Am I collector or do I just, due to occupational hazard, have a lot of books and is there a difference?

As if by magic Jared has an excellent post on book collecting on his blog:

The gentlemanly @onechaptermore, generously mistaking my enthusiasm for expertise, asked me for some thoughts on book collecting. This seemed a little big for Twitter, but a great idea for a blog post.

Post-script: Thinking about book collecting 

And after reading it I’d not describe my hoard of books as a collection but I do have some mini-collections on the shelves. Like this one:


But I’m not sure you’d describe it as a true collection. If I was a collector I would have increased the first edition hardbacks I own to include those that came out before I started reading Sir Terry (e.g. before Maskerade). I didn’t buy the hardback editions of the Tiffany Aching  and as I was a poor student at the time I’m missing Making Money in hardback. This set has organically grown as I’ve been reading.

The same can be said about Neal Asher. Though I’m honoured to have a few proofs of his work but again I haven’t gone out to eBay or similar hunting down earlier editions. I’ll probably end up with new covers (those on the bottom left) of most of his books as I do like them I guess that’s a sort of a collectors thing.


The only book I’ve bought above  as a collector’s item is the hardback of Stone. There is something I love about that book, I’ve got the paperback signed from when I met Adam at an event, but the others are there because I love him as an author and I like seeing him on the shelves.

Speaking of loving seeing authors on the shelves I am proud to have two China Miéville proofs and signed editions of The City & The City and Kraken (again from meeting the him at signings)



I do have two deliberate collections of books. The first is the new SF Masterworks editions from Gollancz. I wish I’d kept my copy of The Stars My Destination but I wasn’t going to reread it and I don’t tend to keep books that I’ve read despite all the evidence above to the contrary. And sorely tempted to buy it again to fill the gap (collecting pull right there). Oh and you might be able to see some Peter F. Hamilton’s at the back.




I re-bought The Engines of God as Headline as bringing are out the series again and when I read the first one years ago I liked it (Voyager didn’t release the rest) and I’m hoping I will again but if I don’t it’ll be out the door. If I like the second in the series after that again they’ll stay and if not then not much point in keeping them (see I’m not a collector really).

The other books I’ve deliberately starting to collect with the intention of getting the lot (unlike the SF Masterworks where I’m going to be selective) are those of Gladys Mitchell’s detective Mrs Bradley and as I’ve been enjoying the style of the time I picked up the Gervase Fen Mysteries for a bargain price. I hope I like them enough for them to stay.



Oh and if you could see the rest of the shelves you’d see the Fred Vagas books – kept because I love the her detective and I may want to reread him. Speaking of detectives, below are some of my favourites in Urban Fantasy – Felix Castor, Peter Grant, Bob Howard, and Harry Dresden at the back. Again collectored as I’ve read them. Though as I like them I’m tempted to upgrade the first two Laundry books to the new cover design. I probably won’t though. I guess those are a collection as are the George Mann though I had the US editions of a couple and gave them away.




More organic collecting is from the poetry shelf. It does (double layered) fit on a shelf and includes some of my favourite wordsmiths like U. A Fanthorpe, John Agard, ee cummings, Matthew Francis to pick a few you can see. I was really into people and these are the only books I’m loathed to cull even if I don’t really like the poet.



But after that the shelves get to be a mix of read and unread like those below:









Over the last few weeks I’ve been having a cull. You might have seen I’ve been asking twitter for its opinion on whether books are work keeping. And even after all that I’ve ended up with 583 unread books that I can’t bear to part with. Well I could probably let go of and extra 10% but that still gives me a sizeable amount of books that all have shelf-space which are waiting to be read.

If you walked in and looked at the shelves I think you’d be impressed with the variety and the number of books I own but I don’t think you’d be able to get me to say they were a collection.

I could show you books I’ve collected and kept on purpose but I could also start listing books that I’ve happily given away without a second thought – Lord of the Rings for example. I’ve also got the unread Merrily Watkins books that look like a collection but will be joining the rest outside the house when I’ve read them.

