Tag Archives: The First Tuesday Book Club

Just Richard Flanagan and I, Having a Chat…

Blimey where have the last two weeks gone? Last week seemed to be taken up with the Green Carnation Prize longlisting meetings and discussions (and all the admin that followed), plus a few author interviews, then I was off back home to the Peak District to stay with my mad aunty Caz and then this week I have been prepping for something else which I can’t talk about yet. This isn’t me trying to be mysterious and coy. I am just waiting to find out what is what. Anyway…

One of the interviews I recorded last week was with the lovely Richard Flanagan for You Wrote The Book, well he only went and won the Man Booker Prize this week! I thought being a bookish lot you might like a listen to it maybe, perhaps? If so the link is here.

I will be telling you all about The Narrow Road to the Deep North on Sunday but in the interim let me just say it is quite, quite amazing. I still can’t quite shake it. Kim of Reading Matters has been telling me to read him for ages and I have wanted to read this one in particular since I saw it discussed on The First Tuesday Book Club with Jennifer, Marieke, Jason and co. I can certainly see what all the talk has been for.

So have a listen if you fancy it. Just because I am nosey though, what are your thoughts on the Booker prize this year, both the lists and the new rules?

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Filed under You Wrote The Book!

The Cook – Wayne Macauley

Living with a trained chef, it seems that an interest in all things foodie has become part of my life through osmosis. Actually, let’s rephrase that. Living with a trained chef the technical side of cooking, flavours and presentation has become part of my life through osmosis. I have always taken a possibly slightly beyond healthy interest in food and experience fine dining when I can. Note – living with a chef means I am never allowed to cook, or if I do it is always wrong (yes you can even stir a stir fry wrong, apparently). So books with a foodie slant have an interest to this household and having not read one for a while and it being Kimbofo’s ANZ Literature Month it seemed the perfect time to read Wayne Macauley’s The Cook.

Quercus Books, paperback, 2013, fiction, 256 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Zac is a young offender who, after having committed an act of violence, is given the option of either going into a young offenders institute or of joining Cook School, an initiative set up by a celebrity Head Chef who wants to do good for the community and also quite possibly for his own PR. Here Zac learns all the trick of the trade, from slaughtering to sautéing, of cooking under the eyes of Sous Chef Fabian and occasionally the Head Chef himself. Zac soon gets a taste (sorry) for the world of cooking and as he watches the life the Head Chef lives, and the delights celebrity can bring, Zac decides that is the life for him and he will do anything to achieve it.

Head Chef stopped stalking the bench. It was a bit religious he had his arms out palms up his wedding ring was huge. You have been chosen he said each and every one of you it could have been anyone but of all the young people wandering the suburbs wasting their lives you and only you have been chosen. Do not waste this opportunity. You have a kitchen the envy of a Michelin-star restaurant the best teaching talent in the country fresh produce at your door it is up to you to use these resources and not waste them. Remember you are flying the flag for good taste gentlemen. If you are not prepared to aim higher and higher again I suggest you take your supermarket chops and go and eat them with the dogs.

Initially you could be fooled into thinking that The Cook is simply a satire on the cooking world and all the cookery shows, from Masterchef to the recent show Taste with Nigella and co, and at first glance it is. As we learn, grimly fascinated as the descriptions are quite full on, how you slaughter various animals after having reared them in fancy ways to make the most of your meat. We also learn how the finest chefs make everything top line with basic ingredients and maximum price, you know what I mean; mushroom foam, a piece of pork the size of an iPod mini with the tiniest stokes of sauce surrounding it. And also how the upper classes will happily pay through their noses for it. Highlighted all the more when Zac becomes an ‘in house’ chef.

Yet The Cook is actually so much more than that. At it’s very (cold, dark) heart this is a book about class, something I am learning Australian authors are very interested in. We watch as Zac watches the upper classes and all the while Macauley is saying ‘look how outrageous this is’. What I think Macauley then does which is very clever is break this, possibly subliminally, is then have it running into three strands. Firstly we see how the upper classes are not always based on the money people actually have and also the fall from grace when recession hits both at the Head Chef’s idyllic school and then in the rich suburbs of the cities.

Secondly, through Zac, we look at how this affects the younger people of today who are striving to find (let alone make) a place in this world when even the most privileged are struggling, even if it is behind closed doors. Zac was from the wrong streets before he became a wrong’en and therefore he has to work harder and harder and harder in order work against the preconceptions people will have of him, even the preconception of himself. Macauley creates a fascinating psychology being Zac as a boy who believes himself lower than the low and who may want the trappings of fame if he can’t become part of the elite then he can at least aim to be the highest of the lowest of the low, if that makes sense.

I don’t want to work for a boss who props me up just above drowning I want to work for a customer who knows I am below them and who knows that I know. This is my shame it is a shame I want to be proud of. The money is elsewhere it’s always been elsewhere that is the truth of our lives someone else is holding the string dangling it in front of our eyes do we jump like dogs for a treat or do we flatten our ears say I’m your dog you’re my master give him shame out of every pour make him feel so big and special that he can’t help dropping something down for you. It’s not up to us to change them our job is to lick their boots kiss their arses let them make the money they’re the ones who know how to and let’s be thankful for what trickles down.

This means that thirdly we look at the question ‘is there actually power in servitude?’ This is not something that is answered in The Cook instead it is a question that hangs in the air, or just behind the dining room doors. We are to go away and think about it and with the sudden dark twist, which should not be given away because when it happens its brilliant, at the end there is no doubt you will be thinking about it long after you have read it.

However, some of you may not get there because I occasionally struggled. You see Macauley’s cleverest trick with The Cook is also something that I occasionally found hard to work with and that was Zac himself as our narrator. Let me explain. Zac’s narration is initially very monotone whilst having the verbals. Everything comes out at once, Macauley doing this by having not a single comma (no not a one) in the book at all. He is also slightly cold, I couldn’t decide if this was some condition, lack of education or just his personality. This occasionally becomes slightly overbearing and so I needed to have a bit of space with him now and again. Yet his voice does change slowly over time and having continued I was fascinated as he goes from determined to delude to desperate. I was very glad I persevered.

