Tag Archives: Leonora Carrington

Other People’s Bookshelves #74 – Joanna Walsh

Hello and welcome, after a small sabbatical, to the latest in 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 in the company of author Joanna Walsh and her wonderful shelves. Joanna has put quite the spread on for us with something for everyone, so let’s all grab a glass and a nibble of something and have a nose through her bookshelves and learn more about her.

Joanna Walsh is the author of Hotel, Vertigo (UK publication 2016), Grow a Pair and Fractals. She writes for The Guardian, The New Statesman, and The National. She is Fiction Editor at 3:AM Magazine, and runs the capping @read_women, which the New York Times described as a “rallying cry for equal treatment for women writers.”

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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 have a holding system. As I review, I am sent quite a few books which go into the ‘to be read immediately’ pile, the ‘to be read later pile’, the ‘to be given away pile’ and any number of intermediate piles. I try not to put things on the shelves that I haven’t read, because it means I might forget to read them.

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 just made myself a new set of shelves so I can have more of my books together. I made them out of scaffolding planks and bricks and I’m not really a pro at this so the whole thing is rather unstable although the planks are bracketed to the wall at a central point. I hope they don’t fall down and kill me someday. I alphabetise – although it’s not very aesthetically pleasing. I found I had to, because I do a lot of work that involves referring to other works. I discovered that I have an affinity for authors at the beginning of the alphabet, especially authors beginning with B*, which is lucky because I often sit right under that section. Art books have their own set of shelves downstairs for reasons of size (‘B’s/’C’s  there too! Bourgeois, Carrington, Calle, Blake again…), and then journals/anthologies etc, which are not by one writer, & also things I’ve contributed to/written just because I couldn’t fit all these things on my main set of shelves.

*Beckett, Benjamin, Claire-Louise Bennet, Brooke-Rose, Breton, Blake, Baudriallard, Barthleme, Barthes, Buzzati, Bacon, Baudelaire, Bernhard, Bowles (Jane), Nicholson Baker, Flann O’Brien (should he be under O? Probably, but he obeys no laws of reason).

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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 used libraries as a child. I think I bought the Penguin complete Sherlock Holmes when I was about 10. It went mouldy when there was a leak in my wall a few years ago so I had to throw it out along with some other books.

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?

The only pile I’m embarrassed about is the pile of books written by acquaintances that I might never get around to reading. (To anyone reading this who’s given me their book: no, OF COURSE I don’t mean YOURS.)

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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?

I’m not really attached to books as objects. Books should be reproducible, that’s the point of them isn’t it? It’s the writing that counts. On the other hand I do love well-designed books (I’ve designed several book covers). There’s no reason the design of electronic books shouldn’t be excellent too. All the same,  I don’t like to read e-books, but that’s because because it’s very difficult to weigh how far you are through them, and more or less impossible to take spontaneous notes: and you can’t bend them, or leave them splayed spine-up or fold them to mark a page, or read them in the bath. I do often read pdfs/epubs on my laptop when reviewing.

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 was pretty excited when I read Lord of the Rings when I was 9. I thought it was a grown-up book because it had no pictures. I got about 1/3 of the way through before I realised it had a page with some kind of runic diagram or something, and I felt cheated. I did finish it, though. I was very concerned that I should be able to finish such a long book.

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My dad was an English and drama teacher, so I read a lot of Beckett as a teenager, especially the plays. I was also really interested by The Pilgrim’s Progress because his edition had an intriguing cover. I did read that. I always anticipated that books long-deferred because they were ‘for grown-ups’ must hold some kind of secret that was so big and important that I couldn’t possibly even conceive of it. But I think there’s too much emphasis on childhood reading, that it’s sometimes sentimentalised, perhaps because for some people who don’t, or hardly ever, read books as adults, this is when they read most. I’m constantly coming across books that are THE BOOK for a while, and have at every period of my life.

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 usually put it on a wish list and don’t buy it unless I need to reference it. Having it on a list must make me feel I if I do possess it in some way. Sometimes I lend out a book, then I don’t want to ask for it back for one reason, or another. I’m more likely to buy it then.

