Tag Archives: John Curran

Second Hand Book Binge

There is always something nice about going to small towns or villages and having a good old nosey through their second hand book or charity shops looking for a bargain or two. I have noticed that in the bigger cities you tend to get more of the modern or contemporary books whilst in the towns and villages there is a wider range of treats to be had. This seemed the case when I extended a trip to do some shopping for Gran, as she had guests so wasn’t just left on her own, and I managed to pop to see what I could find in Matlock. Alas I didn’t find any Persephone books, as I was secretly hoping, but I did come away with all of these…

Second Hand Book Binge

I do like to read true crime now and again, though actually not as much as I think I do in my own head, and ‘The Killing of Julia Wallace’ by John Gannon seemed like the ideal find. Apparently this was ‘Liverpool’s most enigmatic and brutal murder’ that has remained unsolved since it happened in 1931. Now living so near Liverpool, on the Wirral, I have seen this book in lots of the ‘local interest’ sections of bookshops and so I snapped it up (with that ‘ooh I have a bargain’ feeling) there and then.

I had never heard of Tadeusz Borowski or his book ‘This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen’ but when I saw this Penguin Twentieth Century Classic that was partly what made me buy it. This book is actually a selection of accounts from Borowski himself from his time in Auschwitz as well as other people who survived and indeed those who didn’t but he witnessed or learnt the stories of. I have a feeling it is going to be a rather difficult read but one that I think I should experience if you know what I mean.

On a much lighter note, well that said its meant to have some very dark parts, next up is Patrick Gale’s ‘The Cat Sanctuary’. I picked this up for three reasons, firstly I seem to have rediscovered my love for Gale’s books after a few years absence and so want to get them all, secondly it is a tale of siblings torn apart which I always find an oddly compelling premise and thirdly because I am slightly worried I may end up becoming a crazy old cat man or turn this house into a cat sanctuary with the rate I have gained felines this year.

The next three books were all bought for the same reason… I love the authors but didn’t have copies of these books. Actually not quite true, my mother lent me her copy of Muriel Spark’s ‘The Only Problem’ and will want it back at some point so I thought I would pre-empt that. Speaking of my mother this edition of Margaret Atwood’s ‘Lady Oracle’ makes me think of her as most of my mother’s Atwood editions are these, I think now, rather brilliant bold 80’s editions. I think I have ‘The Edible Woman’ in the same cover edition too. As for ‘The White Company’, well you can never have too many short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as far as I am concerned and I loved this old edition – makes me think of what the books history might be.

Now you may be wondering why I didn’t include Susan Hill in my favourite author sweeping statement above, after all she is one of them. Yet this collection of ‘Ghost Stories’ is just that; a collection of spooky tales as selected by Susan Hill. I have to say I had no idea this book even existed but was thrilled when I spotted it and so it simply had to leave the shop with me.

Though all these books, and in particular John Gannon’s and Susan Hill’s, thrilled me as I found them I think that ‘Agatha Christie’s Murder in the Making’ was the one that had me doing a secret little jig of joy when I spied it. I thought that John Curran’s previous book on the Queen of Crime ‘Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks’ was wonderful when I read it (I reviewed it almost two years to the day) and I always meant to get my hands on this latest when it came out last year. So seeing this (and this was the most expensive of my purchases) for just £2 really thrilled me. I was so excited to see it that I didn’t look at any of the other books on the shelves in the final shop as I just wanted to escape with this find. I probably looked quite shifty.

All in all, for a whopping £5.25 I don’t think I did too badly, do you? Have you read any of these and if so what did you think? What are your thoughts on second hand books? I recently shockingly discovered that Gavin doesn’t like them! Is he mad? What are the best bargains you have found? I don’t think anything beats my Persephone haul as yet.

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Filed under Book Spree, Random Savidgeness, Second Hand Book Binge

Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks – John Curran

A theme seems to be occurring when it comes to my reading habits. I always say that I am not the biggest fan of non fiction and then I read one each year and it completely takes my breath away (well almost) with its brilliance and soon becomes on of my favourites if not my favourite book of the year. This happened last year with ‘The Mitford’s: Letters Between Six Sisters’ by Charlotte Mosley, I utterly adored it couldn’t put it down and yet at the same time didn’t want it to end. This has happened again this year with ‘Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks’ by John Curran.

