Archive for the ‘Guest Blogs’ Category

Guest Blog – ofBooks on Books Before 30

January 8, 2014

I have long been a fan of Alice’s blog ofBooks, and have been particularly intrigued by her idea of making a list of books she must read before she reaches thirty. Perhaps this has been close to my heart, as I turned thirty at the end of last year… So, in the spirit of New Year’s Resolutions, I thought you might like to hear a little about her project, and perhaps find the inspiration to make your own list of books to read before thirty, forty, or even by the end of 2014.

Alice – my recommendation for your list, other than Moon Tiger, which I’m thrilled you read last year, is something by Penelope Fitzgerald. It’s so tough to choose a favourite, but perhaps I’ll settle on The Beginning of Spring. I think she’s a genius, easily one of the best writers of the last century, and I hope you find her work as funny, unnerving, perfectly observed and inspiring as I do.

Over to Alice…


When Emily got in touch and asked if I would like to write something about my endeavour Books Before 30 – a list of books I’ve made to read before I reach the end of my twenties – my initial feeling was excitement, and then as I came down from the ceiling, I thought, ‘how far have I got with that?’ My progress isn’t exactly extensive.

Reading has become such a feature in my life, a second education. Books Before 30 was designed to be my way of delving into the fiction and non-fiction to which I was failing to expose myself.

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS LewisI never used to be a great reader. As a child my father read me fiction, approved by my mother: C.S. Lewis, Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl. I was the earnest listener, absorbing tales that would provide my sisters and me with inspiration for the playtime adventures that kept us occupied through afternoons and weekends. At school, I was a shy child, and it was assumed my reading was underdeveloped. It meant I spent a lot of time reading about Peter and Jane. If there is anything to kill a love of literature it is Peter and Jane.

By and by, as I became too old for bedtime tales and graduated to my own bedroom, reading fell off the list of childhood pursuits. There were video games, music and the internet to discover, and I was breaking out of the shell of my Christian upbringing. Reading just didn’t feel so important.

Frankenstein by Mary ShelleyNow, I often wish I had studied English Literature for A-Level, but in the typical style of someone who is suddenly allowed to be different without judgement, I chose almost all my subjects based on what was (almost) never available to me at school; History, Philosophy and Film Studies. Literature didn’t reappear in my life until University, when I chose to veer in the direction of fiction and history during my degree in Cultural and Historical Studies. This reintroduced me to the Classics; Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, She, and Heart of Darkness. It also threw at me the wonders of modern fiction; books by Chinua Achebe, Seamus Dean and Deirdre Madden. You would think that would be the push I needed, but in actual fact it took a love of blogging and a GoodReads challenge to really ignite a passion for reading.

During my first year of blogging in 2012, I began to realise how much literature I had missed, especially the classics. I’d managed to arrive at a few on my own via University, BBC adaptations, and a push in the right direction from my sister, but I felt left behind. So I set myself a goal: I asked people to suggest books that I should read before I turned 30, which at the time was just over four years away. I also added some ideas of my own. They don’t have to be classics or challenging books – I’ve got Twilight on there – they just need to be books I feel I ought to have read in order to learn, expand my vocabulary, or just to have a better grounding for moaning about them!

If I hadn’t had this particular journey with reading, I would probably never have created Books Before 30. The idea isn’t my own; Simon, of Savidge Reads – a fabulous book blogger – is the creator of sorts. Back in 2012 he started discussing 40 Before 40 – where he’d list and read a selection of books he felt he should read before he reaches the end of his 30s. (Earlier this year he listed them all.) Essentially I’ve stolen Simon’s idea, modified it and am hoping that he doesn’t mind!

Since beginning this challenge I have worked my way through books I never thought I would love, such as Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, whose protagonist’s anxiety vibrated so intensely that I could feel it. And some I never thought I would dislike, such as Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, which I read craving the maturity of Anne from Persuasion.

Wuthering Heights by Emily BronteWithout Books Before 30 I wouldn’t have felt a plethora of emotions or seen the world in different lights. I would never have read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and decided that I preferred Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë that bit more:

I’ve no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn’t have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.

The Wasp FactoryI wouldn’t have discovered Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory:

Often I’ve thought of myself as a state; a country or, at the very least, a city. It used to seem to me that the different ways I felt sometimes about ideas, courses of action and so on were like the differing political moods that countries go through. It has always seemed to me that people vote in a new government not because they actually agree with their politics but just because they want a change. Somehow they think that things will be better under the new lot. Well, people are stupid, but it all seems to have more to do with mood, caprice and atmosphere than carefully thought-out arguments. I can feel the same sort of thing going on in my head. Sometimes the thoughts and feelings I had didn’t really agree with each other, so I decided I must be lots of different people inside my brain.

