Tag Archives: Nigel Slater

Other People’s Bookshelves #7: Peter aka Dark Puss

So for the seventh, yes seventh and still plenty more to come, we have our first male reader and their shelves from the delightful, and oh so wry, regular commenter here Dark Puss, aka Peter. Peter is a particle physicist and professor at a University in SE England. He is an avid reader though he has given up buying books because of a lack of shelf space. He was brought up by two academic parents who surrounded themselves with books and thus he rarely had to buy any himself as a child or teenager. He has inherited a love of modern European and Japanese literature from his late father and a fascination with Proust from his mother, though he has yet to read further than the end of Swann’s Way. He reviews books for the Journal of Contemporary Physics and puts his paw marks on a number of literary weblogs under the pseudonym “Dark Puss”. He runs the weblog “Morgana’s Cat” http://morganas-cat.tumblr.com/ which is an outlet for his photography and occasional comments on novels, plays, music etc. A number of steampunkish pictures from other sources are also to be found there.

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?

There are all sorts of books on my shelves but as they are all full (as you can see!) I do not buy books for myself anymore. I do still go into many bookshops and if I saw something I just had to get then I would indeed be looking for a book, or books, to remove to make space.

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?

In my office at work the books are ordered by subject; quantum mechanics, optics, particle & nuclear physics for example. At home there is some order, photography & typography go together and most of my cookery books occupy a single shelf, but mainly books are placed according to size.

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

The honest answer is “I do not know”. My parents were avid buyers of books both for themselves and for me so I very rarely had to buy any myself. One book that I do remember buying from an Oxfam shop in Taunton when I was  about 11 and which does still reside on my shelves is “Water Power Practice” by Johnstone-Taylor (1931).

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

I don’t have pleasures that I’m guilty about!

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?

That’s a tricky question. I’ll answer the last part first and say that I would rescue as much of my art collection as I could in preference to the easily replaceable books. Books that I would be very sad to lose in a fire would include “Lettere di XIII Huomini Illustri” which was printed in Venice in 1561 and is my oldest book, “Sisters Under the Skin” by Norman Parkinson (a literary lady who inscribed something very lovely in it knows why this is important to me) and “The Romance of Engineering” by Henry Frith, 1895 which was given to me by my late father and, coincidentally, was awarded as a prize at my old school in Edinburgh in 1898. You can see a photograph of this book on Cornflower’s famous weblog here: http://cornflower.typepad.com/domestic_arts_blog/2008/07/knitting-but-not-as-we-know-it.html

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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?

It’s four decades ago so I cannot vouch for accuracy, but probably it was “The Second Sex” by Simone de Beauvoir which I read when I was thirteen or fourteen. I found it profoundly influential but I didn’t own it then and I don’t own it now.

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

In the past probably yes, but nowadays almost certainly no. I’ve run out of space! I make very good use of public and university libraries.

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

The two volumes of Murakami’s 1Q84 which I received last Christmas as a present from my family.

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

Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands! I’d love some of the large “picture” books by photographers whose work I admire (e.g. Cartier-Bresson, Brandt, Man Ray, Mapelthorpe, Miller, Rankin) there are certainly many cookery books I’d love to add and, given my desire to read it completely one day, the latest translation of Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time”.

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

I really don’t know! They would spot my love of Colette, some Murakami, a number of technical works (at home) on astronomy, typography, botany and ornithology. They might, if eagle-eyed and very curious, locate a fairly large collection of music for the flute which I am currently re-learning under the expert eyes and ears of my fantastic teacher Katie Morgan. They would note the number of books on London and some of its quirkier aspects such as the lost rivers and abandoned tube stations. They would note my enthusiasm for cooking and wine, noting the preponderance of books by Nigella Lawson, Nigel Slater and Rick Stein. What would I like them to think? “We could get a good meal, a glass of interesting wine and some diverse conversation here. Maybe we can ask him about the Higgs boson too!”

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A big thank you to Peter/Dark Puss for letting me grill him. 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 Peter’s responses and/or any of the books he mentioned?

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Foodie Books, But Not Cook Books (Well, Not Quite Yet)

I have had a real craving for a certain type of book at the moment. I really want to read books with food in them, almost in a starring role of their own. If you are thinking that I have gone a little bit mad and am talking even more gobbledygook than normal then I should explain that this is in part because I am off to a cooking school in Italy next week, and also to do with a sort of Savidge Reads off shoot project that I will be doing with The Beard, but more on that in detail on Thursday as in the interim I just really want to know what books you have loved that have had food as a character/plot device or food in the title. I don’t mean cookbooks, not quite yet. I have pulled some down off the TBR already; this is in part to start reading them, and satisfy this current reading whim, and also to show any people still thinking I am bonkers that they exist.