I heard about Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks on one of the many book podcasts that I download each week. These notebooks were a recent discovery when Christie’s family allowed Greenway, Christie’s holiday home, to be taken over by the National Trust. They had never been on display, they were a mix up of several plots, daily to do’s, shopping lists, character ideas, lists of books (made me love Agatha even more) she wanted and other thoughts with no chronological order. That is where John Curran, an Agatha expert and friend of Christie’s grandson, came in and this book is the results of four years work trying to decipher some of Christie’s handwriting “often like short hand” and working out what notes related to what books and when.

The discoveries are really very interesting. It seems that Curran’s (and probably most readers of her work) image of Agatha sat endlessly typing murder after murder, book after book with the killer planned at the start isn’t quite so. In fact as you get to read her notes, which John has painstakingly transcribed, you find she would often chop and change the killer as she went. The idea for a book might ruminate for years and start from a simple observation as ‘a stamp’ the notes then look at how such an everyday item could cause someone to commit murder. Who knew that a certain famous Poirot scene was originally meant for Miss Marple? Which books didn’t have the endings you and I might have read? Which short stories then with new characters and a subtle plot twist or motive change became a play or a novel? You can find all these things out and much, much more.

The book isn’t just John’s transcriptions, there are some wonderful pictures (as you can see above)  of the notes she had written with crossings out (which actually meant she had used the notes not that they were rubbish. This book isn’t just about her notebooks, though naturally they are predominantly the subject of the book. He also interweaves her personal life from making hair appointments to having her grandchildren to say and being part of ‘The Detection Club’ a group of the finest detective fiction writers with a secret initiation ceremony. Her disappearance isn’t much mentioned but this is more about the process behind the books and what went on in Agatha’s head.

I have to say I don’t think you have to be a huge Agatha fan in order to read this, though if you are this book is pure gold. If you are interested in how the minds of authors work and in particular one of the great British authors (who has sold over two billion copies of her books worldwide) ever then this is also fascinating. There are a couple of glitches in the book. One, which you can overcome, is that it does give a lot of the books endings away. My thoughts on that are just leave those books a while before you read or re-read them as she has so many ‘you could read one a month for seven years’. The other small glitch for me is Curran’s slight case of repetition; I think in the first hundred pages I had read the same quote three times which seemed to be hammering a point home a little too much. This is minor though as I found Curran a really interesting and enjoyable guide through these notebooks, he was never too clever or condescending just very enthusiastic which we all know is highly contagious.

Ooh, I must mention, well show you, the delightful end papers which are a selection of the notebooks and look gorgeous (my Gran could remember lots of them) I think…

This is a wonderful book that I adored, and I freely admit that I am quite a hard person to please with non fiction yet this won me over almost instantly. This is undoubtedly one of my favourite books of the year It has also made my previous desire to read all Agatha Christie that I can a much bigger desire. I am quite tempted to read The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding next week! Oh, which brings me to the point that this book has finally won me over to Poirot and not just because of the notes, but also the two previously unpublished short stories he features in. A must read in my humble opinion.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Books of 2009, Harper Collins, John Curran, Review

The Book Buying Ban… The Update (Part II)

Only earlier this week I mentioned that though it was in many ways painful and was taking some serious avoidance my month of no book buying hasn’t been quite as difficult as I thought it would. This is both thanks to ReadItSwapIt and the Library as I mentioned in the earlier post. I also said I had received some lovely parcels from some lovely publishers and would let you know what had arrived and so I thought as its a Saturday and book shopping is so tempting I would tease you with these delights that you could run out and buy; as none of you are doing anything as silly as a self imposed ban like I am hopefully!! First up some classics…

