Tag Archives: Philip Pullman

Other People’s Bookshelves #30 (Part Two): Kate Neilan

Hello and welcome, to the latest in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves which sees the series of posts turning 30! So to mark this special occasion we are heading to the delights of Essex for a big old party (grab your streamers, some cupcakes, a glass of fizzy and a paper hat) as we are hosted by one of my favourite bookish couples in the whole wide world. Today we join Rob and Kate from Adventures with Words, who I have the pleasure of joining along with Gavin every month to make Hear… Read This. Less about me, and more about them as I hand over to Kate (breaking the tradition of ladies first as I let Rob share his shelves earlier as they haven’t merged shelves yet, I am not judging their relationship on this basis though… much!) to introduce her lovely self and her shelves and all other bookish shenanigans…

I’m Kate – you might know me as @magic_kitten – and I’ve always been a huge reader ever since I can remember, and even before that if you believe my parents.  I work full time as Head of Citizenship and PSHE at a secondary school in Essex, although I originally trained as an English teacher at Cambridge, after doing my English Lit degree at Durham.  While I was there, I took the (very popular) Children’s Fiction module, which reignited my love for Young Adult books, to the extent that I wrote my dissertation on His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. I’m now one half of Adventures With Words, alongside Rob Chilver. He began the blog to discuss books, films, games and stories in general and in 2012 we started recording a weekly podcast too. Recently, I’ve branched out with my own ‘Young Adult Edition’. Do go to www.adventureswithwords.com and have a look.

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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’m a dreadful hoarder and, until recently, I kept every book that I bought, even if I’d read it and not really thought much of it.  My book collection fills three ‘Billy’ bookcases and more; I’ve got two boxes of books that have yet to be unpacked since Rob and I moved in together over a year ago. Lately, though, I’ve had to be more ruthless.  We now have a ‘To go’ pile of books where books I know I’m not going to read again go, although, as yet, they’ve not actually gone anywhere yet! If I’m being honest, these aren’t even all my books. I still have a shelf in my old bedroom at my parents’ house full of all my Point Horrors and teenage reads. I’m thinking about retrieving them but where would they go?!

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?

Before my most recent house move (I worked out recently I’ve moved more than ten times, taking into account university, teacher training and various flats and houses since moving out), I had my bookcases very carefully organised. I had three big red ‘Billy’ bookcases, one ‘half’ bookcase with three deep shelves, and one totally non-matching white one. That one housed my (excessive) CD and DVD collection, then my half-bookcase was for YA, and one large bookcase housed my university books (a mixture of textbooks, anthologies, Complete Works of Shakespeare/Chaucer etc and various novels, plays and poetry). The other two bookcases were organised roughly by genre, then by author; you could glance at the shelves and easily see the Tolkien, Iain (M) Banks, Isabel Allende and so on.

All this lovely system was completely destroyed when we last moved house; putting two sets of things into one house just doesn’t fit, so I gave up my white bookcase…and so it began! As I mentioned earlier, I’ve got two boxes of books that haven’t even seen the light of day yet – there wasn’t any urgency as they’re mostly university texts – but I’m sure I’ll want them one day… Eventually, during as summer holiday, I’ll take all these lovely stories off the shelves and rearrange them. I promise. We do have a “Blog TBR” bookcase (because piling them on the floor was becoming a little impractical) and some of these will graduate onto my own bookshelves after being read, reviewed and enjoyed.

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

Short answer? No, I’m really not sure, although I did spend quite a lot of my summer holiday aged 12 buying Point Horror books for a couple of pounds each from the second hand book stall in Norwich covered market… Still got them!

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 have very varied taste in books – I read literary fiction, lots of genre fiction and Young Adult – and I’m not really embarrassed about any of my choices; as far as I’m concerned, it’s fine to read something that’s a bit cheesy or clichéd as long as you enjoy it. I do own the entire Twilight series (and have read them all) and I’ve got The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. No, they’re not literary masterpieces, but yes, they were enjoyable in their own ways.

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 given to me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

I have a lovely set of Tolkein’s fiction with matt black covers and a small picture on the front of each one, which I really love, and a fantastic set of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy in hardback, all first editions. These were from my parents and they’re very precious to me. I also have a very well-loved secondhand copy of Feersum Endjinn by Iain M Banks, my favourite of his science fiction novels, which was sent to me by the wonderful Gav of No Cloaks Allowed, The Readers and Hear Read This. He found it while browsing, opened up the cover, and saw that it was signed. After buying it, he tweeted about it and I jokingly tweeted back saying it would make my day (life) if I’d found it, and he sent it to me! What a lovely guy. Finally, I have one of only eight comb-bound preview copies of the final Artemis Fowl book, Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian. Rob knew I’m a huge fan of the series and managed to get hold of it, without letting on; as you can imagine, I was absolutely thrilled.

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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?

A bit like me, my parents have a house full of books, so I always remember them being there. One of the first “proper” books I read was Jane Eyre, aged 11, but I swiftly graduated to The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and then The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is absolutely hilarious when you’re supposed to be asleep but in fact you’re reading about sweary robots under your duvet using a torch…

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?

Neither a borrower or a lender be! Well, I’m not, anyway. I have a bit of a ‘thing’ about pre-read books; library books always have that slightly funny smell to them, other people crack the spine or turn over the corner of pages, a habit I managed to kick. I’m a huge recommender to others, especially my mum, but she buys her own copy rather than borrow mine because she doesn’t want to give it back in less than pristine condition! I’m very aware that this is all a bit weird; libraries are brilliant, they’re just not how I read. Plus, the last time I lent a book (a first edition hardback of the first in Isabel Allende’s YA trilogy) I didn’t get it back… #fuming

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

Funny you ask that, Simon – you may recognise the titles I’m about to mention.  Only earlier today, Rob came home from work with a lovely bookish goody bag for me. My newest acquisitions are Magda by Meike Ziervogel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough and The Gigantic Beard The Was Evil by Stephen Collins. I’ve also got a fantastic little Reading Journal. I find, when I’m reading, that I’d like to jot down ideas but I don’t fancy ‘texting’ them into my phone, so I’m looking forward to using this from now on. Hopefully, it should improve my reviews, too!

