Tag Archives: Paul Magrs

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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The Green Carnation Prize Longlist 2012

One of the joys of blogging was meeting lots of new people and getting very excited about books. Three years ago along with Paul Magrs, Nick Campbell and joined by Lesley Cookman I started on an exciting new venture co-founding a prize for LGBT literature of all kinds which eventually, after a small glitch with the initial name, was called The Green Carnation Prize. Well just over three years later the prize has changed a little bit yet the current team of judges, and one is an old ropey judge who refuses to leave, has brought you a very exciting longlist of thirteen books which are…

  • Carry The One – Carol Anshaw (Penguin)
  • Are You My Mother? – Alison Bechdel (Jonathan Cape)
  • Ninety Days – Bill Clegg (Jonathan Cape)
  • The Purple Shroud – Stella Duffy (Virago)
  • Absolution – Patrick Flanery (Atlantic Books)
  • A Perfectly Good Man – Patrick Gale (4th Estate)
  • Scenes From An Early Life – Philip Hensher (4th Estate)
  • Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Before He Stole Me Ma – Kerry Hudson (Chatto & Windus)
  • Snake Ropes – Jess Richards (Sceptre)
  • Hawthorn & Child – Keith Ridgway (Granta Books)
  • Valentine Grey – Sandi Toksvig (Virago)
  • Moffie – Andre Carl Van Der Merwe (Europa Editions)
  • Jack Holmes and his Friend – Edmund White (Bloomsbury)

It is nice to be able to share at least the titles of some of the books that I have been secretly reading away over the past few months. Alas, I can’t tell you exactly what I thought of these thirteen because there is the short listing and the winning announcement to go, but it might be time to start telling you about some of the amazing books that didn’t make the longlist this year… because that is how good the submitted books were this year.

Always keen to get in on the act, a certain Oscar cat is now casting his eyes over the selected few and will be accompanying me in some re-reading. However I think I might have a week of reading just what I fancy first.

So what do you think of the list? Have you read any of them? What do you think might make the shortlist? Are there any you are surprised not to see? Are you going to give any of them a whirl? All thoughts, as always, most welcome.

Full details and thoughts from all the judges, and updates over the next few weeks, on the Green Carnation Prize can be found on the website.

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I Am Half Sick of Shadows – Alan Bradley

I know I have made it official, well sort of, that I have given up putting books to one side for ‘a rainy day’ or ‘just the right time’ but in the case of ‘I Am Half Sick of Shadows’ by Alan Bradley leaving it until Christmas seemed the most fitting thing to do for that is when his latest Flavia de Luce is set at just this time of year.

Orion Books, hardback, 2011, fiction, 304 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

‘I Am Half Sick of Shadows’ is a wonderful fourth instalment in the Flavia de Luce series. I was shocked that this came out so quickly after ‘A Red Herring Without Mustard’ and it being rather slighter than its predecessor, along with it having a Christmas theme, was slightly concerned that it would simply be a bit of a filler to cash in on Christmas (cynical, me, never) yet that wasn’t the case at all as like the series so far there was murder, mayhem and wonderful characters as ever.

We join the inhabitants of the grand, if slightly ramshackle, Buckshaw abode near the village of Bishops Lacey in the lead up to Christmas. Buckshaw is not feeling the full effects of Christmas, much to Flavia’s, the youngest of the family de Luce, distress as hard times mean that it is being used as a set for a movie starring icons Phyllis Wyvern and Desmond Duncan who, along with the rest of the cast and crew will be staying with the de Luce family for the duration. Of course this being a Flavia de Luce novel you know that someone is going to come a cropper and fall of their mortal coil, or have a serious nudge off the edge of it, but who will it be? Bradley plays his first trump card here as I honestly didn’t think it was the person it was, I actually thought they were going to be the murderer. Shows what I know doesn’t it?

I should actually change that to Bradley’s second trump card as really with all these novels it is Flavia who is the highlight of the novel. She is an utterly precocious child, one which would normally drive you mad in the real world yet as ever while she narrates this murderous tale you are smitten with her company and her blunt yet spot on descriptions of all those older than her and the way that they act. I also loved that, with her love of chemistry, she is devising a way of catching Santa Claus with glue though this did add a predictable element which if you have read the book you will know what I mean, I shall say no more for those who haven’t.

I don’t know about any of you but books set on a movie set always have a certain something about them. I want to say buzz yet that probably sounds a cliché. I love the fact there are always big dramatic characters, even if it is a cliché in a way that one is always a complete movie diva, and that there are always the underdogs behind the scenes. This is great in any mystery (and I did think of Paul Magrs ‘Hell’s Belles’ which I read earlier this year though that was more Hammer Horror than 30’s Hollywood, both genres which I like I hasten to add) as there are always a whole host of characters and again here Bradley creates a whole host of new faces to be suspicious of and for Flavia to dig the dirt on.

I also, sorry the praise goes on, liked the fact that as this series goes on we are getting to know more and more about the de Luce family, and slowly but surely finding more out about Flavia’s mother Harriet and her mysterious death – I wonder if we will ever learn the truth (I personally don’t think she is dead but that could just be me) about that? We also get much more insight into their servant Dogger, who is as we go on becoming a sidekick to Flavia. There are also her wonderful, and utterly venomous, sisters Feely (who seems to have the whole world wanting to woe her) and the bookish Daphne who is becoming one of my favourite characters as the series develops.

