Tag Archives: Sylvia Plath

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.

 bookshelves-096

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.

bookshelves-095

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.

bookshelves-091

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?

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

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?

Advertisements

7 Comments

Filed under Other People's Bookshelves

The Highs of Hebden Bridge & Heptonstall (A Book Crawl in Yorkshire)

Before I take you on a virtual tour which includes beautiful countryside, several book shops, Sylvia Plath’s final resting place and an impressive book loot, I just want to say a huge thank you for all the comments, emails and texts I got yesterday after I told you of the latest with my health. It was lovely to have all your thoughts and meant a lot. Anyway before I get any mushier let me tell you about a wonderful day out I had on Tuesday which was something of a destination lottery as it turned out.

Wanting to do something to keep me occupied before ‘results day’ on Wednesday myself and the lovely Paul Magrs decided we would head to the train station and pick a random destination to head to for some kind of bookish adventure. And what a lovely station it was that we chose, you know how I love my Victoriana…

As soon as we stepped inside I had a good feeling that we would have a great day for books and adventure when I saw this wonderful old signage from the original station…

We decided we would get the next train which happened to take us into the Yorkshire Dales with Hebden Bridge as its destination. With a lovely M&S sandwich selection (which Paul rather took the mickey out of me for) and some nibbles we got onto a train that looked like it should be sat on a snowy peak and be taking us off to the top of the alps. Instead it took us as far as Todmorden where we sneakily got off (sometimes you need to stop and hop off along the way)…

Paul had raved about a wonderful bookshop that was housed there; unfortunately it seemed that like most of Todmorden on a Tuesday it was closed… which was rather unimpressive, did they not know we were coming? Oh no, they didn’t. We did pop into several charity shops though before both grabbing a corned beef pasty (I might also have had a gingerbread man) which we ate by the canal…

Soon enough though we headed off to Hebden Bridge which has one of the most wonderful train stations I have scene, its literally like going back in time…

Again, sadly the independent book shop here was also closed on a Tuesday (maybe we should have said we were coming) it looked a corker too…

We did visit a marvellous remainder book shop…

In which I found an absolute gem I could have walked away with about five books from this store but I was incredibly restrained, well ok I was restrained because we had visited every charity shop going in Hebden Bridge and had already got a corking seven books in my bag. Which meant rather than walk all the way to the peak point of Heptonstall I begged to get a bus, which was driven by the happiest bus driver I have ever had the pleasure of meeting – he drove us back down too rather like a taxi service), and came to the stunning derelict Heptonstall church which either got struck by lightening or was bombed, I need to look it up…

It honestly was incredibly haunting and rather spooky. It has stayed with me since and seems to have got my creative juices flowing, I have been scribbling away in my notebook ever since seeing this…

Before we left we went and, after rather a lot of searching, found the final resting place of Sylvia Plath, I was rather surprised by her grave to be honest I think I expected something more showy or extravagant. Instead was a rather understated grave in the middle of a simple hidden church yard…

Paul and I then had a rather interesting, if slightly sacrilegious, discussion on the way back down with the jolly bus driver as to whether ‘The Bell Jar’ (which is the only Plath that I have read, I am not so good with poetry) would have been quite so successful if Sylvia hadn’t died early? All in all it was an amazing bookish day. Oh of course… you will want to know what books I came away with. So without further ado…