I think that The Cook is a rather fascinating book, relatively small, utterly brimming full of themes and ideas. Macauley’s creation of Zac and his ways of narration are a risk that pays off with an ending that I will be left thinking about for quite some time. Less a satire for me and more an unabashed and often confronting look at society, the class divide and the future for those who are young and sometimes make mistakes and the messages of aspiration that we are sending them. Well worth a read.

ANZ-LitMonth-200pixWho else has read this and what did you think of it? Have you read any of Macauley’s other books, which I don’t think have crossed the water here yet, and if so what did you make of them? You can see other reviews of the book from ANZ Lit Lovers, FarmlaneBooks, The First Tuesday Book Club and Kim of Reading Matters. Kim has recommended the book to me many a time and so it only seemed right that I read it for her ANZ Literature Month this May. For more info on that head here. Back to The Cook… I do like a book with a dark little heart and one that builds and builds giving a final twist, can you recommend any others in that sort of style?

 

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Filed under Maclehose Publishing, Quercus Publishing, Review, Wayne Macauley

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

Some books need to be read at just the right time, sometimes whim chooses its moment and others it feels like fate has stepped in slightly. I have been meaning to read Graeme Simsion’s debut novel The Rosie Project for ages and ages, since it came out in fact and had lots of glowing reviews from its home turf of Australia, indeed even being featured on The First Tuesday Book Club. Yet for some reason I was never quite in the right mood… and then Adam at my book club chose it and so it seemed fate had intervened. This I should add was back at the end of February but I thought I would hold off reviewing it until Kim of Reading Matters (who shared her shelves with us all yesterday) delightful ANZ Literature Month which runs throughout May.

Penguin Books, trade paperback, 2013, fiction, 352 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Professor Don Tillman is a man who is going to get married, to who, well he doesn’t quite know yet. What he does know is less who she might be but much more who he doesn’t want her to be. Don has actually gone the extra mile and designed a questionnaire to find his ideal partner which he calls The Wife Project. This he feels will be a winner, yet the options for a possible wife don’t seem to be very forthcoming. Occasionally he does get a first date, alas there always tends to be some slight issue that throws Don off kilter and rather off his date. Don, we soon discover, is very particular character from liking to spend exactly 94 minutes cleaning the bathroom to being very sure that anyone and everyone should know the difference between an apricot sorbet and a peach one.

Cycling home, I reflected on the dinner. It had been a grossly inefficient method of selection, but the questionnaire had been of significant value. Without it, and the questions it prompted, I would undoubtedly have attempted a second date with Olivia, who was an extremely interesting and nice person. Perhaps we would have gone on a third date and a fourth and fifth date, then one day, when all the desserts at the restaurant had contained egg, we would have crossed the road to the ice-cream parlour, and discovered they had no egg-free pistachio. It was better to find out before we made an investment in the relationship.

However things change slightly when Don’s friend Gene, a man who is currently doing his own project on the differences between sexual intercourse with women from every country, a project we are never sure he has been fully honest with his wife about, steps in. He sends Rosie in Don’s direction, she is almost everything that Don wouldn’t want yet she needs some genetic help in finding her real father (another project) which slightly begrudgingly Don agrees to, leading him on a journey of detective discovery and one of self-discovery too.

I will admit that it does all sound a bit cute and schmaltzy, and at times it often is. It all sounds rather predictable and you can probably guess what is going to happen, even the twists and turns that come along, with all the characters and the genetic hunt (though with the latter I was rather wrong footed) yet even a big old cynic like me found himself enjoying it rather a lot as I was reading on.

The main reason for that is Don himself. Initially I didn’t think I was going to get on with the narration because it is (and this is a good thing but it could put some people off) very unique. Don is a professor in genetics which has rather an irony as, we assume as it is never made official, he has some form of Asperger’s Syndrome which is one of the things that he himself deals with but cannot spot in his own, very precise, behaviour. This makes his narration initially seem very matter of fact, quite distant and sometimes rather cold. As we get to know him though we see it as just a quirk in his personality which warms us to him and we often find ourselves laughing at the honest way in which he will view a situation or person. Simsion does something very clever here as we never laugh AT Don, we just laugh at the way his thinking highlights some of the ridiculous ways in which we behave as people. It’s a difficult balance to create without making Don the joke of the book, Simsion does it deftly.

Then she interrupted my thoughts. ‘Anyhow, I’ve got a genetics question.’
‘Proceed,’ I said. I was back in the world I knew.
‘Someone told me you can tell if a person’s monogamous by the size of their testicles.’
The sexual aspects of biology are regularly in the popular press, so this was not as stupid a statement as it might appear, although it embodied a typical misconception. It occurred to me that it might be some sort of code for a sexual advance, but I decided to play it safe and respond to the question literally.
‘Ridiculous,’ I said.
Rosie seemed very pleased with my answer.
‘You’re a star,’ she said. ‘I’ve just won a bet.’

I have to admit as the book went on I did have a few wobbles with it. My first question was why the book had to go to New York, which isn’t a spoiler as I haven’t told you why? It seemed a bit unnecessary and was the first time that I felt like it was a screenplay which had been turned into a book to then make a film, which is apparently how the book came to fruition. It had that slight ‘must appeal to Hollywood and the American market’ rather than actually being needed for the story I felt. The second thing was that Don starts to change, again I won’t say why or in what way, yet this too didn’t feel quite right, the whole point of the book to me (and what makes it so quirky and original in the genre it is in) was about how Don was different and how we should celebrate it, I couldn’t quite decide if in the end that was the case.