Daffy, as always, was draped over a chair in the library, with Bleak House open on her knees.
“Don’t you ever get tired of that book?” I asked.
“Certainly not!” she snapped.
“It’s so like my own dismal life that I can’t tell the difference between reading and not reading.”
“Then why bother?” I asked.
“Bug off,” she said. “Go and haunt someone else.”

That does lead to my only slight criticism actually. I don’t know if you would be able to start this wonderful series with this book, or if you did I wonder if you would be as hooked as you might if you stared from the beginning with ‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’? I love the series and so this shorter, yet just a punchy and character driven, instalment was a welcome addition but if I didn’t know it so well would it have had enough punch or seemed a little light. I am probably not making sense there, oops.

I thoroughly enjoyed ‘I Am Half Sick of Shadows’ (I should mention the title comes from Tennyson, and these books do embrace literature and the written word in many ways) and it was a treat to curl up in a quiet corner by the fire with over the festive period. I am looking forward to the next one whenever it may appear.

Have you read any Flavia yet? If you haven’t you really should consider it? Which books with a movie set involved have you enjoyed, I would like to read some more of them.

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Joan Bakewell & Bookmarked

I’m having a rather quiet week and just settling down and reading when I can rather than blogging. I thought I would pop in though and let you know just whats by the bedside. I have a fair few ‘research reads’ ahead of me but I am trying to do it in a whimsical (and I don’t mean funny) style as much as possible.

The main selection of reads are the memoirs/autobiographies/essays and novels of Joan Bakewell’s. Why? Well, I have always liked her when I have seen her on the television, her work on which has won many prizes, and in the UK she is deemed by many as a ‘national treasure’. I am getting very excited, and of course very nervous, as I will be in conversation with her on November the 10th at Waterstones Deansgate in Manchester where we will be discussing her novels, her CBE, her tv experiences and much much more…

There is also the fourth Bookmarked on the horizon in just under two weeks, when we will have our ‘supernatural and sci-fi’ night with Ben Aaronovitch and Paul Magrs. I will be reading both of Ben’s novels and Paul’s latest in the lead up, which as they are filled with spooky goings on will be just the things for Halloween, hooray!

You can find out more about Bookmarked here. Sorry about that mini plug, but it is all book related. Have you read any of Joan Bakewell’s novels or her autobiographies/memoirs? What about Ben and Pauls books? Hope to see some of you at either of these events. Any spooky reading suggestions at all?

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Bookshops I Love; The Book Barge

As someone who doesn’t really like boats and really doesn’t like books set on them, you might be surprised that when I heard The Book Barge was coming to Manchester I was both excited and intrigued. I had heard about it on the Guardian book podcast a while back and thought the idea of having a book shop on a narrow boat that travelled around the country actually sounded like a rather lovely jaunt. I also love books and the idea of bartering for books intrigued me, so armed with a bag of M&S lunchtime treats I headed to the Quay to find out more.

Well, I was smitten. A moored boat that only wobbled slightly as I clambered, yes clambered – I don’t have naval ready legs, on and was decked out with lots and lots and lots and lots and lots (is that enough lots to tempt you?) of books was like a quiet and calm haven.

Then as I got to chat to Sarah (which you can hear on this week’s episode of The Readers podcast)who I became equally smitten with, as she is just lovely, I discovered it wasn’t quite the delight you might think. I doubly noticed this when I realised there was no toilet on board let alone a bathroom… or even a kitchen. Just lots and lots and lots (here come those ‘lots’ again) of books.

This is where the bartering comes in, as Sarah travels the country (at a ridiculously speedy 4 miles-per-hour) if she is in need of a shower, a meal, something fixed, or even a haircut, she will swap these for a book, or maybe two if it’s something specific or slightly more costly. This idea would fill me with dread; you could end up in a loonies house after all, but Sarah said she could spot them (I hope I imagined a small knowing squint aimed at me) a mile off and that most bookish people tend to be rather lovely.

Well one trip wasn’t enough and I ended popping abck a few times, including to one of Paul Magrs signings and also bringing Carol Birch and Jane Harris on board before Bookmarked, which Sarah then came to. In fact as the time went on I was even more thrilled with the Book Barge as not only did I leave with a wonderful old copy of ‘Trilby’ by George Du Maurier and ‘Fun Home’ by Alison Bechdel (which Rebecca Makkai had recommended we all read) but I have found a lovely new friend in the lovely Sarah and might just be spending a weekend on the Barge on its final voyage home after it visits Leeds and Nottingham. Do, if you can, pop and see Sarah (she is ace), preferably armed with an M&S picnic and grab a few books. She will be heading to Europe next year too.

Oh and before it combats the channel’s choppy waters, the Book Barge has quite a test coming… Polly of Novel Insights and I will be taking it over in the spring for a bit! How exciting is that? I am not sure Polly and Sarah are quite aware of what I have signed them both (and myself actually) up for!!

You can find out all about the Book Barge on it’s website here.

P.S I didn’t take either of these photo’s I will be replacing them later as mine are still on my phone. Oops.

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The Literary Prize vs. Readability

Yesterday the bookish world, well in the UK at least, seemed all a twitter with the story of a new literary prize, called, erm, The Literature Prize. I am a big fan of any new book prize, both having co-founded one myself and because they promote books which is no bad thing in the current book climate, books need all the pushes they can get. However it seems to be that The Literature Prize has started out with some interesting, if unsettling, intentions and in a blaze of retaliation towards another prize, not the most positive of starts is it.

Books, glorious books, would any of these have won The Literature Prize?

