Tag Archives: Muriel Spark

The Books We Keep Meaning To Read…

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

That illusive rainy day...

That elusive rainy day…

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

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

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

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Rounding Up The Reviews #2; Drivers Seats, Seas of Stories, Days of Deer and Wavewalkers

Both in preparation and as a teaser for the change in Savidge Reads next week, I thought I would round up some of books I have failed to review so far this year and start a new occasional series of posts where I give you a more succinct selection of books you might want to need. The good, the bad and the ugly! Before you think that they are all just going to be books I didn’t really like I can say that two of these books I really liked a lot. Such a tease, anyway, I am in danger of falling into my usual waffle territory so let’s get on with it…

The Driver’s Seat – Muriel Spark

Penguin Modern Classics, paperback, 1970 (2006 edition), fiction, 128 pages, bought by my good self

You know I love Muriel Spark, I know I love Muriel Spark so why would I put her in a round up post? Well my lovelies it is because I have read this book before and told you all about it then. But should you not be in the mood to pop and check that link, which would be frightfully mean of you, I will give you a little summary. I loved it as much as I did the first time.

Oh ok, that isn’t quite enough. Lise has pretty much lived the same day of her life every day for the last sixteen years. Yet she has decided to change all that by going away on holiday and leaving everything behind, in short she is going to transform herself and yet the transformation might not be the sort of thing we would go in for. As we follow her story though we soon learn that the adventure and journey Lise has in mind might not be the sort of thing we would go for either! It has been called a dark nasty little book; I think it is a dark little work of genius. Read it, then read it again. You can hear it discussed further here but beware of spoilers!

Haroun and the Sea of Stories – Salman Rushdie

Penguin Books, paperback, 1991, fiction, 224 pages, borrowed from the library

When Haroun’s mother leaves him and his father for her lover, who happens to be their neighbour (which I found all a bit grown up for a kids book but clearly I am a prude) everything changes. Not only for the family and the loss of a mother and wife but also as Haroun’s father changes almost overnight. Before his wife left he was one of the most witty and charming people around who made his living as a story teller, the Shah of Blah. Now the stories are gone and when he opens his mouth all that comes out of it is ‘Ark, ark, ark…’ Haroun must find the sea of stories and save them all. Which sounds very grand but is the purpose of the adventure that follows.

I think if I had read this when I was about 10 or 11 I would have looooooved it. As it was I kind of liked it. I think the problem really is me. I I like magical realism in general but for some reason in a kids book magic just tends to get a bit silly for me (with the exception of Mildred Hubble and Harry Potter) and it breaks the spell, pun intended. I had tried Rushdie’s other young adult/childrens book Luka and the Fire of Life and had the same issues there but Rob chose it for for Hear… Read This, so I blame him as I wouldn’t have read it otherwise, ha! It has made me want to read Rushdie’s adult works again though, not a complete loss for me, and many of you will love it – in fact on Hear… Read This most of them did.

The Days of The Deer – Liliana Bodoc

Corvus Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It is known that the strangers will sail from some part of the Ancient Lands and will cross the Yentru Sea. All our predictions and sacred books clearly say the same thing. The rest is all shadows. Shadows that prevent us from seeing the faces of those who are coming. In the House of Stars, the Astronomers of the Open Air read contradictory omens. A fleet is coming to the shores of the Remote Realm. But are these the long-awaited Northmen, returned triumphant from the war in the Ancient Lands? Or the emissaries of the Son of Death come to wage a last battle against life itself? From every village of the seven tribes, a representative is called to a Great Council. One representative will not survive the journey. Some will be willing to sacrifice their lives, others their people, but one thing is certain: the era of light is at an end.

No I didn’t write that, Waterstones did. I had the most weird reading experience with this book. Firstly the writing style is at once completely wooden and clunky, though this may be the translation. Secondly, the author doesn’t feel like she is in control and as she goes will invent some magical/fantastical happenstance or monster or something to keep it all going. Thirdly, I don’t think she knows where its going. Fourthly, it is fantasy and I am not renowned for liking that genre. Well I read it. I just got on with it, I didn’t understand much of it, I didn’t really like it but oddly I was completely unoffended by it. I just read it, without rhyme, reason or any real reaction. It was a really odd experience, pure inoffensive nonchalance. Have any of you had that? Oh and if you can’t take my word for it even Gav, of Gav Reads, who chose it for Hear… Read This wasn’t a fan.