Either way, I enjoyed The Rosie Project. It made me think about how we perceive and judge people in a nice easy way – if that sounds patronising I don’t mean it to. Sometimes we need books you don’t have to think too much about (not in a snobby way) you just simply read them for the enjoyment and, in this case, the giggles (I laughed out loud at a scene involving a full sized modern skeleton) that they provide along the way, being entertained as you go.

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Filed under Graeme Simsion, Penguin Books, Review

Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter

Each and every summer the press always give us lists of the books that will be the perfect beach read. One which kept coming up time and time again, and had the most striking cover, was Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, deemed as this summer’s ‘literary’ beach read. This put it on my list of books I must read along with all the acclaim it had received in America. It was however ABC’s The Book Club over in Australia that finally gave me the push to read it when they announced it as one of their titles for October and so I decided I would read it whilst having some delusions of grandeur that I was technically reading along with Jason Steger, Jennifer Byrne and Marieke Hardy.

Penguin Books, 2013, paperback, fiction, 337 pages, kindly sent by publisher

It is initially another quiet summer in the life of Pasquale Tursi, the owner of a floundering Italian coastal hotel with big dreams called The Hotel Adequate View, until the arrival of an actress as his latest guest. This actress Dee Moray has been sent away from the set of Cleopatra, which is filming over the waters, by one of its producers and is under the impression she is terminally ill. Her arrival changes things for Pasquale who has been too long stuck with his widowed mother and batty battle axe of an aunt.

We then switch to the (roughly) present day and Hollywood, where life is fast, furious and pretty materialistic and forgetful. Claire Silver is assistant to one of LA’s biggest producers, Michael Dean, having always wanted to produce her own shows this should be a dream but she is bored and stuck in a rut both work wise and personally. However on what looks to be another dull day of dreadful pitches, with the likes of struggling writer Shane, when an Italian elderly man called Pasquale turns up looking for her boss. As we find out why, Walter strings all the stories together and unfinished events unfold.

Beautiful Ruins is an interesting book in part because it has so much to say, almost too much. If the setting of filming Cleopatra and all the gossip and commotion from the set, possible love story at the hotel and how it all links into modern day, we also end up following many, many, many sub characters and plots that take us as far as a community theatre in Idaho to Edinburgh festival.

Unfortunately this subsequently stretches the book and its main story to capacity and the tale of Pasquale and Dee is the heart of the book and yet I didn’t feel the book concentrated them enough. For example I could easily have done away with the link to modern Hollywood where Michael Deane might initially create a few laughs (his amazing show ‘Hookbook’ for one) but soon a much darker side appears that I really disliked, and not in a good way. Also any laughter from/at Michael is swiftly killed every time Claire appears. Her misery with her pretty fantastic job and gorgeous boyfriend mixed with her one dimensional character make her feel like a part of the set used just for the sake of adding an occasional twist (Shane is also equally one dimensional) which is a shame as Walter’s can write characters brilliantly.

The first impression one gets of Michael Deane is of a man constructed of wax, or perhaps prematurely embalmed. After all these years, it may be impossible to trace the sequence of facials, spa treatments, mud baths, cosmetic procedures, lifts and staples, collagen implants, outpatient touch ups, tannings, Botox injections, cyst and growth removals, and stem-cell injections that have caused a seventy-two-year-old man to have the face of a nine-year-old Filipino girl.

It is in Italy where the book really comes alive with all the heady atmosphere of a summer on the coast, the almost deserted villages wonderful quirky inhabitants and the glamour and fascination of everything on the set of Cleopatra, I adored all of it. This sadly meant that when we switched to the modern section I would find myself inwardly groaning and looking at how many pages I had to read through before I got to the good bit again. If we had stayed in Italy for most of the book and switched to America in the final quarter (or maybe less) for the purposes of the storyline I would have been so much happier and enjoyed the book so much more.

“Leave before this place kills you like it killed your father.”
“I would never leave you.”
“Don’t worry about me. I will die soon enough and go to your father and poor brothers.”
“You’re not dying,” Pasquale said.
“I am already dead inside,” she said. “You should push me out into the sea and drown me like that old sick cat of yours.”
Pasquale straightened. “You said my cat ran away. While I was at University.”
She shot him a glance from the corner of her eye. “It is a saying.”
“No. It’s not a saying. There is no such saying such as that. Did you and Papa drown my cat while I was in Florence?.”
“I’m sick, Pasqo! Why do you torment me?”

There are some fabulous set pieces in Beautiful Ruins along with some truly wonderful characters. Walter does some very interesting things in terms of the text too. We have the two stories in the different times coming together yet we also get snippets of Shanes film pitch, an unpublished chapter of Michael’s autobiography and the first chapter of a book written by a guest whilst at Pasquale’s hotel. Sadly, for me, these additional ‘forms of media’, whilst interesting like all the additional storylines, detracted from the main heart and soul of the book. I also didn’t really like how everything finished up, though I will say the last chapter of the book is one of the best, and most clever, pieces of writing and executed stunningly. Which made it all the more frustrating because when Walter is good he is amazing. I just wish all the book had been like that, oh and that it had all been about the Italy storyline really, that could have been one of my reads of the year.

