Tag Archives: Rachel Johnson

Other People’s Bookshelves #4 – Annabel Gaskell

For the latest instalment of other peoples book porn bookshelves we get to have a nosey through the lovely Annabel Gaskell’s shelves this week. I must add here that through the wonder of WordPress and its tools I know that Annabel is my most commenting visitor, I think that might deserve a prize or something, I will  have to mull it over. Anyway, Annabel has been blogging at http://gaskella.wordpress.com for over four years. She says “ Like the rest of my family, I’ve always loved books – we’re all book-hoarders too.  A child of the 1960s and 1970s, I’m a South Londoner, and studied Materials Science at Imperial College, London. I worked as a proper scientist in the chemical industry for years, before my biological clock went ping at 39. I took several years off work after having my daughter who is now 12, and now I’m a lab technician in an Oxfordshire prep school. I’m a staunch supporter of independent bookshops and literary events in Abingdon near Oxford, and have hosted three literary quiz nights for charity in the town” – a fourth is in the planning. So lets have a nosey shall we?

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 used to keep every book I read, but it does eventually get to a stage where you have to make hard decisions about how many are worth keeping. Some time ago, book geek that I am, I made myself a set of criteria for keeping books:

  • I rated it 9 or 10 points out of 10;
  • It’s part of a series I am reading and intend to keep in its entirety;
  • It’s a collectable edition/set, e.g. hardback firsts, Folio, illustrated, or signed;
  • It’s an important book in the history of literature, e.g. Canon or a major prize-winner
  • It’s by an author I collect;
  • It’s a book I want to keep for my daughter;
  • It belongs to a particular ‘reading trail’ or area of special interest, e.g. Russian novels, fairy tales, classic children’s novels;
  • It’s non-fiction and useful for reference.

Note – having made the rules, I don’t follow them religiously – but I do tend towards them, keeping less than half the books I read these days.

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

My fiction books are split between read and unread. In my posh bookcases in the guest bedroom (in which all the books are unread), they’re strictly alphabetical by author’s surname, with biographies and non-fiction separated out.  Then I have a separate bookcase for hardback biographies, and my travel books are in the downstairs loo. In my study bedroom are the holding shelves which are totally mixed up and double stacked. I have my reference library in the dining room. Finally I have my bedside bookcase which has most of the books I plan to read soon in! I am gradually culling a lot of my unread books now – I have more than I could possibly read, and there are all those shiny new books too, but it’s so difficult! I am getting tougher on myself though and upping the pace of culling slightly which is good, I think…

Posh bookcases

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

I was never short of books to read as a child. My parents bought us lots, and I used the library extensively. It’s hard to remember but I suspect that amongst the first books I bought (which were from the Guides jumble sale) were science fiction – Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, and Fantastic Voyage – I still have the latter.

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

I don’t have any books to be embarrassed about, no hidden shelves or downloads on my Kindle.

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?

Over the years I have treated myself to the Folio Society’s collections of fairy tales which are gorgeous editions with lovely illustrations and I’d be loath to lose them. Some of my signed books are quite precious to me too.  There’s also my Beryl collection.  Everything is replaceable – but I do have a catalogue on Librarything just in case!

Beryl Books 001

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?

This is a cop out, but I can’t remember specifically. I just devoured everything that came my way – I got an adult library pass at around 12yrs old, and after reading Day of the Triffids at school in year 7, I got heavily into SF for many years. I did discover ‘Rebecca’ as a young teenager at home though …

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

I don’t use the library at present, so I acquire the books I want to read.

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

Winter Games by Rachel Johnson – I’ve just read it too, and it was rather good.

Reference Library

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

My Am**on wishlist currently runs to around 450 items, over 400 of which are books, so yes – lots!

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

I just hope they’ll be pleasantly surprised at the breadth of the type of books that I read. Although I mostly read contemporary fiction, I try to read a bit of everything else alongside it. Ultimately though, I hope they could find books they want to read on the shelves too.

Holding bookcases Travel books!


A big thank you to Annabel for letting me grill her. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Annabel’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?


