Tag Archives: Karen Joy Fowler

Other People’s Bookshelves #80 – Mary Doria Russell

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week is a very special week as we are joined by Mary Doria Russell who you will all probably know as the writer of the cult novel The Sparrow. I had the pleasure of reading The Sparrow for part of a special panel at Books On The Nightstand (I miss it so) Booktopia in Petoskey last year (which I also miss terribly) where myself and Thomas (of the Readers) joined Ann and Michael to talk about all our favourite books Ann’s being The Sparrow. You can here that conversation here. Anyway this week we are joining Mary, who I owe a small apology as she sent me this last year but I wanted her to have a special post, like this 80th, but the volunteers trickled so it has taken some time. Better late than never huh? So let us all join Mary and have a chat with her about the books she loves, has read and then have a nose through her shelves…

I grew up near Chicago. Dad: ex-Marine, Mom: ex-Navy nurse. Me: a shocking vocabulary. Didn’t know it was bad language until Kindergarten. BA in cultural anthro, MA in social anthro, Ph.D. In biological anthro; post-doc in craniofacial biomechanics, all of which prepared me for high-class unemployment in the mid-1980s. Fortunately, I’d married Don Russell in 1970. His income as a software engineer allowed me to stay home, raise our kid, and write stories about Jesuits in Space, all while living under a roof and eating regularly. Full-time novelist since 1991: The Sparrow, Children of God, A Thread of Grace, Dreamers of the Day, Doc, and Epitaph.

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’ve become pretty ruthless about culling. Each of my novels has required an extensive library of research material, but not all the background books actually contribute anything memorable to their novel. I keep the ones that provided something factual that a reader might inquire about. The others get donated or sold.

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 don’t color-code books – I arrange them categorically – but I do pay a lot of attention to the aesthetics of the bookcases: mixing in photos, art, vases, small mementos, etc. I’ll fuss for hours to make things look pretty on the shelves, but the initial organization is rational. The research libraries for published novels go into bookcases in a guestroom; the sheer mass of books makes that room feel hushed and comforting. They’re grouped by the novel they contributed to.

guest_room

The working library is in my office. Those are books that have a direct bearing on the novel in progress.

working_library

The office also has a sort of trophy bookcase that holds all my published work, including translations, audio books, etc. When I despair of making the current story work, I gaze at the earlier books and think, “Don’t panic. You’ve done this before.”

published_books

We recently commissioned new cabinetry to flank my husband’s ginromous TV with shelves for books that have a personal significance for me: those by authors who are friends of mine; books I’ve blurbed or reviewed in the Washington Post; inscribed copies of books sent to me by their authors.

new_bookcase

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

There were the usual children’s stories – I was partial to tales about horses. None of those remain. The first significant book I bought for myself was acquired with my babysitting money in 1963: a used copy of T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom. That is now surrounded by a collection of TEL biographies that became part of the research library for Dreamers of the Day, in which Lawrence is a character along with Winston Churchill and Gertrude Bell.

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?

Nope! Not ashamed of anything I read!

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 don’t have any precious books. I’d grab our elderly dachshund and run! If we had time to evacuate before a natural disaster (not that there are many of those in Ohio), I’d fill the car with artwork that can’t be replaced. Books are more like tools to me: I am more pragmatic than sentimental about them.

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 is it on your shelves now?

I read Mom’s copy of Gone with the Wind when I was a young teenager. And I did reread that while writing Doc, which is about the frontier gambler Doc Holliday. He and Margaret Mitchell were cousins and many of the episodes in GWTW are echoes of his childhood in Georgia. GWTW is a really brave book – Mitchell was willing to hang the whole novel on a thoroughly dislikeable central character and didn’t redeem Scarlett O’Hara or make her more likeable 833 pages later. [I just went to the Doc library in the guestroom to check on the page count!] There’s a lot I admire in the book, though it’s not fashionable today.

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 mostly borrow recreational reading from the public library. I buy books for the working library – a tax-deductible expense!

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

Rachel Holmes’ biography of Karl Marx’s daughter: Rachel Marx. My next novel is about the early days of the American labor movement, so I’m boning up on Marx; his daughter is WAY more interesting than Das Kapital.