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Filed under Jess Walter, Penguin Books, Review

Catching Up… Again…

Sorry for a little bit of Savidge Reads silence again last week. I have very much had the intention of blogging much more regularly yet last week was my last week with Culture Liverpool and it seemed to whizz by (lots of finishing up, lots of gossiping and lots of laughing and feeling a teeny bit sad) and then suddenly my leaving lunch had happened and I was handing in my pass and heading for the door, leaving behind lots of weeping co-workers obviously. I have had a brilliant time over the summer working on events and festivals throughout the city and it has been hard work but its also been a real hoot too. I know I have made some friends for life, and who knows I might just go back there at some point. Mind you not too soon as they might want me to give this lovely leaving loot back…

Leaving Gifts

Cat stationery, moustache memorabilia, sweets and book vouchers. My team knew me well it seems as these are indeed just a few of my favourite things. You can never have too many notebooks can you? I am actually thinking of doing something on stationery on the blog in the future as I have noticed lots of people who love books tend to love stationery in a big way. Naturally I was straight down to Waterstones at the first chance I had (which happened to be this morning) to buy some lovely new books and after really really long time perusing the shop I came away with these…

waterstones loot

Looking at this selection you might think that I am in quite a dark place mentally, in fact Gav has pointed this out on Twitter, this is not the case. I have already got ‘Sharp Objects’ by Gillian Flynn, which I grabbed in a second hand shop after loving ‘Gone Girl’, but I love having a matching set of books and I absolutely LOVE these covers so a second copy along with ‘Dark Places’ was snapped up. Wallace Stegner’s ‘Crossing To Safety’ is a book I have been meaning to read since it was discussed, and loved, on The First Tuesday Book Club, then mentioned in the amazing ‘End of Your Life Book Club’ and these being two of my favourite sources of book recommendations was snapped up. (Note – I am thrilled Waterstones have chosen some older titles for their book clubs, not just the ‘new’ books.) Finally at the counter they had a ‘You’ll Love These…’ shelf and so I swiftly nabbed Erin Kelly’s ‘The Sick Rose’ at a pinch of £2.99, she is on You Wrote The Book! this week and I have read her first and third book so this seemed like a last minute destined purchase. Hoorah.

So what else have I been upto? Well, thank you so much for asking, I have had my lovely friend Ms Emma Unsworth come to stay this weekend which was an absolute joy. We managed to spend a lot of time eating cheese, drinking wine, talking books, reading and writing plus putting the world to rights. We also managed to eat donuts on an island in the middle of the sea at low tide…

Emma and I

We also went to go and look at TATTOOS! I have been meaning to get on for ages. Alas ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again’ won’t fit on the inside arm, but it looks like this will…

Danvers Tattoo

Now I might have to change the ‘s’ because it looks like an ‘f’ but I think you can all tell what it says… if you can’t tell that it is indeed my favourite character from Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ (not it doesn’t say Rebecca) then we might be in some trouble as I am booked in to get this in a few weeks.

If that wasn’t enough I have also been researching the purchase of one of these (including what licence I need to drive it and many other boring admin things) which I am possibly thinking of doing on a kick-starter kind of funding thing…

mobile library

It is all a bit up in the air at the moment but I am working it all out and seeing if the idea I have had, think bookshop on wheels (if any of you steal this idea I will cry) that goes around the UK especially to places with no indie bookshop nearby, can become a reality and indeed viewing some mobile libraries next week… I shall report back.

What have you lovely lot been up to? Book wise and all other ways wise?

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Filed under Random Savidgeness

The Woman Upstairs – Claire Messud

As of next week on Monday’s something slightly different is coming to Savidge Reads. I had planned to start it today however I wanted to get my thoughts on Clare Messud’s ‘The Woman Upstairs’ out into the ether before it is talked about on my favourite book show, Australia’s ‘The Book Club’, tomorrow. It is a book I am somewhat confused about, so I really can’t wait for the show.

Virago Books, 2013, hardback, 301 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

From the very first line of ‘The Woman Upstairs’ we are taken into the head of Nora Eldridge. From the outside she is one of life’s good people who everyone thinks is lovely, she is a teacher after all and she cared for her mother through her terminal illness, yet no one really takes the time to actually befriend her. Once we are inside her head, as the reader is, it becomes clear that still waters run deep and Nora is a woman who has been good but had also spent years of her life getting very, very angry.

“How angry am I? You don’t want to know. Nobody wants to know about that.”

Why is Nora so angry? Well to tell you that would give quite a lot away, but I will say that in part it is because she is aware she has naturally become one of life’s wallflowers but also when the Shadid family come into her life, when Reza becomes one of her students, Nora experiences a side of life she gas never seen before, she becomes useful and a trusted friend to both his father, Skandar, and also his mother, Sirena, who is an artist something Nora only ever got to the point she teaches it rather than exhibits it. It is through this friendship that Nora at once flowers and strangely starts to unravel.

Yet like with Nora and her complexities and the fact she is really at odds with herself and those around her, becoming something of a contradiction, so is ‘The Woman Upstairs’ as a book itself. It is one that I found utterly compelling and fascinating, then rather timid and (I hate to say it) a bit dull and boring in parts. In fact very like Nora all over, so maybe that was the point and I missed it, which could easily be the case.

“Don’t all women feel the same? The only difference is how much we know we feel it, how in touch we are with our fury. We’re all furies, except the ones that are too damn foolish, and my worry now is that we’re brainwashing them from the cradle, and in the end the ones who are smart will be too damned foolish. What do I mean? I mean the second graders at Appleton Elementary, sometimes the first graders even, and by the time they get too my classroom, to the third grade, they’re well and truly gone – they’re full of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry and French manicures and how their hair looks! In the third grade. The care more about their hair or their shoes than about galaxies or caterpillars or hieroglyphics.”

The rage and anger that Nora expresses in the first chapter made the book utterly compelling and I thought ‘ooh this is going to be a great dark outpouring here’, yet every great first chapter really needs the rest of the book to live up to it and keep the momentum and as I read on the book held its own for the first third and then I just found the middle section really, really monotonous. I felt like Messud had lost the fire of Nora and the passion she had to put this voice out there and so started to use Nora and Sirena to talk about art and what it means to the individual and the masses. None of which I could really have given a toss about, and with the right voice I should have, I just found myself wanting Nora to get bloody furious again and do something with all that fury.

“You’re thinking, how would I know whether I was romantically in love, I whose apparently nonexistent love life would suggest a prudish vacancy, uterus shrivelled like a corn husk and withered dugs for breasts? You’re thinking that whatever else she does, the Woman Upstairs with her cats and her pots of tea and her Sex and the City reruns and her goddamn Garnet Hill catalog, the woman with her class of third graders and her carefully pearly smile – whatever else she manages, she doesn’t have a love life to speak of.”  

