmosphere (war torn and spy strewn London) but of writing a book which takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions as much as it does thrills. Some of the book I found profoundly moving, both the descriptions of the destruction the war inflicted and also in an element I can’t explain here for fear of spoilers. Greene also made me laugh out loud on several occasions which, with all the tension and twists, proved much needed and added a great contrast of light amongst the dark.

7. Riotous Assembly – Tom Sharpe

The more I have thought about Riotous Assembly, the more impressed I have been left by it. The humour gets you through some of the tough bits, some of the bits that people would normally find hard to read and digest palatable by their humour yet equally devastating, if not more so, when the reader realizes the truth in it. So yet there maybe the boobies (and more) and bullets (and more) in it that I was expecting, but the way in which they are used is both titillating and thought provoking.

6. The Long Falling – Keith Ridgway

If I had a little bit of a literary crush on Ridgway’s writing after reading ‘Hawthorn and Child’ last year, I now have something of a full on crush on it from reading ‘The Long Falling’. It shocked me from the first chapter which slowly meanders before a sudden twist, which happens a lot in this book actually, yet unlike some books that first amazing chapter is bettered as the book goes on and for all these reasons I strongly urge you to give it a read. I loved it, if love is the right word? I was also thrilled that this was as brilliant as the previous Ridgway I read yet a completely different book in a completely different style.

5. Good Evening Mrs Craven; The Wartime Stories – Mollie Panter Downes

I think Mollie Panter-Downes writing is astounding. I really remember liking it last time but this time I loved it. There are the wonderful, often rather quirky, characters some of whom, like Mrs Ramsey, Mrs Peters and Mrs Twistle, keep returning in and out of the stories which helps build the consistency of the world Panter-Downes describes as they run from 1939 to 1944, the tone changing slightly as the book goes on. She can bring a character to life in just a mere sentence or two and the brevity of her tales and how much they make your mind create is quite astounding.

4. The Grass is Singing – Doris Lessing

Lessing’s writing is unflinchingly brilliant. As I mentioned about the sense of menace and oppression is wonderfully evoked as the landscape and weather match the atmosphere of impending doom the book has and also Mary’s mental state. Mary is also an incredible creation, one of the most complex characters I have read. She is never completely likeable nor dislikeable, yet you find yourself fascinated by a woman who in turns goes from victim to venomous, from independent to weak, from sane to crazy, from racist to not and back again. It is confronting and equally compelling and highlights the society at the time and the conundrum and conflict a country and its society found itself in and in some ways, shockingly, still does.

3.Mariana – Monica Dickens

If someone had told me this is what the book was going to be about before I started I might have been inclined to think that this book really wouldn’t be for me. Yet I loved every single page of it and was completely lost in Mary’s life. Part of that was to do with the character of Mary that Monica creates, she isn’t the picture perfect heroine at all, she can be moody, ungainly and awkward, a little self centred on occasion but she is always likeable, her faults making her more endearing even when she can be rather infuriating. Part of it was also all the characters around her, I want to list them all but there are so many it would be madness, some of them delightful, some spiteful but all of them drawn vividly and Monica Dickens has a wonderful way of introducing a new character with the simplest of paragraphs which instantly sums them up. All of these characters are part of the many things that make you go on reading ‘Mariana’, every page or two someone new lies in store.

2. HHhH – Laurent Binet

I don’t think I have learnt so much about World War II from a book I have read in all my 31, nearly 32, years. Considering that I studied it for about five years in my history lessons at school this is quite something. I had no idea about some of the smaller but utterly fascinating facts behind this time period; that the Hitler wanted authors such as Aldous Huxley, Rebecca West, HG Wells and Virginia Woolf; that the Nazi’s built their own brothel (Kitty’s Salon) to film other Nazi’s to see if they were true to the regime or not. Nor did I know of some of the utterly horrific things, like what an ineffectual plonker Chamberlain was, the plans for Nazi attack cells in all the cities all over the UK and the horrendous atrocities such as Grandmothers Gully in Kiev.

1. The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton

… there is very little doubt in my mind that ‘The House of Mirth’ is an absolute masterpiece and could easily be one of my favourite books. I loved Wharton’s prose, her humour and the fact she did completely the opposite of what I was expecting with Lily’s story which alas I can’t discuss in detail for I would completely spoil it for you if you have yet to read it – if that is the case you must go and get it now. Lily Bart walked fully off the page for me and I found myself thinking about her a lot when I wasn’t reading the book. Reading it is an experience, and I don’t say that often. One thing is for sure, I will not be forgetting the tale of Lily Bart for quite some time and I believe I will be returning to it again and again in the years to come.

So that is the first of my selection of books of 2013. I have only taken a small quote from my thoughts on each book, to find out more click on the link to each book. Which of these have you read and what did you think? I have realised I need to get into more of the books from the past and less of the shiny new ones, but that is for discussion more in the New Year. Any other books by these authors that you would recommend I read in 2014?

12 Comments

Filed under Books of 2013, Random Savidgeness

Travels With My Aunt – Graham Greene

Once again, this time with ‘Travels With My Aunt’ my final Greene for Gran read, Graham Greene has done that thing of writing a book which I loved, got a bit frustrated and bored with and then sat back and thought about and have decided that whilst it wasn’t my favourite read of all time it is a bloody clever book indeed. Oh Gran… why oh why can’t you be on the end of the phone anymore for me to have a good old natter with you about this book? So frustrating, thankfully I have lots of you to discuss it with hopefully.

