Tag Archives: Scarlett Thomas

Other People’s Bookshelves # 81 – Susan Davis

With Savidge Reads being back up in action it seems only right that the Other People’s Bookshelves series returns almost instantly. If you haven’t seen them before these are a series where a guest takes over the blog and feeds into the book lust we all feel by sharing their shelves. This week we are off to Shropshire, just down the road from my mum, to join author Susan Davis and have a nosey through her shelves. Before we do Susan has kindly put on a lovely afternoon tea for us all and is going to introduce herself before we rampage through her bookshelves…

I write in a converted coal shed in Shropshire which sometimes feels like an anchorite’s cell. If I stand on a chair I can just glimpse a slice of Wenlock Edge through the tiny window. Back in the nineties and noughties I published Y/A fiction along with short stories under my real name, Susan Davis. I now write psychological thrillers under the pseudonym Sarah Vincent, most recent of which is ‘The Testament of Vida Tremayne.’ When I’m not writing my own stuff, I work as an editor and mentor for ‘The Writers’ Workshop.’ I don’t have any cats, just a terrier who likes to chase them.

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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?

They need to be special to earn a permanent spot these days. ‘Special’ would mean: Virago classics by old favourites like Elizabeth Taylor, or Barbara Comyns. Also contemporary fiction that gets better with every re-read like Sarah Water’s ‘The Little Stranger’ or ‘Gillespie and I’ by Jane Harris. All books written by friends and acquaintances. You can’t very well give them away, unless you’ve fallen out! Books with gorgeous covers – can’t resist the Scarlett Thomas books, although for me ‘The End of Mr.Y’ was the one that really lived up to its cover. Non-fiction and reference books which feed into my fiction, art books with lots of lovely pictures – a refreshing break from words. Otherwise books that have that read-and-let-go quality, are likely to be shipped off to charity shops when I’ve finished or passed around friends.

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?

Mostly by category. There are three main bookshelves in the house and a few smaller ones. The study bookshelves go something like this: top shelf for poetry and writer biogs which I’m addicted to. When I’ve got a dose of tortured artiste syndrome, I dip into Sylvia Plath’s journals for reassurance. A few Viragos up there also.  Second shelf: esoteric tomes and all the fiction I’ve published over the years, including anthologised stories. Also the teen trilogy ‘The Henry Game’ – their bright sweetie coloured covers do jump out a bit. Third shelf down: Art books, more weirdo esoteric stuff, reference, and so on.

Upstairs bookcase is all fiction, novels written by friends, some children’s books and short story collections. Living-Room book shelves are a mess. Which is odd when you consider that they are the only shelves on public display. This is because I share them with my husband – so the top shelf harness-making, birdie and crafty books are all his. Honest. No categories on my second shelf down. They just loll about together in a drunken fashion. I’m keeping a space for my daughter’s overflow of books as she’s moving house shortly.

I had a major book cull around four years ago in a mad de-cluttering moment. We were moving to a tiny cottage by the sea, or so we thought, so I had to be ruthless. Whole shelves were cleared, and I invited friends to come and take their pick from the boxes. They gaily carried off some gems, which I now regret chucking out. Sadly, our house sale fell through, leaving me with huge gaps to fill. I now cull regularly in case we decide to move again. Trouble is, every time I take books to the charity shop, I come back with another bag full.

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

It’s a toss-up between ‘Teach Yourself Astrology’ which I think I bought with money for my 11th birthday, or it could have been ‘The Lord of the Rings’ in hardback when I was 12, having just been introduced to ‘The Hobbit’ at school. I think my son must’ve nabbed that one when he left home because it’s not on the shelves now. Here I should perhaps explain that I grew up in the fifties, in a working class household where buying books was considered a dreadful extravagance. Why buy them when you’d only read once and could go to the library and read for free? My parents were avid readers, bless them, so the Saturday trip to the library was the highlight of my week.

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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?

No, nothing to hide!  If I had I’d be more likely to have them on Kindle. I’d probably have squirmed a bit about the esoteric books at one time, books about ley lines and fairies and so on. Would people think me strange? Nowadays, I know they do, so I don’t care!

