Tag Archives: Kazuo Ishiguro

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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Other People’s Bookshelves #65 – Sarah Perry

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 Essex to join author Sarah Perry who has just got back from her allotment especially to show us around her shelves. First let’s grab a cuppa and a custard cream and find out more about Sarah…

My first novel, After Me Comes the Flood, came out last year with Serpent’s Tail, and has just been released in paperback. My second novel, The Essex Serpent, is coming out in July 2016 (again with Serpent’s Tail, in an act of spectacular nominative determinism!).  I was once a civil servant – largely working in communications, such as writing speeches for government ministers – and then worked for the Council of the Inns of Court while I did a PhD in Creative Writing and the Gothic. I now write full-time, though not just fiction.

At the moment I’m finishing edits on The Essex Serpent. It’s about friendship, desire, sin, love, death and sea-serpents. I talk quite often about my upbringing, and am always afraid it’s going to grow tiresome, but find I’m still asked about it. I was born to a very strict religious family – often, I joke I was brought up in 1895 – and while other girls my age were surrounded by pop culture I was up to my ears in the King James Bible, classic literature, Victorian hymns and Reformation theology. The Gothic quality of my writing and my preoccupation with madness, sin and transgression is therefore not entirely surprising, I suppose.

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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’m frighteningly acquisitive when it comes to books, and absolutely hopeless at getting rid of them. About three months ago I attempted a cull, and there have been two large bags of books destined for the local charity shops in the middle of my bedroom floor ever since. I seem to gather books as I walk through the week like a magnet attracting iron filings and with about that degree of discrimination. Proofs arrive in the post, I order them online on a whim, am sent them as gifts, throw them into my trolley in the supermarket, grab paperbacks in charity shops, steal – sorry: borrow! – them from friends. They all wind up in one of the many drifts and piles in the house, and I fear many are destined to remain unread for years, if at all. But I can never quite shake the feeling that the day may come when that 80s edition of The Gulag Archipelago, or that little hardback Rumer Godden novel, is going to be exactly what I need…

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?

Some years ago a friend of mine tried to help me order my books (by genre, and alphabetically by author). It took absolutely hours and lasted for less than a week. I can’t begin to fathom how anyone who has a large number of books maintains any sort of order without a fleet of staff. Everything is all bundled in together – I’m looking at a bookcase right now and on a single shelf I can see a biography of William Gladstone, a guide to Jungian dream-symbols, TH White’s The Once and Future King, two Ishiguro novels next to each other (miraculously!), several crime thrillers, and a Puritan book on the doctrine of repentance. If you’re wondering how I ever find anything: I often can’t, and rage about the house accusing the cat of stealing books. My husband has a better memory than me, and can often lay hands on what I need. I do try and keep to some form of TBR system, and went as far as installing two bookcases on either side of the bed, but then I get distracted by something else, and it all goes out of the window.

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The only truly organised shelves are those where I’m temporary custodian of a friend’s books: he moved abroad, and left them with me, where I’ve taken to calling them ‘The Memorial Library’. I must say I consider arranging books by colour to be the sure sign of a deranged mind (apologies to any deranged readers).

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

I honestly can’t remember, and wish very much that I could! I do have lots of books from my childhood, though. I have on my desk here a very battered little Bible story book which I must have had since before school, and I’m very attached to a hardback Paddington bear collection which was a gift from one of my older sisters.

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?

With very, very few exceptions I really don’t have much truck with the idea of guilty pleasures when it comes to reading. Of course, even the most ardent anti-book snob must draw the line somewhere, and I would sooner go to the stake than have my shelves sullied with Fifty Shades of Grey or Ayn Rand. But I have everything out in the open – so far as the disordered tumult will allow! – and if anyone baulks at the sight of Stephen King, Terry Pratchett and Lee Child jostling cheerfully with WG Sebald, Maggie Nelson and Tennyson then I shall sit them down and have a long, gentle but firmly persuasive chat. I never read romantic fiction, but that is merely a matter of preference, in the same way that I would rather eat cauliflower than mushrooms: it’s not a value judgment. I must confess that if my parents visit I might double check that Catullus or Chuck Palahniuk aren’t knocking about where my Dad might take them off the shelves in an idle moment (there was an awkward moment last year with a Thom Gunn poem).

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

There are so many of these! May I have a wheelbarrow full? I have a complete Sherlock Holmes which my father gave me: it is a long out-of-print edition, and identical to his own copy, which I grew up reading, and which he is evidently not ready to part with. I have a beautiful vintage edition of Finnegans Wake which a friend gave me when I left London, and since really he deserves it far more than I do I secretly think of it as being in joint custody, like the child of an amiable divorce. When I sold my first novel a friend gave me a copy of A Literary Life by Posy Simmonds, which has got truer and more comforting as the years have passed. There are about half-a-dozen King James Bibles knocking about, most of them associated with events in life: my wedding, or a gift when I was tiny bridesmaid at my oldest sister’s wedding. Once when I had been away for a fortnight my husband met me at the airport with some marmalade sandwiches, two Calvin and Hobbes books and a copy of the Communist Party Manifesto, so I would like those. And I suppose I would like to take the first proof copy of my first novel, with all my anguished handwritten corrections.

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 never really remember there being much of a division between children’s books and grown up books, and I more or less read what I wanted, when I wanted to. Which isn’t to say that I was reading terribly inappropriately (however one defines that) – there wouldn’t have been anything like that in the house, and I wouldn’t have sought it out: since there was so much to read, I was quite content. And so I remember reading Jane Eyre at eight, because it was in an illustrated hardback edition that I mistook for a children’s book, and my father gave me a copy of Tess of the D’Urbervilles when I was ten (greatly to my teacher’s horror). My elder sisters would occasionally conceal slightly fruity novels beneath their beds, which I unfailingly found and would read in a single sitting. The most memorable of these was probably Flowers in the Attic, which I still adore – and which is somewhere on my shelves.

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?

Greatly to my shame, I never borrow books (unless from friends, in which case ‘borrow’ is often pronounced ‘steal’), and only ever darken the doors of reference libraries, in order to do research. I am simply not to be trusted with library books: they’ll be lost, dropped in the bath, battered, and never returned. It’s a moral failing I’ve long given up trying to remedy.

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

In the last week, I’ve bought Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (her memoir Bluets had a profound effect on me last year), Miranda July’s The First Bad Man (which I cannot imagine I will enjoy, having a very low tolerance for quirky books by privileged young New Yorkers, but I though I’d try and conquer my prejudices), Stephen King’s Mr Mercedes, JG Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition, John Wyndham’s The Trouble With Lichen, and an Anaïs Nin book I immediately lost and can’t remember. I have also been sent a debut novel by Tasha Kavanagh called Things We Have in Common, which I’m looking forward to. Sorry, that’s several books, isn’t it?

