Librarian’s Choice: The books that got me back into reading

This blog is from Louise, a librarian based at Central library.

I used to read, a lot. Days would be lost with my eyes tied firmly to the pages in front of me as I awaited what would happen next, early favourites included the adventurous tales of Robin Hood and the multiple ‘scrapes’ encountered by red-headed orphan Anne Shirley. Teenage years followed with a dip into the teen horror genre and Stephen King, who I found way too scary but had to read because all my friends were. As young adulthood overtook teens it was into the world of ‘chick lit’ I fell. My reading tastes continued to grow and change as I aged and there was always a book in my bag to be opened and indulged whenever the chance arose.
And then it stopped.

Something major in my life happened that pretty much stopped dead my love of literature. I became a parent. Instead of reading by lamplight my nights were spent with a fractious babe. Sometimes I could barely remember what day it was never mind where I was up to in the plot. Instead of finishing a book in a couple of days it was now taking me a couple of weeks to even get to the middle and by the time I’d gone a whole year without finishing a book I realised I’d lost the habit. To me that’s what reading always was, a good habit that brought pleasure, escapism and knowledge.

Two children and one house move later I’d had enough, I wanted reading back but it appeared I’d forgot how to become engrossed in a book once more and repeated efforts left me feeling a failure when I couldn’t get past chapter 3. And then I remembered a book that I’d read 15 years previously and still had squirrelled away in a box somewhere. True Tales of American Lives by Paul Auster. 180 stories chosen from his National Public Radio programme are the stories of everyday people living in twentieth century America. There were only 2 rules to have your story included, it must be true and you must be previously unpublished. The resulting stories cover everything from grief to romance, adventurous to the hum drum, humourous, sad and ridiculous but all of them real. The best bit, most of them were short. Some barely a page while others took up 5, the book was one that could be picked up and put down without plot lines or character getting confused. This book got me back into reading while being one of the most authentic but multi-voiced books I have ever read. Some of the stories I couldn’t remember from my first reading 15 years previous, but others were like old friends just waiting to be reacquainted.

Louise The MothIt was also talking about my love of this book that had my next read recommended to me. The Moth: This is a True Story
by Catherine Burns.  Like True Tales, The Moth gathers together a selection of stories though this time there is definitely more of a fantastical element to the tales, with accounts of space walks from astronaut Michael J. Massimino, to the American doctor spirited away by a group of nuns to the bed side of Mother Theresa. Again the stories are short but always engaging and easy to read wherever you are.

These are the two books that got me back into reading, these are the two books I would recommend to anyone and everyone, whether you are already a voracious reader or someone looking for a way into a wonderful new habit.

Here are some other short story collections to kick off your reading habit.

Lou The not deadThe not-dead and the saved and other stories by Kate Clanchy

None of us are perfect, in the way we love, age, or view the world. ‘The Not-Dead and the Saved’ offers us an opportunity for reinvention: of ourselves, those we have lost, and the world in which we live. From a man doomed to spend his life trying to find solutions to cancer; to a new mother haunted by a swaddling, tablet-eating great-aunt; to an intrepid literary agent who travels to the Yorkshire Moors to discover the next big thing, and ends up eating Anne Brontë’s rock cakes, we meet a host of characters who are desperately, creatively, and often hilariously trying to evade the underlying truths of their lives.

Lou Sweet HomeSweet home by Carys Bray

A surreal supermarket, fictional parenting books, a gingerbread house and an alternative to IVF steeped in Nordic mythology are deployed in 17 very different notions of home, as Carys Bray explores loss, disappointment, frustrated expectations and regret through dark, funny stories which strike at the heart of family life.

 

Lou The visiting privelegeThe visiting privilege: new and collected stories by Joy Williams

Joy Williams has been celebrated as a master of the short story for four decades, her renown passing as a given from one generation to the next even in the shifting landscape of contemporary writing. And at long last the incredible scope of her singular achievement is put on display: 33 stories drawn from three earlier, much lauded collections, and another 13 appearing here for the first time in book form.

Lou Those were the daysThose were the days by Terry Wogan

Welcome to the party. Pull up a chair, take your ease, and join Tom, king of the Cattle Market branch, for a bite to eat and a glass or two of wine. Come and meet his customers: many of whom have become his friends, and many more of whom haven’t. Either way they’ve some fine tales to tell. Join Tom as he reminisces about the places he’s been, the people he has met, the laughter and the tears of daily life as he made his way from humble bank clerk to the heady heights of Branch Manager. ‘Those Were the Days’ is a collection of short stories by national treasure Sir Terry Wogan, filled with his famous humour, and charm.