To be honest I’m surprised I’ve kept as many books I have that have been read. If I need the space I’d be selecting more to go. To save a space if you’re unread you have to have lots of potential and to remain you have to have really captured a special place that I want to have you around.

I guess you’d all call me a collector but I’m just a man with a lot of books.

What about you? Do you have collections or just book piles that you want to keep?


Or at least that’s how  reading a book works. You have to get to the end to know what happens. 

I am both a fast and a slow reader. Alright, I think I’m average reader in terms of pages a minute. But it’s rare for me to read a book fast. I can do it. I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane (the new Neil Gaiman) in an evening. It is a shorter novel but I couldn’t put it down. It’s a story that felt right to read in one go. Otherwise it can take me a couple of weeks to get through a book. 

This is not ideal but it’s the only way I can do it. Take Promise of Blood which I’ve been reading for almost 4 weeks. I love it as a book. It rips along but it also has lots of threads so at a certain point my brain goes fuzzy and I can’t carry on. I can push past that for a deadline but it tends to a part of the pleasure away.

It’s not to say that it’s a bad book. Taking time to read something shouldn’t be seen as a damnation. 

I also juggle books. I’ve been listening to an audiobook for ages. It’s not a bad book either but I can’t multitask while listening so it’s either when driving, in the bath or the gym (when I used to make the time). But it means I get one more book ‘read’ that I would have without doing it. 

Plus, I have a book on my Kindle for when I can’t bring a space-taking book with me or when I need to read in the dark, that’s currently Men at Arms, part of my Night Watch re-read (another slow boil)

And sometimes it takes me a while to finish a book as I’ve got a deadline to read for and have to sacrifice the book I’m reading at the time to get it done otherwise I’d have finished a book with no deadline and a missed deadline with an unfinished book. I don’t like missing deadlines so something has to give. And if they are good to read, which most are, I’ll pick them up again. 

I bet I’m in the majority and most of you read one book at a time before moving on to the next? Right?

“On Amazon, Dead Ever After has received 366 one-star reviews, compared with 124 five-star reviews. One reader described the ‘extreme disappointment’ they felt with the novel by pointing to a blog post claiming that ‘if Charlaine Harris had written the Harry Potter series, the end of Deathly Hallows would have Harry sleeping in the cupboard under the stairs with the spiders and no magic. While Voldemort would move in across the street, taunt him daily, and dispense life advice.”

(Via: Charlaine Harris threatened by fans over final Sookie Stackhouse novel | Books |

I think this comment says it all:

Does this remind anyone else of that novel/film Misery?

“Write a better ending or I’m going to break your legs, burn your entire novel and keep you here untill you make the ending I want”

Ross Anderson

This is poignant at it is a counterpoint to Star Trek Into Darkness that goes out of it’s way to give the fans what they want to complete its detriment (this link contains spoilers but I’ve left a comment explaining my thoughts with spoilers). It’s still an amazing blockbuster but doesn’t move Star Trek on. And that’s all I’m saying on that.

Back to Charlaine Harris. I’ve read A Touch of Dead, which is a collection of shorts based in Sookie’s world, but not explored further though I’ve had Dead Until Dusk gathering dust for a while. I’d rather read more of her fun cozy crime The Aurora Teagarden Mysteries series. But that’s a preference thing. I’ve done my vampires with Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite in my teenage years. I’ve read recently Charlie Huston’s take on vampires and enjoyed that too. What I’m basically saying is that I’m not invested in this 13 book series but if I was would I feel that Harris should have provided a ‘happy ever after’ ending?

My first thought was well that’s a shame. It’s always nice to get that payoff. But life isn’t like that. I don’t know what threads that Harris has been weaving and whether that would be doing the story a disservice. I trust Harris knows exactly what her story needs and it wasn’t a happy ending then so be it. The story is the first priority and the only priority unless you can add little nods and winks and crowd pleasing things that enhance the enjoyment.

There are writers who tell stories by numbers but good on Charlaine Harris for not being one of them. It’s just a shame that some ‘fans’ only see her as a sausage factory.