Wavewalker – Stella Duffy

Serpents Tail, paperback, 1996, fiction, 261 pages, bought by my good self

As with Muriel; you know I love Stella’s writing, I know I love Stella’s writing, so why pop it in a round up post. Well the honest answer is I just guzzled this down, like a chocolate bar you devour and enjoy but should have maybe let the flavour of linger longer. (This is by the way highly flattering; I never joke about great chocolate or great books or waste them.) To carry that analogy further and possibly to its limit, it is like when you finish inhaling a Crunchie (or Violet Crumble if you will) and you just loved it so much you just want another one. Well I have held off reading the bext Saz Martin because I should have dwelt on this one longer. I am pacing myself with her recently published short story collection at the moment.

To give you a brief synopsis, the second in the Saz Martin series (the first Calendar Girl, which I shockingly read six years ago, I also really recommend) sees Saz investigating a new craze therapy that has come over from America, San Francisco to be precise, employed by the mysterious Wavewalker who thinks Dr North’s practice may link with a cult group and an unusual spate of suicides in the seventies. As I mentioned I just ate this book up. It has great plotting, Saz Martin is a brilliant quirky lead character and there is quite a lot of lesbian sex to titillate you, pun not intended, as you read on. I am seeing Stella tonight and she may kill me for that, ha! All in all it is a great thriller and I would love Stella to bring Saz back!

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So that is your lot for now, one more round up on Saturday when we have a right old mix from Fairytales to Sex Criminals. If that doesn’t tempt you back nothing will. In the interim do let me know if you have read any of these and what you made of them! Also let me know if you have ever had the same instance as I did with The Days of the Deer where a book just leaves you utterly nonchalant, not good, not bad, just nonchalant.

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Filed under Liliana Bodoc, Muriel Spark, Review, Rounding Up The Reviews, Salman Rushdie, Stella Duffy

Books That I’ve Bought of Late

I have been thinking about the books that I should be sharing on the blog, aside from the ones that I review of course. By that I mean the books that come in to Chez Savidge Reads. I used to do regular-ish posts of the books that the publishers were sending me yet whilst this came from enthusiasm, I was saying mere days ago how when I come home to a pile of parcels it still feels like Christmas, I have noticed that there seems to now be almost a sense of showing off the latest free books incoming around the blogosphere. All a bit icky and not something I am not interested in perpetuating despite my genuine enthusiasm.

So I have decided that I will tweet and Instagram select moments of postal joy, on the blog however I will review the ones I read AND share with you the books I have bought. I love book shopping, my bank doesn’t part of why blogging has been so amazing, since having a more regular salary (less freelance living) I have been enjoying ‘payday treats’ only sometimes more than just on payday. Here are the books that I have bought in the last few months and the reasons why (some are so flimsy it is shameful)…

Books Bought

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith – I know, I know. I haven’t even read the hardback I have of The Cuckoo’s Calling but I admit sometimes I can fall for the hype. This may well not get read until some point next year but it was half price, oh thinking about it it’ll probably be less than half price in paperback. Oops. Least I have the hardback set though, so far, meaning I will have to by the next. Oh…

The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson – I don’t know about you but I hate, hate, hate food and household good shopping. I have been offered to not have to do this, however I would end up with food stuffs and household trinkets I don’t like I am sure of it. So when said big shop happens every weekend, if particularly stressful I treat myself to a book. This was bought on one such trip when I had become infuriated by the bananas and so went off to buy something, anything. And I am going to Sweden so it made sense. I haven’t read Jonasson’s debut, it is on my devil’s device which I seem to have misplaced/forgotten where I put it.

The Rental Heart by Kirsty Logan – I am a big fat liar. The publisher sent me this pretend you haven’t seen it, I have clumsily mis-shelved it.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou – Isn’t it awful that the death of an author can lead you to finally getting your hands on their work. My mother has been telling me to read Maya Angelou for ages and ages, it sadly took her passing to make me actually go and buy a copy. I will be reading this as soon as my holiday week starts.

