Tag Archives: Virginia Woolf

Other People’s Bookshelves #65 – Sarah Perry

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are off to Essex to join author Sarah Perry who has just got back from her allotment especially to show us around her shelves. First let’s grab a cuppa and a custard cream and find out more about Sarah…

My first novel, After Me Comes the Flood, came out last year with Serpent’s Tail, and has just been released in paperback. My second novel, The Essex Serpent, is coming out in July 2016 (again with Serpent’s Tail, in an act of spectacular nominative determinism!).  I was once a civil servant – largely working in communications, such as writing speeches for government ministers – and then worked for the Council of the Inns of Court while I did a PhD in Creative Writing and the Gothic. I now write full-time, though not just fiction.

At the moment I’m finishing edits on The Essex Serpent. It’s about friendship, desire, sin, love, death and sea-serpents. I talk quite often about my upbringing, and am always afraid it’s going to grow tiresome, but find I’m still asked about it. I was born to a very strict religious family – often, I joke I was brought up in 1895 – and while other girls my age were surrounded by pop culture I was up to my ears in the King James Bible, classic literature, Victorian hymns and Reformation theology. The Gothic quality of my writing and my preoccupation with madness, sin and transgression is therefore not entirely surprising, I suppose.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I’m frighteningly acquisitive when it comes to books, and absolutely hopeless at getting rid of them. About three months ago I attempted a cull, and there have been two large bags of books destined for the local charity shops in the middle of my bedroom floor ever since. I seem to gather books as I walk through the week like a magnet attracting iron filings and with about that degree of discrimination. Proofs arrive in the post, I order them online on a whim, am sent them as gifts, throw them into my trolley in the supermarket, grab paperbacks in charity shops, steal – sorry: borrow! – them from friends. They all wind up in one of the many drifts and piles in the house, and I fear many are destined to remain unread for years, if at all. But I can never quite shake the feeling that the day may come when that 80s edition of The Gulag Archipelago, or that little hardback Rumer Godden novel, is going to be exactly what I need…

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

Some years ago a friend of mine tried to help me order my books (by genre, and alphabetically by author). It took absolutely hours and lasted for less than a week. I can’t begin to fathom how anyone who has a large number of books maintains any sort of order without a fleet of staff. Everything is all bundled in together – I’m looking at a bookcase right now and on a single shelf I can see a biography of William Gladstone, a guide to Jungian dream-symbols, TH White’s The Once and Future King, two Ishiguro novels next to each other (miraculously!), several crime thrillers, and a Puritan book on the doctrine of repentance. If you’re wondering how I ever find anything: I often can’t, and rage about the house accusing the cat of stealing books. My husband has a better memory than me, and can often lay hands on what I need. I do try and keep to some form of TBR system, and went as far as installing two bookcases on either side of the bed, but then I get distracted by something else, and it all goes out of the window.

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The only truly organised shelves are those where I’m temporary custodian of a friend’s books: he moved abroad, and left them with me, where I’ve taken to calling them ‘The Memorial Library’. I must say I consider arranging books by colour to be the sure sign of a deranged mind (apologies to any deranged readers).

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

I honestly can’t remember, and wish very much that I could! I do have lots of books from my childhood, though. I have on my desk here a very battered little Bible story book which I must have had since before school, and I’m very attached to a hardback Paddington bear collection which was a gift from one of my older sisters.

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

With very, very few exceptions I really don’t have much truck with the idea of guilty pleasures when it comes to reading. Of course, even the most ardent anti-book snob must draw the line somewhere, and I would sooner go to the stake than have my shelves sullied with Fifty Shades of Grey or Ayn Rand. But I have everything out in the open – so far as the disordered tumult will allow! – and if anyone baulks at the sight of Stephen King, Terry Pratchett and Lee Child jostling cheerfully with WG Sebald, Maggie Nelson and Tennyson then I shall sit them down and have a long, gentle but firmly persuasive chat. I never read romantic fiction, but that is merely a matter of preference, in the same way that I would rather eat cauliflower than mushrooms: it’s not a value judgment. I must confess that if my parents visit I might double check that Catullus or Chuck Palahniuk aren’t knocking about where my Dad might take them off the shelves in an idle moment (there was an awkward moment last year with a Thom Gunn poem).