When I jumped on board co-founding the Green Carnation Prize last July it was from a place of positivity. Ok, we did give it the name ‘The Man Fooker’ and it was from a comment of frustration on twitter by Paul Magrs that there was no platform/prize for works by gay men (now we include all LGBT authors) in the UK. Yet we set the prize up in a whirl of excitement and positivity, we didn’t start slagging other book prizes off, we weren’t snide, and we don’t aim to be. We simply wanted to make it happen. We also wanted to be inclusive of all works of literature and their diversity like readers and their reading habits, not just The Literature Prize’s specific aim to “establish a clear and uncompromising standard of excellence”. Yet who is setting/deciding the standard? It appears that the answer to that won’t be revealed for another few weeks.

The bit that made me get all the more cross was the snidely aimed “For many years this brief was fulfilled by the Booker (latterly the Man Booker) Prize. But as numerous statements by that prize’s administrator and this year’s judges illustrate, it now prioritises a notion of ‘readability’ over artistic achievement.” Firstly that to me sounds like ‘let’s get some press off another prize which is very successful’ (and it has been successful this year there’s a couple of great books on the shortlist and they are selling like hotcakes). Secondly it implies that the judges, people who read are too stupid to understand artistic achievement and so go for dumb down ‘readability’ instead.

Within hours of this announcement there started a raging debate about what the difference is between ‘literary’ and ‘readability’ or if indeed there really is one. I think the two can be mutually compatible. In fact the best books have that mix of being stunningly written, transporting you to another place in time or culture and living with its characters for however long the read takes. I think this can be done whilst making the reader want to do nothing but read that book whether it is plot or prose driven. The reader gives their dedication, time, energy and imagination to the book and the partnership between reader and writer is cemented. A book is designed to be read, learnt from and enjoyed. It shouldn’t be so ‘artistic’ no one can cope with it, unless you are a scholar, which leads me to my next annoyance.

The ‘academy of judges’. Now, if I am being generous I am hoping that my initial ‘you elitist bunch of *****’ reaction is unfair and that actually The Literature Prize will find a diverse ‘lottery’ of judges, not as I fear a bunch of academics who may alienate the common reader (that isn’t meant offensively). I think a perfect panel of judges would be a group of writers, journalists, literature teachers, bloggers, librarians, book group leaders but most importantly ALL avid readers. The main criteria for a book judge should simply be that they love books; they want excellent books to be getting noticed and they want to recommend their favourites to all in sundry.

My final annoyance is that, and apparently it is being currently procured, I bet you this prize gets a stupid amount of money thrown at it. Part of me in all honesty is disheartened because The Green Carnation could do with some for promotion etc, the judges do it all for free, but more importantly what about established prizes like the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize which didn’t happen this year due to  lack of funding and has been doing a wonderful job for decades? That to me seems unfair, but then life is I guess.

There is also the fact reading and readers are changing as they have for decades. Who knew back in the day that a popular romance novelist would become a classic and admitted author, she’s called Jane Austen, I don’t know if any of you have heard of her. Or that a serialised newspaper author or three would become deemed some of the greatest writers of British history, like those guys called Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. They wouldn’t have won The Literature Prize if it had been conceived then would they? That said they probably wouldn’t have won the Booker either.

Aren’t we as readers always changing? Don’t our tastes change from book to book? Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I don’t want a book that meanders forever and ever in its own glory and prose and self satisfied nature, I believe that great characters, plots and escapism can be readable and literary, or maybe that’s just my taste. I bet Susan Hill isn’t looking for the same criteria in a book as she judges the Man Booker now as she did in the 1970’s, her reading and its tastes will have evolved even if in subtle or unconscious ways as life changes as it does for all of us. Some of us like to go from an Alan Hollinghurst to an Agatha Christie, from a Charles Dickens to a Stephen King or from David Nicholls to Umberto Eco. That’s the joy of reading, its diversity.

Who knows what the future of the The Literature Prize is, indeed the cynic in me says it could simply be a bit of pre-Booker announcement hype with its shroud of mystery; as with no announcement of who the board is, who is funding it or if indeed it will make its debut in 2012. Hmmm. I wish it luck, should it come to fruition, I think maybe it needs to change the way it holds itself in public in the future though, be less a prize trying to do what another prize already is (and sulking it’s not doing it as it feels it should) and then find its own voice and the ears of all readers out there. It has one thing going for it; it has certainly caused some interesting debate about books, readability and literature.

What are your thoughts on the new prize? Do you think readability and ‘literary merit’ are mutually exclusive, or should the best books have a percentage of both?

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September’s Incomings…

I have to admit I actually had to hunt around the whole house to check that my eyes weren’t deceiving me when it came to putting this month’s incoming books post together. I couldn’t quite believe the two very humble piles of new books that had arrived this month. This doubly hit me when I heard it was ‘Big Book Thursday’ yesterday. No, I had never heard the expression before, which caused guffawing laughter and comments of ‘call yourself a bookish person’ from my family, cheers thanks a lot. Apparently yesterday was the day when all the books for Christmas came out? Sounds like bobbins to me, though it was on Radio 4 apparently.

