Tag Archives: Jane Austen

Other People’s Bookshelves #19 – Alison Hope

The weekend is the perfect time to be leisurely isn’t it? What could be nicer than whiling away some time nosing through someone else’s book shelves while talking about books? Well Saturday’s are set to become the perminant home of Other People’s Bookshelves for the foreseeable future and this week we are all popping round to Alison Hope’s who runs the book blog HeavenAli to have a gander and a natter about her books. Grab a cuppa,  and plonk yourself down on an available chair, I am sure she won’t mind!

Firstly tell us a little more about yourself?

Having always read – since I was a very small girl, and now coming up to my 45th birthday I realise I have read a lot of books. In the last year or so I have discovered the absolute joy of re-reading – so often I fear I have read all the best things and envy people their first experiences with books I have loved. These days I think I read far more books published before about 1950 than contemporary books – although I do enjoy a lot of contemporary writers too. Engaging with other readers and bloggers has been a greater pleasure than I had ever anticipated – and I am trying hard to make my reviews and blog posts worthy of the bigger audience I now seem to have. Some of my favourite authors are Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Taylor, Wilkie Collins, Anita Brookner, Jane Austen and Barbara Pym. I like golden age crime novels, such as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and Ngaio Marsh. I don’t like modern crime much – although now again I read one or two I have been told are not too gruesome – I don’t like fantasy or sci-fi. I mainly read classics, and literary fiction, and a few memoirs and biographies. Despite my love of books I do have a kindle – which I like very much, but I read far more real books.

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

The books on my bookcases are what I consider to be the ones I keep, my permanent book collection. However I don’t keep all the books that I read, I mainly keep the ones I love the most.  As a bookcrosser (although no longer as active as I once was) I am always happy to pass on books I don’t want to keep, to other bookcrossing members at our local monthly meet ups. I enjoy sharing books I have enjoyed, so the ones I pass on are certainly not just books I haven’t enjoyed, they are usually just ones I think it unlikely I will want to read again. I do find however, that I am keeping more and more books these days, going back to my bad old ways of almost hording my books.

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?

None of my bookcases are organised alphabetically. I can’t explain why – but I don’t particularly like that way of organising my shelves.  Many of my books are shelved with other books of the same editions. This system has broken down a little as I have moved books around and acquired new bookcases – but most of my Virago books, Persephone books and Penguin classics and Oxford Classics which are not residing on my TBR are shelved together with other books with the same colour spine.  My TBR is also all shelved together – it takes up more than two shelves, with small stacks of books sitting in front of rows of others. I have one bookcase that has no system; things are rather unceremoniously shoved on to the shelves. This bookcase really needs weeding out, a job I keep putting off. The books I keep to pass on through bookcrossing are in a box in a cupboard –which seems wrong – I do feel that books should be shelved – but that is where they are until they get moved on.

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

Oh dear this is something I really wish I knew the answer to. I have been trying to work out what it might have been but have no idea. All through my childhood my bookishness was encouraged by my parents, although I used the library a lot back then, I was given books for Christmas, and had book vouchers from relatives nearly every year. I can remember being obsessed by the Enid Blyton Mallory Towers and St Clair boarding school books, I am sure I must have bought those with my pocket money, and The Famous Five books too – but no I don’t have any old Enid Blyton books in my house now.

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 wouldn’t be embarrassed by any of the books on my shelves at all; as I think it perfectly alright to have anything I have enjoyed residing there. I do have numbers 1 – 18 of the Agatha Raisin books – although they are some of the books that are likely to be culled at some point. They were for a while a kind guilty pleasure (cosy reading I would probably call it) – but I thought the later ones quite poor in comparison to the earlier books – and I have stopped reading them. It’s unlikely I’ll go back to them, so I do feel they are taking up valuable space – they are shelved in the spare room, not to hide them, but I just like my favourite books to be the ones that are more visible.

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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?

One book? – but there are so many I could choose – but two books do spring to mind. I have a lovely 1950’s first edition of The Village by Marghanita Laski that I found by chance in the castle bookshop in Hay on Wye. I was on a lovely weekend away with some good bookish friends and I didn’t even realise at first that I had found a book that had been re- issued by Persephone. I still don’t have a Persephone edition of it to go with it – but a forthcoming trip to the Lambs Conduit street shop may remedy that.   I also have an American edition of I capture the Castle, which was sent to me by a New York bookcrosser about seven years ago, not long after I first joined the bookcrossing community. I have selfishly kept that one instead of passing it on as it is so pretty, and having read that particular copy twice I am loathe to part with it.  I am also rather fond of the three Barbara Pym novels which I have in the Moyer Bell edition – (there is a fourth one of those winging its way to me from the USA that I found on Abebooks recently). I also love each of my Persephone books and guard them jealously I won’t even loan those out to family.

I also have a small collection of Agatha Christie first editions which I do rather love.  None of them are the very early or rare ones, a few of them are just book club editions so not even real first editions as book club editions always came out a year later – but I am rather fond of them, as I have loved Agatha Christie since I was eleven, and several of them are real first editions. The earliest one I have is from about 1951. The price of them does seem to have shot up rather, since I first started buying them, so I haven’t added any to my collection for a few years.

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 always had a lot of books – many were non-fiction and seemed far too dull to excite my imagination when I was young.  However I do remember loving the look of my mother’s book The Far Pavilions by MM Kaye it looked so big, sumptuous and romantic – I also liked the look of Gone with the Wind – for the same reasons I suspect. I read Gone with the Wind – my mother’s copy – when I was about seventeen I think, and loved it, but it was many many years before I read The Far Pavilions.  I can’t remember where the copy I read came from, it may have been my mother’s snaffled when she was weeding out her own shelves, but I don’t currently have either of those on my shelves.

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

I certainly have bought my own copies of books I have borrowed, though I don’t think I have to. I sort of store it away in a wish list in my brain, so that should I come across a copy of the book in a charity bookshop or somewhere I will undoubtedly snaffle it up. Certainly there are books I have read and loved that I want to own, one recent example was The Two Mrs Abbots by D E Stevenson – the third Miss Buncle book – I ordered it from the library and it took six months to come in. I devoured it and loved every word, and so want my own copy. I heard a rumour that Persephone may publish it in the future –I live in hope.

