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Other People’s Bookshelves #11 – Laura Caldwell

So after a small break ‘Other People’s Bookshelves’ is back, I have decided to make it a less frequent and scheduled event so from now on it will be every few Saturdays rather than every Thursday. Anyway let’s get on with this week’s guest, Laura Caldwell. As a child she grew up in a very “literate” household.  Both of her parents were English majors and my father is now a retired English professor.  Both her and her sister spent most of their free time reading and nothing made them happier then to come home from the library with a new stack of books.  Her reading interests as a child were mostly historical fiction and mysteries, although she also had a great love as a child for school readers that her public library had quite a few of.  Funnily enough she now has a collection of antique ones. As a teen, while still loving historical fiction, she developed an interest in SciFi that didn’t last too long, she is now rekindling that interest.  In young adulthood, she read mostly fantasy which she still enjoys from time to time. Nowadays, she reads about half classics and half other genres, also a large number of non-fiction: mostly history and theology.  She have been an autodidact her whole life having only a high school education. Children’s books have always been a great love of her (as you will be able to tell from her pictures) and she read to her three children (now grown) profusely.  As well as owning a number of books, she borrows MANY from the library. Welcome to her shelves…

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?

The books that I keep are either non-fiction (especially theology), books that I love and anticipate rereading, or ones that I have yet to read (many).  I also have a number of shelves of children’s books that I enjoyed reading to my children and hope to read to grandchildren someday. (My youngest child is 18 now, middle 21, oldest 34.) As well, I have a collection of school books from the 1800s and a small collection of antique or vintage children’s books. A Nook and old ipad hold many more possible reads.

D. Vintage children's books

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 am a very detail-orientated person but you wouldn’t know it by looking at my shelves. The children’s books are together, as well as my antique school books, and vintage children’s books.  My non-fiction tends to be by subject, but otherwise not in any order, and my TBR and favorites-to-keep are all jumbled together.  Most of my comfort reads are together on one shelf.

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

Wow, that would be a long time ago!  It probably was a Nancy Drew mystery which I loved and collected.  I went on to purchase and read Agatha Christies.  I do not have either collection anymore, but mixed into my children’s books are a few books from my childhood.

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?

My guilty pleasures are probably my Miss Read books which I have a few of, although I have probably read the whole collection from the library over the past 25 years.  They are with my other books on my “comfort read shelf.”  Most of my books are in what I call my library (with my desk and computer) that doubles as a guest room also, so they are not really out in public.

B. Comfort reads

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 don’t really have a “most prized” book.  I have some books that I hold more dearly than others like my Della Lutes books published in the 1930s and 40s.  They are a kind of “Little House on the Prairie” set for adults. It took me a while to collect all five. They tell the story of Ms. Lutes’ life in small town southern Michigan in the late 1800s.  They reside on my “comfort read shelf.”  I would try to save that shelf’s contents if there was a fire.  (Under that circumstance, I would need comfort reads!) I would also grab my hardcover copy of The Secret History, my favourite book. This past Christmas season I have found need for my comfort reads because I live in the community of West Webster, NY that lost fire-fighters to an insane gunman Christmas Eve.   Circumstances like this are exactly why I have my “comfort reads,” sometimes it is very hard to focus on much else.

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

My parents were English teachers so there were a lot of books and bookshelves in my home growing up.  I can’t remember wanting to read any of them.  They looked boring.  They had lots of English classics that I have only gotten interested in reading in the past few years, and poetry that I never have gotten into, except for Wordsworth. (Simon, I completely understand your issues with Greek classics.)

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, if I borrowed a book from the library and loved it, I would want to own it, but would probably wait to find it for sale used somewhere-most likely at the library sales.  Most of the books that I buy new are theology books.  They are not easy to find used, although I do have a number of those too. (no, I am not a pastor or theology student, just an interested Christian, self-educated.)

C. Antique school books and family bibles

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

My purchase (used): Of Human Bondage, W. Somerset Maugham $.50; Dombey and Son, Dickens $.50; Mrs. Dalloway, V. Woolf $.50 (I have read before); Ruth, Elizabeth Gaskell $.50; Mary Anne, Daphne du Maurier, hardcover $1. Christmas gift from youngest son (18): An Edible History of Humanity, Tom Standage (I loved A History of the World in Six Glasses).

