Tag Archives: Neil Gaiman

#BuyBooksForSyria

The capacity for bookish bods to do wonderful and charitable things is quite something. Not long ago Patrick Ness set up a fundraiser for Syria through Save The Children, which is still taking donations, and has just blown up and now made over $1,000,000. In the last couple of weeks author and vlogger Jen Campbell announced her challenge to write 100 Poems in 24 hours from the 6th to the 7th of October for The Book Bus, a wonderful charity that sends mobile libraries to communities in various places across Africa, Asia and South America to help children learn to read, provide teaching materials and create school libraries. Now the book shop chain Waterstones, one of the few chain stores I love whole heartedly, have announced their Buy Books For Syria campaign….

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They have teamed up with authors and UK publishers to raise £1m for Oxfam’s Syria Crisis appeal. From Today they will be selling books in our shops from a range of authors with all the proceeds going to Oxfam. A wide range of authors are supporting the campaign, including Philip Pullman, Hilary Mantel, David Walliams, Neil Gaiman, David Nicholls, Marian Keyes, Victoria Hislop, Ali Smith, Robert Harris, Lee Child, Salman Rushdie, Caitlin Moran, Julia Donaldson and Jacqueline Wilson.

I was kindly asked if I would like to champion one of the books and once the list was announced I went and chose one of my favourite thrillers of the last year or so which is Tom Rob Smith’s The Farm. If you haven’t read this corker of a thriller then here is my review to give you a taster and to add an extra reason to get your mitts on a copy for this cause.

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Though frankly don’t even go and look at that just please do order the book, using this special link so the proceeds all go to Syria, if you haven’t read it yet. If you have read it then have a look at the rest of the special selection of books which you can buy in store or online using the special links here. Often when we take a moment away from our books and watch the news we feel like we can’t really do anything massive, well with this initiative we can, and all buy buying ourselves and/or our loved ones the gift of a book. Simple really, how can we not? I am off to go and choose a title or two myself!

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Other People’s Bookshelves #62 – Scott Pack

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are down in London town to spend some time with a man who I love much more than is right, and much more than he probably knows – you’ll see why. Yes this week we are spending time with the lovely Scott Pack. Now before we go and rummage through his shelves, let us grab a nice cuppa and learn more about him…

I am a publisher (just setting up a new independent imprint called Aardvark Bureau after six years at HarperCollins) and writer (a couple of toilet books under the pen name Steve Stack and bits and bobs of journalism). I sometimes host literary events of my own making and at festivals. I have a blog called Me and My Big Mouth. Outside of the book stuff I bake cakes and biscuits.

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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 am happy to read pretty much anything but I only keep books I love, am likely to re-read or that I think a member of the family will enjoy at some point.

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?

We live in a four-floor townhouse. On the ground floor is a set of shelves containing books I have read and loved and these are alphabetical by author. Alongside these are a bunch of classics, many read but some as yet unread. I designed the shelves myself and included a long shelf for my battered old Penguin paperbacks (see above) which are arranged by colour because I got bored one day and it killed an hour or so. Any old or particularly gorgeous hardbacks are on the opposite wall. In my bedroom are more shelves and here are kept all the unread books. There are lots of them. These are grouped by genre and then alphabetically.

Next to my bed are a couple of TBR shelves.

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The basement kitchen has the cookbooks. My son has temporary residency in the loft (he’ll leave home at some point, I am sure) and shares the space with piles of books I couldn’t fit anywhere else. When we moved here I got rid of 50 boxes of books that I had accumulated over the years and knew I would never re-read or get round to reading. The charity shops were very pleased. I do still cull quite regularly.

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

I am not sure. I am getting on a bit so it is hard to remember back that far. I definitely recall buying the Narnia books from a pokey little bookshop on Canvey Island but I don’t think I actually got round to reading them all (habit of a lifetime started right there). The late 1970s and early 1980s were not particularly affluent periods in my neck of the woods but my parents would always find money if I wanted a book, something for which I shall be forever grateful.

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?

Don’t take this the wrong way but I don’t like the idea of guilty pleasures. You know how one of the posh newspapers will ask literary authors for their guilty pleasures every now and again and the authors will pick Ian Rankin or Georgette Heyer or someone like that? Fuck the fuck right off! What the newspapers are really asking is ‘Are there any genre authors you’ll admit to reading?’