Things I Don’t Want To Know by Deborah Levy – Can you say you are a big fan of an author after only reading two of their books? If so I am a HUGE fan of Deborah Levy and this is meant to be an answer to George Orwell’s Why I Write which I have inherited from Gran. I may read them back to back especially.

The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell – This is the lovely Kate of Adventures with Words choice for the next episode of Hear Read This. I know nothing about it, but that can be quite exciting to have in your reading diet from time to time.

The Sundial by Shirley Jackson – Shirley Jackson is one of the many, many authors I often think ‘ooh I must read more of’. Yes, there are lots of those. This is apparently a newly reprinted old tale of hers that Penguin have brought back from the depths of time. Simon of Stuck In A Book has done a glorious review of it, and two others in Shiny New Books, which sent me off in search of it. Who doesn’t think a gothic family household at the end of the world sounds amazing? See, everyone agrees, instant must read.

The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark – Gavin has chosen this for next months Hear Read This along with Kate’s choice as we have been and are doing novellas over the summer. I have read this and loved it however didn’t have a copy, so a reread is a perfect excuse to by my own copy. I have to say any time I see a Penguin Modern Classic I want to buy them all.

The Absent Therapist by Will Eaves – After loving Charles Lambert’s With A Zero at It’s Heart so much and it being such a ‘different’ read I asked for recommendations along those lines. David (who should have a blog himself frankly) said that he had recently read this and it would be right up my street. I have been meaning to read Eaves for a while too.

Eeny Meeny by M. J. Aldridge – I apologise profusely, I cannot remember who was raving about this as a brilliant crime thriller, it might have been on Twitter or Instagram but safe to say they made me buy it. It was before it was announced on the new Richard and Judy book club list, just saying.

The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey – So I bought this as M. R. Carey was coming to read at Waterstones in Liverpool (where it has apparently sold the most copies in any store) and I have heard great things. I then got a shift at work which meant I couldn’t go. So it awaits a read, maybe he will come back again?

The Year of the Ladybird by Graham Joyce – Graham Joyce told me and Gavin about this when he joined us on The Readers Book Club. I am intrigued as to how he makes a holiday park in the British summer time heatwave of the 1970s spooky. I have a feeling it will be very good.

Randall by Jonathan Gibbs – Spur of the moment buy when lovely lady said ‘oh you have used all ten of your stamps so you get ten pounds free’, you get a stamp every time you spend ten pounds. Having loved A Girl is a Half Formed Thing by Eimear McBride I have been meaning to try more of Galley Beggar Press’ novels, this apparently is a pastiche of the art world so should be fun. Note – only after I got home did I realise a) I only got that loyalty card 5 weeks ago b) I have another Galley Beggar Press book at home waiting to be read. But hey, life’s short.

Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes – The next choice for my book club and since I have suddenly discovered Barnes is actually an author I think I really like I am very excited about reading this.

Red Moon by Benjamin Percy – I blame supermarkets again. This is apparently a ‘spin on the werewolf novel’ and I do love werewolves, those ghosts and dragons I am all a fan off. It had also been a rather trying time in the ‘baked goods’ aisle, so a treat was once more needed.

The Ravens by Thomas Bannerhed – I have been picking up and putting down this book every time I have gone into Waterstones lately. The cover is stunning and it sounded like one of those ‘out in the countryside where things are more raw, rough and grubbier’ kind of novels which I love. Every time I have looked at it the copy has been battered so I have resisted. New ones came in, it is set in Sweden and so will be going with me in a week and a bits time. Job’s a gooden.

Beastings by Benjamin Myers – “A girl and a baby. A priest and a poacher. A savage pursuit through the landscape of a changing rural England.” I think that this is definitely going to be one of those ‘out in the countryside where things are more raw, rough and grubbier’ kind of novels which I love. And also like the above is from a small press so I purchased it even though I have not yet read Pig Iron which I have renewed from the library twelve times, true story.

So that is my haul. I have just realised I have missed the second hand copy of Persepolis which I bought myself today. I hadn’t been in any second hand shops for ages and was on the hunt for the second and third of Camilla Lackberg’s books however I only found the fourth and fifth, amazingly I didn’t buy them wasn’t I good? I am planning a big (baggage allowance allowing) second hand spree in Washington with Thomas which I can then go and read by his pool everyday on my mini tour of America so expect to hear about those then.

