Tag Archives: Toni Morrison

Other People’s Bookshelves #68 – Sabeena Akhtar

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 London to have a nosey through the shelves of lovely blogger Sabeena Akhtar of The Poco Book Reader. I am a recent lurker to Sabeena’s site and am a big fan already and have got several wonderful recommendations to help increase the diversity of my shelves even more. Before we have a rummage through all of Sabeena’s shelves, lets all settle down on her lovely sofa’s, grab a brew and find out more about her.

I think I’m probably very similar to many of you – An insatiable book buyer, I love books, I read a lot of them and occasionally blog about it! 🙂 I review Post-Colonial Literature at The Poco Book Reder and sometimes feel like the oldest person on the Internet because I have never reviewed (or read!) a YA novel. Born and bred in London, I enjoy noise, road rage, rain and not being disturbed when reading on the tube please and thank you.

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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 think I’m becoming a hoarder in my old age. I never used to be so precious about books and frequently gave them away, but now they all have a place on my shelves and are slowly taking over the house. My husband once suggested I buy a kindle. He’s buried beneath a pile of books somewhere. (Simon laughed about this till he cried for almost ten minutes.)

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?

When I was studying it was easier to group books together in terms of my modules for example all  American Lit on one shelf. Even though that was quite a while ago now, the system seems to have stuck and particularly makes life easier when I’m blogging and need to find a book quickly. I do however, have about three shelves reserved just for the books I love. My TBR books are in piles next to my bed, either on the floor or lining the fireplace.

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

I wish I knew the answer to this. I don’t remember the first book I bought myself, but I do remember my older sister once taking me out to buy me the first books that belonged to me and weren’t hand me downs. We walked to the bookshop on a freezing winters day when I was about eight and I vividly remember the warmth and ambience of the bookshop. She bought me a hardback copy of Roald Dahl’s The Witches and I was spellbound by the cover and then the story. I’ve passed it on to my daughter now so it currently resides on her bookshelf. I’m pleased to say she loves it just as much as I did.

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?

Not really. I’m a bit of a book snob and don’t read romance, crime novels or any other books I might be embarrassed by! My husband, however, does have a dodgy sci-fi/fantasy shelf that I constantly feel the need to tell people belongs to him and not me!  

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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’s probably a few, but one that stands out for me is a copy of Beloved by Toni Morrison that I bought as a  teenager, simply because of the impact it had on me.  Today, we all know Toni Morrison is massive, so much so that it’s become cliché to cite her as a favourite author. But then, I knew nothing about her and had never read anything like it. Beloved swept me away. For a sixteen year old brown girl to read a novel by a black woman, about black women, using a black vernacular was mind blowing. It was the first time in my life that I thought that minorities could be protagonists in their own stories and that their own stories could be written however the hell they wanted to write them. (It was the also the first time I’d encountered a dialogic narrative!) Suffice to say, it informed a large part of what I read today. Until that point I had only read classics ( I didn’t get out much!) and secretly fancied myself as starring in a Bronte-esque adaptation. I shared this dream with my sister who side eyed me and said ‘erm yeah, maybe as the servant’. Beloved introduced me to a literary world that I could picture myself inhabiting.

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?

Strangely enough, my parents had a small, beautiful purple bound hard-back copy of Tragedy of a Genius by Honor de Balzac on their shelf. I have no idea where it came from but I was drawn to it and read it when I was about twelve. Randomly, I found it in their attic last year and nabbed it for myself again.

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 don’t really borrow books any more, as I have book buying addiction problems! But I definitely do have to have copies of books I love. On a recent rummage around a charity shop in Leather Lane I found a hard back copy of The God of Small Things, which I love. Even though I already have a paperback copy, I bought it again!

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

I’m trying to curb my book binging at the moment so sadly I haven’t bought any for a while, although embarrassingly, I hadn’t read any of Elif Shafak’s books so ordered some of those on the recommendation of a dear friend. My very inquisitive 8 year old then spent about a week last month asking me who the Bastard of Istanbul was!