Filed under Other People's Bookshelves

A Diary of The Lady – Rachel Johnson

I have to admit that when ‘A Diary of The Lady’ by Rachel Johnson popped through my letter box a couple of months ago I was in a secret part of me thrilled, I had watched the Channel 4 show and found it quite fascinating, and in part a little surprised. Did Penguin, and therefore quite a lot of readers of the blog, think I was the sort of person who reads ‘The Lady’ (a weekly magazine for women over 45 filled with all sorts)? I then decided it must be because I myself am a journalist, and it’s what I keep telling myself, however really I think its because at heart I am a bit of an old granny in some ways, not all but some and really I shouldn’t deny it or be ashamed.

After taking quite a while debating ‘do I/don’t I read it’ I decided I would give Rachel Johnsons diary of her time taking over as Editor of the lady a whirl… and within about half an hour and thirty pages I was so annoyed by it I had to put the book away somewhere for its own safety. I was getting so cross with Rachel Johnson, who I had quite liked on the telly, discussing how hard it was to keep her mansions (ok maybe not mansions) in London and how she had to get/accept a job on this awful magazine as she was out of work, yet all in a slightly smug condescending way, I was beginning to seethe.

However when I was packing for the recent move I didn’t want to give it away which I thought was interesting and so decided, as its written in diary form – as you would guess from the title – that it might be just the bite sized read to get me through some readers block no matter how angry it might make me. After all we all like reading something that’s a bit of a guilty pleasure and really in many ways that is just what ‘A Diary of The Lady’ is to be honest, which is no bad thing and sometimes just what you need in your reading life.

Initially I found the smugness rather annoying, then I loved the gossipy side of it with Debo Devonshire and the like, I also found the thought processes behind changing a magazine, and actually trying to save it, whilst being followed around by a camera crew and juggling everything else quite interesting, especially her relationship with The Budworths who are the family that set up and fund the magazine. On occasion I did wonder if Rachel Johnson had watched the TV documentary (mentioned above) back a few times and wherever she had come across in a certain way she would justify the reasons for this a little more – fair enough we know TV can edit things.

In fact it was Rachel Johnson who makes and on occasion breaks this book, which initially sounds silly as she is the author so of course she should, as when something is non-fiction yet has a narrative you feel like you want to understand the narrator. Yet I felt Rachel Johnson was all over the shop at times, which she probably was it’s a big challenge and an emotional time. I think the paragraph below will give you a fair insight into what the book can be like…  

“After half an hour of the delightful crew being in my kitchen I was already exhausted by the strain of being interesting and lively and trying not to show my broken nose on my bad (i.e., right) side. They asked me to leaf through a recent issue of the magazine. I do so and find a whole article about cucumbers. I also point to the cover – which has a pretty photograph in pinks of blowsy blooms – and sneer. I say to the camera that the cover makes me think that ‘someone has died’. The crew snorts with laughter. They clearly want me to knock my own product. The part of me that wants to please them is only too happy to oblige them, but this is breaking the first rule of PR (never piss in your own pool). So even though it’s the Budworths who have gunned for this documentary to be made, more than me, I cannot see what I am getting out of this project apart from adding to my already well-established reputation as a publicity-prone irritant.”   

One minute I was fuming with Rachel Johnson, then she would make me laugh out loud, next I didn’t know if she loved ‘The Lady’ or loathed it – or if she knew what she thought about any of it, then I would empathise and then I would get wound up before bursting out laughing again. Basically I went through the whole lot. This was fine though because I read it as a treat now and again to devour in short bursts – a bit like you do a huge box of chocolates, you enjoy your favourites but avoid the coffee flavours or orange crèmes. But how can you rate a book like that, and the answer is you can’t, people will either love this book or loathe it if they read it full on, however if it’s a book you can dip in and out of it makes a nice guilty pleasure read.

This book was sent by the publishers.  


Filed under Penguin Books, Rachel Johnson, Review

Books of the Future & Books of the Now

On Monday night I was lucky enough to get to have a wander behind the scenes at one of the UK’s big publishing houses. The kindly souls at Picador and Pan Macmillan has asked if I would attend (I dragged Novel Insights along with me) an evening in their new offices to listen to some of their authors reading. Baring you all in mind, as I always do, I made sure I got a cheeky snapshot of their fabulous book filled reception. I cannot tell you how hard it was not to get on that ladder and fill my man bag, I managed, I know not how.