By the way, before I ask you all some questions, I am aware Other People’s Bookshelves has gone quiet recently. I have sent lots of the forms out am just waiting for the pictures and responses but if you fancy taking part please email me via savidgereads@gmail.com with Other People’s Bookshelves in the title! Back to today’s post though. Which books have you bought recently? Have you read any of the ones that I have grabbed lately?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #20 – Gavin Pugh

So this week’s Other People’s Bookshelves is a little bit late but that is because I wanted to do something special for its 20th post in the series and have a special guest and delayed it to match that special guests birthday (21 again). Yes this week it is none other than my bookish beardy best mate the lovely, lovely Gavin C. Pugh. Really he doesn’t need an introduction, many of you will have followed his blog or seen him around Twitter (where he is like a bookish Lady Gaga in terms of followers) as @GavReads.

He describes himself as a social reader and has only recently admitted to collecting books. He was the original co-host of The Readers podcast with me, and will be back at some point, though now does more behind the scenes producing The Readers and You Wrote The Book where he makes me sound better and less inept – oh if only you all knew! He is back with a new podcast called Hear Read This! with Kate and Rob from Adventures with Words any myself too. He’s mainly known for loving SFF but he’ll delve into reality every now and again. He’s currently running NoCloaksAllowed.com and going to be reviewing a piece of shorter fiction a day for the next year. So wish him luck. Now let’s go and nosey through his shelves…

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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?

That’s a huge question. Before I moved to university I had 3 tall book cases 10 years ago and at the time I squeezed as many of those books as I could into my car to take with me. I couldn’t store them all so I had a big cull. Don’t worry too much it was things like Patricia Cornwell and James Patterson, so books that I wouldn’t reread. But I did get a feel for culling books. And I can be quite heartless if I need some space. That doesn’t mean that I have room for books. Right now, I’ve got six tall and wide book cases at the minute and a couple of piles keeping my desk up.

Now, this is a confession… I worked out recently that I had 483 or so unread books in the house so my read books have to be extra special to stay. I’m not sentimental though I sort of wish that I did keep the Anne McCaffery and Robert Rankin books from my teens. I did keep my Terry Pratchett books and those really do need two shelves now especially with the new Gollancz hardbacks coming out as I’ve definitely run out of room. I’ve culled books that I loved as if I’m not going to re-read it usually goes unless there is some other reason. I’ve started collecting certain books so I am now especially keeping books to make collections. You might see Adam Roberts for example and I bought the first edition of Stone as I read it from the library and really missed not having a copy. I buy and acquire more books faster than I can read them. I envy people’s restraint who can do one in one out.

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?

My shelves are currently quite organised. I’d love to make them alphabetical but I think I’d have to cull them by half so I could see them all rather than have half of them hidden by double spacing as they are now. Before I had a bit of a tidy up the Neal Asher books for example were all over the house they are now all together even if they can’t all be lined up. And that made a big difference to how I looked at my bookshelves. Before it was a case of anywhere that I could find a space! Now I try and keep them together through some sort of link, hover tenuous that is. Though that does mean that Jim Butcher and Peter F. Hamilton have got buried. I do like seeing them together. The yellow-spined SF Masterworks are together but only I know what I’ve read as I don’t keep read and unread separated. And it’s lovely to see The Readers Book Club books all on the shelf together.

thereadersshelf

I have this big shelf of writing-related books that’s quite scary to look at – does one person need that many writing books I wonder? But I can’t bear to part with them. Actually, I’m ignoring the elephant in the room. As a reviewer and book-cheerleader I get a fair few review copies and they sometimes get shelf space while they wait but mostly new ones are on the floor in front of the shelves. But without reviewing I’d have a lot of books. I buy a lot of ebooks (sorry Simon) rather than physical copies though I’m swinging the other way and buying physical copies if there is a change I’d want them around to look at after I’ve read them. The other thing I do, like with the short stories, is to be able to pull those books off the shelves and pile them on my desk for reference and easy grabbing.
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What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now? 