Vintage Classics, 1969 ( 1999 edition), paperback, 262 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Henry Pulling is a retired man who is very comfortable with his life, he doesn’t really want for anything and the highlight of excitement in his life are his dahlias which he tends to in a way some might say could be bordering on obsession. No gardening pun intended on the ‘bordering’ there. That is until the funeral of his mother and the arrival of his long lost septuagenarian (a word I will be promptly adding to my vocabulary) Aunt Augusta. From their first meeting at the funeral of his mother, where Aunt Augusta announces that his mother might not have been his mother at all, and the coffee in her apartment after, where he meets her man servant/lover Wentworth who swaps Henry’s mothers ashes for some marijuana, you know things are not going to be all flowers and regularly delivered cooked favourite meals before.

“I was weeding the dahlias, the Polar Beauties and the Golden Leaders and the Requiems, when my telephone began to ring. Being unused to the sound which shattered all the peace in my little garden, I assumed it was a wrong number. I had very few friends, although before my retirement I boasted a great many acquaintances.”

Aunt Augusta is what many people would politely describe as a ‘character’, those who might want to be more base would say she was a slightly crazy woman in her seventies who isn’t against the odd illegal action along with an abundance of sex from many a lover, which as we learn has always been the way. She is brass, quite coarse, a bit vulgar and rather naughty (for which I naturally loved her) and also a woman of a certain sense of danger, darkness and mystery (which I naturally wanted to discover more of) in fact of all Greene’s characters I have come across Aunt Augusta is probably my favourite and cleverly Greene never allows her to become a farce no matter how funny or crude she is being. I did often laugh out loud at paragraphs like this.

‘I very much doubt it,’ she said. ‘My dear Henry,’ she added, ‘at my age one has ceased to expect a relationship to last. Think how complicated life would be if I had kept in touch with all the men I have known intimately. Some died, some I left, a few have left me. If they were all with me now we would have to take over a whole wing of the Royal Albion. I was very fond of Wordsworth while he lasted, but my emotions are not as strong as they once were. I can support his absence, though I may regret him for a while tonight. His knackers were superb.’   

It was strange reading this later, 1969, Greene novel as for the first fifty or so pages of the book I felt like this was an author simply writing for the pleasure of it (it was his twentieth novel after all) and it seemed much more carefree. A simple tale of a happy, but boring, man who meets a wild relative and finds himself gallivanting all over the world on her whims/dodgy dealings. Then throw in some crazy characters, like a CIA Agent who counts the amount of minutes he spends urinating every day, and lots of rather rude titillation and hey presto an entertaining romp. That would have done me fine. Yet like ‘Our Man From Havana’ Greene also has a lot more going on with the book which slowly comes to focus as the laughter started to lessen.

To hand it to Greene he fits a lot in with this book. He looks at prostitution, the Nazi regime and how WWII changed the world, the plight of third world countries and even manages to swing in some commentary on the apartheid in South Africa along with how the pill had, rightly or wrongly, changed women’s sexual awakening and responsibility. Oh and (just for a change, possibly a sign of too much of an author not always being a good thing as it really got on my wick in this book) of course the subject of religion and Greene’s favourite topic of conversation Catholicism.

With the admiration of all these ‘hot topics’ that Greene interweaves within ‘Travels With My Aunt’ also comes a slight criticism for me. I felt that Greene suddenly worried he was almost having too much fun and that actually really we should be focussed on these subjects in hand and think on. Whilst it did add meat to the book, for me it also really bogged me down. I found the final part of the book, which to be fair is only 80 pages of the novels total, a real slog until Greene suddenly stepped it up a gear leading to the ending, which I guessed part of and then had a real ‘yuck’ feeling around the final two sentences.

Greene does this too me a lot as an author, leaves me feeling like I have read something rather brilliant even if I didn’t always enjoy the whole thing, more the sum of his parts. His prose is always lush and masterful and yet his plots sometimes make me ponder. ‘Travels With My Aunt’ could have just been a really entertaining and quirky read, and in many ways it remains that, there is just a little bit of a forced feeling of an author wanting to be deemed worthy that dampens it on occasion and makes the book feel much longer than it is. Or am I being too harsh?

Gran and I would have argued the toss about this for a few hours I am sure, with me possibly having to admit defeat at some point, but then the best books inspire debate don’t they –  so thanks Gran for making me give this a whirl! Greene will certainly be an author I will be returning to… though maybe not in quite such a concentrated dose. What have been your thoughts on Greene, and if any of you have read ‘Travels With My Aunt’ did you find the deeper undertones a little too try hard, or did they make the book a more fulfilling reading experience for you?

And don’t forget to let me know if you have read any Greene’s for Gran, what you thought of them and if you reviewed them where you did so.

3 Comments

Filed under Graham Greene, Greene For Gran, Review, Vintage Books, Vintage Classics

The Greene For Gran Gang!

So back at the end of July I decided that in honour of my lovely Granny Savidge Reads, who sadly passed away last month after a courageous battle with a tumour, that as she was such a bookish influence on me I should do something to commemorate that and her here on the blog, where she came to know some of you and vice versa. Her favourite author, well one of them, was Graham Greene and after the eulogy I gave at her funeral ended with me telling everyone to ‘go and grab a Greene for Gran’ I would do the same here and so Greene for Gran was born.

