Tag Archives: Madeline Miller

The Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist 2019

It is here! The longest of sixteen books which I mentioned last month (when I mentioned blowing off the cobwebs on this blog, cough – more on that below) have been whittled down to six fantastic titles which are…

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Milkman by Anna Burns
Ordinary People by Diana Evans
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Circe by Madeline Miller

I have made a video talking about the shortlist below (I might have had a little prewarning, on the promise of my lips being firmly sealed until now) and my thoughts on the title which I will embed below. However if you want more thoughts of mine on the longlist – and the thoughts of my mother – you can find a video of that here.

Now, as I mentioned in that last post a few weeks ago, I would like to use the Women’s Prize – which has been a favourite prize of mine for as long as this blog has been going – and I have a plan. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing my more detailed thoughts on the shortlisted books AND backdating some posts on the longlisted titles that didn’t make the shortlist. Including one, or maybe two, that I decided not to finish. Eek. More of that in the weeks to come.

So, what do you all make of the shortlist? Which have you read and what did you think? Does this list match the selection of books you would have shortlisted?

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The Women’s Prize Longlist 2019

What better excuse to blow the cobwebs off this blog than with the 2019 longlist announcement, of what is probably my very favourite prizes, the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Those of you who have been visitors of the blog for a long time (and sorry it has been the most defunct on and off book blog in the blogosphere, possibly) will know how much I love the prize and have done for many a year. I have played at guessing the longlist for yeeeeeeeears, you can see me doing this recently in a video on my channel here if you have missed it, I have also read the longlist for a few years now. I will be doing it again with a special guest this year, more on that shortly but first here is the selection of books that have just been announced…

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The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Fenton
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
The Pisces by Melissa Broder
Milkman by Anna Burns
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Ordinary People by Diana Evans
Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li
Bottle Goods by Sophie Van Llewyn
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden
Circe by Madeline Miller
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
Normal Peopleby Sally Rooney

I had only guessed six of the longlist, which isn’t my best ever BUT that is never a bad thing, one of the things I always love about a longlist is having books I own bumped up the TBR or finding new to me books, in this case the Li, Luiselli and McFadden. I have also read six of the books; Braithwaite, Burns, Emezi, Miller, Moss (which I thought might be too short to be on the list but I am thrilled is) and Rooney – all of which I will be reviewing on the blog soon. Promise.

Now then, I am going to be reading the longlist as I have for the last few years and I did mention a special guest… This year I am going to be reading the shortlist (and hopefully the longlist as she might have got a little head start) with my Mum, who I will be making videos and all sorts with. We are very excited.

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I am also very excited to read the rest of the list. I talk about them in a little more detail on my channel here. What are your thoughts on the list and will you be reading any or all of them? Which have you read already and what did you make of them? Let me know ALL your thoughts!

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The Secret Chord – Geraldine Brooks

When it comes to historical fiction I tend to stick to two particular periods willingly. These are the Victorian era and the Tudors, the latter which I actually read less than I would like because I am picky. Anything before then makes me nervous, bar the Greek and Roman times which I am well versed in (though less well read in) with my mother being a classicist. So, despite having loved Year of Wonders in my pre-blogging days, I was rather worried about reading Geraldine Brooks latest novel The Secret Chord with it being set in 1000BC, a period in history I know next to nothing about…

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Little Brown, hardback, 2014, non-fiction, 302 pages, borrowed from the library

As The Secret Chord opens we are thrown into the world of Natan, prophet and scribe to King David, who has just been given the mission of going off to meet with the people who have journeyed with him or crossed his path in the lead to his rule. David, who we soon come to learn is quite vain, wants his life documented and as Natan only knows of it from a certain point (when David killed his father and was just about to dispatch Natan when he announces his first prophecy) he must go and find out other peoples truths and tales of the king. As he heads to find his rulers family and first wife, interestingly both distant and reticent, he starts to look back on his times with David, a king who seemed to rise from nowhere against all odds and conquer the land.

