Tag Archives: Harper Lee

Great American Novels…

I have been pondering American fiction for some time. I don’t really read very much of it, though actually when I had a look at my shelves the other day there were much more American authors than I thought. I guess really what I mean it that I haven’t read many of the ‘American Greats’ and when I have, with the exception of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, I have yet to be really bowled over by them. I didn’t mind F Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ but it didn’t bowl me over like I was expecting at all. There are also some, ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ I am thinking of you, that I haven’t loved at all and have felt a bit silly for not doing as apparently the great and good think they are marvellous.

This week Thomas and I discussed American novels on the Readers (you can hear the episode here)  where I admit my favourite American novel is Peyton Place, a cult underground novel that if you’ve not read then you must.

So, as always I would like your help. What are your greatest American novels? What lesser known ones must be hunted down?

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Browsing Bookshops…

I don’t know about you, but sometimes just browsing around a book store for a while (ok, maybe an hour or two) can be one of the best things to do when you are having any reading issues, or if you just want to calm yourself. I did this recently when my head was in a spin and it was just what I needed, a chance to gage where my ‘reading head’ is and let my eyes and mind wander over the spins.

As I went from A – Z, I saw authors I had been recommended only days before (Jenn Ashworth), authors that I had heard kerfuffle about and wanted to try (Leo Benedictus), authors I have started a book of recently and then not finished though I don’t know why (Jasper Fforde), authors I ‘really should have read’ but still ‘really haven’t’ but will honest (William Golding), authors I had never heard of but after the spine catching my eye, a read of the blurb and flick through I really fancy reading (Tama Janowitz), authors whose books have impacted your life (Harper Lee), authors who remind you of the excitement and reading possibilities in translation you haven’t as yet uncovered (Per Petterson), authors you seem to be hearing about all the time at the moment and have decided you simply must read them (Owen Sheers) and authors whose debut novels blew you away and you wish they would hurry up and write another one (Kathleen Winter).

As you wander the shelves, rather than be intimidated by the vast number of books you might not get to read, there is a certain joy in the books you spot be they the ones you love or the ones you might love in the future. Oh how a browse can be such bliss.

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Books for Book Groups…

After my previous post on a few things Book Group orientated and The Riverside Readers I said that I would come back with a post on my personal top Book Group reads as well as discussing my top Book Group tips. Those two things would actually make a bit of a Bible of a post and so I will do the top books today and a few tips and my own experiences for and of Book Groups on Thursday, so hopefully you are all still interested in all things Book Group related. Could I fit the words Book Groups in these previous sentences if I tried?

After seeing Novel Insights wonderful post on her personal top twelve books a group could read in a year I thought I would have a go. This isn’t plagiarism it’s simply joining in, ha. Having been in a few book groups (in fact I am currently in two though one is rather rogue and we only do one every so often when the whim takes us) I realised that I had a list of 38 books that I could choose from. Some of the books haven’t worked (Tales of the Jazz Age – we all had different editions which all featured a different selection of short stories), some have received indifference, some have been disliked and some have been loved, more on those in my list.

Though I haven’t featured the books that were indifferent or went wrong I have included one book which I didn’t care for but caused great discussion and that’s one thing I have noticed from book groups, I might not always like a book but that in itself when lots of people do can make for a great book group read as it causes debate. So what five things do I do in order to make a book group choice now, I may not have always done this in the past mind;

  1. Books you wouldn’t normally read – one of the main points of a book group in my mind – but which are accessible, you don’t want to alienate your other group members.
  2. Books which have been received with strong reviews/thoughts both positive and negative way when they came out, this could cause great debate.
  3. Books that make you think and cause all sorts of discussions with yourself in your own head though you can’t always predict these in advance.
  4. Authors you love and admire who other people might not have tried, though don’t be precious on these as they could get ripped to shreds.
  5. Books that challenge and push you as a reader, if they are going to do this to you they probably will be to others.