Well I have to admit, I was utterly blown away by the response and how many of you said you would spread the word and give Greene a go. Brilliant. I decided to go Greene crazy and read four very different novels of his. Well, I didn’t quite manage to complete the #GreeneForGran challenge that I set myself, but three out of four isn’t so bad – especially considering I have been working on an inaugural month long music festival. Plus, as with my experiences of his books before, Greene is one of those authors that I really, really like and sometimes find a little bit baffling. I utterly LOVED ‘The Ministry of Fear’ and yet really didn’t love ‘The Quiet American’; you will have to wait a teeny bit longer to see how I got on with ‘Travels With My Aunt’.

I haven’t managed ‘The Heart of the Matter’ but actually I think that is a good thing. Because I don’t want to only read Greene for Gran just for one month, I want books and an author (along with Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood, Andrea Levy and many more) that I can read from time to time and will make me think of Gran (I had a slightly emotional moment starting Atkinson’s ‘Life for Life’ the other day as I wanted to phone Gran and tell her how great it was and how she should read it) in the future, and I think a lot of books will.

Anyway, before I get too mushy, here are some links to those of you who have been reading some Graham Greene books and who may, or may not, get you dashing off to do the same – if you haven’t had incentive enough already – I am calling them Gran’s Gang, ha!

The Ministry of Fear

Some guy named Simon of Savidge Reads
Heaven Ali
Nose In A Book

The Quiet American

Harriet Devine
That pesky Savidge Reads again

England Made Me

Annabel’s House of Books

Stamboul Train

Harriet Devine
Heaven Ali

The Third Man/No Man’s Land

Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings

Doctor Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party

Annabel’s House of Books

Now as I mentioned I still have my thoughts on ‘Travels With My Aunt’ to come and I am pretty sure that I have missed lots and lots of reviews, my brain is addled after the last week, so if you have blogged about Greene or when you do please let me know and I will add you to the gang. If you don’t have a blog let me know what Greene books you have read and what you thought of them down there too, is lovely to see Gran’s love of a good book spreading, I just wish she could have a good natter with us about them!

11 Comments

Filed under Granny Savidge Reads, Greene For Gran

The Quiet American – Graham Greene

And so a little belatedly we come to the second in my ‘Greene for Gran’ series and one I feel a little bit awkward about. In part because I feel a fool for struggling so long with such a short book and in the main because I was severely underwhelmed by it and has it not been in Gran’s honour it would have been a book that would have felt the tough love of my new reading rule. Yet, in fairness I don’t think it was all the fault of ‘The Quiet American’, or even Graham Greene, himself that I didn’t love it, maybe. Let me explain…

Vintage Classics, 1955 ( 2004 edition), paperback, 221 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘The Quiet American’ opens with Thomas Fowler waiting for his friend Alden Pyle, very swiftly we learn that Pyle is dead and that people suspect that there may be foul play. As Fowler is informed of this he starts to tell us the story of how he met Pyle, himself being British and Pyle being American, in the surroundings of Hanoi during the First Indochina War. Fowler has come as a journalist to report on the war, Pyle is more mysterious yet they befriend each other until a love triangle with Fowler’s, who is married back in Britain, mistress Phuong. Intrigue and mystery are abounds…

‘You sound like a friend of his,’ Vigot said, looking past me at Phuong. A native policeman came in with three cups of black coffee.
‘Or would you rather have tea?’ Vigot said
‘I am a friend,’ I said. ‘Why not? I shall be going home in one day, won’t I? I can’t take her with me. She’ll be alright with him. It’s a reasonable arrangement. And he’s going to marry her, he says. He might, you know. He’s a good chap in his way. Serious. Not one of those noisy bastards at the Continental. A quiet American,’ I summed him precisely up as I might have said ‘a blue lizard,’ ‘a white elephant.’

…Well they should have been, but for me it was a mixture of being very confused to start off with and then finding the ending a little too blindingly obvious. If you haven’t read the book and want to miss a possible hint that could be a spoiler skip to the next paragraph. You see initially I was intrigued then it became so obvious what had happened that I was a bit cross, did Greene think I, his reader, was that stupid? To be fair many people who guessed the ending too would possibly then see this book as a very clever and twisting ‘whydunnit’, I just got confused and bored. I simply couldn’t get a hold on the book both in the plot and in the style.

The plot of the book, once you get to the end, all makes sense – well sort of if you do some googling – but I didn’t feel that Greene successfully explained to you what was going on with the First Indochina War sufficiently, he seemed to expect you to know the setting. Now this of course I imagine is in part because the book came out close to when the war was and also possibly because as Greene had been there himself (which makes the atmosphere so right in the book) he simply assumed you would get it. I didn’t. This also wasn’t helped by the fact that just a paragraph can flip between Fowler telling you something in his present and then flipping to his past and back again. It made me a bit grumpy and I alas I just wasn’t enjoying it, even when things got much better and twisty at the end (as several of you who supported me through it on Twitter said it would), it had lost me.

Now to be fair I will say that the idea of the book, in hindsight, is a bloody brilliant one. It is just that the execution didn’t work for me which meant the clever twists that came, which I admired so much in ‘The Ministry of Fear’ fell on deaf ears. However as always Greene’s prose and his sense of atmosphere was just marvellous and stopped me from hurling the book across the room. (Gran would be pleased with me for trying to find some saving graces here.) I do also think the timing and the way I started reading the book might have had something to do with it all too.