I have to say initially I wasn’t sure I was going to buy into The Secret Chord as the idea seemed a little forced/contrived (unless I missed something, this plot device also vanishes) and on page nine a line describing a murder as ‘It was as intimate as rape.’ made me quite cross, however I continued and was soon lost in the storytelling of the characters that Natan meets as well as Natan’s own stories, which of course are all Geraldine Brooks wonderful retellings. Natan of course being an intriguing character in himself as he, without control much to his frustration, can see some of the future coming before anyone else which often leads to the intriguing questions of what he should tell, what he should withhold and what he is missing?

For a seer, I was remarkably obtuse. I know this now; I did not know it then. Yoav and I had conspired to find some occupation that, while worthwhile in itself, would serve to distract a restless and unhappy king. Instead, he found a way to distract me, to get me out of his way. A man will silence the voice of his conscience when it suits him to commit sin. But if your “conscience” walks and breathes as a living man in your service, you might have to go to some additional lengths. I did not see this. I did not seen that proud and vital man who feared his manhood waning might take any reckless step to prove himself it wasn’t so. In the service of my gift, I had to forgo much that makes a man in full. I know now that this sacrifice has left me blind to certain things. I can see what others cannot see, but sometimes I miss what is apparent to the dumbest simpleton.

There was much that I admired about Brooks evocation of King David’s life and ruling. Firstly was her clear passion and enthusiasm to tell his tale, which is quite contagious. Through Natan she also creates a fully formed character, flaws and all. David is seen as a ‘great man’, he can often be a kind and impassioned king, he can also be an absolute bastard to both his enemies and those close to him. As Natan watches his relationship with Yonatan, King Shaul’s son and sibling of David’s first wife Mikhal, we see David at his most loving and vulnerable. This section may bring up some questions to historians or certain religious views but I found it fascinating and reminiscent of one of my favourite books, Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles.  Yet by that very same stretch we see how cruel and heartless he can be with his relationship to Mikhal as the novel continues. Brooks doesn’t portray him as some amazing hero, he appears fully formed warts (well not quite) and all and I really liked this. Well apart from the rape and pillaging, this occasionally made me have to put the book down.

Throughout there is a dark, grittiness to Brooks’ writing which brings the atmosphere or the time fully to the fore. These were dark times, though some might say we are still in them now, as people fought for supremacy and power. David thinks nothing of being sent to collect 100 foreskins from the dead bodies of Shaul’s enemies (in fact he goes for double) to win Mikhal’s hand. As I mentioned, parts of the book may not be for some of the fainter of heart readers out there. When Brooks gets out on the battlefield with David and Natan, which happens quite a lot, things get pretty bloody and pretty gory. Here is a taste of one of the battle scenes from early on in the novel, see how you fair with it.

When I reached the ridge, the king was making an end of another fighter. He was up close, eye to eye. His sword had entered just above the man’s groin. He drew it upward, in a long, slow, arching slash. As he pulled the blade back – slick, dripping – long tubes of bowel came tumbling after. I could see the dying mans eyes, wide with horror, his hands griping his guts, trying to push them back into the gaping hole in his belly. The king’s own eyes were blank – all the warmth swallowed by the black stain of widening pupils. David reached out an arm and pushed the man hard in the chest. He fell backward off the narrow ledge and rolled down the slope, his entrails unfurling after him like a glossy ribband.

One scene in particular I found almost too difficult to read and did question it’s taste, once you have read the book you will know which I mean, which leads me to a few quibbles about the book before I mention it’s greatest strength. I have to admit on the odd occasion I did get a little lost. Brooks doesn’t like to show off all the research she has clearly done in writing this book which I admired. However there are moments where her knowledge means she assumes she knows something, and I knew nothing which meant I got lost and on occasion a character, generally a man, would suddenly give reference the history of why people were at war in an aside that felt slightly like a reference book, these were rare moments and minor issues because I ended up reading this book in almost a single sitting and that was because of the women’s voices and tales in the novel – which in a slightly circular way leads back to the scene I almost found too hard to read.

