Tag Archives: William Golding

Other People’s Bookshelves #56 – Nina Pottell

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 the hub of London metropolis and are just finishing having a lovely trim with the lovely Nina. You know when you ‘meet’ someone on Twitter and think they are probably really ace in real life, then you meet them at a bookish party say a few words and think you should be best friends for life so stalk them afterwards, sound familiar? Well, that is what happened with me and Nina. I was the stalker to clarify, it happens often, look at the results…

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Anyway, now we are back at her house with a good cuppa and some lemon drizzle, it’s over to Nina and her lovely bookshelves which I have been asked to say a big thanks to John the Builder for. Thank you John the Builder!

I’m a born and bred Londoner and a massive book lover. I’m a hairdresser and work in the West End and love my job a lot as it’s so varied. I have very loyal clients, lots of whom are avid readers so am always recommending books for them to read, be it just the one or a whole summer reading list. In between appointments you’ll find me sitting in my chair reading. I am also a huge tweeter of books (and tweet as @matineegirl) which started after being part of a Reader’s Panel for PanMacmillan and Picador. A blog related to books is currently a work in progress………

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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 used to keep all my books but before moving into my flat two and a half years ago I had to do a heavy cull! Also my tastes have changed a lot so it felt right to do it. When I moved I had 40 odd thrillers that I didn’t feel I needed to take with me, I’d overdosed a little on serial killers! They were destined for a charity shop until a work friend said she’d have them. She has since read them all AND kept them! I’m very fortunate to have books sent to me, if I’m sent something that isn’t my cup of tea I always pass on to a friend or client, I keep all the rest.

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?

Mine are arranged a little haphazardly. I do have all my poetry books together, the rest are grouped by authors or ones I just feel belong together. Last year was the first time I kept a list of everything I’d read and they are all grouped together, as are my reads of this year so far! This is where I get a little nervy, as where do those current reads by authors I have grouped together go? I keep my ever growing TBR on their own shelf/shelves/floor.

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

I’m not sure what my first bought book was? Far too long ago to remember… I’d hedge a bet on it being Enid Blyton or Judy Blume possibly. I adored reading as a child though was often told by my parents to put my book down as I needed to go and get some fresh air occasionally! Many of the first books I read were library books, my sister and I nearly had a residence in Primrose Hill library.

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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?

I don’t have any books that I hide! I have a couple of odd books that maybe don’t seem to fit in with the rest of mine. 95% of my books are fiction and every now and then I’ll buy something spur of the moment. For example I went to Prague last year and found it fascinating so bought a book on communism – which has never been read!!!

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

I think my most prized books are a recipe book which belonged to my Nan. This was mysteriously in the boxed books that moved in with me though I didn’t put it there?!? It was published by Selfridges & Co in 1936. Bizarrely I’ve just tried to find it to take a pic but I can’t?!? Also my school edition of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird because it’s a favourite and reiterates my love of reading and books. And I’d probably add How To Be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward and Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler because they are both books I’ve wanted to hug or as Simon would say gave me the ‘book tingle‘.

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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?

Regarding what grown up books I first read. My Dad was and still is an avid reader and I suppose it was him that made me read and love John Wyndham because they were on the shelf at home. We weren’t a ‘classics’ family by any means but I loved William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and George Orwell’s 1984 because of my Dad. I don’t own any Wyndham but particularly enjoyed The Chrysalids.

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?

If I borrow a book and love it I will definitely buy a copy of my own. As a whole I buy the books I want.

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

My newest editions added to my shelves include The Repercussions by Catherine Hall as I’m a massive fan of her first two. The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain because Twitter was shouting about it and Daunts had a beautiful window display. And Kung Fu High School by Ryan Gattis because his new book All Involved is phenomenally astounding so wanted to read his first. One kindly sent to me, added to my shelves recently is The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink which is a very special book and really resonated with me, for personal reasons.

