Tag Archives: Khaled Hosseini

Other People’s Bookshelves #35; Persephone Nicholas

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a regular series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. This week we are heading off to Australia to meet a lady who is named after my favourite Greek mythical character and one of my favourite publishing house, ok maybe the last bit wasn’t true, Persephone Nicholas. Before I start making more things up about Persephone let’s get to know her a little bit better and have a nosey through her bookshelves…

My name’s Persephone and I’m a UK born author and freelance writer now living in Sydney. I’ve always loved books and writing, but I didn’t start writing for a living until I moved to Australia almost a decade ago. I write for newspapers, magazines and a few corporate clients. Last year my first novel, Burned, won a Random House literary award and has since been published as an eBook and in print in Australia and New Zealand. I’m now working on my second novel. I also blog about books and writing at: http://thebookorme.blogspot.com.au/ and am on twitter: @PersephoneNich.

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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 used to hold on to every single book that came my way. My dad worked in publishing, my mum was a compulsive reader and I was a very bookish kid who went on to read English at uni. So at one point I had thousands of books. When I moved to Australia almost a decade ago, I had a huge cull. I decided that unless I’d loved a book so much I wanted to read it again, I would let it go. Looking back, I think I was too ruthless – I probably got rid of 90 per cent of my books. At the time I was so stressed at the prospect of moving my family to the other side of the world, that it seemed easier to get rid of things than organise them. The upside of all that is that I’m looking forward to buying some of my old favourites again, Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series for example. I don’t keep a lot of books now. I don’t have a problem with getting rid of things I haven’t especially enjoyed and I love to share good books with friends, so I often lend my favourite books. Occasionally one gets lost, but I prefer to think of books being read, rather than languishing on 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?

A casual observer might think that my bookshelves aren’t organised at all. But I know exactly where everything is. I have shelves for books I want to read, shelves for books I’ve read and want to keep and another shelf for books that I’m happy to pass on. I also have shelves of reference books; on creativity and writing; and also on interiors as I regularly write for one or two home magazines. I’ve kept a few books that my kids loved when they were younger too. I’ve always enjoyed reading to them and keeping some of those picture books brings back happy memories.

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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 have absolutely no idea what the first book I bought was. I must have been quite young and I absolutely loved Mary Norton’s The Borrowers and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series so it might have been one of either of those.

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 always interested to read books that are hugely popular. I like to know what everyone’s talking about. That’s what made me pick up the first Harry Potter, Twilight and Fifty Shades. Only Harry Potter still has shelf room in our house though.

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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?

The books I cherish most were given to me by my mum. She’s always been a great reader and spent hours choosing books she thought my sister and I might love when we were younger. She bought Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth for me and introduced me to The Kite Runner many years ago. She still gives me great book tips. The other special book I have is my debut novel, Burned. I was very surprised – and honoured – to receive an award from Random House for it last year and it was amazing being able to put a copy of a book I’d written on my bookshelves. I’m writing another novel now and have definitely learned a lot about the process since Burned was published, but I think the first one will always be special.

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

My parents were pretty liberal and let us read everything when we were growing up. I don’t remember anything ever being deemed inappropriate, so if there was something I wanted to read on their shelves (which were absolutely jam-packed), I would have just got on with it.

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

If I’ve borrowed a book and loved it, I will often buy a copy. It might not go on my shelves, I might give it to someone else as a gift, but I do like to support writers whose work I’ve enjoyed.

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

An Australian girlfriend recently gave me The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea by Randolph Stow. He’s widely considered to be one of Australia’s finest writers, but I hadn’t heard of this book until she told me about it. That’s what I’ll be reading next.

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

Their first thought would probably be that I don’t have many books. If they looked a little more closely, I hope they’d think that I enjoy intelligent writing by a wide range of authors.

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A huge thanks to Persephone for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves and for taking the time to chat with us all. Anyway… Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) 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 Persephone’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Summer Read Suggestions – The Bloggers (Part Two)

So after yesterdays post which unveiled what some bloggers will be reading over the summer months and which books they have already loved during summers passed here are the second instalment of bloggers and their thoughts on summer reads.

Just in case you might be wondering why you didn’t get an email asking… check your spam, as I sent this out to loads and loads of bloggers who I enjoy but only got half the responses back. However as I have enjoyed these sort of posts so much (and hope you all have) I will be doing another one in the non too distant, a summery follow up I guess, so don’t worry about sending responses in late. Right, anyway on with the recommendations…

Polly, Novel Insights

My summer recommendation would have to be Peyton Place (starting out with that wonderful Indian summer passage and heady atmosphere).