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

To be honest, I think I’m extremely lucky when it comes to books; there are very few that I don’t have but do wish for. I’d love a hardback copy of Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales for Young and Old and I’m awaiting the arrival of All the Birds Singing by Evie Wyld, but, other than that, it’s books that haven’t been published yet. I know they’re coming, because they’re part of series I’m reading: the final Heroes of Olympus book by Rick Riordan, and the next book in Charlie Higson’s The Enemy series, not forgetting the conclusion of Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne trilogy and James Dawson’s new book, Say Her Name.

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

I’m sure they’d think I’ve got very eclectic tastes – there’s a little bit of everything – but hopefully I’ve picked some great books from every genre, and hopefully they’d see things they’d love to try themselves.

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A huge thanks to Kate for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, though she really had no choice! If you haven’t go and visit Rob’s shelves, imagine all those books in one house, here! Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) 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 Kate’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Dorothy Savidge; The Woman Books Built

On Wednesday this week we all said our final goodbyes to Granny Savidge Reads, aka Dorothy Savidge. I thought I would share the speech I gave as part of her eulogy with you all as it is fitting and also because it does show the importance of books in people’s lives. You can also hear Gran talking about books in an episode of The Readers that I recorded with three generations of the reading Savidge’s here. Thank you all so, so, so, so much for your comments, emails and tweets about Gran, the support has meant so much to me and my family. Savidge Reads will be back properly on August the 1st, I will leave this as a fitting interim post until then…

To say that my Gran, Dorothy, quite liked a book would be something of an understatement. She loved books. Gran once said that “one of the wonderful things about books is that despite reading being a solitary activity, in the main they can bring you together with other people”. Gran proved this often, with family, friends, neighbours, people in libraries younger than her whom she then founded book groups with, potential son in laws who liked Philip Kerr and random strangers on her travels. You name them, Gran could talk books with them.

The other thing she said recently was that “books can have the power to educate people and make you walk in their footsteps”. She would often read veraciously about places she was going to before she went and sometimes read a guide book so closely you would have to remind her she was actually in the place she was reading about. Yet Gran didn’t come from a bookish background, she was predominately a self taught reader.

Gran grew up in a house that only had three books, though a saving grace was that one of those was ‘Gone With The Wind’. Her father was away at war, her mum busy with all Gran’s siblings and so it was her eldest brother Derrick who would read Rupert Bear adventures to her and her younger brother Gordon from the Daily Express. However on his return from the war her father took Gran to the library often, it was there that she discovered the page turning addiction that is Enid Blyton and the adventures of the Famous Five.

From the library Gran progressed to Broadhurst’s book shop, which is still running, in Southport. Gran said “I couldn’t afford the books but I could sit in the corner and read, hopefully hidden”. She wasn’t as well hidden as she thought, thanks to a kindly bookshop owner though Gran was allowed to sit and read as she pleased from ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ onwards.

I don’t know much about Gran’s reading life when she was courting my Grandfather, Bongy, and had moved away from home to the suburbs of London. I do know that he influenced her reading, partly with his love of Anthony Trollope and how often he re-read ‘Barchester Towers’ which Gran soon caught. I also know that a discussion with Bongy made Gran read Hardy as, for some unfathomable reason, he mentioned there was a book in which a man sold his wife at a market like she was cattle’. Make of that what you will but it certainly made Gran read ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ even if out of incredulity.

Reading to her children Louise, Caroline, Alice and Matthew and helping them learn to read was something which gave Gran a great amount of joy. My mother, Louise, can remember hours with Peter and Jane and ‘This is Pat. Meet Pat the dog. Watch Pat run’ a little too well. It was the same with her grandchildren. I remember many an occasion cuddling up to Gran with a good story, even until quite recently. I still get that same feeling of excitement walking into a Waterstones as I did as a child. Trips to Scarthin Books with Gran have been a highlight of the last twenty years, or more, of my life.

Gran and I bonded over lots of things, books were a particularly constant source of conversation. She could be a book snob on occasion, only months ago asking if I had thought of reading ‘anything of any actual worth’ this year, scary. She often broke this snobbery though, sometimes by force like when she had to read all Philip Pullman’s ‘Northern Lights’ trilogy as Bongy had done the awful thing of only allowing Gran to pack four books for a whole four weeks away… she unashamedly cried her way through the final book by the pool, secretly loving every moment of it.

Mainly her love of reading was infectious. I’ve Gran to thank for my love of Kate Atkinson, Andrea Levy, Margaret Atwood and many, many others. Sometimes her enthusiasm could also be overzealous. For example when I was about halfway through the aforementioned Margaret Atwood’s complex and lengthy tome, ‘The Blind Assassin’, Gran suddenly said ‘Oh that is the book where **** happens at the end isn’t it?’ Then the awkward silence followed before an ‘oops’.