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

I wish I had more of my books from childhood on my shelves. I still have Heidi and Mallory Towers but there are lots I don’t….I shall be having words with my parents later….

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

I’m proud of my bookshelves and the books on it. All my friends know I massively love reading and books so scan my shelves seeing which ones they should read next, as they value my recommendations. I’m rather anal about the condition of my books and have ‘rules’ should somebody wish to borrow one, which include, using a bookmark if you can’t remember the page number! My wonderfully prized possession proof copy of Shotgun Lovesongs was placed in a ziplock bag by a work colleague as she was scared of ruining it!!

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A huge thanks to Nina for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, and for my lovely haircut and bookish nattering this week in London, you wait till you see what she is going to do to my hair for the Fiction Uncovered party! 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 Nina’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #52 – Claire Fuller

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves. If you haven’t seen it before this is a series of posts set to feed into the filthy book lust/porn and either give you a fix of other people’s books and shelves. This week we are off to spend some time with author Claire Fuller, whose debut Our Endless Numbered Days has just come out and will be one of the books I will rush to when I finish judging Fiction Uncovered. So anyway, let’s settle with a nice cup or glass of something and find out more about her…

I live in Winchester, occasionally with my teenage children (when they’re not at university or with their dad) and my husband, Tim, who’s a university librarian. I studied sculpture at art school in the 1980s, and still get my chisels or my pencil out now and again. But mostly I’m a writer. Our Endless Numbered Days (Fig Tree/Penguin) is my first novel and I also write a lot of short stories and flash fiction, most of which are posted on my website: www.clairefuller.co.uk. I read a lot: before I get up and before I go to sleep, and I have one of those contraptions to hold my books open so I can read at the table while I’m eating.

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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?

In the last couple of years I’ve let myself give up on books I’ve not been enjoying, and these ones go to the charity shop. All other books get kept. Luckily, at the moment we have spare shelf space – my husband recently built some more shelves – so keeping books isn’t a problem. When I’ve finished a book I leave it on the dining-room table and it gets mysteriously filed away. It’s like one of those returns trollies they have in real libraries. I’m not sure what we’ll do when all the shelves are full. Build some more?

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?

Three and a half years ago, Tim moved in with me, bringing with him over two thousand books. I must have owned five hundred, and we spent about a week sorting them all and when we came across duplicates, deciding which one to get rid of. The only book where we kept both copies was The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers because before Tim moved in we’d both read it at the same time. I’ve always liked the idea of having my books filed properly so I could easily find things but I never got round to it when I lived on my own. But now all the paperback fiction is organised alphabetically, non-fiction is by genre, and hardback fiction has its own shelves because of the size issue. Like I said, I leave the filing to Tim, because I haven’t got the patience to move everything along in order to squeeze in a new paperback.

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

I think it was probably Freefall by William Golding. I won the art prize at school a few times for which I received a book token, so I would go to my local bookshop in Thame, and browse. I probably chose it because of its cover. The bookshop used to be called The Red House; it’s still there but it’s now The Book House. I still have the original copy of Freefall, but I can’t remember anything about the story. I should probably re-read it.

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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?

[Simon – the photo of the Scrabble dictionary (above) is to go with this answer] There’s nothing on my shelves I would be embarrassed by, or at least if there is, I’m hoping it will disappear through sheer quantity of books. Although, I’ve just remembered that I do have a book which lives in a drawer. It’s put away not because I’m embarrassed by it, but because of the state it is in. I really should buy another.

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?

My first choice, if I’m allowed, would be the book my daughter wrote when she was about four. Actually, she dictated it rather than wrote it and she drew the pictures. She also made the jacket for it out of clay, which is not very practical. It starts, ‘The fairies lived on the mountain’. But of the published books I own, that’s such a hard thing to choose. Perhaps one of those my Dad bought me when I was a child (The Pocket Oxford Dictionary from 1975 or Complete Poems for Children by James Reeves, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone) or the first paperback American publication of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson, which Tim gave to me.