Anyway back to books that have arrived here, and first lets cover the books from the lovely publishers, note there were five more than this but I am saving them for another two arrivals which are all getting a special post of their own…

  • The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender – This year I am loving Windmills books, ‘Forgetting Zoe’ by Ray Robinson was ace, if very dark, then there was the wonder of ‘The Borrower’ by Rebecca Makkai. Before Richard and Judy chose this I had been eyeing up this novel, about a girl who can taste the emotions of those who cook the food she eats, since I heard it raved about on Books on the Nightstand. I think this sounds really original so have high hopes.
  • Pure by Julianna Baggot – Yes that book is actually plain bright white. This is a very, very, very advance (unsolicited) copy of an ‘apocolyptic’ book that’s out in February. It sounds intriguing but I can’t imagine I will read it before at least January as I will forget everything about it, but who knows.
  •  Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner – The publicist at Windmill was enthusing about this so much when I asked for Aimee Bender’s book I simply couldn’t say no.
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs – This looks wonderfully creepy and comes with Victorian pictures interspersed throughout of ‘freak show’ characters from the olden days, sounds my perfect cup of tea and came all the way from America thanks to Quirk publishing. I think this will be read very, very soon.
  • The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue – I was thinking ‘wow, she wrote this quickly’ when this arrived, apparently this came out a few years ago and is being reissued. It sounds like a wonderful Victorian tale, so possibly a perfect read for the colder darker nights.
  • Collected Ghost Stories by M.R. James – I have a really battered cheap copy of this so I am welcoming its replacement and the nudge for me to finally read these spooky tales.
  • The Sound of Gravity by Joe Simpson – I have to admit I haven’t even seen ‘Touching the Void’ but my family have a copy of the book and the film thankfully as I am interviewing Joe at a solo gig in Waterstones in two weeks so will be having a Joe Simpson binge in advance, I have a feeling I am going to be feeling very chilly and snowbound throughout this binge, so maybe wait till the Indian Summer Manchester is having is over.

Now for the books I have been lent/given or naughtily bought, again I should add I am missing two of these which are going in a post about something else and I will also be buying ‘The Slaves of Solitude’ today by Patrick Hamilton for a book group my friend Joe has started, we are going to be called ‘The Bookaholics with Beards’ and if you don’t have a beard you can’t come in, yes this group was started after one too many drinks but it’s a great book choice from what I have heard from others (and is £3 in Fopp!, what more could you need?). I digress…

  • The Long Exile by Melanie McGrath – After having Melanie/M.J. at Bookmarked I was so enthralled with her tales of the arctic I was desperate to read ‘The Long Exile’ and thanks to her publicist Chloe I am, I have promised to send it back after. Thanks for the loan Chloe.
  • The Game/Locked Rooms by Laurie R. King – I haven’t read the first of these Sherlock spin off’s but so many people have said I would love them that when I saw these pristine for 50p each I snapped them up.
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgensten – Lynne of Dovegreyreader said I needed to pop this up my TBR imminently, well I hadn’t been sent it (I think almost everyone has though, weird) but thankfully Paul Magrs has let me have his. So that’s one to read, though the hype worries me. I am trying to avoid it so the read will be based just on that, the reading.

So that’s it. What do you think? Have you read any of these? Should I get to any sooner than others? What have you had in the last month?

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The Comfort of a Series…

There is a real comfort in being able to open the pages of a book, cosy in your perfect reading spot, and being surrounded by a world that is familiar and where you are joined by some of your favourite characters. To me this is the joy of having an ongoing favourite series, and it’s been a saviour in the last few days after what had been a severe bout of readers block.

I had got myself into a vicious thought circuit of ‘why am I not reading anything, why am I not reading anything, why am I not reading anything’ last week, something I seem to do which I am aware only adds to the pressure but it can’t be helped. I was well aware I had a few of the submissions for The Green Carnation Prize to get through, which has involved some stunning reading, as we announce the longlist in just over a fortnight – but I needed a break. I instantly thought ‘right time for something completely different’ and so pulled down the next of M.C. Beatons Agatha Raisin novels ‘Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell’ (if anyone is sniggering, these are awesome books) and before I knew it I had devoured that and polished off the next one ‘Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came’. Then I got what I call ‘series guilt’.

In my mind ‘series guilt’, though maybe guilt isn’t quite the right word, is rather like when you have an author binge. You read one, want to read more and then think ‘hang on I have almost read all their books and I have no idea when the next one is out’. In the case of Agatha Raisin this doesn’t really apply, I have another eight (as I read two out of sync) to go. Yet I do get this with other series I read. Hence why I have stopped with Sophie Hannah, Paul Magrs etc, I don’t quite know when the next one will be so am saving the latest one for a while instead.

There are however three series that I will be playing catch up with as a bit of a reading treat for myself and because I know that I have quite a few more of the series of Susan Hill, Val McDermid and Tess Gerritsen to go. So expect to see these three books featured in more detail…

   

Isn’t it odd that these series are all crimes, well and one spooky-goings-on series? I think I need to be looking outside of the box. Though they are perfect for this time of year as autumn starts to show its true colours. I have also thought that the only way to not have to worry if a series is running out is to find some more to get into the swing of, and this is where you come in.  I would like your recommendations for some new series to find.

So I wondered if you would share your favourite series (or two) with me but also if you could let me know of any series of books which aren’t of a ‘genre’ so I can branch out. The only one I can think of at the moment is Anthony Trollope’s ‘Barchester Towers’. I know there are many more than just those, can you help?

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August’s Incomings…

As always if you don’t like posts about books are incoming then look away now, there is another post coming later today about my favourite memoir of the year, if not in quite some time. But now to the post in hand and the books which have come in during the last month. I hope you will note it’s a much slimmer selection than in previous months.

Of course August is Man Booker month and so a few of those came in through the door…

I have to say that I was really excited about the longlist this year when it was announced, but from dipping in and out of some of them I am beginning to simply not get it. There are six books I think could make a rather strong short list (more about that next week) but in the main I am a little bit non-plussed after trying and failing with a few of them. I am thinking it might be time to introduce a new series of posts on ‘Books I Didn’t Finish and Why’ but maybe with a snazzier title.

