Tag Archives: The Readers

Other People’s Bookshelves #80 – Mary Doria Russell

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week is a very special week as we are joined by Mary Doria Russell who you will all probably know as the writer of the cult novel The Sparrow. I had the pleasure of reading The Sparrow for part of a special panel at Books On The Nightstand (I miss it so) Booktopia in Petoskey last year (which I also miss terribly) where myself and Thomas (of the Readers) joined Ann and Michael to talk about all our favourite books Ann’s being The Sparrow. You can here that conversation here. Anyway this week we are joining Mary, who I owe a small apology as she sent me this last year but I wanted her to have a special post, like this 80th, but the volunteers trickled so it has taken some time. Better late than never huh? So let us all join Mary and have a chat with her about the books she loves, has read and then have a nose through her shelves…

I grew up near Chicago. Dad: ex-Marine, Mom: ex-Navy nurse. Me: a shocking vocabulary. Didn’t know it was bad language until Kindergarten. BA in cultural anthro, MA in social anthro, Ph.D. In biological anthro; post-doc in craniofacial biomechanics, all of which prepared me for high-class unemployment in the mid-1980s. Fortunately, I’d married Don Russell in 1970. His income as a software engineer allowed me to stay home, raise our kid, and write stories about Jesuits in Space, all while living under a roof and eating regularly. Full-time novelist since 1991: The Sparrow, Children of God, A Thread of Grace, Dreamers of the Day, Doc, and Epitaph.

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’ve become pretty ruthless about culling. Each of my novels has required an extensive library of research material, but not all the background books actually contribute anything memorable to their novel. I keep the ones that provided something factual that a reader might inquire about. The others get donated or sold.

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?

I don’t color-code books – I arrange them categorically – but I do pay a lot of attention to the aesthetics of the bookcases: mixing in photos, art, vases, small mementos, etc. I’ll fuss for hours to make things look pretty on the shelves, but the initial organization is rational. The research libraries for published novels go into bookcases in a guestroom; the sheer mass of books makes that room feel hushed and comforting. They’re grouped by the novel they contributed to.

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The working library is in my office. Those are books that have a direct bearing on the novel in progress.

working_library

The office also has a sort of trophy bookcase that holds all my published work, including translations, audio books, etc. When I despair of making the current story work, I gaze at the earlier books and think, “Don’t panic. You’ve done this before.”

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We recently commissioned new cabinetry to flank my husband’s ginromous TV with shelves for books that have a personal significance for me: those by authors who are friends of mine; books I’ve blurbed or reviewed in the Washington Post; inscribed copies of books sent to me by their authors.

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

There were the usual children’s stories – I was partial to tales about horses. None of those remain. The first significant book I bought for myself was acquired with my babysitting money in 1963: a used copy of T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom. That is now surrounded by a collection of TEL biographies that became part of the research library for Dreamers of the Day, in which Lawrence is a character along with Winston Churchill and Gertrude Bell.

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! Not ashamed of anything I read!

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 don’t have any precious books. I’d grab our elderly dachshund and run! If we had time to evacuate before a natural disaster (not that there are many of those in Ohio), I’d fill the car with artwork that can’t be replaced. Books are more like tools to me: I am more pragmatic than sentimental about them.

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 read Mom’s copy of Gone with the Wind when I was a young teenager. And I did reread that while writing Doc, which is about the frontier gambler Doc Holliday. He and Margaret Mitchell were cousins and many of the episodes in GWTW are echoes of his childhood in Georgia. GWTW is a really brave book – Mitchell was willing to hang the whole novel on a thoroughly dislikeable central character and didn’t redeem Scarlett O’Hara or make her more likeable 833 pages later. [I just went to the Doc library in the guestroom to check on the page count!] There’s a lot I admire in the book, though it’s not fashionable today.

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 mostly borrow recreational reading from the public library. I buy books for the working library – a tax-deductible expense!

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

Rachel Holmes’ biography of Karl Marx’s daughter: Rachel Marx. My next novel is about the early days of the American labor movement, so I’m boning up on Marx; his daughter is WAY more interesting than Das Kapital.

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

YES! I want Karen Joy Fowler’s next book! Karen is a friend and she has been talking about doing a novel about Edwin Booth, the brother of Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth. I nagged her for years to finish what she called “my chimp book,” and I was right about that one! We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves was short-listed for the Booker Prize and won the Pen/Faulkner Award.So this interview is just one more way to nag her to write the Booth book!

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

“My God, is there anything this woman isn’t interested in?!” Mathematics. Not mathematics. But pretty much everything else.