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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 Dad was in a mail-order book club when I was growing up in the 1970s, and I remember the excitement when the parcel arrived. I doubt this came from the club, but the first book I remember reading from his shelves was Small Dreams of a Scorpion by Spike Milligan. I must have been seven or eight. This isn’t a funny book; it’s full of sad poems about Milligan’s depression and hospitalisation and I can still recite some of them today. My Mum, who’s German, had very few books, but there was one she kept from her time when she was a nanny. It was a book about childhood illnesses and it was in German, so I couldn’t understand it, but I remember poring over the vivid and gruesome photographs of boils and rashes.

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 do sometimes borrow books from the library and those that I love I always mean to buy so I can read them again, but then another book comes along and makes me forget. Like Waterlog by Roger Deakin; I wish I owned that.

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

It was Aquarium by David Vann. I was lucky to be sent an advance copy by the publishers – one of the perks of being a writer. This is one I’ll definitely be keeping. Tim has filed it away beside all the other David Vann books I own.

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

I’ve met lots of lovely debut authors since becoming one myself, and I’d love to get round to buying and reading all of their books. Some I have read, and others have made it as far as my ‘to be read’ list, which is a start. To name a few – The Ship by Antonia Honeywell, Summertime by Vanessa Lafaye and Ridley Road by Jo Bloom.

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

Someone perusing my shelves might think I know a lot about French film, read many works of Scandinavian fiction in which nothing much happens, and that I have a love of the nouveau roman movement from the 1950s. But unfortunately they would be getting me muddled up with Tim. If they knew which books were mine they might think I read fairly broadly – contemporary authors, some narrative non-fiction, many books from the past forty years – but that I could probably try harder with the classics.

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

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Lord of the Flies – William Golding

I know, I know, I know. It is shocking that someone who claims to love books has missed out on some of the classics, both modern and ‘classic’ classic as I call them, we can’t read everything after all can we? Though to be fair one of the reasons that I have finally ended up reading it now was because no one else at my new book club, made up of some of my new Liverpool friends who all love books though possibly not as religiously as me, had ever read it before and so we decided that we should.

Faber & Faber, 1954 (2011 edition), paperback, fiction, 140 pages, bought by my good self

In an unknown time, and for reasons that are only ever hinted at (mainly for a crash or air strike in some unnamed war), a group of boys end up stranded on a desert island in the middle of nowhere with no sign of adult life. These boys, of all ages,. With Ralph, through the help of his sidekick Piggy, and alongside Jack and Simon as the leader the boys must somehow try and survive and create their own society. Yet as time goes on and the initial joy of a land free of parents and full of adventure starts to lose its charm, fractions form and rumours of something dark and terrifying inhabiting the land, sea or sky above them things start to take an ever darker turn.

I know lots and lots of people have read The Lord of the Flies and so it would be easy just to ramble on and on about it and give everything away BUT that said there are some people who haven’t read it and I want to be mindful of them, especially when three people ruined it for me, two on twitter and one on GoodReads. So I am going to do my best not to give too much away and focus on the initial plot and mystically hint at one or two other things. I may nod at the ending, because it had a real effect on what I thought of the book overall, but I will warn you of that when it comes and it won’t have a single spoiler in it. Promise. So, the book…

Firstly I have to say I was hooked by it, enjoyed almost seems the wrong word as it unravels. I found the ambiguity of what had happened intriguing from the start, and indeed the whole way through, and found the boys reaction to it all utterly believable just as I did as the book gets darker and darker. I was with the boys as they got over, rather quickly but you may well do at that age, the terror of what had happened, the jubilation and confusion of surviving and then the illation of having a place of paradise as your playground.