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

After they’ve been through the holding pattern thing, maybe Lucia Berlin’s collected short stories, which I may not reread very soon, and Lispector’s, which I definitely will. Apart from when I’m reviewing, I’m pathologically incapable of finishing a book of short stories. I have no idea why.

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I just bought Bolaño’s 2666, and of course that’s gone on the tbr pile, not a shelf, but it’s size is a bit daunting so I’m not sure how quickly it will get to the shelves…

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

There are books I wish were available – like Leonora Carrington’s short stories, and Down Below, her memoir of incarceration in a Spanish mental asylum. I read this book in a university library. I am sad that such a common-or-garden-looking paperback is available only there, or via a second-hand book dealer for quite unreasonable sums.

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

Pseudy (post)modernist.

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


Filed under Joanna Walsh, Other People's Bookshelves

The Hearing Trumpet – Leonora Carrington

One of the things that I love, on the near never ending list of things I love, about book blogging is that sometimes someone who has been reading your blog a while will recommend you a title that you have never heard of before but instantly sounds up your street. This was the case with ‘The Hearing Trumpet’ by Leonora Carrington, a book both with a title and an author that I had never heard of before and yet instantly appealed to me when I learnt more about it.

Marian Leatherby is given a hearing trumpet from her best friend (and the absolutely wonderful) Carmella. At 92 years of age Marian is living with her son and his family who really don’t want her there and on the first evening she hides away to listen to them all she hears that she is soon to be sent off to a home.  Marian is aware that she might not be everyone’s ideal house guest but this is her family and it’s a rejection and an upheaval all in one. Though this book does deal with the pitfalls of old age it is by no means a morose tale, in fact its both giggle inducing and laugh out loud funny on several occasions.

‘Here I may add that I consider I am still a useful member of society and I believe still capable of being pleasant and amusing when the occasion seems fit. The fact that I have no teeth and never could wear dentures does not in anyway discomfort me. I don’t have to bite anybody and there are all sorts of edible foods easy to procure and digestible to the stomach. Mashed vegetables, chocolate and bread dipped in warm water make the base of my simple diet. I never eat meat as I think it is wrong to deprive animals of their life when they are so difficult to chew anyway.’

She is soon made to pack her bags and is carted off to one of the strangest institutions that there could be. A place where the houses that these old ladies live in are made in the shape of giant shoes, igloo’s, birthday cakes and mushrooms and where their inhabitants are almost as barmy. Marian becomes rather subconsciously obsessed with a painting of a winking Nun, Dona Rosalinda Alvarez Cruz della Cueva, who she soon learns was the founder of the institution with quite a bizarre and sordid past. Throw in a murder and a surreal almost apocalypse and you have one of the most bizarre yet brilliantly funny and original tale.

Discovering that Leonora Carrington was a surrealist painter made a huge amount of sense when I read Ali Smith’s (who I like a lot) introduction to the novel. Carrington paints a setting which is completely cuckoo and yet also vivid and so you can easily picture these ladies heading to their toad-stools and the like after dinner in the grand hall. I will admit towards the end I did get a little bit lost and it took me a little while to realise I was reading a story within a story at another point, yet you do go with it no matter how doolally it gets.

As well as just how surreal it can be Carrington’s characters and humour make this a real pleasure to read in parts. Most of the ladies at the institute be they evil, delightful or a bit racy were really enjoyable to read and spend time with. For me personally Carmella stole every scene she was in and had me in hysterics often for example as she thinks of ways of which to rescue Marian from dressing up as a nun to buying a helicopter, though she would have to win the lottery or marry a millionaire first, and rescuing her from above – in fact everything Carmella thinks and does has to go to the most unexpected of extremes. Marian of course as the narrator was also a joy and her darker wit really appealed to me.

‘I saw myself sitting in a warm parlour with scarlet curtains surrounded by happy, confidential but vague faces. I drank glass after glass of rich Portuguese wine occasionally washed down with a tiny French éclair. Everybody got happier and happier, they burst into applause as I reached the lighthouse, Anna Wertz had disappeared. She must have noticed that I had not been paying attention to what she was telling me. Poor Anna, how terrible for her that nobody ever liked listening to her talk.’

