Tag Archives: Junot Diaz

Other People’s Bookshelves #61 – Nikesh Shukla

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, for a special 60th post in the series, we are off to Bristol to join author Nikesh Shukla who has just left an array of gorgeous treats for us all to nibble on as we have a nosey through his shelves. I had the pleasure of taking part in Newcastle Writer’s Conference which involved lots of bookish chatter, laughter, beer, vogue-ing, book recommendations and almost karaoke. Let’s get to know him a little better before we start riffling shall we…

Nikesh Shukla is the author of Meatspace, Coconut Unlimited (which was shortlisted for a Costa Book Award), The Time Machine (which won best novella at the Saboteur Awards 2014, and Simon reviewed here) and Generation Vexed (a non-fiction book co-authored with Kieran Yates). He wrote the multi-award winning short film Two Dosas, a Channel 4 sitcom pilot called Kabadasses and has contributed to Buzzfeed, Guardian, Independent on Sunday, BBC Radio 4 and many more. He also sent a lambchop into space, which was nice. He talks about race, rap and comics a lot on Twitter. And is a new dad. Which supercedes all of this.

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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 keep everything I plan to read at some point. I’m getting to a point where my shelves contain more unread than read books, which is very different from how it was when I was growing up. I read everything on my shelves. And I kept everything on my shelves. Even stuff I didn’t like. I didn’t have much access to books as my local library was small didn’t stock what I wanted to read. I was obsessed with reading writers that looked like me (not white) so I had to buy everything. And I read it all. And quickly learned that much as I felt this compulsion to read writers I felt a cultural affinity for, they had more than one story. And it was ok to not like them all. I think that’s the problem with the attitude to writers of colour today – people still assume we only have one story to tell. Sorry, I’ve gone off topic. To bring it back, I junk books I’m not enjoying when I know I’m not feeling them, and I eject from books I like when I feel like I’ve got it. I hold on to the ones I like in case I need to revisit. The culled ones, twice a year, I take them to my work and host a free-for-all.

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?

They started off alphabetical – A-Z fiction, A-Z non-fiction, A-Z short stories and A-Z homeys (books by my friends) but I’ve just given up at this point. My TBRs are by my bed (growing perilously tall – if it’s suddenly announced that I died when the new Paul Murray book fell from a giant height and smashed my nose into my brain, don’t suspect foul play). We also now have children’s books, picture books and board books everywhere because we’ve read to our baby at a young age. We’ve put most of her favourites in a box in front of the television. I have an orange shelf to match the orange of my study walls. The paint colour is the same Pantone as the cover for Coconut Unlimited, which I love. I have a shelf of books that is my ‘study of orange’. I love the colour orange, it’s auspicious in my family’s cultural heritage and it makes me happy. I have a t-shirt with Hindi on it, which translates as ‘In the game of life and death, we’re all oranges’.

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

Oh god, wow, this just dredged up a memory. With money I borrowed off my dad, I bought Better Than Life by Grant Naylor. It was the second of the Red Dwarf books. We were in a rainy hotel on a weekend away in Portsmouth and I had seen a friend reading it at school, and was desperate to also read it, because I was obsessed with Red Dwarf. Mum was really pissed off I bought it because it was Red Dwarf and therefore silly. Not a proper book. It taught me a lot about comedy. I stayed up all night reading it in our tiny family bedroom, biting the sheet to avoid LOLing.

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 think so. I think I’ve charity shopped the ones I’d be really embarrassed about. For two weeks, in 2004, I read every Dan Brown book that was out. I’m sorry. I’ll never do it again.

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 copy of Junot Diaz’s This Is How You Lose Her is signed. It says ‘Finally we meet, young brother. Stay on course. We need you.’ A copy of a Zadie Smith book has her referencing an injoke we had about dubstep when I did a podcast with her. Two writers I respect and admire treating me like I could be an equal – it’s very inspiring. The most cherished book that doesn’t involve a namedrop is my tattered copy of a book called Bombay Talkie. It came out in like 1999 or 2000. I found it in my university bookshop. It’s the only book that Ameena Meer wrote. It is the book that set me on my course because it told a story I knew I had to counter with my own. It’s really special in my heart because reading it was my day dot of wanting to be a writer.

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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 mum read Mills and Boon books and my dad has only read an Aristotle Onassis biography. They’re not big readers. I tried to read Crime and Punishment when I was 11, because the pretentious narrator of a Paul Zindel had read it. I didn’t get 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?

Hell yeah!! Now I don’t collect records or box sets anymore because of streaming services, I collect books.

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

I just bought The Box, by Gunther Grass, because it’s my book club’s next book. It’s okay. I also used the dreaded *m*z*n to buy a book that doesn’t have a UK release date. It’s called Delicious Foods by James Hannaham. It’s incredible. I’m shocked no one in the UK is going to take a punt on it. I also preordered at my local Foyles the debut book by Katherine Woodfine. She’s one of my closest friends and that book is headed directly to the homey shelf.

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

Oh my god, yes! I sold my comic book collection in my mid-twenties so I could go travelling. I wish I hadn’t. Also I leant my brother-in-law my copy of the now-out-of-print The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead and I need it back thanks.

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

I bet he’s only read 40% of those. Which is a lie. It’s more like 47%.

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A huge thanks to Nikesh for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, here’s hoping I can get Ann Kingman to do it in the future too! 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 Nikesh’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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Filed under Nikesh Shukla, Other People's Bookshelves

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.

