Tag Archives: Louis De Bernieres

Other People’s Bookshelves #83 – Rebecca Smith

Hello and welcome back to the series Other People’s Bookshelves. If you haven’t seen them before these are a series where a guest takes over the blog and feeds into the book lust we all feel by sharing their shelves. This week we are off to Scotland, where we are being put up by the lovely, lovely Rebecca Smith who has kindly invited us to have a gander at her bookshelves. Before we do Rebecca has kindly put on stunning Scottish spread of utter joy and delight. So now we are refreshed and before we rampage through her shelves Rebecca is just going to introduce herself a bit more…

I’m Rebecca and I grew up in the middle of nowhere in Cumbria amongst forests and mountains, snakes and stags. I now live in Central Scotland with my 6 year old son and my partner. One day I will build my own house surrounded by trees and grass. With those huge bookcases that spans walls and reach the ceiling. I went to University in Stirling (English, Film and Media). I lived and studied in Hungary for a semester (thank you Erasmus). And I produced live radio for nearly 10 years, almost purely living off adrenaline. I write short stories and currently work for BBC Radio Drama part time. Last year I applied for the https://womentoringproject.co.uk/ and was lucky enough to be selected by the amazing Kirsty Logan. She is mentoring me which has given me a huge boost in confidence with regards to my writing.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I keep all of the books I buy. But I usually end up lending a book to someone which is how I manage to keep space for more! I’ve lost a few books throughout the years and it’s only recently I’ve wanted (and seen the benefit of) re-reading of them. I’ll be buying again them when the house is built…

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

I don’t really cull my books. I’m very reluctant too anyway. And yes, it’s alphabetical: although the bottom shelf tends to be reference or books that don’t really fit anywhere else (1975 Jackie annual – it’s mums, I can’t part with it. It teaches you how to read your palm!) The books in the most accessible bookcase by the window have the short stories, poetry and a wee bit of drama. The books that pile up on top of the other books tend to be the ones I use most, taking them out to re-read passages when I’m writing. All the middle section are my University books, (good ole Norton Anthologies) and my partners building books – he works for a house builder (it’s not the only reason I’m with him.) In the kitchen there is the ‘travel section’, the cook books and the lit magazines. And of course in my sons room is his rather messy book case. I’ve read him a story every night since he was born. We’re reading a book about a police cat at the moment. His favourite (and will always be mine) is Fantastic Mr Fox.

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

Probably a series of books called The Mystery Club by Fiona Kelly. Oh I loved those books. I used to walk around the estate (my dad was the forester on a small country estate in the Lake District: it was idyllic) walking amidst the gardens, the scattered cottages, the lodge houses, the farm with a pen and notebook marking down anything that I thought could be suspicious. (That cottage has been empty for 3 weeks now, where is Mr Brown, have those curtains been moved…?!) I even wrote to Fiona Kelly and I was over the moon when she replied. I don’t have the books at my house but they could be in my parents cellar. Or it could have been a Judy Blume book. I loved every word that woman wrote.

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?

Not really no, but there are books that are either my Dads or my ex-husbands which are not my style. I’m not that overly taken with crime novels.

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?

Hmm, obviously the first thing I’d save is my son, and cat. (I assume my boyfriend could escape himself.) There is a very special book I bought in Krakow, Shaking A Leg, The Collected Writings of Angela Carter. I’m very careful with this (I would never lend this out) and I like to go back every now and then to read parts. It has her short stories and her essays collated in it. It looks beautiful, it is beautiful. I’d probably save that.

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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 was lucky enough to grow up in a house with over-flowing bookshelves. I used to read whatever my parents had lying around. Dad liked the classics and the adventures, mum, the family sagas. When I was 16 I read and loved Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and studied it for my A level English project. That felt adult, especially the war scenes which have stayed with throughout the years. I also bought from my local, very small and now closed down, book shop, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. I adored this book. It felt different, very adult, but very’ me’ at the same time. Unfortunately I lent it to someone and I never saw it again. That’s on my to-buy list.

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?

Yes, I borrow a lot out of the library as I can’t afford to buy all the books I want. I recently read Anne Enright’s, The Green Road from the library and I will buy that when I can as I loved nearly every sentence.