It’s not a perfect book and you might get lost here and there but if you want a highly original book that will have you laughing a lot and you can spend an afternoon with, as its only 144 pages, then I would highly recommend this be a read for you. I really enjoyed my time with it, and was very grateful for the recommendation which I am now passing on to all of you. A crazy old tale filled with crazy old ladies… lovely stuff! 7.5/10

Have any of you spent time with Marian Leatherby? I would love to know what others have made of this book. Do any of you know if there is a book about Leonora Carrington as reading the introduction and hearing about her escapades if there isn’t a book about her then there should be! Has anyone read anything else by Leonora Carrington? What’s the most surreal book you have picked up lately?


Filed under Leonora Carrington, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review

Library Loots & Latest Incomings

I do find it odd that only a few months when my ‘refurbished’ local library reopened its doors I was a little bit snobbish about it. I didn’t like the fact that it was self service and though the building still has its old exterior I weirdly missed the old interior and the fact that trying to find a book published after 2000 was pretty much impossible. However over the last week or two I have been converted and have been visiting a lot.

Unlike the library I did like (especially as it has a new swanky supermarket next door killing two birds with one bus journey) one tube stop away the one just down the road now always seems to have just the books I want or have been mulling over. It also helps they have been lottery funded and so they keep getting the latest books in pristine condition. It’s almost like going into a book store which as I am on a book buying ban and can cart a load off for free is ideal. This week I got four new ones to read…

  • The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington – I had not heard of this Penguin Modern Classic until I got an email from a reader last weekend telling me that the tale of Marian Leatherby’s committal to an institution by her family would be just my cup of tea, low and behold the library had it in pristine condition.
  • Solo by Rana Dasgupta – Libraries are great for taking risks with books and I have been watching the Not The Man Booker Prize with interest this year and was actually going to see if I could get any of the books listed for this year, I couldn’t but I did get last years winner which I have mulled over before.
  • The City &The City by China Mieville – I asked you all if I wanted to read this, pretty much all of you said I did and the library had it so it seemed like fate.
  • The Big Four by Agatha Christie – A graphic novel of Agatha Christie which sounds like it could be a James Bond novel only with Poirot. I think I will either love this or hate it but its something different to try.

I have also been lucky enough to get some more unsolicited books in the last week or four. Actually no I tell a lie two of these books I had emails asking if I fancied and indeed I did (I will pop a star next to those) but that’s not asking which I have banned myself from. A few I had already but are now in lovely new editions (such as the Atwood) or paperback editions have come out, so maybe I will do some more giveaways over the next few weeks – don’t forget there is a giveaway here at the moment.

  • Angels of Destruction by Keith Donoghue
  • Ransom by David Malouf
  • Waiting For Columbus by Thomas Trofimuk*
  • London Labour & The London Poor by Henry Mayhew
  • The End by Salvatore Scibona
  • The Alchemasters Apprentice by Walter Moers
  • To The End of the Land by David Grossman
  • Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason
  • Small Memories by Jose Saramago
  • Begginers by Ramond Carver
  • Balthazar Jones and the Tower of London by Julia Stuart*
  • The Complete Fairy Tales by Charles Perrault
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • The Dogs & The Wolves by Irene Nemirovsky

The David Grossman has a bit of a funny story attached to it, not as in the story of the book which is apparently heartbreaking… let me explain. I was banging on about ‘To The End of the Land’ to one of my friends saying how much I wanted it and how I couldn’t ask for it or buy it myself only when I then, less than 24 hours later, finally sorted through all my latest books and other books I had been moving around the last week or two proceeded to discover I did indeed have it already! Oh dear, a sign of too many books on the TBR? Actually I don’t think you can have too many books on a TBR.

So what lovely library loots have you got recently? Been bought any books or treated yourselves to any? Have you read any of the above?


Filed under Book Thoughts