As I mentioned we were there to have a listen to some authors who were; John Butler, Stuart Evers (who you may know from The Guardian, Twitter etc), Sunjeev Sahota and Naomi Wood. Now if you haven’t heard of these authors that might be because they are new authors, in fact I think all of these were debut novels/collections (I could be wrong), and also their books aren’t actually out until 2011.

I can say they all sounded rather exciting John Butlers being the adventures of a young man in San Francisco in the 1980’s – his reading made us all laugh, Stuart Evers debut collection looks to be a gem if the one tale  ‘What’s in Swindon’ is anything to go by. Sunjeev Sahota’s tale ‘Ours Are The Streets’ sounds like it could be quite a hard hitting yet very funny novel, plus he additionally won me over being from my homeland of Derbyshire. Naomi Woods novel then went and won both Polly and I over being set in Newcastle (where we went to school together) in an England we don’t recognise because it’s based on and England of extreme secularism. Sadly they weren’t all in print or proof stage but I did manage to smuggle two of them away which at the end of an evening of bookish chatter and wine was perfection…

Oh yes you may notice I have included a copy of ‘Caribou Island’ by David Vann (I did so like ‘Legend of a Suicide’) in the picture and that’s because it sparked my first mini theme in today’s post… books of the future, in this case books of 2011 specifically. I am hopeless at knowing what is coming out (I seem to have come off lots of publishers catalogue mail outs sadly) in the future, although 2011 is only actually 3 months away, so I wondered if there were any titles that you have started to get really excited about coming next year? I haven’t really got a buzz for any apart from the ones above.

I thought I would use this as an excuse to mention some books of NOW in the meantime as some lovely parcels have been popping through the letter box in the last fortnight or so and I love your thoughts on these loots so I thought I would share them with you. (Sorry for the picture quality, its dreary in London and my iPhone has no flash, I will try and do another anon.) Anyway I have had;

  • The Agatha Raisin Companion – which is perfect for me and came along with…
  • Agatha Raisin and the Busy Body by M.C. Beaton – this will be being read at Christmas as its got a Christmas setting, only I won’t be in the snow I will be in Copacabana, but where better to be resting with Agatha on the hunt for a murderer?
  • A Diary of The Lady by Rachel Johnson – When this arrived I was initially not sure what Penguin were trying to say by sending this (he says with two Agatha Raisin books above). However I was discussing this with Kimbofo when we went out on Thursday night and she said she thought it sounded like it could be really good. I then tried twenty pages and though the word ‘smug’ seems to be in my mind at the mo I am strangely addicted. It’s a great bathroom book, you know you can pick it up and pop it down at intervals. Erm, anyway, moving swiftly on…
  • Nourishment by Gerard Woodward – I actually won this in the Picador event raffle which left me feeling a bit smug as it was the one book (apart from the new Brett Easton Ellis) that I really, really wanted to walk away with. It’s set in the war and tells a very different tale of a husband and wife as the husband wants dirty letters, sounds brilliantly unique. I will be reading this soon.
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot – Many of you have said this is the best non fiction you have read in some time, it’s the tale of Henrietta Lacks and how unwittingly her cancerous cells were used by scientists and have made massive advancements in science and yet no credit has gone to her or any of the money made from this to her family. Funnily enough Picador/Pan Macmillan publish it so a massive small hint was dropped. I think I am going to be hooked by this and possibly outraged too.
  • Wait for Me by Deborah Devonshire – the autobiography of the youngest Mitford Sister, I need say no more. I will be reading that next after book group Nevil Shute choice.
  • Coco Chanel by Justine Picardie – I had a lovely email from the publishers of this after Justine had apparently told them she read this blog and would like me to read it if I wanted to.
  • Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi – I know nothing about this book, do any of you?
  • Air & Was by Geoff Ryman – Very excited about both of these, in particular Was which is another book I want to start instantly… but I can’t and nor can I read all the books I want to at once, its most vexing.
  • The Country Diaries edited by Alan Taylor – I have seen this around the blogosphere and been very intrigued by it (I use the word intrigued so much but it’s genuinely how I feel), this could be another bathroom book. You all know what I mean by a bathroom/toilet book don’t you? I’m not being rude or trying to offend in case anyone thinks I am being crass.

So what are you reading at the moment? What books have you got your eyes on? What books have you been bought/borrowed/found/treated yourself to recently? Are you already anticipating a book that’s coming out in 2011? What are you up to this weekend?


Filed under Book Thoughts