When I started ‘The Quiet American’ firstly I was in the middle of a really stressful, information filled, final bonkers planning week at work and secondly as the book hadn’t arrived I was reading it on my K*****!! I have been dabbling with reading on my devil’s device of late and I am discovering that it doesn’t always encourage full mental focus. If I have been on a computer all week reading for pleasure on a screen isn’t so much pleasure (a whole separate subject) and in this case I think it added to my confusion, my eyes would glaze a bit at the screen and so I was re-reading and re-reading paragraphs whilst having a mass of ‘work stuff’ to digest mentally too. So that probably didn’t help.

I think the best way to surmise and stop waffling is probably to say that ‘The Quiet American’ is probably a very good book but not the right book for me right now. It seemed to be a case of ‘it’s not the book, it’s me’ and as I know it is a favourite of so many I am sure that is the case. One to pop on the shelves and save to read again sometime in the future I think. (Gran would be proud of my attitude here too, ha!)

Who else has read ‘The Quiet American’ and if so what did you think? I would love to hear from some of you who have read it and found it a real favourite, and indeed any of you who like me felt a bit out of their depth. What other Greene’s are you picking up?

21 Comments

Filed under Graham Greene, Greene For Gran, Review, Vintage Books

The Quiet Savidge…

There are a lot of should have’s going through my mind today. I should have responded to all the lovely comments you have left. I should have written lots of reviews, one of which should have been of ‘The Quiet American’, and scheduled lots of posts. Shoulda, woulda, coulda… I haven’t! Sorry.

In fact I have been struggling to get through ‘The Quiet American’ as I have been reading it on my e-reader which I have noticed I zone out of quite a lot, possibly because I am spending too many hours staring at a screen at the moment. It has now arrived, along with the other three Greene For Gran titles, so I can get back to the ‘actual’ book. Two copies actually arrived so I will do a giveaway when I review it, finally.

Greene For Gran

Things have been c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-razy with work as we get to the last week before Liverpool International Music Festival launches and I have been spending most of my time sat in front of a computer and so to then sit and type anything has seemed like the last thing I have wanted to be doing. In fact my reading has slowed down again because I am spending most of my free time either running (don’t laugh, I am training for a marathon – more on that soon) or just chilling out in front of some appallingly trashy telly that I simply won’t mention because even if you swore you wouldn’t you would judge me.

One of the other things I have been also been doing is going to book groups. Not one book group, but two! One of which I mentioned earlier in the week because it meant I had the utter joy of reading ‘The Princess Bride’ for the first time, I have seen the film umpteen times (it is one of my mother’s favourites) but never touched the book. It was an interesting, and rather large, group though the book didn’t get that much air time. I think most of the people felt it was a fairly entertaining romp but nothing more, which made me stay quiet from declaring my love for it. They are reading a lot of books I have read already, which is not their fault, so I will probably go back and see how they discuss ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ and decide if I stay or go. Does that make me sound like a bit of a pompous/fussy/arrogant twat? I don’t mean it to.

I went to another one today (Gran would be so proud being a book group addict herself) where they were discussing ‘Little Hands Clapping’, by one of my favourite authors Dan Rhodes. It is an LGBT group and much smaller than the other one but blow me down we were nattering about the book over a coffee for 2 hours (well with several tangents) which flew by. They meet less regularly but the books they have read are lots I have missed, including the next one which is ‘May We Be Forgiven’ by A.M. Homes which I came home to dig out and discovered this…

AM Holmes

Yes another book I have two copies of! I think I am going to keep the hardback over the paperback, it’s heavier but the type is bigger and it’s a first edition – oh and I like hardback cover sooooo much. It has reminded me though that I am in dire need of a book sort out, and I need to be ruthless, really ruthless. I am going to start on the shelves below soon and really ask myself ‘did I buy it or ever ask for it, do I think I might read it anytime soon, would someone probably like a copy more than me, etc.’

ShelvesI am going to really go for it tomorrow and I shall report back. What is news with you? What have you been reading? How are you getting on with your Graham Greene’s if you have been reading them? What else do you have to report?

11 Comments

Filed under Book Group, Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

The Ministry of Fear – Graham Greene

For some reason I had got it into my head that ‘The  Ministry of Fear’, my first read for Greene for Gran, was going to be something of a rather light hearted farce along the lines of ‘Our Man in Havana’ only with mystery, murder and cake I might like it a bit more. Yes, shock horror I have read Greene before and not always enjoyed him, more so in his farcical writing it has to be said which always  made Gran look very perplexed when we discussed his works. Sorry Gran, good news though, I really liked this one because it did so much more than I was expecting it to.

Vintage Books, 1943 ( 2001 edition), paperback, 221 pages, borrowed from the library

Arthur Rowe is a man who finds himself in a war that, apart from when the sirens go off and people head down to the shelters, he finds he has very little involvement or even real feeling for. He spends his days wandering and thinking about his past (which once you discover it explains why he isn’t fighting in the war) and spending his monthly allowance on this and that as is his want. It is on one of these trips that he stumbles upon a charity fete, which he can’t help but enter as it reminds him of his childhood. So far so innocent, though as he visits the stalls something seems slightly amiss. Arthur’s perceptions aren’t wrong as it is the simple act of guessing the weight of a cake throws Arthur into a world of spies, mystery and murder, though as we discover Arthur himself is no stranger to the latter.