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Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

There are so many of these! May I have a wheelbarrow full? I have a complete Sherlock Holmes which my father gave me: it is a long out-of-print edition, and identical to his own copy, which I grew up reading, and which he is evidently not ready to part with. I have a beautiful vintage edition of Finnegans Wake which a friend gave me when I left London, and since really he deserves it far more than I do I secretly think of it as being in joint custody, like the child of an amiable divorce. When I sold my first novel a friend gave me a copy of A Literary Life by Posy Simmonds, which has got truer and more comforting as the years have passed. There are about half-a-dozen King James Bibles knocking about, most of them associated with events in life: my wedding, or a gift when I was tiny bridesmaid at my oldest sister’s wedding. Once when I had been away for a fortnight my husband met me at the airport with some marmalade sandwiches, two Calvin and Hobbes books and a copy of the Communist Party Manifesto, so I would like those. And I suppose I would like to take the first proof copy of my first novel, with all my anguished handwritten corrections.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

I never really remember there being much of a division between children’s books and grown up books, and I more or less read what I wanted, when I wanted to. Which isn’t to say that I was reading terribly inappropriately (however one defines that) – there wouldn’t have been anything like that in the house, and I wouldn’t have sought it out: since there was so much to read, I was quite content. And so I remember reading Jane Eyre at eight, because it was in an illustrated hardback edition that I mistook for a children’s book, and my father gave me a copy of Tess of the D’Urbervilles when I was ten (greatly to my teacher’s horror). My elder sisters would occasionally conceal slightly fruity novels beneath their beds, which I unfailingly found and would read in a single sitting. The most memorable of these was probably Flowers in the Attic, which I still adore – and which is somewhere on my shelves.

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

Greatly to my shame, I never borrow books (unless from friends, in which case ‘borrow’ is often pronounced ‘steal’), and only ever darken the doors of reference libraries, in order to do research. I am simply not to be trusted with library books: they’ll be lost, dropped in the bath, battered, and never returned. It’s a moral failing I’ve long given up trying to remedy.

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

In the last week, I’ve bought Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (her memoir Bluets had a profound effect on me last year), Miranda July’s The First Bad Man (which I cannot imagine I will enjoy, having a very low tolerance for quirky books by privileged young New Yorkers, but I though I’d try and conquer my prejudices), Stephen King’s Mr Mercedes, JG Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition, John Wyndham’s The Trouble With Lichen, and an Anaïs Nin book I immediately lost and can’t remember. I have also been sent a debut novel by Tasha Kavanagh called Things We Have in Common, which I’m looking forward to. Sorry, that’s several books, isn’t it?

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

Heaps and heaps! I am very close to mugging someone for an advance copy of Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life: its August release date seems a terribly long way away, and literally everyone on Twitter has a copy except me. I also would like a facsimile edition (or a real one, if possible) of the Tyndale New Testament, because who wouldn’t? There are also a number of collected letters that I would like. For many years I had a curious ethical disinclination to read the ‘remains’ of writers: I felt that we should read only their work, not diary entries and correspondence they would never have intended for a general readership. But it turns out my principles are paper thin, and I’d particularly like the letters of Virginia Woolf, which I could cross-reference against her diaries.

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

I imagine their first thought would be that I am spectacularly untidy, and furthermore could do with doing some dusting. I wonder if they might then think that these are the books of several people, not only one – if they did, I’d be delighted. I honestly believe we all have a duty to read as widely and deeply as possible. The worst possible reader is the one who wishes only to affirm and bolster their existing world view, and the worst possible response to a book is this: “I just didn’t identify with any of the characters.” As to what I’d like them to think of my reading tastes: I couldn’t give a single solitary toss, I never have, and I never will.

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A huge thanks to Sarah for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, you can stalk her on Twitter here, you can also see her not once but twice at Gladfest this September, where you may just also see me! If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Sarah’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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The Literary London with Deborah Moggach

Next week is London Book and Screen Week in, erm, London. I will be heading down to the capital, my old home and haunt, to join in with some of the wonderful events on offer and also to head to London Book Fair. Over the next week in the lead up London Book and Screen Week asked five authors to revealing their favourite books about London on seven blogs and they very kindly asked if I would like to take part. I said ‘oh go one then’ and so toda the fabulous Deborah Moggach, author of Tulip Fever and These Foolish Things (aka the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, both of which my Gran and mother have raved about and I have still not read shame on me) shares her favourite literary links with London…

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MY FAVOURITE BOOKS SET IN LONDON

“Mrs Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf.

Virginia Woolf blew me away when I first read her – I was astonished at the way she sensitized me to the world, and how she explored feelings I had never quite put into words. This novel, about a woman preparing for a party, has hardly any plot at all, it’s all sensation. Nowadays I find her harder to read as she’s so terribly snobbish, but I loved this novel in my youth and still love its glimpse into a privileged world of West End florists and drawing rooms, a world that is long gone.

“Riceyman Steps” by Arnold Bennett.

This is one of my favourite novels by one of my very favourite novelists, who is little known nowadays but who was the most popular fiction writer of his day. Riceyman Steps explores a very different London to Mrs Dalloway’s – the murky region of Kings Cross where life is a struggle in the sooty back streets. It’s the story of a miserly bookseller and his faithful maid and it’s full of humanity. Just read it, you’ll thank me for it, especially as Kings Cross has now changed out of all recognition (it was published in 1923 but feels almost Victorian)

“White Teeth” by Zadie Smith.