As for what I am looking forward to reading this summer… A Room Swept White, by Sophie Hannah – I’d love to read this on holiday as her books are so gripping and I never fail to be surprised by her plot twists. I will also be heading to Sri Lanka so I might be taking some fiction set there or by authors from there if I can get my hands on some.

Simon, Stuck in a Book

People talk about beach literature as though it ought to be something trashy, preferably with the torso of an anguished woman taking up most of the cover.  I prefer to take something meaty on holiday with me, where I’ll have fewer distractions – a dense Victorian novel, say, or a tricky experimental novel which would confuse me if read in short bursts.  Having said that, my favourite summery read is actually The Summer Book by Tove Jansson.  These tales of summer on a Finnish island are wonderful wherever they’re read, but there’s something perfect about reading them on a windy beach with the sun in your eyes. For those of us who only have holidays in this Sceptred Isle, a touch of Scandinavian summer is welcome, if only vicariously.

Bearing in mind my answer to question 1, I am considering taking Fanny Burney’s Camilla off on my holiday this year.  It’s got more pages than I’ve had hot dinners, and a Yorkshire moor (for this will be a beachless summer for me) could be the perfect place to immerse myself in the dalliances of the eighteenth century.

Harriet, Harriet Devine’s Blog

I would suggest Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures for a summer read. It would be especially apt for a beach holiday (and even more so if that was taking place in south west England) as it is set in beautiful Lyme Regis, on the Dorset coast, and much of the action takes place on the beach, where a couple of women are searching for fossils. This is much more exciting than it sounds — a real page turner, in fact! Set at the time of Jane Austen, this is a lovely, sensitive, thoughtful read, not too demanding for a relaxing holiday but intelligent and thought-provoking too.

Claire, Paperback Reader

It entirely depends on whether I am going on a summer holiday or not.  If I’m staying at home over the summer months then my reading won’t change all that much but if I am going to be in the sun then my reading choices tend to reflect that.  I usually go for something a tad lighter in content, nothing too heavy that will bring me down; however, I have also seen me take Vanity Fair by William Thackeray to the pool-side with me!  Sometimes I pack in the suitcase is a classic I’ve been meaning to read or a book I have been saving up for uninterrupted reading time. I do like books set in sunnier climes too for when I’m likewise baking in the sun or relaxing in the shade or air-conditioned room with ice-cream or refreshing watermelon.  The perfect examples I can give of my  favourite type of summer reads are those I read the last time I was in Florida; I took with me A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini; The Return by Victoria Hislop; The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak; The Rain Before it Falls by Jonathan Coe; The Private Lives of Pippa Lee by Rebecca Miller. All were perfect choices with none of them too literary but with more than enough substance to keep me immersed on long flights and the beach.

This summer I am not going abroad but will head home for a couple of weeks.  I intend to take The Passage by Justin Cronin with me because it’s long enough to keep me going although I foresee not having many free moments to read it and it extending out to a seasonal-long summer read.  I’m also going to pick up a couple of lighter books that everyone else seems to have read: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert before the film is released.  Depending what makes it onto the Man Booker longlist, I may include a few of those on my summer reading list; I say list metaphorically though as I’m going to try this year not to plan my reading too much and make my choices on a whim instead.

Dot, Dot Scribbles

The perfect summer read for me has to be a page turner, I need to be gripped by it so I can happily spend an afternoon in the sun with my book! These can vary from quite light chick lit type books to something a bit heavier, I always find Daphne du Maurier to be a good holiday author as you can be totally absorbed.

This summer my one holiday read that is already in the suitcase is actually down to the wonderful reviews from yourself and Novel Insights and that is Peyton Place, I wanted to read it as soon as it arrived but I decided that it would make perfect holiday reading. In terms of general summer reading I prefer books that are set more in that season, I find it really hard to read something in July/August that is talking about snow and the freezing cold! For some reason as well I tend to prefer to read mystery type books in the Winter but I have no idea why!

Jackie, Farmlane Books

The long list for the Booker prize will be announced on 27th July so I will spend most of my Summer reading time trying to complete the list. I don’t change the books that I read based on the seasons – I enjoy the same types of book all year round. If I’m going away then I prefer to take a few longer books with me – I’d hate to run out of reading material half way through a holiday! Fingersmith by Sarah Waters or Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel are great examples of long books that would be my favourite holiday reads.

This Summer I am looking forward to reading The Elephant’s Journey by Jose Saramago. Blindness is one of my favourite books and I hope that The Elephant’s Journey contains his usual blend of fantastic writing and original story telling. His recent death has made this book even more important to me.

Claire, Kiss A Cloud

The perfect summer read for me would be something that makes me feel lighthearted and young and happy to be alive, of which the perfect example would be Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle.