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

Well I added Ruby’s Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni to my permanent collection of books after I finished it a few days ago. I read it a couple of days before meeting the author at a local meet up group I attend. I took my copy with me to get signed and bought two more copies one each for my mother and sister. I have also added a couple more books to my TBR – but they are both books I am certain to keep once they have been read. They are Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier and Civil to Strangers by Barbara Pym which I bought for the Barbara Pym centenary read-a-long.

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

Oh goodness – yes so many. I can’t even begin to list them. Of course I want more Persephone books, and there are many original green Virago Modern Classics that I want too. I especially want Winifred Holtby’s short stories Remember Remember in original green, very hard to get hold of – and would rather like a copy of Lolly Willows by Sylvia Townsend Warner, also in green. I actually bought a green copy of Lolly Willows for a fellow Viragoite  - for a secret Santa gift – I hadn’t realised it was so hard to get. I really am a sucker for physically beautiful editions, of which there are so many coming out these days –  beautifully designed editions of my favourite classics are the ones I particularly covert. I have recently acquired a few penguin clothbound classics – now there is a tiny part of me that wants them all – but such excess would be madness.

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

Oh my I don’t know! That I am a reader of fiction first and foremost and that I like classics; Modern Classics and nineteenth century classics in particular.  That I like mainly women writers, with a few notable exceptions, the Viragos and Persephone books rather give that away. I’m not sure If anyone perusing my shelves would think I was widely read – I don’t claim to be,  I don’t have lots of different genres, and really not that many non-fiction.  I don’t know if there is anything I would want them to think – I’m not sure it matters – I just like what I like – as we all do.

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A huge thanks to Alison for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Alison’s responses and/or any of the books that she mentioned?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton

I am beginning to think that my little faux pas that Edith Wharton was one of the UK’s canon authors, when deciding on the six authors for ‘Classically Challenged’ with AJ, was actually a twist of fate and an accidental moment of brilliance. While I liked Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’ and enjoyed Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’ (let us gloss over Trollope’s ‘The Warden’) I have to say that ‘The House of Mirth’ simply surpasses them for me by a long stretch and has been the first to set me alight. I think it is probably going to become one of my favourite novels of all time and has reminded me what joys there are in the classics and forget the side that makes you feel like you are back at school. Now though I have the nightmare task of trying to write my thoughts on this book which I know will never really do it justice. Gulp!

***** Oxford University Press, paperback, 1905 (2008 edition), fiction, 368 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

In New York in the late 1800′s Lily Bart, at the ripe old age of twenty nine, is in the time of her life where she needs to find a husband. She has had many good seasons living with her rich friends of high society, which is quite miraculous as she herself is made of limited means and no fortune yet Lily is wily. We follow her on her quest to find a husband and the gambles she takes not only with her meagre allowance and cards but in the society she keeps and how she plays them and they play her.

Edith Wharton does some wondrous things in this novel. Firstly Wharton marvellously creates an overview of society at the time. As we meet her Lily actually spends most of her time living off her incredibly wealthy friends. Of course nothing comes for free. It is Lily’s beauty, wit and ability to seem fascinated by anyone and everyone whilst having them fascinated by her that gets her in with the right set. Keeping them as friends and on side however is the really tricky part and one that anyone would find hard to pull off. Lily knows that if she marries someone with utmost wealth she could have everyone at her bidding and the life she has always felt she is her due. This was the plight of many women at the time. When not living off friends though, Lily finds herself living off an aunt, Mrs Penistone, who took her because no one else would after her mother’s death. This relationship I think has a real psychological affect on Lily. She doesn’t want to owe anyone, apart from a husband, anything nor does she want to end up like many of the spinsters that her aunt knows, working in factories and living in boarding houses.

The second wonderful thing about ‘The House of Mirth’ is Lily Bart herself. Lily isn’t really likeable and yet we do like her. She has airs and graces above her station and yet she is witty and does care about people, well overall if we give her the benefit of the doubt. She is the creation of a society at the time along with the aspirations left upon her by her mother’s influence from a young age. There is a real sense of sadness and tragedy underlying her beauty and charm however and I think it is this that while we might not always think she is behaving as we would or correctly makes us like her and root for her all the same. For those of you who have read the book it was her behaviour with a certain collection of letters that showed her true character I felt.

With so much going on it is takes a deft writer to throw in another strand to the story and Wharton does this by introducing, from the very start in a brilliant set of paragraphs where he describes Miss Bart so we are left in no doubt as to her looks and personality, the character of Lawrence Selden. This is another master stroke. He is by no means a rich man having been forced to do the thing that everyone in Lily’s set dreads, work. As a lawyer the rich think he might be useful someday and indeed some of the rich married women of high society, like Bertha Dorset, find his handsome charms might just be the thing to provide some light relief in their lives or all sorts. There is a tension and chemistry between Lily and Selden however, though neither of them really wants it as both know that Lily ideally needs to marry for money, being a woman of no stature. Yet this friction and their love hate relationship are part of what we follow throughout.

‘Exactly. And so why not take the plunge and have it over?’
She shrugged her shoulders. ‘You speak as if I ought to marry the first man who came along.’
‘I didn’t mean to imply that you are as hard put to it as that. But there must be some one with the requisite qualifications.’
She shook her head wearily. ‘I threw away one or two good chances when I first came out – I suppose every girl does; and you know I am horribly poor – and very expensive. I must have a great deal of money.’

Their sparing with each other show what Lily is really thinking or planning and why. Also through Selden’s eyes we get this rather brutal and pitying look on Lily and the monster she threatens to become. This was another of the things I loved about this book; the ability of Wharton to flip between Lily’s perception of things and then to the perceptions others have of Lily and her actions, these perceptions of course being based on whether the person has sympathy for Lily or is in some way her rival or superior. This also highlights the calculating nature of a certain group of women, who Wharton was clearly aware of at the time, from the destroyer such as Bertha Dorset and indeed our own Lily in her calculations of how to get a suitably rich husband or live off others, whichever the case may be.