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

Helen Sedgwick’s, The Comet Seekers. I bought it at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Just finished reading it. I loved it. It was like chatting to old friends.

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

So so many; my wish list on Wordery is huge. The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, The Outrun by Amy Liptrot, This Must be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell, The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss, The Assassin’s Cloak by Irene Taylor (diary extracts – I really like the idea of this), Thin Air by Michelle Paver,  Bark by Lorrie Moore (another one I borrowed from the library and need to buy!)

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

No idea, but when people come round I like to find out what they like to read then I suggest something. It’s always a nice feeling when they come back and have liked it.

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And a huge thanks to Rebecca (my favourite name for obvious reaons) 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, I am catching up with all the latest volunteers. In the meantime… what do you think of Rebecca’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #10 – Claire King

Wow. We are already in double figures now with ‘Other People’s Bookshelves’, that ten weeks has flown by. Are you still enjoying the series? I do hope so as I have plenty more coming, so it is tough if not. Anyway this week we get to meet the author Claire King and have a nosey through her shelves all the way in France. Claire has been living in southern France for the last ten years – currently inhabiting what she calls ‘quite a shabby stone house in the middle of nowhere’ with her husband and two young daughters. She grew up in Mexborough, South Yorkshire and studied economics at Newnham College, Cambridge and then spent twenty years working in business before finally deciding what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her debut novel, which I have in my TBR, ‘The Night Rainbow’ is out TODAY! She also writes short fiction, which has been published online and in print and has been recognised by fancy places such as BBC Radio 4 Opening Lines, New Scientist, The Bristol Short Story Prize, the Sean O’Faolain Short Story Competition and Metazen. Her website is here. So let’s have a riffle through her shelves and get to know her better…

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 don’t have room for all my books. We moved here eleven years ago and I still have boxes and boxes of books in the cellar. Even though building bookshelves ought to take some kind of priority, we went for an indoor bathroom first, and then windows, that kind of thing. So instead I have piles of books distributed about the house in odd corners, a bit like Tetris. But you need to leave room to walk around, and places to put down a cup of tea. One of the great things about doing this piece was that I went down into the cellar to have a look in the boxes. I thought I might find my old copy of The Life of Pi (I didn’t). Mostly down there I keep books that visitors might like to read, but which I never will again, as well as travel books, old economics and business books, the 1996 Writers & Artists Handbook, that kind of thing. I’m obliged to keep a lot of good novels down there too though. Occasionally I make a foray into the cobwebs, and fish out some different ones for the shelves, putting others away for a while, but it happens very rarely.

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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?

Not really no, apart from my TBR pile, which grows all sinister and precarious, on my bedstead. I tend to keep books I think might most interest other people in our sitting room, where they can be grabbed easily. Every now and then I move things around. I think you stop seeing things when they stay the same way too long, which is why sometimes you go mooching round other people’s shelves and go “Oooh! Louis de Bernière, I haven’t read that him ages,” despite having several on your own shelves. They look different and more appealing out of context. So I’m a shelf fidgeter.

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

It was probably one of Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books, if pocket money counts. Otherwise a Jilly Cooper book in my teens with money I earned myself. Probably Riders. Jilly Coopers are boxed. The children’s ones have resurfaced, including a huge stack of faded well-leafed famous five 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?

Not really. My books are like me, what you see is what you get. Although now my children are reading, and often help themselves to books off my shelves – they are particularly interested in Nelson Mandela’s autobiography for some reason – I do need to move a few age-inappropriate books off the accessible shelves. I have things that people might want an explanation for, like Mein Kampf. But some books you don’t read for pleasure, but to try and comprehend something incomprehensible.

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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?

Do you know, I love having books, and I have so many treasured books. We have a first edition 1927 A.A. Milne NOW WE ARE SIX , which was given to my husband’s granny when she was little, as well as some Rudyard Kipling books from the same era. They’re magical. And books that my husband and I annotated as kids. Books with messages written in from friends many years ago. Collections of poetry I read and re-read and memorised as a student. It’s the personal element that makes them special. But if there was a fire they could burn, to be honest. I’m not desperately attached to things, it’s the stories that go on.