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

Thousands, millions probably. I’m still waiting to acquire the library from Beauty and the Beast so that I can fill it with treasures.

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

I’d like to think that they thought ‘wow what an interesting woman with eclectic, cross cultural reading tastes’(!) Recently a friend came over and as he stared at the books, I imagined that this was what he was thinking until he turned around, creased up his nose and said ‘You’ve got a lot of ‘brown’ books haven’t you?’

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A huge thanks to Sabeena 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 Sabeena’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #22 – Simon Sylvester

Hello and welcome to the latest in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves where we get to have a good old nosey through other peoples book collections. Grab some Kendal mint cake, or even better some Grasmere gingerbread (nothing on earth like it), as we are off to the Lake District to join a man who has seen me at my worst, on both a long haul flight (I hate flying) and in an air balloon (I hate heights) when we both went to Philadelphia on a travel writing trip many moons ago. Today we join Simon Sylvester (another SS, they are the best) and I will hand over to him to tell us more about himself before we go routing through his shelves…

I live in Burneside, just outside Kendal on the southern edge of the Lake District. I moved here about three years ago with my partner, the painter Monica Metsers. Last year we bought a house, which took us six months to strip down and make habitable. We always wanted to have big bookshelves, and my father-in-law made us these to fit the living room. I work part-time teaching film production at the local college, and I make short films for local bands and businesses. Whatever spare time is left goes to my writing. I started writing in 2006, and my short stories have been published occasionally over the years. My debut novel is coming out with Quercus Books in 2014, which is almost as terrifying as it is exciting. Regarding my reading, it’s worth mentioning that I spent a miserable year at boarding school when I was younger. I remember virtually nothing of that time except the library, devouring Hardy Boys books. Reading has always been an escape for me.

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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?

Once upon a time, I kept them all, but those days are long gone. A book stays if I’m certain to read it again because it’s useful, it’s beautiful or it has personal value. Even with these huge shelves, space is at a premium, and those standards get higher as my collection grows. And despite strict monitoring of what stays and what goes, the books quietly multiply and migrate into other parts of the shelves. I think the board games will have to move elsewhere, soon.

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?

The big shelves have fiction alphabetised by surname, which is dull, perhaps, but then I know where to find things when I want them. I used to work in a record store, and filing is hardwired in me – I get antsy when they’re out of order. Anything borrowed from friends sits flat. On the other side of the room, poetry and graphic novels have shelves of their own. I don’t own enough of either to warrant alphabetising them. I’m actually a little intimidated by comics. I love the ones I read, but it’s so vast and varied a genre that I don’t really know where to begin. Every year or so, my friend Ali Shaw suggests something else, and I’ll give it a go, and invariably enjoy it, but still not know where to take my reading next.

Literary journals and fiction anthologies live on a shelf with my published short stories, good and bad. Above them, nonfiction is a bit of a free-for-all. I’m a sucker for obscure non-fiction book, so the shelves here have sumo wrestling and saints, bikes and kites, whales and weather. Mon’s non-fiction is totally different to mine, so we have shelves of stunning art books as well as rock’n’roll autobiographies and tomes on yoga. I’m pretty sure she’s trying to organise the art books by ascending size, but I get in the way by absently taking them off the shelves to read them. Upstairs, the shelves by my desk are a bit more spartan, but that’s where I gather anything relevant to my current project. My next novel is about a woman losing her way in a huge swamp, so at the moment there’s everything from historical accounts of draining the fens to Finnish folktales. I also keep my finished notebooks and diaries here. The final set of shelves belong to my daughter Dora. She’s two and a half years old, and there’s no point arranging her books, because her first job every morning is to hurl them to the floor and pretend she’s reading them. It’s been a joy beyond measure to rediscover some children’s classics.shelves misc 1