Having been a young boy once back in the distant past, I could imagine how I would have behaved. I was instantly utterly charmed by Piggy, the slightly plump boy who doesn’t want to be called Piggy and then of course does, with his glasses and his brains and yet not really a boy who looks like a leader. (One of the things we asked ourselves at book group was who we would be – hands up I am a Piggy, as it were.) I could remember the Ralph’s of the world who sort of just ended up being athletic and the leader by sheer happenstance, every bloody time how did they do it, and the Jack’s who were head boy material, if not the head boy, and who craved leadership and popularity like I would have been craving another Crunchie bar. I could also see how fun would need to become survival and work, and invariably be easier to be fun until the nights came and along with it the terrors imagined or otherwise.

All this is captured effortlessly by Golding, as is the decent into fractions that follow and humans do as humans would in that situation as uncomfortable and confronting as that might be. I have to say I didn’t expect what is now deemed to be a children’s classic too to be quite so brutal and uncompromising. There may be sunshine and sandy beaches but the sense of impending doom as the novel goes on, and what happens as it weaves its way along and onto the end, is quite horrifying and I spent quite a lot of the book feeling very tense. It got to me. I think part of that is how Golding makes the atmosphere, environment and nature of the island take over the characters in the book in all the different ways, I haven’t seen this so skilfully done in many books.

The silence of the forest was more oppressive than the heat, and at this hour of the day there was not even the whine of insects. Only when Jack himself roused a gaudy bird from a primitive nest of sticks was the silence shattered and echoes set ringing by a harsh cry that seemed to come out of the abyss of ages. Jack himself shrank at this cry with a hiss of indrawn breath; and for a minute became less a hunter than a furtive thing, ape-like among the tangle of trees. Then the trial, the frustration, claimed him again and he searched the ground avidly. By the bole of a vast tree that grew pale flowers on a grey trunk he checked, closed his eyes, and once more drew in the warm air; and this time his breath came short, there was even a passing pallor in his face, and then the surge of blood again.

Though some naughty people had spoiled one major element of the book I was surprised on two occasions and genuinely horrified on two others. Golding does something very clever which I love in good books (without bloody precious kids narrating it) where we have two levels in how we read some of the situations. Ralph, Piggy, Simon and Jack all read events that unfollow with a child’s mind, as adults we see the full picture and often this only adds more tension and fear as you read. As I mentioned I was tense and genuinely fearful as the book went on both for the kids and those poor pigs who had been living in such peace.

Now I have to mention the ending. I won’t say what happens but if you haven’t read the book skip to the next paragraph anyway. I mention the ending specifically because it took the book from a solid five out of five down to a four. We go from high drama to such a sudden and ultimately disappointing, if slightly appeasing and teeny bit redemptive, ending that I felt really cheated.  I certainly thought that as Golding was so determined to have this ending, it being so sudden and coming from nowhere it made you wonder why, the book should have ended exactly a paragraph before it did. Another thing we all agreed on in book group.

I am really pleased that I have finally read Lord of the Flies and spent time lost on that desert island with those boys. It is a fascinating, if rather grim, portrayal of both a world if children ruled and how human nature unfolds. That might sound grand but can you see it unravelling any other way than Golding describes, isn’t that is what is so powerful about the book? What is also so impressive is that in 60 years this book hasn’t dated at all. If you haven’t read it then do, and if you are teaching it at school please teach it well and don’t beat kids over the head with it all (just enough to get them thinking and passing their exams) because there is much to get from reading it. I will certainly be reading more Golding.

They wouldn't have had these delights on the island... we did at Book Group!

They wouldn’t have had these delights on the island… we did at Book Group!

I should add, as illustrated by the image above, it is also a brilliant book group book with much to discuss. If you fancy discussing it in the comments below then we can go for it, so do comment as I would love to chat about it all over again if you have read it. If you haven’t read it, go read it and then pop back later!