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Reading books is a bloody marvellous thing to do and no one should ever be made to feel guilty for reading anything. Ever. That being said, I know you didn’t mean it in quite that way. I hope every reader has books on their shelves that would surprise people. I love the novels of Miss Read. I have read them all. She is often assumed to be very Olde English and twee but her early work, in particular, makes for great social commentary. She charted village life accurately and with great wit. Her books are proudly displayed on my shelves, though.

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?

My single most prized volume is The Satanic Mill by Otfried Preussler which was my favourite book as a child and probably still is. Much later I was able to re-publish it in the UK under it’s original German title of Krabat. Neil Gaiman rates it as one of his best spooky reads for kids so I clearly had great taste even back then. I do own a couple of books from the collections of famous people. I have a set of The Forsyte Saga that once belonged to Maria Callas and I also have Peter Cushing’s entire Noel Coward collection. And then there is my Fuck Off collection. 70+ books in which the authors have signed ‘To Scott, Fuck Off…’ or some similarly insulting message. John Le Carre, Marian Keyes, John Grisham, David Mitchell, all swearing their tits off.

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

My dad collected the Kings & Queens series from the BCA book club back in the 1970s. He would remove the dust jackets and put them on the shelves with their purple spines glaring out at me. From time to time I would take one down and flick through it. Recently I inherited his full set—he hasn’t popped his clogs yet, he was just getting rid of them—and they now sit on my shelves glaring out at my kids.

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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 am lent books quote often and I do use my local library. My collecting instinct has dropped off a bit as I have grown older but if I really love a book I do indeed need a print edition somewhere on my shelves.

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

No idea. Not a clue. A sign of having too many books but I don’t care.

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

You know what? I don’t think there is. Until the next time I see something in a bookshop and covet it.

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

They would, of course, think I am charming, witty, handsome, a great cook, intelligent and a careful and considerate lover.

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A huge thanks to Scott for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, and making me laugh and my slightly inappropriate crush even bigger! If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Scott’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #27 – Matt Cresswell

Hello and welcome to the latest in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves, which must mean it is the weekend and I have survived my first proper full week of work, and have been in blog-hiding after my honest and possibly offending post, and am probably/hopefully curled up with a good book somewhere or watching Kylie on The Voice. This week we are back in the Manchester area (because the north is the best, ha) as we join jack of all trades, as he would call himself, Matt Cresswell, who is a writer, editor and illustrator and soon hopefully bookshop owner. I will let him explain better…

The projects seem to be piling up. I’ve published short fiction in various places, including Icarus Magazine, Hearing Voices magazine and in Shenanigans: Gay Men Mess With Genre from Obverse Books, and, like half the people I know, am halfway through writing a novel – a steampunk/Victorian detective novel with Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle and Queen Victoria as the detective’s gang of assistants. I blog at www.mattcresswell.com, and I also edit Glitterwolf Magazine, a UK-based literary magazine showcasing fiction, poetry, art and photography by LGBT contributors. And I am the creator, writer and co-illustrator of End of the Rainbow, an online webseries (www.endoftherainbow.co.uk) set on Canal Street in Manchester, which has a print omnibus forthcoming in 2014 from Lethe Press. When I’m not balancing all those plates, I put the bread on the table with freelance copy-editing, graphic design and audiobook narration. I am also an avid reader.

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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?

Before I moved to university I never threw a book out. But then when I moved out it was like Sophie’s Choice. From then on I’ve had to be picky about what can take up space on my shelves. I currently live with a flatmate who has almost as many books as me, and we had to negotiate our bookshelves, like negotiating a delicate truce. There’s bookcases in every room, including two in the hallway. I always judge people by their shelves though, so what’s left on display is just the favourites. And when I say ‘just’, that’s still quite a few of ‘justs’… My system for maintaining that is yearly trips back home with boxes of books for the attic because I still can’t bring myself to not in some way possess them.

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

I routinely re-organise them, create a complex system, which then immediately goes to pot. Currently there are three shelves of favourites (the top two of the black shelves, and all the shelves by my desk – which also have my slim section for my own publication credits), a shelf of LGBT fiction, about six or seven shelves of to be read, short story collections, non-fiction and what has come be known in the household as the ‘pretentious hardbacks shelf’ which were all the books I bought because Waterstones said I should, and I’ve never read.