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 only had on small book shelf, belonging to my father. My mother had no books (since her divorce she has since become a voracious reader). The shelf had Readers Digest hardbacks on it – the entire collection of Charles Dickens and a family health book – and an atlas. That was it. I devoured the health book and the atlas as soon as I was old enough to read, which made me a bit precocious…but I never did read the Dickens. I inherited them though, and they’re now in a box in the cellar.

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?

Normally if I borrow a copy, I’ll only buy it if it’s one I want to read or refer to again. It’s more likely I would buy a copy as a gift for someone else and buy other books by the same author for myself.

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

We’ve just had Christmas and my birthday, so I’ve a big pile of new books off my wish-list. They include Canada, Rook, To the Lighthouse and The Great Gatsby, which I’ve never read. I know I have also been given a copy of Maggie O’Farrell’s new novel Instructions for a Heatwave via pre-order, and even though it’s not in my hands yet, it’s there in spirit.

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

My hardback of Vanessa Gebbie’s Coward’s Tale, which I loaned to someone and don’t think I’ll ever get back now. Otherwise no, although I do have a big wish-list for the 2013 crop coming up. I’ll buy things when I know I’ll have a chance to read them.

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

It would depend where they look. I’ve kept books for over 30 years, so there’s quite an evolution there. They all mean something to me, they say something about a certain era in my life, I can remember where I was when I read most of them for the first time. I think my oldest friends can see that too. But for others? It probably looks like a confusing and erratic collection. Being in the South of France we do get a lot of visitors, and I hope when people stay and ask to borrow a certain kind of book, I can find them something to their taste. I hope there’s something for everybody.

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A big thank you to Claire for letting me grill her and sharing her shelves with us all. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in Other People’s Book Shelves 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 Claire’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?

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The Mum Booker Longlist

You might possibly have an inkling, can’t think why, that today is the day when the longlist for this years Man Booker Award is announced. I have already had a crack at guessing just what books might make the list which you can have a peek at here. We all love a good list of books don’t we? Well, I do so I am assuming there must be more people like me? I really enjoy seeing people’s top ten or top forty books (which reminds me I need to add mine back onto the blog) and thought that today I would share with you my mother’s top ten books as she is a voracious reader and always has been, but more on her in her ‘Grilling’ later in the week.

I said it would be my Mum’s top ten books which she claimed would be ‘really easy’ however after a few minutes I got the look and a slight moan of ‘ooh its really difficult’. There was also some excuse of needing to be ‘standing in front of all my shelves so I can think more clearly’ but soon enough we didn’t have ten books but twenty, and here they are for you delectation with some snippets of conversation that were sparked by them.

  1. Iliad by Homer – “being a Classics teacher you can’t be surprised”
  2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – which she read when on maternity leave before my sister (another book devourer) was born after which reading went out the window unless it was ‘Spot the Dog’.
  3. Lord of the Rings by J.R. Tolkien
  4. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins – ‘much better than The Woman in White’ something we strongly disagree on.
  5. Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  6. Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos
  7. The L Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks – “I worry it has dated terribly by now so have never re-read, would rather have the memory of it being brilliant.” It’s just arrived at Savidge Reads HQ and I will be reading it soon.
  8. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  9. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres
  10. Taking The Devil’s Advice by Anne Fine – “possibly the funniest book I have ever read”
  11. The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck
  12. Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon – “a truly original book”
  13. The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
  14. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
  15. I, Claudius by Robert Graves – “naturally it’s the classic thing again”
  16. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  17. The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  18. Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver – loves the series and got very excited when I said that Paver’s adult book is out in October.
  19. Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam
  20. The Adventures of Tintin by Herge – “after all these years I still get huge enjoyment from these”

I was really surprised by this list and in particular the fact there was no Jane Austen, no Bronte’s and shock horror no Margaret Atwood. The latter seemed most bizarre as whenever I think of Atwood I think of my Mum. I asked her about these and she said “they are all great writers just no specific one book of there’s has made the top lot… you didn’t ask me for my top ten authors though did you?” I was also surprised no Shakespeare but apparently that’s because “you can’t choose one best Shakespeare play, it changes daily”.