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And a huge thanks to Mary 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 Mary’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Book Riot’s 25 Outstanding Podcasts for Readers

I was thrilled, thrilled, thrilled yesterday to learnthat The Readers, which I have been a cohost of for just over 4 years with Gavin and now Thomas, has been announced as one of Book Riot’s 25 Outstanding Podcasts for readers. I am seriously chuffed.

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If you haven’t listened to The Readers yet then you can do so over at bookbasedbanter.co.uk where you will The Readers and also  You Wrote The Book which will be returning with Helen Macdonald as my guest in mere days.

What is also lovely about the list, which you can see in full here, is that the lovely Ann and Michael of Books On The Nightstand are also there AND there are loads and loads and loads of new podcasts to discover. (Though I feel Adventures with Words should surely be on the list too, fingers crossed next year.) So you now have no excuse not to have books in your life, or at least you ears, any moment you don’t have your face in one!

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The Readers Roadtrip Day 3; Canadian Roads, American Roads, Outlet Store & Gaylord

So I didn’t write about Day 3 on time as I had a slightly bad reaction to a burger last night. Plus to be honest most of day three was spent on the road. After a night in London Ontario, where excitingly we met the cheif librarian of Ottawa in the hotel lift, it was time to hit some serious road to get to Michigan. This compromised of driving an hour to the Canadian border, being interrogated before being allowed into the USA again and then hitting the road for two more hours to an outlet store to find me a new belt (long boring story that lead to a long boring walk around the most personality devoid outlet store I’ve ever been to! Then driving another two hours to Gaylord. Yes really, Gaylord. How could I not visit a place with that title?   

We headed there as I wanted to have my picture taken with a Gaylord sign, as mentally I’m about twelve, and also to break up the journey and eat at the Big Bear Restaurant (a Big Bear Restaurant in Gaylord was just too tempting on so many levels) and we found a quite friendly town.  

We also found a bookshop which rather amazingly was the first that Thomas and I had encountered on the trip.  

Thomas ended up doing some minor damage to his credit card. I saw a couple of books I liked the look of but with baggage allowance on my mind and so many bookshops to come I held my own. Though Saturn Books was seriously seriously tempting.  
I was strong. What I wasn’t so strong on was the chocolate shop. I bought a stash and Thomas bought me on of these famous dipped apples, which kept making me think of Snow White! 

Soon enough we hit the road again for a final hour to get to Petoskey, our hotel and our beds and we both so needed the nap. Petoskey is stunning and is where I have now bought books and seen lots of lovely Booktopians, friends and listeners of the podcast who have all given us a very warm welcome indeed. But more on that tomorrow… I’m exhausted from all the wonderful book chatter!

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I’m Off to America… The Readers Roadtrip is Finally Here!

It feels like I have been talking about, and indeed plotting, my trip to America for ages and ages when in actual fact it was only back in June that it was all discussed and booked. If you have been under a rock or somehow missed the excitement today, as this goes live, I will be taking off or flying away on my journey over to Washington DC where I will be meeting my lovely friend, blogger and co-host of The Readers podcast Thomas of Hogglestock, formly My Porch. We are then immediately off on a six day road trip recording the podcast as we go and falling into every bookshop we pass (and Dairy Queen or Mexican restaurant) as we head to Booktopia in Petoskey on Lake Michigan.

America

If you are wondering what Booktopia is, well, it is a two day bookfest of listeners of Books on the Nightstand (and in some cases The Readers too) organised by its hosts Ann and Michael (who I adore) and we will be on some panels with Ann and Michael talking about our favourite books as well as recording a special live episode of The Readers with an audience. Then hitting the road and many more bookshops on the way back to DC where I will then have a few days of mooching around – and seeing baby panda’s fingers crossed.

Now shamefully last year when I went to Booktopia Asheville, followed by Washington DC to stay with Thomas and then onto New York I seemed to tweet and facebook it and not blog about it – which was both foolish and bonkers. Not this time. This time I am going to do a series of posts over the next week and a half as Thomas and I make our booky journey around some of North America, and popping into Canada, so you can join us, sort of. It’s something a bit different but hopefully you will enjoy it! (If not book reviews will resume on September 29th!)

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Books on the Nightstand Summer Book Bingo 2015

I don’t know about you but I sometimes feel that I need a bit of a mix up when it comes to my reading. Okay, aside from judging a book prize and being given a reading prescription with deadlines. When I am reading normally I have noticed that I seem to flit from new book to new book a little like a magpie looking for the next new shiny book, and actually that isn’t the way to read all the time is it? What about the older books, those books for a rainy day or those books you might have forgotten you have amongst your own shelves or in the boxes down the side of the wardrobe. This summer I am combating it with a second whirl of Books on the Nightstand’s Summer Bingo which gives you an unusual and fun way of tackling your TBR.