Instead what happened seemed to be a concoction of what I had read before. Nora is very, very like Barbara from ‘Notes on a Scandal’ and I have read the ‘lonely spinster befriends the family’ routine before, Messud even throws in a clichéd twist that you might spot from the start yet hope the author won’t use and then does. Yet then oddly in the final third of the book things start to pick up again as the menace that brims through the first third looks like it might come to fruition. Only it doesn’t and whilst I sort of liked the twist at the end I felt like really it was how we left Nora and what she might do next that would have made an even better story, if that makes sense?

It felt a bit like all the promise, in the form of the anger, that had been in the beginning of the book sort of died out in the explanation of it and yet the anger that I found so utterly refreshing only came back at the end and then… well, who knows. I guess I was a bit disappointed. I also wonder if I simply expected more drama or something darker because that is what most authors do and that, like many reviews I have since read, I should actually embrace the fact the book encapsulated the reality of the situation instead.

Either way, as you can probably tell, there are lots of elements that make ‘The Woman Upstairs’ a really interesting read. You may find yourself like me, someone who loved the rage and got a bit bogged down in the middle, or be someone who marvels at the realities the book gives you. It is one book that I am almost 100% certain would make a brilliant book club choice, hence why I am so excited about seeing tomorrows ‘The Book Club’ and particularly what Marieke Hardy makes of it, and one that will cause much debate which is always a good thing.

10 Comments

Filed under Claire Messud, Review, Virago Books

Radio Silence/Radio Savidge

That blinking thing called work is a pesky so and so isn’t it? Every time I think I am going to get back into the swing of things something like an International Music Festival comes along and reading, let along blogging, goes out of the window. On a serious note – I am actually really, really loving my new job. Second to books in my life is definitely music (family and friends are somewhere along the pecking order) so to work on a new exciting project like this is bloody amazing really. If that wasn’t enough the people are also bloody lovely (it is all bloody lovely really) and they are being really supportive with everything that is going on with Gran, no change there at the moment.

The blog has been suffering a little though I will admit, though I think (blowing my own trumpet maybe, as you may all disagree) that my reviews have become more ‘me’ I think. Still a work in progress as always but I feel much happier putting them out, even if they are taking (and becoming) a bit longer. Let me know if you think otherwise!

Anyway, I realised that whilst my blogging has gone a bit more sporadic there are three other ways you can catch up with me being bookish and those are the podcasts I am on, and this got me thinking about Radio Savidge. You see there are the three podcasts I do (The Readers, The Readers Book Club) and also the podcasts that I am always listening to and so I thought I should share some of them with you so that, should you fancy, you can hear me waffling on about books or listen to a few of the podcasts I have in my ears at the moment.

TheReadersTRSummerSeasoBannerYWTB

So as some of you will know I host two book groups, one which also has a monthly spin off. The first is ‘The Readers’, which has now gone fortnightly, which I co-host with the bloody lovely Gavin of Gav Reads. We subtitled it ‘Book Based Banter’ because generally we waffle on, and off on tangents, about books for roughly 30/40mins per episode. We also have a monthly book club which we have now made seasonal. For the summer selection we have gone for ‘The Case of the Missing Servant’ by Tarquin Hall, which you can hear here and see my review of here, and for July we have ‘Snake Ropes’ by Jess Richards (which we are recording next Wednesday) and ‘The Last Banquet’ by Jonathan Grimwood in August. Each show features Gav and I discussing the book, being joined by the author and sometimes a special guest PLUS asking your questions. So, if you have any for Jess or John let me know.

The final podcast I am involved with is the one I host alone. You Wrote The Book! is a fortnightly ‘in conversation’ show where I (lightly) grill an author. Some people love author interviews, some people loath them, I love them as I find authors brains rather fascinating and I have been very, very lucky as already I have had Evie Wyld, John Boyne, Xiaolu Guo, Alan Bradley, Taiye Selasi, Joanne Harris, Patrick Ness, Damian Barr and Maggie O’Farrell on the show! Eek, squeal. If you fancy having a listen to them you can do here.

Sorry about that slightly shameless plug, I will now redeem myself by sharing three of my favourite bookish podcasts that I listen to every episode without fail and think you should be checking out too. First up is ‘Books on the Nightstand’ which I think I have raved about endlessly already on several occasions. Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness have become firm friends of mine, though we have never met, simply through hearing them and tweeting bookish stuff with them. They both work for random, know their books, love their books and are brimming with recommendations – recently they discussed ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon’ by
Anthony Marra which had completely gone under my radar and was absolutely amazing, A–MAZ–ING! Next up are another duo, who also happen to be boyfriend and girlfriend (does playground giggle behind hand) too, in the form of Rob and Kate who make up ‘Adventures With Words’, this is another weekly podcast and I often sit with a cuppa and listen, occasionally responding to them before realising I am not in the same room as them, oops. Finally, another duo, only this time related as Trevor of Mookse and Gripes blog now does a podcast with his brother discussing NYRB classics, with the occasional extra show thrown in for good measure.

I could of course mention the vodcast of the ABC Book Club, formerly The First Tuesday Book Club with my heroine Marieke Hardy, and also the Radio 2 Arts Show with Claudia Winkleman, who I am currently slightly obsessed by and who I would like to steal many an interview technique off as well as spend many hours with discussing books. They are two further goldmines of audio joy, well one is visual too. Oh, I mentioned them anyway.

So which podcasts do you listen to regularly that I should be adding to my own Savidge Radio Station? Do we listen to any of the same ones?