“There was something threatening, it seemed to him, in the very perfection of the day.”

Greene’s line above perfectly sums up the brilliant start of ‘The Ministry of Fear’ as you read on things get stranger and stranger and darker and darker. Charities suddenly have a dark undercurrent and you question if you can trust anyone no matter how sweet they might seem on the face of it. It goes from twee English war novel, to slight Agatha Christie territory (a séance indeed) only darker and then into a full on spy thriller as the book goes on and you as the reader get further and further drawn into a web of espionage and secrets in the war torn present and also the dark recesses of Arthur’s past.

“People want to kill me because I know too much. I’m hiding underground, and up above the Germans are methodically smashing London to bits all around me. You remember St Clements – the bells of St Clements. They’ve smashed that – St James’s, Piccadilly, the Burlington Arcade, Garland’s Hotel, where we stayed for the pantomime, Maples and John Lewis. It sounds like a thriller, doesn’t it, but the thrillers are like life – more like life than you are, this lawn, your sandwiches, that pine. You used to laugh at books Miss Savage read – about spies, and murderers, and violence, and wild motor-car chases, but dear that’s real life: it’s what we’ve made the world since you died. I’m your little Arthur who wouldn’t hurt a beetle and I’m a murderer too.”

Greene also does something very daring as after throwing you into this world in the first part of the book he suddenly throws you somewhere completely different and unexpected in the second which you won’t see coming. This leaves you briefly disorientated, which you soon gather is the point, and then a whole new set of sinister thrills and spills start. I was reading along thinking ‘I wonder if Gillian Flynn read this book before she wrote ‘Gone Girl’?’ not because of the narrators but just because of the genuinely surprising turns that Greene throws in the readers direction.

As well as being quite a page turner, though I wouldn’t go quite as far as to say it became so compelling I couldn’t put it down, Greene shows what a master he is not only of atmosphere (war torn and spy strewn London) but of writing a book which takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions as much as it does thrills. Some of the book I found profoundly moving, both the descriptions of the destruction the war inflicted and also in an element I can’t explain here for fear of spoilers – but I will in the comments if people fancy a natter about it. Greene also made me laugh out loud on several occasions which, with all the tension and twists, proved much needed and added a great contrast of light amongst the dark.

“The summer lay all around them, and evening was coming on. He was saying ‘Mother, I murdered her…’ and his mother said, ‘Don’t be silly, dear. Have one of these nice sandwiches.’”

I have now read five of Graham Greene’s works, with more to come, and I think out of what I have read so far ‘The Ministry of Fear’ might be my favourite because it mixes all of his styles in one novel. It has the humour of ‘Our Man in Havana’, the brooding gloom of ‘Brighton Rock’, and the ability to completely move/ruin you as ‘The End of the Affair’ did me, it blew me away back in my pre-blogging days. It is also one of those books, which I love, where you can see where it took riffs from books just before it or of its time (Agatha Christie) and also where you could spot where novelists now (Gillian Flynn, Alex Lemaitre) might have got their inspiration from. I am really glad that I have read this, my only regret it that I can’t have a good old natter with Gran about it as I think she would have been delighted to see me so impressed by one of Greene’s lesser known works. Good thing I have all of you to chat about it with then, isn’t it?

12 Comments

Filed under Books of 2013, Graham Greene, Greene For Gran, Review, Vintage Books

Greene For Gran Update…

So my plan for two posts went completely out the window yesterday, I am time poor at the mo, and you are only getting the one today. The response to  my idea to start ‘Greene For Gran’, or if you are down with the tweets then #GreeneForGran, has just been incredible and I genuinely didn’t expect so many readers (some who I know some who don’t) along with bookshops and booksellers to take to it the way that people have, very heart warming stuff.

One of the things I was thinking is how on earth to keep up with all the reviews and the like if people decide to give it a whirl as I would really love to collect all of these for the last day in August and so people can go and read more reviews and hopefully read even more Graham Greene, as would be Grans want. So could I ask you all very nicely if you would email me your reviews to savidgereads@gmail.com or link your post to the first Greene For Gran post here, then I will be notified and can keep tabs on it all. Also let me know if you have spread the word on the whole project, because then I will love you all the more 😉

Now I did state that there would be no pressure for you all to readalong, and there still isn’t, though I am going to throw the option out there. I have decided I am going to read four Greene’s in total, one for every remaining week of the month, including this one, and pop posts on them up on set days. This is so that IF YOU WANT TO, no pressure honest, you can join in with the discussion of that title on that day should you decide to read it. So here are the four books and the dates.

   

  • The Ministry of Fear (Saturday 10th of August)
  • The Quiet American (Friday 16th of August)
  • Travels With My Aunt (Friday 23rd of August)
  • The Heart of the Matter (Friday 30th of August)

Then have some kind of Greene and Gran love in at the end with all the posts and a giveaway from the lovely ladies at Vintage Books who think that all of this is a rather lovely idea. Hooray! Sound like  an idea, a no pressure on of course, to you all?

Whilst we are on the subject, how are you all getting on with your Greenes?