So there you have it, my mother’s favourite books, don’t forget her Grilling will be up on Thursday. Until then what do you think of her list, was it what you might have expected? Which books have you read and loved on the list? Could any of my mothers top books be found in your list of favourites?

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Savidge Reads for Brazil

You may have been wondering why I have been getting rather focused on Brazilian literature in some posts of late even leading me off to Daunt Books to do some research (yes winners of those bags and some surprise books are at the bottom of today’s post). Well as I am off there for a while in November I decided to set up a little sort of ‘reading expedition/challenge’ in the lead up to that date that I hope you will all join in with in some form or other into the foreign lands of Brazil (unless you already live there of course).

It was a conversation about Brazil that originally sparked all this off in my head when one of The Converted One’s best friends said to me ‘you know you should immerse yourself in the Brazilian culture and history before you go, and you are a bit of a book geek to why not read yourself silly about it’ and so I thought ‘well why not?’ It was then another conversation where The Converted One said ‘when you get back from Brazil you will be buying and reading books for England’. And I thought ‘well why not twist that phrase and before I go read for Brazil!’ So now I am planning on doing just that. (Thanks to Kim of Reading Matters who has done my lovely logo’s!)

I am aware that I did say back at the beginning of the year that I would avoid all reading challenges; however that hasn’t stopped me from doing the NTTVBG and Persephone Reading Week etc, etc. So I am breaking my own rules again and have been off through the TBR looking for books that fit the criteria and I am most surprised by how many I already had at home…

The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts – Louis De Bernieres
The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman – Louis De Bernieres
Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord – Louis De Bernieres
The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa
Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes – Daniel Everett
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands by Jorge Amado
The Lost City of Z – David Grann
A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
Bel Canto – Ann Patchett
The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
The Seamstress – Frances De Pontes Peebles
Viva South America – Oliver Balch
Equator – Miguel Sousa Tavares
Orphans of Eldorado – Milton Hatoum
Ashes of the Amazon – Milton Hatoum
Barbequed Husbands – Betty Mindlin & Indigenous Storytellers

I am already thinking that ‘The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts’ by Louis de Bernieres, ‘A Handful of Dust’ by Evelyn Waugh and ‘The Seamstress’ by Frances de Pontes Peebles (which sounds like a Brazilian Sensation novel set in the 1920’s and 30’s and really rather brilliant) would make two great choices for a read-a-thon if anyone is up for it?

  

I have also been researching what books I don’t have, which of course is most vexing because a) I am on a book buying ban and b) most of the books I would love to read aren’t available in the UK – so if any of my US readers spot anything by Clarice Lispector or a wonderful sounding crime series by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza which starts with ‘The Silence of Rain’ then do let me know as I am most open to Brazilian Relief Parcels hee, hee. There are lots of authors though who I have heard of and don’t own whose titles I will be hunting down in the library such as John Updike, Sylvia Townsend Warner, John Grisham etc. I have in fact added an all new page ‘Reading for Brazil’ which has more details of these authors and more plus more information on the lack of rules around this ‘challenge’. So do have a gander.

So will you be joining in with some of the titles? I would soooooooo love it if you did (and so would The Converted One) if you are let me know, if enough of you like the sound of certain titles maybe we could do some reading along together before November which might be nice? Oh and feel free to let other people know about it too! Hopefully you will all catch the Brazil bug (if only in terms of fiction)!

Oh and the winners of the two Daunt Bags with some surprise books thrown in are… Suejustbooks and Jodie (in true Brazil colours), well done Jodie thats two wins in a few weeks!

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The Book Buying Ban… The Update

So I haven’t bought a book since the end of October when I had a bit of a haul that I reported to you guys on a week later. I have to say that I can’t really moan about how difficult it has been because the main way through the issue so far has been being very busy and most of all… Avoidance!!!

Yes I admit I have not really been in many bookshops or charity shops (I know, it’s not normal) but there have been opportunities such as a visit to Foyle’s waiting for a late friend. Then there is the weekly Sainsbury’s shop with its tempting best sellers section (though one was bought for me while we were in there the other day) yes the answer for me has been avoidance. What has been promising though, if I do give up buying books for charity next year, has been that still books have been arriving (despite the woes of the flood) in some abundance in the last week or so thanks to the library, swapping and publishers.