This wonderful, fizzing, generous novel was quite rightly a huge hit. Its large, multi-racial cast explodes off the pages and it finally puts Willesden, much neglected until now, on the map. It’s also very funny.

MY BEST PLACE TO READ IN LONDON

Lying on the grass beside the Ladies Pond on Hampstead Heath. It’s the most peaceful place in the city, and every now and then one can plunge into the water and have a swim amongst the ducks.  And everyone else is reading too – mobile phones are forbidden. No distractions except nature.

FAVOURITE SCREEN ADAPTATION

I think it must be “Short Cuts”, which Robert Altman and his co-screenwriter adapted from Raymond Carver’s short stories. It’s a fantastic piece of work because it weaves the stories in and out of each other and creates a complex picture of Los Angeles. Or if it’s London you want – “Absolute Beginners”, adapted from the Colin MacInnes novel, which brings back the heady days of the 1950s, a decade which has largely been ignored and which I can just remember. Though unfortunately I grew up near Watford, rather than Soho.

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This year, London Book & Screen Week will be taking place from 13th – 19th April, uniting readers, writers, gamers and film fans, with hundreds of events taking place across the capital that celebrate stories and the written word in all its forms.  Events are listed at:  http://www.londonbookandscreenweek.co.uk/ You might just seem my face at some of them.

Big thanks to Deborah for taking the time to tell us all about her favourite literary links with London. I am actually wondering if I should get authors to do posts on their literary landscapes over the next few months, I don’t know about you but I would love to hear authors thoughts on the literary landscape that ignites them. What do you think? Anyway hopefully see some of your faces at London Book and Screen Week next week. 

If you have read Deborah Moggach’s novels do let me know your thoughts on them and where I should start? I would also love to know what books and films you love set in London.

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Other People’s Bookshelves #42; Victoria Hoyle

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a regular series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. This week we are back in the UK and heading to the delights of York, which you will be hearing more about next week, as we join blogger extraordinaire Victoria Hoyle to have a nosey through her books. So grab yourself a good strong cuppa Yorkshire Tea (the best kind) and have a nosey through her bookshelves and find out more about her.

I’m Victoria and I’ve been blogging about books at Eve’s Alexandria for just over 8 years.   I live in York with my partner in a little house completely overwhelmed by books.  Books doubled up on shelves, books on the floor, books in boxes, books stacked in piles on tables… I have always been an avid reader.  When I was a child my mum took me to the library every Monday evening and I borrowed armfuls of fiction.  Apart from my family the adult I looked up to most was Pam the librarian, who introduced me to some of my favourite authors as I got older.  When I went off to university I still rang her up for a chat about the latest paperbacks.   At university I was bitten by the book buying bug and met the friends I founded Eve’s Alexandria with.  These days I work for York Libraries and Archives.

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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 don’t keep all the books I read – it would be chaos if I did. We would literally drown under the sea of them. When I’ve finished something I give it a week or two for my impressions to settle and if I really loved it and think I’ll want to read it again (or stroke it lovingly sometimes) then I keep it. If it doesn’t pass the test I donate it to the library (if it’s not a review copy) or to charity. Every year or so I do a full sweep of the shelves and give away some books that I initially decided to keep but which don’t seem worth the shelf space in hindsight. I’d rather someone else was reading and enjoying them. I’d say about 1 in 5 books stays permanently, maybe less. The only exception I make is for favourite authors where I want to keep all their books even if one or two didn’t work for me.

Occasionally I make the wrong decision and give away a book I want to go back to – this sometimes happens with series, where I want to check something or re-read it before the next book comes out – but the rate at which the books are coming in means a lot have to be going out. What this means in reality is that the unread books vastly outnumber the read in our house. When people come to visit us and browse the bookshelves I’m always ashamed to admit that, no, I haven’t read that one, or that one, or that one…

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?

Yes and no. The books in the main ‘library’ (aka the dining room) are split into fiction and non-fiction but otherwise are completely random and higgledy-piggledy. Basically I put things where there is a space, which means that books I’ve read and books I haven’t are side by side, and things by the same writer are in seven different places. It’s not a very efficient system; I’m always hunting for something or wondering where a particular book has disappeared to. Most days I think to myself ‘You should really sort this mess out’ and decide to alphabetise them but somehow is never happens. I think because I know it would be hard to maintain with all the books coming and going. And there is something to be said for having to look through your whole collection just to find one thing. I’m always rediscovering books I forgot I had.

Different story in the living room. I suppose because the books in there are more ‘on show’. We have two shelves in there: one for classics and the other for favourite authors. Both are alphabetised, and I try to maintain order (although I’m rapidly running out of space). I like to see the black, red and cream spines of the Penguin and Oxford classics in neat rows, and love to have all our books by Ali Smith or Sarah Waters together – it pleases the completist in me. The top shelf of our ‘favourites’ bookcase is entirely books by or about Virginia Woolf. Both Esther and I studied her at university, and one of the reasons we first started seeing each other was a shared love of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. Twelve years later we are still together and Woolf has pride of place.