Although I would read anything in the summer, what I most look forward to is Maggie O’Farrell’s The Hand that First Held Mine. While I have never read her yet, I’m convinced that it’s going to be a wonderful experience, based on many blogger recommendations. The book is said to pull on our heartstrings, and this leaves my mind imagining a summer romance.

Tom, A Common Reader

Summer reads? Well, I’ve been thinking about that and in all honesty I don’t think I differentiate between summer and other seasons. The books keep rolling in, and I keep reading them! However, thinking of summer books, I suppose something like my recently reviewed Hundred Foot Journey by Richard Morais would be ideal combining humour, al fresco eating and France. I think most people would be happy to take something like that on holiday with them.

Or a book of short pieces like the one I’ve just read called ‘Are We Related?’ which is the New Granta Book of the Family. Perfect for dipping into but by no means trivial.

Karen, Cornflower Books

It so happens I’ve just finished a perfect, relaxing, summery read, Rosy Thornton’s A Tapestry of Love. It’s set in rural France (a mountain hamlet in the Cevennes, to be exact) and it was inspired by a visit Rosy made there on holiday some years ago. The novel takes you through a year in that beautiful, relatively remote spot, and its heroine has her ups and downs, but it’s a warm, gently uplifting book which will entertain whether you’re already drowsy with summer heat or stuck in the cold and damp and wishing you could get away from it all.

In ‘real life’ Rosy is a Law don at Cambridge, a Fellow of Emmanuel College, and – impressively – she manages to combine that academic career and a family with being a novelist, but combine them she does, and her intelligent, lively books are pure pleasure to read.

Frances, Nonsuch Book

Working in education, I still have summer vacation every year just like the small people so summer reading has special meaning to me. Reading on a whim, at odd hours, as much as I can ingest before falling asleep with a book. Also enjoy a bit of a fluff parade those first few weeks out of school. Nothing to task the brain too much and a little off course from my usual reading choices.

My only reading obligations this summer are to my Non-Structured Book Group. We are reading A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe in July and In the American Grain by William Carlos Williams in August. I say “obligation” but that is a bit of a joke as no one in our group would give a fig if I decided not to read or gave up on a book and emailed everyone, “I quit. This sucks.” And this is just one reason I love my online book group. Others include big brains, great writers, and Olympian quality smack talking.

Looking forward to re-reading Agatha Christie books for the first time since I was a teenager, Lit by Mary Karr, Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons, The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis, and a whole bunch of Parisian inspired reads for the Paris in July event hosted by Book Bath and Thyme for Tea.

So that’s your lot, for now anyway, I am probably going to do a follow up post from a few more bloggers authors and co in the next few weeks. So what will you be reading over the summer season?

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The Bookseller of Kabul – Asne Seierstad

I have been meaning to read ‘The Bookseller of Kabul’ for quite some time even though I seemed to miss all of the hype around this book when it came out back in 2003/2004. One of my colleagues had been reading it and so we’d been discussing it and I had made a mental note to look out for it.  Going through my TBR during moving house last week I found my copy, which I think I bought almost two years ago from a charity shop, and thought it would make a change from some of the other things I have been reading. We all like a change now and again don’t we? Plus, I have been aiming to read more non-fiction this year. 

‘The Bookseller of Kabul’ was written after journalist Asne Seierstad spent time in Kabul and befriended the local bookseller and found both his story and life fascinating. She then asked if she could possibly stay with his family so that she could get a different but very real look at these people’s lives. Sultan, the bookseller, agreed and so she moved in and was taken in as part of the family. Through this she gained a true insight into how life in Kabul was after the Taliban regime and how it had been during and before. 

From the introduction and the blurb I thought this would be a really intriguing and unusual read and in some ways it was. Through Seierstad’s experiences you are totally immersed in the surroundings of Kabul, the smells, sounds and of course the culture from a very different perspective. Seierstad herself would were the Burka and go around dressed as one of the women and so in particular she got insight into their lives as underneath the gown and headdress she became anonymous, even if it wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences. 

Sadly, though a compelling insightful and often shocking read, the book was readable but wasn’t what I had hoped for. I was expecting this to be a blow by blow account of Asne’s story through her eyes and yet what she has chosen to do is make it into a story seen by a third party looking in on the family. I always have trouble when people do this as though its claimed to be ‘non-fiction’ I always wonder how someone can stop themselves from fictionalising things if it’s not from their exact account. Seierstad may have overheard all these stories in the months she lived with the family but she wasn’t actually there and I would have found her account as a westerner drawn into their world more interesting. 