One of the things I like the most about historical fiction is that it can give voice, if done well, to those people who were less documented and in the case of the time of 1000BC it is generally the women. Not so in The Secret Chord where Brooks brings them fully to life and ready to tell us all. In particular the voices of Nizever; David’s forgotten mother, Mikhal; David’s first wife who goes through the ringer, the wonderful Avigail; David’s third wife and the brains behind his early rise, Maacah; his fourth wife and mother of his only daughter Tamar, and Batsheva; his eighth and final wife, who all have quite the tales to tell, giving her-story to the history which I thought was poignant, upsetting, moving and fascinating. They are what make this novel standout, the forgotten voices unleashed.

“It is important that you know, I want you to set it down: ‘Mikhal was in love with David.’ Nobody ever writes that about a woman. It’s always the man whose love is thought worthy of recording. Have you noticed that? In all the chronicles, they state it so. Well, you write down that it was I. I was the one who loved.”
Her observation was quite true. Indeed, in most of our important histories, it’s rare enough for wives to be named, never mind the state of their affections noted. So I set it down as she had requested. I paused, and looked up at her.

All in all I thought The Secret Chord was a compelling and escapist read. It introduced me to a time I know absolutely nothing about and held me there for the five and-a-bit hours it took me to greedily devour it, only stopping for the occasional cup of tea or breather from the Second Iron Age shenanigans. If you are a fan of historical fiction then I would imagine this might be just your fare and if you aren’t it is great place to dip a tentative toe and see how you get on.

So there are my thoughts on The Secret Chord, I would love to hear yours if you have read it. It has certainly reminded me of how much history there is still out there to learn about. It has also made me reflect on how much I loved Brooks’ Year of Wonders (which I took to my heart so much as it tells the tale of Eyam, the only place outside London to get the Black Plague and sacrificed itself, which happens to be mere miles from my hometown) and how I should check out more of her novels, any you would recommend in particular that I should read next?

*I read this as part of the Baileys Bearded Book Club as Eric of LonesomeReader and I try and read all the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist this year, more details here.

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Is It Time For Me To Head Back To The Ancient Classics?

It is funny how long you will deny something to yourself and indeed the reasons for doing so. From an early age I was brought up not just on fairy tales but on the stories of, and adventures around, the Greek gods and goddesses. You see my mother is something (understatement of the year) of a classicist and so as often as I would ask to be regaled with the story of Rapunzel again and again, I would also ask to be read and reread the tale of Persephone. I was also obsessed with Jim Henson’s The Storyteller spin off about the Greek Myths, I also just had a flashback to a phase I had of loving the animated Shakespeare series, especially Zoe Wannamakers Lady Macbeth. I digress. This all changed when I went to school, where Mum taught, and got 99% in my classics exam. Rather than this being a good thing, some bullying little sods at school made my life hell and said I was either a complete geek or my mum had told me all the answers. My response of course was to shut down and shut out classics. Wow, this is like therapy.

Almost 23 years later when I found myself picking potential holidays Cyprus (have I mentioned I have been on holiday at all) kept coming up and once I explored it, it wasn’t just the all inclusive four star hotel bargain that kept pulling me back, if I am being honest it was also the fact there were ancient tombs, moments, rocks, myths and legends about the island too – like being the birthplace of Aphrodite – that kept drawing me back. And when I got there it was the archaeological park that was one of the first places I wanted to visit, and oddly when I did I felt strangely at home.

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This might of course be because of all the times I went to these places with my mother as a kid (driving through the Greek mountains recently I was reminded of those trips where I played all Cathy Dennis’ albums on repeat) even the seven hour trip around Pompeii, which may have also hardened my heart to classics a little bit possibly. What I wasn’t expecting was for mosaics to bring such a sense of nostalgia back to me…

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But they did…

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And then I was really cross with myself when I couldn’t remember the stories surrounding some of the mosaics that we saw, even when I recognised the names. The more we saw the stronger the sense of nostalgic and slight pining for these tales of ancient times became.

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As did the sense of the ancient world suddenly being so vivid and overwhelming the more of the old ancient sites that we visited. Really there is nothing like standing in or in front of an old Odeon to bring back the spirits and beliefs of the people who would have been sat in there watching some performances.