Are you influenced or engaged? Are you an influencer or an influencee?  I’m pondering this because Alan Bowden aka @wordsofmercury used the phrase ‘The Anxiety of Influence’ in a twitter conversion earlier today, though he was referring to The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry by Harold Bloom, I didn’t quite twig that at the time but it got me thinking nonetheless about what could described as ‘social reading’ and if it’s healthy.

I have a vested interest of course. I’ve been blogging about books for almost 8 years. I’m engaged on twitter with amazing book lovers and I record a nice chat with Simon for a book based banter podcast as well as writing the occasional blog post.

I’m sharing my love of reading and books (paper or electronic) constantly. I guess you’d call me an influencer but I’d rather say engaged.  Mostly as I’m influenced by those around me. I am not a maverick reader. I don’t read obscure books. I read, mostly, popularist fiction. How do I know it’s popularist? Mostly because when I mention a book I don’t get a ‘WTF is that?’ as a response.

I also read in a genre, SF&F, that is in constant conversion with itself (see Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays And Commentary for some brilliant examples of just that). You can’t get away from being influenced. Well you could disengage from ‘social reading’ but then you’d miss out on the myriad of ways that it is a positive thing; you can find out what others thought of the book you liked/loathed, you can find recommendations, and you don’t miss ‘hot’ books.

And here is where we come to ‘anxiety’. @Gollancz aka Simon Spanton gave a good example:

The race to ‘have read’ is a pitiless and destructive thing. Re-reading is not only a profound pleasure, it is good and valuable too.

That’s influence at work in a negative way. I’m certainly guilty of being anxious of ‘not having read’. I’m writing this post right now when I have a book that needs reading sharpish and I want to be cracking on with the afore mentioned Speculative Fiction 2012 (I’m trying to influence you to read it right now) and The Science of Discworld (the first one though the fourth one has just come out, which has influenced me to read the first one properly this time).

There is also ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’ when you’re involved in ‘social reading’ you see all these amazing books coming out that you could feel anxious about missing out and are desperate to keep up. I’ve long since stopped trying to keep up though the guilt and anxiety of not ‘keeping up’ hasn’t gone away.

I hope I strike a balance between engaging what is current and what I’m interested by. Though this implies that they are separate things. They’re not. I’m genuinely excited by what is current. There is buzz and hyperbole for sure that does move books up and down the TBR but this is the state of my home library:

@oliagent my shelves are such an eclectic mix of favourite authors, books to try, books I never thought I’d like but did and rarities

If I posted a list of all the books I hope they’d say these are Gav’s shelves rather than these are a generic SFF fans shelves. Though with the crime, lit fic, odd YA, poetry, non-fic and cookbooks I’d hope that was even more unlikely. Maybe making a list of my favourite novels would be more convincing? But I’m obsessing.

And that’s the point of this post: obsession and reading and what you’ve read and what you’re going to read and if they are your choices or if they’re not why and how are others influencing what you read?

There is one concern, which focuses on blogging, and that is homogenisation. Another example of anxiety of influence as well as being too influenced. There are books out there for everyone but it’s worrying when one person loves all the books seemingly without distinction.

I guess where this post has ended up is that you (me) want to give and takie from the circle of engagement rather than feeling your not being you through your reading even when you are (and you are aren’t you?)

The British Library keeps popping up over the last few weeks and one thing that really got me excited is there new exhibition:

Murder in the Library: An A-Z of Crime Fiction runs 18 January – 12 May 2013

Classic locked-room mysteries, tales of murder and mayhem in quaint villages or gritty adventures on mean city streets.

Crime fiction, which currently accounts for over a third of all fiction published in English, holds millions of people enthralled. Murder in the Library will take you on a fascinating journey through the development of crime and detective fiction, from its origins in the early 19th century through to contemporary Nordic Noir, taking in the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the first appearance of Miss Marple and the fiendish plots of Dr Fu Manchu along the way.