No matter what was going on in our lives, good, bad or indifferent, we could talk books and did so several times a week. She was always up for recommending something or have something recommended to her. Though I have recently noticed that a copy of a Barbara Cartland novel I bought her as a slight joke over a decade ago is still looking rather pristine.
It was the challenge of wanting to try new books and her love of discussion and bookish debate that led Gran to book groups. Some might say that joining three was slightly excessive, not for Gran. It seems she was a popular member of the groups whether she co-founded them or simply joined them. “Her opinion on a book was always looked forward to, even if sometimes with baited breath” her fellow member Jim told me. She was often seen as something of a book encyclopaedia, often called upon to name an author or book title that had slipped someone else’s mind. Invariably Gran would know exactly what they meant.

In the last few months I know it was hard with Gran not being able to read so much. I tried reading her new favourite series to her, unlike her big brother Derrick I didn’t do the voices and so in the end we had to settle with the audio book or episodes of The Archers.

Books still brought her joy in other ways during this time. Be it talking with friends and family about books or recommending them. We had marvellous discussions with nurses at various hospitals about books including a lengthy one at the Whitworth where we discussed what happened to the books in our heads. Did we just see the words, hear voices or watch a film playing in front of our eyes? There were also all the friends who visited who she had made through books and via book groups and all the laughter and smiles that they brought with them.

Gran’s reading legacy will live on through her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren when they arrive one day. Also through all the friendships that she made through books and reading and the book groups she started and joined. She loved getting any book recommendation, so on behalf of Gran, when you can, go and pick up one of her favourite authors, Graham Greene.

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Grimm Tales – Philip Pullman

I mentioned that it was the 200th anniversary of the Brothers Grimm last week and one book which seems to have made the most of this timing is Philip Pullman’s ‘Grimm Tales’. This is a book that I have to admit I didn’t hear about until it was out, I would have expected more fanfare to be honest, and as soon as I heard about it I simply had to get my hands on it. It also seemed the perfect time of year, just before Christmas and just after the anniversary, to talk about it when there is that little sense of nostalgia and magic in the air and these tales are just the sort of thing to turn to either between the festive franticness or indeed if you need to escape from your family at any point. Oh… none of you feel the need to do the latter, how awkward.

Penguin Classics, hardback, 2012, fiction, 406 pages, from my personal TBR

I thought, before embarking upon reading them, that ‘Grimm Tales – For Young and Old’ would be Philip Pullman completely retelling the tales of the Brothers Grimm. In a way it is, though Pullman admits himself that he has only lightly retold them, yet in a way it sort of isn’t. That’s a helpful explanation from me isn’t it?

What Pullman really does is tell the stories as they were originally, basically before they were Disney-fied or Ladybird-ily made brighter and more chipper, putting back in all the darker details and the twists and turns that have strangely been forgotten, or maybe airbrushed is a better expression. He also gives the language a little tweak here and there and modernises it for the new younger reader too. In modernising them it seems Pullman is making them more relevant for the youth of today, he also adds referential relevance for adult readers in the part of the book that I almost enjoyed as the tales themselves. How does he do this? Each story finds itself with end notes which tell you the ‘type’ of story it is, where the Brothers Grimm heard it, where else worldwide it’s been told, how the Brothers changed it and how he has changed it, modernised it or made it work better (in his opinion) too.

Notes on Cinderella

Notes on Cinderella

In doing this, and in fact with the wonderful introduction to the true history of the tales which of course I left to read till last, we are almost given double the delight of the fifty (the Brothers Grimm actually recorded over 200 tales) as not only do we have the joy of reading them, with their full uncut endings, we also have the joy of discovering more about them. I really loved this aspect of the book and found on occasion I preferred the stories behind the stories to some of the stories themselves – not all the time, only once or twice.

As to the collection of tales themselves, well with favourites like ‘Snow White’, ‘Cinderella’, ‘Rumplestiltskin’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’, etc I was always going to be pleased. I was more so by the inclusion of lots and lots of tales that I hadn’t heard of before. New favourites such as ‘Little Brother and Little Sister’, which has the most boring title but is a tale of wicked stepmothers, witches, murder and even ghosts, are going to become favourites to re-read. Even if I wasn’t bowled over by a couple of them I enjoyed reading them for the fact they were new to me.

As for my old favourites, well of course I was thrilled to read them. I was delighted when I read Perrault’s original tales a few years ago by the darkness and the endings that my Ladybird classics certainly didn’t have, and this happened again with Pullman’s ‘Grimm Tales’. You will probably know that my very favourite as a child was ‘Rapunzel’ (so much so that is what I named my pet duck, no really) and I was quite horrified and thrilled when I discovered – spoiler alert – the twist was that Rapunzel not only got her haircut off, sent away and the prince blinded, but that she was actually pregnant (before marriage!!!!!) and became a homeless mother of twins before being reunited with her prince. Well I never!  They didn’t put that twist in ‘Tangled’ did they?

“The witch was lying in wait. She had tied Rapunzel’s hair to the window hook, and when she heard him call, she threw it down as the girl had done. The prince climbed up, but instead of his beloved Rapunzel, at the window he found an ugly old woman, demented with anger, whose eyes flashed with fury as she railed at him:
  ‘You’re her fancy-boy, are you? You worm your way into the tower, you worm your way into her affections, you worm your way into her bed, you rogue, you leech, you lounge-lizard, you high-born mongrel! Well, the bird’s not in her nest anymore! The cat got her. What d’you think of that, eh? And the cat’ll scratch your pretty eyes out too before she’s finished. Rapunzel’s gone, you understand? You’ll never see her again!’”

Overall I really enjoyed Pullman’s ‘Grimm Tales’, occasionally there was the odd dud and the language sometimes felt too current, which I don’t think fairy or folk tales should ever do really, but I loved the favourites and the wealth of information that you learn about the Brothers Grimm’s and the tales themselves. I have heard some people miser about the fact Pullman hasn’t really done anything original with this collection just retold the tales, but 200 years ago that is exactly what the Brothers Grimm were doing wasn’t it?