Looking back at all the book groups I have been part of in the past which book would I recommend the most? Well after some whittling of the 38 I have read with book groups I came up with the final twelve (like Novel Insights I have chosen a years worth) that I think have caused the greatest discussion in no particular order.

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
  • The Bell – Iris Murdoch
  • In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
  • On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan (close tie with Atonement to be honest)
  • The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  • To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  • Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
  • Animal’s People – Indra Sinha
  • Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck (the one I didn’t like – discussion was great)
  • The Book of Dave – Will Self
  • Kafka on the Shore – Hariku Murakami

So there it is. You can see the full list of all 38 books now on the “new and improved” Book Group page where you can also see what the next book group read is. You may be wondering why some of the above list are in bold. Well my Gran wants a list of five books, as I mentioned on a previous post, she could put forward for her book group. I am actually going to send her a list of new books she and her group are less likely to have read along with the five above in bold. More book group musings on Thursday when I will be discussing Book Group decorum and what made me sensationally (love the drama of that word) leave a book group I started after two years! Let me know what you think of the final twelve too can you spot any themes in them? Also please do tell me of any great books you have done in a book group in the past.

P.S Sorry no picture on today’s post I am not a big fan of posts with no images, if it drives me to crazy will be the shot of The Riverside Readers again!

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The Reader (Again)

On Sunday I went to the cinema with The Non Reader to see The Reader (that’s confusing) which I have been aching to see. I have to admit I am always very cautious when a book is turned into a movie however my fears were completely unfounded with this wonderful adaptation. The movie is stunning the landscapes, backdrops the works are just wonderfully filmed and the delicate parts of the film were dealt with so well and so sympathetically. No dramatics!

Kate Winslet is simply superb as Hannah Schmidt, I thought her acting was completely effortless whilst being heart breaking and moving. It’s difficult to say too much about the film without giving the twist and turns away. I will say that after speaking with my Gran you should read the book as you understand Hannah a lot better and the main reason as to why she has done what she has in the past. I did feel that wasn’t made clear enough in the movie. If you see it then it will make sense. I also thought that the boy who played the younger Michael Berg was fantastic as was Ralph Fiennes as the elder Michael Berg; the younger just stole it away from him at the end of the day. The scene of the film, without giving anything away, invovles the word ‘the’ and I dont think there was a dry eye in the cinema including me and the Non Reader! This is the must see movie of the year so far. I predict (we will see if I am right later in the year) that from this film there will be a shift in sales of a few books but one in particular The Lady and the Little Dog by Chekhov… watch this space!

Anyways I am putting up the review of the book for you all again from last year. Do get the book, only not the movie tie-in version, you know my thoughts on those…

After having read some amazing books on the holocaust and WWII in the past twelve months or so like Marcus Zusack’s astounding ‘The Book Thief’ and John Boyne’s superb ‘The Boy in the Stripped Pyjama’s’ I didn’t know if ‘The Reader’ would live up to the brilliant reports that I had heard not from blogs but from some friends, one in particular who I was in my old book group with who told me that ‘you simply have to read it’. This book has actually been around now for ten years and that was when book blogs or blogs in general weren’t around (how did I find what I wanted to read lol) but is resurfacing with the film coming out in January. This book is just as good as the aforementioned and yet totally different.
Michael is ill during his fifteenth year with hepatitis when he first realises he is sick he collapses in the street and with help from a lady in the street he gets home saftely. After making most of his recovery he walks to thirty six year old Hannah Schmitz to thank her for what she did. This becomes a regular visit as he is intoxicated by her and eventually is seduced by her, then starts a love affair involving Michael reading to her before and after their intimate relations, and eventually just reading before one day Hannah suddenly vanishes from his life. However one day Hannah comes back into his life in a totally unexpected way. I will say no more than that as this book has a incredibly thought provoking twist and I don’t want to spoil it for you.
Schink’s novel (beautifully translated by Carol Brown Janeway) looks at the Holocaust and things that happened during it in a way I haven’t seen before fictionally. This book is all about the generations after the war and how it felt to carry the burden of Hitler’s regime and destruction. I had never thought of what it would be like to have that as part of your history, especially in this case so recent. Through one of the characters actions he asks how people you perceive to be good could possibly do unspeakable things in unspeakable conditions. It also looks at love and emotions in a time where a country and its people were damaged and scarred.This is simply a wonderful novel, moving, shocking, and thought provoking. If there is one book you read in the next few months make it this one. Mind you with some of the fabulous books I have gotten through in the last twelve months of blogging I have said that a fair few times, but in this case I seriously recommend it and cannot recommend it enough.

