Tag Archives: Homer

Other People’s Bookshelves #63 – Jackie Law

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are down in Wiltshire, a county I lived in for about 7 or 8 years of my childhood, to join the lovely Jackie Law who keeps the blog Never Imitate, which I highly recommend you give a read. Before we have a nose around her shelves lets all get some lovely afternoon tea that Jackie has laid on for us and find out more about her…

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

Bookshelves

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

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

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

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

Some of the TBR mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kipling verse

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

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

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

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

Teddy and Penguin Classics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books to review

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A huge thanks to Jackie for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, you can find her on Twitter here. If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Jackie’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #59 – Erica Jones

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are down in the garden of England that is Kent and having a nosey around the shelves of fellow book blogger Erica. Now that we have helped ourselves to some Kentish treats and a whole host of lovely beverages we can get to know Erica and her bookshelves a little bit better…

Originally a northerner, I now live in Kent (via Wales). This means I do a lot of travelling to catch up with scattered friends and family. Combine that with an obsession with books and bookshops, and it was inevitable I’d one day find an excuse to visit as many of them as possible, which is how I started writing my blog The Bookshop Around the Corner in my spare time. I’m basically on a one-woman crusade to remind people why they should be buying their books from real (preferably but not necessarily independent) bookshops on the high street. However rather than going on an angry rant I chose to do it in a positive way, sharing the bookshopping fun with anyone who wants to read. Also, I’ll only write about bookshops I like and have spent money in. You can find me on Twitter @bookshopblogger.

Erica full bookshelves

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?

If I like a book I keep it. All the books I own are on display somewhere in my flat – mostly on the shelves in my living room, but also in other strategic points, such as the kitchen, next to the bath or in piles on my dining table (waiting for me to tidy up the shelves, a regular problem given how many books I buy). The only ones hidden away are my old Open University course books. It felt a bit pretentious to have them on show.

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

My shelves are split into three groups: standard paperbacks; misc; bookshop blog. Standard paperbacks is fairly obvious, this is an A-Z of the paperback fiction and non-fiction of my life. However last year I downsized from a house and had to cull around five boxes of books. This section took quite a hit, mostly classics from school (in the hope someone else will fall in love with them) unread university course books (the heavier side of studying English literature) and those I’ve inherited, but I agonised over every volume before putting it into the box. In the end the only reason I was able to give them up was because I knew how much the bookshop they went to would benefit. This section takes up the bottom three rows of shelves and includes the random oversized books on the right of the main picture.

Erica A-Z close

Misc is a combination of hardbacks, larger books and my childhood Sweet Valley High collection. It’s generally in alphabetical order according to size and also took a bit of a hit during last year’s enforced cull. Some of the books that mean the most to me are found in this section. This is the bookcase to the left of the main picture. The third grouping is for the bookshop blog. It takes up the top row of the bookcases and also on top of them. Given how obsessed I can be with alphabetical order, these shelves are the ones that make people look twice: the books are arranged in chronological bookshop order. The first book, The Princess Bride was bought at the first bookshop I wrote about, Big Green Books in Wood Green, London. Then they follow in order, spilling out onto the top of the bookcases as I’ve run out of room. Next to these, acting as bookends and topped with random other bookshop items, are small piles of books relating to bookshops I’ve not yet written about. This is my favourite section and I’m never culling from it, the books are too great a reminder of all the fascinating places I’ve visited and people I’ve met since starting the blog. Nothing beats looking along a row of books for inspiring good memories.

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

This was probably one of my Sweet Valley High books, I couldn’t tell you which one, but they are all proudly on display on the bookshelves in my living room.

Erica Sweet Valley High

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?

There should be nothing guilty about a book. Whether you’re reading Ladybirds, 50 Shades of Grey or Shakespeare, the simple act of reading is something to be proud of. Which is why in my A-Z shelves Dune sits next to The Iliad, and Stephenie Meyer’s spines are just as obvious as John Irving’s or Iris Murdoch’s.

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

I’m guessing I’m not allowed to keep all the books from the bookshop blog? Instead I’ll pick out a couple of special ones: My first edition of The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, it’s my favourite book and was given to me be someone who’s had a big impact on my life; Perfect Cooking by Parkinson, my great-grandmother’s cookbook, including her notes along the side of the recipes; and Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome, which taught me not to judge a book by its cover.

Erica rescue from fire

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?

There weren’t many books in my parents’ house, so holidays at my Gran’s generally led to me coveting her shelves. The simple fact she had books meant I coveted all of them. When I was finally allowed to start reading them her Jeffrey Archer collection came first, probably First Among Equals. Then I moved on to Jane Austen and Iris Murdoch. The first developed my fascination with politics, the latter two with reading. I’ve kept the latter two books.

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?