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

Heaps and heaps! I am very close to mugging someone for an advance copy of Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life: its August release date seems a terribly long way away, and literally everyone on Twitter has a copy except me. I also would like a facsimile edition (or a real one, if possible) of the Tyndale New Testament, because who wouldn’t? There are also a number of collected letters that I would like. For many years I had a curious ethical disinclination to read the ‘remains’ of writers: I felt that we should read only their work, not diary entries and correspondence they would never have intended for a general readership. But it turns out my principles are paper thin, and I’d particularly like the letters of Virginia Woolf, which I could cross-reference against her diaries.

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

I imagine their first thought would be that I am spectacularly untidy, and furthermore could do with doing some dusting. I wonder if they might then think that these are the books of several people, not only one – if they did, I’d be delighted. I honestly believe we all have a duty to read as widely and deeply as possible. The worst possible reader is the one who wishes only to affirm and bolster their existing world view, and the worst possible response to a book is this: “I just didn’t identify with any of the characters.” As to what I’d like them to think of my reading tastes: I couldn’t give a single solitary toss, I never have, and I never will.

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A huge thanks to Sarah for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, you can stalk her on Twitter here, you can also see her not once but twice at Gladfest this September, where you may just also see me! 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 Sarah’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Pondering: The Return of 40 By 40 (I Need Your Book Recommendations)

You may remember way back in the distant past, well back in 2013, I discussed the idea of reading 40 books before I was 40 and even making a list of the titles. A lot has happened since then, mainly Gran getting very ill, and so that project sort of when by the wayside. However I was reminded of this when the new (stunning) edition of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley arrived through the letterbox – a book I have been meaning to read, by an author I have always meant to read.

Going back and looking at the list of books that I had chosen I realised I had read three so that was quite good. I also realised that I wasn’t sure I had created quite the right list. The forty books I had chosen were all books where I hadn’t read the author before and, if I am being super duper honest, some of them feel quite ‘worthy’.

So I am pondering doing it again starting from scratch. Yet this time I want to rethink about the sort of books I want to read, and of course I want your suggestions. Yes, I would still like to read some of the books by authors I have missed and really shouldn’t have, yet I also need to think about books by authors I like who I haven’t read in ages. When was the last time I read Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro, (both Alias Grace and The Remains of the Day I have been intent on reading for ages) or even Daphne Du Maurier? Shocking.

So here is the start of my new list…

  1. The Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith
  2. Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood
  3. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

…But which books next? I am going to go through my shelves over the next few days/weeks and see which books I already have I have been meaning to read, whether I have read the author or not. I would also love to have recommendations from you. These could be your top 5 books (and I can see if I have read them before), books you have spotted I haven’t read and should and also the books that you have always meant to read and haven’t (maybe you could join in or it will give you a nudge to give them a whirl). So over to you for your suggestions in the comments below! Next up for me to reignite is the Persephone Project, I seemed to get stuck on book eight, 2013 wasn’t a good year for me starting projects but then it was a bugger of a year!

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Other People’s Bookshelves #51 – Katharine Lunn

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves. If you haven’t seen it before this is a series of posts set to feed into the filthy book lust/porn and either give you a fix of other people’s books and shelves. This week we are off to Nottingham (where my great grandparents used to live and I would go every other Sunday) to meet blogger Katharine Lunn, or Kate as we are all friends here. Before we have a good route around her house, and interrupt her lovely Valentine’s Day evening with her boyfriend, let’s settle with a nice cup or glass of something and find out more about her…

I’m Kate and I’ve lived in or around Nottingham, in the middle of England, all my life. I’m currently doing a master’s degree in Creative Writing at the beautiful University of Nottingham and I work in a school. I started my blog, http://katharinelunn.wordpress.com, last May; I thought I would write about lots of things but most of the time the content is book-related. I do like to geek-out over books and am loving reading for pleasure, as well as reading brand new books, after finishing an English degree last year (though sometimes I get a strange hankering for Literary Criticism). I live with my similarly bookish boyfriend and putting our books together on the same bookshelves meant that we were serious. I also try to do Pilates every day but I eat a lot of chocolate to offset that.

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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 want to look at my bookshelves and see lots of books that I love. I don’t really understand why people would want to keep books that they really disliked. I think that would just make me angry. I will have to implement a one in one out system soon because I’m running out of space to put bookshelves.

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?

Fiction takes up most of one downstairs wall and is one long A – Z by author’s surname (I worked in a library for four years and my boyfriend works in a bookshop, so I feel that this is expected of us). Non-fiction is more of an organised mess, grouped in vague sections, but it’s upstairs so less people see it. Books on psychology are grouped together and there’s a small section about diaries. Poetry is awkwardly placed underneath that. I’ve been thinking making about a TBR bookshelf for a while but I never get around to initiating it. I love culling books.

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

I really can’t remember what the first book I bought with my own money was. We had these little stamp books at primary school and you bought in 20p, 50p a week and saved up to buy books. I bought a lot of books that way. I remember there was definitely some Jacqueline Wilson and I was really into veterinary books, but all of those are probably still in my parents’ attic.

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’m not really embarrassed by any of my books, so no. I probably should be embarrassed about a cookbook I own called Fifty Shades of Kale. But I’m intrigued about your hidden shelf.

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 boyfriend bought me a first edition of The Remains of the Day for Christmas. I think it might be my favourite book, so I would definitely save that. Also, I have a broken Roald Dahl cookbook I got when I was little. I made my first cake from that book – Bruce Bogtrotter’s Cake – for my dad’s birthday. The back cover has fallen off now. But those two books would be at the top of my list.

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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 remember an old paperback copy of Jane Eyre that looked interesting to me. I’m not sure how it found its way onto my parents’ bookshelf because neither of them were very interested in reading it. It used to intrigue me but looked too adult at the time. I ‘borrowed’ that edition of Jane Eyre and it now sits happily on my shelves.

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 do like to own real live books, and if I really love a book I borrowed from the library I probably will buy it (but still haven’t got around to buying Bossypants by Tina Fey). I like re-reading and making books my own: finding sand in the spine of a book if I read it on holiday, for instance. If I don’t like a book I bought I take it to the charity shop.

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

The last books I got were kindly sent from Bookbridgr – Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck and The Chimes by Anna Smaill. Wolf Winter is beautifully haunting and very readable.