Has anyone else given this collection a whirl? Which other collections of folk and fairy tales would you recommend? I have to admit I am quite keen to try Italo Calvino’s ‘Italian Folktales’, which is mentioned a lot by Pullman in this book. Finally, what is your very favourite fairy tale and why?

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200 Years (and a day) of Grimm’s Fairytales

I rather sillily forgot to write about the Brothers Grimm yesterday, which was actually the anniversary of their wonderful Fairytales. But what’s a day in terms of a few centuries? This does however seem a little more remiss of me when you put it into the context that I am actually currently devouring Philip Pullman’s ‘Grimm Tales’, which is not his re-workings of the tales that the brothers brought to us, only updated into current English and returning as much as possible to the tales original states. Anyway I thought I would talk about that a little and also the legacy and effect that I think the Brothers Grimm have had on literature, as isn’t every story really at its heart a fairy tale, even if it doesn’t have magic in it – the magic is the storytelling itself.

Grimm Tales

One of the joys of reading the Pullman stories, which I will review in more detail before Christmas, is reading the ones that I love (like ‘Rapunzel’, we all know the story of how I named my pet duck after her when I was four don’t we?) and also discovering the ones that I really hadn’t heard of before, and indeed where they come from. Gems like ‘The Cat and the Mouse Set Up House’, ‘The Mouse, the Bird and the Sausage’, ‘The Robber Bridegroom’ and ‘The Donkey Cabbage’, which have all made me want to get my hands on the originals. I do have them somewhere in the house (though we are in chaos getting new carpets, pre-Christmas was bad timing) so I will have to dig them out.

The other thing that this anniversary has also done is made me want to go back to the, edited and diluted (and not quite as dark as the grown up ones are), ones that I read when I was a child. I have dusted them all off in the hope that The Beard might read them to me over the next few nights.

Ladybird Collection

So what are your thoughts on the Grimms tales? Do you have any favourites? Do you think that deep down, even without the magic, that every story is really a fairy tale in its own way?

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Books By The Bedside #5

This week’s posts have all been scheduled in advance, hence why I have been even worse than normal at replying, as with imminent Green Carnation longlisting this week, deadlines galore and visiting Granny Savidge Reads this weekend (who has had some bad health news but I want to talk to her before sharing it, if I do)  it is all a little bit bonkers. So I thought a post on what will be on my reading horizons after having had it somewhat guided in the last few months might make a nice post. Plus it means you get to tell me what you think of the books and authors on the list and then share what you are reading and want to read which I always love hearing about…

I had imagined that once the Green Carnation submissions were done I might be able to be a little freer in whim terms. Yet interestingly it’s not going to be immediately (in part as I will have to read the longlist again) because next weekend is the start of Manchester Literature Festival and I have two events in the first week which means rather a lot of re-reading but also some new gems.

First up is an event with Catherine Hall and Patrick Gale, so I have re-read ‘The Proof of Love’ and have now lined up her debut novel ‘Days of Grace’ which I have been wanting to read for ages. I am also re-reading Patrick Gales ‘A Perfectly Good Man’ (which I have read already once this summer) and pondering if I should get ‘Notes from an Exhibition’ as apparently this is a companion, not a sequel, to that one.

The second event is all about my favourite period of history, the Victorian period, and I will be joined by Jane Harris and Essie Fox. Jane, well a firm favourite book of all time ‘Gillespie and I’, is currently on my iPod getting a re-listen (well a first listen as I read the book last time) and if I have time I am planning on revisiting ‘The Observations’ next weekend. In fact I will make time. I have just re-read ‘The Somnambulist’ by Essie and am getting very excited about ‘Elijah’s Mermaid’ which looks to be a little bit magical and rather dark and twisty – perfect!!

Away from Manchester Literature Festival though, I am also re-reading the wonderful tales in Lucy Wood’s debut collection of short magical and delightful stories ‘Diving Belles’ as Gavin is returning from his podcast presenting holiday this week to record the second episode of the all new Readers Book Group and this is the book in question. None of all this re-reading is a chore at all, just a joy which is lovely.

Reading purely for me and less for events and the like is all quite seasonal and autumnal. Philip Pullman’s ‘Grimm Tales’ was a naughty purchase because I simply could not not, is that a double negative now? I think I might demand ask The Beard to read me one or two of these every night maybe? Susan Hill’s ‘The Shadows in the Streets’ I have had on my bedside table since last time and will definitely get round to (she is on The Readers in November, thrilled) as I will soon be three behind. Finally, yes your eyes are telling you the truth, I have the debut novel by Judy Finnigan (yes of THE Richard and Judy) called ‘Eloise’ which looks like it might be rather Du Maurier-esque. This could be a good thing or a bad thing, but I am excited to see which.

Phew, that’s my new few weeks/months of reading sorted. Have you read any of these and if so what were your thoughts on them? What are you reading and looking forward to reading next?

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Why Do We Love A Good Fairytale?

As the air has taken a rather autumnal feel here in the Wirral and after reading the quirky ‘Topsy Turvy Tales’, I have turned to reading the Grimm Brothers fairytales (between all the other reading I am doing that I can’t discuss) and I was wondering why as adults we still find fairytales so appealing.

Now if you are thinking that I am happily sat reading the old ladybird classics of an evening you would be wrong. Though I do have my old (very) battered versions from my childhood which I think I actually pilfered was passed on from my mother and aunties and uncle and then saw my siblings reading them (and battering them more) before I managed to get my mitts on them again. Anyway, I have been reading the ‘uncut’- as it were – versions of these tales and yet again, as I was with Perrault’s collection and Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Little Mermaid’, I am shocked at how much darker, twisted and gruesome the tales really are. Disney this is not.