So moving on from Booker books what else has popped in from the publishers? Well you will be shocked to learn that I can fit my hardbacks, trades and paperbacks in one photo, that’s quite a breakthrough. I haven’t had as many unsolicited books and those I have had have been much more my cup of tea. Hoorah! So here they are…

  • Good Offices by Evelio Rosero – unsolicited copy, winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize sounds a little bit different and is short so could be worth a read.
  • Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt – I didn’t think I would try another Byatt, I find her a little full of herself in her writing and in person (oops), but books should be about good stories and this looks a treat as its one of the Canongate Myth retelling series.
  • The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai – A book about a librarian who kidnaps and is kidnapped by one of the children who comes to the library. I am half way through this and I think it is wonderful so far. I can’t wait to tell you more.
  • Blow On A Dead Man’s Embers by Mari Strachan – I really liked her first novel ‘The Earth Hums in B Flat’ so I begged for this one. When it arrived my aunty, who is a whatsit for a title, asked if it was about something rude. I hadn’t thought of it but now I keep giggling when I see the book. Oh dear.
  • The Gendarme by Mark Mustian – You know when you see a book in Waterstones and just love the cover but aren’t sure it would be quite your cup of tea, you keep seeing it and you keep being torn. Well, now I have it and am expecting quite a lot.
  • Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson – I thought Winterson’s debut novel ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit’ was wonderful, I am puzzled by the author though. On TV I have seen her be delightful or prickly, and I know she had a phase of hating being labelled as an LGBT author, and yet now we have a very LGBT book. Should be interesting, but puzzling too.
  • The Book Lover’s Tale by Ivo Stourton – I admit I asked for this solely based on the title.
  • The Blue Book by A.L. Kennedy – This is probably going to be read this weekend. It’s a book about psychic’s on a cruise ship and just sounds right up my street. I have struggled with Kennedy before so am hoping this is the way in. It’s also a beautiful book to look at.
  • The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan – I have wanted to read this since Marieke Hardy called it a ‘cock forest’ on The First Tuesday Book Club, she didn’t like it and her reaction just made me want to read it even more.
  • The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen – I love Tess’ books so there is no way I couldn’t have this. Its signed too. Hoorah.
  • 666 Charing Cross Road by Paul Magrs – A new series starts… could be very exciting.
  • Twenty Six by Jonathan Kemp – Twenty six (very) short stories from one of last years Green Carnation short listed authors. Looking forward to this one.
  • Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes – Kevin from Canada mentioned this on the Man Booker forums as a brilliant crime and had a very nice review of it too. It’s not his genre so if its got non crime fans raving then I need to give it a whirl.
  • Something Was There edited by Kate Pullinger – unsolicited copy, Asham Award Winning shost stories, perfect for the autumnal nights which seem to have come early this year.
  • The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson – unsolicited copy, a book about sideshow freaks and the love story between the Human Skeleton and the Bearded Lady, erm yes please (I have to say if I had seen the drab cover in a shop though I wouldn’t have picked this up, Picador are normally ace at covers, what’s this about?).
  • The Shadows in the Street by Susan Hill – unsolicited copy, had the hardback so this reminded me a read was due, especially seeing as the next one ‘The Betrayal of Trust’ is out in October, which I will of course really be desperate to read.
  • Electricity & The Man Without by Ray Robinson – I thought ‘Forgetting Zoe’ was brilliant and so I am really looking forward to reading his back catalogue.

There was a second hand spree this month so I can’t say I have been that good in terms of treats. However I have had a lovely loan and two lovely gifts too.

I did a call out to see if any of you had Sue Johnston’s first autobiography as I am ‘in conversation’ with her next Tuesday at Waterstones Deansgate (a review of her stunning autobiography out today will be up this afternoon) and the forementioned Paul Magrs had a copy of ‘Hold onto the Messy Times’ which he has kindly loaned me. I don’t know why I didn’t ask Paul first, he has lots of the TV books from the 1980’s so it should have been an instant thought. Ruth from my book group has kindly given me her latest finished read which is ‘The Fallen Leaves’ a Wilkie Collins book I don’t own. Naturally I was thrilled. And finally, all the way from the USA, Rachel of Booksnob sent me ‘Bedilla’ by Vera Caspary which she read and adored and with a tagline ‘she seduces men… but does she kill them? A mystery bout the wickedest woman who ever loved’ knew would be right up my street. Thrilled, again.

A more compact month, but a month filled with gems I think you will agree. What have you had through the post/from the library/bought from the shops lately? Which of these have you read or are looking forward to reading and which would you like to see reviewed on Savidge Reads in the near future?

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Reading With Authors #3: Valley of the Dolls – Jacqueline Susann; With Paul Magrs

So Paul only a day late, oops, blame the Transpeak (I actually almost got stranded in Matlock last night, not funny)…we’ve nicely invited ourselves (Savidge Reads and it’s readers) to your house, well your Summer house actually. Are Fester and Panda here? Can we get a nice cuppa we’ve brought biscuits (though no digestives or fig rolls), what would you like? 

Really, I think we need pink champagne for this one. And some sort of fancy nibbles. I’m amazed you went to such effort and dragged up again, Simon. You look fantastic, but mind your hem as you come trolling across the lawn. Come and sit on one of these garden chairs where all the neighbours can see. I’ve got some Dolly Mixture we can pretend are prescription drugs. Aren’t you a bit too warm in your beaver, by the way?