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

I’ve just got into Margaret Atwood in a big way, so I want everything she’s ever written. But she’s written so much! Also, there are a lot of new books that I‘m dying to read. I really want to read Elena Ferrante’s novels and the new Kazuo Ishiguro.

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

I think because my boyfriend and I share bookshelves they would look quite eclectic to a new eye. I like literary stuff, but readable literary stuff. I like reading lots of different viewpoints, so hopefully they don’t look too homogenous.

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A huge thanks to Kate 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 Kate’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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The Books We Keep Meaning To Read…

Why do we save books for that elusive rainy day? This is something I have been pondering a lot of late and decided that I need to address in my own reading habits. Do not fear this is not going to be a challenge as I have promised myself that I am not going to be doing any of those, which is weirdly a challenge in itself. So maybe I do have one challenge. Anyway, before my head hurts, I mentioned this with Thomas when we recorded The Readers and I said I wasn’t even going to be doing a ‘reading for Gran challenge this year’, I think she would actually be telling me to just read what I want when I want. Though I can also imagine her saying ‘but why do you always need to read contemporary fiction and the latest this and that’. I can imagine it because she said it one day in the hospital a few months before she died. She would be/is right I have soooooo many books that I have been saving for that elusive rainy day, not actually noticing that it rains rather a bloody lot here.

That illusive rainy day...

That elusive rainy day…

Initially I thought of older books, which I will come to shortly, yet there are some newer ones too. I have the joy of interviewing (slight name drop alert) Tess Gerritsen tomorrow and I realised that I had let myself get woefully behind with the Rizzoli and Isles series. Part of this is because I like to have some ahead as I love the series so much I am scared it will stop and the other, you guessed it, that rainy day. Well I have broken with tradition and read the latest one and will have the two I have missed to catch up with. (Another bookish OCD thing I have is that I have to read a series in order, on the whole!) Yet why do I wait? I might get run over by a bus tomorrow – though hopefully not. This applies to lots of series but also to books by new to me contemporary authors I love, like Jenn Ashworth. I am in love with her writing at the moment, waited till a new year to read her second book… but why should I wait till next year to read her third to spread them out? Madness. I should binge till I feel sick surely?

This of course applies to older books, be they classic classics or modern classics. Why have I held of reading all the Margaret Atwood/Kazuo Ishiguro/Anne Tyler books from the last several decades that I have bought over the years and sit on my shelves or in boxes? Why do I pace my Daphne Du Maurier or Muriel Spark’s, is it because they are dead so I won’t find more? Wouldn’t I be furious if I didnt read them all by the time (hopefully in about 60 years) I am on my deathbed thinking of my reading life? Then of course there are the classics, many of which I know I want to read but don’t like a very silly sausage. It’s time to think on Savidge!!

So I have decided I am going to ban the term ‘saving it for a rainy day’ and informally (because I am not seeing this as a challenge like I said) I am going to think about all the books I have always meant to read and bring them back into my reading diet. An unofficial ‘books before I am forty’ list might appear, it might not. I might just see, like my main aim of the year ‘sod it and hurrar!’ What do you think and which books have you been saving for a rainy day and why?

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Do We Ever Know The Reader We Are aka The Mad Ramblings of a Book Lover

I can almost hear one or two of you saying ‘but does it matter?’ simply from reading the title of today’s post, and the answer is that maybe it doesn’t, but bear with me. One of the things that I most love about books is also one of the things that freaks me out the most. I will never in my life time be able to read all the books that I really want to read. I have been tinkering with some pages behind the scenes that will be appearing on the site in the next week or so and they have led me to pondering this matter, along with the fact that in just seven days I will be turning thirty which is giving me food for thought in all aspects of my life. In terms of books though, will I ever know what sort of reader I am?

One of the new pages I have been tinkering with is a page which will feature all my favourite authors with their entire bibliographies (I think I have possibly pilfered this idea from Kim at Reading Matters, best form of flattery and all that). This is so that I can see which ones I have read since I have been blogging and which I have missed, so slowly but surely I can make my way through all of them, I might even revisit the ones I have already read pre-blog. Doing this I was surprised at how many of my favourite authors I have not read in ages. Apart from Margaret Atwood, Daphne Du Maurier, Nancy Mitford, Wilkie Collins and Susan Hill I have actually been a little bit rubbish. What happened to wanting to read everything by Anne Tyler, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Muriel Spark, Colm Toibin, Kazuo Ishiguro, Haruki Murakami etc when I know I love their writing so much?

In part I know it is because loving books as I do, and knowing so many people who feel the same way, lots of lovely new shiny books or authors are put in my path. I am not just talking about latest releases and books that are receiving lots of exciting and tempting buzz here either, though I am grateful to everyone who recommended I read ‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller which I have just finished and adored. I am also talking about authors who have been going for years, some still producing works and some who have sadly passed away, and have a huge back catalogue, that invariably if I have loved my first reading experience I want to go and read the whole lot of. Just this week I had the absolute joy of reading Beryl Bainbridge  for the first time and adoring ‘The Bottle Factory Outing’ (thanks to Gaskella), her narrative voice chimed in with my sense of humour and her writing style was on the money to the style I like to read. So I have now opened ‘Every Man for Himself’ after spotting it in the hospital charity shop yesterday. The rest of the TBR can wait.

I sometimes wonder if having an extensive (you could read that as excessive if you wished) TBR can be a hindrance rather than a joyful personal library, which is what I tell myself it is – you could also call it hoarding. I also wonder if blogging is a help or a hindrance too, but that’s another subject for another time, back to my TBR thoughts.

Since I have moved house I purposefully hid my boxes of unread books to see how long it would be before I routed one out. It has happened all of three times in a month, I seem to be reading new books in from publishers a bit (though my incoming has lessened considerably as I have come to a lovely new agreement with publishers), buying books on occasion in the charity shop down the road which I seem unable to walk past without falling into (how does this happen) or in the main getting books from the library (my new favourite book haunt). I have no idea quite what this is telling me but I do wonder if my tastes are changing again, I think they always evolve, and hence why all those lovely books I have got along the way are left lingering in air tight boxes down the side of my wardrobe that I can’t see.

This may change with my plan of having the ‘Forty for Forty’ page on the blog. All those books you have suggested, and keep them coming here, along with those I have been browsing library and bookshop shelves for which I/you/we ‘should have read’ by the time I/you/we are forty (or ninety or anything in between, under or over come to that). A lot of them are in those air tight boxes behind that wardrobe and have been waiting to be read for some time, years and years in some cases, since I bought them based on the fact that I felt if I was a real reader I would have to jave read that some day.