I was actually thinking that children might be more scared of these versions and hence that is why they have been edited, but actually I bet kids would love them, especially when the baddies really come a cropper. I know as an adult I am, but what has led me back to reading them from those initial days a few decades (ugh!) ago?

As a child I loved fairytales for the following reasons…

  1. There was invariably a wood in them and my childhood home was surrounded by them meaning I thought these adventures could have happened in my childhood (particularly my favourite ‘Rapunzel’ as shown below as on our hill we had a very similar type of tower in the woods, seriously look below)
  2. There was generally a sense of menace, something I still love in a book now.
  3. There were elements of the magical and was invariably a witch or talking animal involved, I believed in both of these things vehemently for years, until I was about 24 in probability, ha.
  4. There was a happy ending and love conquered all, naive and slushy but true.
  5. They were a complete escape.

 

I was very lucky as apart from pilfering being loaned the Ladybird Classics, of which my favourite was Rapunzel as I mentioned, I had an amazing Granddad, called Bongy, who made more fairytales for me when I went to Newcastle with my mother while she was at university. Each week, or every few weeks, another tale of ‘The Amazing Adventures of Esmerelda and her Friends’ would arrive in the post, all hand written and hand drawn. Again real life and fiction merged as Esmerelda would visit her friend Simon bringing all her friends including a duck called Rapunzel and nine hens, all of which I had back at my grandparents in Matlock waiting for me in the holidays.

So where is this nostalgia trip leading? Well that is my point. I think one of the reasons we love fairytales is the nostalgia, well at least it is for me, and the fact there is something very safe in a fairytale no matter how menacing they get. I think, even if we know it might not always be true or run smoothly, we believe in love and the idea of a, hopefully, happy ending for all of us one day. It’s the ideal isn’t it? I also think it is the escapism, even if the world is quite similar there is something ethereal and magical about it that makes us know it is not our world but just tangible enough that it could be. Am I making sense?

It isn’t just the ‘adult’ (only not adult-adult you understand) versions of the tales we had as children though. Authors like Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, John Connelly and soon Philip Pullman have re-worked or used the ideas of traditional fairytales in their fictions. Authors like Dan Rhodes, Lucy Wood, Ali Shaw and Eowyn Ivey have also created their own original fairytales for an adult audience which are working wonders and shows we do still love them.

I also wonder if a fairytale is really the true essence of stories. Tales made from folklore, legends and myths handed down by word and discussed before they were ever put to paper, it is what stories and therefore, I think, novels originate and even when you are reading a modern novel with no sign of magic or talking animals your still being told a story and a fairytale of a kind because none of it is real, just a little more cloaked.

What do you think, and what is your favourite fairytale?

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Introducing… The Bookboy Reads

I have mentioned that I come from a fairly book loving family, and as you have seen Granny Savidge Reads has already done a blog post (and is currently working away at her second) been grilled and shared her top ten books for Savidge Reads. In a week or two my mother (who teaches English and reads heaps) will also be sharing her top ten and getting grilled. I was delighted when one of my younger members of the family asked if he could please write a blog post every now and again with regard to children’s and young adult books. How could I say no? After all though I have seen a few adults concentrating on those genre’s but no youngsters (though I could be wrong). Now as this is a younger member of my family we decided a pseudonym would be best for safety etc, it also adds a certain mystery (and as I said means he can be harshly critical with no come back, ha) to it all.

 So without further ado I shall hand you over to The Bookboy, who after reading his reviews has left me rather worried that I could have some serious competition in a few years time both on book reviewing front and possibly journalism too…

“Allow me to introduce myself, I am eleven years old. I really enjoy books and, therefore, asked Simon if I could do a blog. I am now so glad that I did because it was great fun to write. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

The first book I am going to review is ‘The Ruby in the Smoke’ by Philip Pullman.

This book is the first in a quartet by Philip Pullman, which is set in the late Victorian era.  The heroine is a young girl of sixteen called Sally Lockhart, who has just heard that her Father, a shipping agent, has drowned. She goes to pay a call upon her late father’s business partner, Mr Selby. After this, Sally decides to investigate the death of her father. Along the way, Sally finds that her Father’s death is intertwined with many other murky events. She makes an enemy of Mrs Holland, an evil landlady and befriends a youthful photographer, plus his actress sister. This book has many twists and turns, just where you least expect them. It had a slightly sinister feel and it made me want to know more about the Victorian period.  Some of the language and features are at times unsuitable, so I would not recommend this book to children of under the age of nine. If you have read any ‘Sherlock Holmes’ by Arthur Conan Doyle, you will enjoy this book.

 My second choice is ‘Goodnight Mister Tom’, which is set during the Second World War, and is by Michelle Magorian.

The main character in this book is a small boy called William Beech. He lives in London, but is evacuated to the countryside due to The Blitz.  William is evacuated to a small town set deep in the country; its name is Little Weirwold.  He is left in the care of a gruff, old gentleman named Tom Oakley.  Will, as William now likes to be called, is starting to settle in, however Tom is not the best person he could have gone to for tender, loving care. Tom, though begins to care for Will as if he was his own. Tom notices a lot of cuts and bruises on Will’s body. Just as he is beginning to feel at home, Will receives a dreaded summons back to London from his mysterious mother. Will he ever see Tom or Little Weirwold again?

This book made me feel excruciatingly sad in some parts, yet exceedingly happy in others. It is without the slightest doubt one of the best books I have ever read. Again, it does have some unsuitable language and scenes, so, I would recommend no younger than ten year olds should read this book.  If you have read ‘A Spoonful of Jam’, also by Michelle Magorian, or ‘The Boy in Striped Pyjamas’ by John Boyne, then you will like this book.