12 Comments

Filed under Graham Greene, Granny Savidge Reads, Greene For Gran

Greene For Gran…

Again I can’t thank you all enough for your lovely comments here, on Twitter, Facebook and in my inbox about Gran and the bit of her eulogy I featured on the blog recently. One of the things that has been really lovely to see/hear is the fact that many of you have been out and gone and bought/borrowed (using Gran as an excuse, which she would love) a Graham Greene book in her honour. After having a natter about it with Stu of Winstons Dads Blog and Simon of Stuck in a Book on Twitter I have decided to start ‘Greene for Gran’ or #GreeneForGran throughout the whole of August as a fitting memory to Dorothy Savidge, I guess explaining exactly what that means would help wouldn’t it?

GG

Well as Gran loved Graham Greene so much, and as she frequently reminded me – bless her – that I was prone to reading too many modern books, I thought I would go and try a few more of Graham Greene’s novels on and off throughout August, maybe one a week. This will culminate in some kind of Greene-a-thon on the last few days of it and, as a nod to Gran, I would love it if you joined in. Let’s face it you have quite a selection of novels, short story collections and non-fiction to choose from, so many in fact I am just going to link to his bibliography and save my fingers!) You can read as many or as few as you like, there are really no rules apart from giving Greene a go, or another go… for Gran!

I have had a chat with the lovely ladies at Vintage books and they have kindly agreed to give a few copies away here and there too. I just love the idea that Gran would love the idea of you all reading him because of her, she would get a real kick out of it especially if we make sure that we natter about it in the comments over a cup of tea and a nice slice of cake as Gran and I often used to…

Speaking of cake, nice sedge-way there Savidge, I think the Greene I will give a whirl to first will be ‘The Ministry of Fear’ which has my favourite title and sounds like a hoot. “For Arthur Rowe the charity fete was a trip back to childhood, to innocence, a welcome chance to escape the terror of the Blitz, to forget twenty years of his past and a murder. Then he guesses the weight of the cake, and from that moment on he’s a hunted man, the target of shadowy killers, on the run and struggling to remember and to find the truth.” Genius! Yes, that will do me nicely.

So who is up for trying something new, revisiting an old favourite or giving Greene another whirl? Which title will you go for? Let me know in the comments, I will share everyone’s reviews at the end of August so hopefully people can discover even more. Do spread the word here and there if you can and #GreeneForGran on a certain media site. Would be lovely to have lots of you joining in! The more the merrier, as I am sure Gran would agree.

59 Comments

Filed under Graham Greene, Granny Savidge Reads, Greene For Gran

Dorothy Savidge; The Woman Books Built

On Wednesday this week we all said our final goodbyes to Granny Savidge Reads, aka Dorothy Savidge. I thought I would share the speech I gave as part of her eulogy with you all as it is fitting and also because it does show the importance of books in people’s lives. You can also hear Gran talking about books in an episode of The Readers that I recorded with three generations of the reading Savidge’s here. Thank you all so, so, so, so much for your comments, emails and tweets about Gran, the support has meant so much to me and my family. Savidge Reads will be back properly on August the 1st, I will leave this as a fitting interim post until then…

To say that my Gran, Dorothy, quite liked a book would be something of an understatement. She loved books. Gran once said that “one of the wonderful things about books is that despite reading being a solitary activity, in the main they can bring you together with other people”. Gran proved this often, with family, friends, neighbours, people in libraries younger than her whom she then founded book groups with, potential son in laws who liked Philip Kerr and random strangers on her travels. You name them, Gran could talk books with them.

The other thing she said recently was that “books can have the power to educate people and make you walk in their footsteps”. She would often read veraciously about places she was going to before she went and sometimes read a guide book so closely you would have to remind her she was actually in the place she was reading about. Yet Gran didn’t come from a bookish background, she was predominately a self taught reader.

Gran grew up in a house that only had three books, though a saving grace was that one of those was ‘Gone With The Wind’. Her father was away at war, her mum busy with all Gran’s siblings and so it was her eldest brother Derrick who would read Rupert Bear adventures to her and her younger brother Gordon from the Daily Express. However on his return from the war her father took Gran to the library often, it was there that she discovered the page turning addiction that is Enid Blyton and the adventures of the Famous Five.

From the library Gran progressed to Broadhurst’s book shop, which is still running, in Southport. Gran said “I couldn’t afford the books but I could sit in the corner and read, hopefully hidden”. She wasn’t as well hidden as she thought, thanks to a kindly bookshop owner though Gran was allowed to sit and read as she pleased from ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ onwards.

I don’t know much about Gran’s reading life when she was courting my Grandfather, Bongy, and had moved away from home to the suburbs of London. I do know that he influenced her reading, partly with his love of Anthony Trollope and how often he re-read ‘Barchester Towers’ which Gran soon caught. I also know that a discussion with Bongy made Gran read Hardy as, for some unfathomable reason, he mentioned there was a book in which a man sold his wife at a market like she was cattle’. Make of that what you will but it certainly made Gran read ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ even if out of incredulity.

Reading to her children Louise, Caroline, Alice and Matthew and helping them learn to read was something which gave Gran a great amount of joy. My mother, Louise, can remember hours with Peter and Jane and ‘This is Pat. Meet Pat the dog. Watch Pat run’ a little too well. It was the same with her grandchildren. I remember many an occasion cuddling up to Gran with a good story, even until quite recently. I still get that same feeling of excitement walking into a Waterstones as I did as a child. Trips to Scarthin Books with Gran have been a highlight of the last twenty years, or more, of my life.

