Ten Authors I Own The Most Books From


I love a Top Ten Tuesday post, mainly because I love a good list, but this week’s task is a bit tricky for someone with such a serious book problem (not quite as bad as the insane picture above!) Short of getting my library out and counting it all (a more pleasurable task than it sounds I’m sure!), based on a swift glance alone it is clear that the ten authors below are coming up trumps on my shelves:

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1. Charles Dickens  – mainly due to a dank winter book buying frenzy a couple of years ago and an astonishing offer from The Book People, an entire shelf of our ‘classics’ section downstairs is now devoted to the great man himself…better get some of them read!

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2. Paul Gallico - I’m sure I’ve bored you all before with my postulating on the greatness of El Gallico. I only have a few of the forty-plus books that he did write but those few are definitely worth mentioning here. Many are out of print/only falteringly in-print from time to time.

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3. Derek Tangye - Having had Tangye’s beautiful cat books pressed on me for years by my family I have now inherited all of his Minack Chronicles. A perfect celebration of life.

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4. Haruki Murakami - Although I’ve only read a handful of his books, I seem to have an impulsion to buy Murakami’s monochrome volumes. The poetry and sheer weirdness of it all never fails to draw me in.

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5. Margaret Atwood - Another fail-safe author I collect heaps of and simply cannot read fast enough. Just MaddAddam to go in the Orynx and Crake trilogy and then I can settle down with them all for a readathon!

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6. Eric Newby - My other half is rather the adventurer; climber, runner, action man extraordinaire. Eric Newby’s travel literature therefore features rather heavily in the travel-cum-climbing section of our library.

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7. Laurie Lee - I have all of Lee’s books and have only read the Spanish trilogy so far. Cider with Rosie is arguably his best-loved work and one I should definitely get read before our beautiful English summer ends.

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8. Roald Dahl - Although I haven’t read any of Dahl’s adult fiction yet, The Book People had a wonderful offer on all of his captivating children’s books. I bought a set for our four year old niece and couldn’t resist a set for Relish Towers as well. They’ve already been lent out to friends!

9. Georges Remi - Better known by his pen name ‘Hergé’, I’ve been an avid fan of the (admittedly, yes, rather racist) Tintin comics for years and years and am at least halfway through my French collection…just need a few more holidays to finish it off.

10. Graham Greene - A stalwart, reliable author if ever there was one. I always enjoy Greene’s novels, that are so very varied and masterfully written. The Vintage editions are also hugely pleasing on the eye!

50/365:Word Canyon by Magic Madzik via Flickr
Paul Gallico and Roald Dahl by Carl Van Vechten
The Minack Chronicle... by Linda Hartley, Wikimedia Commons
Haruki Murakami by wakarimasita via Wikimedia Commons
Margaret Atwood Eden Mills Writers Festival by Vanwaffle; Wikimedia
Georges Prosper Remi, Hergé by La Tête Krançien via Flickr
Graham Greene by Richard Kenworthy via Flickr

Books n’ boobies


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There are many loves in my life; books, beer, a nice bowl of hummus….but, let’s face it, there’s nothing more gorgeous in this life than a velvety soft pair of boobies now is there?

I’ve been mulling lately on the rollarcoaster ride I’ve had with my little book group (now two and half years young!). We’ve had an absolute blast, been on some seriously bizarre adventures together (including some serious performance art in the basement of a Salford town house) and made great friends. So far so good. However, trawling through the high echelons of the bookish web I have made the finest discovery, one of which the Americans among you might already be aware…or even participants!

The bearing of boobs and, most pointedly, nipples, seems to be hitting the news more and more frequently at the moment. An outraged backlash surfaced against Facebook for culling the University of Warwick’s female rowing team’s calendar from its site (NB: for charity, no nipples on show and very tastefully done) but leaving the male calendar unobstructed. (buckets and trophies held over their willies. Yum!) Instagram has also faced huge criticism, with the #FreeTheNipple campaign hitting headlines when Scout Willis waltzed around New York topless to raise awareness of how, through the censorship of women’s bodies, leading social media sites perpetuate archaic patriarchal social attitudes that sexualise parts of the body that should never have been sexualised in the first place. I.e. if a woman wants to sunbathe topless or breast feed her baby in public or, if it’s simply too HOT out there then why should she be made to feel too embarrassed to get the girls out?

