Tag Archives: Sherlock Holmes

Christmas Wishlists & How You Could Win Yours…

I don’t know if you have noticed but Christmas is arriving fairly shortly. I have to admit that despite putting up the tree and having made one or two (well 17) videos for Vlogmas this year, I have mainly been in denial. I was too ill with a dercum’s flare up to go to the Christmas party which normally sets my ‘season to be jolly’ bells off. I have also been in a slight end of the year anxiety meltdown, does anyone else get really tense by the end of a year. I love the start of a new one, it’s like a lovely new diary – all those crisp white pages. The end though, oh it’s battered to bits and everything feels like its unravelling rather than being tied up.  I have digressed, oops.

Anyway, I have been being forced into thinking about it by being asked by my mother (mainly, often) what on earth I would like for Christmas. The answer is obviously books or book vouchers. Well, she won’t do vouchers so of course a list helps. Well just as I was thinking about the books I would like for Christmas something very fortuitous happened. A new bookish social media site called Bookwitty got in touch asking if I would like to give my readers anywhere in the world a chance to win the top five books they would most like. I instantly said ‘of course’ because who doesn’t want to win some books at any time of the year. I know, you want me to shut up and tell you how to do it. Well I shall leave instructions under this little video of Bookwitty which looks like it might be a potential book website of choice for the future (I have had a play around with it and entered the competition myself, I am no fool, before just so I could see if it was good before I sent you there and it is) so have a gander.

How to create your list and win the five books…

  • Sign up at Bookwitty.com
  • Create a reading list of five books that you want for the holidays by clicking on Add content/Reading list y December 22nd 2016.
  • Link your new reading list to the topic page: Holiday reading list contest.

And you’re all set! The winner will be announced on December 23rd. Good luck!

Now I have to say I really found this link the most helpful explanation of how to do it, so off you pop, have a gander and have a go and you could win five books (worth upto $125 in total) and considering there are only five or so entries I would get clicking over there sharpish.

Oh and what were the five books that I wanted most for Christmas? How nice of you to ask the books are…

The Book of Bees by Piotr Socha

9780500650950How do bees communicate? What does a beekeeper do? Did you know that Napoleon loved bees[unk] Who survived being stung by 2,443 bees? This book answers all these questions and many more, tracking the history of bees from the time of the dinosaurs to their current plight. I saw this at the Wellcome Collection bookshop and thought it looked stunning. Plus I have a small obsession with bees. Not wasps, they are horrid.

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? Stories by Kathleen Collins

9781783783403Lovers. Lovers who meet at Civil Rights Conferences, sit-ins, church rallies, art galleries. Lovers who send letters back and forth from maximum security prison. Lovers with dislocated jaws. Lovers who lose themselves or shoot themselves. Lovers who let go too soon. Love that is “colour free”. Love that makes men cry. Love that defies the strictures of race and class. In prose that slips between lush sensuality and electric melancholy, Kathleen Collins has gifted us a universe of lovers. Of poets and freedom riders struggling to get through hot lonely summers, spending night and day in dingy New York apartments. A universe of young women who step outside of their father’s homes, grow their hair wild and discover sex. Of young men whose daredevil antics disguises an abiding sadness. I saw this on the Book of the Month subscription service (they so need to ship to the UK). Admittedly this is a tough one as it isn’t out in the UK yet but will be from Granta in Feburary and I have all the wants for this.

Bitten by Witch Fever: Wallpaper and Arsenic in the Victorian Home by Lucinda Hawksley

9780500518380Bitten by Witch Fever presents facsimile samples of 275 of the most sumptuous wallpaper designs ever created by designers and printers of the age, including Christopher Dresser and Morris & Co. For the first time in their history, every one of the samples shown has been laboratory tested and found to contain arsenic. Interleaved with the wallpaper sections, evocative commentary guides you through the incredible story of the manufacture, uses and effects of arsenic, and presents the heated public debate surrounding the use of deadly pigments in the sublime wallpapers of a newly industrialized world. I saw this in Foyles earlier this week and it was too heavy for me to carry home, sadly. It is also quite expensive but when you open it up you know why, it is stunning. Plus, it has witch in the title, is about arsenic and the Victorians = ultimate winner.

The Other World, It Whispers by Stephanie Victoire

9781784630850From the secrets of the forest, to the magic of the sea, these nine stories tell of what happens when passion, desire, loneliness and imprisonment lead us on a search for freedom and empowerment – no matter what the cost. A woman makes a deal with gods and goddesses in order to bring a slanderous town down to its knees, a man who has lost everything finds himself in the graveyards of Paris, turning to dark magic to ensure success, an opulent masked ball becomes the stage of spite and revenge, a teenage boy who believes he is in the wrong body calls out to mermaids to enchant him. With strands of classic fairy and folklore weaved through, the unknown – the silent and dark – is explored. Where spirits, deities and witches lurk, but also where the beauty of life and renewal can be found. I have seen this on Jen Campbell and Jean’s channels on booktube and have been jealous ever since. It is a collection of modern fairytales, or a modern collection of fairytales depending on your view.

Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived But Will Never Die by Alex Werner

9780091958725Ever since his creation, Sherlock Holmes has enthralled readers. Our perception of him and his faithful companion, Dr Watson, has been shaped by a long line of film, TV and theatre adaptations. This richly illustrated book, compiled by Alex Werner, Head of History Collections at the Museum of London, is an essential guide to the great fictional detective and his world. Using the museum’s unrivalled collections of photographs, paintings and original artefacts, it illuminates the capital city that inspired the Sherlock Holmes stories, in particular its fogs, Hansom cabs, criminal underworld, famous landmarks and streets. Accompanying the landmark exhibition at the Museum of London, the first since 1951, this book explores how Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation of Sherlock Holmes has transcended literature and continues to attract audiences to this day. I bloody love Sherlock Holmes and I saw this when I went to the Museum of London and nearly bought it then, but I was being good for which I am now kicking myself.

So there is the top of my Christmas wishlist. Do go over to Bookwitty and win some books, I would love it if one of you lovely lot won out, that would be ace. Do also tell me which books you would love to get for Christmas in the comments below, and if you have read any of the above tell me about that too – no spoilers. Thanking you.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Give Away, Random Savidgeness

Other People’s Bookshelves #65 – Sarah Perry

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are off to Essex to join author Sarah Perry who has just got back from her allotment especially to show us around her shelves. First let’s grab a cuppa and a custard cream and find out more about Sarah…

My first novel, After Me Comes the Flood, came out last year with Serpent’s Tail, and has just been released in paperback. My second novel, The Essex Serpent, is coming out in July 2016 (again with Serpent’s Tail, in an act of spectacular nominative determinism!).  I was once a civil servant – largely working in communications, such as writing speeches for government ministers – and then worked for the Council of the Inns of Court while I did a PhD in Creative Writing and the Gothic. I now write full-time, though not just fiction.