You know I honestly can’t remember. I got a lot of books from the library when I learning what I liked as a reader. I’ve always been a reader but I didn’t gain traction until I was 16 and that was all down to The Witches Collection that Gollancz published collecting Terry Pratchett’s Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters and Witches Abroad and that got me hooked and I devoured all the Discworld books and kept myself topped up as they game out every 6 months for a while. I don’t have it anymore but I do have the individual volumes.

The thing I’m really bad at is overbuying books. I’ve not read the Edmund Crispin’s Gervase Fen mysteries yet, but I like having them around. There are some books that I bought when I was first getting into books hidden behind others on the shelves. I’ve always gorged on books. One thing I don’t do is buy second hand books but there is a copy of Storm Constantine’s Stalking Tender Prey as I lost it in a move and couldn’t do without having it on the shelve as battered and smelly as it is.

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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?

You know, I’m a little embarrassed by my poetry collection. It’s very different from SFF that I’m known for reading. It’s probably that I don’t know many people to ‘geek-out’ with the same way I can do with you or with people on twitter. Though I think poetry is a powerful thing that I wish more people weren’t put off by in school.

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 did have a no-burn shelf but since reorganisation they are a bit scattered. I don’t really go for signed books. I have a few signed books but almost all of those are mementoes of meeting an author and that makes a story and a connection. I have signed books by a few of my heroes Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Mark Chadbourn, Storm Constantine, Neal Asher and Garth Nix for example. Some celeb books like Russell T. Davies, John Barrowman, and Barry Humphries. I have books signed by friends that I’d have to try and grab. The Terry Prachett hardcovers. And then there are some ARCS (advanced reading copies) that I’ve been lucky enough to acquire that are special to me like Horns by Joe Hill. Though a lot of books that I would grab because they are OOP have found a new life in ebook so I’d leave those until last like The Great Game by Dave Duncan and the Mark Chadbourn series – sorry Mark. Oh I almost forgot China Miéville – I’d grab those first as most are signed and he’s an amazing writer that I love seeing on the shelves.

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What is the first ‘grown up, and I dont mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Greyway, that you remember on your parents 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 guess you’d say that was Stephen King and Dolores Claiborne. Stephen King for me is very hit and miss author. I’ve tried a good many of his books some like Gerald’s Game, which should be shocking didn’t grab me and some like The Stand I didn’t see why they were talking so long. I love Under the Dome but I don’t have a copy any more but Dolores Claiborne is the book that I’ve bought and given away about 5 times and it’s currently missing. I need to buy another copy soon as I like rereading it. It’s got no horror in it as such but tells the lives of two women as they grow old together.

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?

This is one reason that I’m really sad that libraries are disappearing as I’ve read some books when I was finding myself as a reader that are missing from the shelves like Martin Bauman by David Leavitt that I should have got around to re-buying but it’s not a book I want to read again mostly as it was such a powerful book the first time that I don’t think a second reading will live up to that. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman I did end up buying though I thought I would reread it much earlier than I actually did and then I listened to it as an audiobook so that doesn’t really count as I still didn’t open the actual copy on the shelves. I guess that’s one reason why I’m ruthless at culling is that once I’ve read a book I have to be honest  if I’ll reread them and that I’m not just holding on to books in the vague hope they’ll be useful later. Saying that though now I’ve admitted I’m a collector I have a much better excuse for keeping more books.

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

One thing I love about twitter is that it’s so easy to call out and get good book recommendations. I did that recently and got back suggestions of Murial Spark The Driver’s Seat and Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckingridge & Myron. I can’t remember what the criteria was now but I tend to ask for older books that people love.

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Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you dont currently?

I’ve already mentioned Martin Bauman. I’m a little sad that I gave away Un Lun Dun by China Miéville  as that’s a proper collection gap. Also when I was a student I didn’t by Making Money by Terry Pratchett and a couple of weeks ago I bought a first edition hardback to fill that gap. I can’t find my hardback of Thud!, another Pratchett, and I could swear I bought the hardback so I might have to get a first edition of that soon.

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

Having a wall of books in the living room, which is four of the bookcases, is an impressive sight. I think it shows a person that loves reading. To be honest I’m sure that they’d know a fraction of the authors that I have. They’d probably be more impressed by the soft toys that have been placed here and there amongst the shelves.