384px-Fernande_(vintage_nude_photo)_2Here’s where the books come in. The Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society (Burning bras, not books), is a group of dauntless women taking full advantage of New York’s egalitarian laws towards the toplessness of both men and women in public;  (a sparkling pro-feminist standpoint that should shame other authorities into submission). Meeting in the heart of the city, particularly when the sun comes out, the girls favour the pulpiest of fiction, sport the meanest of tattoos and the trimmest of bushes. What they’re doing represents an incredibly important step for womankind and, coupled with books?, then all the better.

So, next month the Manchester Book Group will be pouring over the wonderful The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Will our clothes hamper our discussion? There’s only one way to find out!

Marilyn Monroe reading in bed by Huffpost Style via Pinterest

Fernande (vintage nude photo) by Jean Angélou via Wikimedia

The Miniaturist


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In a sad turn of events, its been absolutely ages since I’ve felt utterly enthralled by a book. With a far-too-busy reading schedule of lacklustre book group choices and dull ARCs, I’d really begun to wonder whether the art of telling a cracking good yarn had got lost along the way somewhere.  Last week, I finally experienced that wonderful feeling of wanting to go to bed that little bit earlier so I could leap back into my other, ‘literary’ life and find out what happens next.

So, without further ado, I thank you Jessie Burton for restoring the faith and keeping me thoroughly happy and entertained for an entire week! Historical fiction is becoming my slightly lazy, go-to genre that I arrive at when I need a quick literary fix. Burton’s début offering, The Miniaturist (widely hyped up in the press) did not disappoint. For once, yes, you can allow yourself be drawn in…

Petronella (‘Nella’) Oortman is growing up. Now Petronella Brandt, married to wealthy Amsterdam merchant Johannes Brandt, we follow close on her heels as she arrives at her new home; a luxurious mansion on the Herengracht canal. The welcome she receives from her new husband and adoptive family is less than perfect. With Johannes largely absent, leaving the marital bed cold, his sister, Marin, frosty and sanctimonious and the servants unusually brazen, Nella feels deeply unwelcome and adrift in her draughty new abode.

In a gesture that his new wife interprets badly as a mockery of her young age and 18047651inexperience, Johannes buys her a dolls’ house. Exquisitely carved, encased in tortoiseshell and inlaid with pewter, the house is, quite spookily, an exact replica of the Herengracht mansion. Despite this slight on her maturity, Nella chooses to treat the house as a mockery herself, ordering items from a mysterious miniaturist in the city to provoke her new sister-in-law. As beautiful items begin to arrive unasked for, with each object and doll more spookily intrusive and prophetic than the last, Nella soon realises that all is not as it seems in this outwardly enviable life as a merchant’s wife.

I really needed this book to kick me sharply out of the reading (and blog-writing) funk and laziness that I’ve found myself in of late; common for me at this time of year when the sun comes out and life inevitably starts to happen. (I even forgot about Paris in July!) Like all truly superb historical fiction, Burton is heavy on the sumptuous domestic detail, bringing the contrasts between the grimy, dangerous Amsterdam streets and political arena and the safety of her new home right into my own living room. Add the edge of some subversive twists and turns and the touch of magic the miniaturist lends the story, then we have something very special indeed.  Although intrigued, like his sister Marin, by Johannes adventures across the waves, Burton is wise not to spread her fledgling talents too thinly, focusing instead on the dramas unfolding back home.

My only reluctant criticism of this book, which has stood up to the hype well and fully merits it’s rather marvellous display in Waterstones’ window (i.e. a big wooden house with books inside!), would be the last few chapters, where I found conclusions sometimes rushed and often incomplete. Are these the trappings every new author faces when caught up their own great story? Some characters are clumsily welcomed back into the fold, presumably to afford a logical ending, whereas one nameless, yet crucial, figure disappears altogether, with no satisfying conclusion reached at all about their whereabouts.