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

My memory is abominable, so this is a little fuzzy; but I’ve always been hooked on second-hand stores. I grew up in Inverness, where there’s an extraordinary bookshop called James Leakey’s. It’s an old church with shelves jammed with books, books in double layers on the floor, and banana boxes of loose books stacked three deep behind the counter. I spent a lot of time in there. Although my first purchase was probably something and somewhere else, I clearly remember buying a very tatty copy of Dune by Frank Herbert from that amazing place. I must have read it half-a-dozen times. I don’t own it any more, unfortunately, though I still love it – one of many books that have escaped over the years. I bought a lot of Iain Banks, too, after I discovered The Wasp Factory. I loaned three Banks books to a passing acquaintance, back in 2001, and never saw them again.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

No secrets in our house, Simon! Mon has books on the shelves that I probably wouldn’t read, just as I have books she wouldn’t read, but they’re all up there. The only one I make a habit of hiding (behind a picture of my daughter) is the True Blood collection by Charlaine Harris. We loved the first two seasons of the TV show, but never enjoyed the books, and after the show withered, neither of us summoned the strength to go back to Sookie and Bon Temps. I don’t know why they’re still there, to be honest. It’s something we don’t talk about, like the cupboard under the stairs.

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 own anything financially valuable, but there are several books on the shelves that are peculiarly important to me. The Battle At Sangshak by Harry Seaman is an account of a small but pivotal fight in the godawful jungle war in Burma and India. Sangshak was crucial in turning the tide against the Japanese army in World War Two, and it was nothing less than hell on earth. My grandfather fought there. When he died, his annotated copy went to my dad, and I received my dad’s copy. Inside the back sleeve is a photocopy of a note to my grandfather from the man who led the fight. It’s very humbling to reflect on what they went through. I have another letter, somewhere, that his brother, my great uncle, sent him from a military hospital in Egypt. He’d been injured while fighting in the tank campaigns in Northern Africa. His leg had been smashed in six places by a cannon recoil, and he waited all day in the baking heat, under shellfire, before being rescued. “Still,” he wrote to my grandfather, “I prefer my war to your war.”

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My first attempt at a novel was about the war in Burma. I wanted to write about my grandfather’s experiences. I didn’t get anywhere near it, but I don’t think he’d have minded. Funnily enough, the most prized thing on the shelf isn’t a book, but a missing bookmark. Buried in one of those hundreds of books is a photo of me fishing with my grandfather. I must have been eight or ten, and I don’t remember being there. He’s dead now, and that picture means a lot to me, but I have no idea which book it’s hiding in. I often use different bookmarks – especially the ones I find in second-hand books – cheques and postcards and bus tickets – but I’d like that photo back.

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?

The earliest one I remember, again when I was ten or so, was Jock of the Bushveld on my grandparents’ shelves. I read most of it, I think. They gave me Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls for a birthday around then, too. I still own that one. It’s strange, writing this, to realise how often my grandparents are cropping up. I can also remember borrowing some Dean Koontz nasty from the mobile library when I was about thirteen. Days after I’d finished reading it, my dad had a quick flick through – he was so horrified that he hid it until the van came again. I remember thinking it was no worse than the Alistair MacLeans and Desmond Bagleys on my parents’ 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?

Guilty of this one – I’ve absolutely bought my own copies of borrowed books. Neil Gaiman was a massive gap in my reading until only a few years ago, when a friend loaned me Neverwhere and Fragile Things. I devoured those and promptly bought my own copies – as well as all his other fiction. I still can’t believe it took me so long. Again, when I was 26, I spent a year working and backpacking round Australia. Months of swapping books in youth hostels led me to discover David Mitchell. Travelling light, I couldn’t carry them with me, so I swapped them on, and promptly bought second copies when I came home. I’ve even done this with books I already own; my favourite novel, The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano, has been on loan to different friends for more than two years. I crumbled and bought a second copy because I couldn’t be without it. It has the best ending of any modern novel.