This could, of course, be lethal. I could end up with a list of forty more authors who have been thrown in my reading path and I want to read everything by (though some of them might have only written one book in which case I will sulk that there are no more for me to find – poor books, they can’t win) taking random detours with. But then is that a bad thing? I guess if it means I am missing out on my favourite authors other works then it is? Hmmm, tricky!

I like to think I have a pretty eclectic taste and therefore as I wander randomly down the yellow brick road that is my reading path in life, reading all sorts of lovely (and occasionally not so lovely) books, do I lose a sense of who I am as a reader? Should I not know by now, as my third decade spreads in front of me all sparkly and new, know what books I do and don’t like? Should I give up on experimenting, which can go wonderfully right as well as horribly wrong, with new books and authors be they new-new or new to me and stick to what I know? I don’t think I should, yet how do you get the balance just right?

Maybe what I need to do is accept that we never really know the readers we are and that actually that is the whole fun of it? Over time, maybe, in some point in my life reading the authors that I know and love as well as experimenting with the ones I don’t know but might love will reach a natural equilibrium? Maybe I just need to face the dreaded fact I mentioned earlier that I will never read all the books I want to in life… and get over it, move on, pick up a book and just get on with it?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Books at Bedtime and Audiobooks Again…

Just over a year ago I did a post that caused some quite interesting responses and debate. It was a post on audiobooks and one where I said that, for me personally, audiobooks felt like cheating. The debate ranged from people feeling the same (though people mainly emailed me this, it seemed they didn’t want to put it in print) as me, to people thinking I couldn’t be more wrong and even people taking umbrage and saying I was being discriminatory towards people with certain disabilities. The last bit I tried not to dwell on as anyone who knows me would know this wasn’t the case. I also said I would try more audiobooks out… and then didn’t really (well actually I tried some Agatha Raisins but more on those shortly).  I’d not thought about this much until BBC Radio 4 had ‘My Dear I Wanted To Tell You’ by Louisa Young as their Book at Bedtime.

For anyone who doesn’t know of it ‘Book at Bedtime’ is a show on Radio 4 each weekday evening which chooses a different book each fortnight to adapt into. ‘My Dear I Wanted To Tell You’ is a book that I have ummmed and ahhhed about reading because it has had some great praise but not ever quite seemed my thing (it’s a war book and sounds a bit like lots fo other war books if I am honest), however as Olivia Coleman was reading it – I love her acting, her comedy, her voice – I thought I would try it. I enjoyed it, I felt taken back to my childhood and the nights I would put a tape in my tape recorder to fall asleep to. Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘The Norman Conquests’ was a favourite. Yet I didn’t want to run out and buy the book, I think this is meant to be a small part of ‘Books at Bedtime’ the main being that it is, well, a book at your bedtime-ish!

This came up again when Will Wiles tweeted me the other night, when I was debating a book to actually read at bedtime last week, that his book ‘Care of Wooden Floors’ was going to be the latest Book at Bedtime choice and I should tune in. I thought about it and decided not to because I actually wanted to read the book. Hear me out before you all say ‘it is like reading a book’ because the main reason was that it would be an adaptation and if I listened and really liked it (which I have been told I would) I wouldn’t have quite had the full story, but I would know the end and might not therefore be inclined to read the entire book knowing the main spoiler. Interestingly when I listened to Agatha Raisin last year, I liked it a lot but it wasn’t the full unabridged stories and I felt a little cheated. But what about trying audiobooks again?

Fate kicked in at the weekend twofold. Firstly I realised I had ‘Nocturnes’ by Kazuo Ishiguro as an audiobook which I had no idea of (sorry Gemma at Faber as I think you gave this me, oops) and I also had the book so I could cull a book, awful reason but I was desperate, plus it was one about music and apparently this has the music in it. Then I spotted ‘Gillespie and I’ by Jane Harris on audiobook in the library and so I thought ‘I loved that book, I know it inside out, what could be a better audiobook to compare the listening-reading to reading-reading’ so I borrowed it and one more for good luck.

 

I now have about 65 hours of listening delight ahead. I think this mix of a book I know well, some short stories plus a non-fiction tome on a subject I love with Judith Flanders ‘The Invention of Murder; How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime’ which sounds right up my street to try out. So I now have some hopefully wonderful ‘listening-reading’ experiences ahead. Gav has been trying to convert me on The Readers so deserves a mention as I probably wouldn’t have been quite so likely to go so whole heartedly into this experiment without his pestering. I will report back and let you know my findings.

In the meantime what are your thoughts on audiobooks and Book at Bedtime/adaptations on the radio? Are they like reading-reading a real book? What have been your favourite audiobooks and what made them so good?

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In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination – Margaret Atwood

I am quite surprised that I have not seen more mention here there and everywhere, though I could have been looking in the wrong places, about Margaret Atwood’s latest book ‘In Other Worlds’. Those of you who visit Savidge Reads will know that I am a huge fan of Atwood’s (indeed with both my mother and Gran loving her it was only time really until I would feel the same) both for her ‘literary fiction’ and for her ‘speculative fiction’ so I was instantly looking forward to this as a read, especially with its subject matter.

Virago Press, hardback, 2011, non-fiction, 272 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It’s this very thing that lies at the heart of ‘In Other Worlds’ I can’t think of anyone or anything, apart from possibly the Man Booker, which causes such debate about science fiction and ‘literature’ and the divides or lack thereof. I know some people who love her writing and yet feel slightly disappointed she has gone off into these speculative worlds like ‘The Handmaids Tale’ and that she is writing a follow up to ‘Oryx and Crake’ and ‘The Year of the Flood’.

 I remember reading a very negative piece somewhere that claimed Margaret Atwood didn’t want to be labelled as a science fiction writer and thought ‘that’s a bit snobby’ but this was taken out of context. Then came the Ursula K. Le Guin review of Atwood’s last novel ‘The Year of the Flood’ in which she quoted from (are you keeping up) Atwood’s essays ‘Moving Targets’, which I now really want to read, saying that Atwood didn’t believe her books were science fiction because the things in them were possible and may be happening, therefore they are speculative. Longer story shorter, ‘In Other Worlds’ is Margaret Atwood’s response to this and is even dedicated to Le Guin. It is so much more than a simple SFF vs. the rest of the literary world book though.