At the moment I’m finishing edits on The Essex Serpent. It’s about friendship, desire, sin, love, death and sea-serpents. I talk quite often about my upbringing, and am always afraid it’s going to grow tiresome, but find I’m still asked about it. I was born to a very strict religious family – often, I joke I was brought up in 1895 – and while other girls my age were surrounded by pop culture I was up to my ears in the King James Bible, classic literature, Victorian hymns and Reformation theology. The Gothic quality of my writing and my preoccupation with madness, sin and transgression is therefore not entirely surprising, I suppose.

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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 frighteningly acquisitive when it comes to books, and absolutely hopeless at getting rid of them. About three months ago I attempted a cull, and there have been two large bags of books destined for the local charity shops in the middle of my bedroom floor ever since. I seem to gather books as I walk through the week like a magnet attracting iron filings and with about that degree of discrimination. Proofs arrive in the post, I order them online on a whim, am sent them as gifts, throw them into my trolley in the supermarket, grab paperbacks in charity shops, steal – sorry: borrow! – them from friends. They all wind up in one of the many drifts and piles in the house, and I fear many are destined to remain unread for years, if at all. But I can never quite shake the feeling that the day may come when that 80s edition of The Gulag Archipelago, or that little hardback Rumer Godden novel, is going to be exactly what I need…

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?

Some years ago a friend of mine tried to help me order my books (by genre, and alphabetically by author). It took absolutely hours and lasted for less than a week. I can’t begin to fathom how anyone who has a large number of books maintains any sort of order without a fleet of staff. Everything is all bundled in together – I’m looking at a bookcase right now and on a single shelf I can see a biography of William Gladstone, a guide to Jungian dream-symbols, TH White’s The Once and Future King, two Ishiguro novels next to each other (miraculously!), several crime thrillers, and a Puritan book on the doctrine of repentance. If you’re wondering how I ever find anything: I often can’t, and rage about the house accusing the cat of stealing books. My husband has a better memory than me, and can often lay hands on what I need. I do try and keep to some form of TBR system, and went as far as installing two bookcases on either side of the bed, but then I get distracted by something else, and it all goes out of the window.

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The only truly organised shelves are those where I’m temporary custodian of a friend’s books: he moved abroad, and left them with me, where I’ve taken to calling them ‘The Memorial Library’. I must say I consider arranging books by colour to be the sure sign of a deranged mind (apologies to any deranged readers).

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

I honestly can’t remember, and wish very much that I could! I do have lots of books from my childhood, though. I have on my desk here a very battered little Bible story book which I must have had since before school, and I’m very attached to a hardback Paddington bear collection which was a gift from one of my older sisters.

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?

With very, very few exceptions I really don’t have much truck with the idea of guilty pleasures when it comes to reading. Of course, even the most ardent anti-book snob must draw the line somewhere, and I would sooner go to the stake than have my shelves sullied with Fifty Shades of Grey or Ayn Rand. But I have everything out in the open – so far as the disordered tumult will allow! – and if anyone baulks at the sight of Stephen King, Terry Pratchett and Lee Child jostling cheerfully with WG Sebald, Maggie Nelson and Tennyson then I shall sit them down and have a long, gentle but firmly persuasive chat. I never read romantic fiction, but that is merely a matter of preference, in the same way that I would rather eat cauliflower than mushrooms: it’s not a value judgment. I must confess that if my parents visit I might double check that Catullus or Chuck Palahniuk aren’t knocking about where my Dad might take them off the shelves in an idle moment (there was an awkward moment last year with a Thom Gunn poem).

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

There are so many of these! May I have a wheelbarrow full? I have a complete Sherlock Holmes which my father gave me: it is a long out-of-print edition, and identical to his own copy, which I grew up reading, and which he is evidently not ready to part with. I have a beautiful vintage edition of Finnegans Wake which a friend gave me when I left London, and since really he deserves it far more than I do I secretly think of it as being in joint custody, like the child of an amiable divorce. When I sold my first novel a friend gave me a copy of A Literary Life by Posy Simmonds, which has got truer and more comforting as the years have passed. There are about half-a-dozen King James Bibles knocking about, most of them associated with events in life: my wedding, or a gift when I was tiny bridesmaid at my oldest sister’s wedding. Once when I had been away for a fortnight my husband met me at the airport with some marmalade sandwiches, two Calvin and Hobbes books and a copy of the Communist Party Manifesto, so I would like those. And I suppose I would like to take the first proof copy of my first novel, with all my anguished handwritten corrections.

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?

I never really remember there being much of a division between children’s books and grown up books, and I more or less read what I wanted, when I wanted to. Which isn’t to say that I was reading terribly inappropriately (however one defines that) – there wouldn’t have been anything like that in the house, and I wouldn’t have sought it out: since there was so much to read, I was quite content. And so I remember reading Jane Eyre at eight, because it was in an illustrated hardback edition that I mistook for a children’s book, and my father gave me a copy of Tess of the D’Urbervilles when I was ten (greatly to my teacher’s horror). My elder sisters would occasionally conceal slightly fruity novels beneath their beds, which I unfailingly found and would read in a single sitting. The most memorable of these was probably Flowers in the Attic, which I still adore – and which is somewhere on my shelves.

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?

Greatly to my shame, I never borrow books (unless from friends, in which case ‘borrow’ is often pronounced ‘steal’), and only ever darken the doors of reference libraries, in order to do research. I am simply not to be trusted with library books: they’ll be lost, dropped in the bath, battered, and never returned. It’s a moral failing I’ve long given up trying to remedy.

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

In the last week, I’ve bought Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (her memoir Bluets had a profound effect on me last year), Miranda July’s The First Bad Man (which I cannot imagine I will enjoy, having a very low tolerance for quirky books by privileged young New Yorkers, but I though I’d try and conquer my prejudices), Stephen King’s Mr Mercedes, JG Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition, John Wyndham’s The Trouble With Lichen, and an Anaïs Nin book I immediately lost and can’t remember. I have also been sent a debut novel by Tasha Kavanagh called Things We Have in Common, which I’m looking forward to. Sorry, that’s several books, isn’t it?

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

Heaps and heaps! I am very close to mugging someone for an advance copy of Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life: its August release date seems a terribly long way away, and literally everyone on Twitter has a copy except me. I also would like a facsimile edition (or a real one, if possible) of the Tyndale New Testament, because who wouldn’t? There are also a number of collected letters that I would like. For many years I had a curious ethical disinclination to read the ‘remains’ of writers: I felt that we should read only their work, not diary entries and correspondence they would never have intended for a general readership. But it turns out my principles are paper thin, and I’d particularly like the letters of Virginia Woolf, which I could cross-reference against her diaries.

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

I imagine their first thought would be that I am spectacularly untidy, and furthermore could do with doing some dusting. I wonder if they might then think that these are the books of several people, not only one – if they did, I’d be delighted. I honestly believe we all have a duty to read as widely and deeply as possible. The worst possible reader is the one who wishes only to affirm and bolster their existing world view, and the worst possible response to a book is this: “I just didn’t identify with any of the characters.” As to what I’d like them to think of my reading tastes: I couldn’t give a single solitary toss, I never have, and I never will.