Lou American HousewifeAmerican housewife by Helen Ellis

Meet the women of ‘American Housewife’: they wear lipstick, pearls, and sunscreen, even when it’s cloudy. They casserole. They pinwheel. They pump the salad spinner like a CPR dummy. And then they kill a party-crasher, carefully stepping around the body to pull cookies out of the oven. Vicious, fresh and nutty as a poisoned Snicker, this collection is an uproarious and pointed commentary on womanhood.

Lou Single, carefreeSingle, carefree, mellow by Katherine Heiny

A tender and ruefully funny look at varieties of love, secrets, and betrayal in ten exquisite stories that form a guided tour of the human heart.

 

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Librarian’s Choice- my first five books of the year

A blog from Stu, a Community Librarian based in the east of the city.

In an attempt to stave off the inevitable post-Christmas comedown, I’ve been distracting myself by reading as many books as I possibly can. Here’s a rundown of the first five books I’ve read this year:

stu-temporary-gentlemenThe Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian Barry

An elegiac tale in which a retired UN weapons inspector looks back at the course of his life, and particularly the tempestuous marriage which ended with the early death of his alcoholic, mentally unstable wife. Barry is a tremendously gifted writer and the prose here is pretty much flawless, but somehow this never got going for me. I was reading page after page without really getting involved, almost as if I were waiting for the story to start properly, and I was still waiting for it to start when I turned the last page. It’s beautifully written but lacked a bit of depth for me, as if it was a 300 page synopsis of a much longer, weightier novel, but it’s still worth a look for the quality of the writing alone.

stu-daylight-gateThe Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson

Marvellously lurid horror from Accrington’s finest, this is a fictionalised treatment of the tale of the Pendle witches. If you know the story, most of the facts are loosely in place, although she freely admits in the preface that her Alice Nutter bears no resemblance to her real-life counterpart. It’s pretty schlocky in places – as the fact that it’s published under the Hammer imprint would suggest – but it’s still not for the faint-hearted. There’s incest, grave-robbing, torture, necromancy and black magic aplenty, not to mention a deliciously sensual lesbian love story as well. She even manages to work in an invented plot of her own – involving Shakespeare himself as well as Doctor John Dee, all of which adds real flavour to the tale. If you’ve ever enjoyed a Hammer Horror movie there’s much to like here, and for those who already know the story and want to have a bit of fun with it there’s plenty to enjoy as well.

stu-assasination-of-thatcherThe Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

These days she’s famous for her outstanding historical novels based on the life of Thomas Cromwell, but this brilliant collection of short stories shows she’s possesses a much broader palette than that would suggest. These are fabulously dark little tales, always slightly grotesque in a Salinger or Roald Dahl-esque sort of way. They’re mostly tales of middle-class life gone awry – bored couples, failed marriages, the hideous grind of everyday life – described in tremendous prose and with a fine feel for dialogue. The title story seems to take most of the critical plaudits but my favourite is The Long QT – the shortest one in the whole set – in which a wife catches her husband in an extremely compromising position, before meeting a sticky – albeit hilarious – end. Highly recommended.

stu-where-have-you-beenWhere Have You Been? by Joseph O’Connor

More short stories, this time from one of Ireland’s greatest contemporary writers. Whereas Mantel’s stories are always slightly exaggerated, placing them just outside the realms of the completely believable, this collection is firmly rooted in real life, and it’s absolutely wonderful in places. Orchard Street, Dawn is a coruscating account of the lives of Irish immigrants in 19th century New York (a constant theme in his longer prose works), but most of these have a reasonably contemporary feel. His descriptive prose is a real treat for connoisseurs, and his talent for capturing the nuances, rhythms and colloquialisms of everyday speech is every bit as good as that of Roddy Doyle. By turns heart-breaking and laugh out loud funny, this collection has the temerity to be even better than Hilary Mantel’s.

The Sick Bag Song by Nick Cave

A disjointed, rambling travelogue in which the formidable Bad Seeds frontman spiels stream-of-consciousness thoughts onto aeroplane sick bags whilst in the throes of a US tour and collects them here in one handy volume. It also contains lyrics for songs he wrote at the time and discarded. It’s a bit too fragmentary to make any real sense – and maybe that’s the point – but overall it came across as if he were trying to write some sort of Ginsberg-esque jazz poem, and it didn’t work for me at all in that respect. That said, Cave is Cave and in amongst the weirdness there are some lines of genuine brilliance – “If the past don’t get you, the future will.” Right on.

Costa Short Story Awards finalists announced

The Costa Short Story Award 2014 finalists have been announced.