If you are wondering what on earth this marvellous sounding things is then fret not I shall explain. Basically the lovely hosts of Books on the Nightstand podcast, Ann and Michael, have come up with over 140 possibly categories for you which form a bingo card that you can work through, getting a line or full house, and base your reading around over the summer months. It is genius! I tried it last year and lost count of which books, erm, counted. This year however The Readers, aka Thomas and I, have decided it’s a competition to see who can get a full house, you can hear us talking about it here.

All you have to do to create your own, because I know you are desperate to and why not its super fun, is press on this link here and it should randomly generate a bingo card for you. You can see mine below, which I am having some issues with…

So what am I having problems with? Well initially it was Popular Psychology, because I didn’t know what the funk that was, Ann and Michael being the legends they are have talked about it very recently on the podcast and recommended many books including one I had which is The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks, which sounds like it will be utterly brilliant. No these are the ones I am having problems with and I would love your suggestions on books that are…

  • By or about a celebrity (which isn’t utter drivel, the only one I can think of is Angelica Huston’s memoir which is apparently stunning)
  • Humour or satire (I know of no books that are meant to be intentionally either of these things, help!)
  • Fantasy (wails and starts pulling out hair)
  • Sports related (I mean hello, have we met?)

These are the ones that are defeating me. I may even have some perfect ones, I just might not know I have them or realise that a book I have may count. Don’t forget if you would like to join in do follow the link above, or listen for more details here, the more the merrier. Right now I need your wisdom and book recommendations. Help!

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A Readers Road Trip & A Readers Retreat

I am very, very excited. Some of you might have seen mumblings of this on Twitter, or may have heard it on The Readers Podcast earlier today, but if you haven’t… I am going on a Readers Road Trip in September through Northern America with Thomas of Hogglestock, who is my cohost on the podcast! How ace is that?

Some of you may remember I went to Ann and Michael of Books on the Nightstand’s wonderful Booktopia in Asheville, where book lovers and authors meet and have a whale of a time (where does that expression come from?) over a few days, last year. Well this September sees the last ever Booktopia (for now) in Petoskey and after much planning, plotting and some magic Thomas and I are going to be there to take part in all the fun and have the most bookish few days of our lives. Only that wasn’t enough for Thomas and I, we needed to take it further and make it bigger. So we decided that we would turn it into something I have wanted to do all my life… A road trip through America.

I am thinking of it being like Thelma and Louise (which shockingly Thomas has not seen) but with less police chases and more bookshops.

I will be arriving in Washington DC and then instantly be whisked, or driven, away (after an eight hour flight) and heading up through West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Far Western New York to Niagra Falls, then going through Canada and possibly stopping in Toronto and Stratford Ontario before heading back down into the US to Lake Michigan and Petoskey, obviously staying for a few days there. Then we drive back via Ohio and Cleveland before returning to DC where I will have a few days to recover. So if you have any places, basically bookshops and lovely fooderies, in those places and Pittsburgh, Ann Arbour etc then please let me know where we should head to, I would be grateful for your recommendations. I cannot wait to see Thomas, Ann, Michael and some of the wonderful folk I met in Asheville as well as meeting some lovely new bookish sorts. It’s going to be ace.

If that isn’t enough excitement for one week I am also off on an exciting reading retreat this week as I will be heading off on the train back down to London tomorrow for an unusual Reading Retreat for one, in the Shangri La Hotel in The Shard. I know, bonkers.

Shangri-La-Hotel-At-The-Shard-London-Hero

This is because they are hosting a new and really interesting selection of Cultural Events and Salons in order to add something extra special to guests and London locals. This week sees author and poet Tishani Doshi talking about her books and her life, there might still be some tickets going so head here for more. I will be reporting back on the event, and the hotel, next week and letting you know more about their future line ups.

Blimey, that is quite enough excitement for me. Do let me know if you have any recommendations of bookshops, booky tourist hot spots or good places to eat for my trip around the Northern US  as you are always great with recommendations. Also, do let me know of any unusual and amazing reading places you have been and if you would like a series of reading retreats to start to feature on the blog more often such as this trip to the Shard or more like when I went to Sweden. I think it could be an interesting new range of potential posts. Anyway, over to you.

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The Year That Was & The Year That Will Be

I was asked just the other day, by Gavin as he returned for The Readers briefly, how my reading year had been in 2014? It was something I had been thinking about but had thought I might leave to one side, but then I thought sod it I will talk about it anyway as we d tend to have a bit of a think as one year ends and another year starts don’t we?