Oh and not a book to film but a film about an author (or two as the synopsis shows) Capote arrived through my door today. I will be interested to see how I take to this as I don’t like Philip Seymour Hoffman and the accent I saw in the trailers might grate on me we will see. Am also looking forward to seeing how they portray his relationship with Harper Lee as some people say they were one and the same and that Capote did in fact write To Kill A Mockingbird under the pseudonym, I am not sure I believe that. I might wait until Novel Insights comes round.

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Filed under Bernhard Schink, Harper Lee, John Boyne, Marcus Zusack, Orion Publishing, Review, Truman Capote

1000 Novels Everyone Must Read… So Far

So The Guardian (and Observer) are treating us to the ‘1000 Novels Everyone Must Read’ over seven days. I wasn’t sure how this would work it being that 1000 divided by seven means 142.85714 books per day. However what they have done is to theme each issue in the series. So far we have had Love and Crime. Though personally I didn’t exactly think that To Kill A Mockingbird or Jurassic Park was crime, or The Virgin Suicides a love story but I shouldn’t be picky. I was shocked The Time Travellers Wife wasn’t in love actually. I haven’t thought of ones I would put in their yet! That could be another blog for another time.


I don’t know about you but I go through the list and look at which ones I have read and then the ones that I should read in the future and these two issues so far have given me lots to read. What had I read?

Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary E Braddon
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
The Thirty-Nine Steps – John Buchan
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
The Murder At The Vicarage – Agatha Christie
The Woman In White – Wilkie Collins
Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton
The Hound Of The Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
American Psycho – Brett Easton Ellis
A Quiet Belief In Angels – RJ Ellory (I was shocked this was in here – hated it)
Casino Royale – Ian Fleming
A Room With A View – E.M. Forster
The End Of The Affair – Graham Greene
Red Dragon – Thomas Harris (which I am going to re-read this year)
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence
To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Atonement – Ian McEwan
The Pursuit Of Love – Nancy Mitford
Dissolution – CJ Sansom
The Reader – Bernhard Schlink
Perfume – Patrick Suskind
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy (well am reading it in the background)
Breathing Lessons – Anne Tyler
The Night Watch – Sarah Waters

Hmmm… 25/1000 so far… must try harder! If you have missed this so far then have a look here http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/series/1000novels

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Bernhard Schink, Brett Easton Ellis, Daphne Du Maurier, Emily Bronte, Harper Lee, Ian Fleming, Ian McEwan, John Buchan, Leo Tolstoy, Nancy Mitford, Sarah Waters

Collecting The Classics

Only six days into the New Year and I am going to have to edit one of my resolutions already. It was that tricky one of not really buying anymore books. I think what I should change it to ‘not buy anymore new books’ or ‘only buy classics from charity shops’. Or maybe a mix of the two, I’ll work it out later? Anyway on my way to Sainsbury’s to stock up on post holiday food and happened to stumble into my two favourite charity shops. By the time I left I had bought five ‘classics’ and all for under £3, now really how could I say no?


Cider With Rosie – Laurie Lee
I didn’t know very much about this when I saw it on the shelf and yet I instantly knew the name. However looking at the blurb it sounded quite interesting. A memoir of life in a Cotswold village in the 1920’s before cars or electricity revealing what life was like in the not so distant past that is also like another world. I can’t wait to read this book.

Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
Another book that I know very little about but have seen so many times on peoples shelves (well we all like a nosey don’t we) and have been recommended is this one. So I decided that with a classics year ahead it was time for me to bite the bullet and read this one. I didn’t realise that it was funny, or is meant to be, what’s always put me off I think is that its labelled as a ‘war novel’ and sometimes you just have a bit too much war.