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

My parents didn’t buy many books when I was younger – why would you when you can get as many as you like for free at the library? So apart from the occasional present at Christmas and birthdays all my books were borrowed. When I was about thirteen Pam (the librarian) introduced me to the Outlander series of time-travel romance-adventure books by Diana Gabaldon. I was really into multi-volume epic fantasy at the time and the Outlander books were like heaven. I was in *love* with the two main characters Jamie and Claire and literally read the first three books to pieces. When the fourth book – Drums of Autumn – came out in hardback I joined the incredibly long library request list and waited and waited and waited. It seemed to take forever to be my turn.

Then, during a day trip with my parents (to York, of all places), I spotted it in the window of Waterstones. I had some birthday money left over and my mum suggested that I could buy Drums of Autumn with it. It was a revelation – I didn’t have to wait any more, I could buy it! I was almost hyperventilating carrying it to the counter to pay, and think I gabbled something embarrassing to the shop assistant about it (who was probably wandering what a teenager was doing buying the fourth book in a series mostly read by middle aged women). I can still remember the extraordinary sense of happiness and wellbeing I felt sitting in the car on the drive home with it next to me on the seat. I hardly dared open it. I’ve bought hundreds of books since then, probably searching for that same feeling of contentment, but never quite attained it.

And yes, Drums of Autumn is still on my shelves, along with all the other Outlander books. The series is still going and the eighth book Written in My Own Heart’s Blood is due out in the US this June. Oh, and they are currently making it into a TV series. I am very, very excited and also terrified that it won’t live up to my expectations.

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?

I don’t have a hidden shelf but I’ve sometimes been guilty of ‘hiding’ books at the back of others, epic fantasy instalments behind the latest contemporary fiction for example. I still love reading fantasy, which is definitely an acquired taste and some of the covers can be difficult to explain in polite company. Dragons, half naked ladies, you get the picture. They are much better than they used to be – Game of Thrones has ushered in a new era of pretty classy covers – but still can be a bit weird. They also come in a lot of non-standard shapes and sizes, from dumpy little paperbacks to enormous trade and fat hardcovers, so they can dominate a shelf and draw the eye. That said if you look at the library shelves at the moment you will see all sorts jumbled together – fantasy and historical fiction and Booker and Nobel prize winners jostling for space. I quite like it that way.

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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?

This is a really hard question because I’m sentimental about quite a lot of books. But I think I’m going to have to tell another anecdote about Pam and beloved library finds. Around the same time that Pam was feeding me Diana Gabaldon she also introduced me to Guy Gavriel Kay, a Canadian writer who specialises in alternate historical fantasy. He has written lots of incredible books and I urge everyone to try him, even if you’re not a fantasy fan. I started with his Fionavar Tapestry trilogy: The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire and The Darkest Road. I *loved* those books and when I was at university I tracked down hardback editions of the second and third books online and bought them. I couldn’t seem to find an affordable copy of the first one in good condition though so my collection was incomplete. Later, via the power of the internet and a friend, I got to know Guy a little through email as well as the illustrator who drew the Fionavar covers, Martin Springett. When Martin came to London 6 or 7 years ago I went down to meet up with him and he gave me a copy of that wonderful first book, which he signed. The powerful memory of reading it for the first time, along with Martin’s kindness, make it one of my most prized possessions.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

I segued pretty early from the children’s section of the library to the adult one, via Terry Pratchett and the fantasy shelves. I just read whatever I wanted; I’m pretty sure Pam let me take books out on my children’s ticket that I shouldn’t have.  I don’t remember there ever being a book that I wanted to read that I didn’t feel allowed to or was discouraged from. That said, there were definitely books I read that I probably shouldn’t have or that I was too young for. I think if my mum had known how much sex there was in the Outlander books for example she wouldn’t have let me read them so young, and the same goes for quite a lot of the fantasy series I gobbled up. And there were definitely books that I tried to read and failed at because I was too young, like Far From the Madding Crowd and To the Lighthouse. I’ve re-read them as an adult and loved them though, and they are still on my shelves now.

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 buy about 2/3 of my books and borrow the other 1/3, and usually I will buy a copy of a book that I’ve had from the library and loved. I use the same criteria as I would use to keep a book I suppose: will I re-read it, and do I need to have it in my line of sight. In the last couple of years I’ve borrowed and then bought Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and The Accidental by Ali Smith.

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

I’ve bought quite a lot of books this month – it’s a bit embarrassing how many, so I won’t say – but the absolutely most recent is J.L. Carr’s A Month in Country which I bought after reading Lynne’s recent post about it at Dovegreyreader. She made me want to read it immediately. This is how quite a lot of my books get bought – blogging has made me very impulsive.