I am sure I have more than those pictured above, and I haven’t actually gone and looked in the lounge at books that I have read already (‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ has instantly popped into my head, oh and now ‘Heartburn’ has with its recipes throughout) but in case you can’t see them they are…

  • Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (which I read in my teens and must re-read)
  • Chocolat by Joanne Harris (which is one of those rare books where I have watched the film but not read the book, I do now think it’s been long enough since I have seen it that I can read it. She has written lots of books with food in hasn’t she, should I be delving deeper than this obvious title?)
  • The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (which I have been meaning to read for ages and ages and ages and ages)
  • Eating for England by Nigel Slater (I adored his memoir of food and childhood ‘Toast’ immensely and The Beard has just started it and been howling with laughter)
  • John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk (which is out in September but Alice at Bloomsbury thrust in my hand when I visited and demanded I read because it is apparently so brilliant. I discovered it’s like a foodie version of Suskind’s ‘Perfume’ which was all about scent, I am now very excited – in fact I think this book started the whole craving so maybe I should read it first?)

So that should really do me for now but I am desperate to know of other gems which I might be missing. I am desperate for a foodie book like the above set in Italy, as that would be too perfect for my trip away, does anyone know of any? Which books featuring food have you read and loved? Have you read any of the above and where should I start?

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The Highs of Hebden Bridge & Heptonstall (A Book Crawl in Yorkshire)

Before I take you on a virtual tour which includes beautiful countryside, several book shops, Sylvia Plath’s final resting place and an impressive book loot, I just want to say a huge thank you for all the comments, emails and texts I got yesterday after I told you of the latest with my health. It was lovely to have all your thoughts and meant a lot. Anyway before I get any mushier let me tell you about a wonderful day out I had on Tuesday which was something of a destination lottery as it turned out.

Wanting to do something to keep me occupied before ‘results day’ on Wednesday myself and the lovely Paul Magrs decided we would head to the train station and pick a random destination to head to for some kind of bookish adventure. And what a lovely station it was that we chose, you know how I love my Victoriana…

As soon as we stepped inside I had a good feeling that we would have a great day for books and adventure when I saw this wonderful old signage from the original station…

We decided we would get the next train which happened to take us into the Yorkshire Dales with Hebden Bridge as its destination. With a lovely M&S sandwich selection (which Paul rather took the mickey out of me for) and some nibbles we got onto a train that looked like it should be sat on a snowy peak and be taking us off to the top of the alps. Instead it took us as far as Todmorden where we sneakily got off (sometimes you need to stop and hop off along the way)…

Paul had raved about a wonderful bookshop that was housed there; unfortunately it seemed that like most of Todmorden on a Tuesday it was closed… which was rather unimpressive, did they not know we were coming? Oh no, they didn’t. We did pop into several charity shops though before both grabbing a corned beef pasty (I might also have had a gingerbread man) which we ate by the canal…

Soon enough though we headed off to Hebden Bridge which has one of the most wonderful train stations I have scene, its literally like going back in time…

Again, sadly the independent book shop here was also closed on a Tuesday (maybe we should have said we were coming) it looked a corker too…

We did visit a marvellous remainder book shop…

In which I found an absolute gem I could have walked away with about five books from this store but I was incredibly restrained, well ok I was restrained because we had visited every charity shop going in Hebden Bridge and had already got a corking seven books in my bag. Which meant rather than walk all the way to the peak point of Heptonstall I begged to get a bus, which was driven by the happiest bus driver I have ever had the pleasure of meeting – he drove us back down too rather like a taxi service), and came to the stunning derelict Heptonstall church which either got struck by lightening or was bombed, I need to look it up…

It honestly was incredibly haunting and rather spooky. It has stayed with me since and seems to have got my creative juices flowing, I have been scribbling away in my notebook ever since seeing this…

Before we left we went and, after rather a lot of searching, found the final resting place of Sylvia Plath, I was rather surprised by her grave to be honest I think I expected something more showy or extravagant. Instead was a rather understated grave in the middle of a simple hidden church yard…

Paul and I then had a rather interesting, if slightly sacrilegious, discussion on the way back down with the jolly bus driver as to whether ‘The Bell Jar’ (which is the only Plath that I have read, I am not so good with poetry) would have been quite so successful if Sylvia hadn’t died early? All in all it was an amazing bookish day. Oh of course… you will want to know what books I came away with. So without further ado…