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

That has to be a dusty black hardback, a first edition of Ursula Bloom’s ‘Wanting to Write’, published in 1958. It was published well before the Creative Writing Industry took off, and is full of gems like: I have always found that the ordinary pen which requires dipping in the inkpot is far more helpful than the fountain pen or ballpoint which today is so much to the fore. When I stumbled upon it in a junk shop in the early seventies, I was a young mum bashing out novels on a Remington typewriter in my kitchen, and feeling almost ashamed of my compulsion to write. Bloom made me feel less alone. I do have a special shelf for these early ‘writing’ books which I collect, (which I haven’t included in the pics.) Which books would I save in a fire? I wouldn’t. I’d be more likely to try and save old photo albums. Books can always be replaced.

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 is it on your shelves now?

I discovered copies of ‘Fanny Hill’ and ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ in my dad’s dressing table drawer once, but they seemed dull at the time. When I searched again as an adolescent they had magically disappeared. I suppose the first ‘grown-up’ book must have been ‘Little Women’ which was one of the few books my mum actually owned and was much prized on her shelf. Is that grown-up enough? Followed closely by the usual suspects, classics like ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’ which I loved.

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, occasionally. I’m more likely to do that with non-fiction books, often about rural life or travel, like Robert Mcfarlane’s wonderful ‘The Old Ways’ which I originally borrowed, then treated myself to. The same thing happened with ‘The Morville Hours’ by Katherine Swift, a beautiful book which is of local interest so good to dip into.

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

Peter Ackroyd’s ‘Albion’ ‘the origins of the English Imagination.’ Brand new and a bargain find in an Oxfam shop. Looks stunning on the shelf but I haven’t got around to reading yet.

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

Hundreds. I’m looking for a copy of George Borrow’s ‘Wild Wales’ which I first read on my Kindle. However I’d rather have the real thing to take on trips to Wales with me. Oh, and there’s a beautiful new edition of Elizabeth’s Taylor’s Complete Short Stories. I plan to treat myself to that one soon.

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

What would I like them to think? Hah, what an interesting person, she clearly possesses exquisite taste. Seriously, they’d probably be left scratching their heads. Who knows?

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And a huge thanks to Susan for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, apologies again for the delay but it was so worth the wait. If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance, I am catching up with all the latest volunteers. In the meantime… what do you think of Susan’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Poetics – Aristotle

I have visions of my mother seeing that I have read this and fainting, I thought I would share that image with you, at the idea of me reading something by Aristotle. I think before this last week or so the only reason I knew who Aristotle was was because my mother named one of our cats after him, see she is a classicist through and through. However recently I have been reading lots of books about how to write and why people write and the mechanics of it, both for myself as a writer and indeed as a reader. In the wonderful ‘Monkeys With Typewriters’, which I am loving reading on and off at the moment, Scarlett Thomas says that everyone should read Aristotle’s ‘Poetics’ as the first, and possibly ultimate, book on writing, how to write, how books work and how to read them. So I thought I would give it a whirl.

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Penguin Classics, paperback, c.335BCE (1996 edition), non fiction/literary theory, introduction and notes by Malcolm Heath, 144 pages, from my personal TBR

Apparently Aristotle’s ‘Poetics’ is the oldest surviving piece of dramatic theory on earth. That is quite something for a start really isn’t it? In twelve sections, which only span around 45 pages, Aristotle looks at, and indeed breaks down, how  and what creates the perfect play (and indeed these were in the days of c.335 BCE really acted books if you will) and why. He looks at genres, plots, characters, and language and its rhythm stage by stage – no pun intended.

I have to say I thought that I was going to be bored by this book. I couldn’t see how something about poetry would make me think about how I write (for work or for pleasure) or indeed how I read. I was wrong. What I didn’t understand, though have since discovered, is that ‘poetics’ actually translates as ‘making’ and so that is why many people say it is the first piece of literary theory. I can now see why, from the way he takes apart how characters function and plots work. I am sure we all think we know how these work already, and so it could be preaching to the converted, as we read ourselves (I know I was dubious) yet this gives a whole new slant and appreciation to the art of creating a story and one that has drive, plot and characters you empathise with.

