Tag Archives: John Irving

Other People’s Bookshelves #77 – Liliane Ruyters

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the perfectly natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are in Utrecht, which is very exciting to join Liliane Ruyters and have a nosey through her bookshelves. There is, as always with these lovely folks, quite the spread on so let’s all grab a cuppa/glass of something and a nibble of something before settling down to get to know Liliane and her bookshelves better.

My name is Liliane, some people may know me from my blog BooksandLiliane. In it I write about the books I read, I also include pictures I take based on some of those novels. I studied English Literature at the University of Utrecht (I am Dutch by the way) and eventually ended up being a manager at a shared service centre. We provide the area of Dordrecht with advice on how to communicate properly with the people living there. A demanding job that, since I live in Utrecht myself, also comes with a total of 8 hours in commuting. These 8 hours I use to read the books I write about. Though my formal education and my current job do not follow logically I find it suits me well. I love reading, I love writing about books, I also love thinking about how to improve communications and help my team doing so. I’ve got the best of both worlds.

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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?

In the pre-ereader days I banished those books I did not really like to the bookshelves in my guest room. The one in my living room contains mostly favourites; the one in my bedroom mostly childhood books and romantic novels. I used not to throw away books. When confronted with bookshelves that were filled to the brim I did bring books to the second hand bookshop.

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?

I never even tried to organize my books alphabetically or on author. I was too aware of the fact that this would mean constantly changing the order of books on my shelves. My living room bookshelves go up to 3 meters, I need stairs to change anything. I did try to arrange books by origin: British, North-American, Down Under, African or Asian. When those shelves started filling up I ended putting books wherever there was room. With one exception: I once wrote my endpaper on modern versions of the Arthurian Matter. 4 Meters in my shelves are reserved for Arthurian novels. I am prepared to move other books to keep these together.

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

The first book I ever bought was The Once and Future King by T.H. White. It definitely has a place amongst the other Arthurian novels.  It has been used for my studies and the pages are filled with underlining and comments, it has become so fragile I just leave it where it is.

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. I am prepared to defend the funny and romantic novels by the likes of Marian Keyes and Kathy Fforde. I love them and they have a special place in my bedroom bookcase. I find that I very often do not need to defend them, they are the pleasure of a lot of readers.

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 would try and save my cat first, two books next: The Once and Future King and The World According to Garp. The first because it helped me in my decision to study English literature and made me an Arthurian matter addict. The second because I bought it on a whim for its cover. I started reading it after I just finished reading Middlemarch (which I really did not like at all, sorry!) and kept on reading until I finished it. I loved the way Irving advocated a prejudice free world by incorporating many not exactly everyday characters. It being signed by Irving himself makes my copy even more special.

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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 mother being keen on classics, I suppose that I took Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre out of her shelves first. I bought them when I started studying and they also are still on my shelves. I would not dream of removing them.

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 used to buy the books I wanted. Reading a lot of books on my e-reader has made me less attached to their physical form. Nowadays I buy e-books (I find that I am too lazy to search for free copies and do feel that the author deserves his or her money) or borrow them at the library.

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

The last book I added to my bookshelves was The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, to be placed on the Arthurian shelves naturally. The last one I bought was My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (I am trying to read the entire Bailey’s Prize shortlist).

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

No, if I want the book I’ll get it.

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

Someone perusing my shelves will definitely notice that the majority of my books is written in English. A minority is in Spanish or Dutch. Though most of my friends tend to read a lot, neither of them have the amount of books I have. People visiting my house for the first time usually comment on the number of books first, on the fact that most novels are literary next. In my blog I restrict myself to those novels that are considered literary, my bookshelves are a reflection of this policy. I do read the occasional detective or romance (the latest Galbraith has been kept waiting for the Whitsunday weekend), I find that I get a lot of joy reading novels that challenge or tempt me. Fortunately a lot of those are still being written.