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A huge thanks to Sarah for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, you can stalk her on Twitter here, you can also see her not once but twice at Gladfest this September, where you may just also see me! 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. In the meantime… what do you think of Sarah’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Ask Simon Anything – Part III

And so we come to the final set of your questions, which The Beard says I should never do again because it makes me look egotistical and attention seeking – even though I didn’t come up with the idea but let’s not have a domestic via the medium of blogging. These are probably the most eclectic we have had so far mixing the bookish tone of Magdalena’s and the frankly whimsical ones of Thomas. Right let’s get on with it…

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Do you ever experience emotional transference – from the character to yourself – when you are reading? For example, did you feel the protagonist’s anxiety, or Mrs Danvers rage, while reading Rebecca? – Alice

Wow Alice, that is quite a question. I can definitely feel Danvers rage when reading Rebecca  and am known to cry at the odd book, and also guffaw very loudly, so I think that I must experience emotional transference but have never thought about it in the context and now feel I should add it as a skill on my CV, ha! Before I move on I must say something about the protagonist unnamed second Mrs De Winter in Rebecca, she really needs a bit of a slap. No, I am not a misogynist but she is so ineffectual and drippy. I only got that on the second or third re-read.

Who would play you in the film of your life – and what would the film be called? Also who would you like to write the film tie-in book? – Annabel, Gaskella

Well I would like to write the book/memoir and then be the executive producer. I think it would have to have a really corny title so let us make it be called Taming The Savidge and I would have Seth Rogan as me, though he would have to straighten his hair a bit!

If you could change your name, what would you change it to? As ‘male’ and ‘female’ – Quinn

Ooh, as a youth I was desperate to be called Rex. No idea why. If I was going to be a girl then I would have been called Laura or Lucy I believe. In the book of babies names my mother had at the time there is a list and Graham was up there, as was Fattyarbuckle – rude. I wouldn’t change my name though, when I got married the first time I refused, because Simon Savidge has quite a ring to it.

Bengal or Egyptian Mau? – Dark Puss

Definitely Bengal. I am very lucky though as Oscar is half Bengal and Millie is half Maine Coon which are the two types of cats I have always most wanted to have, the added bonus is that the tabby in them keeps them grounded hahaha. Pedigree cats are really haughty.

Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or a hundred duck-sized horses? And could you please explain your decision… – Rob

I wouldn’t fight any ducks, I love ducks and as you know had a pet duck called Rapunzel. I would get rid of the duck sized horses, I hate horses. The horse sized duck would make the best pet ever. I would call her Olga and fly her.

Favourite book and author, and the reason why! – Kaggsy

Favourite book, as if you needed to ask, is Rebecca because its amazing, gothic and made me read again. Interestingly though Daphne isn’t my favourite author. Shock, horror! That changes daily. I still don’t know who my favourite author is an that is one of the things that keeps me reading I guess. Atwood is up there, Atkinson and Susan Hill too. It changes. McEwan always was but his last two, I haven’t read The Children’s Act yet, did very little for me. Ali Smith is creeping up there actually. See, no idea – will just keep having fun reading and trying to find out.

What is your wallpaper on your computer? – Quinn

How vain is this? It is my own tattoo…

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Which character would you be/do you have an affinity with the most? – Impossible Alice

I tried to answer this in a blog post the other day and couldn’t. I am quite happy being me and I meet characters I like but not ones I would want to be. I would love to hang out with Sherlock Holmes. Just for fun I will say I have the affinity most with The Woman in Black – sheer rage and a need for revenge. Ha!

I would like to know if you review all the books you read and if not, how do you choose which ones you review.  – Sharkell

Good question! I don’t know how I choose, it tends to be books that I have loved and am happy to rave about because any author takes a long time to write a novel and I don’t want to trample all over that. Also, I have no desire to put people off books. That said I have been doing some round up posts recently of books I liked but haven’t masses to tell you about or the ones I have disliked, even loathed. I have actually found it quite good fun and liberating, plus if you only see the books I love how will you know what I don’t?

Which writer(s) of fiction do you think are most successful in describing animals and their interactions with the protagonists (if relevant) and which are the least? – Dark Puss

This sounds a cop out but none. I don’t like books with animals in as a rule. Woolf’s best book is the one about the dog – that says it all 😉

I’d like to add which of the above questions do you consider silly, answer honestly! And additional query: your opinion and experience of book festivals? – Carol S

Book festivals is too long an answer. I think if you go through my blog you will see I am a fan of them, though I think some could be better. I want to run Liverpool’s next one so I need to stay a little quiet on all that for now though. No question is ever silly, even the silliest ones. My mum always said that.

Are you going to bring back the Persephone Project, as this was something I enjoyed. – Victoria

Definitely, and sooner than you think. That pesky thing called work got in the way and I was reading a mammoth one I couldn’t get into. I have several weeks of now so can get back into it! Hoorah.

Do you ever find yourself thinking “Written by a woman–it would be!” I ask because being female I do sometimes think “Typical male author!” I know I should ‘t but it happens… Erica W

Honestly… No. I tend to roll my eyes at male authors much more. I always thought I read predominantly women, but every year when I look it is pretty much fifty/fifty which isn’t what I would expect as I think, in my own head, that I like women more.

What will you tell us about chemistry, biology or physics? – Dark Puss

I hate them all. I was rubbish at all of them. I don’t get science.

I would like to know who is your favourite French author(s) or what is your favourite French book(s), if you have any? – Caro

I have three favourite books. HHhH by Laurent Binet. Alex by Pierre Lemaitre. The Suicide Shop by Jean Teule. All quite dark, all brilliant. I need to read some French classics so do please recommend me some.

If Rebecca hadn’t brought u back to reading….what other book would have? – Quinn

Ooh. The last question is the most impossible. I can’t really say because I can’t, now, imagine any other book that would and at the time didn’t expect it to. Something would have but what I can’t even hazard a guess at and am not sure I want to as Rebecca has such a place in my heart now.

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Thank you all very much for thinking of the questions and indeed asking them. I have really enjoyed that, and not just the egotistical, attention seeking and tongue-firmly-in-cheek, side of me. As someone who is always asking (too many) questions it was nice to go away and think about all the bookish and not so bookish things you brought up. So cheers!

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If You Could Be A Character In A Book, Who Would You Be?

I don’t know if you have been following it on Twitter (some of you might not have Twitter, I would urge you to join as it is far more booky than you might imagine) however #bookadayuk has been a daily joy for me. All through the month of June the folks at Borough Press, a new imprint of Harper Collins, have been asking us to tweet pictures of books that match a certain theme. There have been books we have never finished, the best book we have ever found second hand, the books we think everyone else should have read but haven’t, etc, etc. Today they have asked a question that has had me well and truly stumped… Which character in a book would you want to be?

Worryingly after a day of so or thinking about it I couldn’t come up with a single one. You see whilst there may have been many, many, many books which I wish I had been in (as an additional character or a bystander) there are absolutely no characters that I would want to swap places with because if they were my favourites I would rather hang out with them than trade places.