In no way was my reading year a bad one. I read some absolute corkers, as I shared with you the other day. I even read a book that will probably become one of my all time favourites. Yet I would say it was a year where I was slow cooked over a long period of time rather than completely set afire by in a great flambé. Do you know what I mean or have I been spending too much time with a chef?

You see in terms of reading, not to say anything against all the books that I read last year, I felt it was slightly mono and that maybe it all got a bit too obvious or something. Planned reading might have been part of the problem; with Hear Read This and You Wrote The Book plus two book clubs in the flesh I have been planning what I read rather than just by whim. I am working on this. That said, You Wrote The Book is one of the many things that shows where the highlights in my year and books were and that was going out and meeting lots of lovely booky people. I was thrilled to chat with so many authors over Skype, yet to sit in a room with Rose Tremain and interview her for 30 minutes and then sit and gossip for another 30 mins was AMAZING. Yet the three complete highlight moments (Rose was a firm number 4) of my booky year for me were these, which all focus around the relationships/friendships I have made through books…

  1. Getting to Meet Ann & Michael from Books on the Nightstand/Booktopia Asheville

Ann Simon and Michael

The day before I flew off to have my American Adventure (which consisted of Booktopia, a trip to Washington for a mini break and NYC for all sorts of stuff) one of my friends asked ‘Do you not think it’s weird that you are flying thousands of miles away to share a room with someone you know through their podcasts and some emails?’ My answer was instantly ‘No.’ And I was right, spending so much time with Ann and Michael (who was the best roomie you could ask for), whose podcast, Books on the Nightstand, I have listened to for years was an utter joy, the bonus on the fantastical booky baked cake was I also got to meet lots of other amazing readers who attended Booktopia too. I had always dreamed of going to Booktopia but hadn’t thought it would be possible, then it was! Surreal and brilliant. Oh and then there was hosting an event with Anthony Marra whose book I was obsessed with last year.

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Imagine a whole weekend of readers, podcasts hosts and authors all meeting together and spending the weekend discussing books and reading and just having a lovely laugh filled time… that is Booktopia. If only there were four podcasts hosts in the UK who did something like that here…

  1. Recording The Readers In Reality aka Spending Time with Thomas of My Porch

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Thomas and I have been commenting, well we used to, on each others blogs for years. Weirdly every time he came over to the UK I wasn’t in London, it wasn’t intentional I promise. Then we became podcast cohosts. So when I decided to go to the USA a stay at his (with the lovely John and Lucy) was a no brainer. We had the most wonderful few days ever. We went round all the Washington sites, we wanted round book shops buying lots of books, we laughed as we went and when we lounged by the pool. Recording the podcast live sort of became an afterthought. Thomas is like my big booky brother, and I mean that in THE nicest of ways.

  1. The Green Carnation Prize Announcement Party at Foyles

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This is probably the proudest booky moment I have had in quite some time. After managing to get the lovely folks at Foyles to partner in association with The Green Carnation Prize, which I cofounded a few years ago, we decided we would have a party when the winner announced. Initially this seemed light years away, initially I didn’t think I would have to give a speech in front of lots of publishers, authors, journalists and literary folk. Then suddenly I did and without sounding up my own bottom I was chuffed with myself, I couldn’t believe what I had quite accomplished for the love of books and for getting good books into peoples hands.

It is that point, the love of books and getting good books into peoples hands, which leads me onto this year but first I should discuss some of the highlights of my reading year before you think I didn’t love it. I liked it very much. 2014 might have been the year I blogged the least and read the least in quite some years but it was the year I rediscovered the short story and have had rather a love affair with it and also discovered Rose Tremain and of course these books and THAT book in particular. So for me that is a good reading year by any stretch of the imagination.

This year I have no blog or reading resolution or goal. Not a single one. My motto for the year is an anagram the Savidge family used a fair few moons ago when we made a cake for my great grandparents Doris and Arthur on one of their BIG wedding anniversaries with their names. It is ‘Sod it and Hurrar’. Excuse the spelling, there weren’t enough h’s, yet I think it captures the gist of what 2015 will be in all aspects of my life, including blogging and most importantly reading. I have set myself the lowest GoodReads challenge number ever, I have sworn off ‘official’ challenges and have said goodbye to freelance work (note – unless anyone wants me to judge a big book prize, ha or go on Radio 4 as thats a dream) in the book field for 12 months.

This year I just want to see where the books take me, be they new or old, fiction or not. Let’s see what happens.

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