Oh yes, I must get rid of this thing, in fact seeing as you tricked me into fancy dress when you haven’t I might just pop and get changed… there that’s better. All normal now, well normal-ish. So Valley of the Dolls, why did we choose it again? 

I wanted an excuse to reread it. I love the old movie, and there’s a fantastic biography of Jacqueline Susann that makes me laugh and laugh. She had such a rackety life and career, and she was determined to make it. But she behaved so badly and was so tasteless and brilliantly vulgar. I love the movies about her, ‘Ain’t She Great’ with Bette Midler, and ‘Outrageous Me’ with the wonderful Michelle Lee. And, a number of years ago, I was completely gripped reading her novel ‘The Love Machine’ while on holiday in Paris. I wanted to go back to the first novel to find out why and how she’s so readable.

Did you enjoy it? Do you think Valley of the Dolls deserves its cult status?

I’m not sure! It was huge at the time, of course. Mostly because (if we are to believe biography by Barbra Seamann and the two biopics) Susann was such a whizz at self-publicity. She went on TV and book tours – but she also did things like taking breakfast and coffee to the lorry drivers who were transporting her books around the US. It has sold insanely well over the decades and I say, rather than a cult value, it has a kitschy one. It’s a pure product of its era – an absurdly outdated piece of pop culture. It’s camp, of course – but despite itself, rather than setting out to be self-consciously ironic and amusing. It’s too stodgy and earnest, I think, to be a true Cult classic. It terms of vintage tat, it’s the literary equivalent of one of those scary half-dolls with no legs and knitted frocks that sit on top of toilet rolls.

I’ve been a bit up and down with it, I loved it initially but Anne’s story seemed to go on a little bit too long, I was glad of the narrative change weren’t you?

Yes, I was – at the two hundred page mark, or whatever it was. It was heaven to get into the stories of Jennifer and Neely. Anne is too good to be true – she’s a bit winsomely perfect, and she drives me up the wall, really. My feeling is that Anne was Jacqueline Susann’s idealized version of herself. (Susann posed for adverts, and TV, etc – and knew that world.) And so the writer indulges herself in that strand of the story – Anne’s ever so slightly sanctimonious point of view. For me, though, it’s when Helen Lawson, the singing battleaxe comes on stage, that the book really lights up. She’s incorrigible and frightful and behaves quite justifiably like a monster throughout. The scene in the ladies’ lavs when Neely rips her wig off and shoves it down the loo is my favourite in the whole novel.

Did you have a favourite between the ‘Dolls’ out of Anne, Neely or Jennifer? I know I did, can you guess which?

I reckon you liked Neely best. Don’t know why. Oh yes, I do.

You might just be right there though I am intrigued as to why you think that, maybe that’s a conversation to have another time… it might have something to do with the scene you mentioned, maybe… 

As for me…well, if I can’t choose Helen, then I’d choose Jennifer, I think. I love how useless she is! She doesn’t even notice that her Italian crooner husband has a mental age of ten! She falls into a lesbian relationship because she quite likes skiing and getting stroked! She plumps up her breasts each night with cocoa butter and goes about in a haze of self-worshipping stupefaction! And she winds up in mucky French arthouse movies cause she can’t think of anything better to do! And then she winds up committing suicide because of something her STUPID second husband says at her near-deathbed – and Jacqueline Susann thinks we should worship her perfection. Amazing! 

I was surprised how moving, and slightly depressing, Jennifers story was. This to me was almost the heart story of the story if that makes sense…

Oh, I just answered that above. I thought she was a bit of a dope, but I was fond of her. Why do you think it’s her at the heart of the book? Because she pays the highest price for their lavish and extravagant lifestyles?

In part it is that, it’s the bit of the book that sort of hit me the most. I think it also felt like Susann was the most passionate about this part of the book. It read differently to the rest of the novel for me, well her third person narrative did. I think… In it’s day this novel was a sensation in part because it shocked so much, do you think it has dated? Did you think any of it was shocking still?

I believe it was the lesbianism and the oral sex that were eyebrow-raising back in the day. Also, the exposing of the lifestyles of the rich and famous. All of that is old hat to us now. What seemed shocking to me now was how the women’s dependence upon men and marriage is completely taken for granted. These are successful, independent women and they’re still desperate for a bloke to pop the question. To me, though, the most shocking thing is the casual homophobia. There’s all this derisory, dismissive talk of ‘fags’ as lesser beings, necessary but barely tolerated in this world of showbiz. It’s outrageously shocking to modern sensibilities. Were you surprised by it, or is it just something where you think – it’s part of the way the book has dated? Or do you think it still rings true?

I didn’t think anything of the ‘fag’ stuff, I might have slightly arched an eyebrow at it, but that was just the time of the novel. I agree with you totally on the whole ‘need a man theme’ I couldn’t believe all these women, well apart from Anne, thought all they needed was to be a wife and life would be ok. In that aspect, and a few others I do think this novel is so much more than just a trashy shocker isn’t it…

I’m not sure it is, on this reading!

Really I am surprised, whilst I didn’t love it as much as I had hoped to do, it’s no ‘Peyton Place’ in my mind – which is true genius and is in part a trashy shocker and also a wonderful tale about a time in America’s past and the history of women and their rights (and gossip) at the time. This didn’t quite hit the nail on the head for me, but I did think it had weight.