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

I am in a constant state of wanting books. Every day it seems like I have a new fascination to feed. At the moment I would like to grow my collection of Doris Lessing. In fact, a book that I would love that hasn’t even been announced or written yet is a biography of her; I live in hope that my favourite literary biographer Hermione Lee is working on it already. She has done such masterly lives of Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton and Penelope Fitzgerald. Surely someone has asked her to do one of Doris?

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

This is such an interesting question and I’m really not sure. It depends so much on where they are looking. They would probably think I have an eclectic taste in books, which I do. I hope it would make them think I was a curious person with wide interests rather than someone who just flitted from one thing to another. They would probably think I was a feminist or interested in women’s fiction, because books by women probably outnumber books by men 2 to 1 or more.   They would probably think I was disorganised because of the chaotic ordering system! They would probably think I was a bit of an escapist because of all the historical and fantasy fiction. I’d like to think they were interpret my willingness to suspend my disbelief as openness.

Sometimes I wonder if most ‘ordinary’ people wouldn’t think I was a bit weird for having so many. The last time we moved house we had to pack our books using library book crates, 40 of them in total. They were just too heavy for cardboard boxes. The removal men were honestly confused about why we had so many – did we own a second hand bookshop? Had we inherited them? Had we not heard of a Kindle? They were very solicitous in suggesting ways we could unburden ourselves of them, by giving them to charity or taking them to a car boot sale. They just couldn’t believe we really *wanted* them. We are about to move again and the crates are coming back again. It will be interesting to see what the next removal team think!

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A huge thanks to Victoria for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. If you would like to find out more about her and the books she loves make sure you head to her blog Eve’s Alexandria. 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 forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) 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 Victoria’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #36; Eric Karl Anderson

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a regular series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. This week we are heading to London to join a great blogger, you so need to be following Lonesome Reader if you aren’t already (his reviews are so good I almost want to hate him frankly, Joyce Carol Oates reads it), and great acquaintance of mine Mr Eric Karl Anderson. Myself and Eric have just started a new cultural project for all the pogonophiles and beardy book lovers out there called Beardy Bibliophiles, which launches officially next week both online and in Central London. You have been warned, ha!  So let us find out more about Eric and have a nosey through his books…

My name is Eric. I grew up in Stephen King country (Maine) in the USA, but I moved to London in 2000 and have settled quite snugly into the city having created my own personal library/study. I’ve always been a keen reader. When I was little I loved being read to. I don’t remember this myself but my father tells me that after my first day of school I came home crying. When he asked what was wrong I complained “They didn’t teach me how to read yet.” I can spend ages just staring at my bookshelf. It’s like my own alter/church. I did a Master’s degree in Studies in Fiction, but I’ve always been more about reading for pleasure than academic purposes. I’ve published several things myself including a novel and a scattering of short stories in literary magazines and anthologies. I’m also keen on disaster movies and baking muffins.

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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?

It would be sensible to adopt a one in one out system, but instead I keep trying to cram more in until I’m pressured into making a book cull. Generally only books that I think are particularly brilliant get to stay on my shelves or ones which have been signed or have sentimental value. Most of the books I read are given away to friends or charity shops. A large portion of books on my shelves are waiting to be read, but will probably go once I get to them. These days a lot of the ones which get to stay are more obscure books which I think would be difficult to track down again.

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?

There’s not much order. By my bedside, I mostly keep books of short stories or poems because I’ll sometimes read aloud from these to my boyfriend before we go to sleep. In my front room I keep hardback books together and most of these are signed by the authors. My boyfriend once tried to get me to alphabetize the books in our study. I got as far a D and gave up. I try to keep books by the same author together. I like the general disorder and unusual pairing even if it makes it hard to find something. Book culling is painful, but unfortunately necessary since I live in London and space is precious.

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

This is really difficult to remember. In the 6th grade my English class had a sort of book club we could join and order books from. That was the first place I started purchasing books from using my allowance money. They were a series of Choose Your Own Adventure books and I particularly liked that they were numbered so appealed to my geeky collector’s personality. All these books have sadly gone with yard sales. There is a new book coming out soon called “The Boy in the Book” by Nathan Penlington which I’m keen to read since it’s about his passion for Choose Your Own Adventure books.

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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?

Probably “Delta Style” by Delta Burke. It was a sort of joke gift and I’ve never read it. But I loved watching Designing Women. I didn’t read them as a child, but I have the entire Mr Men series. I think they are brilliant. At my college graduation I announced to the crowd that it was story time and read “Mr Clever” aloud to them. Otherwise, I have published some naughty stories and my author copies of those books are hidden away rather than being displayed.

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?

It’s so hard to choose! My number one would probably be a holograph edition of Virginia Woolf’s “The Waves.” This contains a rough draft of the novel when it was still titled “The Moths” and has her corrections in the margins. It also contains a more recognizable draft of the novel with more of her corrections in the margins. Since “The Waves” is my all-time favourite novel it’s incredibly fascinating seeing the actual process she went through to get to the finished thing. It’s an incredibly rare book.