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I’ve just noticed that the only Pratchett I’m missing is Soul Music. When I was fifteen I went on an exchange trip to France. I managed to forget the stack of books I’d put aside for the month abroad, and took only Soul Music in my hand luggage. As a result, I read it continuously over that month. It suffered in rain and sun and rucksacks, becoming ever more curled and dog-eared. It went through some abuse, that book, but it stayed with me. I was still reading it on the plane home. I’d like to get another copy of that.

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

Tales of the Fenlands by Walter Henry Barrett. It’s on longterm loan from my storyteller uncle Rich Sylvester. He was in Cumbria a couple of months ago, when we both read some of our work at the amazing Dreamfired storynights in Brigsteer. I hadn’t seen him for a years, and we talked through some of my next novel. A few weeks later, this book arrived in the post. The mythology of the Fens is incredibly concentrated and well-preserved. We’re hoping to go for a few days walking round Wisbech next year.

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

Hundreds! Like your post on Doris Lessing, I’m acutely conscious that there are dozens of gigantic gaps in my reading. My ongoing issue at the moment is time, time, time. I used to read two or three books a week; I’m so exhausted at the moment that I barely manage ten pages a night before falling asleep. If I can recover some more time to read, then I have Toni Morrison and Alice Munro in my sights. I’ve only recently discovered Haruki Murakami, having read Wild Sheep Chase, 1Q84 and Norwegian Wood in the last year. My friends rave about Kafka On The Shore, and I’ll work my way through the rest of his writing in the next couple of years.

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

I had something of an epiphany two years ago. It was a bright summer day, and sunlight was streaming into the room Mon and I stayed in at the time. I was sitting on the end of the bed, considering my bookshelves and thinking about what I wanted to achieve as a writer. I’d received some great praise for the novel I wrote about Burma, but the agents and publishers who read it generally felt it was too dark for a first novel, and nothing had come of it. I now had the kernel of an idea for another book, and I was considering whether it was worth the heartache, the effort and the time away from my family. Looking at my shelves, I noticed a distinct line between the authors I admired as ferocious artists, and who had inspired the combative style of my first attempt at a novel – William S. Burroughs, David Peace, Hubert Selby Jnr – and the authors I returned to time and time again because I simply loved to read their stories – David Mitchell, Jasper Fforde, Sarah Waters, Terry Pratchett. The first group experiment with language to deliver emotional punches; the second achieve emotion through characters and situations the reader comes to care about. On making that distinction, I realised that I very seldom returned to the first group, and that I kept them on the shelves almost as proof that I’d read them, rather than because I’d enjoyed them. I felt a little ashamed to realise that they’d stopped being books, and they’d become badges. With that understanding, a huge weight fell from my shoulders. I no longer felt that my stories needed to be experimental, obscure or deliberately challenging. They needed to deliver what I wanted in my own favourite books – the joy of escaping somewhere new. That was the moment I understood not only that I needed to write for myself, but also more about who I was.

Knowing I wouldn’t read them again, I boxed up dozens of those dark literary heavyweights, and took them to a charity shop. Then I started work on my second novel. Two years on, I have a wonderful agent and a very exciting publisher, and a clear path of where I want to take my work. I suspect every writer has that epiphany at some point on the journey to finding their own voice. That was a gigantic turning point in my life, and it couldn’t have happened without my books and my bookshelves. This is a long-winded way of saying that now I’ve challenged myself over why I keep certain books on my shelves, I’m no longer troubled by what other people think of my reading taste or me. These are my books, and I’m proud of them. In any of the new houses Mon and I have moved to, I’ve been unable to settle without shelves on the wall and my books on the shelves. They’re a comfort to me. They remind me of where I’ve been and what I’ve done. Books are part of what make our house a home.