For example in the case of two of my very favourite characters Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, I wouldn’t want to be either of them but I would give anything and everything to be caught up in an adventure with them physically as I have mentally again and again over the years. The idea of being Holmes (an opium addict who plays my least favourite instrument ever) doesn’t do it to me at all, and neither would being his sidekick, I’ve never wanted to be a doctor and certainly not one in the Victorian period. However, hop into a handsome cab and head through the streets of Victorian London with a game afoot and I would be there with them both in a moment.

It has always been so for me, this isn’t my adult brain trying to be ‘realistic’. As a child I always wanted to be the best friend of Mildred Hubble aka The Worst Witch and share a dorm with her and Tabby. I wanted the Famous Five to be the Stupendous Six. I wanted to live in Whitby and be part of uncovering a gang of witches up to no good. I wanted to befriend Matilda in the library or be Miss Honey’s nephew who would visit. I never wanted to be a character, just join in as I was doing vicariously turning the pages and getting lost in the world.

Today though I am feeling like it is just me as I have seen people over and over mentioning characters they would like to be, so I thought I would share this thought with all of you and see if it is just me that is the freak or if any of you would rather be an addition character in a book rather than trading places with one (if you would like to swap places with a character the don’t be shy and share with us who it is) and being a part of the world the book creates?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #8: Sylvie aka Sly Wit

This week we get to have a good old nosey around the bookshelves of Sylvie, who some of you will probably know better as her blogging alias Sly Wit. As it says on her blog she is “half American, half French, and all-around opinionated”, which she thinks pretty much sums her up, but I think you need more than that. She grew up in New England, studied finance in college, and then worked briefly in investment consulting. However, soon realized that wasn’t really for her and going back to school. After doing time in both New York and Paris, completing her Ph.D. in French Studies and teaching classes in everything from British politics to French literature and film, se left academia about five years ago to move to San Francisco and work in textbook publishing as a development editor in French and Italian. She now works as a freelance editor. She is an avid reader, runs a book salon and blogs regularly at Sly Wit, you can also find her, less regularly, at Worth the Detour, where she documents her quest to visit all the U.S. national parks and other travel adventures. So now to the shelves and finding out even more….

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?

When I moved from the east coast to California five years ago, I gave away over half my books (shock! horror!) and now most of my reading comes from the library, so a book has to be really good to be on my shelves. More importantly, it has to look good. That’s right, the first question and it’s already confession-time: I care far too much about the aesthetic look of my bookshelves! They are hyper-organized, certain colours are better than others (and yes, I am tempted to weed out favourites that have ugly spines), and most books are in excellent condition.

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?

Where to begin? Fiction is in the living room and generally divided into English and French, and then alphabetical by author, and then chronologically by title within each author (hyper-organized, remember?). The shelves in the hall are grouped according to subject, with books from my days as a professor grouped chronologically within subjects (French history, French language and culture, Franco-American relations, national film industries, film criticism) and then other subjects by whatever makes sense for that subject (travel, bande dessinée, children’s books, philosophy and religion, poetry). I also have a number of reference materials for my work as an editor. I try to cull at least once a year.

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

One of the first books I remember buying myself was a boxed set of Sherlock Holmes at a tag sale. They had great covers. Unfortunately, they were well loved when I bought them and I read them multiple times, so they eventually fell apart. For my last re-read, I took them along with me on a trip to Brazil and left one book behind (held together with a rubber band) at each place I stayed.

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 guilty pleasures per se, but the paperbacks I pick up here and there (from work, friends, and library sales) that don’t meet the ‘standards’ of the shelves, end up in the hidden tbr pile by my bed to eventually be given away to the library. In fact, I was thinking my book challenge this year would be to read them or lose them at the end of the year.

Holmes and Christie double-stacked

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?

My most prized possession is the complete set of Agatha Christies that I started collecting in high school. It took me over seven years of dutifully sending in a check once-a-month to Bantam Books to receive the entire collection of faux-leather hardbacks. Sadly, since there are 81 volumes, there is no way I could save them in a fire. I’m afraid all efforts and first instincts would probably mean that my childhood companion (a stuffed Winnie-the-Pooh) would emerge from any blaze.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

My parents didn’t really have books I considered too grown-up for me or that I aspired to read, but, in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, I do remember sneaking Judy Blume’s first adult book, Wifey, out of the library and keeping it hidden under my bed while I read it. This was after my friends and I had already passed around Forever (her book on teen sex) at school. The only book I currently have by Judy Blume is my original copy of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

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?

No, most of my current reading comes from the library and I’m generally fine with not owning those books. Most new additions to my shelves are practical—usually cookbooks, travel guides, or second-hand books about San Francisco. However…

Booze and books

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

After reading A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving for my readers’ choice book challenge, I decided to buy a matching set of three Irving favourites. Because, yes, I like books by the same authors to match (see above re: organizing and aesthetic issues).

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

More classic favourites probably, especially older or interesting editions, or if part of the clothbound classics series designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith. She does fabulous covers. [Simon, you should take a look at the set she did for Sherlock Holmes: http://www.cb-smith.com/]. I keep meaning to replace a collected works of Edgar Allan Poe that I loaned out and never got it back. And I’m always on the lookout for a good book on opera, a newfound passion of mine.

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

I think they might wonder why I have so little fiction, and almost no contemporary works. However, although my shelves don’t represent my reading now, they are very much filled with books that represent either my life story (my dual citizenship and work as a historian/editor) or my taste, with favourite authors such as Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, Graham Greene, and Émile Zola as well as all-time favourite books like Cold Comfort Farm, Théophile Gautier’s Récits fantastiques, The Lord of the Rings, and Rebecca.

Hallway 1

*********************

A big thank you to Sylvie 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 Sylvie’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?

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Thanks Mum, For Making Me Read

If I am honest I do think that Mothering Sunday, which is upon us here in the UK, is actually a big mass of cash spinning marketing. If you like your Mum, tell her when you see her or speak to her, if you don’t like her then don’t tell her, or see her. Ha! Anyway, that aside I thought it might actually be a nice idea to do a post about my mother considering without her influence I wouldn’t be the reader I am today and I am not sure I have ever thanked her for that in person, so I thought I would do it publically. She’ll be embarrassed but that is what sons are for or is that what parents are for? Either way…

My mother (that’s her there —>) had me at the age of 16 years old back in 1982, in fact almost 30 years ago to the week how apt (apparently she is ‘fine, yes fine, why do you ask’ about being 46 and having a soon to be 30 year old son). Not that it was the dark ages, but at that time not only was it a rather shocking occurrence it was also one that could curtail your studies and career, especially if you were going to be a single mum, as my Mum was even though she had the support of my grandparents. This wasn’t to be the case with my mum, she carried on her studies and took me with her to Newcastle where she gained a degree in Classics. I always say that having been to university from the ages of three to six is why I didn’t feel the need to go myself, excuses, excuses.

It is at university that my first memories of Mum reading to me are the strongest. I can vividly remember, after me throwing matchbox toy cars at her head to wake her up at 6am, the joy of getting into bed with her in the morning and being read children’s classics like the Ladybird Fairytales, Roald Dahl, Jill Murphy and the seminal works of ‘The Adventures of He-Man’ or ‘The Adventures of She-Ra’. It was also at this point books really took on a life of their own when she would read me the stories my granddad wrote and illustrated for me, which even featured me in them (and a certain Novel Insights who I had befriended aged 4), about the tales of a witch called Esmeralda and all her friends. You can see them below and read about them further here.