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So the more we wandered round, and the more that we saw throughout the week, the more I started to get the old classicist itch, which I honestly thought was more dormant than Mount Vesuvius. So now I feel I need to scratch it, or if we want to go right down Pun Alley, the more I want to start an archaeological dig on my soul and start to excavate this side of me again.

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I have dabbled with the classics in the past few years. I read Poetics by Aristotle (who my mum once named a cat after) and thought it was a brilliant piece of writing about, well, writing. I loved Mary Beard’s collection of essays It’s A Don’s Life, and loved her TV show Rome but I love Mary Beard regardless, who doesn’t? I also really enjoyed Natalie Haynes’ The Amber Fury which weaves Greek tragedies through it, and enjoyed the nods to Greek tragedy in Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies. And then there is Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles which I love, love, love, love, love. If you haven’t read it you must.

The question is what next? I have just gone and ordered Natalie’s The Ancient Guide To Modern Life as I think that will be up my street and am debating both Robert Graves Greek Myths (as I want to be reminded of them all, if it isn’t dry and dusty) and Ali Smith’s The Story of Antigone. In fact speaking of Ali Smith, I should get my hands on more of the Canongate Myths series really shouldn’t I? Oh and Vintage did kindly send me a copy of Euripides The Bacchae so that could be next. Blimey so much choice. What do you think? Any ancient classic texts you would recommend to me, or indeed any other retellings?

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The Bailey’s Prize; Best of the Best from the Second Decade

Tonight in the Piccadilly Theatre in London, something very exciting is going to be happening… The folk behind the Bailey’s Prize will be announcing their Best of the Best from the second decade of the wonder that is the women’s prize for fiction. The question is of course which of these wonderful ten novels (if like me you thought they had chosen ten books from all time and were worried about some of the older ones not getting a shout fear not) will win the prize tonight?

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I will be there, so will be live tweeting over @SavidgeReads throughout and then filling you all in on the evening tomorrow, however in the interim the lovely team at the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction asked me if I would share with you which book I thought deserving of the title. This initially seemed like the most delightful thing to be asked, then when the selection above arrived I realised it was actually a potential nightmare. I have read nine of the books (sorry Barbara Kingsolver, I will get to you) and I can genuinely say that six of them have been absolute corkers (Homes, McBride, Tremain, Adichie, Miller, Smith) and out of those two of them have become some of my favourite books of all time. Step forward Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles (which I was sure I wouldn’t like after having a classicist mother who dragged me round Pompeii for 8 hours put me off all things Greek and Roman for quite some time, it’s okay Mum I forgive you) and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun (which I read for a book group knowing nothing about and completely blew me away) which are both corkers!

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But before I choose which of these would be my best of, and it changes minute by minute, I want to just take some time out to say how brilliant the prize is full stop and mention how much I wish they would let a male judge on the panel called Simon just once and all the brilliant fiction that it highlights be they longlisted, shortlisted or the final winners. Because it is brilliant! Without the prize I wouldn’t have read any of the above novels when I did, nor would I have known about Andrea Levy’s winning Small Island, or shortlisted titles like Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues, Kathleen Winter’s Annabel or Emma Henderson’s Grace Williams Says It Loud. I could go on, and I haven’t even started on the longlisted titles that I have read and loved each year, or the fun I have every spring trying to guess the twenty books that might make it on that list. It has really informed my reading, more than I realised until I looked at all the titles – which then set me off wanting to read all the short and long listed titles I haven’t got to yet. Blimey!

So which would be my overall winner for the book of the last decade? Well after much torment, wailing, hair pulling and other vexation I have to say for me it has to be Half of a Yellow Sun. It is a book that stole my heart, broke it a few times and has left me thinking about it (and all the characters) ever since. It is also a book that I have bought for all the important people in my life who haven’t read it yet – and they have all been blown away by it too.

Right I need to get ready for tonight’s event, which there are still some tickets for, so over to you? Who would be your best of the best from the second decade be and what about the first? Which short and longlisted books have you read and loved.

