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Other People’s Bookshelves #72 – Ayo Onatade

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 in South London to meet blogger, reviewer and crime fiction expert Ayo Onatade and have a nosey at all of her books. However before we do that let’s grab a nice cuppa and a fondant fancy or two (or three)  that Ayo’s put out for us  whilst we get to know a little more about her.

I am an avid reader, blogger and critic of anything and everything crime, detective and mystery fiction related. I live in South London and work as a civil servant with very senior members of the UK Judiciary as my day job.  I hasten to add that my day job has nothing to do with my love of genre. I run the Shotsmag Confidential blog, review books and also write for Crimespree Magazine.  I also give occasional papers and write academic articles on crime fiction. In 2014 I co-edited along with Len Tyler a collection of short stories entitled Bodies in the Bookshop. Amongst my family I am known as the family library. Whilst my main passion is crime fiction I do actually read other types of books though I don’t think my family actually believes me when I say this.

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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 can categorically say that the books on my bookshelves have nothing to do with whether or not they are my favourites or if they are really good.  It is more a matter of having somewhere to store them and being able to get my hands on a book when I need it. I certainly do not have a system of one in one out! God forbid. I can barely get rid of books. If that were the case, what would I do with all my “comfort reads” and books that I want to keep? I freely admit that I am to a certain extent a book hoarder and I can get very upset when books are not treated or looked after very well.  I do however have periods where I look at the state of my study and flat in general and shake my head in dismay when I take in the amount of books that I have. The books that I tend to keep fall into a number of categories and are invariably the ones that I value.  They are my signed first editions (especially those of authors whose works I really love), my reference books and literary criticism on crime fiction, which are incredibly useful when I am trying to write a paper and I don’t want to traipse up to the British Library, my comfort reads and books given to me as presents.  I will give away duplicates (especially if I have my own copy already), books that I know that I am not going to read again and occasionally books that I have been judging. With the cutbacks and the closure of many libraries I have found myself giving quite a large number of books to my local library, which luckily for me is at the end of my road. I think that it is outrageous the way in which libraries are being dismantled.  The other person who gets books is my local postman who reads a lot and it is my way of saying thank you since he is the one who as to lug a post bag full of books up to my flat every Saturday.

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

My shelves are organised in a very disorganised way. They are not in alphabetical order of author but I have for example all my crime fiction reference books and literary criticism on crime fiction in one place, my short story anthologies are together and most of my historical crime novels are together in one place as well. Also my non-crime books are gathered together. Aside from that I generally tend to group an author’s books together in one place.  However, it doesn’t always work and I am not really too bothered as I generally tend to know where a book is when I am looking for it.  My TBR pile is all over the place.  My TBR pile tends to be split into books that I am planning on reading because I want to review them, books that I want to read for pleasure and books that I am reading because I am judging an award. Culling my books upsets me but over the years I have become a lot more resilient about it.  I do purge my collection but generally tend to do it through gritted teeth and with a lot of angst.

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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 the first book I ever bought with my own money.  I can remember the books that have had a significant meaning for me for various reasons.  The first is The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie.  This was the very first mystery novel that I read and unknowingly introduced me to my love of crime, mystery and detective fiction.  The second book is Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I read this whilst I was at secondary school and it was the first African novel that looked at the social and political aspects of Igbo society and the effects of European colonisation on Africa. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, which for me was the first, ever autobiography that I read that did not seem to be an autobiography.  It was funny, full of interesting information about collecting animals and what fun it was to live in Corfu with a rather eccentric family full of love. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett and Farewell my Lovely by Raymond Chandler changed my crime fiction reading tastes forever. Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, which is the first of the Bond books. Reading it after I had started to watch the Bond films certainly confirmed for me the saying “Never judge a book by its movie” by J W Eagan. The first Casino Royale film featuring David Niven is a prime example. I have all these books on my bookshelf and every time I see them they make me smile and bring back memories.

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?