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

My god… I’m not quite sure. When I was growing up, my dad was an antiquarian book dealer, and our home didn’t have a television, so I was bought lots and lots of books. We spent half our lives in second-hand bookshops, and because he used to get dealer’s discount on whatever leatherbound tome he’d ferretted out, they just used to throw in all the paperbacks that I’d found for free—so I never had to buy my own books. The first I can remember buying for myself was Outcast of Redwall by Brian Jacques, when I was about seven, bought at a school book fair. I read the whole series, passing the books to my mother who read them after me. I was very sad to hear of his recent death—without exaggeration, it was like bit of childhood fading! It’s not on my shelves anymore, but it’s with the rest of the series on my mother’s shelves, where it’s been read by a few of the generation after me.

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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?

When my parents visited once, I stripped the house of anything even slightly sordid, but missed the tattered paperback of Lolita that my Presbyterian minister dad leafed through then put back hurriedly. I’m not really embarrassed of any of it, although my partner John tells me that I am subconsciously embarrassed of his books – fantasy epics in the vein of Raymond E. Feist, Robert Jordan, Trudi Canavan, etc. – because I relegate them to the bottom shelves or the bookcases in the bedroom.

Mind you, I do get a bit defensive over the presence of both of Belle du Jour’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl books on my favourites shelf. But that just makes me stubborn and determined to put them on display, because I tell myself off for being a book snob.

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?

There’s a 15th century Bible that you can see on the desk shelves. Me, my brothers and my sister all took one book from by dad’s library after he died to remember him by. I have no attachment to the actual words on the page inside it, but the book itself would be the first thing I’d save in a fire. Aside from that one, there are very few things I’d actively be heartbroken about. I have some signed copies that I’d be quite sad about – Neil Gaiman, Paul Magrs, Iain Banks, and, um, John Barrowman – but as long as I can remember the events themselves, the books aren’t as important. 

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 mother had The Lord of the Rings on her shelves – which was very odd, because the rest of her reading was in the line of biographies of missionaries, and books like Harry Potter were frowned upon for their ‘black magic’. I read The Lord of the Rings when I was nine, but had to break the spine of the paperback into the three books because I couldn’t hold it otherwise. My teachers at school didn’t believe I was actually capable of reading it, and quizzed me to check I wasn’t making it up. It’s still on my shelves, the same, split-into-three copy, with covers that I made out of cut-and-stick photocopies. I didn’t think of it as an adult book though – I thought of it as another children’s fantasy that just went on a lot longer. My brother lent me the novelisation of The Fugitive the same year—he meant to censor the first chapters, but I was impatient, read it anyway and scared myself silly.

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If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

Yes! I’m a completionist. I don’t tend to borrow books though – I’m usually the lender. But I’ll buy something for the kindle and if I like it, I’ll feel the urge to have a physical copy to put on the shelf. The reverse of this was The Time Traveller’s Wife, which I bought seven times, after each loaned copy was lent on to someone else in the excitement, and lost.

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

Hal Duncan’s forthcoming short story collection, Scruffians! which I was lucky enough to get an ARC of. I’m recording the audiobook version of it too, which when I was asked, made me giddy with hero-worship. He’s a wonderful, wonderful writer.

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

I’ve recently dipped into the starts of series and am now wishing I had the whole series on my shelves – George Mann’s Newbury and Hobbes, Discworld, Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May, Lev Grossman’s Magician series, Mark Hodder’s Burton and Swinburne and all of China Mievelle’s oeuvre. I’ve made a start with all of them, and am now panicking at the volume of ongoing series I’ve opened a door to. So many books, so little time…

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

My dad popping Lolita back on the shelf, or perusing all the gay fiction titles would probably think ‘Filth!’ but hopefully that’s not what everyone else would think. I was very conscious after English Literature at university of trying to get away from the ‘book-snobbery’ that kind of education brings on, so I hope that my shelves look like a hodge-podge of someone who loves books for the enjoyment, and isn’t trying to check off a list of ‘worthy reads’, as it were.