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Ten LGBT Books That You Might Not Have Read But Should…

I don’t normally think about doing posts especially around Pride, not because I am not proud – I’m out and happy about it, I never know if proud is the right word – but because I always think that co-founding a prize like The Green Carnation Prize (which celebrates LGBT writing) means that I promote LGBT stories and LGBT authors. However with the reissue of three Vintage Classics, which you can win here, then the amazing news in America yesterday it felt the time was write for me to share my top LGBT novels, until I realised I had done it before. Oops. I then thought about doing a list of ten contemporary books you might not have read but should until I saw that Eric of Lonesome Reader had already done one this morning. Drats! However once he gave his blessing for me to do the same I popped a list together and neither of us have a book or author in common. Interesting. Here are mine, if I have reviewed them I have linked them in the title so you can find out more…

With A Zero At Its Heart – Charles Lambert

A collection of snippet like stories which create the whole of a human life. Experimentally it wonderfully evokes the story of a (rather bookish) young man as he grows up, discovers he is gay, finds himself, travels, becomes a writer and then deals with the death of his parents and the nostalgia and questions that brings about the meaning of life and how we live it. You can read a full review here.

Grasshopper Jungle – Andrew Smith

Now if I told you that a book about an impending apocolypse caused by giant horny mutant grasshoppers could be one of the most touching stories I have read this year about friendship and love and the blurred (and often confusing) lines between the two, you would probably think that I was mad. This is how I felt last year when everyone, and I mean everyone, who had read Grasshopper Jungle in America raved about it to me and said I simply had to read it. I did and they were right. It had also lead me into more YA fiction which by the looks of it is where some of the most exciting and intellegent LGBT themed writing is coming from. You have to read this book. I have to post my review sooner than soon.

He Wants – Alison Moore

Alison Moore’s writing is so deft in so many ways it is hard to try and do it justice, or without spoiling any of the many delights, twists/surprises and ‘did I just actually read that then?’ moments which the novel has in store as we discover the ins and outs of widowed Lewis’ life. It is a story of the everyman and a story that, if you are anything like me, will leave you feeling completely uplifted and utterly devastated, all at once. It is a perfect example of the sort of book I want to be reading. I loved it and you can see my full review of it here, was one of my books of 2014.

Physical – Andrew McMillan

Slight cheat here because this collection of poetry is not actually out for another two weeks (my blog, my rules) however you might want to order or put a copy on hold now. McMillan has the power to titillate and disturb in each of the poems that he writes whilst also, in particular the middle section, constructing poems the like of which I have never seen or read before. It is playful and also perturbing, saucy and sensual aswell as being masculine and moving. I haven’t read or experienced anything quite so like it, or so frank about all the forms of male love.

The Borrower – Rebecca Makkai

The Borrower is a road trip tale started when which ten year old Ian and his local librarian Lucy accidentally kidnap each other. This book is not only a love story to the powers of books and a good story, it looks at friendship and also the scary reality of some of the extremist views in certain parts of America (where I bet they are seething today) and the movement of ‘straightening therapy’. Bonkers and brilliant, it is one of those books that you hug to yourself afterwards and also cleverly packs one hell of a punch over a subject that is current and we need to talk about more – find out more here.

A Life Apart – Neel Mukherjee

In part the story of Ritwik a man who survives a horrendous childhood living on the breadline in Kalighat, India until his mother’s death when Ritwik moves to Oxford to find himself. Yet also a story of his elderly Oxford landlady Anne Cameron. As Ritwik experiments with his new found freedom and who he really is as a person he must also face is past and find a friend in Anne like he never expected, the story of their relationship is beautifully told. It is also a very vivid and, occasionally quite graphically, honest look at the life of some gay men in the early 1990’s – which as someone reminded me rudely today on the radio is over 20 years ago. I feel like I need to read this book again.

Hawthorn & Child – Keith Ridgway

I could have chosen this or The Long Falling also by Ridgway as they are both exceptional. Is Hawthorn & Child a novel or is it a series of short stories, who cares when it is this good. One of the many stories that make up the book will stay with me forever, ‘How To Have Fun With A Fat Man’ manages to several clever things in just fewer than twenty pages. Firstly it’s three separate narratives; one is Hawthorn at a riot, the second Hawthorn cruising for sex in a gay sauna and the third a visit to Hawthorn’s father. The way Ridgway writes the riot and the sauna sequences in such a way that sometimes you can’t tell which is which and plays a very interesting game with so called acts of masculinity. Brilliance. A sexy, quirky, stunningly written book which should have won the Booker.