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A huge thanks to Simon for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Simon’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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Ghana Must Go – Taiye Selasi

There has been a lot of buzz; I don’t want to say hype as that is always an off putting word, building around debut novelist Taiye Selasi in the last few months. She became one of the Waterstones 11 authors this year, there were murmured Man Booker predictions around blogs and forums and then this week she was announced as one of Granta’s Best of British Young Novelists. We also learn that her first published short story was written due to a deadline given to her by none other than Toni Morrison. Therefore, before you have even turned the first page, you might have been put off reading ‘Ghana Must Go’ because of the buzz or be expecting something that will completely blow you away. Well, I am about to add to the buzz because I was completely bowled away, and my expectations were high.

***** Viking Books, hardback, 2013, fiction, 318 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

They say that death is the end, in the case of ‘Ghana Must Go’ it is the beginning as in the very first paragraph we find Kweku Sai dying in his garden, he proceeds to die for the next chapter and indeed then for the first ninety-three pages, which is also the first section, of the book. This is a very clever writing device of Selasi’s because, again as we are told is the case, parts of Kweku’s life start to flash before his eyes and what we learn of is a man who tried hard to create a life for his family away from Ghana, in America, and who failed and fled abandoning them all when he did so.

That in itself could be enough story to fill a large novel, Selasi some manages to tell his story but also the ripples and repercussions that have come from that event several decades later and how his family must reunite and face the past and the memories it brings upon learning of their estranged father’s death.

 “Kweku dies barefoot on a Sunday before sunrise, his slippers by the doorway to the bedroom like dogs. At the moment he is on the threshold between sunroom and garden considering whether to go back and get them. He won’t. His second wife Ama is asleep in that bedroom, her lips parted loosely, her brow lightly furrowed, her cheek hotly seeking some cool patch of pillow, and he doesn’t want to wake her.
He couldn’t if he tried.”

‘Ghana Must Go’ is a book almost overflowing with themes and ideas, in fact sometimes you are amazed at how one story, and one family no matter how estranged, can create all the questions and thoughts that run through your head as you read. The main theme for me was acceptance; how we want to feel accepted by our family no matter how different from them we might be, how we seek acceptance in the place we choose to live and yet want the continued acceptance of where we are from, acceptance in society and most importantly acceptance of ourselves – oddly probably the hardest thing of all.

Home is another theme. It has been well documented that Selasi herself has moved around a lot; born in the UK where she returned to study some of the time, lived in Brookline in the USA, spent time in Switzerland and Paris, now lives in Rome and visits Ghana and Nigeria frequently. As I read ‘Ghana Must Go’ for the first time ever it occurred to me that home isn’t the building you place the label on but it is literally, cliché alert, where the heart is and that is because really you are your own home and the people you surround yourself with make different walls and a ceiling at different times. See, it really, really had me thinking and yet this is all done without bashing these ideas over your head or making the novel a huge epic tome, they just form as you follow the Sai families story.

It is also a book about consequences. Some thinks happen to us and we are obviously conscious of the consequences, in this case Kweku’s death in the present and his abandonment in the past and how it affected his wife Fola and their children both initially and as the years go on. Yet there are also the consequences of things that ripple through we might not think, for example with Fola and the Biafra war and how that changes her life or how our parents and grandparents might have acted or not acted upon things.

What I loved so much about ‘Ghana Must Go’ was that at its very heart it is the beautifully written and compelling tale of a fractured and dysfunctional family and the characters and relationships within it and also a book that really looks at, and gets us thinking, about so much more. It is a book filled with hidden depths and one that left me feeling a real mixture of emotions; heartache, shock, horror and also hope. At a mere 318 pages I think that is an incredible accomplishment and am very much in agreement with anyone else who thinks Taiye Selasi is one author to most definitely watch out for.

If you would like to find out more about the book I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon with Taiye last week and she is the latest author on You Wrote The Book here (I think it is my favourite interview so far, if I am allowed to have favourites?) so do have a listen. Who else has read ‘Ghana Must Go’ and if so what did you make of it? Is this book on your periphery at the moment? What are your thoughts on buzz and hype?