 I would have never been able to compare Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell to current politics:

He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.

Parade's End by Ford Madox FordI would never have read Hemingway, or Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford, the best piece of fiction I have ever encountered. Not all of these were on my Books Before 30 list, but without that list, without the push to change my reading habits and to discover new works I never would have reached for them.

I’ve got two more years until I hit 30 when this challenge will end. If you have any books you could recommend for me, I would be incredibly grateful! Or perhaps you’d like to join me in my challenge, in which case I’d love to know how you get on.

A very special library with Alex in Leeds

July 10, 2013

Hurrah, we have a second guest blog! This time the EmilyBooks pages are graced by the presence of lovely Alex in Leeds. As well as incisive book reviews, Alex’s blog offers occasional culinary diversions and other literary treats, such as her ingenious Book Jar – a delightfully serendipitous way to choose one’s reading. Here, Ms Alex introduces us to Leeds Library, a hidden gem of this northern city.

If you would like to write a guest blog for Emilybooks then please get in touch here.

The Leeds Library - a hidden gem

Tucked away on the first floor of a central Leeds street, above a grandly fronted row of shops with no outside signage, is The Leeds Library. It’s one of the best kept secrets in the city.

Founded in 1768, most likely by the scientist Joseph Priestley, the library was originally housed above a bookseller’s shop and a rather small affair. Then, in 1808, the members took the bold decision to build their current premises. Their canny (and unusual) idea to include shops on the ground floor ensured the library’s survival – the rents collected have given the library the financial stability to withstand war, recession and over two centuries of changing tastes.

It’s not just its age or secret location that makes the Leeds Library special though, it’s the experience it offers as a rare example of a private subscription library.

The first time I visited the library was on a Heritage Open Day nearly three years ago. I admit I wasn’t sure what to expect but the idea of a members-only library with an annual fee seemed remarkably snobbish to me. Heading up the staircase and suddenly finding myself in an Austen-era room complete with wooden spiral staircases, balconies and beautiful fitted bookcases made me feel like I’d stumbled into a rather pragmatic paradise… and I admit, I could suddenly see why you’d want to keep such a place independent and self-funded.

I left the library that day feeling slightly bewitched and a month later, rather to my own surprise, I signed up as a member. I never thought of a private library as being for the likes of me but actually the reality is worth paying for. It’s not just that I can drop in and spend hours reading or working in this city-centre base, or that there’s a tea/coffee making corner and comfy chairs. Being a member has also shaped the way I read, because its collection is wildly different to the public library system and far, far quirkier.

This is in part because most books are bought at the request of the members – there’s a book by the entrance where you add any title you think should be purchased and every month a selection of these titles is acquired – and partly because the library is buying with a long term view.

A choice pile of books from The Leeds Library

The Leeds Library owns all the Persephone Books, lots of Folio Society editions and you can borrow anything under 100 years old. Nineteenth-century travel books might keep their spot on the shelves but the latest crime thrillers are likely to be sold off after a year or two – after all you can get them anywhere else. Fads don’t impact the collection as they do the public library’s so there’s no sudden influx of 5:2 diet books or Dan Brown knock-offs, for example, and although you might find the odd airport bestseller, you’re more likely to find titles from this year’s prize lists.

Not only is the collection radically different but so is the attitude. I can borrow up to 30 books, CDs, tapes or DVDs at a time. Most books are loaned for three months, new titles are marked as ‘In Demand’ and can only be borrowed for a month (which stops you borrowing new shiny things unless you actually will read them!). With about 900 members it’s a lot friendlier than the public library and much less formal. Most revolutionary of all, there are no fines.

I find myself reading books I didn’t know existed but can’t resist. Books on medieval gardens, lesser known classics, accounts of nineteenth-century travellers walking from Paris to Siberia… I browse the shelves whenever I’m there and, even two years since joining, I still discover new surprises.

It’s not perfect. There are plans to add a large entrance room to the ground floor to make the library’s presence more obvious and funds are being raised for better storage for the older books not out on the shelves. But I’ll take a quirky bookish heaven over perfection any day. If you’re ever in Leeds, I’d love to show you around…

The Quiet Room at The Leeds Library - who can resist?

Guest blog addict? You can read the last guest blog, from charming Canadian Cosybooks, here.

Second-hand book-hunting with Cosybooks

June 12, 2013


*********************Introducing the first guest blog ***********************


This special spot is a chance for you to meet, or, indeed, reacquaint yourselves with, other talented book bloggers.

The first guest blogger is Cosy Books – a Canadian librarian, who has a penchant for brilliant twentieth-century novels written by women. A taste that I, for one, share. Here she takes you on an illuminating tour of second-hand book buying in Canada.

If you would like to contribute to the Emilybooks guest blog spot then get in touch here.