It was not that Miss Bart was afraid of losing her newly-acquired hold over Mr. Gryce. Mrs. Dorset might startle or dazzle him, but she had neither the skill nor the patience to affect his capture. She was too self-engrossed to penetrate the recesses of his shyness, and besides, why should she care to give herself the trouble? At most it might amuse her to make sport of his simplicity for an evening–after that he would be merely a burden to her, and knowing this, she was far too experienced to encourage him. But the mere thought of that other woman, who could take a man up and toss him aside as she willed, without having to regard him as a possible factor in her plans, filled Lily Bart with envy. She had been bored all the afternoon by Percy Gryce–the mere thought seemed to waken an echo of his droning voice–but she could not ignore him on the morrow, she must follow up her success, must submit to more boredom, must be ready with fresh compliances and adaptabilities, and all on the bare chance that he might ultimately decide to do her the honour of boring her for life.’

‘The House of Mirth’ is a real unflinching and honest lifting of the lid on society and how it worked just before the turn of the 20th century in America and you feel Wharton new exactly what was going on no holes barred. She also looks at the interesting divide of old money and new money and how the latter felt they had to win the other over until the Wall Street crash when roles were reversed. Here the initially, to Lily, odious Mr Simon Rosedale suddenly becomes the man everyone wants to know and many women want to wed. There are so many layers, sub plots and characters to the book I could go on all day, so I shall bring myself to a close and surmise.

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Having had some space from the book and time to mull it over 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.

Who else has read ‘The House of Mirth’ and what did you think? Did anyone else (without any spoilers please) see the end coming? What about Bertha Dorset, did anyone loathe her as much as I found myself doing? Did anyone else think that Selden was a bit of an ineffectual wet lettuce? Which other works of Wharton’s have you read, as I now want to get them all, and you would recommend?

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Savidge Reads Books of 2012 – Part One…

I was going to try and be really brave and break the habit of this blogs and just do a single top ten books of the year. I tried and tried and tried, and I failed. I simply couldn’t only have ten, in fact I actually had a top thirty roughly, but then I have read 167 books (Green Carnation submissions always bump this figure up, what will next year be like without them) this year so maybe that will make it slightly more understandable. So what I have done once again is have two top tens, one of the books published for the first time in the UK in 2012 and another with all the other books published before that – it is the latter we are focusing on today. For the full review click on the link, I have chosen a highlighting paragraph to tempt you for this post.

10. The Claude Glass by Tom Bullough

I really liked the fact Bullough creates this sense of place and people and wants you to work with him on building the bigger picture and using all the things unsaid along with tiny tensions to create the full narrative tale.  I think by now you will have probably guessed that I thought ‘The Claude Glass’ was an unusual and incredibly accomplished piece of writing, silently impressive and one that rewards you in many ways.

9. You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead by Marieke Hardy

‘You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead’ is one of those books which manages to make you laugh out loud, feel ever so uncomfortable at its honesty, possibly makes you want to cry and then makes you laugh all over again. When someone writes their memoirs it isn’t necessarily that the full truth doesn’t come out, just that the author tends to look at things in a rose tinted way, highlighting their best bits – not so in the case of Marieke.

8. Days of Grace by Catherine Hall

What I also really admired and loved about the book is that even though we have one narrator we have two stories. These are told in alternating chapters throughout the book. This device is one that is used often and normally I have to admit one story will overtake my interest as I read on. Not in the case of ‘Days of Grace’. I was desperate to know what was going to happen with Nora and Grace as the war went on both in idyllic Kent and the roughness and danger of London but I also wanted to know, just as much, what was going to happen with Nora in the present, her health and the relationship with Rose and her baby. Both stories had me intrigued and I think that was because Catherine Hall very cleverly has the stories mystery foreboding the past tense narrative and shadowing the present without us knowing what it is until the last minute.

7. The World That Was Ours – Hilda Bernstein

‘The World That Was Ours’ shows the power of books, writing, journalism and memoir. When it was published back in 1967 it was a dangerous book to release and there were many people who would have liked to see it destroyed. Thank goodness it found a publisher back then and thank goodness Persephone have chosen it as a book to reprint for us to discover because it is just the sort of book that everyone should read. I will be re-reading this again for definite.

6. Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

You can feel the sense of unease on almost every page, both in a combination of the mystery of Hiero unraveling and war drawing nearer does give the book a slight thriller twist. If you think that is a negative thing it is not I promise you because Edugyan merges the literary elements of the novel with the tension and pace perfectly… and it stays with you long after you read it.

5. The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge

There were so many things that I loved about Beryl Bainbridge’s writing that it might be hard to encompass them all, I will endeavour to try though. First of all is how much is in such a small book. At a mere 200 pages, and in fairly big print which could be devoured in a few hours, so much happens that when you have finished you find yourself recapping it all and thinking ‘did that all just happen in this book?’ There are funerals, hilarious seductions in cellars, hilarious seductions in a shared bedroom and a shared bathroom, a mother in law with a grudge to bear and a gun in her handbag, a fight in Windsor Castle, horse riding with the Queen’s funereal regiment, something awful on an outing which leads to a strange trip to a safari park, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

4. Never Mind by Edward St Aubyn

I always admire an author who can write beautifully and simply, an author who can create the most understated of melodramas will win me over. I also always admire an author who can write a passage that chills you before one that makes you laugh out loud and then another which horrifies you all over again. All these things are encompassed in Edward St Aubyn’s first Patrick Melrose novel ‘Never Mind’.

3. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I don’t think I have yet read a piece of fiction which seems to encapsulate the entire breadth in which cancer can affect people and not just those in the eye of the storm it creates. Ness looks at the full spectrum of emotions for all those involved, from Conor, his mother and grandmother to those on the periphery such as Conor’s teachers. He takes these feeling and reactions, condenses them and then makes them readable, effecting, emotional and compelling in just over 200 pages. The monster itself is also an incredible character being utterly evil in many ways and yet having hints of goodness amongst the chaos he creates so that you are never quite sure if he is friend or foe.

2. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

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. 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?