My TBR pile is so large I try not to borrow books! When I can I take part in a bookshare but I use this as an opportunity to read books I’d not normally go for. So far, this has inspired me to buy more of the other books by the authors I’ve been introduced to. Having said that, I am still on the lookout for a copy of We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which I borrowed from my university’s library more than a decade ago. I’d love to re-read it and add it to my shelves.

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

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide, bought at The Kennington Bookshop. I’d actually intended to buy a different book, but another browser beat me to it (it’s all on the blog).

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

I have an ambition to own and read all the Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome. I once found a complete set of first editions (in Stephen Foster Books, Chiswick ) and seriously considered blowing my salary on the lot until reason kicked in. Instead I’m on the look out to buy them one at a time in order, in whatever format I encounter them. Swallowdale, the second in the series, is proving surprisingly difficult to find. I’m also always on the hunt for more titles by Elizabeth Gaskell and Edith Wharton.

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

I’ve no idea what anyone would think of my shelves. The best compliment anyone looking at my bookshelves could pay me would be to think my bookshelves look accessible, varied and interesting – and ask to borrow something.

Erica bookshop blog close

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A huge thanks to Erica 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 forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Erica’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller

When I was first sent Madeline Miller’s debut novel ‘The Song of Achilles’ as a very early unsolicited advance proof copy last summer I swiftly passed it onto my mother. You see she is a classicist and indeed teaches classics, as well as English literature, so I knew she would love it. I also assumed being about the Greek gods, myths and legends it would therefore not be mine. I am sure my mother’s passion for the subject is contagious for her students but as her own child it occasionally got a bit much. I think it was the 12 endless hours in Pompeii during my bolshie early teens, when I was so bored I had the biggest sulk ever (even a rather rude painting my mother dragged us to find didn’t have the desired effect of cheering me up) that could have put me off. Or maybe it was getting 100% in my Classics exam at the school my mother taught at and having the mickey taken out of me that was the final straw? Either way I completely shut the subject out of my life. Hence why I thought ‘The Song of Achilles’ would be highly unlikely to win me over. Yet I heard Michael Kindness rave about it on Books on the Nightstand, it then got longlisted for the Orange Prize 2012, and so I read it. I didn’t expect it to be a book that would reinvigorate my love for classics again or have me sobbing like a baby…

9781408821985

Bloomsbury Publishing, hardback, 2011, fiction, 368 pages, kindly sent by the publisher (but borrowed from the library as gave my Mum the one was sent, oops)

No doubt you will know the name Achilles whether you have read ‘The Iliad’ by Homer or not (and I haven’t) and indeed will probably have heard the tale of the Trojan War. That said, whether you have or not doesn’t actually matter because with ‘The Song of Achilles’ Madeline Miller retells you the tale but in doing so gives it a new perspective from one of the most unsung heroes of the tale itself, Patroclus.

Born a rather frail specimen, in fact somewhat an embarrassment to his father Menoetius (one of the Argonauts no less), he is involved in a terrible incident that sees him banished to Phthia, the land of King Peleus, he soon becomes a very unlikely friend to Peleus’ son Achilles, who he couldn’t be less like. It is from here, and through Patroclus, that Miller brings us the tale of the Trojan War and all its adventure, it’s also here that she gives us a love story too. It is both the adventure and this love story that makes us read on.

Though it is never officially stated in The Iliad, it is believed, and inferred, by many that Patroclus was not just simply Achilles’ closest confident and right hand man but that they also became lovers. It is this dynamic of their youthful friendship that gives the book its sense of adventure and the love story what gives the novel its emotional punch. I don’t normally love a love story, but I really loved this one. I can’t quite put my finger on how, which is probably why it works so well, Miller creates such a believable and touching relationship between these two men starting from pre-pubescent friendship that becomes post teenage love because she does it so deftly but you’ll be rooting for them, even though we soon learn the gods have stated a prophecy which isn’t going to reach a happy conclusion for anyone concerned. Have a tissue ready, seriously.

‘After that, I was craftier with my observation, kept my head down and my eyes ready to leap away. But he was craftier still.  At least once a dinner he would turn and catch me before I could feign indifference. Those seconds, half-seconds, that the line of our gaze connected , were the only moment in my day when I felt anything at all. The sudden swoop in my stomach, the coursing anger. I was like a fish eyeing the hook.’

Now here I must mention the Gods and the mythic creatures that do appear in the book. Some people choose not to mention them in modern twists on classics but I was relieved to see Miller was keeping them in (I mean why wouldn’t you as they make up so much of these old legends). That said, I knew that if she didn’t make them ring true, or make me conjure them in such a way as I believed in the unbelievable (a small ask) then she would have lost me. I needn’t have feared, as soon as Achilles mother Thetis appeared on the page I was sold hook, line and sinker.