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Filed under Faber & Faber, Review, William Golding

40 Books Before I’m 40 (Redux)…

So today is my birthday and I have turned the ripe old age of thirty one, which means I officially can no longer pretend I am in my ‘very late’ twenties, rather like at New Year I use my birthday to put the last year into perspective and focus myself for what I want in the year ahead. As it was the big 3-0 last year I pondered looking a decade forward and choosing forty books to read before I was forty. I promptly then went off the idea and popped it on the back burner for another time.

Well that time has arrived. I have spent the last few days whittling over books that I feel it would be good to give myself, albeit rather loosely, a nudge in the direction of reading. Some of the books were ones, like ‘Middlemarch’ which will get a special mention shortly, which I have been simply meaning to read, other more modern books I have been intrigued about. I was also greatly helped with my new edition of ‘1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die’ (not that I am suggesting this will be on my 40th heaven forbid) which I have spent long periods mulling over.

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The rules, for there must always be some guidelines or things just get silly (see I even sound older), were simply that the books must be published by an author that I hadn’t tried before – thought I better throw that in there before I get some emails/comments telling me I have missed some absolute gems. Simple as that! And here is the list…

  1. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
  2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
  3. Before Night Falls – Reinaldo Arenas
  4. Nightwood – Djuna Barnes
  5. The Heat of the Day – Elizabeth Bowen
  6. Wild Swans – Jung Chang
  7. Claudine’s House – Colette
  8. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
  9. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
  10. Middlemarch – George Eliot
  11. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
  12. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
  13. The Well of Loneliness – Radclyffe Hall
  14. Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
  15. For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
  16. Smilla’s Sense of Snow – Peter Hoeg
  17. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  18. A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
  19. Schindler’s Ark – Thomas Keneally
  20. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
  21. Independent People – Halldor Laxness
  22. Lost Language of Cranes – David Leavitt
  23. The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing
  24. Embers – Sandor Marai
  25. Fugitive Pieces – Anne Micheals
  26. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
  27. The Country Girls – Edna O’Brien
  28. Quartet in Autumn – Barbara Pym
  29. The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radcliffe
  30. All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
  31. Pamela – Samuel Richardson
  32.  Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
  33. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
  34. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
  35. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
  36. Restoration – Rose Tremain
  37. Myra Breckinridge – Gore Vidal
  38. The Colour Purple – Alice Walker
  39. Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham
  40. Therese Raquin – Emile Zola

So there they are! I have also made sure I miss some famous classics (‘The Leopard’, ‘The Iliad’, etc) and some lesser known ones (‘The Odd Women’, ‘A Crime in the Neighbourhood’) but those are on my periphery too plus I also need to have some for when I do my fifty before fifty don’t I?

Now you may have noticed that there is one book which breaks the trend slightly and that is ‘Middlemarch’. Which leads me to a little announcement, and I hope those of you joining in with Classically Challenged won’t be cross, as I have decided to postpone writing about it on the last Sunday of March and am moving it to the end of June. I know, I know, June is ages away. However after some thought, and having only got eight chapters in so far, I decided I don’t want to rush this read (and I am enjoying it so far) because of a deadline and with a fairly long trip to London next week, plus a literary festival to prepare and read for, oh and those solo podcasts too… you get the picture. I simply want to enjoy ‘Middlemarch’.

So what do you make of the list? Which have you read and which have you been meaning to? Let me know and I promise I will be back next week, well tomorrow, catching up on all the comments that I have been meaning to for ages. In the meantime there are things to unwrap, candles to blow out, cake to eat and some serious applying of anti-aging cream to be done!

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Browsing Bookshops…

I don’t know about you, but sometimes just browsing around a book store for a while (ok, maybe an hour or two) can be one of the best things to do when you are having any reading issues, or if you just want to calm yourself. I did this recently when my head was in a spin and it was just what I needed, a chance to gage where my ‘reading head’ is and let my eyes and mind wander over the spins.