1.  Kiss Kiss by Roald Dahl

I think ‘Kiss Kiss’ will undoubtedly remain one of my favourite short story collections, and one that I will happily dip in and out of again and again in the future. It has that delightfully dark, yet awfully darkly funny, essence to it that I just really enjoy. It has made me want to go out and read all of Dahl’s other adult work (especially with the covers in this new series by Penguin) and also dig out my old childhood favourites which I am sure I will now see in a whole new light. I would definitely recommend that you read this collection if you haven’t, they are mini macabre masterpieces.

So that is my first top ten of 2012 and all the books I really, really loved published before this year that I read this year. Make sense? I do also want to mention ‘Now You See Me’ by S.J. Bolton, ‘Packing For Mars’ by Mary Roach (both of which I read for The Readers Summer Book Club and adored), ‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen and ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens (both have been part of Classically Challenged and the latter of which I will be talking about tomorrow), all highly recommended.

So what about your what are your post-2012 books of 2012? Which of these have you read and what did you think? Any other books you would recommend you think I might like having loved the above? Do pop back for Part Two on Monday!

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Books of 2012

Savidge Reads Does Pride & Prejudice…

Fear not, the world has not gone completely mad, my admitted love of Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’ has not meant I have suddenly already polished off ‘Pride and Prejudice’, not yet anyway. You may remember that when Michelle told you over the weekend ‘Why I Love Jane Austen & So Should Everyone Else’ (if you haven’t read it then please do, it’s a treat) she mentioned that we had been to Lyme Park in May last year, to try and get the Austen bug going in me, and had in fact made a video homage to the BBC’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ there. Well after some editing, thank you AJ, here it is. You have been warned…

Ha, I thought I would share it as I am so smitten with Austen at the moment and before things start getting very spooky on Savidge Reads for the rest of the week. I hope you all enjoyed it?

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Persuasion – Jane Austen

Many of you may know that I have always wavered a little in reading or wanting to read this classics. In my head this conjures up English Literature lessons in school being forced to read the same sections of a book over and over and over, analysing it to death and taking all the fun out for reading. This has lead me to having missed out on many a ‘canon’ author including Jane Austen, and people said a small collection of her early work didn’t count, so when I embarked, with AJ Reads, upon the idea of Classically Challenged she was the first author I wanted to try and thanks to you, and your votes, I did so with ‘Persuasion’. Did it persuade me to read anything else by her though?

Oxford University Press, paperback, 1817 (2008 edition), fiction, 304 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

If they had had the expression ‘middle child syndrome’ in the early 1800’s then I think Anne Elliot, the heroine of ‘Persuasion’, would be a prime example of someone who could suffer it, though being a heroine of course she doesn’t. She has a vain and wealth obsessed father and sisters, elder unmarried Elizabeth and younger married Mary, and so really she is overlooked by most of her family. Fortunately she does have the attention of neighbouring Lady Russell who was her sadly deceased mother’s best friend. However Sir Walter Elliot though obsessed with his position in life and wealth, is lacking in how to keep or make the right amount of money and so has to rent his estate, Kellynch-hall out which in doing so brings a former, rather fortunately unknown, engagement, Captain Wentworth, of Anne’s younger years back into her life and also a whole host of people that change her perception of what life can be and what can indeed be made of it.

I have to say that I really, really enjoyed ‘Persuasion’. I will happily admit that I found the first page to be one of the most mind numbing and off putting pieces of fiction that I have read in some time (which is interestingly the same thing, only for fifty more, that has stopped me getting anywhere with ‘Pride and Prejudice’) as Sir Walter reads about an almost encyclopaedic history of himself and all its pomp, which reads a little woodenly. Yet, just another page on I was suddenly hit with a beaming smile as the wit I had heard Jane Austen has, but didn’t believe she did, smacked me round the chops as Sir Walter’s pomp, causes him to look at everyone else around him, and I found it very funny.

“It sometimes happens, that a woman is handsomer at twenty-nine than she was ten years before; and, generally speaking, if there has been neither ill health nor anxiety, it is a time of life at which scarcely any charm is lost. It was so with Elizabeth; still the same handsome Miss Elliot that she had begun to be thirteen years ago; and Sir Walter might be excused, therefore, in forgetting her age, or, at least, be deemed only half a fool, for thinking himself and Elizabeth as blooming as ever, amidst the wreck of good looks of everybody else; for he could plainly see how old the rest of his family and acquaintance were growing. Anne haggard, Mary coarse, every face in the neighbourhood worsting; and the rapid increase of the crow’s foot about Lady Russell’s temples had long been a distress to him.”

From this point in the book was honestly a real joy. I felt that I actually ‘got’ Jane Austen and the more I read on the more and more I realised that my preconceptions of her were way off the mark. I had imagined this would all be rather twee and sentimental but have the happy ending I was expecting. Here I must say I did guess the ending but firstly I loved the twists that went on throughout and secondly doesn’t the ending have a dark ominous overtone?  What I actually got was a very witty, often a little darkly so, and intelligent and wryly perceptive author who clearly watched and observed and then, in wonderful prose – though it took me a little while to get into the Olde English, writes it almost to a level of pastiche, yet so convincing it never goes too far, for the reader to enjoy.

I must add here that I am never ever letting my editor moan at me about how much I over use comma’s. I shall simply say ‘have you read Jane Austen?’ and leave it at that. I liked the fact we had this in common and as I read on I became more and more sure that had I sat with her, people watching over a pot of Earl Grey tea, I would have very much enjoyed her company and possibly laughed quite a lot as I did throughout the book. I am not sure I was always meant to find everything as hilarious as I did, Louisa’s fall in particular, but I giggled, occasionally wickedly a lot, sometimes at the most subtle of things.

“’There we differ, Mary’ said Anne. ‘I am sure Lady Russell would like him. I think she would be so much pleased with his mind, that she would very soon see no deficiency in his manner.’
 ‘So do I, Anne’ said Charles. ‘I am sure Lady Russell would like him. He is just Lady Russell’s sort. Give him a book, and he will read all day long.’
 ‘Yes, that he will!’ exclaimed Mary, tauntingly. ‘He will sit poring over his book, and not know when a person speaks to him, or when one drops one’s scissors, or anything that happens. Do you think Lady Russell would like that?’”