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A huge thanks to Gavin for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Also, without sounding daft, a huge thanks to him for being a brilliant bookish bud, he’s ace.  If you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the 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 Gav’s responses and/or any of the books/authors that he mentioned? Don’t forget to wish him a Happy **th Birthday too!

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The Savidge Reads Hall of Fame… Muriel Spark

Time to introduce my third author into, the rather grandly titled, Savidge Reads Hall of Fame. Muriel Spark is an author I have been reading longer than I have been blogging all thanks to the lovely Polly of Novel Insights, who will be doing a series of monthly guest posts here soon, and how much she used to praise Spark’s works and made me finally take the plunge when she chose ‘Aiding and Abetting’ for a book group we had at an old workplace. Since then, with the exception of a few books, which I think I need to re-read as I didn’t ‘get’ on a first read, I have thoroughly enjoyed every Spark novel that I have read, all the more when her wicked wit and wry knowing prose are at their most extreme.

The first book I read by her was‘Aiding and Abetting’ oddly starting with one of Spark’s later books and one that was based on a true tale which she ‘took great liberties with’.

The reason that I initially read her was… As I mentioned above, the lovely Polly of Novel Insights chose Spark’s penultimate book for a book group we had where we both worked. I admired the tale, based on two men thinking they were the infamous Lord Lucan and a fraudulent psychiatrist, because of the fact she did so much in a relatively small book. I also really liked the dark humour and knowing nature her prose had.

The reason that she has become one of my favourite authors, and I would recommend them, is… I really like the fact that I never know what I am going to get with Spark, I think she keeps her readers on their toes and also throws in a twist or element that you were never expecting. I love the fact she can write fully fledged characters, back and splintering stories and create an entire world within very few pages – she isn’t an author who needs to say a paragraph when she can do it in a sentence. I also love the wicked sense of humour she has and the darker levels that always brood in the background of each tale.

My favourite of her novels so far has been… Without question ‘The Driver’s Seat’. One of her shortest novels but one that actually made me gasp at the sting in the tail of it which I never saw coming. It is a book that packs a huge punch for such a short novel and one that I think everyone should read. Though I always like to savor an authors works to the end, hence why ‘Memento Mori’ will have to wait patiently in the TBR as I have heard that it is meant to be one of her best and darkest.

If there was one of her works I had a wobble with, it would have to be… Oddly enough the book I have had the biggest wobble with is probably her most famous. I really didn’t get ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ at all when I read it. It was my second read of hers and I wasn’t sure afterwards if I would give her another whirl. Polly wisely said that I should try another and maybe come back to it at a later point. I did try more and loved them so Polly was wise and I do think I will give ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ another try one day. I am now intrigued what it was about it I didn’t like or didn’t understand.

The most recent one of her novels that I read was… ‘The Abbess of Crewe’ one of the far too many of her books that are no longer in print, which I think is an absolute crying shame. This was a wonderful tale of some rather crazy nuns (the film adaptation is aptly called ‘Nasty Habits’) and is a satire of the Watergate scandal, that said you don’t need to know anything about to enjoy it though – in fact I avoided knowing about it so I didn’t equate the fictional nuns with real politicians. It was Muriel at her sparklingly wickedest and I would highly recommend you try and track down.

The next of Muriel Spark’s works I am planning on reading is… I quite fancy reading some of her short stories, of which there are many, though I don’t own any of them so that would require shopping. Gran, who is also a fan, is always saying that I should read ‘The Mandelbaum Gate’ so that could be a future read, though I have a lovely old hardback of ‘Do Not Disturb’ which I quite fancy. It is alas another of her books that now seems out of print but you can often find her books in many a second hand bookshop and they have some fabulous old kitsch covers.

What I would love her to do next is… Alas Muriel Spark died six years ago. I would have loved to have been able to have had her partake in a Savidge Reads Grills, though I think that would have been something I could only have dreamt of. I have plenty of her books still to read though.

You can see a full list of Muriel Spark’s works on the Savidge Reads Hall of Fame page, a special page on the blog especially for my favourite authors and links to the books of theirs I have read and reviewed and the ones I haven’t as yet. This will encourage me to read all the books by my favourite authors and may lead you to some new authors if you like most of the ones that I like, if that makes sense. There are some rules though, but you can find more of those on the Hall of Fame page too.