Mr Loverman – Bernadine Evaristo

Yes I too now have Shabba Ranks in my head. Back to the book though, the tale of Mr Barrington Jedediah Walker, Esq is one you are unlikely to forget, just like its protagonist. As his elderly years start to approach more and more Barrington decides it is time to leave his wife and follow his true heart which lies with his best friend Morris, much to the horror of his family and many people he knows. Evaristo writes a wonderful, funny and moving novel which gives a much missed voice in the literary scene and in the LGBT scene a change to be heard, understood and by the end celebrated. You have to read this book.

Sacred Country – Rose Tremain

Possibly the oldest out of this selection of books but one which I think addresses something that we need to be discussing more and seems to be missing in literature in general, unless it is just me… the transexual story. Tremain introduces us to Mary Ward, who has felt different from everyone all her childhood, as she realises that she should actually be a boy. We then follow her journey from the turbulence of her youth in Northern England to London where believes she will be able to live just as she was meant to, yet can she?

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

So with my last choice, I have slightly cheated again as this isn’t out in the UK for another month and a half (though if you’re in the US it has been out a while) yet this is probably a book I am going to urge everyone, no matter their sexuality/class/colour, that they have to read as not only is it one of the best books I have read on love and sexuality and friendship, but one of the best books I have ever read on what it means to be human. Seriously that good. I cannot praise it enough, it’s tough to read but so it should be. Will easily be one of my books of the year and very likely to be one of the best LGBT books I ever read. Yep, that good.

Now if you are wondering about my favourite LGBT books that I hinted at back at the start, well below is a video I made discussing them when I was flirting with the idea of being a booktuber. Have a gander as there are ten more tip top recommended books, even if I do say so myself.

If you need a list of the titles they were; Pilcrow – Adam Mars Jones, The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller, Running With Scissors – Augusten Burroughs, The Proof of Love – Catherine Hall, A Single Man – Christopher Isherwood, My Policeman – Bethan Roberts, In Cold Blood – Truman Capote, Skin Lane – Neil Bartlett, A Boy’s Own Story – Edmund White and Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin.

If that wasn’t enough, and as if there can ever be enough book recommendations, then do check out Eric’s blog post today (where I have gained ten new to me recommendations) and also the Green Carnation Prize website for all the previous long and shortlists. Oh and don’t forget you can win those Vintage Pride Classics here. Happy Pride and well done America! Love wins.

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Other People’s Bookshelves #42; Victoria Hoyle

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 back in the UK and heading to the delights of York, which you will be hearing more about next week, as we join blogger extraordinaire Victoria Hoyle to have a nosey through her books. So grab yourself a good strong cuppa Yorkshire Tea (the best kind) and have a nosey through her bookshelves and find out more about her.

I’m Victoria and I’ve been blogging about books at Eve’s Alexandria for just over 8 years.   I live in York with my partner in a little house completely overwhelmed by books.  Books doubled up on shelves, books on the floor, books in boxes, books stacked in piles on tables… I have always been an avid reader.  When I was a child my mum took me to the library every Monday evening and I borrowed armfuls of fiction.  Apart from my family the adult I looked up to most was Pam the librarian, who introduced me to some of my favourite authors as I got older.  When I went off to university I still rang her up for a chat about the latest paperbacks.   At university I was bitten by the book buying bug and met the friends I founded Eve’s Alexandria with.  These days I work for York Libraries and Archives.

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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 don’t keep all the books I read – it would be chaos if I did. We would literally drown under the sea of them. When I’ve finished something I give it a week or two for my impressions to settle and if I really loved it and think I’ll want to read it again (or stroke it lovingly sometimes) then I keep it. If it doesn’t pass the test I donate it to the library (if it’s not a review copy) or to charity. Every year or so I do a full sweep of the shelves and give away some books that I initially decided to keep but which don’t seem worth the shelf space in hindsight. I’d rather someone else was reading and enjoying them. I’d say about 1 in 5 books stays permanently, maybe less. The only exception I make is for favourite authors where I want to keep all their books even if one or two didn’t work for me.