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

Millions!  A small portion of those millions will eventually be there.  I cull all the time, especially donating the TBRs as I finish them and know that I won’t be reading them again.

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

Well they would certainly notice my three and one half over-stuffed shelves of theology, then a good number of history books. The rest would be a real mixture of classics and newer fiction.  Anyone could find a book that they would like on my shelves-except my husband who only reads techno-thriller/spy stories. Yuck!

A. Main bookshelves

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A big thank you to Laura 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 Laura’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?
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Thanks Mum, For Making Me Read

If I am honest I do think that Mothering Sunday, which is upon us here in the UK, is actually a big mass of cash spinning marketing. If you like your Mum, tell her when you see her or speak to her, if you don’t like her then don’t tell her, or see her. Ha! Anyway, that aside I thought it might actually be a nice idea to do a post about my mother considering without her influence I wouldn’t be the reader I am today and I am not sure I have ever thanked her for that in person, so I thought I would do it publically. She’ll be embarrassed but that is what sons are for or is that what parents are for? Either way…

My mother (that’s her there —>) had me at the age of 16 years old back in 1982, in fact almost 30 years ago to the week how apt (apparently she is ‘fine, yes fine, why do you ask’ about being 46 and having a soon to be 30 year old son). Not that it was the dark ages, but at that time not only was it a rather shocking occurrence it was also one that could curtail your studies and career, especially if you were going to be a single mum, as my Mum was even though she had the support of my grandparents. This wasn’t to be the case with my mum, she carried on her studies and took me with her to Newcastle where she gained a degree in Classics. I always say that having been to university from the ages of three to six is why I didn’t feel the need to go myself, excuses, excuses.

It is at university that my first memories of Mum reading to me are the strongest. I can vividly remember, after me throwing matchbox toy cars at her head to wake her up at 6am, the joy of getting into bed with her in the morning and being read children’s classics like the Ladybird Fairytales, Roald Dahl, Jill Murphy and the seminal works of ‘The Adventures of He-Man’ or ‘The Adventures of She-Ra’. It was also at this point books really took on a life of their own when she would read me the stories my granddad wrote and illustrated for me, which even featured me in them (and a certain Novel Insights who I had befriended aged 4), about the tales of a witch called Esmeralda and all her friends. You can see them below and read about them further here.

Studying Classics meant I also got the entire myths and legends from the Greeks and indeed the Romans regularly, I don’t know if it was because of her enthusiasm for the subject or if it helped her revise, in fact most nights. I seem to remember this is when ‘The Saga of Erik the Viking’ by Terry Jones appeared on the scene and was read often along with the nonetheless epic ‘Flat Stanley’. However it was an illustrated edition of the story of Persephone which I vividly remember from the time and would read over and over. I lost the love for Classics when I became a teenager and my Mum was teaching it at my school, odd that, but it’s nice to see it has recently been awakened by Madeline Miller’s ‘The Song of Achilles’ where the joy of reading about the gods, goddesses and monsters (I had a moment of utter joy when a centaur first graced the pages of this book) has been reignited. More on that tomorrow…

The library was a  place we always went regularly, as were charity shops. I remember once buying a new version of the story of Perseus from Oxfam for 50p, Mum opening it impressed and then seeing the joy drain from her face as she swiftly returned it, it seemed it was a rather over racy (Perseus does porn kind of thing) version of the story and not really appropriate for a young boy of eleven. Sherlock Holmes was though, and as my great uncle memorised them on walking holidays to stop me being bored, we would pop to Waterstones (a real treat) on the way home after she had picked me up to get a new collection, this was also when we fell upon Robin Jarvis and ‘The Whitby Witches’.

A year or so later Mum gave me my first proper grown up book in the form of ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Suskind, I wonder if my Nancy Drew obsession that summer when we went to Africa had made her worried I would end up with no taste – I still like a crime. Her attitude was if I was going to start reading grown up literature it had to be the good stuff. This was followed by attempts to lead me to Margaret Atwood but I wasn’t biting. I was studying books, and whilst my Mum might have become a good English teacher, my English teacher (one of her colleagues, oops) was slowly taking all the joy out of reading and after I left school early I avoided books like the plague. Mum had laid the foundations though.