My third and final book for now is ‘Gatty’s Tale’ by Kevin Crossley Holland.

This book is about a farm girl called Gatty, who works on a manor called Caldicot.  She is all alone in the world and greatly saddened by it. This book is set in the medieval times. Then, an opportunity arises for Gatty to accompany the lady of another manor on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  Gatty accepts and a long, perilous journey begins. But, before they set off, Gatty must learn to become a chamber maiden to Lady Gwyneth, the lady who is in charge of the Pilgrimage. Many dangerous things happen on the way and one of the number nearly perishes. All is going well for the pilgrims, until two of them miss the boat.  Is one of them Gatty? This book is excellent. I love the way that he describes everything so vividly that it’s almost as if you’re standing right there beside the characters. Some of the language in this book is rude, so I think only over nine year olds should read this book. If you’ve read the Arthurian trilogy, by Kevin Crossley Holland, you will love this book as it is based around the same sort of thing, and some of the characters are the same.”

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Filed under Bookboy Reads, Kevin Crossley Holland, Michelle Magorian, Orion Publishing, Philip Pullman, Puffin Books, Scholastic Books

Summer Reads Suggestions… From Publishers

Yesterday you saw the summer selections from The Not The TV Book Group, so how about some more? As I mentioned on Saturday when I started my week long ‘Summer Reads Season’ I decided that this week I would get a selection of bookish people’s favourite summer read suggestions and have a nosey at what people are looking forward to reading in the future weeks. I have asked bloggers and authors and the stars of today’s post… the publishers, who I am not sure get mentioned quite enough on the blogosphere. Here are what some of the lovely publishers I emailed came up with…

Andrea See, Canongate Books

A perfect summer read could be either so trashy you don’t need to pay real attention to it while you’re enjoying your summer, or so absorbing and compelling that you don’t care what anyone else is doing, or where you are. Last summer I read ‘The Road’ while I was in the Bahamas and I couldn’t care less about the weather, it was such an amazing book.

Um, I have a mountain of books I’d love to read. I’ve just borrowed Close Range (Annie Proulx) from the library, but I’m also keen to get into Eleven Kinds of Loneliness (Richard Yates), One Day (David Nicholls), The Ascent of Money (Niall Ferguson), Pereira Maintains (Antonio Tabucchi)… sorry, I don’t just have one! These (hopefully) fall into the latter category.

Judith Greenberg, Little Brown/Virago

It has to be something truly engrossing not just mildly diverting .This is also the time for something to savour, a sprawling saga or a Dickensian tome as there is that sense of time unfolding slowly ahead. It seems fitting to share that with some literary companions with whom you can really bond. I look for something with the sweep and heart of a beach read but the challenge and substance to satisfy and inform. Last summer I became a little obsessed with The Kilburn Social Club by Robert Hudson, a zingy debut about the fate of a London football club and the dynasty that owns it.  It is a state of the nation novel with a sense of humour. As much about the fun and the fear of coming of age and finding love as it is about the future of the FA. It has, dare I say it put the beautiful into the game for this footie sceptic!

Sophie Mitchell, Orion Books

I love to travel but I hate the “getting there” part so for me, a perfect summer read has to be something that can help me survive a flight (the boredom, the misery of being sardine tinned into a tiny seat with no personal space, the icky tummy…) I need a book with an engrossing plot and characters I really care about and can become invested in. I remember reading Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights on a flight to somewhere, and my surroundings completely disappeared. At one point, my husband had to lean across the aisle and ask me to please stop acting like such a freak because people were starting to watch me. Apparently I had been alternately gasping, giggling and crying, all out loud, without even realising it.

I’m off for a trip round Ireland in a couple of weeks and I’m really looking forward to reading the recent Lost Man Booker winner, Troubles by JG Farrell, while I’m there, though I will probably take something a little less challenging as well just in case.

Meike Ziervogel, Peirene Press

Because I am a publisher of short novels and novellas and therefore spend a lot of my time  reading short books, I do love to indulge in long books during my holidays. Moreover, they are usually books I feel I ought to have read a long time ago but for some reason have so far missed out on. Last year I read the whole of Dante’s Divine Comedy (in German translation) – absolutely fantastic, especially “Paradiso”, extremely poetic and beautiful. I can whole heartedly recommend it for a summer read (make sure you get one with good commentary, as some of the passages would otherwise make no sense) – challenging, yes, but definitely rewarding. 

Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” – over the years I have read excerpts here and there but never the entire 6 volumes from the first to the large page. Although I’d love to read all six this summer – I know that is illusionary. But I will definitely read “Swann’s Way” and “Within a Budding Grove“.

Joe Pickering, Penguin Books

I don’t really have an ideal ‘summer read’-type book. I’d just hope that if I had time to read whatever I wanted that I picked something good. That time usually happens on planes as I don’t tend to take beach holidays, so I guess I wouldn’t want something too heavy, literally or linguistically. I read The Sportswriter by Richard Ford on the plane to New York recently and that seemed to fit well.

Along those lines I’m hoping this summer to tick off a couple of books I’ve been meaning to read for a while: Netherland and Remainder, because I think they might be my kind of thing and because I want to know what all the fuss is about.

Rebecca Gray, Serpents Tail/Profile Books

Summer reading for me is all about being absorbed in a book, but I don’t want anything too challenging or upsetting. My guilty pleasure (except I’m pretty unrepentant and happy to stand up for it, so not that guilty) is Jilly Cooper, a genius of the summer read. Rivals is one of my all-time favourites. I’ll put Thackeray’s Vanity Fair on a shelf with it, because it’s definitely got a sense of pace and gossip in common – I want a book I can’t bear to tear myself away from. My favourite kind of holiday is one where I’m allowed to read all day, including at meals (my boyfriend fiercely disapproves of this, but sometimes I can persuade him).