Despite the fact that I have been reading some corkers and then been sulking at having to give them back I am still using the library much, much more than I was. It’s the perfect way of trying out authors or publishers (as you will see) that I am interested in and getting my mitts on books you have recommended.

  • The Boat by Nam Le – So many of you recommended this how could I not pick this up? I think I am going to love it.
  • The Tragedy of the Korosko by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – I am the biggest Sherlock Holmes fan but had never heard of this, not that it’s Holmes, and it’s a Hesperus book which is a publisher I must read more of since Lady Into Fox.
  • A Dog’s Heart by Mikhail Bulgakov – Want to read some of this author, never have and like the idea of a beast created by mixing a stray dog and a criminal. Sounds gothic and dark and is also Hesperus Press.
  • Betrayal by Marquis de Sade – Another author I want to try and a short Hesperus I can dip into.
  • Girl in the Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold – Long listed for the Man Booker and sounds a little sensational.
  • The Drivers Seat by Muriel Spark – After reading The Girls of Slender Means lots of you recommended this.
  • Wedlock by Wendy Moore – Some non fiction about ‘how Georgian Britain’s worst husband met his match’, sounds fabulous.
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter – Loads of you have said I should try this and after Atwood’s Good Bones I want to try some more twisted fairy tales.
  • Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym – Again many of you have raved about Pym and I have not tried one of her books.
  • The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri – Yet again through your recommendations of the author. So all these are basically your fault, and if you are getting bored of lists it’s your fault too.

I have also re-activated my Read It Swap It account again and used my unwanted books to get books I really wanted. Ok it costs a bit for postal… that’s not buying books though is it and I have got some gems.

  • The Spy Game by Georgina Harding – Has been on my wish list an age.
  • Birds of America by Lorrie Moore – As am trying my hand at shorter fiction and short stories have heard Moore is the queen of this. Is that so?
  • Perfect Happiness by Penelope Lively – After the review at Other Stories how could I not want to read this?
  • Hotel World by Ali Smith – I actually gave this one away on Read It Swap It ages ago… why?
  • A Partisan’s Daughter by Louis De Bernieres – After loving Notwithstanding I am keen to read much more from this author.
  • Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian – So many of you told me this was a must read when I asked about Asian fiction.
  • The Little White Car by Danuta de Rhodes – Or actually by Dan Rhodes who’s Gold I love, love, loved and this sounds a wonderful tale of some crazy capers of two ladies.
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt – After swapping this I realised already had it but this is actually a much nicer copy with bigger type and that can matter can it not?
  • Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xialong – Another Asian author recommended after I read the latest Xiaolu Guo novel.
  • The Provincial Daughter by R.M. Dashwood – I am about to read The Provincial Lady and so reading about the daughter after might be fun, have heard great things about both from you all.
  • The Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie – Well I like reading books in order and this was the one I was missing and one which Eva said was one of her favourites.

Phew, that’s a bit of a barrage of book titles and some of my Read It Swap It’s haven’t arrived yet. I was going to add in the books received from publishers but think you might all be asleep if I do that so will follow up with part two later in the week. As ever your thoughts on my latest arrivals are most welcome and I will be delighted to hear what you think.

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Some Culture South West

This Friday and Saturday just gone seems to be a blur of culture frankly. Now I know this weekend has seen quite a few blogs with a De Bernier Review and Competition and then the latest sensation read but I couldn’t leave this post really (though I am still to report back from high jinx in Highgate and much more but those aren’t so urgent and can fit into other posts) as it’s just been and gone and I wanted tow rite about it while its fresh in my mind.

Friday night saw me head to Wimbledon Library for the first in two running evenings of delights that the Wimbledon Bookfest had to offer. Now I did offer one of you to come but no one took the bait and so I went alone (that was a cue for violins please) to see Kamila Shamsie talk about one of my favourite, favourite books of the year (which may go on to my soon to be revamped favourites page) the wonderful ‘Burnt Shadows’ which I still think is just amazing. I could gush on for longer but I will zip it there. They had gone to town with the event as we were entertained (Kamila had been held up anyway) by some wonderful Indian music along with drinks and nibbles and then some wonderful dancing before Kamila spoke. 