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Another book that I have always wanted to read but have yet to, I do hope it’s better than ‘Tales of the Jazz Age’ which I didn’t enjoy at all. This is meant to be one of the great, great modern classics. In my head I am going to love this as much as I did Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
I always got this and Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ mixed up and having read one I was delighted to find the other in a very short space of time. The biggest thing that made me want to read this apart from it being ‘groundbreaking’ and set in a mental institution was the ‘tyrannical Big Nurse Ratched’ that character sounds far too promising and fascinating. Plus I haven’t seen the film so have that to look forward to afterwards.

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
I actually owned this for a while but never read it and as it had a coffee stain and was given to me I gave it to charity. I managed to find a new pristine copy, but may also have to go back for another 70’s edition that Novel Insights wants and we may do this as a Rogue Book Group choice in the future. This caused controversy on its release due to the fact it reconstructed the murder of a farmer and his family in Kansas in 1959 exploring the investigation and everything that happened to those involved. After devouring Kate Summerscale’s ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ I though this would be right up my street.

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Filed under Book Spree, Book Thoughts, Evelyn Waugh, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, Kate Summerscale, Truman Capote

The Savidge Dozen

Blimey so a reading year is over… a year of some good reading, some difficult reading, some readers block plus some dire reading and some frankly amazing reading. In fact there was so much amazing reading I changed my mind and didn’t do what I did last year and have a top ten, instead am doing as the delightful Dove Grey Reader had done and am doing my version of the Man Booker Dozen. So thirteen then… unlucky for some but not for these authors who should feel very lucky (I am being facetious) it was a really hard choice actually, really, really hard. I did stick to last years rule though of only one book per author. So here goes, in reverse order…

13. The Spare Room – Helen Garner
There was uproar in the blogosphere when this didn’t even make it onto the Man Booker Prize long list and after reading it I could see why. A thought provoking, sparse and raw novel about dealing with cancer this book was also filled with heart and emotion. Helen invites her friend Nicola to stay after she is diagnosed with terminal cancer, what follows is nights of cleaning beds, friendships pushed to breaking point and possibly one of the most honest fictional voices I heard this year.

12. The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer
I think if Nancy Mitford was still around (what is it with the Mitford’s being everywhere this year, more on them later) she would probably have been a massive fan of this novel. All at once this novel is sharply witty, comical, touching, observant and sad. Juliet Ashton became possibly my favourite character of the year as a writer struggling to find the next book in her and befriending the said society (it’s too long to write the title each time) and corresponding through letters with the many wonderful characters on a post occupied Guernsey. Superb!

11. The Reader – Bernhard Schlink
This book was simply unputdownable, and yes that is a word I have made up but should exist. When 15 year old Michael meets older woman Hannah when he falls ill he doesn’t know this is a relationship that will be in their lives forever. After becoming lovers one day Hannah vanishes only to reappear in Michael’s later life and to make him think about his life and the country he lives in totally differently. A new interesting, horrifying and thought provoking look at the Holocaust. Will make you think, a lot.

10. The Room of Lost Things – Stella Duffy
I honestly genuinely believe this is one of the most over looked gem books of the year, and not because I know the author and think she is fabulous. I would hope you’d know by now that I am not that sort of person. This book celebrates London and has some of the most fabulous characters in it. Be it from the story of Robert Sutton who is selling his laundrette (where everyone leaves their secrets in their pockets) after a lifetime of hard work to the homeless men who sleep under an archway on a old battered sofa the characters in this book are full of life and I secretly hoped for this to be the start of a series. A love letter in novel form by the author to South London!