The other aspect of her writing is how much of an insight it gives into the social state of the country at the time and indeed the plight of women. Firstly there is the fact that all women seem to be failures if they do not marry ‘up’ or, heaven forbid, marry at all. No wonder Anne is disproved of when she turns down Charles, who Mary then marries (awkward much?) and isn’t sure the debonair and seemingly wealthy Mr Elliot is right for her. More interesting for me was the cases of Miss Smith, who I really loved and wanted to look after, illustrated the plight of a widowed woman of no wealth and at the other end of the spectrum was the rather matriarchal Lady Russell who seemed to have it so easy, well apart from the loss of her husband that is. I found this all rather fascinating, the shock of Anne wanting to associate with a woman who couldn’t even afford a servant rather hit me, and also highlighted what a bunch of pompous pests she unfortunately was related to.

This does bring me to my only slight qualm with the book and Austen’s writing. Here we go, get ready for everyone who is sat thinking ‘see we knew you would like her and find her faultless’ to get a little more annoyed, but I want to be honest. In some of the characters, having seen so many adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, whilst not having read it I know, I felt that I had seen them before. There were a few Mrs Bennett’s and indeed a rather Wickham like character which whilst never stopped me enjoying ‘Persuasion’, indeed all the ‘vexing’ is wonderful, did spoil one twist in the tale alas. It made me wonder if all her novels have the same set characters and aim to achieve the same moralistic, yet also rather fairytale like, ends. I shall have to read more to make up my mind.

If you haven’t guessed already I was quite smitten with ‘Persuasion’ and also with its author. I got a whole lot more than I bargained for and indeed had my misconceptions of Austen and her writing have been fully highlighted and I see the error of my assumptions. If all of her novels contain this level of observance, wonderful characters be they good or bad, illustration of the human condition (and amazingly people still behave like this, maybe why it resonates to this day), emotion, humour and wry commentary I could become a hardened fan.

I will definitely be reading much more of Jane Austen’s work in the future, so if you have any recommendations for the next port of call do let me know, in the meantime though I am really excited about reading the rest of the Classically Challenged titles (next is ‘The Warden’ by Anthony Trollope) with AJ, whose thoughts on ‘Persuasion’ will be live here in due course, over the next few months. For now though… what are your thoughts on ‘Persuasion’?

P.S I am so sorry this post is so lengthy, the book gave me so much to write about.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Classically Challenged, Jane Austen, Oxford University Press, Review

Why I Love Jane Austen (And Why Everyone Else Should Too) by Michelle Roberts

As tomorrow is the day that I unleash my thoughts at having finally read, from cover to cover, a full Jane Austen novel I thought it would be nice to have something from an aficionado on the subject. So today’s guest post is brought to you by my lovely friend Michelle Roberts who has been a fan of Jane Austen (Mills and Boons and ponies) since I have known her and beyond. And so here today, in a wonderfully witty way, she shares her love of Jane Austen and why we must simply all read her. I think any fans of Jane Austen will LOVE this post and if you are yet to be converted then this might just push you to reading her. Anyway, here it is…

Michelle, an Austen fan and no mistake…

I can remember when Simon first confessed his dirty secret several years ago. We were having a nice chat and a cuppa and he went and spoilt it all by dropping a J-bomb…and confessing that he simply DIDN’T LIKE JANE AUSTEN and had NEVER read any of her novels. NEVER EVER.

Obviously my first reaction was laughter at yet another of Simon’s funny jokes. Being a very popular book blogger and bibliophile I figured it had to be one – I mean, who doesn’t like Jane Austen?!!

Sadly ladies and gentlemen, it wasn’t a joke and our friendship was very nearly over when he casually reasserted this blasphemy by saying that he had “tried to read Pride and Prejudice once but it was the most boring first fifty pages I’ve ever read”.

Silence… Tumbleweed…

What is widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest lines in English literature was flippantly described as BORING. No remorse was shown. I tried to delve into Simon’s clearly addled brain and convert him but no, visiting her house didn’t do it, even a jolly trip to ‘Pemberley’ aka Lyme Park (complete with Pride and Prejudice soundtrack and our own distinctive and unique recreation of the classic moment of Darcy emerging from the bushes after a dip in the lake, a la the 1995 BBC series with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle – one of Simon’s only redeeming features is that he did love this show) couldn’t sufficiently excite Simon into actually reading anything.

A first attempt to make Simon read Jane, her house… he left with a purple Jane Austen shaped bookmark, shameful!

So anyway, lacking any knowledge of Austen, Simon asked me to write a little something about why I like Jane so much. I mean, I’m not sure why he asked me necessarily. I’m only a marginal fan really *coughs* having studied Jane at university; owning various Jane Austen related paraphernalia, all the novels, many books that are bizarrely inspired by Jane Austen but talk about lost sex scenes or zombies; owning many films (some of which aren’t adaptations but are remotely related to Jane Austen in some tenuous way or other) and owning the film soundtracks, Jane Austen calendars, tea towels, book marks and mugs…I’m pretty far from being a massive Jane Austen geek, I think you’ll agree. Ahem, let us move swiftly on shall we…

So, what is it I love about Jane Austen? Two words sum it up: Mr Darcy!! Blog complete. Only joking, I mean he’s a great moody hero but really it’s the sparky Elizabeth Bennet character in Pride and Prejudice – the epitome of heroine that steals the show. Actually, now I think about it, the frocks and settings are pretty cool…no, no I’ll go with the charming and witty writing. Hmmm, but what about the deliciously romantic plots where the good folk always prevail in the end? I’m finding it pretty tricky to pin this down… The reasons are endless.

A visit to Pemberly with Simon was no use, though we did make a very funny video he may share with you all one day.

I think the thing about Jane (and I don’t think she’d mind me being on first name terms with her?) is that reading her books is always a joyful indulgence (except maybe Mansfield Park – surely everyone agrees that one is a bit weird??). I always turn to Jane in times of need and comfort because I always find it an escape from the sometimes lurid, chaotic, or plain rubbish day to day life. It’s not always an easy journey to follow Jane’s characters (Captain Wentworth I’m talking about you!!) but that is why it’s very satisfying to reach the end; because it does feel like a journey you have made with the characters. It is so easy to get lost in it; even if I’ve put it down to go out, I forget that I’m not in the carriage going to Hartfield but I’m a Fiat Punto going to Hertford.