The book is set into three sections. In the first ‘In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination’ we are treated to three long essays. The first of which Margaret Atwood discusses her love of science fiction, based on the fact that growing up in rural Canada she would read anything and everything and this meant a lot of her father’s science fiction, comic books, pulp, noir, you name it. She went on to draw and create stories of her own superhero’s… flying rabbits, and looks at the myth of the superhero and compares it to science fiction. The second looks at the myths and religions that make up science fiction in varying ways and the third how Margaret Atwood created ‘ustopia’s’ based on merging utopias and dystopias. I loved this section, in part because the way Atwood writes makes it feel like you are sat having a conversation about these things with her (if only), there is a humour and knowingness as you go along, secondly because it shows the forming of a writer which I always find fascinating and thirdly because it made me think. A lot. This isn’t writing you can rush, you need to read it, pause, think a bit, make some mental notes, read on, have a bigger pause, think more. I loved that this was the effect it had on me.

The second section entitled ‘Other Deliberations’ is a selection of reviews and essays about novels or writing that people see is either definitely science fiction, definitely literary fiction with a science fiction twist or seen as speculative fiction. One of the books she covers is ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro (another book I love) and it’s here I think she shows that really does it matter what genre or pigeon hole books are pushed, good and thought provoking writing is what matters. “Ishiguro isn’t much interested in the practicalities of cloning and organ donation… Nor is this a novel about future horrors: it’s set not in a Britain-yet-to-come but a Britain-off-to-the-side.” Not only did I want to rush and read that again, I found all the books she discussed which i hadn’t read such as H. Rider Haggard’s ‘She’ and ‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley are going to be racing up the TBR and being borrowed from the library.

The final main section of the book ’Five Tributes’ are works of Atwoood’s which she believes are truly SF works of fiction, they are all slight but all wonderful, I loved everyone of these. I also thought it was particularly clever of her to choose ‘The Peach Women of Aa’A’ from ‘The Blind Assassin’ as the final one. This is a fictional tale written inside her fictional tale at the heart of ‘The Blind Assassin’ and not only reminded me of what an incredible writer she is but how diverse, I smiled to myself that a book which won the Booker does indeed have a science fictional twist in it’s heart and then felt a little cross people forget that. It also reminds the reader that reading shouldn’t be about boundaries people confine them to, in fact all literature should celebrate the fact that the boundaries are endless full stop, so why are we so obsessed with defining it?

I hope that you come away from this long ramble that forms a ‘review’ or set of ‘book thoughts’ with an inclination to pick up this book when you can. It’s a book for book lovers in the fact that it’s overall theme is the celebration of writing, and then looking at the way we take writing in and pass on our thoughts. It also shows once again what a wonderful writer Margaret Atwood is regardless of whatever genre of writer you might feel the need to put her in. ‘In Other Worlds’ is certainly one of my books of the year without a doubt.

So where do you sit on the Margaret Atwood Speculative vs. Science vs. Literary fiction debate and why do we feel the need to pigeon hole and then get defensive over those pigeon holes?

P.S Small note to say this was a hot topic between myself and Gavin on this weeks The Readers podcast which you can listen to here.

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Filed under Books of 2011, Margaret Atwood, Non Fiction, Review, Virago Books

The Godless Boys – Naomi Wood

Books about religion don’t tend to be ones I rush out and read, and I tell myself I don’t like dystopian fiction (when actually I think I do, which is both odd and silly) so under normal circumstances I don’t know if Naomi Wood’s debut novel ‘The Godless Boys’ would have been on my radar. However she was one of the authors that myself and Novel Insights saw speak at the publisher Picador’s where they were showcasing some of their novelists and two things stood out for me about this book. Firstly the excerpt that Naomi read (which I have now discovered was the opening, see it stuck in my head all those months that I remembered it) was vividly written and secondly, and this may seem like a strange reason, the book was set off the coast of Newcastle. The city I lived in as a young child, indeed me and Novel Insights became friends their aged 3, and a city that never gets written about. So when the opportunity for a copy came up early in the year I snatched it, and I am really glad I did as ‘The Godless Boys’ is really rather good.

Naomi Wood’s England in 1986 is one of some turmoil. The church has taken over the country and atheists have been sent to live on The Island somewhere off the coast of Newcastle. Here a group of boys known as the Malades, and run by Nathaniel, who spy on any possible Gots (those who once believed and might be trying to again) and control them, generally with fear and menace. One such woman under observation, which basically is malicious spying, is Eliza Michalka. One night those on The Island are joined by Sarah Wickes, who smuggles (I assumed she did, she may have just hopped on) herself onto a boat in search of her mother who she has been told ran off with another man and abandoned her. However once Sarah arrives on The Island she begins to learn that what she has been told about her mother is not the truth. She must also get used to the island and its inhabitants who may not be so welcoming to someone from the mainland.

I think to label this book ‘a dystopian novel about religion’ is really rather lazy. Yes the driving force behind the novel, it is after all why Sarah’s mother is on The Island along with all the atheists, is religion and it bubbles away behind every chapter and indeed motivation of the main characters. This is also a book about people and I think the three characters, even if I didn’t like Nathaniel really, were all very well drawn and really gave the book a life and breath on top of the stormy island atmosphere. Its interesting though that while I think we are meant to follow Sarah and her story, which was very good and Sarah is a marvellous gutsy character, I was captivated far more by Eliza and her tale.

In fact I would go as far as to say she could be one of my favourite characters that I have come across recently. I even wondered if maybe Wood had a special place in her heart as she seemed the most vivid and also the most quirky. She is a woman who finds herself combined her days as part time prostitute at The Grand and also as the local undertaker. She is also madly in love with Arthur, who of course she will never tell. All this and her quirks, like writing words on her forehead under her fringe to boost her confidence or say what she really felt, I absolutely loved. In fact I could have read an entire book devoted just to Eliza.

“On her brow that evening, Eliza penned the word Courage, close to her hairline, underneath her fringe, to encourage her to talk to him. She had made a habit of this since starting at the Grand (that June, and so unwillingly!), pulling up her fringe and penning little messages of hope – or self pity – on her brow. One word, or two, like Courage, or maybe Resilience, or maybe Take Heart!, and she’d go round the Island with her blonde lock of hair covering the words, murmuring the message in her head, hoping for inspiration.
But tonight! What a coward she was. Courage! Pathetic. She had no courage. She felt like that fish Arthur had shorn of all its scales; dull, and missing its brilliance.”

I have heard comparisons to Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ being bandied about by people in context with Naomi Wood’s debut. I have to say that the only similarity I can see with them is that they portray a different ‘dystopian’ view of England in the 1980’s. There was something of Graham Greene’s ‘Brighton Rock’ about this weirdly, great writing of conflict by the stormy seas maybe? I have also heard comparison to ‘A Clockwork Orange’, but I haven’t read that so I can’t say. Yet I think these comparisons might do a disservice to what is a very good debut novel, as one is the authors sixth or seventh book and the other is a cult classic. It seems unfair then to compare, unless it’s to say that Naomi Woods has written a debut that shows she is going to be an author to watch in the future, that I would fully concur with.