So who else is a Muriel Spark fan? Which of her novels have you read and loved? Are you yet to try her?

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The Abbess of Crewe – Muriel Spark

As I mentioned last week whilst visiting Gran’s I always pack far too many books for the length of time I am there. I also have to plan which ones to take which sort of defeats my aim of reading by whim on the whole this year. However Gran has a vast selection of books in her house and perusing this actual gave me some short treats to read while I was there, one of which was ‘The Abbess of Crewe’ by the wonderful Muriel Spark, subtitled ‘a wicked satire on Watergate’. How could I not read this when it so explicitly mixed Muriel Spark and wickedness?

**** Penguin Books, paperback, 1975, fiction, 104 pages, nabbed from Gran’s bookshelves

‘The Abbess of Crewe’ is told in a rather strange way, as the book opens we find the Abbess and one of her nuns Sister Winifrede deep in a hinted discussion that they may have done something untoward which, as we read on, might relate to the reason that policemen and police dogs are patrolling the grounds of the abbey. You aren’t sure what is going on but then you flit back between now and the repercussions and what actually happened.

As we read on, though I don’t want to give too much away, it turns out that the whole abbey has been under observations with phones tapped along with hidden video cameras and microphones (even in the fur trees in the grounds) and which have been discovered around the recent election of the new abbess herself against her rival Sister Felicity.

‘What is wrong, Sister Winifrede,’ says the Abbess, clear and loud to the receptive air, ‘with the traditional keyhole method?’
Sister Winifrede says, in her whine of bewilderment, that voice of the very stupid, the mind where no dawn breaks, ‘But, Lady Abbess, we discussed right from the start –‘
‘Silence!’ says the Abbess.  ‘We observe silence, now, and meditate.’ She looks at the tall poplars of the avenue where they walk, as if the trees are listening.’

Here I am sure a more intellectual blogger might allude to, or indeed inform you of, how this all relates to the Watergate Scandal. I admit, partly because I felt that I should, I did go and read a bit about the whole affair though I then decided against it as I found myself trying to work out which characters in the book were in the real political scandal, and it started to take the fun out of reading about these barmy nuns instead. So I stopped. This does show that you don’t need to know of the Watergate Scandal to enjoy the book as Spark creates one of her most Machiavellian female leads in ‘The Abbess of Crewe’ and a wonderful cast of cloaked characters around her.

I thought Felicity, the Abbesses main rival initially, was a wonderful character. Some people would say she was a ‘new nun’ in the fact that she is devoted in depth to God and also to free love, the latter of which she is having with a Jesuit monk called Thomas around the grounds as often as she can. This of course causes talk, I laughed very loudly when one of the nuns said she didn’t understand why on earth she didn’t do it in the linen closet where it’s warmer, and threatens to change the vision of the convent and abbey that many people, mainly the abbess, have for it. If one nun turns bad and gets away with it surely others may to and there could be a revolt.

‘Nobody knows where Felicity has been all day and half the night, for she was not present at Matins at midnight nor Lauds at three in the morning, nor at breakfast at five, Prime at six, Terce at nine; nor was she present in the refectory at eleven for lunch, which comprised barley broth and a perfectly nourishing and tasty, although uncommon, dish of something unnamed on toast, that something being in fact a cat-food by the name of Mew, bought cheaply and in bulk. Felicity had not been there to partake of it, nor was she in the chapel singing the Hour of Sext at noon.’

I also loved Mildred and Winifrede who remain hard done by and a little bit ditzy throughout. There was also the wonderful Sister Gertrude who phoned often from one of her many missions around the world, such as trying to unite cannibals and vegetarian tribes on either side of a Himalayan mountain, to talk philosophical gibberish which never made sense and yet seemed to make the other sisters suddenly do very rash things. There are also some wonderful set pieces like a meeting of a nun to pay a bribe in a Selfridge’s toilet and much, much more.

It seems a shame then that ‘The Abbess of Crewe’ is out of print. I do wonder if it is because people might think it has aged or will seem aged being a satire of Watergate. It seems a real same if that is the case as for a little book, at just 104 pages, it gives a lot, I ended up wishing it was a lot longer though. There was a lot of very wicked laughter for me throughout ‘The Abbess of Crewe’ and it had some of my most favourite characters Spark has created so far in my reading of her. I also think it is one where her wicked sense of humour, which I love so much, shines through most devilishly.