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You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead – Marieke Hardy

Sometimes you read a book and you just can’t stop talking about it. So an apology from me firstly to all who have seen me in the last few weeks and who have come to dread the sentence in our conversation that goes ‘oh my god have I told you about another thing Marieke Hardy wrote about in her memoirs’. I have not shut up about this book. I am also now worried that should Ms Hardy ever stumble upon this webpage she may regret a recent twitter exchange and think I am a stalker, I am not, but more on that tomorrow. I don’t really do celebrity/well known personality memoirs very often but as soon as I learnt that Marieke Hardy had an autobiography/collection of memoir essays ‘You’ll Be Sorry When Im Dead’ out in Australia I had to have it, I had almost bought it online when Allen and Unwin, hearing of my Hardy obsession enthusiasm kindly shipped one over to me.

Before I can talk/rave about the book any further, I should mention how I happened upon its author. I randomly heard tell of an Australian TV book show when I was moaning about how rubbish (they have got better) our UK ones were, a Savidge reader sent me a link to The First Tuesday Book Club and I was hooked. I loved format (one host, two regular guests each month and two fresh faces who discuss one modern book and one classic, the banter, the works I was sold. The star for me was Marieke, a fabulously edgy, ballsy, no nonsense regular guest who wasn’t afraid to call a book a ‘cock forest’ if required. I felt I had found a kindred spirit, be it one who wasn’t aware I existed, but that’s a small thing. She had a passion and enthusiasm about books and reading that had me sold along with a wicked sense of humour. So, what better than her very own book, written by her own hand, to find out more about her? (Note, in a non stalky ‘I just think we would be best pals discussing books and laughing like drains’ way.)

Allen & Unwin, trade paperback, 2011, non fiction, 294 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead’ is one of those books which manages to make you laugh out loud, feel ever so uncomfortable at its honesty, possibly makes you want to cry and then makes you laugh all over again. When someone writes their memoirs it isn’t necessarily that the full truth doesn’t come out, just that the author tends to look at things in a rose tinted way, highlighting their best bits – not so in the case of Marieke.

From the very first memory piece/essay ‘You Can Lead a Horticulture’ we are greeted with Marieke’s no nonsense ‘this is how it is’ attitude, which I like so much and am probably much more like myself in real life than I am on this here blog (maybe this should change), as she discusses her desire as a young girl to become a prostitute because it embodied ‘musical theatre, combined with those illicit first throws of nocturnal explorations beneath an embroidered doona’, and then goes on to tell of a relationship she was involved in where prostitutes became a fairly regular addition (I laughed at her worries of a prostitute assessing her based on how she kept her house). From here we have tales of her friends battle with cancer in ‘Forevz’ which is funny, touching and tear inducing, a hilarious look at the world of swingers, her own obsession and almost stalking of Bob Ellis (who she also named her female dog after), her relationship with her parents, on being a mother but not being a mother (I loved ‘Born This Way’ a tale of accidental step parentage so, so, so much) and her rock and roll slightly hedonistic days.

It is the honesty which I loved about this book so much, and it’s an honesty we don’t see often enough and could be something which caused people not to like this book. In fact Marieke says so herself in the tale of her friends breast cancer as she opens with ‘this is a cancer story that has some jokes in it, so if you think that perhaps that’s in poor taste its probably best you put this book down’ and some people will do just that, but they would be missing out. We do laugh at the worst times, we need this laughter yet some people don’t want to talk about it.

It isn’t just this honesty of situation and others that she looks at, it’s herself. In several of these pieces, almost of admission and letting everything out, she asks people to respond from their side and it’s not always flattering either in the depiction Hardy makes of herself or in the honesty of some of the replies she gets back. Could any of us write something admitting what a rubbish partner or friend we were, send it to the other person involved ask their thoughts and then publish them? I am not sure we could.

Some people will simply not get this sort of book, they will think that its graphic nature (in parts, not in all) and upfront attitude is done for effect, maybe even book sales. They will probably now think I am some kind of voyeur for enjoying it so much. I would disagree, I think some people do those very things but I don’t get the feeling Marieke Hardy is one of them. It’s an honest portrayal, sometimes as I mentioned uncomfortably so, of someone’s life so far with the highs and the lows, the good and the bad, the pretty sides and the ugly ones too. It’s really made me think about life and that jazz amongst the laughter, ‘eek’ moments, and occasionally teary ones too. But more on that thinking tomorrow… In the interim do try and get this book (even if it means buying the e-book version as, so far, it’s not out in the UK, in fact I think it might only be available in Australia) because it’s one that should be read.

It’s early to be talking of books of the year, but I have very little doubt that this will be one of mine. I loved it.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Marieke Hardy, Non Fiction, Review

Australian Literature Month

I said yesterday in my ‘Reading Resolution’ post that I wouldn’t be starting or hosting any reading challenges in 2012, however that doesn’t mean that I can’t join in with some does it? Already there is one particular challenge of sorts that has attracted me, in fact it attracted me the moment it was announced, and that is the Australian Literature Month that Kim of Reading Matters is hosting throughout January, naturally of course this leads me to wanting some of your book recommendations etc. I also thought some of you might be tempted.

What really attracts me to Kim’s Australian Literature Month (apart from the fact that I love a lot of things Australian) is that there are no limits or levels to the books that I can or can’t read. The aim is simply “post about Australian literature on your own blog or simply engage in the conversation on this blog. If you don’t have a blog, don’t worry” and that is me sold as by chance, and all based on whim, I have about six or seven books on the periphery which are from Oz (do Australians find their country being called Oz rude, I do hope not and if they do I apologize) and three in particular that I am very keen to read sooner rather than later should the mood take…

  

Tim Winton’s ‘Cloudstreet’ is a novel that Kim actually gave me last year, so that seems like a sign, and is deemed as one of the modern Australian classics. I enjoyed his last novel ‘Breath’ which is the first and only of his books I have read so far and managed to make me interested in surfing which I really wasn’t expecting.  Anyway, ‘Cloudstreet’ has also had ‘The Slap’ treatment and the TV series is coming to the UK this month, be it on Sky One, and so I might read and watch, or just read – we will see.I have to admit I have been dipping into Marieke Hardy’s collection of memoir essays ‘You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead’ since Christmas but I think I will be finished by the end of the weekend (I am trying to drag the utter joy that this is out for as long as possible) and though its not Australian fiction she loved her Australian Literature as she proves on ‘The First Tuesday Book Club’ most months, so that’s a given read. ‘Bereft’ by Chris Womersley is an unsolicited proof that Quercus have sent and appealed first because of the cover image, before the cover hooking me again when I noticed Evie Wyld had a given it a great quote too (and we know the success I had with the last recommendation I heard Evie making) and has been hovering on the bedside table urging me to open it since.