Nitpicking aside, clumsy endings did not spoil the impression The Miniaturist left on me, walking along in a lovely Dutch daze for a good couple of days afterwards. Like most excellent stories, Burton is inspired by real life. Petronella Oortman was the name of a real noblewoman, whose spectacular dolls’ house (see painting above) is very real indeed and now on display at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam to be loved and admired by all. Like a few talented of authors of late (Hannah Kent, Jane Harris…) Burton presents a portrait in time of outwardly ordinary yet inherently strong women. The many dangers women faced; from pregnancy to the obscurity of marriage are addressed here, including the fate of those on the very margins of conventionality.

Ten Book Cover Trends I Like/Dislike


DSC06629 (2)Although I am completely aware that it is what lies beneath that really matters, I, like many other sheepish bookworms out there, am a shameless judge of covers. I’m ashamed to say it, but I will often not even bother with a blurb if the look doesn’t appeal……

Here are some of my most loved/hated trends in cover design, courtesy of The Broke and The Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday:

Top 5 Hates:

2524991. Historical fiction = Lady in a dress - I love historical fiction but I’m quite happy to just imagine the flouncy dresses. It gives popular authors’ (such as Philippa Gregory) books a trashy vibe that just doesn’t float my boat.

24400382. Black and white photo, italicy coloured writing - Puts me in mind of that creepy ‘painful lives’ section of Waterstones. Lord knows why Orion used this design for Jennifer Worth’s superb memoirs.

67811833. Pastel colours - Pure pastel girlishness just ain’t my thang….

220379854. Kindle editions - Ha!

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5. Film/TV tie-ins - surely the most off-putting thing of all? Blurgh.

Top 5 Loves (yey!)

157293081. Twirly, swirly, vintagy twiddly bits - pretty.

toledo-jane-eyre2. The unique, modern and slightly queer.

4259333. Fancy, shadowy photos - à la Vintage editions.

99779194. Actually, on reflection, anything by Vintage Books. Everything they publish is simply sumptuous. Does that even count as a ‘book trend’?

117996455. Velvety and three-dimensional.

Slightly Foxed


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Over the past four years blogging has introduced many wonderful bookish things into my life; new friends, book groups, eye-opening book recommendations, the works. Far more than I ever could have hoped for, and then some.

Even after all this time you brilliant people out there are constantly introducing me to the excellent things I must have in my life right now. Slightly Foxed was one of them and it was this scrummy post by Bundleofbooks that led me to it.

SF was set up a decade ago by two editors with heaps of industry expertise and a desire to create a beautifully crafted, quarterly publication for book-lovers without an agenda. Rather than bombarding readers with the same ‘hot’ book or ‘hot’ author, the focus would be on the countless long-neglected, sorely-overlooked yet sublime writing out there that needed a champion. From forgotten classics to niche authors and their back catalogue, there’s no glamour or pretense here, just quality.

Discovering this magazine has really put me in a bit of a bookish daze. From the flawless customer service (i.e. a personal phone call from a lovely lady at SF HQ when there was some confusion with my credit card), to the sumptuous presentation (my first spring issue came bedecked with ribbons and, since it was my first, thoughtfully stuffed with goodies – bookmarks, etc – from previous issues I’ve missed) to the perfect writing and literary musings within, my experience so far really couldn’t have been better. Focusing on a huge range of topics from childhood favourites to well-loved literary figures, I’ve learnt so much already and have already added a number of new discoveries to my wishlist.

 

Slightly Foxed on Gloucester Road

As well as all this marvellousness, the Slightly Foxed peeps don’t just stop with a magazine. Not content to merely wax lyrical about these neglected books, they are making an attempt to restore some of those previously unavailable back into our literary lives through a series of expertly printed and bound editions; handcrafted in that-there Yorkshire. If that wasn’t enough, rumour has it that their bookshop in that-there London is now officially the best way to while away the weekend……now, someone direct me to Gloucester Road!

Slightly Foxed on Gloucester Road

The Moor


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The older I get the more dramatically my reading habits change. From reading entirely new genres, to joining groups and getting a bookish debate going to…well, not finishing the darned things if I’m simply not feeling it. I am far fussier these days and, let’s face it, we’ll never manage to read all the books we want in our lifetime so why mess around?

Once upon a time, unfinished books would not even feature on this blog but being honest with myself as to why I don’t like something is becoming increasingly important to me. Particularly when it comes to something I really should have lapped up.