I think everyone should read Jane’s novels because in spite of them depicting a very narrow field of existence in a very different time from now and them pretty much forming the basis of every cheesy ‘Hollywood’ film-ending ever written, they all speak volumes about human nature and are still relevant in many ways. And surely it is never a waste of precious time away from catching up with Strictly when you get carried away on such a romantic journey written so amusingly and which you know will leave you with a fuzzy warm glow that hasn’t got anything to do with the bottle of ‘Pink Lady’ sparkling perry (or Lambrini, we don’t discriminate here) you tucked away absentmindedly whilst ploughing cover to cover.

So if you do one thing this weekend, go and get a copy of one of Jane’s masterpieces (wearing authentic Regency-style dress to do this is optional) and be prepared to lose several hours without realising it. Go on, pick one up!

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The Persuasion of Procrastination

Why do I always do this? Whenever I have a deadline to read a book I leave it until the last minute. This is where I am currently at with reading Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’ for Classically Challenged and yet we are meant to be having the discussion on the novel on Sunday (well, when we will be having as I am determined to have finished it by then), oops. I shouldn’t be surprised though as reading to deadlines is something I always, just about, manage to do and yet I repeat this offense for book group reading, library books that someone else puts on hold and more. Why though, and is it actually detrimental to the book in question?

With book groups I think the main reason I leave it until last minute is the fact that I want the book fresh in my mind. I want to make sure that I don’t suddenly forget a characters name, a vital plot point, the prose style etc. In reality I actually probably forget at least one of these of feel that everyone else has understood the book so much better than I did in the first place I should simply stay schtum and not say anything too stupid or obvious. Interestingly I think that if I read them in advance my initial love/indifference/hatred for the book would have time to dissipate and settle and actually I might feel differently from the thoughts I had at the start. There would also be less pressure and less of me reading the final few pages as fast as I can as the bus turns down the street to the book group venue.

In the case of ‘Persuasion’ there might actually be a bit more to it than simply wanting to have read it in time to remember it. Realistically I like to have read a book, made notes along the way, started a review just after I finish it and then give it a week or so to settle, go back and edit what I wrote and then post my book thoughts/review. I think however with ‘Persuasion’ I have been putting it off, I genuinely believe subconsciously at first, because I think I am just a bit scared/intimidated/cynical about it.

When I first got the book, along with the other Classically Challenged titles, I was really excited. ‘Look at all these canon novels I am going to read’ was rather deliciously running through my head. Then I picked it up and was greeted by this…

“Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed. This was the page at which the favourite volume always opened:

“ELLIOT OF KELLYNCH HALL.

“Walter Elliot, born March 1, 1760, married, July 15, 1784, Elizabeth, daughter of James Stevenson, Esq. of South Park, in the county of Gloucester, by which lady (who died 1800) he has issue Elizabeth, born June 1, 1785; Anne, born August 9, 1787; a still-born son, November 5, 1789; Mary, born November 20, 1791.”

Precisely such had the paragraph originally stood from the printer’s hands; but Sir Walter had improved it by adding, for the information of himself and his family, these words, after the date of Mary’s birth– “Married, December 16, 1810, Charles, son and heir of Charles Musgrove, Esq. of Uppercross, in the county of Somerset,” and by inserting most accurately the day of the month on which he had lost his wife.”

My initial thoughts were ‘oh dear, how boring is that’, followed by ‘ooh Jane Austen is as big a fan of the comma over the full stop as I am’, because it reads like an encyclopaedia entry and whilst I like to know random things the style is just a bit yawn-some. Sorry but it is true. And so, and I think this is because I actually want to like these authors and these books (I am not taking part in Classically Challenged so I can tear these authors apart laughing with delight that I knew I was right about them all along), I have put off reading it. When I went to Gran’s I ‘forgot’ to pack it, when I have had time to read I have somehow picked up something else, when I packed for Iceland alas Jane didn’t make it in my luggage. Now with days to go I am going to have to be very strict and simply sit and read it (though as you will have noticed I have now sat down and written this instead) and nothing else until it is done.

Before I go (more procrastination) though I wondered if you ever get nervous or intimidated when starting a book, and if so why do you and how do you deal with it. Austen lovers, and you recommended I start with this book, please tell me ‘Persuasion’ gets better? Oh and finally, do any of you find you leave reading a book you know you have to read by a certain date, until the last minute? Library books, challenges, book club books, whatever. Let me know.

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The Winners of ‘The Warden’

A quick post to announce the winners of the second giveaway of the second set of Classically Challenged titles which are ‘The Warden’ by Anthony Trollope. The three picked at random by The Beard from a hat who left comments on both my blog and AJ’s are…

Shukriyya
Chris of My Vermont Kitchen
Impossible Alice

Please drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with ‘The Warden’ in the title and your postal details in the subject and the books will be sent out from OUP headquarters as soon as they possibly can be. I believe that ‘Persuasion’ should be in the post now to the two winners who emailed me. KATY you won a copy of ‘Persuasion’ too so please email me your address or you might not be able to read it in time – says the man who still hasn’t started it yet! Moving on…

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Classically Challenged… Part II

So last week I told you of my plans with my friend AJ, of AJ Reads, to start challenging ourselves by reading some of the classic canon authors that are heralded by many as the greatest writers of all time, and yet are a selection of writers which neither of us has read. We chose Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens, Edith Wharton (who I had completely forgotten was American but we are going with it regardless), Thomas Hardy and George Eliot as six authors to focus on over six months but asked you to vote for which title by each author we should read. Well with the exception in the case of George Eliot, as we decided we needed to take on ‘Middlemarch’. Well you responded in your droves, and before I reveal which titles will be read and when, technically on your say so, I wanted to share some exciting news about the project…

The lovely people at Oxford University Press, after a natter with them, are rather thrillingly coming on board with the whole project. Who really could be better with all the Oxford World Classics they print (we have even been talking about doing a European version this time next year with Zola etc)? Now they aren’t sponsoring us or anything but they have kindly offered to help with some special posts and excitingly for all of you (and AJ and I as we have parcels on the way) give away copies of all the books that we will be reading over the next few weeks and months. Starting with a giveaway of the first read today, more on that in another post but that does link into what you voted for!