Who else has read ‘The Abbess of Crewe’ and if so what did you think? Did you find you had to read all about Watergate or like me did you just enjoy it regardless? Which of Sparks’s books have you read and enjoyed? Oh and if you haven’t as yet one of her most famous ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ (which oddly isn’t my favourite though it is deemed her classic) is current Book at Bedtime on Radio 4.

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Second Hand Book Binge

There is always something nice about going to small towns or villages and having a good old nosey through their second hand book or charity shops looking for a bargain or two. I have noticed that in the bigger cities you tend to get more of the modern or contemporary books whilst in the towns and villages there is a wider range of treats to be had. This seemed the case when I extended a trip to do some shopping for Gran, as she had guests so wasn’t just left on her own, and I managed to pop to see what I could find in Matlock. Alas I didn’t find any Persephone books, as I was secretly hoping, but I did come away with all of these…

Second Hand Book Binge

I do like to read true crime now and again, though actually not as much as I think I do in my own head, and ‘The Killing of Julia Wallace’ by John Gannon seemed like the ideal find. Apparently this was ‘Liverpool’s most enigmatic and brutal murder’ that has remained unsolved since it happened in 1931. Now living so near Liverpool, on the Wirral, I have seen this book in lots of the ‘local interest’ sections of bookshops and so I snapped it up (with that ‘ooh I have a bargain’ feeling) there and then.

I had never heard of Tadeusz Borowski or his book ‘This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen’ but when I saw this Penguin Twentieth Century Classic that was partly what made me buy it. This book is actually a selection of accounts from Borowski himself from his time in Auschwitz as well as other people who survived and indeed those who didn’t but he witnessed or learnt the stories of. I have a feeling it is going to be a rather difficult read but one that I think I should experience if you know what I mean.

On a much lighter note, well that said its meant to have some very dark parts, next up is Patrick Gale’s ‘The Cat Sanctuary’. I picked this up for three reasons, firstly I seem to have rediscovered my love for Gale’s books after a few years absence and so want to get them all, secondly it is a tale of siblings torn apart which I always find an oddly compelling premise and thirdly because I am slightly worried I may end up becoming a crazy old cat man or turn this house into a cat sanctuary with the rate I have gained felines this year.

The next three books were all bought for the same reason… I love the authors but didn’t have copies of these books. Actually not quite true, my mother lent me her copy of Muriel Spark’s ‘The Only Problem’ and will want it back at some point so I thought I would pre-empt that. Speaking of my mother this edition of Margaret Atwood’s ‘Lady Oracle’ makes me think of her as most of my mother’s Atwood editions are these, I think now, rather brilliant bold 80’s editions. I think I have ‘The Edible Woman’ in the same cover edition too. As for ‘The White Company’, well you can never have too many short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as far as I am concerned and I loved this old edition – makes me think of what the books history might be.

Now you may be wondering why I didn’t include Susan Hill in my favourite author sweeping statement above, after all she is one of them. Yet this collection of ‘Ghost Stories’ is just that; a collection of spooky tales as selected by Susan Hill. I have to say I had no idea this book even existed but was thrilled when I spotted it and so it simply had to leave the shop with me.

Though all these books, and in particular John Gannon’s and Susan Hill’s, thrilled me as I found them I think that ‘Agatha Christie’s Murder in the Making’ was the one that had me doing a secret little jig of joy when I spied it. I thought that John Curran’s previous book on the Queen of Crime ‘Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks’ was wonderful when I read it (I reviewed it almost two years to the day) and I always meant to get my hands on this latest when it came out last year. So seeing this (and this was the most expensive of my purchases) for just £2 really thrilled me. I was so excited to see it that I didn’t look at any of the other books on the shelves in the final shop as I just wanted to escape with this find. I probably looked quite shifty.

All in all, for a whopping £5.25 I don’t think I did too badly, do you? Have you read any of these and if so what did you think? What are your thoughts on second hand books? I recently shockingly discovered that Gavin doesn’t like them! Is he mad? What are the best bargains you have found? I don’t think anything beats my Persephone haul as yet.

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Filed under Book Spree, Random Savidgeness, Second Hand Book Binge