I’ll be re-reading Elliot Allagash by Simon Rich, which we publish in August – it’s perfect summer reading because it’s laugh-out-loud funny and everything works out ok in the end. An inventive, fun book for a sunny afternoon – I first read it on a Friday night and was so excited I didn’t go to the drinks I was supposed to, choosing to stay in on my own, not eat dinner and ignore all distractions, including things like turning on the lights and taking off my shoes, because I was enjoying the book so much.

Well its given me a few books to add to the never ending TBR I have to say! So which of those have you read or have added to the TBR?

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Filed under Penguin Books, Profile Books, Serpent's Tail

The Good Man Jesus & The Scoundrel Christ – Philip Pullman

Happy Easter to one and all of you should you happen to be passing by this post on this Easter Sunday. I don’t know if it’s sacrilegious or timely to be reviewing ‘The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’ by Philip Pullman, a book that seems to be causing controversy wherever it goes. Controversial books are always very good for sales and become some of the biggest read books of the year but are they actually any good? Well today’s review of the latest book to cause a super stir comes to you from someone who isn’t the biggest fan of Philip Pullman and who doesn’t really have any religious stance. So you are going to get some very unbiased thoughts, well you always get unbiased thoughts here but you know what I mean.

Can you imagine if Jesus had in fact been born a twin? Well its from this idea that Pullman writes ‘The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’ as after Mary’s immaculate conception she gives birth to two boys on Jesus is a healthy strapping baby where as Christ is a bit of a weakling. As the two sons grow up they couldn’t be more different. Christ is the quieter more thoughtful child who looks at everything from all sides and thinks it all through. Jesus is a more boisterous slightly rebellious child who won’t conform to what people want. As the two young men grow up, and discover they have some quite marvellous abilities, one of them becomes famous everywhere he goes (and starts to become a bit of a megalomaniac) whilst the other sits in the background fading into the shadows. That is all I will give you of the story but it leads to a clever twist that becomes the legend people read in the Bible today.

I will admit to having no religious views but I know the idea of the book has caused outrage with those who have. I am sure it won’t make the slightest difference me then saying that it made me much more interested in the stories of the bible than the R.E lessons or never ending assembly sermons did when I was at school. Jesus having a twin makes you see all his actions such as feeding the thousands bread and fish, turning water into wine and healing the sick from an eye witness and one who has a realistic stance on the whole thing and looks at it from more than one certain side.

I thought I would give you a snippet (longer than a quote but smaller than an excerpt) of the style of the book which is told like a wonderful myth with great characters, some suspension of what you believe and a dash of humour and realism.

At that time, Mary was about sixteen years old, and Joseph has never touched her. One night in her bedroom she heard a whisper through her window.
‘Mary, do you know how beautiful you are? You are the most lovely of all women. The Lord must have favoured you especially, to be so sweet and so gracious, to have such eyes and such lips…’
She was confused and said ‘Who are you?’
‘I am an angel,’ said the voice ‘Let me in and I shall tell you a secret only you must know.’
She opened the window and let him in. In order not to frighten her, he had assumed the appearance of a young man, just like one of the young men who spoke to her by the well.
‘What is the secret?’ she said.
‘You are going to conceive a child,’ said the angel.
Mary was bewildered.
‘But my husband is away,’ she said.

It is a modern grounded and often quite funny twisted take on the tale of Jesus, though not really a retelling it in some ways is, and I think in a time where religion seems to be out of fashion I wouldn’t be surprised if it sparks people’s interest. I won’t lie the church comes under some serious criticism in the book especially its morals and what it claims to stand for but I would say people should definitely give this book a try no matter what your views are on religion, God etc. It’s a great tale and a wonderful addition to the Canongate Myths, though not quite my favourite it’s not far off.

So yes the hype is almost worth it with this novel. I do think that some of the hype, apart from the subject of it being about Jesus, is that its Pullman’s latest novel. I am not sure where I stand on Pullman (I loved the Sally Lockhart series but thought His Dark Materials was good until half way through the second book) but I did like the way he wrote this, it resonated with me in some way. So who will and who won’t be reading this, and of course why? What are your thoughts on books that cause a mass of controversy before they are even released?

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Filed under Canongate Publishing, Philip Pullman, Review, The Canongate Myths

A Sensational Sort Out… And Some Fresh In

Now you may remember the other week I mentioned that I was going to have one of my book sort outs and I did. I actually, and it amazed me and everyone who knows me, managed to donate a quite impressive 76 book to charity! So now the books I have had for well over a year and just dont really think I will read have all gone to lovely new homes and will be raising some money for charity. I thought the process would be painful and though in parts it was tough it has also left me feeling much better with a slightly less bookish weight on my shoulders.

Not only was I wanting to sort out what I was going to pass on, I was also looking at what I was keeping and rearranging my priorities in terms of reading. One of which was to hunt down all of the books that I as yet have not read and I thought fell into the ‘Modern Sensation’ catagory for my Sensation Season. I found I had quite a few some of which you had recommended to me.