‘The Godless Boys’ is a very good novel, regardless of it being a debut or not, it’s a book with people’s stories at its heart and how the environment they are in affects them. It is a book based on a long literary heritage of which there are shades, without ever being a copy or retelling of these tales. It’s a book that impresses overall as a debut and one which regardless of the ‘religion’ subject surrounding it, which makes for an interesting read, should be read for its characters and its story. Those are the sort of books which say so much and make you want to read one. I look forward to the next novel from Naomi Woods (which is apparently about Ernest Hemingway and his wives) with great interest. To coin that cliché, she is certainly one to watch. 8.5/10

This book was kindly sent from the publishers.

Has anyone else read ‘The Godless Boys’? If not do so, its recommended reading. It’s made me go off and want to read ‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Anthony Burgess and also ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding (the Malades made me think of that book, again one I haven’t read but have heard lots about),  can you recommend any of those?

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Filed under Naomi Wood, Pan MacMillan, Picador Books, Review

A Pale View of Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro

After asking the question ‘why don’t men read books by women’ the other day I suddenly realised that I had been reading lots of novels by female authors and not a lot by men. I decided that it was time to rectify this, but which male author to choose. I plumped for Kazuo Ishiguro and his debut novel ‘A Pale View of Hills’ in the end. Having read two novels by Ishiguro in the past, one ‘An Artist of the Floating World’ (read pre-blog) which I didn’t like so much and the other ‘Never Let Me Go’ which I adored, I was intrigued to see where his first book would land, would I love it or be left feeling rather nonchalant about it?

‘A Pale View of Hills’ opens in England as Etsuko’s second daughter Niki comes to stay with her mother after the suicide of her older half sister Keiko. A small incident which seems like nothing to anyone but Etsuko finds her looking back at her life in Japan before she moved away and a brief friendship, of sorts, which she had with another woman Sachiko. Through almost dual narratives a rather eerie set of stories starts to come to light. In the present we watch as Niki and her mother start to become fearful and uneasy of her Keiko’s bedroom which could be grief or could it be something more? In Etsuko’s past we find not only a post war and recovering Nagasaki as the occupation looks like it might end, but the mysterious nature of her acquaintance Sachiko.

It’s interesting to see someone revealing not one but two past lives and both have a certain mystery about them. Why in the modern day did Keiko kill herself and why don’t either her mother, who when people ask says her eldest daughter is fine not dead, or sister, who never went to her own sister’s funeral because ‘she always made me feel miserable’, deal with it and almost deny it happened? In the past we not only have what is a time of great change, which through Etsuko’s first husband Jiro and his father, not only for the people and place (both amazingly depicted by Ishiguro) but for Etsuko herself who is carrying her first child. There is also the great mystery of who the woman from across the river is and why she wants Sachiko’s daughter Mariko to follow her into the woods?

I am worried I have made it sound like a book that covers too much and doesn’t know where it’s going and this is far from the case. Ishiguro masterfully, and it should be noted in under 200 pages, makes these narratives weave together (obviously they are both Etsuko’s life but its more than just that) and then takes a few twists and turns that will have the reader speeding through the last few pages completely gripped before leaving the reader with much to think about and ponder after its conclusion. It is an effect that would leave you rather unsatisfied if you weren’t reading a book that leaves you wanting to guess and wanting to figure out the final pieces of this book equivalent of a jigsaw.

I found the women in the book fascinating, in particular Sachiko, who is a very strange and enigmatic woman who teases Etsuko with slight visions into her life but never giving anything away too much or contradicting anything that does. My only slight criticism would be the men. I did find the chapters with Etsuko’s husband and father in law slowed the book down a little, for example one particular chess game and its minimal need in the book became a little dull, yet without them and seeing things through their eyes a changing nation wouldn’t have been so easy to capture I don’t think. The women did really live and breath for me, and how Ishiguro did that whilst making them incredibly disarming with their secrecy I don’t know.

I really enjoyed ‘A Pale View of Hills’. It picked me up, carried me off and then left me wanting more and also really thinking about it long after I had put it down. It wasn’t the spooky tale I initially thought it might be but I was pleased with the new direction it took. I liked the aspect that there were mysteries that Ishiguro leaves rather inconclusive clues (I think that is right) to the reader through out and then leaves you to make your own mind up about what they might mean. He trusts his readers and seems want you to do some of the work yourself and that to me really appealed. It’s not going to be a book everyone loves, its one I would recommend they give a try though. 8/10


This book was kindly given to me by the publishers.

Who else has read this book and what did you think? What did you make of the ending (though if you want to discuss it please mention it could be a spoiler in the comments)? What other Ishiguro books have you read, and which one would you recommend I try next?

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Filed under Kazuo Ishiguro, Review

Free Never Let Me Go Audio Books

You may remember a while back the interesting and diverse discussion we had on Savidge Reads regarding Audio Books. I admitted that I have been rather wary of them for various reasons, you may want to have a look at the post to see more into the whys and what-fors, and the responses I had have made me have a think and so I want to try more. So when The Guardian kindly offered to give away copies of the unabridged audio book of Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ (read by the wonderful Emilia Fox)I knew I had to get my hands on it and thought maybe I should share it all with you too if you haven’t already got yourself a copy.

You might want to be quick as you have until 23:59 GMT today to click on the link here and fill in your details and follow the instructions and there you go. It’s all free! I am really looking forward to hearing it, as having really loved the textual/original version of the novel ‘Never Let Me Go’ and having loved it even more when I read it again to write the new Faber & Faber reading guide (which I will pop a link up of once its been published online). I’m also off to see the film, health and everything willing, on Thursday night. It’s like.

I was wondering if lots of us downloaded it maybe it would be worth having a discussion about the audio book, or is that taking the current ‘Never Let Me Go’ fever at Savidge Reads too far?

Oh and don’t forget to pop and have a look, and hopefully leave your suggestions for a new reading group project I am planning for the late spring and early summer this year!

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Books of 2010 Part One…

I do like a nice top ten list of some kind and here is the first of two that cover my favourite reads of the year. 2010 has been a fairly vintage year for reading both with discovering some wonderful new books along with some older classics and so I thought what I would do is one list which is the top ten book I read in 2010 which were published before the year started and another list which covers all the books published in 2010 be it in hardback or paperback. So let us start with the top ten books I read in 2010 but published before it, links to the full review can be found by clicking on the titles…

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte (Vintage Classics)

“I will simply say that ‘Jane Eyre’ has instantly become one of my all time favourite novels. I have even given ‘Villette’ a few enquiring sideways glances since I finished this yesterday. I would give ‘Jane Eyre’ an eleven out of ten only that would be breaking the rules. I shall simply have to give it a ten out of ten in bold… a simply MUST read book, it’s even made me think about the way I read – and it takes the most special of books to do that to us I think personally.”