Nope! I think all books are meant to be read whether good or bad. I do have a few books that I read at least ever 18 months and they tend

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?

I think my most prized book is actually the collection of Raymond Chandler novels that were published by the Library of America.  When you line them up in the correct order in the box then they show a man wearing a fedora holding a smoking gun.  They were given to me as a surprise present by a former boss who used to collect 1st edition works on William Shakespeare. I was very surprised when I received it as it was unexpected. Which books would I save? Bearing in mind the number of books that I have I would find it rather difficult to choose a few but I would certainly have to ensure that following are rescued. Certainly my Raymond Chandler collection published by the Library of America. My complete works of Dashiell Hammett. My collection of Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher, my JD Robb collection, all my James Lee Burke books and books by George Pelecanos, 100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello.  Finally my collection of crime fiction reference and books on crime fiction literary criticism specifically The Blues detective by Stephen Soitos, Colleen Barnett’s encyclopaedia on Mystery Women and Spooks, Spies and Private Eyes: Black Mystery, Crime and Suspense Fiction of the 20th Century by Paula L Woods. Oops! That seems to be quite a lot.

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?

Argh! I can’t remember that far back. I wish I could. For me the division between when I stopped reading children’s books and moved to adults is rather blurred. We are all readers in my family. My brother and sisters and I used to spend a lot of time in the library when we were younger.  I do have books on my shelves that I have solely because they bring back memories of my childhood for example T H White’s Once and Future King, but aside from that my mind is blank.

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

I can’t remember the last time that I borrowed a book. I tend to resist doing so.  We are talking about over 25 years ago. It generally ends up being the other way around and nowadays I hardly ever loan my books out.  The only people that I will consider lending my books to are my family and very close friends.  I am quite lucky because of the amount of blogging and writing that I do on crime, detective and mystery fiction I get sent quite a lot of books.  I have been known to buy a book (sometimes second hand) if I have wandered into a bookshop and have seen a book that I have been looking for to add to my collection or a book (mainly American authors) that I can’t get here in the UK.  I generally tend to buy most of my reference books and literary criticism as well as my non-crime books.  I freely admit that I am a bit paranoid and precious about my books as I tend to believe that they won’t be treated well.

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

The Killing Kind by Chris Holm.  Chris Holm is much better known in the States as opposed to here in the UK.  However, he has a UK publisher and The Killing Kind was published in August this year. He is an award winning novelist and he has written a brilliant trilogy of  Collector novels which is a mash-up of fantasy and crime pulp.  The Killing Kind is a page turner of a thriller where an assassin that solely kills assassins finds himself on the run from both the FBI and the Mafia.

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

There are too many! Where do I start?  The geek in me would very much like the four volume hardback edition of 100 Bullets.  I would also like a colour version of House of Leaves by Mark L Danielewski, which was published in 2000.  A postmodern novel I first encountered it when I was doing my Masters degree.  The layout and page structure is very unconventional and you certainly have to have patience to read it. The novel is also distinctive for its multiple narrators, who interact with each other in elaborate and disorienting ways.  There is a coloured version and a red version.  Either one would do. Would it be too greedy for me to also want a complete set of original Penguin Greens and the complete works of James M Cain?

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

The first thought would be “how the hell can you find anything” as my shelves are not neat and tidy. The word eclectic also comes to mind. I would think that anyone perusing my shelves would initially think that I read too much crime fiction and that I need to get a life and that I am a bit of a book hoarder.  On the other hand I would also hope that they would ask me about my favourite books and authors and possibly ask me for recommendations as well. I would like them to think that my taste spans different sub genres of crime, detective and mystery fiction and that my bookshelves are an insight to my love of reading. I think that it would also depend on whether or not they are readers themselves. Other readers tend to be a lot more understanding and interested in what is on other peoples bookshelves but non readers are more likely to be disinterested.

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A huge thanks to Ayo for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. 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 Ayo’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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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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