Occasionally I make the wrong decision and give away a book I want to go back to – this sometimes happens with series, where I want to check something or re-read it before the next book comes out – but the rate at which the books are coming in means a lot have to be going out. What this means in reality is that the unread books vastly outnumber the read in our house. When people come to visit us and browse the bookshelves I’m always ashamed to admit that, no, I haven’t read that one, or that one, or that one…

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?

Yes and no. The books in the main ‘library’ (aka the dining room) are split into fiction and non-fiction but otherwise are completely random and higgledy-piggledy. Basically I put things where there is a space, which means that books I’ve read and books I haven’t are side by side, and things by the same writer are in seven different places. It’s not a very efficient system; I’m always hunting for something or wondering where a particular book has disappeared to. Most days I think to myself ‘You should really sort this mess out’ and decide to alphabetise them but somehow is never happens. I think because I know it would be hard to maintain with all the books coming and going. And there is something to be said for having to look through your whole collection just to find one thing. I’m always rediscovering books I forgot I had.

Different story in the living room. I suppose because the books in there are more ‘on show’. We have two shelves in there: one for classics and the other for favourite authors. Both are alphabetised, and I try to maintain order (although I’m rapidly running out of space). I like to see the black, red and cream spines of the Penguin and Oxford classics in neat rows, and love to have all our books by Ali Smith or Sarah Waters together – it pleases the completist in me. The top shelf of our ‘favourites’ bookcase is entirely books by or about Virginia Woolf. Both Esther and I studied her at university, and one of the reasons we first started seeing each other was a shared love of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. Twelve years later we are still together and Woolf has pride of place.

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

My parents didn’t buy many books when I was younger – why would you when you can get as many as you like for free at the library? So apart from the occasional present at Christmas and birthdays all my books were borrowed. When I was about thirteen Pam (the librarian) introduced me to the Outlander series of time-travel romance-adventure books by Diana Gabaldon. I was really into multi-volume epic fantasy at the time and the Outlander books were like heaven. I was in *love* with the two main characters Jamie and Claire and literally read the first three books to pieces. When the fourth book – Drums of Autumn – came out in hardback I joined the incredibly long library request list and waited and waited and waited. It seemed to take forever to be my turn.

Then, during a day trip with my parents (to York, of all places), I spotted it in the window of Waterstones. I had some birthday money left over and my mum suggested that I could buy Drums of Autumn with it. It was a revelation – I didn’t have to wait any more, I could buy it! I was almost hyperventilating carrying it to the counter to pay, and think I gabbled something embarrassing to the shop assistant about it (who was probably wandering what a teenager was doing buying the fourth book in a series mostly read by middle aged women). I can still remember the extraordinary sense of happiness and wellbeing I felt sitting in the car on the drive home with it next to me on the seat. I hardly dared open it. I’ve bought hundreds of books since then, probably searching for that same feeling of contentment, but never quite attained it.

And yes, Drums of Autumn is still on my shelves, along with all the other Outlander books. The series is still going and the eighth book Written in My Own Heart’s Blood is due out in the US this June. Oh, and they are currently making it into a TV series. I am very, very excited and also terrified that it won’t live up to my expectations.

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 don’t have a hidden shelf but I’ve sometimes been guilty of ‘hiding’ books at the back of others, epic fantasy instalments behind the latest contemporary fiction for example. I still love reading fantasy, which is definitely an acquired taste and some of the covers can be difficult to explain in polite company. Dragons, half naked ladies, you get the picture. They are much better than they used to be – Game of Thrones has ushered in a new era of pretty classy covers – but still can be a bit weird. They also come in a lot of non-standard shapes and sizes, from dumpy little paperbacks to enormous trade and fat hardcovers, so they can dominate a shelf and draw the eye. That said if you look at the library shelves at the moment you will see all sorts jumbled together – fantasy and historical fiction and Booker and Nobel prize winners jostling for space. I quite like it that way.