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A huge thanks to Matt for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Don’t forgot 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 Matt’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #22 – Simon Sylvester

Hello and welcome to the latest in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves where we get to have a good old nosey through other peoples book collections. Grab some Kendal mint cake, or even better some Grasmere gingerbread (nothing on earth like it), as we are off to the Lake District to join a man who has seen me at my worst, on both a long haul flight (I hate flying) and in an air balloon (I hate heights) when we both went to Philadelphia on a travel writing trip many moons ago. Today we join Simon Sylvester (another SS, they are the best) and I will hand over to him to tell us more about himself before we go routing through his shelves…

I live in Burneside, just outside Kendal on the southern edge of the Lake District. I moved here about three years ago with my partner, the painter Monica Metsers. Last year we bought a house, which took us six months to strip down and make habitable. We always wanted to have big bookshelves, and my father-in-law made us these to fit the living room. I work part-time teaching film production at the local college, and I make short films for local bands and businesses. Whatever spare time is left goes to my writing. I started writing in 2006, and my short stories have been published occasionally over the years. My debut novel is coming out with Quercus Books in 2014, which is almost as terrifying as it is exciting. Regarding my reading, it’s worth mentioning that I spent a miserable year at boarding school when I was younger. I remember virtually nothing of that time except the library, devouring Hardy Boys books. Reading has always been an escape for me.

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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?

Once upon a time, I kept them all, but those days are long gone. A book stays if I’m certain to read it again because it’s useful, it’s beautiful or it has personal value. Even with these huge shelves, space is at a premium, and those standards get higher as my collection grows. And despite strict monitoring of what stays and what goes, the books quietly multiply and migrate into other parts of the shelves. I think the board games will have to move elsewhere, soon.

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?

The big shelves have fiction alphabetised by surname, which is dull, perhaps, but then I know where to find things when I want them. I used to work in a record store, and filing is hardwired in me – I get antsy when they’re out of order. Anything borrowed from friends sits flat. On the other side of the room, poetry and graphic novels have shelves of their own. I don’t own enough of either to warrant alphabetising them. I’m actually a little intimidated by comics. I love the ones I read, but it’s so vast and varied a genre that I don’t really know where to begin. Every year or so, my friend Ali Shaw suggests something else, and I’ll give it a go, and invariably enjoy it, but still not know where to take my reading next.

Literary journals and fiction anthologies live on a shelf with my published short stories, good and bad. Above them, nonfiction is a bit of a free-for-all. I’m a sucker for obscure non-fiction book, so the shelves here have sumo wrestling and saints, bikes and kites, whales and weather. Mon’s non-fiction is totally different to mine, so we have shelves of stunning art books as well as rock’n’roll autobiographies and tomes on yoga. I’m pretty sure she’s trying to organise the art books by ascending size, but I get in the way by absently taking them off the shelves to read them. Upstairs, the shelves by my desk are a bit more spartan, but that’s where I gather anything relevant to my current project. My next novel is about a woman losing her way in a huge swamp, so at the moment there’s everything from historical accounts of draining the fens to Finnish folktales. I also keep my finished notebooks and diaries here. The final set of shelves belong to my daughter Dora. She’s two and a half years old, and there’s no point arranging her books, because her first job every morning is to hurl them to the floor and pretend she’s reading them. It’s been a joy beyond measure to rediscover some children’s classics.shelves misc 1

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

My memory is abominable, so this is a little fuzzy; but I’ve always been hooked on second-hand stores. I grew up in Inverness, where there’s an extraordinary bookshop called James Leakey’s. It’s an old church with shelves jammed with books, books in double layers on the floor, and banana boxes of loose books stacked three deep behind the counter. I spent a lot of time in there. Although my first purchase was probably something and somewhere else, I clearly remember buying a very tatty copy of Dune by Frank Herbert from that amazing place. I must have read it half-a-dozen times. I don’t own it any more, unfortunately, though I still love it – one of many books that have escaped over the years. I bought a lot of Iain Banks, too, after I discovered The Wasp Factory. I loaned three Banks books to a passing acquaintance, back in 2001, and never saw them again.

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?

No secrets in our house, Simon! Mon has books on the shelves that I probably wouldn’t read, just as I have books she wouldn’t read, but they’re all up there. The only one I make a habit of hiding (behind a picture of my daughter) is the True Blood collection by Charlaine Harris. We loved the first two seasons of the TV show, but never enjoyed the books, and after the show withered, neither of us summoned the strength to go back to Sookie and Bon Temps. I don’t know why they’re still there, to be honest. It’s something we don’t talk about, like the cupboard under the stairs.