Peyton Place – Grace Metalious (Virago)

“I cannot pretend that I didn’t originally want to read this book in part because it sounded like a wonderfully shocking and slightly trashy romp of a tale. Yet to label the book trashy is unfair on ‘Peyton Place’ because Grace Metalious (possibly the best name for an author ever?) writes wonderfully and as a piece of fiction it’s really rather complex, as there are so many characters and undercurrents, and also has a lot to say. Fear not though never once does the author baffle you or over complicate things.”

Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber & Faber)

“If I gave anything away I would be so cross with myself because knowing nothing about this book is probably the best way to let the emotional impact hit you as it unfolds. I will say that Ishiguro creates such a realistic story and scenario that rather than thinking ‘Never Let Me Go’ is set in an ‘alternative England’ in the 1990’s I could very well believe that all that happens in the novel could have really happened and still be happening and you would never know. You might find yourself looking at people you pass in the street a little bit differently. I know I did after finishing the book and to me that shows how real and engrossing a modern masterpiece Ishiguro has created.”

The Drivers Seat – Muriel Spark (Penguin Classics)

“I think this has almost instantly become my favourite Spark yet. In comparison to some of the other works of hers I have read this has the darkest undertone despite its bright cover and flamboyant lead character. It also packed one of the hardest punches yet, and I will say I thought The Girls of Slender Means had a dark twist; this one hits you early on.  It also see’s Muriel dabble in a genre that I wouldn’t have seen her try and yet she does brilliantly in her own Sparkish way. I realise I sound vague but I do so hate to spoil things and this is a book that should not be spoiled in any way at all and in fact if you haven’t read must be read immediately.”

Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks (Vintage)

“It is incredibly hard to try and encapsulate ‘Birdsong’ in a mere few paragraphs and I am sure I haven’t done it justice. The writing is incredible, as I mentioned above I don’t think I have ever had war depicted to me – especially life in the trenches themselves – with such realism. By turns dramatic yet never melodramatic you find you heart racing as much as you do feel the longing of a love affair that seems doomed from the start in the first section. I did initially get thrown by the addition of the modern narration through Elizabeth, Stephen’s granddaughter; however Faulks uses this to add a further dimension to the journey we are already on whilst adding a further tale of the effects of war. The only word for it really is epic, ‘Birdsong’ is a book you’ll want to get lost in for hours and yet be unable to put down.”

The Loved One – Evelyn Waugh (Penguin Classics)

“I laughed out loud a lot with this book and I wasn’t expecting it (though maybe with a dedication ‘to Nancy Mitford’ inside I should have guessed) it charmed me. I loved the irony, comical cynical attitude of the author and random plot developed and it entertained me and took me away from everything for the two hours that I couldn’t put it down. Ten out of ten! This is a lesser known work of Waugh’s that has left me looking forward to reading many, many more of his books in the future… It’s wickedly entertaining and a real riot to read, if in some slightly dubious taste, I bet this caused quite the stir when it was published in 1948.”

Skin Lane – Neil Bartlett (Serpent’s Tail)

“I will admit it left me a bit of a wreck (am not doing spoilers but feel free to in the comments), it was all utterly worth it for a reading experience like this as they don’t come around all that often… I could go on and on raving about this book, the other wonderful characters that Bartlett creates (Mrs Kesselman is a wonderfully drawn formidable yet secretly caring middle aged woman who works with Mr. F), the descriptions of London in 1967 with its living and breathing atmosphere, the parallels with the much mentioned and alluded to ‘Beauty and the Beast’, the role of a victim as a tormentor, sexuality… the list is endless.”

Stiff – Mary Roach (Penguin)

“It might not be a subject that you would think you would want to read about but death is really the only guarantee that we have in life, and though we might not openly admit it aren’t we all a little bit fascinated (in a morbidly inquisitive or scientific way) by it? Well in ‘Stiff’ Mary Roach is very intrigued by just that and meets all the people who have dealings with us when we die and asks all the questions that we would if we honestly could… You get history, you get insight, you get emotion and laughter – yes I was in hysterics at some points – and you get reassurance in a strange way. All the while in the company of Mary Roach who by the end of the book I felt I was firm friends with, if only all nonfiction whatever its subject could be as readable as this.”

On The Beach – Nevil Shute (Vintage Classics)

“Nevil Shute has created possibly one of the most brilliant ‘tart with a heart’ heroines in Moira, who from her first drunken arrival on the pages (and soon followed up with a hilarious ‘accidental’ bra loosing moment which made me laugh out loud) promptly steals any scene that she is in. You could actually say to a degree it is the tales of Moira and Mary that in part make the book such a special read. I know I have picked a few holes in it but I still ended up coming away from ‘On The Beach’ feeling very emotional and it’s made me do quite a lot of reflecting and thinking which all the best books should do. It’s one of those books that will stick with you for days and days, I am sure I will be mulling this book and the question it raises over for weeks and weeks to come. Like I said before ‘On The Beach’ is not the perfect book but it’s an incredible one.”

Firmin – Sam Savage (Phoenix)

“It was the ending and then surprisingly the authors note that popped it back to being five star as I didn’t realize the period in which the book was set was a strange time for Boston and in particular those in Scollay Square. Don’t look that up though until you have read it as the impact of that and the ending left me feeling a little winded and a little more emotional… I would call this ‘a tale of a tail whose owner who loves tales’ and a book that will leave you with more book recommendations than you could shake a tail at!”

You can find the rest of my top books of the year here. Which of the books above have you read and what did you think? Have any of these books been on your must read lists? What were your favourite reads of 2010?

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Simon’s Bookish Bits #27

I can’t actually believe that I haven’t done a ‘Bookish Bits’ post since the start of August. However there are occasionally times when you are writing a post filled with little bookish bits this is just what you need and today is such a post. I have a few different things I want to natter with you about such as the Costa Prize, a lovely publisher loot when I had a meeting about the reading guides I am going to be writing and The Green Carnation event.