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Huge thanks to Liliane 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 Liliane’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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The Tournament of Books 2016

For the last few years I have heard the lovely Ann and Michael, of Books on the Nightstand, mention a mysterious thing called The Tournament of Books. Before many of you laugh or look at the screen and say ‘pah!’, we can’t know everything about books and this is something that happens in the states rather than over here, though admittedly thanks to the internet the world is a much smaller place. It happens every March and it is roughly around the end I finally remember to investigate by which time I have missed out on lots of the fun. Thankfully this year Frances from NonSuchBook reminded me on Twitter and so I have decided to try and read along as it sounds a) like it will introduce me to some new reads b) push some reads up my TBR c) be fun in the realm of the Guardian’s Not the Booker, so I am in.

If you haven’t followed the ToB before, here’s the summary: Starting in early March and proceeding each weekday, one of our judges—the full list is below—will read two books, choose one to advance, and explain how they reached their decision. The criteria is entirely personal; we merely ask for no basketball metaphors, and that the judge render their decision-making process in full transparency, and also tell you any connections they might have to the authors and/or books involved. Then our commentators, Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner, weigh in, followed by the wonderful community of readers that turn the comments section into one of the smarter, more interesting discussions of contemporary fiction that we know about. There. Simple-ish.

I think really the best way to go about it is to get reading (thankfully I have already read the longest one, can you guess which one it is?) and he is the list of books that have formed the Tournament of Books 2016 shortlist…

  • The New World by Chris Adrian and Eli Horowitz
  • The Sellout by Paul Beatty
  • Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson
  • The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
  • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
  • Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
  • Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving
  • Ban en Banlieue by Bhanu Kapil
  • The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli
  • The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • The Whites by Richard Price
  • Oreo by Fran Ross
  • The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard
  • A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
  • The Invaders by Karolina Waclawiak
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

You can find out about each title here. Shock horror, I have only read one of these books (which I have added a link to) but I do own a few (which I have popped in italics) of them. Also having perused the list in full there are lots and lots of book there that I want to read both that I have heard of and some which I had no clue about but might have ordered copies of to come from the US of A – hey I am thinking of reads for my holiday in a few weeks, and as I cannot locate any of my own books what else was I to do? So which are these books, funny you should ask I thought I would share my thoughts.

Anne Tyler and Chris Adrian I have read before and loved, I had no idea the Adrian was already out in the UK so that pleased me. Kent Haruf I have meant to read since forever. When I was in America last year I very nearly bought both Oreo by Fran Ross and The Turner House by Angela Flournoy as they sounds like books I wanted, in fact it was Flournoy’s setting of Detroit after visiting it which I was fascinated by. The Whites had a rave review from Jason Steiger on my favourite book TV show, The ABC Book Club, so it’s been on my periphery. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathiser made it onto my list of books of the first six months of 2016 (you can hear me talk about it and 12 others on The Readers here, a post of a full massive list will go live on the blog on Tuesday) so I will by that when it comes out next month. Then there are the unknowns of which Ban en Banlieue has me at hello, so much so I ordered it from the publisher. Erm, in hindsight I have pretty much mentioned the entire list so no wonder it has got my bookish bits excited. Mind you the longlist also had me very tempted too. Ha!

So which to read first? Anyone else joining in with this, done it before or are completely new to it like me? Have you read any of the books and what did you make of them?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #71 – SE Craythorne

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 off to lovely Norfolk to meet author and bookseller Sally Craythorne, or SE Craythorne as she is otherwise known. So let’s grab a nice cuppa and some of those lovely biscuits that Sally’s put out for us and get to know a little more about her.

I live in Norfolk with my husband and my twin girls.  We have a small-holding, with goats, two rescue donkeys, and a field full of rabbits that eat our carefully grown vegetables.  We also have a dog, called Daisy, a mutt of such mixed breeding that people actually stop us in the street to ask ‘what is that?’  She’s gorgeous. I work as a bookseller at The Book Hive in Norwich.  My debut novel, How You See Me, was published by Myriad Editions on 20th August, and I’m working on my second.

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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?