Studying Classics meant I also got the entire myths and legends from the Greeks and indeed the Romans regularly, I don’t know if it was because of her enthusiasm for the subject or if it helped her revise, in fact most nights. I seem to remember this is when ‘The Saga of Erik the Viking’ by Terry Jones appeared on the scene and was read often along with the nonetheless epic ‘Flat Stanley’. However it was an illustrated edition of the story of Persephone which I vividly remember from the time and would read over and over. I lost the love for Classics when I became a teenager and my Mum was teaching it at my school, odd that, but it’s nice to see it has recently been awakened by Madeline Miller’s ‘The Song of Achilles’ where the joy of reading about the gods, goddesses and monsters (I had a moment of utter joy when a centaur first graced the pages of this book) has been reignited. More on that tomorrow…

The library was a  place we always went regularly, as were charity shops. I remember once buying a new version of the story of Perseus from Oxfam for 50p, Mum opening it impressed and then seeing the joy drain from her face as she swiftly returned it, it seemed it was a rather over racy (Perseus does porn kind of thing) version of the story and not really appropriate for a young boy of eleven. Sherlock Holmes was though, and as my great uncle memorised them on walking holidays to stop me being bored, we would pop to Waterstones (a real treat) on the way home after she had picked me up to get a new collection, this was also when we fell upon Robin Jarvis and ‘The Whitby Witches’.

A year or so later Mum gave me my first proper grown up book in the form of ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Suskind, I wonder if my Nancy Drew obsession that summer when we went to Africa had made her worried I would end up with no taste – I still like a crime. Her attitude was if I was going to start reading grown up literature it had to be the good stuff. This was followed by attempts to lead me to Margaret Atwood but I wasn’t biting. I was studying books, and whilst my Mum might have become a good English teacher, my English teacher (one of her colleagues, oops) was slowly taking all the joy out of reading and after I left school early I avoided books like the plague. Mum had laid the foundations though.

In fact looking back whenever I ended up living back at home, which happened a few times after some particularly bad relationship decisions I made and their tumultuous endings, Mum would let me have a good cry and suggest ‘maybe pick up a book’. This could have been to show me books are always there for you, or it could have been to provide some escape, or she maybe just wanted me to stop crying and leave her alone, ha. Whatever the reason though at times of turmoil bookshelves and books would be in my head, even if I wasn’t rushing out to buy them, and they still are. When things have turned to the proverbial, pick up a good book, or a bad one.

Nowadays of course when we see each other books are one of the main things we talk about – who cares how the other one of us is, what we have been reading is far more important. Our tastes can be bang on (Anne Tyler, Margaret Atwood, Samantha Harvey) or completely polar (Susan Hill, owning a Kindle) but we both love books and really that’s down to her, with some help from Gran too of course. It’s nice seeing she has done the same with my thirteen year old sister (though Twilight, really?) and eleven year old brother (Harry Potter ‘which he is reading quicker than me and won’t wait’) and she continues to do so as an English teacher, in a school where kids aren’t generally fans of books but they will be, or else.

So thank you Mum for giving me the gift of books, the encouragement to read and forcing me into the library when sometimes I didn’t want to go. Look what it lead to. Happy Mothers Day.

You can read my Mums favourite books here and see her get a readers grilling here.

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Why Does Literature Seem To Snub Genre?

I seem to have a backlog of random posts on my thoughts about the book world and reading at the moment. It seems I am having a phase where every book I read sparks a question about my reading habits or reading in general. I hope you all enjoy these posts because there is going to be quite an influx of them over the next few weeks. The first of these that I want to talk about came from my review of Penny Hancock’s ‘Tideline’ yesterday when I said it was ‘the sort of thriller that I want to put in the path of anyone who doesn’t deem thrillers as literature’ because this is something that seems to be a common misconception in the book world or in bookish circles. Why can’t a crime novel, and indeed any work that is deemed genre, also be deemed ‘literature’?

My initial line of thinking is the fact that on the whole crime novels are not particularly known for being flowery, you can’t really make a dead body picturesque can you – though you can make it haunting and atmospheric, yet flowery prose doesn’t mean that a book is literary either does it? Crime novels, and I am focusing on these as they are the genre I read the most outside what people deem ‘literary novels’, by their nature have to focus on plot and they have to have pace. This doesn’t have to come at the expense of good writing though as I find with authors like Kate Atkinson or Susan Hill the writing that they use in their ‘crime’ novels (atmospheric, observational, vivid) is the same as they use in the novels that would be put in the ‘fiction’ section and which are deemed to be much more literary because they lose the crime tag.

I have just recently given up on a very ‘literary’ novel because while the writing was stunning the book itself wasn’t going anywhere. The plot was there but it was fizzling out, it was dragging, and I was getting increasingly bored. So I gave up. That very rarely happens to me with a good thriller. With literary novels you often here the phrase ‘a multi layered novel’ have any of these people read the aforementioned Kate Atkinson (whose use of small coincidences to twist a tale is fantastic) or Sophie Hannah by any chance as both these authors created tales which are definitely multi layered, whilst being gripping reads with big stories at their heart, and I do think every reader loves a good ‘story’. Many people will say that genre fiction is train station or airport reading, but isn’t that in itself interesting that when people go away they want those sorts of books? Here we could go into the dangerous territory of ‘readability vs. literature’ so lets move swiftly on…

The other misconception I have often heard is that crime novels, or any genre novel actually, often feature one dimensional or rather stereotypical characters. I always find myself wanting to shout ‘what about Sherlock Holmes, people actually wrote to the man, they thought he was real’ to this, but I suppose that’s classic crime so doesn’t fit in with my discussion on modern crime now, though it was deemed literature in its day. If I was discussing chick-lit I would here use the Jane Austen argument and how at the time it was not deemed as ‘literature’ and look at how she is hailed now, Charles Dickens is another one, paid per word as a regular newspaper serialisation, now heralded as one of the greatest writers ever to have lived by many.

Let’s get back to the characters in modern crime though. I think we could find the ‘stereotypical’ characters in almost every novel we read, does ‘stereotypical’ therefore actually mean the true to life people who live next door or you might pass by on the street? What of one dimensional characters? I read few crime novels where this is the case, they wouldn’t work for me as a read if they were. Again there are a number of authors, including the above, where I could say this statement was untrue; Tess Gerritsen (I read the Rizzoli and Isles series because I want to know what they are up to, I like them, I feel I have gotten to know them over a series) and Val McDermid (Jacko Vance might be my favourite serial killer ever, if one can have one) for starters.