Both AJ and I were really thrilled with the amounts of votes on both our blogs and on GoodReads and the diversity of titles was quite interesting to see, some neither of us have heard of. Yet the figures have spoken for themselves and AJ has done some magic in making pie charts for each author and how the votes fell. I have made them small so that if you aren’t bothered on anything but the results you can scroll on, if you are more intrigued you should be able to click on them and make them bigger. Anyway, first up Jane Austen…

It seems this October we will be, on the last Sunday of the month as will become the routine, discussing ‘Persuasion’ which was a huge favourite with you all and surprised me as I was almost one hundred percent sure that it would be ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and might have to wade my way through the first fifty pages again. Seems not!

Next up in November will be ‘The Warden’ by Anthony Trollope, I was quite pleased at this because ‘Barchester Towers’ was initially doing really well but, as you may all know, I do like to start a series at the beginning and unlike some of the selections its relatively short.

December will be Dickens. Now here we have a slight problem and so the voting is remaining open, as ‘Bleak House’ and ‘Great Expectations’ are currently in a tie. So we need you all to vote for just one of them and say why. And if you do this in the comments of the post below you can win a copy of ‘Persuasion’ for persuading us, see what I did there?  There will be a second chance to vote again tomorrow with another giveaway.

In January we will be heading to ‘The House of Mirth’ with Edith Wharton which I am rather excited about. I have realised with both Dickens and this title I will get to see Gillian Anderson, who I love, in the adaptations I will watch after, no bad thing that.

February, we will be seeing the spring in with ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’. It was very nearly Thomas Hardy’s ‘Jude the Obscure’ which lots and lots of you said I would really like. Why? I have heard this is the most depressing book on earth, what are you all inferring? Ha!

Finally in March we will be reading the aptly titled ‘Middlemarch’ which by the length of it I won’t be starting in the middle of March but more likely at Christmas and reading it in parts, as it was serialised after all. Phew, that is the lot! If you are a little puzzled as to the chronological order, keep your eyes peeled on the new ‘Classically Challenged’ page on the blog which will be updated with a simpler schedule later.

In the meantime get voting for which Dickens novel we should read in the previous post (and/or on AJ’s post) from ‘Bleak House’ or ‘Great Expectations’ and you could win ‘Persuasion’ with your powers of, erm, persuasion. Also let us know if you might be joining in with any of them with us, we are hoping many of you will.

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Classically Challenged Giveaway #1; Persuasion by Jane Austen

So to get Classically Challenged off to a wonderful start officially Oxford University Press have kindly offered to give away three copies of ‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen on my blog and another three on AJ’s blog too. It is the first read of the series, so with only three and a half weeks to get it to you and let you have time to read it for the first Classically Challenged discussion on Sunday the 28th of October this initial giveaway is UK based only.

So what do you have to do to win one of these gorgeously covered copies of ‘Persuasion’? Well, now that you have asked, you need to do a little persuading for me and for AJ. You see ‘Bleak House’ and ‘Great Expectations’ are neck and neck with votes to be read in December and we would like you to simply recommend one of them in the comments below, and/or in the comments on AJ’s post, telling us why you loved it so much. If you haven’t read either yet then you can simply state which one you would most like to read out of the two. It is that simple.

You have until midnight GMT on Saturday night to enter the draw and the winners will be chosen at random out of a hat and announced on Monday when we announce which Dickensian delight we will be reading from your votes. Good luck and don’t forget to double your chances by visiting AJs blog too!

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Classically Challenged… Part I

Over the last few weeks and months you may have noticed I have really been thinking about my reading and blogging and just sussing where I am at. I have pondered if I am literary enough, what kind of reader I am and also last week discussing if I read enough worldwide literature. All big questions. Well, if you listen to this week’s episode of The Readers you will hear me talking to my friend, and now blogger, AJ who came on as a guest co-host and who like me has been pondering the same things. Like me he too has been slightly bothered that he hasn’t read many of the ‘canon’ authors like Dickens, Austen, and Hardy etc and so we have decided to rectify this together with ‘Classically Challenged’ and we need your help.

We have decided we are going to read six novels by six authors who are deemed some of the best British novelists (*subject to perceptions) but as yet we have both never read. This will take place on our blogs over the next six months on the last Sunday from October 2012 to March 2013. These authors will be Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens, Edith Wharton, Thomas Hardy, and George Eliot. We have both decided that we have to read Eliot’s ‘Middlemarch’, aptly in March, as it is deemed as one of the greatest British novels of all time. However we have not chosen a novel by each of the other four yet…

So, we would love you to suggest, in the comments below, one novel by each author which you loved/think would be the best way into their work. AJ will be collecting votes on his blog too, and we are asking on Goodreads. The novels which receive the most votes from all of you over the next week will be the ones we will read.

I can’t wait to hear your suggestions, and of course if you are planning on joining in. We will announce the schedule and six novels next week. So get voting; an Austen, a Dickens, a Hardy, a Trollope and a Wharton…

Note: I have learnt Wharton is American this was my bad research due to over excitement! We might have to swap her… or maybe not!

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As Good As Jane Eyre?

I have had the utter joy, amongst several children’s parties this weekend where I think I had as much fun as the children, in watching the latest film adaptation of ‘Jane Eyre’ which came out in cinemas last year. Adaptations are a tricky beast, in fact Gavin and I were discussing this on The Readers earlier in the week, and I have to say that I think that this latest version of Jane Eyre is utterly superb.

Director Cary Joji Fukunaga manages to perfectly capture the brooding atmosphere (it made me jump a lot), its dark mysterious aspects and secrets and the wonders of the Yorkshire countryside and also the gothic nature of it all. It does help that Michael Fassbender is a little bit brilliant as Mr Rochester and that Judi Dench is superb in it as Mrs Fairfax and most importantly Mia Wasikowska is a very understated, subtle and powerful Jane Eyre too. It might have missed a few set pieces I love from the book but no adaptation can ever be as perfect as the film version in your head can it. It actually made me want to re-read ‘Jane Eyre’ all over again.