Gran and I bonded over lots of things, books were a particularly constant source of conversation. She could be a book snob on occasion, only months ago asking if I had thought of reading ‘anything of any actual worth’ this year, scary. She often broke this snobbery though, sometimes by force like when she had to read all Philip Pullman’s ‘Northern Lights’ trilogy as Bongy had done the awful thing of only allowing Gran to pack four books for a whole four weeks away… she unashamedly cried her way through the final book by the pool, secretly loving every moment of it.

Mainly her love of reading was infectious. I’ve Gran to thank for my love of Kate Atkinson, Andrea Levy, Margaret Atwood and many, many others. Sometimes her enthusiasm could also be overzealous. For example when I was about halfway through the aforementioned Margaret Atwood’s complex and lengthy tome, ‘The Blind Assassin’, Gran suddenly said ‘Oh that is the book where **** happens at the end isn’t it?’ Then the awkward silence followed before an ‘oops’.

No matter what was going on in our lives, good, bad or indifferent, we could talk books and did so several times a week. She was always up for recommending something or have something recommended to her. Though I have recently noticed that a copy of a Barbara Cartland novel I bought her as a slight joke over a decade ago is still looking rather pristine.
It was the challenge of wanting to try new books and her love of discussion and bookish debate that led Gran to book groups. Some might say that joining three was slightly excessive, not for Gran. It seems she was a popular member of the groups whether she co-founded them or simply joined them. “Her opinion on a book was always looked forward to, even if sometimes with baited breath” her fellow member Jim told me. She was often seen as something of a book encyclopaedia, often called upon to name an author or book title that had slipped someone else’s mind. Invariably Gran would know exactly what they meant.

In the last few months I know it was hard with Gran not being able to read so much. I tried reading her new favourite series to her, unlike her big brother Derrick I didn’t do the voices and so in the end we had to settle with the audio book or episodes of The Archers.

Books still brought her joy in other ways during this time. Be it talking with friends and family about books or recommending them. We had marvellous discussions with nurses at various hospitals about books including a lengthy one at the Whitworth where we discussed what happened to the books in our heads. Did we just see the words, hear voices or watch a film playing in front of our eyes? There were also all the friends who visited who she had made through books and via book groups and all the laughter and smiles that they brought with them.

Gran’s reading legacy will live on through her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren when they arrive one day. Also through all the friendships that she made through books and reading and the book groups she started and joined. She loved getting any book recommendation, so on behalf of Gran, when you can, go and pick up one of her favourite authors, Graham Greene.

32 Comments

Filed under Granny Savidge Reads

Other People’s Bookshelves #8: Sylvie aka Sly Wit

This week we get to have a good old nosey around the bookshelves of Sylvie, who some of you will probably know better as her blogging alias Sly Wit. As it says on her blog she is “half American, half French, and all-around opinionated”, which she thinks pretty much sums her up, but I think you need more than that. She grew up in New England, studied finance in college, and then worked briefly in investment consulting. However, soon realized that wasn’t really for her and going back to school. After doing time in both New York and Paris, completing her Ph.D. in French Studies and teaching classes in everything from British politics to French literature and film, se left academia about five years ago to move to San Francisco and work in textbook publishing as a development editor in French and Italian. She now works as a freelance editor. She is an avid reader, runs a book salon and blogs regularly at Sly Wit, you can also find her, less regularly, at Worth the Detour, where she documents her quest to visit all the U.S. national parks and other travel adventures. So now to the shelves and finding out even more….

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?

When I moved from the east coast to California five years ago, I gave away over half my books (shock! horror!) and now most of my reading comes from the library, so a book has to be really good to be on my shelves. More importantly, it has to look good. That’s right, the first question and it’s already confession-time: I care far too much about the aesthetic look of my bookshelves! They are hyper-organized, certain colours are better than others (and yes, I am tempted to weed out favourites that have ugly spines), and most books are in excellent condition.

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?

Where to begin? Fiction is in the living room and generally divided into English and French, and then alphabetical by author, and then chronologically by title within each author (hyper-organized, remember?). The shelves in the hall are grouped according to subject, with books from my days as a professor grouped chronologically within subjects (French history, French language and culture, Franco-American relations, national film industries, film criticism) and then other subjects by whatever makes sense for that subject (travel, bande dessinée, children’s books, philosophy and religion, poetry). I also have a number of reference materials for my work as an editor. I try to cull at least once a year.

Fiction Hallway 2

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

One of the first books I remember buying myself was a boxed set of Sherlock Holmes at a tag sale. They had great covers. Unfortunately, they were well loved when I bought them and I read them multiple times, so they eventually fell apart. For my last re-read, I took them along with me on a trip to Brazil and left one book behind (held together with a rubber band) at each place I stayed.

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?

No guilty pleasures per se, but the paperbacks I pick up here and there (from work, friends, and library sales) that don’t meet the ‘standards’ of the shelves, end up in the hidden tbr pile by my bed to eventually be given away to the library. In fact, I was thinking my book challenge this year would be to read them or lose them at the end of the year.

Holmes and Christie double-stacked

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?

My most prized possession is the complete set of Agatha Christies that I started collecting in high school. It took me over seven years of dutifully sending in a check once-a-month to Bantam Books to receive the entire collection of faux-leather hardbacks. Sadly, since there are 81 volumes, there is no way I could save them in a fire. I’m afraid all efforts and first instincts would probably mean that my childhood companion (a stuffed Winnie-the-Pooh) would emerge from any blaze.