Sometimes when you see an author it can put you off them for life, no seriously I won’t say which one it happened to me with but never reading a book of theirs again. Kamila Shamsie wasn’t one of those authors; she was very thoughtful, very insightful and very funny. Not one to shy away from asking as many questions as possible I asked when she knew that she wanted to be an author and who inspired her and she said ‘I wanted to write from the age of about nine and so I would say Roald Dahl and C.S Lewis were my first inspirations’ and went up even further in my estimation. She later discussed how her mother also an author used to insist ‘from the age of fourteen I had to read Ishiguro, Peter Carey, Salman Rushdie she was very into contemporary fiction and made sure she bought the Man Booker winner each year. I just spent all my free time wandering her library and reading what I could and what she occasionally pushed firmly in my direction… in Karachi there is very little else to do so I was very grateful for my mothers love of contemporary fiction as well as the classics’.

Kamila Shamsie Signing

I queued up to get my book signed (you can see from the not very good picture above) and had to buy one for my Gran as I honestly think she would love the book and has been asking for five books she should put forward for her book group choice. I thought having a signed one might just tip it over the edge for a must read for them, and its also her birthday very soon (fans of Gran Savidge feel free to send gifts ha)! Who did Kamila then want to talk about, my Gran of course, honestly she’s becoming ever more famous… or infamous depending on your view, ha!

Saturday saw myself and Novel Insights being ‘culture vultures’ as she put it as we went to see a matinee of Matthew Bourne’s ‘Dorian Gray’ in the afternoon which was just utterly astounding, it just took my breath away, utterly wonderful its on tour so you must, must see it if you can. Its quite raunchy, I don’t think some of the other audience members were quite aware what was in store for them and we had some very shocked older ladies milling around in the interval looking quite perturbed and in need of a fanning down.

Tom Rob Smith TalksThe evening saw us visit the Donald Hope Library in Colliers Wood for another author who doesn’t put you off by talking about their books, Mr Tom Rob Smith who I interviewed at his home a while back for Savidge Reads (and some freelance work too). He was there to talk us through the process of how he came to write the massively successful ‘Child 44’ even though bar in the sixth form he had never really been to Russia or had a huge interest in it until he was researching serial killers for short story he was going to make into a screenplay. Isn’t it amazing how these things happen? He was very entertaining and also very patient.

Now I mentioned the other day that this has been the first book festival I have ever been too, though have been to the odd signing, literary evening etc. Is it normal that one or two members of the audience completely and utterly try and make it about them? It happened with one gentleman at the Kamila Shamsie event who basically tried to down play the book and then gushed at her in the signing who had about ten questions. At the Tom Rob Smith gig it went another level as one woman must have asked about five questions in a row without being asked, one man kept interjecting with ‘Russian facts’ and another regaled us with the history of his Grandfathers entire history in relation to Stalin and communism for about five minutes before the host managed to interject during the man’s first taking of breath with ‘erm, but is there a question to go with all that?’ It was a wonderful event, well a wonderful start to a weekend really and of course I have managed to quite bulk up on my signed copies…

 Signed Burnt Shadows Signed Child 44

I am looking forward to next years Wimbledon Bookfest now and will also be making an effort to go to more. Which are the ones that I should simply not miss? I am sure you all have some book festival stories to tell and I would love to hear them.

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Notwithstanding – Louis De Bernieres

Some books people tell you that you simply must read and yet you simply don’t. One book that my Gran has always enthused about and even my mother has always said I must read (both are book obsessed, the later less so at the moment) is Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. I don’t know if it’s the fact so many people have said that it is wonderful that has made me hold off (overhype can be a terrible thing) or the fact that Nicholas Cage is in the film, which I haven’t seen, and therefore I sadly associate the book with an actor I cant stand, either way I have held off from the book and the author. However when the lovely people at Harvill Secker sent me the new Louis De Bernieres book which is about a village filled with unusual crazy characters I couldn’t hold myself back from reading it almost instantly.