I really do love the book so wasn’t expecting much from the film but I do recommend it, I could also do with some recommendations from you. As I mentioned it has made me ponder a re-read of ‘Jane Eyre’, however it is not long since I have read it and there are so many other classics I really should read (I bet a few of you have just muttered ‘Dickens’ or ‘Austen’ under your breath haven’t you?) and I would like to know which you would recommend for when the dark autumnal nights* draw in? They need to have a brooding atmosphere, some mystery and characters that will walk off the page and hold me through a good few hundred pages. I already have ‘Anna Karenina’ and ‘Villette’ as possibilities, do they fit the bill? What else would you recommend?

*I am not wishing the autumnal night upon us by the way, I just won’t be able to start on these until October/November when Green Carnation reading dies down.

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Why Does Literature Seem To Snub Genre?

I seem to have a backlog of random posts on my thoughts about the book world and reading at the moment. It seems I am having a phase where every book I read sparks a question about my reading habits or reading in general. I hope you all enjoy these posts because there is going to be quite an influx of them over the next few weeks. The first of these that I want to talk about came from my review of Penny Hancock’s ‘Tideline’ yesterday when I said it was ‘the sort of thriller that I want to put in the path of anyone who doesn’t deem thrillers as literature’ because this is something that seems to be a common misconception in the book world or in bookish circles. Why can’t a crime novel, and indeed any work that is deemed genre, also be deemed ‘literature’?

My initial line of thinking is the fact that on the whole crime novels are not particularly known for being flowery, you can’t really make a dead body picturesque can you – though you can make it haunting and atmospheric, yet flowery prose doesn’t mean that a book is literary either does it? Crime novels, and I am focusing on these as they are the genre I read the most outside what people deem ‘literary novels’, by their nature have to focus on plot and they have to have pace. This doesn’t have to come at the expense of good writing though as I find with authors like Kate Atkinson or Susan Hill the writing that they use in their ‘crime’ novels (atmospheric, observational, vivid) is the same as they use in the novels that would be put in the ‘fiction’ section and which are deemed to be much more literary because they lose the crime tag.

I have just recently given up on a very ‘literary’ novel because while the writing was stunning the book itself wasn’t going anywhere. The plot was there but it was fizzling out, it was dragging, and I was getting increasingly bored. So I gave up. That very rarely happens to me with a good thriller. With literary novels you often here the phrase ‘a multi layered novel’ have any of these people read the aforementioned Kate Atkinson (whose use of small coincidences to twist a tale is fantastic) or Sophie Hannah by any chance as both these authors created tales which are definitely multi layered, whilst being gripping reads with big stories at their heart, and I do think every reader loves a good ‘story’. Many people will say that genre fiction is train station or airport reading, but isn’t that in itself interesting that when people go away they want those sorts of books? Here we could go into the dangerous territory of ‘readability vs. literature’ so lets move swiftly on…

The other misconception I have often heard is that crime novels, or any genre novel actually, often feature one dimensional or rather stereotypical characters. I always find myself wanting to shout ‘what about Sherlock Holmes, people actually wrote to the man, they thought he was real’ to this, but I suppose that’s classic crime so doesn’t fit in with my discussion on modern crime now, though it was deemed literature in its day. If I was discussing chick-lit I would here use the Jane Austen argument and how at the time it was not deemed as ‘literature’ and look at how she is hailed now, Charles Dickens is another one, paid per word as a regular newspaper serialisation, now heralded as one of the greatest writers ever to have lived by many.

Let’s get back to the characters in modern crime though. I think we could find the ‘stereotypical’ characters in almost every novel we read, does ‘stereotypical’ therefore actually mean the true to life people who live next door or you might pass by on the street? What of one dimensional characters? I read few crime novels where this is the case, they wouldn’t work for me as a read if they were. Again there are a number of authors, including the above, where I could say this statement was untrue; Tess Gerritsen (I read the Rizzoli and Isles series because I want to know what they are up to, I like them, I feel I have gotten to know them over a series) and Val McDermid (Jacko Vance might be my favourite serial killer ever, if one can have one) for starters.

Val McDermid once said to me ‘it’s not the crime that’s the really important thing to me, it’s what crime or murder does to the people surrounding it that truly motivates me’. I have paraphrased there, sorry if you read this Val, but I think is one of the true signs of why crime can be counted as literature, it looks at how humans are conditioned to react, emote and deal in extreme circumstances. People say ‘oh but crime stories are so farfetched’ but they happen and often it’s the most bizarre crimes that have us sitting watching the news and saying ‘oh you couldn’t have made that up’ and ‘how would you deal with that, can you imagine?’ With a book you can from the safety of your sofa, just as you can being in a war torn country, having been bereaved, experiencing dictatorial leadership or simply being in a very dysfunctional family. All these things people are experiencing all over the world but just because it’s not happening to us or those we know doesn’t mean it is ‘farfetched’. Also thanks to crime in translation we learn about other cultures through the subject matter dealt with by the novels of the likes of Henning Mankell or Natsuo Kirino.

Of course there is some badly written and one dimensional drivel out there on the crime shelves, but the same applies to literature doesn’t it. We also all have different tastes. I have always found it interesting when I have reviewed an M.C. Beaton and then had emails saying people won’t read my blog any more as they thought I only read ‘proper’ books. What constitutes a ‘proper’ book I do not know, any ideas?

I am fully aware that I can fall prey to the same issues with other genres (aliens… like they exist) though I have just read a stunning werewolf novel (no, really) and indeed I have been umming and ahhhing about reading Jojo Moyes ‘Me Before You’ because I have heard rave reviews from people I trust and think the premise sounds interesting, but from just looking at it my mind says ‘chick-lit’ and I switch off, this has happened whenever I have been recommended Marian Keyes, which has happened a lot. Am I then adding to the literary snobbery myself, I hope not, and may now rush and get ‘Me Before You’ just to prove a point.

This might be one of those posts that often appear on Savidge Reads where I start with a question that has been buzzing around in my head, write about it and end up asking more questions than I can answer and coming out the other side without a conclusion. It is a subject that interests me and one I would love to have a good old natter with you all about, so your thoughts please…

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