 There have been some happy visitors:

“The exhibition is made by such weird and wonderful artefacts. Each one speaks of the simple joys that the genre has brought. They remind you that people both large and small have been thrilled by crime writing, a great leveller. Murder in the Library made me smile on an otherwise bleak midwinter day.”

(Via: Murder at the British Library » Spectator Blogs)

 So I’m definitely going there when I’m in London at the end of February. 

And then we have their sound archive gathering togethers hours and hours and hours of interviews with various writers: 

“The Writing Life: Authors Speak podcasts

Sarah O’Reilly, project interviewer for Authors’ Lives writes:

Extracts from the oral history collection Authors’ Lives have recently been published on a 2-disc CD, ‘The Writing Life: Authors Speak’. One of the most difficult tasks in putting the CD together was to boil down the hundreds of hours of interviews we had in the archive into two 70-minute CDs. And seeing as those interviews covered all aspects of the writer’s life – from what may make someone grow up to be a writer, to their experience of the writing process and the things that inspire them, to the changes they may have witnessed over the last half century to the way in which books are written, published and read – we had a job deciding which aspect of the writer’s life the CD should focus on.

In the end we felt that a CD which could shed some light on the creative process would be of most interest to listeners, and the most straightforward way of handling the heterogenous material within the collection. Because though we may know as readers what it is to live with (or should that be through?) a book, we probably don’t know much about the writer’s experience of the creative process, let alone their values, inspirations and perceptions of their craft. And how much do we understand about the way in which a writer’s life may be put into the service of their work? We hope ‘The Writing Life: Authors’ Speak’ will shed some light on these mysterious areas.

A BL podcast on ‘The Writing Life: Authors Speak’ can be found here.  To hear three interviewees – Philip Hensher, Hilary Spurling and Michael Frayn – discussing their writing lives in a recent event in the Library Conference Centre, click here.  The interviews within the Authors’ Lives archive can be browsed on the Sound Archive catalogue by searching with the collection reference number C1276.”

(Via: The Writing Life: Authors Speak podcasts – Sound Recordings)

I’m also keen to hear their British Writers and American Writers CDs to hear the voices of authors that are no longer alive to get a sense of their voice and personality. 

I’m lucky to speak to various authors on the podcast and hearing what they sound like and how they speak is always a revelation. 

And whilst browsing I came across this:

L ISBN 9780712358781

Female Detective: The Original Lady Detective, 1864

Typical of detective fiction of its time, Andrew Forrester’s book features various cases narrated by Miss Gladden, or ‘G’ as she is also known. Her deductive methods and energetic approach anticipate those of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and she can be seen as beginning a powerful tradition of female detectives. ‘G’ uses similar methods to her male counterparts – she enters scenes of crime incognito, tracking down killers while trying to conceal her own tracks and her identity from others.

‘G’, the first female detective, does much physical detective work, examining crime scenes, looking for clues and employing all manner of skill, subterfuge, observation and charm to achieve her ends. Like Holmes, ‘G’ regards the regular constabulary with disdain. For all the intrigue and interest of the stories, little is ever revealed about ‘G’ herself, and her personal circumstances remain a mystery throughout. But it is her ability to apply her considerable energy and intelligence to solve crimes that is her greatest appeal, and the reappearance of the original lady detective will be welcomed by fans of crime fiction.

I’ve never head of ‘G’ though I’m a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes. Has anyone read it?  From the Amazon reviews it seems it’s better seen has an historical document rather than a book to enjoy for pleasure. I’m curious nonetheless. 

Are you a British Library fan? What’s your must see?

Check out episode 56 of The Readers:

You don’t have to listen to the show if you don’t want you (though it’s quite good) as my Top 5 are in the show notes. 

A slight caveat: This has not been my biggest year in terms of books read so you might think there are some notable omissions. That doesn’t make my choices any less worthy ;) 

Happy Christmas!

I’d set my current level of reader to anxious. If there was a progress bar for this year I’d say I was 50% or less as I just don’t think I’ve read enough.