In fact looking back whenever I ended up living back at home, which happened a few times after some particularly bad relationship decisions I made and their tumultuous endings, Mum would let me have a good cry and suggest ‘maybe pick up a book’. This could have been to show me books are always there for you, or it could have been to provide some escape, or she maybe just wanted me to stop crying and leave her alone, ha. Whatever the reason though at times of turmoil bookshelves and books would be in my head, even if I wasn’t rushing out to buy them, and they still are. When things have turned to the proverbial, pick up a good book, or a bad one.

Nowadays of course when we see each other books are one of the main things we talk about – who cares how the other one of us is, what we have been reading is far more important. Our tastes can be bang on (Anne Tyler, Margaret Atwood, Samantha Harvey) or completely polar (Susan Hill, owning a Kindle) but we both love books and really that’s down to her, with some help from Gran too of course. It’s nice seeing she has done the same with my thirteen year old sister (though Twilight, really?) and eleven year old brother (Harry Potter ‘which he is reading quicker than me and won’t wait’) and she continues to do so as an English teacher, in a school where kids aren’t generally fans of books but they will be, or else.

So thank you Mum for giving me the gift of books, the encouragement to read and forcing me into the library when sometimes I didn’t want to go. Look what it lead to. Happy Mothers Day.

You can read my Mums favourite books here and see her get a readers grilling here.

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Savidge Reads Grills… Tess Gerritsen

When I sent Tess Gerritsen a cheeky email asking if she would please, please, please do a Savidge Reads Grills I was thrilled that she pretty instantly said yes. Ever since the lovely Novel Insights bought me ‘The Surgeon’ to read when I was having an operation a few years ago (not the wisest of timely choices, I read it when I was recovering at home rather than in the hospital) I have been gripped by the Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles series. As you might have seen yesterday I loved ‘The Bone Garden’ which was a departure into historical fiction. So without further ado here is Tess Gerritsen getting Savidgely Grilled…

For those people who haven’t read any of your series Isles and Rizzoli novels can you try and explain them in a single sentence?

It’s a crime series starring two very different, very capable female investigators: homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles, who are colleagues and friends.

How does each book come about?  Where are the ideas born?

I start with an idea that intrigues me, something that makes me excited to find out what happens next.  The inspirations come from different places.  Vanish, for instance, was inspired by a real case in Boston of a woman who was mistaken for dead and woke up in the morgue.  The writer in me immediately wanted to know how she ended up there, and what she did next.  ‘Body Double’ came to me while I was standing in the autopsy room and thinking: “What if I were to watch myself get autopsied?  Wouldn’t that be a horrifying thing?”  And it’s what Maura Isles almost goes through when she watches her twin sister, a sister she never knew she had, get autopsied.

How much of what we read in these books has actually been something you experienced in your career such as bodies waking up?

Thank heavens most of these tales are things I’ve NEVER experienced.  A lot of the source material is from the news, or from my voracious reading of all matter of material, from gossip magazines to scientific journals.

Has there ever been anything that completely creeped you out?

Quite often, in fact.  I am completely creeped out by shrunken heads, which is why I wrote about them in ‘Keeping The Dead’.  And autopsies although I’ve watched at least a dozen of them continue to disturb me.  I just don’t like watching them, even though they were part of my training.  Most of all, I’m creeped out by the horrifying ways that some people have expired.  In small, enclosed spaces.  In great pain.  Or in locations that are just out of reach of help.

Do you have a favourite between Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles as characters?

I love Jane Rizzoli as a role model, as a woman who is sure of herself and knows what she wants.  But I identify more with Maura Isles because of her scientific background and because I am an introvert, just like Maura.

They can be quite gory fiction in some ways; do you ever wonder if you have gone too far?

I think I pull back before I get too gory.  At least, from my point of view, I do!  I suppose there are readers who think I go over the top.  But in my books you seldom see the cruelty and depravity acted out on the page.  What I portray are the investigators coming onto the scene after the terrible acts have happened, and my investigators must piece the sequence together.  I do include details of autopsies, but I think of that as simply people doing their jobs.  It’s what I’ve seen as a doctor, and it doesn’t seem gory to me, simply clinical.