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But I also really prize a proof copy of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel “Do With Me What You Will” which has included at the back a typed alternative ending to the book. Both the ending printed in the proof and the typed-up alternative ending differ to the ending which appeared in the final version of the book.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

I think the first ‘grown up’ book on my parents’ shelves that I noticed and really fancied reading was James Clavell’s “Shōgun.” I think I was about 12 when I read it which is fairly young considering the length and subject matter – loosely based on historic battles in 1600s feudal Japan. I absolutely loved and devoured it.

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Although you didn’t mean it that way I’m going to tell you anyway. The first ‘grown up’ scene I remember reading in a book was Stephen King’s “The Eyes of the Dragon.” It’s the wedding night where a king married a girl who is somewhat baffled when he undresses. She asks him what that thing is and he replies “It’s my purple-headed warrior.” This made me giggle endlessly and was my first introduction to a bad sex scene.

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?

Even if I love a borrowed book I’ve read I’m usually happy to give it back because of limited space. But if I’m really wild about it I’m more likely to sneak it on my shelf and keep “forgetting” to give it back. That’s wrong, isn’t it?

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

The last book which has gone on the shelves and will be staying there is Jim Crace’s novel “Harvest.” It’s an absolutely beautiful book and I had him sign it when I went to the Booker Prize readings last year. I’m somewhat glad I read what turned out to be the winner “The Luminaries” as an e-book as I would have wanted to keep this on my shelves as well. I’ve bought and received plenty of books since acquiring “Harvest” but I don’t think they’ll be staying on the shelves forever.

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

There are lots of “classic” books I’d love to house on my shelves, but there just isn’t room for them and I know they are easy to acquire should I feel inspired to read them. I’ve read several novels electronically which I’d love to have on my shelves, but the truth is that there just isn’t room. Of course, if I ever get a Beauty & the Beast size library I’ll immediately be filling it up with physical copies of all these e-books.

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

Everyone has different standards they hold people up to when considering their reading tastes. Considering what’s on my shelves they would probably accurately think that I have a taste for contemporary literary fiction as well as first time novelists and slightly more experimental fiction. I have two shelves overflowing with Joyce Carol Oates books so I bet they’d be able to guess my favourite author.

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A huge thanks to Eric for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, I am very excited about next weeks beardy bookish get together. If you are in central London next Thursday and fancy a natter do check the website to see how you could be there with a bookish beardy beverage. Anyway… Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) 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 Eric’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #11 – Laura Caldwell

So after a small break ‘Other People’s Bookshelves’ is back, I have decided to make it a less frequent and scheduled event so from now on it will be every few Saturdays rather than every Thursday. Anyway let’s get on with this week’s guest, Laura Caldwell. As a child she grew up in a very “literate” household.  Both of her parents were English majors and my father is now a retired English professor.  Both her and her sister spent most of their free time reading and nothing made them happier then to come home from the library with a new stack of books.  Her reading interests as a child were mostly historical fiction and mysteries, although she also had a great love as a child for school readers that her public library had quite a few of.  Funnily enough she now has a collection of antique ones. As a teen, while still loving historical fiction, she developed an interest in SciFi that didn’t last too long, she is now rekindling that interest.  In young adulthood, she read mostly fantasy which she still enjoys from time to time. Nowadays, she reads about half classics and half other genres, also a large number of non-fiction: mostly history and theology.  She have been an autodidact her whole life having only a high school education. Children’s books have always been a great love of her (as you will be able to tell from her pictures) and she read to her three children (now grown) profusely.  As well as owning a number of books, she borrows MANY from the library. Welcome to her shelves…

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?

The books that I keep are either non-fiction (especially theology), books that I love and anticipate rereading, or ones that I have yet to read (many).  I also have a number of shelves of children’s books that I enjoyed reading to my children and hope to read to grandchildren someday. (My youngest child is 18 now, middle 21, oldest 34.) As well, I have a collection of school books from the 1800s and a small collection of antique or vintage children’s books. A Nook and old ipad hold many more possible reads.

D. Vintage children's books

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 am a very detail-orientated person but you wouldn’t know it by looking at my shelves. The children’s books are together, as well as my antique school books, and vintage children’s books.  My non-fiction tends to be by subject, but otherwise not in any order, and my TBR and favorites-to-keep are all jumbled together.  Most of my comfort reads are together on one shelf.

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

Wow, that would be a long time ago!  It probably was a Nancy Drew mystery which I loved and collected.  I went on to purchase and read Agatha Christies.  I do not have either collection anymore, but mixed into my children’s books are a few books from my childhood.

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?

My guilty pleasures are probably my Miss Read books which I have a few of, although I have probably read the whole collection from the library over the past 25 years.  They are with my other books on my “comfort read shelf.”  Most of my books are in what I call my library (with my desk and computer) that doubles as a guest room also, so they are not really out in public.