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

YES! I want Karen Joy Fowler’s next book! Karen is a friend and she has been talking about doing a novel about Edwin Booth, the brother of Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth. I nagged her for years to finish what she called “my chimp book,” and I was right about that one! We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves was short-listed for the Booker Prize and won the Pen/Faulkner Award.So this interview is just one more way to nag her to write the Booth book!

living_room

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

“My God, is there anything this woman isn’t interested in?!” Mathematics. Not mathematics. But pretty much everything else.

*********************************************************************

And a huge thanks to Mary for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, apologies again for the delay but it was so worth the wait. 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, I am catching up with all the latest volunteers. In the meantime… what do you think of Mary’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

1 Comment

Filed under Mary Doria Russell, Other People's Bookshelves

#LockedInABookshop – The Books I Would Read if I Found Myself in the Position of the #WaterstonesOne

Most of you will have undoubtedly heard about the luck misfortune of David Willis who suffered the amazing awful ordeal of being accidentally locked into the Trafalgar Square store of Waterstones for a few hours before, having tweeted, he was rescued. The most amazing thing I found about this story was that he actually told anyone that he was stuck in there, I wouldn’t have. If you haven’t been to the Trafalgar Square branch of Waterstones it is one of my favourites, floors and floors of books, loads of stationery, comfy armchairs and a wonderful cafe and restaurant. It would be a dream to spend a night, let alone two hours, stuck in there. We have all surely had that thought of hiding somewhere in a bookshop and waiting to be locked in haven’t we? I would have had a good old wander through the store and picked up some books to read, made a cocktail or two at the bar and headed for a comfy sofa for the evening. I certainly wouldn’t do this…

Waterstones have themselves blogged amusingly about the types of books they would recommend if you were stuck in there for two hours. Kate of Adventures with Words, has gone for a list of five books that she would recommend if you were stuck in there the whole night, or maybe with her list if you were stuck in there for a few days – maybe over Christmas, if you really want to avoid the family (light bulb goes on in head). I thought I would be a bit different and so have come up with the top five books I might read if I was lucky enough to have the wonderful ordeal myself…

Finish the book I am currently reading…

I know this might sound really boring but before I could even consider reading anything else I would have to finish the current book I was reading. I am a real stickler for being monogamous with books, unless you are reading something really, really long (be it fiction or not) and have something very different to read between. At the moment that would mean finishing off Sacred Country (my hands automatically always type scared, what does that say about me?) by Rose Tremain which I mentioned I was reading yesterday. I am really enjoying this thought provoking novel of a young girl who aged 6 decides she wants to be a boy, so that would stand me in good stead for a while. So that would be my first port of call, the T section for Tremain. Oh and don’t even question if it would be in stock, Waterstones Trafalgar Square has almost every book in the world in it.

Go and grab that book by a favourite author I have been saving for a rainy day/saving for being locked in a bookshop…

We all do it, don’t we? We buy books by our very favourite authors that we leave languishing on a shelf because we know that there will at some point be that just right rainy day, or night locked in a bookshop, when we will turn to that book because we know it will be brilliant. I have a few contenders for that title; Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier, Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, I’m the King of the Castle by Susan Hill, and Music for Chameleon’s by Truman Capote, Enduring Love by Ian McEwan. That’s a list of five books in its own right so for the sake of this exercise I will pick just one… Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood would be my choice today.

The book that everyone else seems to be going on about and I haven’t read yet…

This would easily be We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves  by Karen Joy Fowler. I wanted to read it when it came out. Then I heard the spoiler twist, which I won’t spoil, and still really wanted to read it. Then almost everyone seemed to be reading it. Then it was long and shortlisted for the Man Booker and the whole world seems to have read it but me, even my aunty text me this very morning asking if I knew the ‘yellow and black book with ourselves in the title’. Not everyone loves it, my dear friend Tracy Trim – as I like to call her – is struggling at the mo, and some people downright hate it. I still feel it is a book I need to read, so I would get that from the entrance hall where it’s bound to be on several tables.

A book completely at random…

As I am in a bookstore and have potentially read a book or two and a half by now, I would probably need a longer wander than just to the bar or the loos to stretch my legs. So I would go and just have a wander and see what randomly took my fancy. Quite probably something short and in translation!