Val McDermid once said to me ‘it’s not the crime that’s the really important thing to me, it’s what crime or murder does to the people surrounding it that truly motivates me’. I have paraphrased there, sorry if you read this Val, but I think is one of the true signs of why crime can be counted as literature, it looks at how humans are conditioned to react, emote and deal in extreme circumstances. People say ‘oh but crime stories are so farfetched’ but they happen and often it’s the most bizarre crimes that have us sitting watching the news and saying ‘oh you couldn’t have made that up’ and ‘how would you deal with that, can you imagine?’ With a book you can from the safety of your sofa, just as you can being in a war torn country, having been bereaved, experiencing dictatorial leadership or simply being in a very dysfunctional family. All these things people are experiencing all over the world but just because it’s not happening to us or those we know doesn’t mean it is ‘farfetched’. Also thanks to crime in translation we learn about other cultures through the subject matter dealt with by the novels of the likes of Henning Mankell or Natsuo Kirino.

Of course there is some badly written and one dimensional drivel out there on the crime shelves, but the same applies to literature doesn’t it. We also all have different tastes. I have always found it interesting when I have reviewed an M.C. Beaton and then had emails saying people won’t read my blog any more as they thought I only read ‘proper’ books. What constitutes a ‘proper’ book I do not know, any ideas?

I am fully aware that I can fall prey to the same issues with other genres (aliens… like they exist) though I have just read a stunning werewolf novel (no, really) and indeed I have been umming and ahhhing about reading Jojo Moyes ‘Me Before You’ because I have heard rave reviews from people I trust and think the premise sounds interesting, but from just looking at it my mind says ‘chick-lit’ and I switch off, this has happened whenever I have been recommended Marian Keyes, which has happened a lot. Am I then adding to the literary snobbery myself, I hope not, and may now rush and get ‘Me Before You’ just to prove a point.

This might be one of those posts that often appear on Savidge Reads where I start with a question that has been buzzing around in my head, write about it and end up asking more questions than I can answer and coming out the other side without a conclusion. It is a subject that interests me and one I would love to have a good old natter with you all about, so your thoughts please…

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The House of Silk – Anthony Horowitz

I am a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes. It is quite possible that you have heard me mention that fact that Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle were two of the reason that my reading was saved at two varying points in my life.  I was therefore both interest and slight unease that I felt when I heard that Anthony Horowitz had been approved by the Conan Doyle estate to write a new Holmes and Watson mystery. ‘The House of Silk’ is the result and it was, once again, with interest and unease that I opened the novel and read on.

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

I don’t want to give anything away about the plot of ‘The House of Silk’ because like all good mystery novels to give anything away would be to the detriment of anyone contemplating reading it. I can say that we join Holmes, through the narrative of Dr Watson once more after he has been starving himself for several weeks for a case (could this be ‘The Adventure of the Dying Detective’ from ‘His Last Bow’ by any chance?) now finished and bored waiting for another. Watson has just come to stay and sure enough a new case turns up on the doorstep in the form of Edward Carstairs, a young London art dealer, who believes someone is following him, someone who might want revenge after an incident in America in Carstairs’ past. And the game is afoot…

There is of course much more going on than meets the eye, Watson points out early on that nothing is ever simple and yet it’s the simple trivialities that can make or break a case, and actually in Watson’s introduction we are told that there are two strands to this in the form of both ‘The House of Silk’ and ‘The Man in the Flat Cap’, where they merge and why though is all up for discovery. It is also Watson’s introduction that tells us why, after Sherlock’s death some years before he has chosen to finally divulge this tale which was ‘simply too monstrous, too shocking to appear in print’ and ‘would tear apart the entire fabric of society’.

So how does Horowitz do as writing a Holmes novel or telling one through the voice of Watson? Well, apart from occasionally rather too often mentioning that this was ‘the greatest’ or ‘most difficult’ of his cases (which seemed a little self congratulatory) I thought this was excellent and I am a big Holmes fan and a big cynic. I could tell that Horowitz was a true fan of Sherlock and through his passion and knowledge, like when in the first chapter Holmes deduces why Watson has come to visit just as he did when they first met in ‘A Study in Scarlet’, the voice rang true.

Holmes reached out and took the strip of silk from me. He laced it through his skeletal fingers and held it in front of him, examining it in the way that a man might a poisonous snake. ‘If this was directed to me as a challenge, it is one I now accept,’ he said. He punched the air, his fist closing on the white ribbon. ‘And I tell you Watson, that I shall make them rue the day that it was sent.’

I really, really enjoyed ‘The House of Silk’, it drew me in. I loved spending time with Holmes and Watson again and was gripped and tricked along the way. I just loved the adventure of it all. It doesn’t try to take Holmes anywhere new that the loyal fans will be unhappy with, nor does it become a pastiche of a Holmes novel. I knew it wasn’t Conan Doyle but I knew I was in safe hands. It has certainly made me want to turn back to the original Holmes novels; I hope Horowitz and Holmes fans will do the same, to me that is the sign of a great return and a successful one.

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Filed under Anthony Horowitz, Books of 2011, Orion Publishing, Review, Sherlock Holmes

The Readers; Double the Delight & We Want To Hear From You…

I am dubious about writing too much about all the other book based projects that I do on the side of Savidge Reads. For example if I go on about the Bookmarked Literary Salon that I was doing (its taking a sabbatical for a while) in Manchester I worry it comes across like self promotion rather than me telling you about a bookish project that I love . The Green Carnation Prize is another project I have been quieter about on here this year for the same reason. Plus with Bookmarked there is the fact that as Savidge Reads is read all over the world, which thrills me but I find very odd (hello to you all), not many of you can physically come so is it really of any interest? I had the same worry with The Readers, the podcast I have started with the lovely Gavin of Gav Reads, though with the joys of it being on the internet (and iTunes) the likelihood of you being able to listen in and join in is much greater, and that is what we want.

We have popped up two episodes this week; one is a Manchester Literature Festival Special and includes some behind the scenes nattering as well as interviews after I was whizzing round the festival to report back on events starring (and where possible interviewing them afterwards) the likes of Colm Toibin, Alan Hollinghurst, Sarah Dunant, Patricia Duncker, Catherine O’Flynn, Kishwar Desai , KO Dahl and many more. The second is a ‘Sherlock Holmes Special’ and sees Gavin and I nattering away about Holmes, interviewing Anthony Horowitz on his novel ‘The House of Silk’ which sees Sherlock return.

Holmes and Watson... Or is it Gav & I planning Episode 8 of The Readers?

So what for the episodes going forward? Well we will still be covering book news, doing an author interview here and there; reading a book together and discussing all thing books based which we can banter about. We really want you involved though, and not just to listen to us nattering on, we want you to help us shape and be part of the podcast. How? Well…

We really want to hear from all of you who either read this blog, and Gavin’s of course, or who listen in. We would like to know what we are doing right, what we could do better and more importantly we would like you to join in with all the fun. We have already got a few bloggers in on the act, some who have sent us recordings of their top five books which we will be including in the future and one who is joining us as a special co-host for an episode, and we would love more of you to do the same whether you have a blog or not – yes publishers you too. The show is called ‘The Readers’ after all and that is what we want it to be all about, all readers! Do you fancy it?

If you want to record a voice memo with any suggestions for topics of discussion, or you top five books, then do feel free to email it (because it costs nothing ha)  to bookbasedbanter@gmail.com or if you simply want to leave us some thoughts and/or tips do so on the website or in the comments below.   