  • Murder At The Laurels/Murder in Midwinter/Murder in Bloom by Lesley Cookman – you may have noticed in the last few hauls I have managed to get almost all the Libby Sarjeant series. I will be tucking into these soon.
  • Dewey by Vicky Myron – I am actually rather cross with myself for buying this but it’s become a rather’in’ joke with Paul and I and for 50p I couldn’t hold back. A book about a library cat, I have an awful feeling that like ‘Marley & Me’ I will love this and be ever so slightly disgusted with myself.
  • Eating For England by Nigel Slater – I almost squealed when I saw this after LOVING ‘Toast’ earlier in the year.
  • This Is Not A Novel by Jennifer Johnston – You don’t see Johnston’s books very often in second hand shops and I do like her style and prose a lot plus I loved the title, so in the bag it went.
  • The House of Mitford by Jonathan Guinness – This was the bargain I found in the discount store, it was the most expensive purchase of the day at a whopping 3.99 but it’s normally over a tenner, its about The Mitfords which is themost important factor and is normally quite hard to get hold of – hoorah!
  • Fear The Worst by Linwood Barclay – I can’t deny that I am having a real ‘Savidge Reads Crime’ phase and I really liked the first Linwood Barclay ‘No Time For Goodbye’ so even though I haven’t read the one between these I picked this up anyway.

What an ace bookish day it was. Books, Sylvia Plath, adventures in the dales, and stunning locations. No wonder we had to have a drink afterwards in central Manchester to calm ourselves down. Have you visited Heptonstall? Read any of the books that I picked up? When did you last go on a random book haul trawl and where?

19 Comments

Filed under Book Spree, Book Thoughts

Books for Book Groups…

After my previous post on a few things Book Group orientated and The Riverside Readers I said that I would come back with a post on my personal top Book Group reads as well as discussing my top Book Group tips. Those two things would actually make a bit of a Bible of a post and so I will do the top books today and a few tips and my own experiences for and of Book Groups on Thursday, so hopefully you are all still interested in all things Book Group related. Could I fit the words Book Groups in these previous sentences if I tried?

After seeing Novel Insights wonderful post on her personal top twelve books a group could read in a year I thought I would have a go. This isn’t plagiarism it’s simply joining in, ha. Having been in a few book groups (in fact I am currently in two though one is rather rogue and we only do one every so often when the whim takes us) I realised that I had a list of 38 books that I could choose from. Some of the books haven’t worked (Tales of the Jazz Age – we all had different editions which all featured a different selection of short stories), some have received indifference, some have been disliked and some have been loved, more on those in my list.

Though I haven’t featured the books that were indifferent or went wrong I have included one book which I didn’t care for but caused great discussion and that’s one thing I have noticed from book groups, I might not always like a book but that in itself when lots of people do can make for a great book group read as it causes debate. So what five things do I do in order to make a book group choice now, I may not have always done this in the past mind;

  1. Books you wouldn’t normally read – one of the main points of a book group in my mind – but which are accessible, you don’t want to alienate your other group members.
  2. Books which have been received with strong reviews/thoughts both positive and negative way when they came out, this could cause great debate.
  3. Books that make you think and cause all sorts of discussions with yourself in your own head though you can’t always predict these in advance.
  4. Authors you love and admire who other people might not have tried, though don’t be precious on these as they could get ripped to shreds.
  5. Books that challenge and push you as a reader, if they are going to do this to you they probably will be to others.

Looking back at all the book groups I have been part of in the past which book would I recommend the most? Well after some whittling of the 38 I have read with book groups I came up with the final twelve (like Novel Insights I have chosen a years worth) that I think have caused the greatest discussion in no particular order.

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
  • The Bell – Iris Murdoch
  • In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
  • On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan (close tie with Atonement to be honest)
  • The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  • To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  • Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
  • Animal’s People – Indra Sinha
  • Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck (the one I didn’t like – discussion was great)
  • The Book of Dave – Will Self
  • Kafka on the Shore – Hariku Murakami

So there it is. You can see the full list of all 38 books now on the “new and improved” Book Group page where you can also see what the next book group read is. You may be wondering why some of the above list are in bold. Well my Gran wants a list of five books, as I mentioned on a previous post, she could put forward for her book group. I am actually going to send her a list of new books she and her group are less likely to have read along with the five above in bold. More book group musings on Thursday when I will be discussing Book Group decorum and what made me sensationally (love the drama of that word) leave a book group I started after two years! Let me know what you think of the final twelve too can you spot any themes in them? Also please do tell me of any great books you have done in a book group in the past.