That big bloody classic I have always meant to read…

Yes I am talking about that masterpiece that everyone else has read, probably twice, and I just haven’t. For some people it is Moby Dick (it’s boat based, I will never read this book, I am at one with that fact), for some it is War and Peace (which my mother waited until she was on maternity leave, awaiting the arrival my sister, to crack) for some it is Crime and Punishment or one of the other Russian greats. For me it is Gone With The Wind. I took it away with me to the US and came back with having made a small, rather pathetic, 150 page dent in it. The bookmark is still stuck in page 150. I need to be stranded somewhere to read it from cover to cover properly because while I was enjoying it, now back home I have so many other books to choose from. Oh, I have seen a major flaw with this choice… Let’s move on.

So if you were to be locked in a bookshop over night which books would you go and find and read? Which books, like Kate, would you recommend to others? I haven’t done this because there are only so many times I can mention Rebecca on this blog in a post and sometimes I worry I am in danger of reaching that limit. And this last question almost seems silly to even ask, but would you actually tell anyone? I think I would simply stay in there all night and wait for the staff to arrive the next day.

38 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Man Booker 2014 Musings

Unless you were like me, in which case you were far too busy moving furniture, walls and the like, then you all probably saw the longlist for the Man Booker Prize 2014. With its rule changes last year, becoming open to any book written in English anywhere in the world published for the first time between October 2013 and September 2014, the long list was one which many felt would now be an American full house. It doesn’t seem to be the case, yet weirdly it doesn’t seem to be a longlist that is doing very much for me.

Here it is in full in case you too were otherwise engaged and have been since…

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour – Joshua Ferris (Viking)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan (Chatto & Windus)
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler (Serpent’s Tail)
The Blazing World – Siri Hustvedt (Sceptre)
J –  Howard Jacobson (Jonathan Cape)
The Wake – Paul Kingsnorth (Unbound)
The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell (Sceptre)
The Lives of Others – Neel Mukherjee (Chatto & Windus)
Us – David Nicholls (Hodder & Stoughton)
The Dog – Joseph O’Neill (Fourth Estate)
Orfeo – Richard Powers (Atlantic Books)
How to be Both –  Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)
History of the Rain – Niall Williams (Bloomsbury)

Man Booker Five

I have only actually got five of them, I would have had six but I found the Niall Williams gratingly pretentious when I tried to read it a while back, and have read not a one so I can’t judge them on what’s inside yet very little really excites me here. Actually that is not 100% true or fair. I am excited by the Karen Joy Fowler because that is a book I have been wanting to read ever since I saw it on the sadly (and criminally) now defunct Review Show. I have also heard amazing things about the Flanagan in all the right places, from Marieke Hardy to  Kim of Reading Matters. I have also read Mukherjee, Nicholls and Smith before and really, really liked their work. I am also intrigued by the Kingsmith, which would be a marvellous winner as it is a debut and Unbound, who publish it, are a crowd sourced publishers, exciting. Yet I am still not really that excited and really with a prize like the Man Booker I should be.

The Williams-effect might be part of it, I may be judging the books on that. I may also be feeling indifferent to it because a) I am knackered post festival b) Ferris and Mitchell are two authors many people love yet I just simply do not get. It could be that it just all feels terribly white middle classed male (with the exceptions of the women and Mukherjee) and not the exciting, vibrant, diverse list I always hope it is going to be. I also think it is really strange that at present so many (5) of the books aren’t even out, Jacobson not coming out until the 25th of September, it doesn’t seem a list that can yet excite the public does it? And does it mean if the dates don’t change then the publishers are breaking this rule – Each publisher of a title appearing on the longlist will be required to have no fewer than 1,000 copies of that title available in stock within 10 days of the announcement of the longlist. Will they be withdrawn/disqualified? Today it seems about the only exciting thing that might happen from this list.

It makes me wonder if the Man Booker is really the prize for me anymore. Maybe I should just stick to the Women’s Prize (which I find very difficult to call the Bailey’s, and I love that tipple) and Fiction Uncovered as it seems that is where the well written AND diverse voices most seem to be found with very similar prize remits. Maybe I should read a few and reserve judgement? What do you all think?

17 Comments

Filed under Man Booker