P.S Do you want to hear about these bookish projects that I do on the side of the blog? I don’t want Savidge Reads to become a place of promoting anything other than my love of books, and I don’t want you thinking I am some shameless self promoter either. Just so you know! Thoughts welcomed…

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October’s Incomings…

So yet another month has whizzed by and its time for me to let you know what has plopped through the letterbox over the last month. I am mad with all things Green Carnation shortlist, my Mum and everything else at the mo so forgive the slightly short and instant introduction.

  • Lethal Investments by K.O. Dahl  – I met the author at Manchester Literature Festival and he very kindly gave me a copy of his book after I interviewed him all about Nordic crime and the appeal of it. This is his latest novel in the series but he said it’s the one I should start with, you can’t argue with an authors orders can you?
  • My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher – I have this in hardback but I think it’s getting a second major push, with an audio version read by none other than David Tenant, I started reading it but I was getting a bit over emotional, I will try again.
  • Divorcing Jack by Bateman – A book to read before I interview him for The Readers.
  • Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons – and the festive reads start coming in. I actually need to read ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ don’t I?
  • Ashes To Dust/My Soul To Take/The Day is Dark by Yrsa Sigurdardottir – another author that I had the pleasure of meeting, and therefore reading, because of Manchester Literary Festival. She was hilarious and the first in the series ‘Last Rituals’ is brilliant, review coming soon.
  • The Doll Princess by Tom Benn – unsolicited copy of a debut novel about post apocalyptic Manchester which isn’t out until the spring but being set where I live the publishers knew I couldn’t resist this.
  • Someone Else’s Garden by Dipika Rai – another novel from an author I met at Manchester Literature Festival.
  • The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam – another novel from an author I met at Manchester Literature Festival.
  • She’s Leaving Home by Joan Bakewell – I am interviewing Joan next week at Waterstones Deansgate and so am having a bit of a Bakewell-a-thon. I have read her first ‘All The Nice Girls’ (review coming soon) and an now dipping into her essays before I read this over the weekend.
  • The Coward’s Tale by Vanessa Gebbie – unsolicited copy, love the title and the story of two young boys in a welsh mining town sounds interesting.
  • 666 Charing Cross Road by Paul Magrs – I feel a bit bad I haven’t read this yet, but I will be as he is at Bookmarked with Ben Aaronovitch on Monday. I am dubious about reviewing it after I have read it as I know him, and you know I know him. Mind you if you know that and I am honest does it matter?
  • The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz – The official return of Sherlock Holmes and approved by the Conan Doyle estate. I am very excited about this and about taking The Bookboy to meet him tomorrow.
  • The Horror of Love by Lisa Hilton – a book about the relationship between “two people – Nancy Mitford and the Free French commander Gaston Palewski – who conducted a less than ideal love affair in post-war France” I am a Mitford addict of course I need to read this.
  • Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire – the final (I think that’s true) novel in Maguire’s wonderful Oz stories which started with one of my favourite novels ‘Wicked’. Perfect world to be lost in during these autumn nights.

Have you read any of these of anything else by these authors? Which would you like to see me read next? What have you had arrive or been out and bought, borrowed or begged for bookwise of late?

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The Baker Street Phantom – Fabrice Bourland

There was quite a lot of buzz when ‘The Baker Street Phantom’ by Fabrice Bourland came out last year. I remember seeing posters for it absolutely everywhere in London and being intrigued by the idea of a supernatural 1930’s twist on a Sherlock Holmes-esque tale of murder and mystery.  However the hype seemed to get a little too much, it was appearing here, there and everywhere and being given away in London hotels. So I mentally popped it into my ‘maybe one day’ pile of never ending books I might read. Then I saw Sakura’s review of it and thought ‘ooh maybe I will give that one a go’. It happened to be in my library just the other week and so I picked it up.

Gallic Books, fiction, 2010, paperback, translated byMorag Young, 185 pages, borrowed from library

The premise of the novel is quite a simple on. We have two detectives Singleton and Trelawney who have recently arrived in London from Canada, where the crimes weren’t taxing enough for them, where they have set up a shared abode in Bloomsbury. There has been a particularly nasty spate of murders in the last few months and when a woman comes to call, who happens to be Arthur Conan Doyle’s recently widowed second wife, with a mystery of ghostly activity at none other than 221 Baker Street. Why the duo must of course investigate. Is it reminding you of anything at all?

“My friend James Trelawney and I never imagined for a moment what would follow when there was a knock at the door of our rooms in Montague Street towards the end of the morning of Friday, 24th June 1932. We knew no one in London and since Miss Sigwarth, our landlady, had let someone come up without calling up from downstairs in her shrill voice – something we had asked her not to do – it probably meant that the visit was professional. It was not a moment to soon. Three months had passed with nothing to fill our days and the wait was starting to get James down.”

I admit that at first I thought ‘The Baker Street Phantom’ wasn’t going to be a book I could finish, it seemed a rip off of Conan Doyle and I wasn’t initially impressed. However it was becoming one of those books where at the end of every chapter you think ‘oh, I will just read one more’ and I was glad I did because as the book goes on, and the spirit of Sherlock Holmes (I know, he’s a fictional character but I bore with it, so others should) appears, we enter the world of spiritualism that Conan Doyle himself became part of. This became a homage both to Conan Doyle and his invention Holmes.

It also became a book about Victorian books and the sensational, a period and genreI adore, but sadly this did detract away form something which could have made the book all the more successful – for me at least. You see my slight issue with the book was that for a book in the 1930’s it lacked that period’s atmosphere. It was so focused on Conan Doyle, Dickens, Wilde, Jack the Ripper, Jekyll and Hyde etc that it became steeped in the Victorian and let me wanting. It seems silly that someone who loves Victoriana so much would say that, but I didn’t really feel I was in the 1930’s London which I would have liked too. I wouldn’t have minded the book being a bit longer in order to gain that atmosphere either.

The book does get far fetched but do you know what, sometime we all just need a book that’s escapist, entertaining and a romp. This is just that sort of book. The character Singleton actually seems to completely encapsulate the book when he discusses the crimes as they go on “A literary crime… supernatural powers… spiritualist séances going wrong.” If that’s your sort of thing then you will no doubt enjoy this. I did.

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Filed under Fabrice Bourland, Gallic Books, Review

Books You Dip Into…

When I was last at the hospital (and I could be back in there again as these posts are scheduled hence why I haven’t been as good at commenting back of late but I will catch up on them I promise) I picked up a rather blooming big book alongside a book that I simply couldn’t resist because of the cover, the fact it was rather old, the fact it seemed like it could be just up my street and that it could be a book I could dip in and out of…

You see dipping in and out of books seems to be becoming a hobby of mine at the moment. I am reading books, though they are tending to be short. However on top of that somehow I have ended up with this pile of five books on my bedside table which are being dipped into and out of at random moments which Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Stories Not For The Nervous’ has now joined…

I think this picture illustrates how dipping in and out works for me from the varying titles on there. You see in my head, though I know it’s not the case, its not multiple reading as when I am reading a novel I leave the rest of them alone, hence why the pile keeps growing. As you can see, well I hope you can, there is a double whammy of Mitford going on as not only do I have Deborah Devonshire’s ‘Wait For Me!’ memoir which I am still reading a chapter of every now and again because its so delightful I am dragging it out not wanting it to end. The same thing is already happening with ‘The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh’ which I picked up from the library recently. I already know this book is one I am going to be asking for a copy all of my own for my birthday (only 22 days to go) as it’s just brilliant.