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Filed under Books of 2013, Review, Taiye Selasi, Viking Books

Books Bring People Together…

It always amazes me how small the world is. Obviously in reality it is an absolutely giant planet hurtling thorugh space, though I don’t like to think about that last bit too much. Anyway, in the last two weeks I have been reminded once more just how small a place it is and bizarrely through books and conversations, in one way or another, that they have sparked. These events have also made me doubly sure that books bring people together, despite reading being such a solitary activity.

You may remember when I came back from my blogging break that I gave you a summary of what I had been up to and I introduced you to a new feline friend called Tolstoy (see picture —>). Well, imagine my surprise when I received an email that informed me that the cat I had taken a picture of was actually called Santiago and that the writer of the email, Charlotte who had been looking for a new book group, knew this because it was her sister’s cat and who lives next door to me. How crazy is that? It seemed all the more crazy when I discovered that Charlotte had also seen me read at Waterstones on World Book Night and neither of us had a clue who the other was then. We have since been to book group together and travel back chatting about books all the way home, lovely.

I mentioned on Sunday, in the post on my London trip and book looting spree, that thanks to books I made a new friend on the train journey home. Now here I have to admit I am not the most befriending kind of person on public transport. If I happen to have a long train journey I always see it as ‘reading time’, in reality I spend most of the journey looking out the windows and staring at the British countryside.

However after a long day in London the train back to Manchester was a late night one so there was no countryside to steal my attention. I headed to the quiet coach and sat down opposite a woman reading. In my head this meant I would have two and a half hours silence in which I could read; this wasn’t to be. You see I couldn’t help rummage through the selection of books I had nabbed and spotted out the corner of my eye that the woman opposite was crowing for a sneaky look. Once I had put them all back she carried on reading, I spotted she was reading Haruki Murakami’s ‘Kafka on the Shore’ and had to hold back from saying ‘ooh I have read that isn’t it marvellously bonkers?’ I was on the quiet carriage after all! That said I had no sooner taken out Toni Morrison’s ‘Home’ to read than I heard ‘Excuse me, is that the new Toni Morrison book, the one that’s not out yet… how have you got that? I love her…’

Well that was that, we both downed tools, well books, and proceeded to spend the rest of the journey talking about books, books and more books as we walked home and discovered we lived on the same street! How mad is that? Maybe there is some literary subconscious draw to that road? I just thought it was so nice and I came away with about five more authors I am keen to read.

Of course these are both people who live in and around Manchester and so that could be part of it, yet there is one more story that I thought I would share. I opened my emails to one entitled ‘OMG… It’s You’, initially I did think ‘oh **** what spam is this’ until I discovered it was my step-aunt Jane. This might not sound a big deal, but actually it is because she was my first stepdad’s sister, he sadly passed away a few months after he married my Mum almost 20 years ago and she had moved abroad and we had lost touch. Well, she had been looking for a ghost story for her teenage son and a review of mine popped up, she followed the trail and found my email. How nice is that?

See, proof right there that books bring people together and reunite people. I bet this has happened to some, if not all, of you in the past. Care to share your stories of books befriending you to someone or reuniting you?

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Home – Toni Morrison

There are some authors who have such a presence in the literary world that it can actually put you off reading them, Toni Morrison has always been one such author for me. I have heard so many people talk about her work, in particular with reference to ‘Beloved’, and how amazing her writing is that I have always feared I might pick a novel of hers and simply not ‘get’ it. Yet, as I am sure you all know, sometimes life throws these authors and their books in our paths. I ended up being sent ‘Home’, Morrison’s latest novella, by We Love This Book to review and so, with slight trepidation, I finally got around to reading my first Toni Morrison work.