B. Comfort reads

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 really have a “most prized” book.  I have some books that I hold more dearly than others like my Della Lutes books published in the 1930s and 40s.  They are a kind of “Little House on the Prairie” set for adults. It took me a while to collect all five. They tell the story of Ms. Lutes’ life in small town southern Michigan in the late 1800s.  They reside on my “comfort read shelf.”  I would try to save that shelf’s contents if there was a fire.  (Under that circumstance, I would need comfort reads!) I would also grab my hardcover copy of The Secret History, my favourite book. This past Christmas season I have found need for my comfort reads because I live in the community of West Webster, NY that lost fire-fighters to an insane gunman Christmas Eve.   Circumstances like this are exactly why I have my “comfort reads,” sometimes it is very hard to focus on much else.

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?

My parents were English teachers so there were a lot of books and bookshelves in my home growing up.  I can’t remember wanting to read any of them.  They looked boring.  They had lots of English classics that I have only gotten interested in reading in the past few years, and poetry that I never have gotten into, except for Wordsworth. (Simon, I completely understand your issues with Greek classics.)

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

Yes, if I borrowed a book from the library and loved it, I would want to own it, but would probably wait to find it for sale used somewhere-most likely at the library sales.  Most of the books that I buy new are theology books.  They are not easy to find used, although I do have a number of those too. (no, I am not a pastor or theology student, just an interested Christian, self-educated.)

C. Antique school books and family bibles

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

My purchase (used): Of Human Bondage, W. Somerset Maugham $.50; Dombey and Son, Dickens $.50; Mrs. Dalloway, V. Woolf $.50 (I have read before); Ruth, Elizabeth Gaskell $.50; Mary Anne, Daphne du Maurier, hardcover $1. Christmas gift from youngest son (18): An Edible History of Humanity, Tom Standage (I loved A History of the World in Six Glasses).

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

Millions!  A small portion of those millions will eventually be there.  I cull all the time, especially donating the TBRs as I finish them and know that I won’t be reading them again.

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

Well they would certainly notice my three and one half over-stuffed shelves of theology, then a good number of history books. The rest would be a real mixture of classics and newer fiction.  Anyone could find a book that they would like on my shelves-except my husband who only reads techno-thriller/spy stories. Yuck!

A. Main bookshelves

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A big thank you to Laura for letting me grill her and sharing her shelves with us all. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in 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 Laura’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?

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Vanessa & Virginia – Susan Sellers

Some books you need time away from to reflect before you put your book thoughts down onto paper (or in some cases onto the keyboard) and some you should jot down as soon as you finish them when the book is most vivid. The latest read for the NTTVBG and Kirsty’s choice ‘Vanessa and Virginia’ by Susan Sellers is one of the latter books however life has gotten in the way once more and I have left jotting everything down a little too late and so I am hoping I catch the shine I first felt after reading the book in this post.

‘Vanessa and Virginia’ is the fictional tale of two rather famous sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf and through Vanessa Bell’s eyes and narrative we get a look into the world of these two sisters from their childhood in the dim halls of a house in Hyde Park Gate until fame beckoned and war came making their lives unrecognisable in many different ways. Researched by Sellers, who is also a Woolf expert; this is a very vivid portrayal into the sibling’s lives and in some ways I suppose you could call it ‘historical faction’ if you wished, whatever the genre it does come filled with atmosphere whilst being highly readable.

This book for me personally, regardless of who the two leading women were, told the sometimes funny, sometimes harrowing relationship of two sisters, brought close together (almost cloyingly so) by the deaths of those around them, and afterwards an almost constant struggle evermore to out do one another and compete against the other (and not just creatively) whilst at the same time each constantly seeking the others approval and validation. I thought Sellers managed to write and capture these feelings marvellously. We all love our siblings and yet in minute ways, not to the extremes in this book I hope, do have some small competition with them (everyone will be saying ‘no we don’t’ – you are all big fibbers) and I found that very interesting to read even more so when it reached the extremes in this book.

I don’t know very much about Woolf or Bell and for me that worked to the books advantage. I was totally lost in the lives of the sisters and didn’t know (well apart from Woolf’s rather infamous death) which way the story would go and that kept me reading on along with Sellers wonderful prose. I did wonder if Sellers wrote from the aspect of Bell both because Bell is the lesser known and also as a painter though her Sellers could paint the scenes more intensely and vividly through her eyes, or maybe that’s just me looking for things that aren’t there? I do think the story of Vanessa is a fascinating one from her marriage it’s openness and its decline and the relationships she had afterwards, how the war affected her and how her sister’s fame affected her.

I think writing a fictional book with someone as famous as Woolf as a character can be a blessing and a curse for a book as some people will dash to buy it and either love it or be slightly disappointed or people will be put off.  If that might be you then don’t be put off as I don’t think you have to know anything about the sisters to read this book. In fact I could imagine if you knew too much before this book you might not get quite so much from it because you would already, possibly subconsciously, have certain feelings and prior knowledge of the leading ladies and that could stop this fiction weaving its fictional magic.