The Alfred Hitchcock short story collection, the stories aren’t by him by the way – just some of his favourites, is providing the sensationally spooky and letting me try new authors between books. Speaking of sensational writing though… You know how I love my Victorian sensationalism and the whole atmosphere of the time too; well what could be better than some real life mysterious cases and murder mysteries from the time? Nothing actually, and that is why ‘The Devil & Sherlock Holmes’ is being read a case at a time every so often (and getting a lot of library renewals) and proving to be the perfect non fiction read for me.

Finally, though it’s not the novel I am reading in one go, is ‘Cedilla’ by Adam Mars-Jones. This breaks my tradition with reading fiction books as a singular read which I only concentrate on and nothing else. Why? Well two reasons. The first is that it’s bloody massive and not that easy to carry around on any commutes that I might have. The second is that it’s the first ‘Green Carnation Prize 2011’ submission that I am reading and I am making notes (I haven’t put my specially bought Batman notepad in the picture, maybe I should have) originally it was because it was so big and then because I felt as Chair of the judges I should but now, having given it some thought, as we are reading them over a six month period this might be the best way to remember them. Or maybe the ones that stick with me should be the ones I push as my contenders for the longlist?

So that’s my ‘dipping in and out of’ selection for you all to see. Do you do this with books? Are there five or six titles bubbling between your fiction novels or do you always juggle a few books at once? Are you a one book and one book only person? Which books can you simply not dip in and out of and have to become a devotee to?

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The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

As I mentioned to you the other week, a man who helped form the reader I am today sadly passed away. As you read this I will be on the train to his funeral in Kent, where I will be talking to everyone about him during the service, and I thought as a second tribute to him I would re-read one of the books he gave me many moons ago that has become a firm favourite of mine over the years. In fact I still think that ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ may not just be my very favourite Sherlock Holmes story yet also possibly my favourite Arthur Conan Doyle novel, though don’t hold me to that.

When Dr Edward Mortimer appears seeking Sherlock Holmes at 221b Baker Street he comes not only with a mysterious death but also a family curse that has latest through the Baskerville line for decades. Sir Charles Baskerville recently died of a heart attack in the grounds of Baskerville Hall on the edge of the misty moors in the English countryside. However there has been suspicion around his death as his face was filled with a terrible fear and giant paws were found by him, the giant paws of the mythical ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’. With a new heir soon to arrive from America Mortimer wants Holmes to look into the mystery, and yet weirdly Holmes doesn’t seem convinced regardless of how grand a mystery it seems.

In fact it is Watson who is sent back with Mortimer to Baskerville Hall with the instructions that he must just keep Holmes abreast of the goings on and characters in the area and Holmes will join him if he feels the need. Once Watson arrives he finds that the characters are rather dubious and the moors incredibly ominous especially when during the night howls are often heard.

I am refusing to say anymore, though I could go on and on as I love this tale so much, as to give even a snippet away of what comes after the first quarter of the book would do any new reader, or indeed any returning reader who hasn’t read it for quite some time, out of a wonderful mystery that will have you turning the pages faster than you can say ‘whodunit’.

I love the atmosphere of this novel. We start with foggy Victorian London but are soon carried away by carriage to the haunting moors and the countryside that looks so peaceful but proves to be incredibly hostile. Conan Doyle also manages to make what could be another old country house murder mystery so much more using the supernatural of which he was a fervent believer. So as well as a murder mystery you also have a rather spooky tale. All in all this is the perfect tale for dark nights when you want to escape into the fantastical and the sinister. 10/10

Even several re-reads later, and I think this most recent must be my ninth or tenth, I spot new things I hadn’t before. Ok, I know then ending but there is so comfortable in opening a book like this and knowing just where you are but being able to take in all the extras of your surroundings. I can’t recommend this book enough, I am just wondering where to head with Sherlock next? I have suddenly realised with shock I have never read ‘The Valley of Fear’, maybe I should open one of the collections and have a short Sherlock by the bed that I can dip in and out of over these winter nights.

So a huge thanks to my Uncle Derrick for introducing me to such story telling and tales, hopefully me spreading the word will encourage others to try it and leave a little legacy from a man who was a true legend in my life.

This wonderfully covered new edition was sent to me from the publisher earlier in the year when I was planning a Sherlock season… I am still mulling over the idea.

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Losing A Reading Icon…

He won’t be mentioned in the press or anything but the world; well my world in particular, has lost a real reading legend who I am sure I have spoken to you about before. Sadly on Saturday night my Great Uncle Derrick, the man who inspired my love of stories and reading, passed away after several years of dementia. I feel he deserves a special post this Monday morning in loving memory of a bit of a legend. You see if he hadn’t been such a huge part of my childhood, in many ways he was like a second granddad to me, I am not sure I would have loved books as much as I do right now.

You see when I was little and in my teens I used to go on walking holidays with my Granny Savidge Reads (who has inspired me to read as has my Mum but Uncle Derrick was a really big influence), Bongy (my Granddad) and Gran’s brother Derrick and his wife Pat. These holidays would consist of between ten and thirteen miles walking a day. Nowadays I would imagine I would have simply popped my iPod in my ears if it all got a little bit boring but at the time I didn’t even have a personal stereo. So my Uncle Derrick, aware that it could be boring on occasion for a young man of my age – bless him, would memorise tales of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and recite  different ones to me from Sherlock Holmes to his tales of mystery and everything in between and this storytelling would keep me going. It was this that stuck in my head as the magic of storytelling more than being bought lots of books for Christmas by various other family members, which of course I am also grateful for.

Me, Uncle Derrick and Aunty Pat

In fact it was a second hand copy of the complete tales of Sherlock Holmes that started me back reading after a few years in the book loathing wilderness of my late teens and early twenties. Interestingly though one book I have always taken with me wherever I have been and gone over the last few years is ‘The Conan Doyle Stories’ which Uncle Derrick gave to me, and was one of his favourite books, when I was about eleven. However though I have dipped into it over the last decade I have never properly given my attention to it… now I think is the time.

So I think that maybe its time to give ‘The Conan Doyle Stories’ a real go and am also dusting off ‘The Complete Illustrated Short Stories of Sherlock Holmes’ along with ‘The Complete Brigadier Gerard’ which is somewhere on my shelves after being recently sent to me. So I am thinking as a small tribute to Uncle Derrick I might have a Conan Doyle fest. If anyone wants to crack open some Conan Doyle too that would be lovely.

So that’s that, my little tribute to a reading legend, and one that will be much missed. We all need reading legends like this in our lives and his love for reading is something that will live on in me and hopefully I will pass on to many more people.

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