As I went from A – Z, I saw authors I had been recommended only days before (Jenn Ashworth), authors that I had heard kerfuffle about and wanted to try (Leo Benedictus), authors I have started a book of recently and then not finished though I don’t know why (Jasper Fforde), authors I ‘really should have read’ but still ‘really haven’t’ but will honest (William Golding), authors I had never heard of but after the spine catching my eye, a read of the blurb and flick through I really fancy reading (Tama Janowitz), authors whose books have impacted your life (Harper Lee), authors who remind you of the excitement and reading possibilities in translation you haven’t as yet uncovered (Per Petterson), authors you seem to be hearing about all the time at the moment and have decided you simply must read them (Owen Sheers) and authors whose debut novels blew you away and you wish they would hurry up and write another one (Kathleen Winter).

As you wander the shelves, rather than be intimidated by the vast number of books you might not get to read, there is a certain joy in the books you spot be they the ones you love or the ones you might love in the future. Oh how a browse can be such bliss.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

The Godless Boys – Naomi Wood

Books about religion don’t tend to be ones I rush out and read, and I tell myself I don’t like dystopian fiction (when actually I think I do, which is both odd and silly) so under normal circumstances I don’t know if Naomi Wood’s debut novel ‘The Godless Boys’ would have been on my radar. However she was one of the authors that myself and Novel Insights saw speak at the publisher Picador’s where they were showcasing some of their novelists and two things stood out for me about this book. Firstly the excerpt that Naomi read (which I have now discovered was the opening, see it stuck in my head all those months that I remembered it) was vividly written and secondly, and this may seem like a strange reason, the book was set off the coast of Newcastle. The city I lived in as a young child, indeed me and Novel Insights became friends their aged 3, and a city that never gets written about. So when the opportunity for a copy came up early in the year I snatched it, and I am really glad I did as ‘The Godless Boys’ is really rather good.

Naomi Wood’s England in 1986 is one of some turmoil. The church has taken over the country and atheists have been sent to live on The Island somewhere off the coast of Newcastle. Here a group of boys known as the Malades, and run by Nathaniel, who spy on any possible Gots (those who once believed and might be trying to again) and control them, generally with fear and menace. One such woman under observation, which basically is malicious spying, is Eliza Michalka. One night those on The Island are joined by Sarah Wickes, who smuggles (I assumed she did, she may have just hopped on) herself onto a boat in search of her mother who she has been told ran off with another man and abandoned her. However once Sarah arrives on The Island she begins to learn that what she has been told about her mother is not the truth. She must also get used to the island and its inhabitants who may not be so welcoming to someone from the mainland.

I think to label this book ‘a dystopian novel about religion’ is really rather lazy. Yes the driving force behind the novel, it is after all why Sarah’s mother is on The Island along with all the atheists, is religion and it bubbles away behind every chapter and indeed motivation of the main characters. This is also a book about people and I think the three characters, even if I didn’t like Nathaniel really, were all very well drawn and really gave the book a life and breath on top of the stormy island atmosphere. Its interesting though that while I think we are meant to follow Sarah and her story, which was very good and Sarah is a marvellous gutsy character, I was captivated far more by Eliza and her tale.

In fact I would go as far as to say she could be one of my favourite characters that I have come across recently. I even wondered if maybe Wood had a special place in her heart as she seemed the most vivid and also the most quirky. She is a woman who finds herself combined her days as part time prostitute at The Grand and also as the local undertaker. She is also madly in love with Arthur, who of course she will never tell. All this and her quirks, like writing words on her forehead under her fringe to boost her confidence or say what she really felt, I absolutely loved. In fact I could have read an entire book devoted just to Eliza.

“On her brow that evening, Eliza penned the word Courage, close to her hairline, underneath her fringe, to encourage her to talk to him. She had made a habit of this since starting at the Grand (that June, and so unwillingly!), pulling up her fringe and penning little messages of hope – or self pity – on her brow. One word, or two, like Courage, or maybe Resilience, or maybe Take Heart!, and she’d go round the Island with her blonde lock of hair covering the words, murmuring the message in her head, hoping for inspiration.
But tonight! What a coward she was. Courage! Pathetic. She had no courage. She felt like that fish Arthur had shorn of all its scales; dull, and missing its brilliance.”