If you have been following Emily’s blog for a while or landed here via a link from another blog you probably already know that a keen interest in books is a connecting thread.  While my fondness for reading reaches back as far as I can remember a certain group of book bloggers has made it possible for me to achieve an even greater appreciation for the written word.  This camaraderie has also unearthed a side of me which never existed before I carved out my own tiny space in the world of book blogging.  As a circulation clerk at a public library I nearly always borrowed my books but over the past few years I have turned into a book buyer on a mission.  It’s a nice way of saying that accumulating books at a rate faster than I can find space for them has become a pleasurable pastime.  Woeful posts by bloggers surrounded by bursting shelves only serve to reassure me that my guilt about unread books is unwarranted and that my collection is practically inadequate.

Since 2009, my reading has been centred around twentieth century authors such as Elizabeth Bowen, Elizabeth Taylor, E M Delafield, Dorothy Whipple and their contemporaries.  Since I have yet to meet another person in my daily life who has struck up a conversation about any of the aforementioned authors you can imagine how rare it can be to find their books in nearby shops.  This makes the hunt more challenging than if I were spending the day on Charing Cross Road, but not impossible.

Little Boy LostSo where have I found some of my favourite treasures, you might ask?  The best place for turn-over is called BMV Books.  They have a few locations in Toronto with my favourite being on Bloor Street.  Each day there are green plastic book bins dotting the floor waiting to be unpacked and shelved.  There is no catalogue so if you’re looking for something specific you have to be willing to dig for it.  The books are mostly used but in excellent condition. BMV also get batches of books sold back to them from local university students so you get an idea of what has been on offer in the English courses that term.  I was thrilled one day to spot the orange Penguin edition of Marghanita Laski’s Little Boy Lost, pushed back a bit further than the other books and for the pittance of only two dollars.  The Persephone edition was already on my shelves but that image of the little boy on the cover has always haunted me so I just had to bring it home.

The Tortoise and the HareAnother interesting place, albeit filthy, for some outstanding older clothbound books has been our local Reuse Centre.  Picture a massive warehouse full of the contents of your grandparents’ attic or garage sale rejects.  It’s an intriguing mix of dump run/nostalgia tour.  The lighting is horrible, my contact lenses go dry and you can taste the dust but it’s where I found a gorgeous black Virago edition of Elizabeth Jenkins’ The Tortoise and the Hare.  The cover design features a young lady wearing the most stunning pair of red tights and I’ve never seen another copy like it.  The funny thing is that it was discarded from the library where I work but it must have been ages ago.  A couple of years ago I brought home a first edition copy of New Bond Story by Norman Collins as well as a first edition of Flowers on the Grass by Monica Dickens for the same price.  Books such as these are housed separately from the paperbacks but the room resembles something more akin to a hallway at five metres long and barely wider than my shoulders and I’m not very big!  Bending is done very carefully and usually sideways!

The Way Things AreAnother place I loved to visit was called Nostalgia Books in Port Credit.  Nestled at the end of a long high street and a bit past the bridge over the harbour it was a nice destination when I had the day off from work.  The owner, David, was passionate about books (of course) but he also enjoyed people.  When he discovered my daughter had chosen to do a minor in English Literature he asked if I could keep him updated on her reading lists just for interest’s sake.  This shop was where I found my first green Virago, The Way Things Are by E M Delafield, and I beamed all the way home.  Last month my husband and I took a drive out to the shop but were saddened to find brown paper covering the windows and no sign of life.

For an anglophile living in the land of maple syrup and moose (I’ve only seen one that’s been stuffed but I’m going for effect) there can be no greater book hunting expedition than in England.  I could spend ages browsing along Charing Cross Road or the Southbank book market, admiring the faded spines and drinking in the aroma of aged chimney smoke you sometimes find emanating from the pages.  I can hardly believe it has been almost two years ago since I met up with my friends from Book Snob, Stuck in a Book and Mrs Miniver’s Daughter for a bit of second-hand book shopping while I was on holiday.  Mary was dreading a case of tug-of-war should we both spy a prize at the same time.  There was no need to worry though as they were more than helpful in handing over all sorts of titles they thought I would enjoy.  The charity shops in Canterbury where my daughter did her MA were oh so tempting but those dreaded luggage allowances are always at the back of my mind.

Look at all Those RosesRegardless of where my books have come from I never fail to get a tiny thrill from the signature of a previous owner along with a date.  My favourite inscription is in the front of a first American edition of Look at All Those Roses, a short story collection by Elizabeth Bowen published in 1941.  I have Rachel (Book Snob) to thank for this one.  It reads:

For Scott Merrill from John Butler in affection –

Elizabeth Bowen’s wisdom

May 1944

A story within a collection of stories but one which will have to remain a mystery.