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 didn’t really have books I considered too grown-up for me or that I aspired to read, but, in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, I do remember sneaking Judy Blume’s first adult book, Wifey, out of the library and keeping it hidden under my bed while I read it. This was after my friends and I had already passed around Forever (her book on teen sex) at school. The only book I currently have by Judy Blume is my original copy of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

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?

No, most of my current reading comes from the library and I’m generally fine with not owning those books. Most new additions to my shelves are practical—usually cookbooks, travel guides, or second-hand books about San Francisco. However…

Booze and books

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

After reading A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving for my readers’ choice book challenge, I decided to buy a matching set of three Irving favourites. Because, yes, I like books by the same authors to match (see above re: organizing and aesthetic issues).

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

More classic favourites probably, especially older or interesting editions, or if part of the clothbound classics series designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith. She does fabulous covers. [Simon, you should take a look at the set she did for Sherlock Holmes: http://www.cb-smith.com/]. I keep meaning to replace a collected works of Edgar Allan Poe that I loaned out and never got it back. And I’m always on the lookout for a good book on opera, a newfound passion of mine.

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

I think they might wonder why I have so little fiction, and almost no contemporary works. However, although my shelves don’t represent my reading now, they are very much filled with books that represent either my life story (my dual citizenship and work as a historian/editor) or my taste, with favourite authors such as Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, Graham Greene, and Émile Zola as well as all-time favourite books like Cold Comfort Farm, Théophile Gautier’s Récits fantastiques, The Lord of the Rings, and Rebecca.

Hallway 1

*********************

A big thank you to Sylvie for letting me grill her. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in 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 Sylvie’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?

8 Comments

Filed under Other People's Bookshelves

Ways of Going Home – Alejandro Zambra

I am wondering, though maybe after yesterdays post I should be careful what I say here, if there is a genre to describe when an author writes their book about writing their book, be it in a fictional or non fictional way? Is it simply metafiction? This is part of what Alejandro Zambra’s latest English PEN winning novel, if that is the right term, ‘Ways of Going Home’ does and I have also seen this in a recent Graham Greene read and ‘HHhH’ by Laurent Binet, a book that I need to get back to. It is a style that I find I liked and wasn’t expecting when I picked this latest book up completely by whim – it was the cover that did the trick, though I was in the mood for a book and author I knew nothing about; we all get that craving now and again don’t we? This appealed because I know little about Chilean fiction and I also want to read more translated fiction. All boxes ticked then!

**** Granta Books, hardback, 2012, fiction, 139 pages, translated byMegan McDowell, kindly sent unsolicited by the publisher

‘Ways of Going Home’ opens during at time of both a political time of unease and natural physical concerns in Chile. General Pinochet is dictator of the country and there is murder and torture going on, oblivious to this, initially, is a young unnamed boy who is camping out on the streets as the Santiago has been hit by an earthquake. On that night the boy meets a mysterious girl called Claudia who he becomes infatuated with and who asks him to spy on his neighbour who turns out to be her cousin. The boy doesn’t know why but does it, and we are left to work it out ourselves.

Suddenly though we are drawn out of that narrative to find that we are now in the mind of the author who himself is writing about a young boy who meets a mysterious girl called Claudia on the night of an earthquake. Is this in fact a fictionalisation of his childhood of relative safety under the rule of a dictator that he is looking back on and dealing with the guilt of coming away from such a time so apparently easy? Well the thing is we are never really sure and this adds intrigue along to an already very interesting premise. Is the boy therefore really Zambra? Is the ‘writer’ that we meet? We are never really sure, either way Zambra uses this double narrative and fictional hindsight, as it seems to be, to look at a man’s thoughts at that slightly naive time in youth and then now with adult eyes.

“Back then I was, as I always have been, and I always will be, for Colo-Colo. As for Pinochet, to me he was a television personality who hosted a show with no fixed schedule, and I hated him for that, for the stuffy national channels that interrupted their programming during the best parts. Later I hated him for being a son of a bitch, for being a murderer, but back then I hated him only for those inconvenient shows that Dad watched without saying a word, without acceding any movement other than a more forceful drag on the cigarette he always had glued to his lips.”

The fact this second section, which alternates with the younger aspect again once more in this very short book (which is actually Zambra’s longest at 139 pages), then comes into play made the book doubly intriguing for me. I found this ‘fictional narrators’ reaction of guilt at not being a victim of Pinochet oddly fascinating though I did feel that this reaction in itself highlighted to me that no one in a country where such things are going on ever comes away with an easy mind. Zambra’s writer, and therefore Zambra either way that you look at it (though it can hurt your head), also discusses how writing and reading deal with these things also.

“To read is to cover one’s face, I thought.
To read is to cover one’s face. And to write is to show it.”

As much as ‘Ways of Going Home’ looks at the Pinochet regime in Chile and how it affected the country afterwards, how hingsight comes into play, how children of the murdered and murderers going to school together etc. It is also a book about the importance, and indeed the power, of books and the relationship between reader and writer and fictional and the non fictional. It is a book that leaves you with a long list of other books to read and plenty to go away and think about and discover more on too.

Has anyone else read this novel and what did you make of it? Are Zambra, the boy and the fictional author all one and the same? Has anyone else read any of Zambra’s other works? If they are as interesting as this one I will have to seek them out.

11 Comments

Filed under Alejandro Zambra, Books in Translation, Granta Books, Review