Modern Sensations

  • The Widow’s Secret – Brian Thompson
  • The Journal of Dora Damage – Belinda Starling
  • The Tiger in the Well – Philip Pullman
  • Kept – D.J Taylor
  • Misfortune – Wesley Stace
  • Classic Victorian Ghost Stories – Various
  • The Evil Seed – Joanna Harris
  • Martha Peake – Patrick McGrath
  • The Girl on the Landing – Paul Torday
  • The Mist in the Mirror – Susan Hill
  • Portrait of a Killer – Patricia Cornwell
  • Ghost Stories – M.R. James
  • The Apple – Michael Faber
  • Underground London – Stephen Smith
  • The Magician – W. Somerset Maugham
  • Fixing Shadows – Susan Barrett
  • Fingersmith – Sarah Waters
  • Silent in the Grave – Deanna Raybourn
  • The Meaning of Night – Michael Cox
  • The Glass of Time – Michael Cox
  • Instruments of Darkness – Michael Cox

Phew there was quite a few. I should maybe mention that some of these books arent technically ‘Modern Sensation’ reads but are either set in that period or in the case of a few of them are non-fiction which will set the atmosphere even more so for me. I think I may get so lost in the 1880′s I may never return, I am loving it though. So which ones of thses have you delved into? Am I still missing any?

Of course the sort out was now about two weeks ago. I did impose a ban on book buying on myself. I must mention before I go further that I could happily have taen all 76 books and bought another 76 from my favourite charity shop however both times I went they were closed for lunch though let me in to drop my bags off (it took three trips in one weekend) and so I couldnt buy anymore. I have since though somewhat fallen off the wagon, though not as badly as I could have and now, and this is very true, I only buy books if I have a very valid reason. Such as…

Books That Pushed Me Off The Book Ban Bandwagon

  • Twilight – William Gay (because have a) been meaning to read it for ages and b) it fits into the Modern Sensation reads perfectly what with grave robbing and swapping, mayhem and mystery)
  • Miss Garnet’s Angel – Salley Vickers (a favourite of Kimbofo’s and an author I have been meaning to read, I have just swapped to reading this instead of Cover Her Face which I started and know I will love but not just now, if I love this will be kicking myself I missed her at Wimbledon Bookfest)
  • Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen (a book I kept seeing everywhere in Tel Aviv for some random reason and then Jackie recommended it and so thought why not?)
  • The Other Side of You – Salley Vickers (for the same reason as Miss Garnett’s Angel)
  • Marley & Me – John Grogan (have always secretly wanted to read it and thought it was possibly trash, but so many of you recommended it after my sad reads post I had to get it)
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Scones – Alexander McCall Smith (I am very, very keen to read all of his work and though this is in the Scotland Street series I struggled with am hoping this gives me the umph to read more of that series)
  • Three Cups of Tea – Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Pelin (simply because Amazon has been recommending this as my top recommendation for three months – have they got me spot on?)
  • The Lost Book of Salem – Katherine Howe (a rash buy I wont deny but one about Salem and the witches, I think I will love this)
  • The Beacon – Susan Hill (a favourite author and a book I have been meaning to get for ages and ages and then got from £10 to £2 bargain, I will be buying her new book instantly full price just so you know)
  • White Is For Witching - Helen Oyeyemi (have wanted it since it came out and an author have been meaning to read, matches the Sensation Season just and was in a half price charity shop that called me the other day… was the only book I bought in that shop and on that day… I was impressed)

So thats the latest books. Which of these have you read and which ones would you like to give a whirl? Do you like posts where readers share there latest hauls of books? I know I love reading them, its a mixture of book addict, desiring recommendations, sharing thoughts and just being a plain nosey parker! If you do like these posts you may want to pop here as this is the secret stash I bought over a week or so (and have even had to hide the post) leading up to the great autum arranging and modern sensation hunt! Can’t wait for all your thoughts on these and my modern sensation reading.

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Filed under Book Spree, Book Thoughts

The Reader’s Table

I mentioned a while ago that whilst I was milling in Waterstones I happened upon  a table filled with an authors favourite books. The Waterstone’s Writers Table is a great idea, have a very popular author who many people love to read telling you what their favourite reads. Well it works if you love the author and so far the ones they have chosen apart from Philip Pullman I havent read a word of but I feel I would love Faulks and Mosse should I read them.

I then had the thought that a writers table is great, but wouldn’t a readers table in a bookshop be great? Well I decided that I rather than just start rearranging a display in Waterstones there and then I would go home and think about my forty favourite reads of all time and then make an all new page on the blog so you can see them. And I have almost done it…

You see forty books is actually much harder than you think and after hours and hours of listing I came up with 24, then I went away from it and came back with 57. I started whittling this down until I came up with around 43 considered 37 of which where definates leaving six of them are fighting as to which will make it into the final three. Well tha battle is still on and so am leaving it for a few days but leaving you with my Top 20 as it stands today and you can find them here.

The top ten was really, really easy… in fact actually the top fifteen was really easy then then it gets harder and harder. Which was my favourite? Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier of course though it was a close fight to the death between that and Wilkie Collin’s ‘The Woman in White’. There is another thing that has come out of this delightful little excercise and that is the desire to re-read quite a lot of my favourites. Rebecca, The Woman in White and The Time Travellers Wife all may have to go back onto my TBR in the neare future. Is this something that any of you ever do at all?

I also noticed that despite having written some of my favourite books I have never read another book by some of the authors in the top 20 let alone the top 40. Obviously some of them have only written one book, however I definately need to read more Wilkie Collins (I am desperate to try ‘Armadale’ and may now have to treat myself as have more long train journeys this weekend to see my mother and my Gran), John Boyne, Evelyn Waugh and Cormac McCarthy. I am also aware I need to read a lot more classics as I think this will change the list, which is a constant everchanging work in progress.

If any of you want to do your own ‘Readers Table’ page do let me know, and do say where you saw it hahaha! So which books would you have in your top twenty? Can you guess what might make it in my my top 40 – 21? i look forward to your thoughts and hope you like the new page!

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Filed under Book Thoughts