9. When Will There Be Good News? – Kate Atkinson
My love for the writing of Kate Atkinson went stratospheric this year with the third so far in the Jackson Brodie ‘literary crime fiction’ series. Having also read its predecessor ‘One Good Turn’ this year I didn’t think her coincidence based complex plots could get any cleverer, I was wrong. This book is much darker than the previous two and grittier yet still in parts incredibly funny. It also of course had one of the characters of the year in it through Reggie the sixteen year old girl who saves Brodie life and yet brings an old flame and a mystery that needs solving into his life on top. It’s so difficult to explain this book, so simply put… buy it!

8. Mister Pip – Lloyd Jones
Ok so this book has been out a while but sometimes I get behind, I mean The Reader is eleven years old, so be kind. I ironically had no expectations of this book at all which sees the children of a small village on a tropical island receive a new teacher and a new book to study ‘Great Expectations’. The new teacher Pop Eye or Mr Watts takes on the class when no one else will due to war in the South Pacific. This reminded me slightly of Half Of A Yellow Sun for the graphicness of war which when you start reading the book you wouldn’t imagine you are going to have in the story ahead of you. Definitely my most shocking read of the year, amazingly written and celebratory of fiction and all it can inspire.

7. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
When Novel Insights and I decided to do this as one of our Rogue Book Group choices I wasn’t sure it would be my cup of tea. I was completely won over by Waugh’s stunning writing and possibly my favourite villain of the year in the form of Lady Marchmain. Charles Ryder reflects on returning to Brideshead during the war on his own history with the building and the Marchmain’s who owned it and their privileged life style in the post Second World War glory days. However Charles experience has a nasty sting in the tale that though he has tried to forget he simply cannot. A genuine classic.

6. The Boy in the Striped Pyjama’s –John Boyne
If there is anyone left who hasn’t seen the movie (which was almost as good as the book, a rarity) or who hasn’t read this book themselves I do not want to give a single bit of plot of this book away as if I had known what was coming I don’t think it would have worked in the same way. I will say that it tells of a young boy Bruno who is forced to move from his childhood home with his mother and sister to join their father for his work. The land they move to is in the middle of nowhere though eventually Bruno befriends another young boy through a fence. Through their innocent friendship Bruno is brought into a much darker world one that will change his life and his family’s lives forever.

5. Mudbound – Hillary Jordan
I admit that the title I found both intriguing and incredibly off putting, however a random purchase in Sainsbury’s (I know, I know) led to me reading possibly one of the most surprising and remarkable books of the year. Set in the Mississippi Delta in 1946 you are first lead to believe this is a novel about a resentful wife being made to live in the cotton farm of her nightmares she swiftly calls Mudbound. What Jordan manages to bring in to this incredible novel is stories of family breakdowns, affairs, war and racism. Not always comfortable reading, especially one sickening scene, this book absolutely blew me away. I cannot wait for Jordan’s second novel whenever it comes.

4. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher – Kate Summerscale
Now shock horror, Mr Savidge who never really liked to read non-fiction has two in his top ten. The first of which is Kate Summerscale’s simply wonderful, if crime can be wonderful, retelling of the events of ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ or ‘The Murder at Road Hill House’. Back in 1860 in the small town of Road in Wiltshire a horrific murder took place one which the local police simply couldn’t figure out so at a time when detectives were a new thing Scotland Yard sent Mr Whicher to investigate. The murder both provoked national hysteria and also inspired many authors such as Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle. Being a fan of crime fiction and of books this was a perfect read and made all the facts down to train timetables easy to digest until you find yourself detecting alongside.

3. To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
I most people will know this book and I know it had been a book that I had wanted to read for a long time and so after sneakily buying myself and Novel Insights a 50p charity shop copy each it became a Rogue Book Group choice. Scout tells the tale of her town in the 1930’s Deep South of America. Her father Atticus (a wonderful character) is defending Tom Robinson of rape, Tom is black and in a time and town where racism is rife he finds himself and subsequently his family struggling with the town and struggling for justice. I loved it, even though until about 50 pages in it hadn’t gripped me suddenly I was hooked.