It’s interesting that from the discussion (which you can see here) those who knew a lot about Woolf and her life didn’t quite enjoy it as much as those people who didn’t. Well that’s the case on the whole, I am sure there will be Woolf lovers who love it also. It’s a book that I very much enjoyed. I don’t think its changed my thoughts on Woolf in any way or made me want to rush off and read more of her works or more about her (but that might just be my Woolf readings of late rather than this book) it has made me want to find out much, much more about Vanessa Bell though.

Oddly, from the man who the other day mentioned he assumed a book was fact from the start, I would try going into this book leaving all your prior knowledge or assumptions of Woolf and Bell at the door if you can you might just enjoy it all the more. Anyone else agree? Who else has read this and what did you think?

Oh and two things not to forget. One is that there is a rather special ‘Solar’ Competition going on below and the second is that the next NTTVBG meeting will be next Sunday over at Kimbofo’s to talk about ‘The Illusionist’ by Jennifer Johnston, see you there I hope!

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Filed under Not The TV Book Group, Review, Susan Sellers, Two Ravens Press

Memoirs of a Novelist – Virginia Woolf

I believe today is the final day of the wonderfully hosted Woolf in Winter challenge. Though I won’t be joining in with a discussion on The Waves because frankly I am still too wary of Woolf and anything too big I have gone on another rogue Woolfish path as I did with Flush and read a collection of her short stories instead which I managed to get from the library a while ago. I have decided I am going to take Orlando or The Waves away with me in May when I go away for a week somewhere sunny.

From the title I thought that ‘Memoirs of a Novelist’ was in fact some diaries of Virginia Woolf and so picked it up in the hope that after our bumpy relationship so far I might get to know her a little better. As I found out it is a collection of five of her earliest short works ‘Phyllis and Rosamond’, ‘The Mysterious Case of Miss V.’, ‘The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn’, ‘A Dialogue Upon Mount Penetelicus’ and ‘Memoirs of a Novelist’. Interestingly I did get to know more about Virginia through these works, what interested her from a younger age, her feelings on women and the way they have been treated and some of her passions. She also really took me on a journey of emotions with this work there is melancholic (which I was sort of expecting) to a degree and it was thought provoking but lacked some of the despair of her later writings I have encountered. She also made me have a few giggles and several wry smiles.

The two tales that most interlinked for me were ‘Phyllis and Rosamond’ and ‘The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn’ as they look at the history of marriage and women though they are to very different tales. The first is of two sisters born and bred purley to marry in the year 1906. They have no other skills apart from helping their mother (which neither really enjoys) and learning how to be a good wife and run a household and what’s more they both know it, and so looks at how life like that must have been. The latter of these two tales didn’t start the way I thought it would and actually became a tale within a tale all done in merely 40 pages. Miss Rosamond Merridew (not the Rosamond of the aforementioned tale) is a keen historian and one day comes across a forgotten manor house and pays a call to investigate meeting the inhabitants and eventually getting her hands on the diary of one of their ancestors, Joan Martyn, a young lady in the 1400’s on the cusp of marriage, in fact rather late to marriage it appears. Both of these stories I enjoyed, the latter particularly for the off beaten setting and premise of a house and diary filled with history and mystery.

The title tale ‘Memoirs of a Novelist’ also seemed to be the tales of two women told at the same time, so two parallel stories if you will. Woolf wonderfully interweaves the tale of a fiction writer Miss Willatt and also of her later biographer Miss Linsett. So much detail and almost factual writing was in this I had to google to check that these people didn’t once really exist. I also thought the ending of this tale was quite remarkable in a slightly melancholic way, I will say no more. I could definitely see shades of ‘Flush’ in this story though.

‘A Dialogue upon Mount Penetelicus’ I didn’t really get, the story is just what it says it is as British tourists climb and descend the Greek mountain. It had a feel of her multiple switching narratives of Mrs Dalloway and found, despite it only being ten pages long, I didn’t know quite where I was and didn’t want to read it a second time to find out.

The final tale, though actually the second in the book, ‘The Mysterious Case of Miss V.’ utterly blew me away. It is only three pages long yet out of the whole collection it has stuck with me and even thinking about it now brings forth some emotions very quickly. I don’t want to really say anything for fear I would give something away and ruin it for anyone who dashes off to read it (highly advisable). I shall simply say it’s the tale of an unmarried woman. I was amazed three pages could have such an effect on me.

So overall this is a great short story collection and another case of me having the grumps at giving it back to the library. It’s left me with a definite feeling that there is hope for me and Ginny after all and even though we will have a break for a few months I am looking forward to getting to know her better on holiday later in the year.

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Filed under Hesperus Press, Review, Short Stories, Virginia Woolf