I buy books all the time, but mostly don’t read them straight away.  I’d be a terrible reviewer.  It often takes me years to get round to something, even if everyone has told me it’s brilliant – or because everyone has told me it’s brilliant.  I think that timing is paramount when it comes to enjoying a book.  I don’t keep a diary, because so many of my memories are wrapped up in what I was reading at the time.  When my grandfather was dying I read Under the Net by Iris Murdoch; travelling through Africa on a particularly terrifying bus will always be remembered for trying to read Women in Love.  My read books are my diary, in a way.  So I keep them. That said, if I think a book’s terrible, it goes.  And if I’m having a particularly horrid time, I often blame the book I’m reading, and abandon it in favour of something that I hope will change my mood.

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?

Chaos reigns on most of my bookshelves, but occasionally I throw a small fit and try and introduce some order.  Crime – only polite murders, none of your gruesome – lives downstairs in the living room, and poetry – for unknown reasons – is heaped up in the bathroom.  It’s heaped because I panic about the covers curling, but I like looking at their spines, and sometimes their contents, when I’m in the bath. Everything else is everywhere else.  It’s mostly fiction, but it’s not in any order.  I find the book I’m after through a kind of divining process, without the rod.  It rarely works for locating what I have in mind, but usually turns up a book I want to read. When we moved out to the wilds and decided to have babies, I was forced to into a book cull.  My husband had the idea that we should be able to move through the rooms without negotiating piles of novels.  Years working as a bookseller meant that I’d collected a lot I was never actually going to read, no matter what the timing.  And books that had been tried more than once and never completed went too.  It was rather a relief.

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

Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea (this is one of Simon’s childhood favourites).  I bought it at Diss Publishing Bookshop when I was eight.  It was my own choice and paid for with my own money.  It’s a quest story with beautifully drawn characters set in Ireland against a background of Irish mythology.  It’s probably the book I have read and re-read most often.  The book I turn to in times of trauma.  The reading equivalent of sucking your thumb.  I love it. My original copy was lost, but it does turn up second-hand and I always buy it.  I only buy the same edition I had as a child, with the epic 80s illustrative cover, which was what first attracted me to it.  This was the book that made me a reader.  It also made me want to be Irish, but I’m mostly over that now.  Mostly.

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 don’t believe in guilt for my pleasures.  I’m quite happy for Marian Keyes to sit alongside Sartre and Freud, I think they all get along famously.  If a book really irritates me, I have a habit of throwing it across the room, so there is a small pile of books with battered spines residing by the wall.  But they should be ashamed of themselves!

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

It’s a small paperback poetry collection called Love Songs of Asia, translated by Edward Powys Mathers.  Its spine is broken and it was long ago fixed with tape, now yellowing with age.  It was given to me by the poet – and my greatest friend – Oliver Bernard.  He carried it around with him for over sixty years and read me many of the poems from it whilst we sat in his living room, smoking and drinking blackberry tea.  Oliver gave me his copy when I presented him with a fine edition I found second-hand, and inscribed it to me. Oliver died two years ago.  That small volume and the memory of his voice reading, in particular, ‘Ghazal of Iza Akhun Zada’, are amongst my greatest treasures.

AppleMark

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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?

I’ve always envied those who can claim a precocious childhood of reading the classics.  I was the most age-appropriate of readers, until I reached adulthood and realised I could read whatever I liked.  The ‘grown-up’ books looked terribly boring to me.  I do remember my despair that one day I would too have to grow up and read books without pictures. I do remember resolving to read War and Peace when very small.  My mum read it twice during each of her pregnancies, or so she told us.  I have multiple editions on my shelves, the full range of translations, in soft and hardback, I’ve bought it new and secondhand.  It’s my husband’s favourite book.  I’ve never read it.