So those are the books I might dip into first but I wondered if there were any others I should really be looking out for? I would love your suggestions (as it’s a mutual relationship this reading recommendation malarkey on this blog I will have you know) please, and do let me know if you are planning on joining in with this too and what you might read.

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Books of 2012… Should I Be Reading Them Now?

I was talking about a set of delightful books that have recently arrived yesterday and I am going to do the same again today. These books coincide with the fact that I have decided that now The Green Carnation Shortlist has been announced, and I know my final thoughts on the final books, and as Bookmarked Salon is now having a hiatus before it possibly comes back (and if it does it will be rather different) next year, it is time for me to scrap all planned reading and simply indulge myself for the last month and a half of the year. It actually freaks me out quite a lot that 2012 is not far away at all and there were so many books I ‘meant to’ read this year and still haven’t as yet.  In fact it is next year that links all of the books below I want to discuss as they aren’t out until 2012, in the UK anyway, but I want to read them now…

The first of these three treats I don’t think is out in anywhere else, and by that I mean in any other countries outside the UK, as yet and won’t be out here in the UK until early January and that is ‘The Man Who Rained’ by Ali Shaw and is the his highly anticipated (and not just by me) follow up to ‘The Girl With The Glass Feet’ which I absolutely loved and which caused a great discussion on the blog a while back. This one sounds like another wonderful adult fairytale and one I don’t think I can wait to get started on.

The next up is already out in Australia and hasn’t a definite date in the UK as yet, but I am hoping that the world cottons onto the wonders of Marieke Hardy and her collections of essays and memories ‘You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead’ which the publishers Allen and Unwin very, very kindly popped in the post. I have become a fan of Marieke, bordering on a slight ‘non weird’ obsession, since I started catching up with one of my favourite book shows The First Tuesday Book Club and since then with her blog and the like. This should be a great collection and once I will have to try very hard not to read in one sitting, I want to savour them… if I can.

Finally is a book I discussed on a post a while back, a post I was apparently slated for by an author on a certain social media site, bizarre. I was a huge fan of Hillary Jordan’s debut novel ‘Mudbound’ and was exited to hear that she was releasing a new ‘dystopian novel’ as her second novel ‘When She Awoke’. I was then mortified that whilst it came out in America a little while back, it wasn’t coming out her until late spring 2012 at the earliest. Well guess what, the very lovely Michael Kindness of the brilliant podcast Books on the Nightstand sent me a copy all the way from the US of A…

If that wasn’t enough he only went and got it signed for me by Hillary on one of the author tours he went on with her. I am beyond thrilled at what was just a lovely, lovely gesture.

Now I just have to decide if I hold fire on reading them, or simply dive in and treat myself? What do you think? Which books are you the most excited about reading at the moment? Are there any books coming out in 2012 that you already have on your radar?

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Daphne Du Maurier on The First Tuesday Book Club…

It seems, if unintentionally, that Polly and I chose the perfect month to do our ‘Discovering Daphne’ season as now, after The Guardian Reading Group have started reading ‘Don’t Look Now and Other Stories’, the wonderful First Tuesday Book Club have now covered ‘Rebecca’ in their latest show which aired last week.

I had no idea before I started watching it this weekend, between babysitting two three year olds, that this was one of this months choices, I was thrilled, though I was also nervous about whether (one of my current book loving icons) Marieke Hardy would love it or not. I waited with baited breath… Well, she didn’t let me down when she came out with this, which I think is a wonderful description.  ‘I think the book is perfect… it’s just a big juicy over ripe plum… its bursting out of its flesh and dribbling down your chin as you read and what a great sticky glorious mess to end up in when you finished it.’ Oh Marieke, you are a legend!

The discussion of it being ‘woman’s literature’ came up as Kate Morton, who had chosen the novel, said it was and that was positive yet Thomas Keneally said what slightly annoyed him, though he thought it was brilliantly written for ‘a mass market novel’, it had a ‘breathiness’ which makes it nothing more than a ‘romance’. It then turns to a discussion of whether it is a sexless or sexy book? You should watch it to see the discussion and you can here.  Let me know your thoughts.

We will be talking about ‘Rebecca’, which I think (just like Marieke) is a perfect book, in three weeks time you can see the schedule for all the Daphne reads we are doing here. Please do discover Daphne, you won’t be disappointed.

Oh and my review of ‘Mary Anne’ is coming… honest.

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August – Bernard Beckett

I first heard about Bernard Beckett’s first novel for adults (though some debate this is also a young adult novel I would disagree), he has written very successful young adult novels in Australia, ‘August’ on that wonderful TV show ‘The First Tuesday Book Club’ where Jennifer Byrne was enthusing about it as ‘one of the other books I have been reading this month’. I liked the sound of the plot, a very unusual thriller of two strangers ending up in a crashed car together, and by the cover. Yes, those two things made it sound like just the read for me and so I begged to review it for We Love This Book.

Quercus Publishing, paperback, 2011, fiction, 208 pages, sent by We Love This Book for review

The premise of ‘August’ sounds an unlikely one. How on earth might two strangers, Tristan and Grace, end up in a car that has crashed together if they didn’t know each other before hand? Well really to give too much away would be to spoil ‘August’ for anyone who is thinking of reading it, and that is part of the joy of this novel. I can say that as the story line develops it seems these two might not be quite the strangers to each other as we the reader, and indeed them as characters, believe.  