Who knew a piece of theory could still be so relevant all these hundreds and hundreds of years later? Especially when he had no idea that novels or films (because the theories work on films too) would exist in the future though this is actually good in a way. You see I think there is always a slight danger with literary theory and with books like ‘Poetics’ that if you learn too much about the mechanics you don’t look at the machine, in my case books in general, in the same way again and so you might be put off reading. This isn’t the case with ‘Poetics’ though, how could Aristotle ruin something he didn’t know of? Plus I think he had the utmost respect for the Arts and a good old yarn itself, if done well admittedly.

I have to admit that some of the book did occasionally go over my head. It isn’t a book you can just read from cover to cover and I certainly advise, like with any book actually, you read the introduction and notes afterwards and then read it again – which at 45 pages is easily done. Some of his thoughts still don’t quite make sense to me, but then Aristotle was an incredible philosopher and I am… well… not. Plus I do think this is a book that I will revisit and gain more from each time I re-read it now and again, in fact I should have called this post ‘Poetics; First Impressions’ really shouldn’t I?

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Summer Read Suggestions… From Authors

Earlier in my ‘Summer Reads Week’ I asked for suggestions of favourite summer reads from publishers pasts and the ones they were looking forward to having a read of over the coming months. So I then thought what about authors? I have noticed in the past some papers and the like get some authors to tell us just what they will be reading over the summer, so I thought why not do the same with authors? Asking simply what makes the perfect summer read for you and which book is your favourite summery read? Which book are you most eager to read over the summer months and why?

Rather than go off and just get any author I could to answer these questions I decided to go for some authors who have produced some of my favourite reads over the last few years of me writing Savidge Reads. I was most chuffed that they all said yes…

Maria Barbal

It depends quite on the time to spend. If I have a complete month it’s a good moment to read a long novel but also for a second rereading or for reading the whole work of an author.

I have read one book by Herta Müller and I would like to read some more.  Specially Tot el Que Tinc ho duc al damunt  (Atemschaukel, English: Everything I Possess I Carry With Me), because she has a poetic and piercing style, and reaches the reader with her writing.

Neil Bartlett

A perfect summer read for me is one which is utterly engrossing, but which I can safely fall asleep while reading on the flagstones of my garden, and then pick up the thread of at once, once I awake. Two contrasting examples currently in my pile; The Leopard (Lampedusa- perfect, as it makes the Visconti movie replay in my head) and My Memories of Six Reigns by Her Highness Princess Marie Louise – a junkshop find, full of great pictures and bizarre bejewelled stories.

Which book for this summer ? Andrew Graham Dixon’s new Caravaggio biog, which I think will piss me off, as he’s very determined to de-queer the paintings, but he’s a serious historian, and Caravaggio is an artist whose works I hope to spend the rest of my life looking at.

Stella Duffy

I read really widely anyway, and have never really bought into the ‘some books are for the beach’ idea, BUT I do like the books I’m hungry to get through in one or two sittings when I happen to have an afternoon free (we don’t have much skill at actually going away on holiday in our house!). I’ve had splendid summers in my garden where, after working all morning, I’ve spent the afternoon speeding through a friend’s very fast-paced dark crime novel or another mate’s bonkbuster.

I remember a great summer week of working every morning and reading Val McDermid’s Mermaid’s Singing in the garden in the afternoons. It hardly sounds summery, but there was something about the contrast between the warmth and sunshine and the darkness of the book that I really enjoyed.

I have Anna Quindlen’s ‘Every Last One’ on my TBR pile and I’m definitely looking forward to that. Unusually I HAVE been swayed by the quotes on the cover – Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Jane Howard, and Alice Hoffman in praise? It has to be good! I also have some newly released Janet Frame short stories ‘The Daylight and The Dust’ which I’m definitely looking forward to, and I do think they will need a long, slow, quiet afternoon or two to really do them justice.

Tess Gerritsen

The perfect summer read… A book that takes me completely out of my own surroundings and transports me to a different one.  I especially love being plunged into a different time period, or even a different world.  An historical mystery by Arianna Franklin, for instance, would be an example of a perfect summer read.  Or a fantasy novel along the lines of Tolkien.