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 own anything financially valuable, but there are several books on the shelves that are peculiarly important to me. The Battle At Sangshak by Harry Seaman is an account of a small but pivotal fight in the godawful jungle war in Burma and India. Sangshak was crucial in turning the tide against the Japanese army in World War Two, and it was nothing less than hell on earth. My grandfather fought there. When he died, his annotated copy went to my dad, and I received my dad’s copy. Inside the back sleeve is a photocopy of a note to my grandfather from the man who led the fight. It’s very humbling to reflect on what they went through. I have another letter, somewhere, that his brother, my great uncle, sent him from a military hospital in Egypt. He’d been injured while fighting in the tank campaigns in Northern Africa. His leg had been smashed in six places by a cannon recoil, and he waited all day in the baking heat, under shellfire, before being rescued. “Still,” he wrote to my grandfather, “I prefer my war to your war.”

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My first attempt at a novel was about the war in Burma. I wanted to write about my grandfather’s experiences. I didn’t get anywhere near it, but I don’t think he’d have minded. Funnily enough, the most prized thing on the shelf isn’t a book, but a missing bookmark. Buried in one of those hundreds of books is a photo of me fishing with my grandfather. I must have been eight or ten, and I don’t remember being there. He’s dead now, and that picture means a lot to me, but I have no idea which book it’s hiding in. I often use different bookmarks – especially the ones I find in second-hand books – cheques and postcards and bus tickets – but I’d like that photo back.

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?

The earliest one I remember, again when I was ten or so, was Jock of the Bushveld on my grandparents’ shelves. I read most of it, I think. They gave me Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls for a birthday around then, too. I still own that one. It’s strange, writing this, to realise how often my grandparents are cropping up. I can also remember borrowing some Dean Koontz nasty from the mobile library when I was about thirteen. Days after I’d finished reading it, my dad had a quick flick through – he was so horrified that he hid it until the van came again. I remember thinking it was no worse than the Alistair MacLeans and Desmond Bagleys on my parents’ shelves.

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?

Guilty of this one – I’ve absolutely bought my own copies of borrowed books. Neil Gaiman was a massive gap in my reading until only a few years ago, when a friend loaned me Neverwhere and Fragile Things. I devoured those and promptly bought my own copies – as well as all his other fiction. I still can’t believe it took me so long. Again, when I was 26, I spent a year working and backpacking round Australia. Months of swapping books in youth hostels led me to discover David Mitchell. Travelling light, I couldn’t carry them with me, so I swapped them on, and promptly bought second copies when I came home. I’ve even done this with books I already own; my favourite novel, The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano, has been on loan to different friends for more than two years. I crumbled and bought a second copy because I couldn’t be without it. It has the best ending of any modern novel.

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I’ve just noticed that the only Pratchett I’m missing is Soul Music. When I was fifteen I went on an exchange trip to France. I managed to forget the stack of books I’d put aside for the month abroad, and took only Soul Music in my hand luggage. As a result, I read it continuously over that month. It suffered in rain and sun and rucksacks, becoming ever more curled and dog-eared. It went through some abuse, that book, but it stayed with me. I was still reading it on the plane home. I’d like to get another copy of that.

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

Tales of the Fenlands by Walter Henry Barrett. It’s on longterm loan from my storyteller uncle Rich Sylvester. He was in Cumbria a couple of months ago, when we both read some of our work at the amazing Dreamfired storynights in Brigsteer. I hadn’t seen him for a years, and we talked through some of my next novel. A few weeks later, this book arrived in the post. The mythology of the Fens is incredibly concentrated and well-preserved. We’re hoping to go for a few days walking round Wisbech next year.

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

Hundreds! Like your post on Doris Lessing, I’m acutely conscious that there are dozens of gigantic gaps in my reading. My ongoing issue at the moment is time, time, time. I used to read two or three books a week; I’m so exhausted at the moment that I barely manage ten pages a night before falling asleep. If I can recover some more time to read, then I have Toni Morrison and Alice Munro in my sights. I’ve only recently discovered Haruki Murakami, having read Wild Sheep Chase, 1Q84 and Norwegian Wood in the last year. My friends rave about Kafka On The Shore, and I’ll work my way through the rest of his writing in the next couple of years.