The judging panel included writers Patrick Gale and Victoria Hislop; Richard Beard, director of the National Academy of Writing; Fanny Blake, novelist, journalist and Books Editor of Woman & Home magazine; and Simon Trewin, agent at William Morris Endeavor.

It was then made available on the Costa Book Awards website for the public to download and read, and then vote for their favourite, although the names of the authors were only revealed on 19th January, after the vote for the winner had closed.

 The six shortlisted authors are Paula Cunningham, Zoe Gilbert, Jane Healey, Joanne Meek, Mark Newman and Lucy Ribchester, you can listen to their stories on the Costa website

 The Costa Short Story Award was started in 2012 and is judged without the name of the author being known throughout the process. It is open to both published and unpublished writers, for a single, previously unpublished short story of up to 4,000 words by an author aged 18 years or over and written in English.

 The winner is decided by public vote and this year’s will be announced at the Costa Book Awards ceremony on 27th January. The winning writer gets £3,500, with second place receiving £1,500 and third place £500.

 

New this week #Love #saga #grippingtales

 image-medium (95)Allen, Sarah – Lost Lake   Kate finally wakes up from the slumber she’s been in since her husband’s death a year ago. Feeling a fresh sense of desire to take control of her life, she decides to visit Suley, Georgia – home to Lost Lake. It’s where Kate spent one of the happiest summers of her life as a child. She’s not sure what she expects to find there, but it’s not a rundown place full of ghosts and other curious oddities. Kate’s Aunt Eby, Lost Lake’s owner, wants to sell the old place and move on. As Kate discovers that time has a way of standing still at Lost Lake, can she bring the cottages back to life?

 Binchy, Maeve – Victoria Line, Central Line   if you missed this first time around, new copy With her characteristic mixture of compassionate humour and biting realism, Maeve Binchy enters the lives of passengers who use the London underground system in these engrossing stories. Whilst nameless, the characters take on a reality of their own

 Brellend, Kay – East End Angel  Kathy and Jennifer Finch might be twins but their looks are the only thing that they’ve got in common. Kathy has pulled herself up by her bootstraps, becoming a midwife and helping women such as Ruby Potter, terrorized by her brutal husband, Charlie. Meanwhile, sly and mouthy Jennifer has ended up in the gutter, sucked into a sordid life of prostitution and crime

 Browne, Hester – The vintage girl    When Evie Nicholson is asked to visit Kettlesheer Castle in Scotland to archive the family heirlooms, she jumps at the chance. Evie’s passion for antiques means that, for her, the castle is a treasure trove of mysteries just waiting to be uncovered. But in each heirloom lies a story, and in the course of her investigations Evie stumbles upon some long-buried family secrets. Add handsome, gloomy heir Robert McAndrew and a traditional candlelit gala to the mix, and Evie’s heart is sent reeling with an enthusiasm that may just extend beyond the Kettlesheer silver Chick lit/romance

Fullerton, Jean – All change for Nurse Millie Nurse Millie Sullivan is now Nurse Millie Smith, having married aspiring MP Jim Smith. The war has ended and the NHS has just come into action, so the nurses are busier than ever as the community realise they no longer have to pay for the services. Minor ailments need attention, babies need to be helped into the world and some of the larger-than-life characters need keeping in line so Millie has enough drama to deal with without having to deal with more from home … and Alex Nolan, her ex-fiance, is back in town

 Gill, Elizabeth – The fall and rise of Lucy Charlton 1920, Durham. Since she was a child, Lucy Charlton has dreamed of working with her father in the family solicitor’s firm. But a scandal shatters her dreams and, when her father disowns her, she finds herself on the streets, fighting for survival. Joe Hardy has returned to London after the Great War to find his life in tatters – his father is dead and his pregnant fiancee has disappeared. Then Joe learns he’s unexpectedly inherited an old river house in Durham from a stranger called Margaret Lee. With nothing left for him in London, he makes arrangements to travel north and claim it  Saga

 Griggs, Vanessa Davis – The other side of devine Paris Simmons-Holyfield is facing a dilemma – she’s pregnant but is not sure who the father is. After spending a night with Darius Connors, her ex-colleague, the baby could belong to him, but she doesn’t want to ruin her marriage. Darius has his own problems; his wife, Tiffany, has kicked him out. But he doesn’t want to give up on his marriage just yet – even if Tiffany has found company in the arms of Clarence Walker  Love stories.