I do really like the Costa Book Awards, as I commented on Kirsty of Other Stories blog earlier in the week, I’m never sure why this is though because I don’t think I have read that many of the winners but I have read and really enjoyed many of the books which have been shortlisted, without knowing they have been shortlisted. I don’t read children’s books, on the whole, and I don’t really go for poetry (though I wish I did) and can be funny with non-fiction so in some ways you would think that the prize would maybe not be so much for me but I love the fact it doesn’t seem so snobbish and the lists are always eclectic as you can see from The First Novel and Novel Award short lists…

Costa First Novel Award

  • Witness the Night by Kishwar Desai
  • Coconut Unlimited by Nikesh Shukla
  • The Temple-Goers by Aatish Taseer
  • Not Quite White by Simon Thirsk

Costa Novel Award

  • Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty
  • The Blasphemer by Nigel Farndale
  • The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell
  • Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

I have already read two of the novels of the years and loved Maggie O’Farrell’s ‘The Hand That First Held Mine’ and would recommend everyone on the face of this planet gives it a read. I am slightly surprised that Nigel Farndale’s ‘The Blasphemer’ is on the list as I didn’t love this book, not that I think I am any authority on what should be short listed on this prize. I am wondering f I should return to it as it’s been nestling on my ‘possibly give to charity or my family’ pile. Hmmm! I have been sent some of the other books listed and I think I might pick some of them up in the not too distant future.

I was kindly sent ‘Witness of the Night’ by Kishwar Desai from Beautiful Books which I had heard nothing about but sounds great, ‘Coconut Unlimited’ by Nikesh Shukla which I have heard lots and lots of good things about from Quartet Books, ‘Skippy Dies’ has been languishing on my TBR for ages (oops), I managed to grab Aatish Taseer’s ‘The Temple-Goers’ in the library when I took some books back finally, and I managed to sneak a copy of Louise Doughty’s ‘Whatever You Love’ from Faber & Faber’s HQ when I went in this week, which nicely leads me to the next part of my post…

I mentioned a while ago that I am going to be writing some Reading Guides for a publisher. I can now tell you that the publisher is Faber & Faber and thanks to the comments we are coming up with something very new and different with how these reading guides are going to work. I have lots of brainstorming to do, lots. I stupidly forgot to take a picture of Faber HQ but I did spot this amazing house filled with books which I wanted to move into on the spot.

I did manage to leave with some lovely loot from Faber though in a rather delightful bag. Top priority was ‘Gillespie & I’ by Jane Harris (I adored ‘The Observations’ and am begging Faber to let me write the reading guide for that one next) which isn’t out until May so am soooo chuffed managed to get my mitts on it. I also got all the Ishiguro novels I don’t own which was great (and some double copies which I have passed on) as I want to get to know Ishiguro better as the first book I am going to be writing the reading guide for is ‘Never Let Me Go’ my review of which got me the job unbeknown to me at the time.

Straight after Faber I ran to The Green Carnation Event which was a huge success, so much so I got stuck at the back with the other judges as it was so busy we could barely move and lots of people couldn’t even get in…

It was a great night for those of us who did get in with the readings from the authors and then lots of drinking afterwards in the local pub which I will report back on in due course, I am awaiting some pictures from one of my lovely friends.

So what bookish goings on have you been up to lately? Any great recent reads or new book arrivals? What are your thoughts on how reading guides could be made more modern (for my brainstorming)? Any thoughts on the Costa Book Award Shortlists, have you read any of them at all, any recommendations?

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Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

I’ve been mulling all things Savidge Reads and blog orientated of late and in doing so, though I haven’t quite finished, have decided that over the forthcoming months much more whim reading and pulling from the shelves and out of the boxes of my mighty TBR is going to be going on. I will still be doing reviews of the latest releases but after my small strop-of-sorts I want to go back to the days when I read what I wanted because I fancied it. ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro was a book that I decided three weeks ago I really fancied reading despite the fact I have struggled with Ishiguro before  and the fact that Granny Savidge simply said ‘well… many people loved it, I wasn’t one’ which actually made me giggle.

I happily admit that before I started ‘Never Let Me Go’ I had absolutely no idea what the plot would be. I have recently given up reading blurbs of books I am imminently due to read (it actually makes the experience all the better – I do of course read them in order to decide I want to read the book in the first place but invariably the book ends up lost somewhere in the TBR pile for a month or twenty four and so I forget). Therefore the story that unfolded before me was one that I could never have guessed and one that had I known too much of what was to come would possibly have ruined the experience so I am going to try and make you read this book without saying too much and being a bit vague, for this is a book that if you haven’t read then you simply must.

Kathy H introduces herself to the reader as a thirty one year old carer and who has been doing this for eleven years as ‘Never Let Me Go’ opens. In fact it is Kathy B’s narration and voice that are part of what makes the book such a success as we learn how she got from her childhood in the grandeur of Hailsham School to where she is now. As we go through this ‘coming of age’ tale with a rather large twist, in fact it’s the twist that made a genre I don’t like (coming of age tales) such a readable book, Kathy H drops little hints to the reader that she and the other children at this school, such as her two closest friends Tommy and Ruth for it is their three stories ad the triangle they create, are quite different from the likes of you and me and ‘where you come from’.

If I gave anything away I would be so cross with myself because knowing nothing about this book is probably the best way to let the emotional impact hit you as it unfolds. I will say that Ishiguro creates such a realistic story and scenario that rather than thinking ‘Never Let Me Go’ is set in an ‘alternative England’ in the 1990’s I could very well believe that all that happens in the novel could have really happened and still be happening and you would never know. You might find yourself looking at people you pass in the street a little bit differently. I know I did after finishing the book and to me that shows how real and engrossing a modern masterpiece Ishiguro has created.

He manages to write lyrical prose and what you would deem a ‘literary’ novel whilst merging in the speculative and also managing to leave every chapter on a cliff hanger so that you simply have to read on. You will get gripped so maybe try and read this on a very free weekend. Ishiguro also manages to put us inside the heads of all of the three main characters and gives us insight into Ruth and Tommy’s motives only using Kathy’s observations and to me that was a further sign of what a brilliant novel this is. I don’t think I can recommend or rave about it enough. 10/10 (And for a coming of age story to get that from me is quite something. Read it and if you have done so already… read it again, I know I will one day!) 

I mentioned I had struggled with Ishiguro before. It was actually for a book group choice back in the days before blogging and we read ‘An Artist of the Floating World’ I am wondering if the timing was all wrong and I should maybe go back to it sometime as after reading ‘Never Let Me Go’ I can’t understand how I wasn’t bowled over by him before. I shan’t head for that next though, I am already slyly eyeing up ‘A Pale View of Hills’, I could head for his most famous novel ‘Remains of the Day’ but I think I want to read that last. Who else has read ‘Never Let Me Go’ and what did you think? Which other Ishiguro novels have blown you away?

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Filed under Books of 2010, Faber & Faber, Kazuo Ishiguro, Review