The Moor by William Atkins is a travelogue cum historical cum natural cum literary landscape of the moorland of Britain. Travelling from the deep south of Bodmin and Dartmoor to the lofty heights of the Scottish borders, I was unreasonably excited about this book before I even received it; expectations that were always going to be far too high to fulfill.

Our little village sits just under the lee of a hillside that leads swiftly up to vast, inhospitable moorland; littered with gritstone outcrops, gobbly red grouse and hazardous pools of peaty muck. I adore it. Wet and wild is the landscape for me. One that authors throughout history have drawn inspiration from (Wuthering Heights being the all too obvious example) and one that inspires me, after a long haul out on the hills, to curl up in front of the fire with a good book and a cheeky tipple of some sort.18808199

Surely, therefore, I am William Atkins’ target market? Why then, did I abandon this admirable project? The simple answer is that I became so very, very bored (a bit like the man on the front cover).

This theme is fascinating but there is only so much one can soak in the way it is presented here; an opinion I feel quite guilty about because within these pages clearly lies a very personal journey for the author. One that, if you have experienced moorland and its pull as profoundly as Atkins has since childhood, you can’t help but sympathise with.

This book contains intervals of great poetic beauty and an impressive understanding of the colour, taste and topography of a landscape. That said, the monotonous descriptions of black peat and warbling grouse did start to get on my nerves after a while and an enduring feeling of déjà vu prevailed, with the desire to get out a red pen and conduct some much-needed editing.

Negativity aside, there are some informative little montages that added depth to the monotony that I simply can’t wait to try out on the boyfriend when we next go moor-hopping; an exploration of the austere HMP Dartmoor and its inhabitants was hugely intriguing, as was the portrait of a bee-keeping moorland monk I so loved. Atkins’ sense of history, particularly of the local variety, is flawless and the plethora of true/legendary stories attached to the moor are unstoppable.

William Atkins clearly understands English moorland in all her wild beauty, but he doesn’t understand me. I’m a fickle, feckless reader and perhaps I simply don’t have the stamina for this kind of contemplation at the moment, whatever the topic. Alternatively, is this book just a little too ambitious? The topics too wide? The style too plodding? …. All you moorland lovers out there, do give it a shot and let me know what you think. I’d love to give this book another go.

Top Ten Books That Should Be In Your Beach Bag This Summer


Ooo beacheroo, how I love you! I would gladly give my right arm from one of these spanking beach huts…and my left arm to be lying on a roasting hot beach right now, with a just a cocktail and a stack of books for company.

So, when the need for serious relaxation and escapism strikes us, what would I take to the white sands with me? The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday, as always, has the answer.

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1. In the Time of the ButterfliesJulia Alvarez – This true story of three remarkable sisters and their tireless battle against an oppressive dictatorship will both inspire and move you to tears.

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2. Life After LifeKate Atkinson – This is a great book, simply said. Kate Atkinson has a staggering imagination and such a comfortingly English turn of phrase, I was swept away into this groundhog world and you will be too.

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3. Music for ChameleonsTruman Capote – A superb collection of short stories to dip in and out of when the time is right is a must for any beach holiday. These beautifully written, incredibly varied stories by Capote are just the ticket.

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4. Frog MusicEmma Donoghue – this dusty San Franciscan tale of murderers, cross-dressers and burlesque dancers takes entertainment to the max the historical fiction way…

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5. Someone Else’s SkinSarah Hilary – I know a lot of people like to take a bit of crime fiction away with them. I’m gradually opening myself up to the genre and this is the best I’ve read yet.

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6. The LanternDeborah Lawrenson – a lovely, light ghost story and a ‘beach book’ in the greatest sense of the word.

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7. The Valley of AmazementAmy Tan – although this book didn’t necessarily ‘amaze’ me, I think, given a beach, a cocktail and some sunshine, it would have done. A nice chunky, sumptuous beach book.

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8. When God was a RabbitSarah Winman – this cosy novel made me feel so happy, I’d happily relive that warm fuzzy feeling all over again.

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9. Our Man in HavanaGraham Greene – A little piece of Graham is a must for any holiday. This witty book would be my choice for any beach.

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10. The Darling Buds of MayH.E. Bates – Bates’ Darling Buds series are books I will return to time and time again in times of trouble and strife to readjust and realise what is important in life; i.e. heaps of food and drink.

beach huts by Carly-Jane via Flickr