Of course there is always more to read. It’s impossible to read everything I know but you should be able to look back and go my 33 year-old self and not think I should have read more.

Not that I haven’t read some great books; Ready Player One, Hollow Pike, Whispers Underground (audiobook), A Place of Execution, The Song of Achilles, The Case of the Missing Servant, This Night’s Foul Work, The Long Earth, Redemption in Indigo, Now You See Me, The Apocalypse Codex, The City’s Son, Orbus (audiobook), A Death in Valencia, The Steel Remains, The Snow Child, Or The Bull Kills You, The Somnambulist to name a good chunk.

I’ve been reading through short story collections too but I’ve probably read under a book a week, which is still pretty good in this age of distraction, but still leaves a huge list of books I haven’t yet read and would love too. Don’t worry I’m not going to list them.

The only thing to do is see what my 34 year-old self can do to catch up!

So what state are you? Excited, Satisfied, Eager…?

Enough people can’t be talking about this years Man Booker Prize, which is the only reason I can think of as to why Sir Peter Stothard has said:

“Criticism needs confidence in the face of extraordinary external competition,” the former editor of The Times says. “It is wonderful that there are so many blogs and websites devoted to books, but to be a critic is to be importantly different than those sharing their own taste… Not everyone’s opinion is worth the same.”

The bionic book worm

I think this comment by Becca Allen sums it up:

Stothard’s quote “Not everyone’s opinion is worth the same” smacks of “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”, doesn’t it?


To me it seems that Stothard is basically bemoaning that the people who he considers to be ‘critics’ aren’t getting the outside validation that he thinks they should instead that authority is shifting.

“Eventually that will be to the detriment of literature. It will be bad for readers; as much as one would like to think that many bloggers opinions are as good as others. It just ain’t so. People will be encouraged to buy and read books that are no good, the good will be overwhelmed, and we’ll be worse off. There are some important issues here.”

I wonder which readers he’s standing up for? Oh I see, readers who like their reading to bore them to tears:

“Yet, If the English novel does nothing to renew the English language, then it really doesn’t do anything. The great works of art have to renew the language in which they’re written. They have to offer a degree of resistance.”

I’d say Hilary Mantel’s odds of winning the Booker just decreased then.

There are so many ways to counter his argument but I’ll just chuck in a couple:

Weird Council: an International Conference on the Writing of China Miéville

After reading Mieville’s writing for several years I can see how and why China would be worthy of a conference critiquing his work. I wonder if Stothard would judge him worthy? Not that it matters if he does because Mieville’s work is being considered in a serious and academic way something that would be unlikely to have happened without a widening of literary exploration.

The Mookse and the Gripes Forum – Man Booker Prize Thread

Last year the Man Booker Official site had a forum and this year it doesn’t but again there are corners of the internet where engaged and intelligent readers gather to discuss this years long and short lists. Is this somewhere Stothard would consider hanging out?

By Stothard lumping all the people who use blogs to talk about books together ultimately he shows that he really is an outsider to the new and exciting conversation that is going on between so many readers who meet and diverge over completely unexpected books.

But that’s his loss; it really is.

As part of ‘it’s complicated’ (see Thanks For All The Fish) I did say I wouldn’t stop blogging or recording The Readers and I’m not. The Readers is my weekly chat with Simon and I enjoy that immensely, so that’s def not changing, but the blog and tweets will probably be sparse and sporadic for a few weeks. I’m craving just reading without broadcasting it for a bit.

 “For my work at The Guardian I spend a lot of time looking at new books, and I’ve gone out of my way to look at new books by indie published writers. And my conclusion has been that the vast majority of independently published writers aren’t ready. The books aren’t ready and their authors aren’t ready either in most cases. Nonetheless indie publishing is now an established route in to professional writing for those who are ready. So how do writers know when they are ready?”

(Via: 7 signs you are ready to self-publish (a checklist) | Damien G. Walter)

If you’ve read my Reasons Why We Reviewers Won’t Read Your Self-Published Book post you might want to read this one too :D