P.S Sorry no picture on today’s post I am not a big fan of posts with no images, if it drives me to crazy will be the shot of The Riverside Readers again!

15 Comments

Filed under Book Group, Book Thoughts

The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

So last night was Book Group which I shall report back on in more detail in a blog below this one later. ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath was the book up for discussion, a book that I have always been intrigued in reading but haven’t ever picked up. Bizarrely I now have two copies as though I had a copy of Faber’s re-issue I then saw a fabulous psychedelic 60’s copy and grabbed it as it looked so special. Enough of the outside though, what did I think of what the delightful cover’s contained?

‘The Bell Jar’ was and is Sylvia Plath’s one and only novel. Published in 1963 a few months before she committed suicide though no one actually knows when she wrote it. This is the tale of Esther Greenwood, a young woman who seems to have it all, a debutant in New York taken on as an intern into the world of fashion media from the American country side and how this leads to some sort of breakdown.

The book is definitely one of two halves. The first in the busy and hectic setting of 1950’s New York where pretty much whatever Esther could want she is able to get. Her life evolves around freebies, lunches (one ending in a hilarious taxi ride and bathroom encounter of debutant food poisoning and its effects), parties and meeting strange and fascinating men. You would think this would be every young woman’s dream and indeed Esther once did though by the time we meet her it’s clear the shine has worn off. Everything is routine and alongside Doreen she starts to rebel, when this doesn’t work she simply counts down the days till she can be home writing and waiting for her scholarship to start.

The second part of the book is set ‘back home’ after the city life Esther finds herself more unhappy and once she is told (by her hopeless mother) that she no longer has a scholarship her dreams of writing are shattered and from this point on we watch as Esther methodically plans killing herself.

I had always thought that ‘The Bell Jar’ was an oppressive novel which may by the end leave you as depressed as the narrator. I didn’t find it so. Yes it’s incredibly dark, there is no mistaking that, but some of it is incredibly witty. I had no idea there would be so much humour in this book. Though I wouldn’t want her as a friend I loved Esther’s voice. Her opinions on everything, though she only ever has them internally, are incredibly observant and dry. I actually laughed out loud when she see’s her ‘forced’ beau naked and lets us know just what she thinks of that sight. One minute she is magnificently manipulative and cunning, the next she is naïve hopeless and childlike and always strangely likeable and irritating in one.

Is it autobiographical? I don’t think we will ever know how can we? I do in a way wish there was more of Plath’s fiction as I would definitely be an avid reader. I must admit as I am not the biggest fan of poetry I have never read her poems but I am definitely going to give them a go.

I am really pleased to have read it finally, so pleased that both editions are now firmly ensconced on my bookshelves. I think its one of those books where if you haven’t read it then ‘you always mean to read it’, do you know what I mean? So what about all of you out there, what do you think of ‘The Bell Jar’?

27 Comments

Filed under Book Group, Faber & Faber, Review, Sylvia Plath

Belated Book Group Blog

Now what with moving house and all I have been lax on reporting back on Book Group last Thursday, and as the next one is a month today (August 6th) I thought that I should really get on with it as Kimbofo already has which puts me to shame. 

I had a few friendly faces from the Blogosphere as Jackie from Farmlanebooks and Claire from A Paperback Reader both turned up. Kim’s blog had drawn in two more and then some of my friends and a work colleague popped in too. It made a really lovely mix of eleven, with a diverse range of people, ages and genders and over a few drinks we all had a lovely discussion. There wasn’t actually a first book choice as we had decided to do an ice breaking group where we all brought along our favourite book. The choices were…

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (Simon)
My Brother Jack by George Johnston (Kim)
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (Claire)
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (Jackie)
Persuasion by Jane Austen (Michelle)
The Pursuit of Love/Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford (Dom)
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (Polly)