I have a copy of Justin Cronin’s The Passage.  I can’t wait to dive in. And I also have a copy of Manda Scott’s mammoth work Boudica, which I’ve been putting off until I have the time to do it justice.  I’m looking forward to them both so much!

Sophie Hannah

The perfect summer read, for me, is anything that pins me to my sun-lounger long after I would ordinarily have leaped into the swimming pool – a book worth getting sunstroke for. I have lots of favourite holiday reads dating back several years – the one that springs to mind is ‘The Memory Game’ by Nicci French, which I read on holiday in Florida in 1999. It remains one of the most sophisticated, intelligent, sensitive and gripping thrillers I’ve ever read.

On my holiday this year, I plan to read the new Scott Turow, ‘Innocent’, the sequel to ‘Presumed Innocent’, which I have no doubt will be as stylish and compelling as Turow always is, and ‘The Disappeared’ by MR Hall, a brilliant new crime writer whose series protagonist is a coroner.

Hillary Jordan

My perfect summer read is a beautifully written novel that grabs hold of me on page one, pulls me into another world and doesn’t let go till The End. I think my best ever summer read was Lord of the Rings.

This summer I was hoping to read The Lacuna but am racing to finish my own second novel, Red…so I suspect that’s the only book my nose will be buried in over the next few months!

Paul Magrs

There are several novels I associate with summer – and I’d be keen to reread them at some point during the holiday… R C Sherrif – The Fortnight in September, a suburban family between the wars goes to the seaside. Nothing happens – from everyone’s POV. A perfect novel! Haruki Murakami – The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, it’s long, episodic and puzzling. I read it in Paris last summer and loved it. Scarlett Thomas – The End of Mr Y. This is another holiday read that’s all mind-bendy and completely absorbing and perfect for sitting at cafe tables with strong coffee and fancy ice cream. Jacqueline Susann – The Love Machine. Perfect sleazy soap opera set in the world of 60s television. Jonathan Caroll – The Land of Laughs, a wonderful supernatural thriller about a writer of children’s books.

And, of course, as many unread or favourite Puffins, gobbled up alongside all of these. The papery fragrance of Puffins *is* what summer smells of, to me. Too many, no..?

Dan Rhodes

My reading habits aren’t particularly affected by the seasons, although I did once give up on Kafka’s The Castle while lying on the beach in Majorca. I just couldn’t feel the cold. At the moment I’m going through a cop novel phase. Two in particular I’ve found supremely original and well worth a look: Bad Traffic by Simon Lewis takes a Chinese detective and drops him in the English countryside, and Pocket Notebook by Mike Thomas follows a ‘roided-up firearms officer as his life and career unravel quite spectacularly. Most cop novels are by whey-faced writer types who would run a mile from a genuine crime scene, but Mike Thomas happens to be a serving police officer, which adds a frisson of authenticity to proceedings. Should that matter in fiction? Possibly not, but either way it’s a cracking read. I’m impatient for more from those two.

I’m going to plough through my short story shelf. There’s still plenty of stuff I haven’t read by William Trevor, VS Pritchett, Katherine Mansfield, Paul Bowles, etc, etc. And just when I think I must be nearing the end of Chekhov’s fiction I always seem to find a bunch of stories I’d never heard of. And while I’m on the subject of short stories, may I recommend Rhapsody by Dorothy Edwards? I’m always on about this book, but it’s criminally overlooked. It’s one of the best things ever to have happened on Earth.

Natasha Solomons

I remember my summers by the books I was reading. The summer of 2000 wasn’t island hopping through Greece with a slightly dodgy boyfriend and his dodgier moped, it was ‘A Thousand Years of Solitude’. The August I left school was ‘Moontiger’ and ‘A Town Like Alice’  — (which did cause me to develop a slight obsession with the sarong). During summer I want a book that transports me — I want the story to be more real than the British drizzle and to be so compelling that I’m flipping the bbq burgers in one hand and clutching my book in the other.