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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?

This is a really hard question because I’m sentimental about quite a lot of books. But I think I’m going to have to tell another anecdote about Pam and beloved library finds. Around the same time that Pam was feeding me Diana Gabaldon she also introduced me to Guy Gavriel Kay, a Canadian writer who specialises in alternate historical fantasy. He has written lots of incredible books and I urge everyone to try him, even if you’re not a fantasy fan. I started with his Fionavar Tapestry trilogy: The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire and The Darkest Road. I *loved* those books and when I was at university I tracked down hardback editions of the second and third books online and bought them. I couldn’t seem to find an affordable copy of the first one in good condition though so my collection was incomplete. Later, via the power of the internet and a friend, I got to know Guy a little through email as well as the illustrator who drew the Fionavar covers, Martin Springett. When Martin came to London 6 or 7 years ago I went down to meet up with him and he gave me a copy of that wonderful first book, which he signed. The powerful memory of reading it for the first time, along with Martin’s kindness, make it one of my most prized possessions.

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 segued pretty early from the children’s section of the library to the adult one, via Terry Pratchett and the fantasy shelves. I just read whatever I wanted; I’m pretty sure Pam let me take books out on my children’s ticket that I shouldn’t have.  I don’t remember there ever being a book that I wanted to read that I didn’t feel allowed to or was discouraged from. That said, there were definitely books I read that I probably shouldn’t have or that I was too young for. I think if my mum had known how much sex there was in the Outlander books for example she wouldn’t have let me read them so young, and the same goes for quite a lot of the fantasy series I gobbled up. And there were definitely books that I tried to read and failed at because I was too young, like Far From the Madding Crowd and To the Lighthouse. I’ve re-read them as an adult and loved them though, and they are still on my shelves now.

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 buy about 2/3 of my books and borrow the other 1/3, and usually I will buy a copy of a book that I’ve had from the library and loved. I use the same criteria as I would use to keep a book I suppose: will I re-read it, and do I need to have it in my line of sight. In the last couple of years I’ve borrowed and then bought Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and The Accidental by Ali Smith.

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

I’ve bought quite a lot of books this month – it’s a bit embarrassing how many, so I won’t say – but the absolutely most recent is J.L. Carr’s A Month in Country which I bought after reading Lynne’s recent post about it at Dovegreyreader. She made me want to read it immediately. This is how quite a lot of my books get bought – blogging has made me very impulsive.

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

I am in a constant state of wanting books. Every day it seems like I have a new fascination to feed. At the moment I would like to grow my collection of Doris Lessing. In fact, a book that I would love that hasn’t even been announced or written yet is a biography of her; I live in hope that my favourite literary biographer Hermione Lee is working on it already. She has done such masterly lives of Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton and Penelope Fitzgerald. Surely someone has asked her to do one of Doris?

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

This is such an interesting question and I’m really not sure. It depends so much on where they are looking. They would probably think I have an eclectic taste in books, which I do. I hope it would make them think I was a curious person with wide interests rather than someone who just flitted from one thing to another. They would probably think I was a feminist or interested in women’s fiction, because books by women probably outnumber books by men 2 to 1 or more.   They would probably think I was disorganised because of the chaotic ordering system! They would probably think I was a bit of an escapist because of all the historical and fantasy fiction. I’d like to think they were interpret my willingness to suspend my disbelief as openness.

Sometimes I wonder if most ‘ordinary’ people wouldn’t think I was a bit weird for having so many. The last time we moved house we had to pack our books using library book crates, 40 of them in total. They were just too heavy for cardboard boxes. The removal men were honestly confused about why we had so many – did we own a second hand bookshop? Had we inherited them? Had we not heard of a Kindle? They were very solicitous in suggesting ways we could unburden ourselves of them, by giving them to charity or taking them to a car boot sale. They just couldn’t believe we really *wanted* them. We are about to move again and the crates are coming back again. It will be interesting to see what the next removal team think!

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A huge thanks to Victoria for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. If you would like to find out more about her and the books she loves make sure you head to her blog Eve’s Alexandria. 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 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 Victoria’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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