Chatto & Windus, hardback, 2012, fiction, 160 pages, sent for review by We Love This Book

In the very first chapter of ‘Home’ we are given a flashback of something horrific happening in a young man’s childhood sometime in the past. In the second we join him (well we assume it is him) as he lies trying to work out his escape from a psychiatric ward in the 1950’s. It is in these two brief and instant portraits of a character that we meet our narrator, 24 year old Korean War veteran Frank Money and instantly we want to know more about him. What happened in his childhood that he barely comprehends and yet leads him to drink? Why is he locked in a psychiatric hospital and why must he escape at any cost? It’s this style of mysterious, yet very restrained, prose that makes us as the reader almost unable to put ‘Home’ down for its deceptive 160 pages.

Though a novella, which may lead us into believing ‘Home’ could be a slight book for the big subjects it covers, there is so much going on in the book you can’t help but be impressed by how its crafted. Morrison doesn’t let a word run spare. The prose is poetic yet hard and forceful. Every single word matters, you have the feeling the author has made them work for their rite to be included.

As Frank makes his escape and heads to Georgia, relying on the good will of people, we get further flashbacks of brief, yet harrowing, insight into the part he played in the war and how it’s affected him. We also get to see the darker parts of life and society at the time through Frank’s observations as he travels. These, like his flashbacks, come in short, sharp and rather shocking bursts, confronting the reader in varying ways and providing food for thought from sentence to sentence.

“The abused couple whispered to each other, she softly, pleadingly, he with urgency. He will beat her when they get home, thought Frank. And who wouldn’t? It’s one thing to be publically humiliated. A man could move on from that. What was intolerable was the witness of a woman, a wife, who not only saw it, but had dared to try to rescue – rescue! – him. He couldn’t protect himself and he couldn’t protect her either, as the rock in her face proved. She would have to pay for that broken nose. Over and over again.”

Because ‘Home’ is quite short I don’t want to give too much more away. That and the fact that Frank is quite an enigma really though the novel, you learn as you go and so to spoil that would also be wrong of me. I did really like the way I couldn’t decide if he was a decent guy, completely mad or just dangerous though. But I don’t think I should say more than that.

Darkness and questions seem to be its themes, that in part might be why I liked it so instantly to start with, and Morrison keeps hints of things from the past popping up in the present to keep us reading on. I think that the best novella’s leave you in one of two states; you either come away feeling perfectly sated from the experience or you come away wanting more. In the case of ‘Home’ I came away wanting, not because the novella wasn’t full enough but because I wanted more of the back story in even more detail, but then that isn’t really what ‘Home’ is about. Only the best authors can make a novella epic and, with ‘Home’, America’s only living Nobel Laureate shows us how it is done and gives us a sign that there is yet more to come in the future. Until Morrison’s next novel appears I will definitely be making sure I try some of her back catalogue in the meantime.

Has anyone else read ‘Home’ and what did you think? I would be interested to see how a Morrison aficionado rates this novella compared to her other work. Which of Toni Morrison’s other novels have you read? Where should I be heading to next?

This is an extended version of a review I wrote for We Love This Book which you can see here.

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Books By The Bedside #2

I meant to blog all weekend I really did, alas I just got to busy with other fun stuff. As I had intended to post something about what we are all reading at the moment I thought that I would back date a post, that’s allowed isn’t it? So here we have the return of ‘Books By The Bedside’, a peripheral view of what I am reading at the moment and planning on reading very soon, also a series I planned to make more regular, whoops!

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At the moment my main read, and book of contention if I am being honest, is ‘Mary Barton’ by Elizabeth Gaskell. Yes, I am still reading it. It’s a bit like wading through treacle (we’ve all been there). Despite a murder happening, which I thought might spice it up a bit, Mary has almost instantly worked out who it is so now we know. If it wasn’t the first choice for ‘Manchester Book Club’ I would have given up by now. But, like the characters in the book actually, I have the grim determination to see it through to the end against all obstacles… Like boredom. Shall we move on?