I have been making a concerted effort to read more classics and two publishers you cant go wrong with are Vintage Classics and Oxford University Press. When a rather large thud resounded through the building from the letterbox I came down and found ‘The Bronte Collection’ which includes Wuthering Heights, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Villette and Jane Eyre. I will admit I didnt love Wuthering Heights but after reading The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan which is all about the sisters earlier this year I think a Bronte-Binge is on the way and the season after New Year seems perfect for this don’t you think? Might be a good Xmas pressie for relatives this Christmas maybe. (Hang on did I just mention the C word before December starts – I should be ashammed!) They also sent The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever and a huge collection of his letters. I havent read any Cheever but am thrilled about these two delights. Oxford University Press kindly sent the last of the Sensation Season novels (don’t cry they may be back again next year) in the form of Charles Dickens ‘Great Expectations’ along with George Moore’s ‘Esther Waters’ which hit my attention waves on BBC Radio 4’s Open Book show when they looked at neglected classics. Be warned – the neglected classics are dangerous list of books which could lead to a huge spree.

From the people at Harper arrived a very diverse collection of books in one big parcel, the postman is not a fan of this address – his arms certainly aren’t, quite an eclectic mix indeed. Two of the books are from thier new imprint Blue Door ‘The Ballad of Trench Mouth Taggart’ (great title) by M Glenn Taylor and Mots d’Heures: Gousses, Rames by Luis d’Antin Van Rooten the latter can only be described by a post on their new blog. Sounds bizarre but will give it a go. They also sent me Snow Hill a thriller by Mark Sanderson, who has written a memoir so heartbreaking I have owned it for years and never able to read, Mark will be doing a Savidge Reads Grills very soon. Last but not least by any means as actually this is one of the books I have been most excited about in weeks (as you know I am having an Agatha Christie binge) is ‘Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks’ compiled by John Curran, I had to stop myself reading it as soon as it arrived. It’s a treat for a very lazy Sunday.

Now in a few weeks I will be doing a piece on the books to look forward to over the next year, you can see the predictions I made for this year here should you wish. Already some are coming through the letter box and Sceptre have done some very clever marketing with a collection of three books and three characters “you simply must meet in 2010”. They are called Nevis Gow, Lindiwe Bishop and Jack Rosenblum and I shall tell you more about them in the forthcoming weeks. I just love how they have packaged it all, no titles or authors on the cover, intriguing.  Books already out arrived too and they are The Sorrows of an American by Siri Hustvedt, which I think has a stunning cover, and Incendiary by Chris Cleave and you all know how I loved The Other Hand.

Another massive parcel has arrived from Orion. I have succumbed to the latest in the Twilight Saga and it seems more Vampire delights await me with the first two of Charlaine Harris’ series about Sookie Stackhouse (great name) which have become the incredibly successful True Blood tv series. I haven’t heard much on the blogosphere on these but am very much intrigued by them as have seen tonnes on the tube.  The final tome that you can see is one thats not out until June next year but I have been priviledged enough to be asjed to take a very early look at. ‘The Passage’ by Justin Cronin is massive, comes with very little, though intriguing blurb and has already had the film rites bought by Ridley Scott, more on that soon too as I think this is going to be huge (and not just in size) next year. And finally…

It’s always nice when a publisher emails you be they big or small. I have to admit I hadn’t heard too much about Honno Press when they emailed me asking if they could send me a catalogue. Honno Press is an independent publisher of Welsh Women’s fiction (so a bit like a welsh version of Persephone if you are a fan) and they have a wonderful selection of books, they also go the extra mile as they went through my blog and picked three books they thought I would love. A welsh sensation novel ‘A Burglary’ by Amy Dillwyn, a book where “each generation looks back into the tragic past, loves, secrets and lies are hauled into the open with surprising consequences for all” in ‘Hector’s Talent for Miracles’ by Kitty Harri and finally a collection of witty, wry and sharply observed stories about women with ‘Stranger Within The Gates’ by Bertha Thomas. Sounds like they have got me spot on!!!

Blimey. Now over to you… are Bronte’s and other classics the perfect pressies for Christmas and reading as Spring… erm… springs up? Who has read the Charlaine Harris books, are they like Twilight? Who has tried Honno Press and what did you think?  What will you be curling up with this weekend? What books have you accumulated of late?

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