I have heard comparisons to Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ being bandied about by people in context with Naomi Wood’s debut. I have to say that the only similarity I can see with them is that they portray a different ‘dystopian’ view of England in the 1980’s. There was something of Graham Greene’s ‘Brighton Rock’ about this weirdly, great writing of conflict by the stormy seas maybe? I have also heard comparison to ‘A Clockwork Orange’, but I haven’t read that so I can’t say. Yet I think these comparisons might do a disservice to what is a very good debut novel, as one is the authors sixth or seventh book and the other is a cult classic. It seems unfair then to compare, unless it’s to say that Naomi Woods has written a debut that shows she is going to be an author to watch in the future, that I would fully concur with.

‘The Godless Boys’ is a very good novel, regardless of it being a debut or not, it’s a book with people’s stories at its heart and how the environment they are in affects them. It is a book based on a long literary heritage of which there are shades, without ever being a copy or retelling of these tales. It’s a book that impresses overall as a debut and one which regardless of the ‘religion’ subject surrounding it, which makes for an interesting read, should be read for its characters and its story. Those are the sort of books which say so much and make you want to read one. I look forward to the next novel from Naomi Woods (which is apparently about Ernest Hemingway and his wives) with great interest. To coin that cliché, she is certainly one to watch. 8.5/10

This book was kindly sent from the publishers.

Has anyone else read ‘The Godless Boys’? If not do so, its recommended reading. It’s made me go off and want to read ‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Anthony Burgess and also ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding (the Malades made me think of that book, again one I haven’t read but have heard lots about),  can you recommend any of those?

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Filed under Naomi Wood, Pan MacMillan, Picador Books, Review

The Faber Firsts

I am feeling very lucky this morning as yesterday when I came home there was a rather large parcel awaiting me in the hallway, now I dont know about you but I get really excited when any new parcels pop through the door so I couldnt hold on and simply tore it open in the kitchen. I was greeted by a delightful set/series of books from the lovely people at Faber & Faber… 
The Faber Firsts (And A Pineapple - I Opened Them Hurridly In My Kitchen - Apologies)

The Faber Firsts (And A Pineapple - I Opened Them Hurridly In My Kitchen - Apologies)

Now from my rubbish picture (please ignore the pineapple – it was a hurried opening in my kitchen like I said) you cant really see what arrived. It was the ‘Faber Firsts’ which is a selection of ten books republished specially by Faber to mark their 80th Anniversary (oddly I met a book cover designer from Faber at a party a while back, he did the Molly Fox cover) and they have published ten of the first books by some of Fabers most popular writers in the last 80 years. These are…

  • The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath (which I think has the most stunning cover)
  • Lord of the Flies – William Golding
  • Cover Her Face – P.D James
  • The Barracks – John McGarhern
  • The White Castle – Orhan Pamuk
  • A Pale View of Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Buddha of Suburbia – Hanif Kureshi
  • Bliss – Peter Carey
  • The New York Trilogy – Paul Auster
  • Such a Long Journey – Rohinton Mistry

I have to admit I havent read a single one of these which is most shocking, so really I dont quite know where to start! Any suggestions? Now before you get suggesting bear in mind something rather fabulous that Faber & Faber have offered to do!

As you know I am setting up the Book Group with the lovely Kim from Reading Matters/Kimbofo which I am hoping some of you will be attending and as I am choosing the first book (see the Book Group part of the site for more) if it happens to be a Faber book then Faber will send a copy of the book for every single member of the group to read – for free!!!! Now there will be a condition that you need to attend the book group to get it but more on that on the Book Group page nearer the time.

Now where where we? Oh yes… which books would you recommend, where should I start?

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Filed under Book Group, Book Thoughts, Faber & Faber