  • Murder At The Laurels/Murder in Midwinter/Murder in Bloom by Lesley Cookman – you may have noticed in the last few hauls I have managed to get almost all the Libby Sarjeant series. I will be tucking into these soon.
  • Dewey by Vicky Myron – I am actually rather cross with myself for buying this but it’s become a rather’in’ joke with Paul and I and for 50p I couldn’t hold back. A book about a library cat, I have an awful feeling that like ‘Marley & Me’ I will love this and be ever so slightly disgusted with myself.
  • Eating For England by Nigel Slater – I almost squealed when I saw this after LOVING ‘Toast’ earlier in the year.
  • This Is Not A Novel by Jennifer Johnston – You don’t see Johnston’s books very often in second hand shops and I do like her style and prose a lot plus I loved the title, so in the bag it went.
  • The House of Mitford by Jonathan Guinness – This was the bargain I found in the discount store, it was the most expensive purchase of the day at a whopping 3.99 but it’s normally over a tenner, its about The Mitfords which is themost important factor and is normally quite hard to get hold of – hoorah!
  • Fear The Worst by Linwood Barclay – I can’t deny that I am having a real ‘Savidge Reads Crime’ phase and I really liked the first Linwood Barclay ‘No Time For Goodbye’ so even though I haven’t read the one between these I picked this up anyway.

What an ace bookish day it was. Books, Sylvia Plath, adventures in the dales, and stunning locations. No wonder we had to have a drink afterwards in central Manchester to calm ourselves down. Have you visited Heptonstall? Read any of the books that I picked up? When did you last go on a random book haul trawl and where?

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Toast – Nigel Slater

It is thanks to routing through other peoples shelves (I’m going to do a post on the joys of other people’s shelves and having a nosey next week) that I ended up reading a book that I probably wouldn’t have read otherwise and really loved. The book in question was ‘Toast’ by Nigel Slater which had initially piqued my interest after the adaptation on the television over Christmas, which we recorded and then completely forgot to watch. I then forgot about how much I wanted to read the book (see that self hype thing again)… until I was having a nosey and my eyes happened to fall upon it and so I picked it up and absolutely loved it.

All I knew of Nigel Slater before I picked up ‘Toast’ was that he was a rather well known chef whose recipe books seem to be in every single member of my families houses. I’ve never watched his TV shows and really never been that interested in cookery books, other than maybe Nigella, though I like cooking. ‘Toast’ is Nigel Slater’s memories of childhood into adulthood all told through food. I imagined this might be recipes but I was wrong as in fact it’s snippets of memories with titles like ‘Christmas Cake,  ‘The Hostess Trolley’ and ‘Peach Melba’ (which I had forgotten once existed and instantly wanted) each with its own memories attached.

‘Toast’ really is quite a collection of memories as Nigel didn’t have the easiest or happiest of childhoods. His mother had health issues, his father wasn’t the most comforting or friendly of role models and of course there is the cleaner Mrs Poole who soon became the bane of Nigel’s life. It’s never a misery memoir though some of the book is very emotional it also often leaves you in hysterics. In some ways because of the humour I was reminded of Augusten Burroughs, only in this book the addictions are cook books and ingredients rather than drugs, the other thing that reminded me of Augusten Burroughs was the way slowly but surely Slater writes about his being gay, how he noticed it and coped with it in the 60’s and 70’s which again makes for a very heart felt and honest book.  

I knew I was going to be rather smitten with this book when I read the line in ‘Toast 1’ where Nigel writes ‘It is impossible not to love someone who makes toast for you.’ He is talking about his mother and how when they make it in just the right way you are ‘putty in their hands’. People who arrive as the book progresses are each almost given a flavour in addiction to their character and this works wonderfully. It also really evokes atmosphere and underlying tensions such as when he helps his Mum make the, at the time, novel delicacy of spaghetti for his father which none of them have tried and as soon as they add the parmesan ‘this cheese smells like sick’ is deemed as ‘off’ and its never talked of or mentioned again.

I loved Nigel Slater’s writing, it never felt pretentious or woe is me or anything other than a down to earth account of his childhood filled with both happiness and sadness. It’s a ‘real’ memoir if you know what I mean, there are dramas and trials but they are never melodramatic. I decided Nigel Slater and I would be firm friends when he discussed ‘Butterscotch Angel Delight’ my all time favourite too. This is someone who hasn’t had the easiest start in life who rather than complain about it looks back at it fondly and asks the reader to join in and do so too. This is my favourite book of the year so far. 10/10

I am hoping that any of you who are much more up on Nigel Slater and his writing than I am will please tell me there are more books he has written like this as I would really like to read more of his work. I have since reading this cooked one of his recipes and it wasn’t half bad. Which memoirs have left you feeling like you’ve just had a really honest, open, funny and sad catch up with a new found friend even though you’ve never met them?

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Filed under Books of 2011, Books To Film, Harper Collins, Nigel Slater, Review