It’s not wittily or cleverly constructed…

Oh some of it did make me laugh a lot, occasionally for the wrong reasons…

It reiterates the prejudices and mores of the society is depicts – there’s no clever, ironic critique going on. The characters are all clearly types. It doesn’t step outside the genre, create an ironic counterpoint to it, or exceed its bounds in anyway. It’s stodgy and overlong and points out the bleeding obvious. BUT… it also feels like the invention of a genre. It’s the genesis of what would, by the 80s, be called a bonkbuster. With a glitzy spot-laminate paperback cover, an ensemble cast of deeply-flawed sexy monsters brimming with ambition, revenge, etc etc.

I would agree about the stodgy aspect of the books, it needed to be about 100 pages shorter I thought. Initially I wanted to give Susann the benefit of the doubt when Anne just went on and on at the start, I thought it was building to ‘the fall’ and it was but not really enough to warrant that never ending opening narration. I don’t think I ever liked Anne. You can see how it’s influenced novelists of today can’t you, I am not just thinking of Jackie Collins etc…

And it becomes Dynasty and Dallas on TV. I think Jackie Collins’ ‘Hollywood Wives’ is maybe the ultimate expression of the type. Or, if you’re looking for the innocent entering the big city, commerce and the sexual economy and eventually winning through – Barbra Taylor Bradford and ‘A Woman of Substance.’ Or even Shirley Conran’s wonderfully stupid ‘Lace’ (‘Which of you three bitches is my mother?’) As time moves on it becomes less about our heroine ‘finding herself’ as it as about becoming a brilliant business woman.

As the novel goes on there is a sense of impending doom throughout, well there was for me anyway, did this make you want to read on, as it did me, waiting for awful things to happen or were you worried for our femme fatales? 

Yes – terrible sense of doom. Any novelist worth their salt puts their characters through the wringer. But in the glitzy bonkbuster there is even more impetus to create victims. My favourite doom-sequence in Valley of the Dolls is Neely getting shoved in the nuthouse by Anne. I love the fact that she gets fat and gets out and becomes a huge star again, stealing Lyon from under Anne’s prim nose. I wish we’d seen more of Neely reveling in her revenge. Maybe it’s too early in the genre to make one of the lead characters an out-and-out villainess?

I would have liked ‘nuclear’ Neely, I kept thinking that. There was a bit too much simmering and being a bit cross and not enough utter villainy.

I wonder if ‘Vanity Fair’ is the true beginning of this genre? Or even ‘Moll Flanders’? Or ‘Fanny Hill’? Or the ‘Wife of Bath’?  Has the scandalously enjoyable fuck-book always been with us, do you think?

Hahaha, I think they should have that as a new genre in the bookshops, can you imagine? I think maybe Wilkie Collins ‘Armadale’ or ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’ by Mary Elizabeth Braddon could have been the start of it actually. They were the true shocking ‘sensation’ novels filled with murder, incest and all sorts of shenanigans.

So – thanks for coming round, Simon. Will you read any more Jacqueline Susann, do you think? ‘The Love Machine’ is a wonderful saga about the world of US TV in the 60s. Then there’s the book about her poodle and one about Jackie O, or there’s her crazy science fiction novel…

Thanks for having us all round Paul. I might give Susann another go, I expected to run after another of her novels, well maybe walk swiftly, after reading ‘Valley of the Dolls’ but I wasn’t quite as hooked, gripped or even scandalized as I had hoped. Right let’s hand over to everyone else who has popped by. I only hope we have enough pink fizz…

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A Peak Time ‘Valley of the Dolls’ Delay…

Apologies are called for this morning if you are eagerly awaiting a lovely Reading With Authors book group with me and Paul Magrs today discussing ‘Valley of the Dolls’. I was looking forward to us all bombarding Paul’s lovely summer house together, the power of the internet and imagination hey, but there’s a small technical glitch…

You see I rather misjudged the length of the book and slightly how gripping it might be (I struggled to start with but it got much much better). So this meant I didn’t email Paul everything before I left for the Peak District (where signal is a bit rubbish) I did it last night.

Hopefully though we will still be having afternoon tea at Paul’s summer house later or maybe for supper if I can get to the internet proper (3G isn’t great to post) between seeing my cousin Alfie playing cricket and meeting up with an author in the flesh…

Yes, randomly after I reviewed ‘Forgetting Zoe’ by Ray Robinson he emailed me to say thanks and asked if I knew Matlock. Know it, I’m from it!! So while I am here we are going to go in search of places for a good murder, I’ll explain that properly when I report back, and grab a pint. What a small bookish world eh?

Oh and because I like posts with pictures heres the view from my bedroom window this morning of Riber Castles ruins in the sun…

20110821-101558.jpg

Hopefully I’ll manage to virtually (I always want to say virally) get to Paul’s later and see you all there! What are you doing in the real world this weekend?

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Reading With Authors 2011

Back in February (I am surprised it was this long ago) I mentioned the fact that after having loved doing the Not The TV Book Group I fancied doing it again, sadly the other hosts weren’t sure what they could commit to this year, so I was mulling the idea of doing something similar and different over the ‘early summer months’. Well its not the early part of summer, but summer it still is, and finally (and possibly a little last minute – but you guys are great at rallying round) I can reveal my plans for ‘Reading With Authors’ which is going to be taking place during the Sundays of August and September 2011., and something which I am hoping you will be able to join in the whole lot of or on and off…

Why has it taken so long? Well, there’s been all of the Bookmarked (only 8 days to go… eek) and Green Carnation Prize madness whirling in the background and also the authors taking part are busy bee’s and so choosing titles together and dates that they are free has been a tricky process, but now it is done and here are the books we would love you to read along with us and when…

(thanks to Gav Reads for the image)