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

I had something of an epiphany two years ago. It was a bright summer day, and sunlight was streaming into the room Mon and I stayed in at the time. I was sitting on the end of the bed, considering my bookshelves and thinking about what I wanted to achieve as a writer. I’d received some great praise for the novel I wrote about Burma, but the agents and publishers who read it generally felt it was too dark for a first novel, and nothing had come of it. I now had the kernel of an idea for another book, and I was considering whether it was worth the heartache, the effort and the time away from my family. Looking at my shelves, I noticed a distinct line between the authors I admired as ferocious artists, and who had inspired the combative style of my first attempt at a novel – William S. Burroughs, David Peace, Hubert Selby Jnr – and the authors I returned to time and time again because I simply loved to read their stories – David Mitchell, Jasper Fforde, Sarah Waters, Terry Pratchett. The first group experiment with language to deliver emotional punches; the second achieve emotion through characters and situations the reader comes to care about. On making that distinction, I realised that I very seldom returned to the first group, and that I kept them on the shelves almost as proof that I’d read them, rather than because I’d enjoyed them. I felt a little ashamed to realise that they’d stopped being books, and they’d become badges. With that understanding, a huge weight fell from my shoulders. I no longer felt that my stories needed to be experimental, obscure or deliberately challenging. They needed to deliver what I wanted in my own favourite books – the joy of escaping somewhere new. That was the moment I understood not only that I needed to write for myself, but also more about who I was.

Knowing I wouldn’t read them again, I boxed up dozens of those dark literary heavyweights, and took them to a charity shop. Then I started work on my second novel. Two years on, I have a wonderful agent and a very exciting publisher, and a clear path of where I want to take my work. I suspect every writer has that epiphany at some point on the journey to finding their own voice. That was a gigantic turning point in my life, and it couldn’t have happened without my books and my bookshelves. This is a long-winded way of saying that now I’ve challenged myself over why I keep certain books on my shelves, I’m no longer troubled by what other people think of my reading taste or me. These are my books, and I’m proud of them. In any of the new houses Mon and I have moved to, I’ve been unable to settle without shelves on the wall and my books on the shelves. They’re a comfort to me. They remind me of where I’ve been and what I’ve done. Books are part of what make our house a home.

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A huge thanks to Simon for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Don’t forgot 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 Simon’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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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.

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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 Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is one of those cult writers who I always think I would really, really like, I just have to read more of his books as so far the number of them that I have read is a little paltry. When it comes to authors of that stature, and being a relative ‘Neil-newbie’, it almost makes me feel fraudulent it write about his latest ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ – one of the most hyped/anticipated/buzzed about books of the year and one I read for the Not The Booker Prize. I am also rather nervous because whilst it is a book I really enjoyed reading, it is one that had a few niggles for me on occasional, let me explain (before all the Gaiman fans come and hunt me down for blasphemy)…

Headline Books, 2013, hardback, fiction, 256 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ is a book about memory and imagination and how these develop or fade as we grow up. It is also a corking story about a young boy, who starts the novel as an old (and unnamed) man, and one particular summer in his childhood when he met Lettie Hempstock. As a young boy his life was quite mundane, he was a bit of a bookish loner, and his family were ‘getting by’. One day they take in a lodger, who runs over the kitten and then kills himself in his car – not a spoiler as this happens very near the start – and it is during this debacle that the young lad finds himself being looked after by Lettie and her mother and grandmother while the police sort everything out. It is at this point that something magical is introduced into his life (at one point quite literally) and it is also when the greatest darkness comes as a new lodger, Ursula Monkton, arrives to change everything for the worse, if she can.

You might roll your eyes at what I am about to write, or think ‘oh for goodness sake why tell us about this book’, but I have to admit all the fantastical elements of this book really didn’t gel so well for me. I really liked Ursula as a villain (though she did feel very similar to the Other Mother in ‘Coraline’ at times) yet I couldn’t conjure her as the tent/marquee/thing that we first meet. I liked the hunger birds very much but the whole worm thing (even though it was brilliantly squeamish) didn’t work for me either. I couldn’t quite get it to 100% form itself in my head. Most of all though I didn’t really get ‘the Ocean’ of the title, apart from just after the denouement when it was so needed – no spoilers – as I didn’t see the point to it overall yet it is the title feature. Also did anyone else understand why the suicide at the start leads to Ursula/the worm/tent appearing? I think I missed that, or maybe it just was there because it was there? So why do, after saying all that especially about the ocean, I then think people should read it? Well…