This could be down to the fact that having read both ‘The Kite Runner’ and ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini first this seemed to pale into comparison slightly. Maybe if I hadn’t read ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ this would have rated much higher with me as the struggle of women in Kabul is made fully clear in ‘The Bookseller of Kabul’ and wasn’t in ‘The Kite Runner’. This is a great book; don’t get me wrong I just wish I had read it before any Hosseini as though his is fiction it reads much better. If Seierstad had written her experiences from her perspective I think this could have been outstanding, and if she ever does I will be down to the book store buying a copy on the day of release.

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Belated Book Group Blog

Now what with moving house and all I have been lax on reporting back on Book Group last Thursday, and as the next one is a month today (August 6th) I thought that I should really get on with it as Kimbofo already has which puts me to shame. 

I had a few friendly faces from the Blogosphere as Jackie from Farmlanebooks and Claire from A Paperback Reader both turned up. Kim’s blog had drawn in two more and then some of my friends and a work colleague popped in too. It made a really lovely mix of eleven, with a diverse range of people, ages and genders and over a few drinks we all had a lovely discussion. There wasn’t actually a first book choice as we had decided to do an ice breaking group where we all brought along our favourite book. The choices were…

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (Simon)
My Brother Jack by George Johnston (Kim)
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (Claire)
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (Jackie)
Persuasion by Jane Austen (Michelle)
The Pursuit of Love/Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford (Dom)
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (Polly)

Diaspora by Greg Egan / Dawn by Octavia E. Butler (Kake)
Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson (Hattie)
A Place to Live: And Other Selected Essays of Natalia Ginzburg by Natalia Ginzburg (Armen)
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (Gemma)

I have highlighted the ones that I have actually read (I read half Behind the Scenes at the Museum and gave up so must retry that) and am going to get copies of the ones I haven’t. Of course mine had to be Rebecca, which Claire had actually guessed I would bring and is also her favourite but thought two same favourites might not be so interesting and so she brought another. Now I know I said that I would do a page of my favourite books on here but I have done something wrong with my coding and being mid move I haven’t been able to update it as yet, but its coming honest. I just need to have a big sort out and then settle in the new pad. I did ask you for your favourites but you weren’t too forthcoming and I would still love to know what they are. 

So what is the next book we are doing on August 6th?

Well it was my choice, after this we are going in alphabetical order, and so I decided to try ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath which sounds quite intriguing! “Renowned for its intensity and outstandingly vivid prose, it broke existing boundaries between fiction and reality and helped to make Plath an enduring feminist icon. It was published under a pseudonym a few weeks before the author’s suicide. Plath was an excellent poet but is known to many for this largely autobiographical novel. The Bell Jar tells the story of a gifted young woman’s mental breakdown beginning during a summer internship as a junior editor at a magazine in New York City in the early 1950s. The real Plath committed suicide in 1963 and left behind this scathingly sad, honest and perfectly- written book, which remains one of the best-told tales of a woman’s descent into insanity.”  Should be interesting! 

I will do a review and update on the group the day after we’ve met in the flesh, so you can join in with your thoughts then if you can’t actually make it. Well you can do it now actually… just no plot spoilers please!!!!

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A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

This was a book group choice, but one that I had been looking at and debating in every bookshop I went into after my love of ‘The Kite Runner’ which was one of my favourite reads last year. Plus it was on the Richard and Judy latest list and 90% of the time Amanda Ross seems to know a good book when she sees one. So when Katie’s choice of five was whittled to this one (that’s how we do it in our book group) I was over the moon.

I wasn’t disappointed which can be a worry after you have loved an author like Khaled Hosseini and don’t want that spell to be broken. Oh dear that sounds a little over dramatic. People have said this is ‘the female Kite Runner’ and it isn’t. I don’t want to give too much away as this spectacular novel that I found as moving as The Kite Runner and had so many more ‘oh no that cant have happened’ moments (where you have to re-read a paragraph) than its predecessor, they also start early which is why I cant really give you a massive insight into the plot I dont want to spoil it. Here’s what I can tell you…

The novel centres around two women, Hosseini here proves he is one of those men who can write women really well, Mariam who is sent to Kabul to marry the vile Rasheed, and two decades later Laila a fifteen year old girl for who tragedy strikes on more than one occasion. These two women are thrown together through adversity and what follows is an epic tale of heroines and their struggle to make a better life amongst the bloodshed and fear in a Taliban controlled environment.

This book will stay with you for a long time. I did think the ending was written for a film which I think is bound to happen and had a slightly nicely rounded off edge after several scenes that had left me in tears but that is a minor, minor point in what is seriously a fantastic book. I know people are jumping on to a band wagon of bashing these books now, however I don’t think that Hosseini is a one trick pony which I know certain critics of this second novel have been stating, I guess we will see what he comes up with next… I can’t wait.

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Book Group, Books of 2008, Khaled Hosseini, Review, Richard and Judy