Diaspora by Greg Egan / Dawn by Octavia E. Butler (Kake)
Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson (Hattie)
A Place to Live: And Other Selected Essays of Natalia Ginzburg by Natalia Ginzburg (Armen)
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (Gemma)

I have highlighted the ones that I have actually read (I read half Behind the Scenes at the Museum and gave up so must retry that) and am going to get copies of the ones I haven’t. Of course mine had to be Rebecca, which Claire had actually guessed I would bring and is also her favourite but thought two same favourites might not be so interesting and so she brought another. Now I know I said that I would do a page of my favourite books on here but I have done something wrong with my coding and being mid move I haven’t been able to update it as yet, but its coming honest. I just need to have a big sort out and then settle in the new pad. I did ask you for your favourites but you weren’t too forthcoming and I would still love to know what they are. 

So what is the next book we are doing on August 6th?

Well it was my choice, after this we are going in alphabetical order, and so I decided to try ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath which sounds quite intriguing! “Renowned for its intensity and outstandingly vivid prose, it broke existing boundaries between fiction and reality and helped to make Plath an enduring feminist icon. It was published under a pseudonym a few weeks before the author’s suicide. Plath was an excellent poet but is known to many for this largely autobiographical novel. The Bell Jar tells the story of a gifted young woman’s mental breakdown beginning during a summer internship as a junior editor at a magazine in New York City in the early 1950s. The real Plath committed suicide in 1963 and left behind this scathingly sad, honest and perfectly- written book, which remains one of the best-told tales of a woman’s descent into insanity.”  Should be interesting! 

I will do a review and update on the group the day after we’ve met in the flesh, so you can join in with your thoughts then if you can’t actually make it. Well you can do it now actually… just no plot spoilers please!!!!

4 Comments

Filed under Book Group, Book Thoughts

The Faber Firsts

I am feeling very lucky this morning as yesterday when I came home there was a rather large parcel awaiting me in the hallway, now I dont know about you but I get really excited when any new parcels pop through the door so I couldnt hold on and simply tore it open in the kitchen. I was greeted by a delightful set/series of books from the lovely people at Faber & Faber… 
The Faber Firsts (And A Pineapple - I Opened Them Hurridly In My Kitchen - Apologies)

The Faber Firsts (And A Pineapple - I Opened Them Hurridly In My Kitchen - Apologies)

Now from my rubbish picture (please ignore the pineapple – it was a hurried opening in my kitchen like I said) you cant really see what arrived. It was the ‘Faber Firsts’ which is a selection of ten books republished specially by Faber to mark their 80th Anniversary (oddly I met a book cover designer from Faber at a party a while back, he did the Molly Fox cover) and they have published ten of the first books by some of Fabers most popular writers in the last 80 years. These are…

  • The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath (which I think has the most stunning cover)
  • Lord of the Flies – William Golding
  • Cover Her Face – P.D James
  • The Barracks – John McGarhern
  • The White Castle – Orhan Pamuk
  • A Pale View of Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Buddha of Suburbia – Hanif Kureshi
  • Bliss – Peter Carey
  • The New York Trilogy – Paul Auster
  • Such a Long Journey – Rohinton Mistry

I have to admit I havent read a single one of these which is most shocking, so really I dont quite know where to start! Any suggestions? Now before you get suggesting bear in mind something rather fabulous that Faber & Faber have offered to do!

As you know I am setting up the Book Group with the lovely Kim from Reading Matters/Kimbofo which I am hoping some of you will be attending and as I am choosing the first book (see the Book Group part of the site for more) if it happens to be a Faber book then Faber will send a copy of the book for every single member of the group to read – for free!!!! Now there will be a condition that you need to attend the book group to get it but more on that on the Book Group page nearer the time.

Now where where we? Oh yes… which books would you recommend, where should I start?

15 Comments

Filed under Book Group, Book Thoughts, Faber & Faber