I am combating the above book with a favourite thanks to pure timing. Monday is World Book Night and not only will I be giving away copies of ‘Rebecca’ I will also be reading it at an event at Waterstones Deansgate from 6.30pm. I’ve been dipping into Daphers for some favourite sections! I do bloody love this book.

The two books I am planning to read are ‘Home’ the latest Toni Morrison novel, which will also be my first foray into her work, for a review in We Love This Book, I am intrigued to see how great she is. I know lots of people who love her work. It’s fairly short but I am hoping packs a punch. I will then be reading ‘The Last Werewolf’ by Glen Duncan, described by one of my favourite book lovers Marieke Hardy as a ‘very silly book’ and a ‘cock forest’. It’s also the first of The Readers Summer Book Club choices so I best crack on.

It’s rather a small pile of books for me I admit, but at the moment I am splitting my weeks between Manchester and Liverpool (more on the lovely reason for this soon), so only so many books I can lug about.

Anyway… Which books are you reading and keen to read? Have you read any of the above, or other works by the authors? Do let me know as always.

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Book Guilt… A Short Solution

With the never ending influx of books (which I love) arriving in the post from you lovely people, from publishers or through my own excessive book shopping spree’s every now and again I need a good book sort. The next Great Book Sort will be happening over the next few evening and will combine this with a ‘Sensation Search’ where I go a-hunting for some modern sensations that I am well aware I own… I am just not sure quite where. You see there are negatives to having so many books** (I just tend to blank them mentally) well a few.

For example I know I own ‘Meaning of the Night’ and ‘Silent in the Grave’ which some of you kindly recommended, they are just in one of six boxes brimming with books, actually they could be on one of the eight TBR shelves, or even just on the various TBR piles around the house (which I frankly dare not even take a picture of). The Converted One commented the other day that “other book bloggers have a TBR pile… so why do you have about twelve and boxes full?’ Hmmm… no comment.

The other issue I get is…  guilt. Partly to people who have bought me books/sent me books and when I say that beam ‘have you read **** by **** **** yet?’ to which I reply with a guilty gulp ‘erm… no… but I will… soon’. I love the fact my friends, readers and all the publishers will see a book and think ‘oh I know who would like that’ I just always feel bad if I don’t read it then and there. Does anyone else get this? Or am I just being a bit over dramatic?

Worst of all however, is the guilt I feel for all the books that sit on my shelves, on any free surface to hand or get popped in a box. These books that I know are waiting with the promise of some sort of adventure that only the two of us can share, this could be a good, bad or indifferent adventure but it’s an adventure all the same. So I thought right how can I get through more of them and still keep on with the tomes of the Sensation Season, and I had an idea involving all of these…

A few short novels...

  • Henrietta’s War – Joyce Dennys (already read – hilarious more tomorrow)
  • Love – Toni Morrison
  • The Girls of Slender Means – Muriel Spark
  • Fire in the Blood – Irene Nemirovsky
  • Cover Her Face – P.D. James (I am in need of some crime)
  • King Kong Theory – Virginie Despentes
  • The Tin Can Tree – Anne Tyler
  • The Daydreamer – Ian McEwan
  • Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson
  • The Bronte’s Went To Woolworths – Rachel Ferguson (very late reading this)
  • Tuck Everlasting – Natalie Babbitt
  • A Pale View of the Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro (have had mixed past experiences with Ishiguro)
  • The Swallows of Kabul – Yasmina Khadra
  • Shuck – Daniel Allen Cox
  • True Murder – Yaba Badoe (looks thicker than it is big writing)

What do they all have in common apart from the fact I have been meaning to read them all for ages (apart from Love by Toni Morrison which Claire at Kiss A Cloud is to blame for my purchase of)? They are all short! I thought a short book each week plus one other random and a Sensation Novel is exactly what my reading week can handle. How do you think I will fair? Does anyone else ever get sudden book guilt at the pile they have accrued?

**Note – This post is not a whinge and the more books the merrier are welcomed at Savidge Reads Towers, just so you know!

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