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 use the library regularly now, in the vain effort to keep down the quantities of books that I buy.  But, if I love a book I have to own it.  And I get rather irritated when I go looking for something I know I’ve read, only to remember it was a library loan. I am not a gentle reader – I’m a page folder and spine breaker – so I rarely borrow books from friends.  At least, not more than once.  But I do press books onto people to borrow and read, whilst repeating the mantra that my friend taught me: ‘never loan a book you don’t expect to be dropped in the bath, or covered in coffee’.  (Once a friend of my mother’s borrowed a John Irving signed first edition from me and gave it back with the casual aside that her daughter’s puppy had been visiting.  When I opened the cover, half the pages had been chewed out). I buy them again if they are amongst my beloveds.

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

Can I have two?  I bought two.  I’m having two. One: Letters to Anyone and Everyone by Toon Tellegen.  Now I have children, I’m allowed to buy more children’s books.  Yes, they are only babies, but they will grow!  This is an eccentric masterpiece of epistolary fiction.  And it’s very funny.  And it has one letter that goes:

            Dear Ant,

            Ant

            Ant

            Ant

            Ant

for a whole page.  I bought his book of stunning poetry about his father, Raptors, a couple of years ago when it was part of Writers Centre Norwich’s ‘Brave New Reads’ scheme and am now desperately trying to track down everything he ever wrote. Two: All Trivia by Logan Pearsall Smith. This was a second-hand find, and one I’d been after for a while.  It’s a book of aphorisms (or what he terms ‘moral prose’) and it’s just beautiful.  Everyone should have a copy. I told you I’d be a terrible reviewer.

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

After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry.  It’s the strange and compulsive tale of a man that, to his own astonishment, lies his way into a household and becomes embroiled in the lives of all that reside there. I keep buying it and then giving it to people, and – quite rightly, it is that good – they never give it back.  I’ve bought it more than five times, and I intend to buy it again.

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

This woman reads too many novels. They’d be right.  My general knowledge is completely founded on the reading of fiction.  I buy non-fiction, but more often than not, trail off after a story from the shelves before I’ve reached the halfway point.  It’s an illness, and it means I’m highly unreliable when it comes to facts.

AppleMark

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A huge thanks to Sally 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 Sally’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.

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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?

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.

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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.

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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 Authors We Should Have Read…

We have recently learned the sad news that author Doris Lessing has passed away. Whilst all the outpourings of love for her and praise for her work was going around the internet and social media I stayed rather quiet. You see I was rather embarrassed to admit that I had not read anything by the powerhouse that Lessing was. We all know, if we are being really honest with ourselves, that we are simply not going to read all the books in our lifetimes that we would like to. Sorry if any of you are in denial about this, but it is true, there is highly likely to be ‘just one more book’ or ‘just thirty five more books’ that you would like to read. The same is true for authors.

I have lost count of the times I have heard someone mention a marvellous book, and I am not just talking powerhouses in the literary world as it happens with debuts too, or declared their love of a certain authors writing and so I make a note to self that ‘I really must read x author’. Invariably I haven’t, and it irks me. I have been thinking it and these are the top five authors that I feel I really should have read and haven’t…

  • Maya Angelou
  • Elizabeth Bowen
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • John Irving
  • Rose Tremain

I am sure some of you might be reaching for the smelling salts and saying ‘out of all the authors in the world, those five’ but don’t forget that this list changes daily (because I am a bit fickle and whim prone) but also these are authors that I have read nothing by, not even a short story, nothing. Zilch. Authors I have read a book, or a few books, of and really must return to at some point is a whole other can of worms I don’t want to open right now, it may also really depress me.

You may have noticed that Doris Lessing isn’t on that list (no I am not being fickle again) and this is because I am rectifying that. After the sad news I was having a chat with the lovely Nathan Dunbar, all the way over the ocean, and we have decided to do #DorisInDecember and read The Grass is Singing over the coming weeks before talking about it on twitter on Sunday the 15th of December on Twitter using that hashtag (I know, it’s terribly modern, I will be popping a review on here too for discussion if you aren’t a tweeter) I have a lovely old small paperback of it I need to hunt down. We would love it if you would join in.