‘The waves were warm, and thick with sand. I shifted, watched the small white crabs run through the surf. I was listening, thinking I might hear the splash of her feet as she approached. A breeze blew down the beach and, grateful, I closed my eyes. When I opened them again she was standing before me.
She was taller than I was, taller than any women I had ever seen. Her black hair was loose down her back and her skin shone luminous and impossibly pale, as if it drank light from the moon.  She was so close I could smell her, sea water laced with dark brown honey. I did not breathe. I did not dare.
‘You are Patroclus.’ I flinched at the sound of her voice, hoarse and rasping. I had expected chimes, not the grinding of rocks in the surf.’

It simply gets better and better from here on in. What was truly wonderful, and this is just a personal thing I guess, was how it made me want to go back to all the Greek and Roman myths and legends that my mother used to tell me and re-read them. It sort of brought out a passion for these tales that I had long forgotten. I actually cheered when Chiron the Centaur appeared on the stage, seriously I was so excited, ‘a centaur!’, and found myself smiling as I remembered the names and the tales of other characters mentioned in the novel.

‘At night we lay on the soft grass in front of the cave, and Chiron showed us the constellations, telling their stories – Andromeda, cowering before the sea monster’s jaws, and  Perseus poised to rescue her; the immortal horse Pegasus, aloft on his wings, born from the severed head of Medusa. He told us too of Heracles, his labours, and the madness that took him. In its grip he had not recognised his wife and children, and had killed them for enemies.’

I wouldn’t normally say that I was a reader who subscribes to adventure stories or love stories and yet Madeline Miller’s debut novel ‘The Song of Achilles’ is easily my favourite read of the year so far. The reason for this is simple, she’s a bloody good storyteller, a great writer and I think the enthusiasm she has for classics becomes contagious somewhere in the way she writes. It’s now made me want to read ‘The Iliad’ (watch out for a read-a-long with Michael Kindness and I in due course) which I would never have thought of reading before. I also want to dust off my copy of ‘The Greek Myths’, dig out Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Penelopiad’ and get my hands on David Malouf’s ‘The Ransom’ too. Madeline Miller has made me want to run out and read more books with this book, what more can you ask from an author than that?

Have you read this and if so what did you make of it? What novels based on Greek Legends, or reworking them, have you read and would recommend? Oh and, Madeline Miller will be on the blog tomorrow, as will the chance to win some copies of this marvellous book. In the meantime thoughts and recommendations most welcome.

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Books of 2012, Madeline Miller, Review

The Mum Booker Longlist

You might possibly have an inkling, can’t think why, that today is the day when the longlist for this years Man Booker Award is announced. I have already had a crack at guessing just what books might make the list which you can have a peek at here. We all love a good list of books don’t we? Well, I do so I am assuming there must be more people like me? I really enjoy seeing people’s top ten or top forty books (which reminds me I need to add mine back onto the blog) and thought that today I would share with you my mother’s top ten books as she is a voracious reader and always has been, but more on her in her ‘Grilling’ later in the week.

I said it would be my Mum’s top ten books which she claimed would be ‘really easy’ however after a few minutes I got the look and a slight moan of ‘ooh its really difficult’. There was also some excuse of needing to be ‘standing in front of all my shelves so I can think more clearly’ but soon enough we didn’t have ten books but twenty, and here they are for you delectation with some snippets of conversation that were sparked by them.

  1. Iliad by Homer – “being a Classics teacher you can’t be surprised”
  2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – which she read when on maternity leave before my sister (another book devourer) was born after which reading went out the window unless it was ‘Spot the Dog’.
  3. Lord of the Rings by J.R. Tolkien
  4. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins – ‘much better than The Woman in White’ something we strongly disagree on.
  5. Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  6. Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos
  7. The L Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks – “I worry it has dated terribly by now so have never re-read, would rather have the memory of it being brilliant.” It’s just arrived at Savidge Reads HQ and I will be reading it soon.
  8. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  9. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres
  10. Taking The Devil’s Advice by Anne Fine – “possibly the funniest book I have ever read”
  11. The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck
  12. Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon – “a truly original book”
  13. The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
  14. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
  15. I, Claudius by Robert Graves – “naturally it’s the classic thing again”
  16. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  17. The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  18. Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver – loves the series and got very excited when I said that Paver’s adult book is out in October.
  19. Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam
  20. The Adventures of Tintin by Herge – “after all these years I still get huge enjoyment from these”

I was really surprised by this list and in particular the fact there was no Jane Austen, no Bronte’s and shock horror no Margaret Atwood. The latter seemed most bizarre as whenever I think of Atwood I think of my Mum. I asked her about these and she said “they are all great writers just no specific one book of there’s has made the top lot… you didn’t ask me for my top ten authors though did you?” I was also surprised no Shakespeare but apparently that’s because “you can’t choose one best Shakespeare play, it changes daily”.

So there you have it, my mother’s favourite books, don’t forget her Grilling will be up on Thursday. Until then what do you think of her list, was it what you might have expected? Which books have you read and loved on the list? Could any of my mothers top books be found in your list of favourites?

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