James, Polly – Diary of an unsmug married Meet Molly Bennett. She’s just passed a ‘landmark birthday’ and is mother to two hormone-driven, warring teenagers. She’s married to Max, who buys her last-minute birthday presents in M&S, and works for a man prone to snooping through her emails. Maybe she needs some more excitement in her life. Everyone seems to be having a better time of it than her, especially her Dad who’s in Thailand searching for a new wife, and her next door neighbour Ellen with her string of toyboys. So when Max starts taking an increased interest in keeping fit and going on ‘business trips’ abroad and less of an interest in their sex life, Molly begins to despair. That is until an old school friend starts flirting with her through Facebook. What will happen if Molly does something out of character and stops being the person everyone wants her to be?Chick lit.

Lane, Lizzie – A wartime wife Bristol, 1939. Feisty, hard-working Mary Anne Randall runs a pawnbroking business from the washhouse at the back of her terraced home. Determined to keep her three children fed and clothed, she puts up with a drunken and abusive husband, who has never forgiven her an earlier, tragic love affair. When Michael Maurice inherits a neighbouring Bristol pawnshop, Mary Anne’s hackles are raised, and the two are at loggerheads. But as the war clouds gather over Europe, old passions are stirred and business rivalry is put aside. Mary Ann realises she must seize what may be a last chance at true love Love stories.

Lewis, Susan – The truth about you  Sunday Times bestselling author Lainey Hollingsworth has spent her whole life on the outside of a secret. Her mother would never discuss the reasons she abandoned Italy when Lainey was a new born, nor has she ever stayed in touch with the family she left behind. Now Lainey’s mother is dead, taking the secret with her, and leaving Lainey free to find out about her roots. Her husband, Tom, appears supportive, until he hits her with a bombshell that shatters the very foundations of their marriage. Another secret Lainey never knew anything about. Shaken, but more determined than ever to find out who she really is, Lainey takes her children to Umbria in search of answers

McCoy, Ken – Jacky boy Frank McGovern is hanged for a murder he didn’t commit, and Jacky’s mother, Maureen, tells him that Frank was his father. On the day of the execution Maureen loses the only man she ever loved and must now raise her three children alone. Enlisting the help of his sister, Ellie, Jacky sets out to bring the real killer to justice  Saga

 Moyes, JoJo – Sheltering rain Set in colonial post-war Hong Kong and in a crumbling country house in southern Ireland, this is the story of three generations of women and their profoundly different experiences of love Domestic fiction

 Parks, Adele – Spare brides  New Year’s Eve, 1920: the Great War is over, and a new decade of glamour beckons. But, for a generation of women who survived the trauma of war, life will never be the same. With countless men lost, it seems that only wealth and beauty will secure a husband from the few who returned, but lonely Beatrice has neither attribute. Ava has both, although she sees marriage as a restrictive cage after the freedom war allowed. Sarah paid the war’s ultimate price: her husband’s life. Lydia should be grateful that her own husband’s desk job kept him safe, but she sees only his cowardice. This is the story of these four women

Roberts, Nora – Heaven and Earth  Roberts has enchanted readers with her tales of friendship made and hearts lost, of legends, lovers and longing. In this book, the second in the trilogy, she returns to the shores of New England – and to the lives of three passionate, powerful women . Love stories.

Short story writing competitions!

creHas anyone written a brilliant short story they’d like to see published?

Check out these short story writing competitions – some just offer the pleasure of seeing the story published, others come with more prestigious and lucrative prizes such as the BBC short story prize for £15,000 and the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award for £30,000.

Find great lists of available competitions on the Book Trust and Christopher Fielden’s site – so many to choose from. If you need some tips, how about one of these titles available to borrow from Leeds Libraries.

Frank O’Connor short story award

image-mediumTwo British authors – David Constantine and Deborah Levy are on the shortlist for the Frank O’Connor short story award. The prize is worth €25,000 which makes it the world’s most valuable prize  for a short-story collection. Past winners have included Haruki Murakami, Nathan Englander and Edna O’Brien.

This year’s judges chose a shortlist of six titles from 78 longlisted books

  •  Joyce Carol Oates’s Black Dahlia and White Rose which includes a story about a friendship between Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Short
  • Swiss writer Peter Stamm, a finalist for the 2013 Man Booker International prize, for We’re Flying
  • American Claire Vaye Watkins for Battleborn
  • Canadian Tamas Dobozy for Siege 13.
  • Deborah Levy who was shortlisted for the Booker prize last year and this time was chosen for her collection Black Vodka,
  • David Constantine for Tea at the Midland.

The winner will be announced in the first week of July.

Happy New Year

Fireworks%202013Happy New Year to all our readers! What books are you all planning on reading in 2013? I have a number of books on my list and would love to hear what you have on yours. Currently my list for January is

Have a great 2013.