Notwithstanding is not only the title of Louis De Bernieres latest book it is also really the biggest character in the book. Notwithstanding is a fictional village somewhere in Surrey, England not too far away from the very real Haslemere and Godalming. What the book actually entails is some of the unusual and interesting characters and the stories of what they get up to. It is in fact based on an English village that the author actually lived in when he was younger though this isn’t a memoir it’s a fictionalised version. It brings to life those English idylls that are very much still out there and celebrates the quirkiness of village life.

It was a day in middle March, of the kind that for early risers begins sunny and uplifting, but which for late risers has already degenerated into the nondescript gloom that causes England to be deprecated by foreigners. The rooks were breaking off the ends of willow twigs and building their nests with raucous incompetence, most of the twigs ended up on the ground below, whence the birds could never bother to retrieve them. The box hedges were in blossom, causing some people to ring the gas board, and others to wonder what feline had pissed so copiously as to make the whole village smell of cat piss. Out on the roads, squashed baby rabbits were being dismantled by magpies, and frogs migrating to their breeding ponds were being flattened into very large and thin batrachian medallions that would, once dried out, have made excellent beer mats.

The characters are all marvellous in the novel. I say novel but in many ways it reads like a collection of short stories which is what it also is I suppose though characters intertwine with stories and so it comes together as a novel. You have the marvellous mother and son who communicate to each other via walkie talkie… in the same house, Polly Wantage who dresses like a man and spends most of her time out shooting squirrels, several mad dogs, a general who spends most of his time naked, a spiritualist who lives with her sister and ghost of her dead husband and people who confide their biggest secrets with spiders in their garden sheds. It is a huge amount of fun.

Though this isn’t just a funny throw away book. Though there is endless humour the book has a real heart, celebrating the ordinary and delighting in the quirky nature of us English folk. The prose is beautiful and makes everything very vivid so in no time I felt like I had newly moved into the village and was ‘getting to know the neighbours’ as it were. I could happily have moved there tomorrow. De Bernieres also experiments in less than 300 pages with various genre’s of fiction, there is the comic side but we also have a historical tale of the village of old, a ghost story and a mystery.

There are also some tales which on the outside seem to be fun and light but read on and they become much darker and deeper. Two of the stories moved me greatly and one was incredibly sad. The one which hit me most was that of the naked general who ends up in Waitrose with no pants on, at first I was laughing away and then realised that this isn’t a tale of a nudist but a tale of a widowed man who only has his dog for company and is undergoing the onset of Alzheimers. Not so funny then is it, yet in earlier tales its hilarious.

The tale that actually nearly made me cry on two levels was ‘Rabbit’, which also appeared in a collection of shorts by Picador in 2001. This is the tale of friends walking through the fields to find a rabbit with myxomatosis which is described in detail (and is just upsetting) so one of the party decides to go get his gun and put it out of its misery. In doing so the act itself is so horrid to the elderly man it brings back all the killings he endured during his time in the war and even the mercy killing of a friend. A very clever, breathtaking and emotional tale told in just ten pages.

I thought this book was fantastic, it made me laugh out loud, had me on the verge of tears and everything in between. It has also made me want to pack up my London flat and move off into some small random village somewhere and embrace myself in all village life has to offer, maybe not now though, something to look forward to in my retirement. I have noticed I do love a good village based read Joyce Dennys ‘Henrietta’s War’ had me entranced, and I have two more on my bedside table that are village based. ‘Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield as recommended by Elaine of Random Jottings and P.D James ‘Cover Her Face’ the latter being a slightly morbid take on village life after someone is murdered at a village fete. What other village based quirky fiction is out there?

I think I may have to give in to the charms of De Bernieres words more often now and may have to get my hands on a copy of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin finally. Has anyone else out there read it? What did you make of it (no spoilers please)? Oh and how could I forget if you would like to win a copy of the book do pop by tomorrow before the Sensation Season Sunday post (its Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon this weekend) as there will be a little village based competition and giveaway. Now your thoughts on village fiction and Louise De Bernieres please!

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Filed under Harvill Secker Books, Louis De Bernieres, Random House Publishing, Review