One of the many things I really love about the books is there seems to be no limits to what could happen, twins are suddenly found, people fall from planes it’s all fantastical and perfect escapism. Where do you come up with these varying twists and storylines?

I follow my instincts as a writer.  I ask myself, what’s the next intriguing, completely unexpected thing that can happen next?  And I make it happen.  I love to be surprised as a reader, and that’s what I try to do in my stories.  Keep my readers, and myself, off balance.

Your novels have become a TV series – how much involvement did you have with it? Was it hard to say yes to the project initially, because it’s something you created?

I don’t write the episodes.  “Rizzoli & Isles” has its own writing team, headed by executive producer Janet Tamaro, who wrote the pilot script.  I know Janet, and I feel perfectly comfortable shooting her an email with an idea or a suggestion, and occasionally she’ll ask for my opinion.  But it’s her baby now, and she’s managed to turn it into a hit TV show.  Although I created Jane and Maura, I’m realistic enough to know that I can’t maintain control of who they are in different media.  They’ve changed from their original book versions. As Janet likes to say, “You’re the birth mother and I’m the stepmother.  And now that they’re under my roof, they have to do what I tell them to.”

‘The Bone Garden’ was a slight change in your recent novels, what sent you off into the Victorian period? Are you planning more novels like this?

I loved writing that book.  It was inspired by some reading I’d done about childbed fever.  The details of the illness and the deaths so horrified me that I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  And when I can’t stop thinking about a topic, I know it’s going to end up in a book.  Here in the US, one of the historical heroes in medicine was Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, a physician who was the first to advise American doctors (in 1843) to wash their hands before attending women in childbirth.  He was probably responsible for saving the lives of thousands of women, yet his suggestions were ignored for a decade.  I wanted to write a story set in that filthy, disease-ridden era, when women were dying in childbirth. Where doctors were labouring under antiquated ideas of science.  And where conditions for the immigrant poor were horror stories in and of themselves.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? Was it an easy thing for you to do?

I knew I was a writer when I was seven years old.  I’ve never given up the dream.  But since I come from very practical immigrant stock (Chinese) I was talked into choosing a more secure profession, medicine.  Still, that dream of being a writer never left me and when I went on maternity leave from hospital work, I wrote my first book.

How long have you been writing for? Which books and authors inspired you to write?

My first published novel, a romance, came out in 1987 (Call After Midnight).  I’ve written about a book a year ever since then.  So it’s been 23 years as a professional novelist, which makes me feel old indeed.   As for which books inspired me, I can point to the same books that so many other female mystery writers point to: the Nancy Drew mystery series.  Those books reinforced my belief that women could not only be intelligent and independent, they could also solve mysteries.  While driving their own cars and staying up past midnight!

Are there any books you wish you had written yourself?

Too many to mention!  I wish I’d written Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.  I wish I’d written Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. I wish I’d written The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.

Which contemporary authors do you rate who are writing right now?

I’d like to mention two debut authors, just because debut authors have a harder time getting noticed. Their books are about to come out in 2011.  The first is Taylor Stevens, whose novel ‘The Informationist’ has a smashing new heroine.  And the second is S.J. Watson, a male author who absolutely and astonishingly nails a female voice in his book ‘Before I Go To Sleep’, about a woman with a peculiar form of amnesia who must re-make her past every morning when she wakes up.

Describe your typical writing routine, do you have any writers quirks or any writing rituals?

No rituals except breakfast and coffee, and then I sit at my desk and try to write 4 good first-draft pages.  I guess the most unusual thing about me is that I write those first-draft pages with pen and paper.  I’m an old dog who just can’t learn new tricks.

What is next for Tess Gerritsen?

I’m finishing up my next Jane and Maura book, The Silent Girl, about a mysterious murder in Boston’s Chinatown.  It allows me to explore some of the Chinese folktales of my childhood.

You can find out more about Tess Gerritsen on her website and indeed read her very own blog.

I want to say a huge thanks to Tess Gerritsen as I know how busy she is and so the fact that she did this so quickly and so eagerly was lovely. It’s always nice when authors you really like to read are lovely in real life, I know it shouldn’t matter but lets be honest it does. Has this interview made you want to read more Gerritsen? Have any of you tried the novels she wrote pre-Rizzoli and Isles? I haven’t tried any yet and want to very much.

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