  • Sunday 7th of August 2011: The Man Who Fell To Earth by Walter Tevis with Belinda Bauer
  • Sunday 14th of August 2011: Pigeon English by Steven Kelman with Naomi Wood
  • Sunday 21st of August 2011: Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann with Paul Magrs
  • Sunday 28th of August 2011: Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively with Natasha Solomons
  • Sunday 4th of September: Ruby’s Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni with Beatrice Colin
  • Sunday 18th of September 2011: Even The Dogs by Jon McGregor with Isabel Ashdown

There are two more authors and their choices of books to announce in the next week, but I wanted to get the information out there sooner rather than later as the first one, with the lovely crime writing Belinda Bauer, is only a week a way! If you are thinking ‘only a week, that’s no time’ well I had that slight panic too. However Walter Tevis’ novel ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ is only 186 pages and it’s stunning! I have a feeling that, as with ‘Flowers For Algernon’ by Daniel Keyes, this is a sci-fi book that is about to make me rather emotional and cry quite a lot. Who knew?

The idea behind all this is that it brings books, authors and readers together in a new way. The weekly author and I will have discussed the book, that will go up on the blog, and then we hope those of you who have read it too (pretty please) will come by comment and myself and the author will add comments creating a great discussion.

I am hoping that all the other books are going to be as good as the first promises to be. Some of them, as you can see from the list, are quite recent, some might have been chosen for the Man Booker (Naomi and myself chose ‘Pigeon English’ a while ago, neither of us having read it at the time, and were patting ourselves on the backs on Tuesday) some are cult classics and some are ones that have gone under the radar. All of them are books that the author and I were eager to read… do we all like our choices? You will have to wait and see! What do you think of the list so far?

I do hope you will be joining in!

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The Green Carnation Prize is One Today…

A very brief post, as I am ironically in the depths of Green Carnation Prize reading (we have probably had at least double what we did and there are many more still coming), to say that The Green Carnation Prize is one exactly today, I think that calls for cake…

I can’t believe it, and am thrilled that its having such a bonkers second year, even if it has made my amount of reading over the next few weeks near impossible. Do go and wish it a Happy Birthday and have a look at what one of the fellow co-founders, Paul Magrs, has to say about what simply started as a little tweet. The website is here.

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How Many Book Groups Make Too Many?

I love books. I know that sounds like a rather obvious thing to say with a book blog, but sometimes my love of books gets me into trouble. For example at the moment I am in the midst of reading the Green Carnation Prize submissions, of which we have easily had double or maybe treble what we did last year and there are more to come. I also have a big pile of books on the bedside table which I keep ‘meaning to read next’, some advance reading to do for ‘Discovering Daphne’ and another project for the blog which starts in August. Phew! So you might think considering I am part of two book groups the very thought of joining another would seem idiotic… and yet I think I have.

It’s not the fault of the other two book groups that have made my eyes wander. It’s definitely me.

You see with the book group I first joined (that in my own head I call ‘the lovely ladies of Levenshulme book group’ because it is lots of lovely women and me and Paul Magrs) I love the banter and I love the people but until this month a lot of the choices have been re-reads for me. This is of course my fault for reading too much frankly and not theirs at all. However this month, though I have no idea what day it’s happening, we are reading ‘The Lost Daughter’ by Diane Chamberlain which is a book I have never read and would go as far as to say from the cover looks like a book I would possibly avoid. It looks a bit Jodi Piccoult. However this is the very point of a book group isn’t it?

Sadly at the moment the book seems to be avoiding me. I ordered it from the library, they went and loaned it after I ordered it. I have tried book shops and no avail. I could go online, but I feel all funny about online sales after the latest Book Depository news. So if I get it and if I find out when the meeting is I shall of course be going.

The next book group I joined in part because it was organised by one of my lovely new friends up in the north and secondly because I hadn’t read the book, which was ‘Purple Hibiscus’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, one I had wanted to read for ages and ages but not quite got around to. The only issue is that I have read the next book that’s been chosen (again my fault not theirs) but I really don’t want to read it again. What is it? ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy. This seems odd, especially as you can see from a review of it back in 2008, when I had read it for a book group too, I came away confused but overall liking it. So wouldn’t this be just the sort of book that could do with a re-read? After all this was a few years ago. The answer screaming at me is no. I don’t want to be confused by it again, and one thing I missed in that review was how long that book took to read. I have it by the bed in case but I will see, I did love the people who went so much – a really lovely mixture. Can I not go without having to re-read it and see if I can remember it fully? I admit I remember one horrid scene in a cinema all too well.

Fate seemed to extend a hand when I found a new book group in Manchester through twitter completely randomly. I think Waterstones Deansgate retweeted them, they are the @NQbookclub. This group are a little specific with what books they choose, which is what attracts me so much – as well as meeting new book lovers that is, as they only read post war classics it seems… Classics such as ‘Revolutionary Road’ by Richard Yates, ‘Things Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe and next up to read is ‘Rabbit, Run’ by John Updike. Many of you will of course have read these, but I haven’t and yet they have always been books I have fancied (I did read Updike’s ‘Couples’ for a book group and was impressed with the read and the discussion was great) so should I add another book group to my reading schedule?

I am torn, especially as with ‘Bookmarked’ starting soon (exciting announcement about that soon) and the reading I will need to do for that… maybe it is too much? Do I need to give up one? I don’t really want to. How many book groups are too many? Has anyone else found that they go to a book group and each month it’s a book they have read? Does it matter if you pick and choose which meetings you attend, what are your thoughts on etiquette?

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