Firstly when Gaiman writes in the ‘real world’ the book is very emotive, reminiscent and nostalgic. The scene with the bath was actually quite upsetting, as was the whole scene with his dad and Ursula by the fireplace (for some reason that really, really unsettled me). Also the emotions of feeling adults don’t understand you, hating your siblings, feeling a disappointment to your parents was all fully evoked. There is also a certain horror to the book that the ‘younger you’ inside you will be really hit hard by. Interestingly these both involve the dad, one also involving the bath and the other involving Ursula and a wall and things that shouldn’t be seen. Both had a real impact with me and left me feeling quite uncomfortable and also incredibly moved and almost bruised, it is hard to explain.

Then there is also the element of the book that I loved the most; the fact it took me back to my childhood, and I thought that this was what Gaiman was setting out to do, give us as readers a serious case of nostalgia and the memory at the route as to why we love books. All the things that appealed to me most as Simon aged 31 were the things that would have appealed to me as Simon aged 11. I loved the Hempstock’s and could think of one of my Gran’s friends who I thought (and sometimes still do) was a real life good witch, and all those old ladies who had that wry smile and spoilt you who were probably only 50/60 but seemed about 110 years old. I also thought that Ursula Monkton, or anti-Poppins, was a fantastic character I would have loved to have had in many a books when I was a kid. That of course brings up the question is this book a book for adults, for children, both? Should it even matter?

Whilst I don’t think (and here I type almost wincing with fear) it is one of the very best books I have read all year, it was a true delight as it is one of those books that will remind you of your own imagination (which sounds silly but true) and how we must stretch it unquestioningly sometimes as we would when we were younger. This seemed the biggest message I got from the book, to look back at myself and how I felt at a time when anything and everything was possible and hold that memory now all these years later. It is a book that in looking at the narrators nostalgic memories makes you look at yours and I really, really liked it for that.

In ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ our narrator states ‘I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were.’ I have found myself thinking about this a lot since I read the book as I wish that the older me could occasionally find the younger me and give myself over to the fantasy side a little more as maybe if I had, with the brilliance of Gaiman’s family drama in this novel and getting lost in the ‘beyond magical’ elements of the book, this would have been the perfect book for me. Which is of course the point of the book I think. One thing I do know for sure is that I must read more Gaiman. Should I head to ‘American Gods’ or ‘Neverwhere’ next? Or another of his titles entirely?

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Not The Booker, Not Quite Live…

One of the highlights of my bookish year so far (and there have been a few) has been being asked to be on the Guardian’s Not The Booker inaugural judging panel. There were two things I hadn’t quite taken into consideration though. Firstly, I didn’t think I would get to meet any of the authors who I was judging the works of, especially one of them who I had lived up to my name a little with, yet this weekend at the Not The Booker event in London I did. Initial awkwardness was encountered, eventually I think it ended up being okay though as all the authors were lovely. The other thing I didn’t expect was that I would have to judge ‘live’ – on air on the Guardian website and YouTube – yet this morning it was. And I thought I might share the experience with you (settle down with a cuppa)…

Hopefully I didn’t come across like too much of a wally. I am in bed with a bad case of man flu since coming back from London so I had to make myself presentable (I have pyjamas on from the waist down, ha) and I was worried my ‘literary musings’ tended to be along the lines of ‘I just liked it’. Oh and yes those are my bookshelves!

We came up with a winner in the form of the marvellous ‘Life After Life’ by Kate Atkinson, but it wasn’t easy – least of all because I was constantly thinking ‘people might watch this so watch your potty mouth Savidge’ – as the competition was super strong, especially from ‘Magda’ by Meike Ziervogel which is amazing and I will be telling you all about very soon. In fact I will be telling you about all the books in some form or another as I really want to discuss the debut novels of Zoe Venditozzi and Lucy Cruickshanks who I think might be two huge authors in the future. Not sure if Gaiman will catch on. Plus the debate of genre and chick-lit that Tullet’s novel brought up. So watch this space for more, and should any book prizes be looking for judges, well…

Let me know what you think of the video if you have a chance to watch it, would you like all prizes to be this ‘open’ to readers? Have you read any of the books shortlisted for the Not The Booker? Have you read this winner or any of the previous NTB winners?

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