2. On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan
In a year that has seen a lot of McEwan pass in front of my eyes, and has seen him become one f my favourite authors, it was this book in particular that wowed me of all of his I read. Set in the early sixties it is Edward and Florence’s wedding night. For uptight and inexperienced couple, through not speaking and misunderstood actions, this is the night that will change their lives forever and have devastating results. A superb look at how society has changed and how people have become more informed on life since, but also a sad and startling look at innocence, communication and what was expected of differing genders in those times, plus what was morally or socially correct. A small book with a lot of punch and bite. Oh, and its the second year that Mr McEwan has been in my top three books of the year!

1. The Mitford’s: Letters Between Six Sisters – Charlotte Mosley
What had initially led me to read this book was the idea of letters that spanned a huge amount of history. Having, until this book, only known of Deborah Cavendish (though not as a Mitford because of her name, but because I know Chatsworth well), Nancy Mitford (as an author) and Unity Mitford (as the supposed mother of Hitler’s child) to a small degree; I fell in love with all the sisters (possibly bar Diana, she didn’t have being crazy as an excuse to liking Hitler like Unity) and thought the amount of British history contained in one book was phenomenal. I also loved their play on language, thoughts on society, books and people. I defy anyone to read this and not be 100% in love with it and ready to start again once you have put it down. This book has unquestionably inspired me to read a lot more non fiction in 2009. Best book of 2008 by a clear mile, no offense to any others.

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Filed under Bernhard Schink, Books of 2008, Charlotte Mosley, Evelyn Waugh, Harper Lee, Helen Garner, Hillary Jordan, Ian McEwan, Kate Atkinson, Kate Summerscale, Lloyd Jones, Mary Ann Shaffer, Stella Duffy

To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

When Novel Insights and myself set up our ‘Rogue Book Group’ we decided that we would only do books that we owned or ones that we had always wanted to read. I have always wanted to read ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and being sneaky I bought us both second hand copies. ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ is a book I knew nothing about other than the fact that it has sold absolutely masses and the author Harper Lee never wrote anything else. Well I think it has made it into my top ten books of all time and that isn’t something that comes easily.

The story of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ is based around a family living in the American South. The narrator is Scout a young girl who recounts everything she sees and hears in the town during a turbulent time as Scouts father Atticus is battling the system of a black man Tom Robinson accused of rape. This in set in the present day or when the book was set but back when black people didn’t have any rights and so deals with the subjects of racism and discrimination and is one of the most accomplished books on the subject I have read.

It’s a slow starter and for the first fifty pages I couldn’t decide whether I was going to like it or completely loathe it. I also didn’t know whether the book being narrated by someone that young on such a topic would work, it actually made the book more comical, endearing, tragic, and black and white all at once. By black and white I mean in the sense that children see things in a much simpler way as Harper Lee shows in the reaction that Dill shows to the trail and this spells everything out for you as a reader and makes you really think about the whole situation and the society at the time. She also discusses women’s role and degrees of repression at the time.

The plot itself is superb as the actual trail doesn’t really start until the second part you have the plot of what caused the trial and subsequently what happens after. Behind all of this there is also the mystery of Scout’s neighbour ‘Boo Radley’ who never appears outside of the house apart from at night and who has many ‘neighbourhood gossip/rumours’. One of the themes of the books is also undoubtedly childhood and growing up seen through Scout’s eyes and also through the observations of her brother Jem (and their adventures) as he heads towards manhood and their relationship changes. Family is a big theme in the novel especially the relationship between the children and their father which is beautifully written. Atticus Finch is the father I never had but wish I did.

I have completely fallen in love with this book, all its characters no matter how evil or small and as Novel Insights and myself discussed yesterday (I again finished the book the morning of Rogue Book Group) it’s a complete literary gem. I laughed, though didn’t cry but was moved, believed completely in the characters and felt that I came away from the novel having had a true reading experience and more. It had that certain something. If you haven’t read it, which is unlikely, then you must read it soon. If you have read it why not pick it up again. I will be within the next 12 months I don’t doubt.

I wonder why Harper Lee never wrote anything else?

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Filed under Book Group, Books of 2008, Harper Lee, Random House Publishing, Review