Back to the subject in hand though and those authors you should have read… Do you have a list of authors that you are rather surprised at yourself for still have not yet read even though you have been meaning to? Would you share who any of those authors are? What does it take to suddenly make you decide to give them a whirl? Or do you not pressurise yourself, consciously or not, with a list of authors you should have read? Divulge!

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40 Books Before I’m 40 (Redux)…

So today is my birthday and I have turned the ripe old age of thirty one, which means I officially can no longer pretend I am in my ‘very late’ twenties, rather like at New Year I use my birthday to put the last year into perspective and focus myself for what I want in the year ahead. As it was the big 3-0 last year I pondered looking a decade forward and choosing forty books to read before I was forty. I promptly then went off the idea and popped it on the back burner for another time.

Well that time has arrived. I have spent the last few days whittling over books that I feel it would be good to give myself, albeit rather loosely, a nudge in the direction of reading. Some of the books were ones, like ‘Middlemarch’ which will get a special mention shortly, which I have been simply meaning to read, other more modern books I have been intrigued about. I was also greatly helped with my new edition of ‘1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die’ (not that I am suggesting this will be on my 40th heaven forbid) which I have spent long periods mulling over.

1001 40

The rules, for there must always be some guidelines or things just get silly (see I even sound older), were simply that the books must be published by an author that I hadn’t tried before – thought I better throw that in there before I get some emails/comments telling me I have missed some absolute gems. Simple as that! And here is the list…

  1. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
  2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
  3. Before Night Falls – Reinaldo Arenas
  4. Nightwood – Djuna Barnes
  5. The Heat of the Day – Elizabeth Bowen
  6. Wild Swans – Jung Chang
  7. Claudine’s House – Colette
  8. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
  9. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
  10. Middlemarch – George Eliot
  11. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
  12. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
  13. The Well of Loneliness – Radclyffe Hall
  14. Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
  15. For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
  16. Smilla’s Sense of Snow – Peter Hoeg
  17. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  18. A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
  19. Schindler’s Ark – Thomas Keneally
  20. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
  21. Independent People – Halldor Laxness
  22. Lost Language of Cranes – David Leavitt
  23. The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing
  24. Embers – Sandor Marai
  25. Fugitive Pieces – Anne Micheals
  26. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
  27. The Country Girls – Edna O’Brien
  28. Quartet in Autumn – Barbara Pym
  29. The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radcliffe
  30. All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
  31. Pamela – Samuel Richardson
  32.  Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
  33. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
  34. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
  35. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
  36. Restoration – Rose Tremain
  37. Myra Breckinridge – Gore Vidal
  38. The Colour Purple – Alice Walker
  39. Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham
  40. Therese Raquin – Emile Zola

So there they are! I have also made sure I miss some famous classics (‘The Leopard’, ‘The Iliad’, etc) and some lesser known ones (‘The Odd Women’, ‘A Crime in the Neighbourhood’) but those are on my periphery too plus I also need to have some for when I do my fifty before fifty don’t I?

Now you may have noticed that there is one book which breaks the trend slightly and that is ‘Middlemarch’. Which leads me to a little announcement, and I hope those of you joining in with Classically Challenged won’t be cross, as I have decided to postpone writing about it on the last Sunday of March and am moving it to the end of June. I know, I know, June is ages away. However after some thought, and having only got eight chapters in so far, I decided I don’t want to rush this read (and I am enjoying it so far) because of a deadline and with a fairly long trip to London next week, plus a literary festival to prepare and read for, oh and those solo podcasts too… you get the picture. I simply want to enjoy ‘Middlemarch’.

So what do you make of the list? Which have you read and which have you been meaning to? Let me know and I promise I will be back next week, well tomorrow, catching up on all the comments that I have been meaning to for ages. In the meantime there are things to unwrap, candles to blow out, cake to eat and some serious applying of anti-aging cream to be done!

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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.

Fiction Hallway 2

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

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

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

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

Holmes and Christie double-stacked

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

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

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

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

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

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

Booze and books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hallway 1

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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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