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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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Filed under 40 Before 40, Random Savidgeness

Three For Thirty… and a Possible Few For Forty

Thank you all so much for your comments and recommendations on my post about three books I should read before I am thirty and forty books before I am forty. It is exactly three weeks today that my thirties will start and so I have made a decision on the three books I will be reading in the final three weeks of my twenties. It was a tricky choice…

Well actually the first decision was a pretty easy one. I wanted one to be a non fiction novel regardless, and I have always liked letters and diaries and so ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank fitted the bill and is a book I have always meant to read. What has stopped me? In all honesty I have always been worried it might not affect me and what that would say about me. Is that bad?

Anyway that was my first choice. I decided I wanted one of the books to be rather chunky, and ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ by John Fowles ticks lots of boxes. Its set in my favourite period in history, the Victorian era, has a fallen woman at its heart and John Fowles is an author I have wanted to return to. Oh, and it has a gorgeous new cover which popped through the door the other day. Oh, and… the lovely Karen has chosen it for her Cornflower Book Group in April, so maybe a few of you could join in.

Last but not least (and I might not read them in this order anyway) thanks to Annabel of Gaskella who mentioned Beryl Bainbridge, yet another author I have ‘always meant to read’. Well on World Book Day I wanted to buy a book and not something new. ‘The Bottle Factory Outing’ is one I have heard great things about and sounds like a good way in so that is the third and final choice.

So what about the forty to read before I am forty. Well you mentioned some corkers (some I had read and loved but that means we are on a wavelength) and here is the list of the twenty four titles that have come in so far that could end up in the mix.

Maps for lost Lovers – Nadeem Aslam
Miss Hargreaves – Frank Baker
The Regeneration Trilogy – Pat Barker
2666 – Robert Bolano
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
Famous Last Words – Timothy Findley
Through a Glass, Darkly – Jostein Gaarder
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell
The Major of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy
Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
For Whom The Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer
Independent People – Halldor Laxness
Three Horses – Erri de Luca
Night Train to Lisbon – Pascal Mercier
A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
The Raj Quartet – Paul Scott
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
The Map of Love – Adhaf Soueif
The Life and Loves of a She-Devil – Fay Weldon
In Great Waters – Kit Whitfield

Isn’t it a great and rather diverse list? Would you second any of these? Are there any that I might be missing and should consider (there is still space for sixteen more, and I might change some), if you think so do let me know. What do you think of my three before thirty? Let me know if you fancy reading any of them too.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Belated Birthday Boys Birthday Books Blog

I wasnt going to blog today as have been on one of the shortest but most important deadlines of my writing career today and been literally sat at my computer pulling my hair out, fortunately it has all turned out very well the piece is loved by all. Enough of that though one thing I forgot to blog about (because I was busy being a birthday boy) was whether I got any books for my birthday on Tuesday the answer was yes… three!

Now I have to say that one of the ones I was secretly hoping for but didn’t get was The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie BUT I think until I have conquered Midnights Children I shouldnt be allowed to read it. Now please have in mind that I didn’t have a list of books that I wanted and the Non Reader doesnt really like books or reading when you see what was unwrapped…

What a great selection of books! I was really impressed. I asked how these were chosen and after I put the blurb of each one below I shall then put the Non Readers reasons. I was secretly quite, quite touched. So here we go…

The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
Blurb Says: Things have never been easy for Oscar. A ghetto nerd living with his Dominican family in New Jersey, he’s sweet but disastrously overweight. He dreams of becoming the next J.R.R. Tolkien and he keeps falling hopelessly in love. Poor Oscar may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fuku – the curse that has haunted his family for generations. With dazzling energy and insight Diaz immerses us in the tumultuous lives of Oscar; his runaway sister Lola; their beautiful mother Belicia; and in the family’s uproarious journey from the Dominican Republic to the US and back. Rendered with uncommon warmth and humour, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” is a literary triumph, that confirms Junot Diaz as one of the most exciting writers of our time.
Non Reader Says: It has won one of the biggest book prizes, and a prize you say is much more reliable than the Man Booker in terms of actual winner. It sounded a bit obscure whihc is very you, whist at the same time being modern. You have also picked this book up and ummmed and ahhhed about it every time we have been in the book stores in the last month.

Blackmoor – Edward Hogan
Blurb Says: Beth is an albino, half blind, and given to looking at the world out of the corner of her eye. Her neighbours in the Derbyshire town of Blackmoor have always thought she was ‘touched’, and when a series of bizarre happenings shake the very foundations of the village, they are confirmed in their opinion that Beth is an ill omen. The neighbours say that Beth eats dirt from the flowerbeds, and that smoke rises from her lawn. By the end of the year, she is dead. A decade later her son, Vincent, treated like a bad omen by his father George is living in a pleasant suburb miles from Blackmoor. There the bird-watching teenager stumbles towards the buried secrets of his mother’s life and death in the abandoned village. It’s the story of a community that fell apart, a young woman whose face didn’t fit, and a past that refuses to go away.
Non Reader Says: It’ set in your homelands of Derbyshire and a place that we both think is stunning and has a dark side. This book looks like it might be mysterious and spooky and I actually might want to read it after you.

The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco
Blurb Says: The year is 1327. Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate. When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns detective. He collects evidence, deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts, and digs into the eerie labyrinth of the abbey where extraordinary things are happening under the cover of night. A spectacular popular and critical success, “The Name of the Rose” is not only a narrative of a murder investigation but an astonishing chronicle of the Middle Ages.
Non Reader Says: You like murder mysteries and crimes and always saying that you can guess the outcome. You like history but don’t understand religion so I thought this might teach you something. It’s meant to be a ‘classic’. Plus you have been saying to yor Gran that you really want to read it quite a few times on the phone.

Has anyone helped the Non Reader without me knowing… most puzzling!

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Filed under Edward Hogan, Umberto Eco