The books I love this year are Irene Sabatini’s ‘The Boy Next Door’, which has already won the Orange New Writer’s Prize — it’s the love story of a mixed race couple struggling amidst the growing chaos in Zimbabwe. I love these kinds of books: the small and personal set against the vast and cataclysmic. The other is Emma Henderson’s ‘Grace Williams Says it Loud’, which made me cry. The book is inspired by Emma’s own sister who lived for many years in a unit for disabled people. Yet, this is a sweeping love story narrated with such verve by Grace that you forget she is unable to speak. You’ll also fall in love with Daniel — he’s so dapper and debonair. I’ll also be re-reading Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ for the seventieth time. No summer is complete without a little strawberry picking at Donwell Abbey.

Evie Wyld

I love a really massive book for a summer read, and preferably something a bit spooky or scary, like Murakami’s Wind up Bird Chronicles. That was perfect. But this summer I’m looking forward to The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. I’ve heard amazing things about this book.

Other things I’m taking on holiday are Larry’s Party by Carol Shields and The Trout Opera by Matthew Condon. I love Carol Shields and I’ve been meaning to read this for ages, and I’ve just been given a copy of the Trout Opera by my partner. He says I’ll love it, and he should know. All Australians I’m afraid!

So there you have it, on Friday and Saturday it’s a two parter of books that some other bloggers (some still haven’t responded tut tut, ha) have suggested for your summer reading TBR’s. Back to today though, anything taken your fancy from the selection of titles above? I am most intrigued by some of them I have to say. Did any authors surprise you with what they could be reading over the summer?

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Filed under Dan Rhodes, Evie Wyld, Hillary Jordan, Maria Barbal, Natasha Solomons, Neil Bartlett, Paul Magrs, Sophie Hannah, Stella Duffy, Tess Gerritsen

Do I Want To Read…?

I told you that this might be a sporadic series and it has indeed been a while since I last asked you about some books that crossed my path that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read or not. I have read one of them and it will be on the blog this week, so thank you for all your thoughts on that one as it lead to a reading. This time its three books that I know nothing about and had in fact never heard of until a certain website recommended that I read them and now I am in two minds, though the covers are calling me…

  

  • Evelina: Or the History of A Young Lady’s Entrance into the World – Frances Burney
  • Memoirs of Emma Courtney – Mary Hays
  • Cecilia: or Memoirs of an Heiress – Frances Burney

There was another one about two victorian sisters which looked ace as well but I cannot find that title for the life of me which is most vexing as it would be perfect for my victoriana research, oh well. As for these three as I said I know nothing about them but they do intrigue me and I have said I want to read more fiction that isn’t contemporary so these seem like they could be a treat! I haven’t even heard of the authors and I feel like I should have. So those of you who know the classics do please let me know if these are any good as they have stirred an interest from Savidge Reads and I would love your insights.

For those of you who are more into your contemporary, I am pleasing both parties to day I hope, I finally opened the parcels that I mentioned on Saturday’s post that had been awaiting me at the sorting office for a few days. They contained these delights…

  • The House of Special Purpose – John Boyne
  • Baba Yaga Laid an Egg – Dubravka Ugresic
  • The Sea’s – Samantha Hunt
  • The Oxford Book of Death
  • Glasshopper – Isabel Ashdown
  • The Einstein Girl – Philip Sington
  • The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas
  • Our Tragic Universe – Scarlett Thomas
  • The Lonely Polygamist – Brady Udall
  • Half Life – Roopa Farooki
  • A Preperation For Death – Greg Baxter
  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet – David Mitchell
  • The Clay Dreaming – Ed Hillyer
  • The Hand That First Held Mine – Maggie O’Farrell
  • The Shadows in the Streets – Susan Hill
  • The Swimmer – Roma Tearne
  • The Great Perhaps – Joe Meno

Let me know if you have heard good things about any of the titles or authors, if you have read any, any you are already sick of hearing about and any you would really like to hear more about, that would be marvellous.

That’s all from me, after a marvellous discussion round at mine for the latest NTTVBG and ‘Skin Lane’ by Neil Bartlett (which I think is an amazing book) I am quite, quite tired and have rather a lot of virtual tidying up to do, I am quite sad it was my last hosting session though. Right, I am off, thoughts on the above books please!

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