You might not think that two people stuck in a car, in agony battered and broken, would make for a thrilling read. This is where Beckett excels. Not only do we have the cleverly plotted slow reveal of their back stories as they try and keep each other awake, in case of death, as they await help, Beckett’s writing has a real pace to it and I was hooked from the opening paragraph as Tristan and Grace’s crash is described to us.  

“For a moment the balance was uncertain. The headlights stabbed at the thick night. A rock loomed, smooth and impassive, then swung out of the frame. A stunted tree rushed at him, gnarled and prickly. The seat pushed hard, resisting his momentum. Road, rock again, grass, gravel. The forces resolved their differences and he was gliding, a dance of sorts, but he was deaf to its rhythm, just as he was deaf to her screams. Instinct fought the wheel, but the future drew them in.”

There is a slight ‘but’ coming though. Again it’s hard not to give anything away but I became slightly disinterested in their past stories as I realised this was going to be one of those slightly philosophical and almost theological novels. Tristan is from ‘The City’ and a closed religious group where ‘The Rector’ has decided he is the perfect person to test his theories on, a human guinea pig if you will. Only these theories are all about things from guessing which direction a ball will roll, and if it as an inanimate object can choose where it goes, to being able to predict how all humans think, do we really have free will?  

Initially this was quite interesting but about a third in, after two pages discussing which way a ball might roll and why, I started to loose interest. The same applied when Tristan becomes embroiled in a real live test of wills the rector has set with two ‘children of the night’ to win their freedom with no rules. It should have been exciting, but it wasn’t quite. Bizarre then that I should say I wished this book was longer, though maybe with less of ‘life’s big questions’ in it. I would have loved to know much more about ‘The City’ and those who inhabited it, where it was and get deeper into the foreboding atmosphere it had that only remained on the periphery.

Beckett makes ‘August’ something more than a ‘self help/deep thought through fiction’ novel with its two protagonists in the car, these moments of fear trapped in their metal wreckage are interspersed between the back stories and add a huge amount of tension. As the novel progresses there are twists and turns in Tristan and Grace’s story which will have you hooked, including one or two shocks. You think you know why and how they got there and what might happen next only to have Beckett twists and turns the plot and you too are thrown off course yourself. It has certainly left me wanting to read much more of Beckett’s work.

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Filed under Bernard Beckett, Quercus Publishing, Review

Do I Want To Read… The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan?

I personally don’t read that much werewolf based fiction, even though I love a good werewolf film, so it’s interesting that I have had Glen Duncan’s ‘The Last Werewolf’ on my periphery for quite some time. I can’t say I am a big read of supernatural fiction, though I have dabbled in the Twilight series (which some people would say I shouldn’t admit to but stuff it) and have various thoughts on those, I do like a good chilling ghost story though. Yet I have read a few reviews – like this one – and heard various podcasts and the like that make me think I might rather like this read. Weirdly there was one absolute slating of the book that made me want to read it more, and that was from the fabulous Marieke Hardy.

I am pretty sure I have pushed you in the direction of Australia’s ‘First Tuesday Book Club’ before. It’s the perfect book show and one I am shocked we haven’t the likes of in the UK as I think it would be a great success (and I know someone who would love to host it, cough). Each month they read two books in a panel of five (three of whom, Jennifer Byrne, Marieke Hardy and Jason Steger, are always on it) and discuss them. Invariably the books are one modern and one classic, this month the modern one was ‘The Last Werewolf’. Well Marieke went crazy on it calling it ‘a very silly book’, and excuse my French, a ‘cock forest’,  where else would you get a brilliant review like that? If you want to see it then go here and skip to 3.33 minutes for the fun to begin its hilarious. You can also sign up to get the series as a vodcast every month.

I have also heard on ‘Books on the Nightstand’; one of my other favourite podcasts, that this is a ‘literary werewolf novel’ could this be a surprise contender for the Man Booker 2011, how bizarre and brilliant would that be? So have any of you read ‘The Last Werewolf’ and what did you think? Isn’t it funny how a bad review, when done honestly and well, can make you want to read something even more?

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I’m Off To The Hospital Again…

Yes, lucky old me, by the time you read this I shall be installed at the hospital for the fourth of five operations (though this could become six as I learnt via post rather than face to face yesterday, thanks NHS) today. It feels like it has been no time between visits… oh that’s because it hasn’t! If you are all as bored by my health antics as I am fear not there is a book post scheduled for later on, if you aren’t do read on…

Despite my small gripe above about the communication issues I am discovering with the NHS when you are out of hospital, I have to say the staff have been wonderful and I have even had a few chats about books here and there, oh and e-readers, eurgh! I have been told I am an excellent and rather undemanding (don’t please look shocked, rude) patient, except it appears when I come around from anaesthetic when apparently I am a swearing ranting horror. I thought they were pulling my leg but I keep getting the same comments each operation so it must be true, eek! Good luck to all the nurses today, please bear a thought for them.

It’s actually rather exciting today as I am at a different hospital from the norm (which I am hoping isn’t like the one pictured below, which would be a brilliant setting for a book) and a change of scene will be interesting. What books am I taking? Well as I have typed this up in advance I am not sure as I have decided I am going to read by whim. I am also taking my iPod and have a backlog of ABC’s ‘First Tuesday Book Club’ vodcasts and ‘The Bookshow’ podcasts, along with about two weeks of the BBC’s radio soap opera ‘The Archers’ and the wonderful Mariella Frostrup’s ‘Open Book’ so bar the small issue of pain its rather like a holiday trip… sort of.

Not the hospital I am going to... I hope!

Sorry I still haven’t replied to all your comments and emails, as you can imagine it’s a little manic in general at the moment, but do ‘bear with’ and I will get back on it once I am up and about. I think after today am going to need quite a lot of recuperation time. I’ll keep you all posted. I hope you are all well? Let me know what news is with you all as I do feel rather out of the loop, and often loop the loop all at once.

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