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Heather Reyes is author of two novels, Zade and Miranda Road, and An Everywhere: a little book about reading - and its 'companion' gift book, Bookworms, Dog-ears, and Squashy Big Armchairs: a book-lover's alphabet, published this autumn. She has also published many short stories, along with essays and reviews of contemporary literature and Virginia Woolf. She has edited nine anthologies of writing about cities for the Oxygen Books' city-pick series - on Paris, London, Berlin, Amsterdam, Dublin, Venice, New York, St Petersburg and Istanbul. She's a dedicated lover of cities, jazz, classical music, art, photography, theatre ... and books.
Author photo © Derek Adams
Below is a Q & A with this author.
What led you to write Bookworms, Dog-ears, and Squashy big armchairs: a book-lover's alphabet?
Well, apart from the obvious reason of being a book-lover myself, I wanted to put together something that was fun but informative. My previous book on reading, An Everywhere: a little book about reading, while witty in parts, was basically a more serious book. There were lots of things I wanted to say about books and reading - particularly on 'bibliotherapy' - and I used some personal narratives and memories to hang those ideas on. It was written in the context of serious illness and the resultant period of chemotherapy, and woven throughout the book is the way that reading - in fact a life-time of reading - helped me to cope. Once An Everywhere was published, I wanted to carry on writing on the subject, but much more light-heartedly. I've been told it'll make a good gift book. I can't comment. I just enjoyed writing it.
It seems like a good book for book groups, with its suggestions for 'talking points' and activities. Do you - or have you ever - belonged to a book group?
No, I haven't. I visited some as an author when my novel Zade first came out, and I have a number of friends who belong to book groups. And I think they are wonderful developments in our national literary culture. But because I have so much reading to do for my work, I wouldn't be able to keep up with the reading for the group. I also have a rather 'particular' taste in books: I don't just like English fiction: I love books on history, biography, science, travel, and particularly fiction translated from other languages. But if there were forty-eight hours in a day, rather than twenty-four, I would probably join a book group.
Is your house very full of books?
Yes. It's an insuperable problem - especially as I find it virtually impossible to part with books. The occasional small bag goes to a charity shop, but what leaves the house doesn't keep pace with what comes into it! But I'm a book-lover. I can't help it.
How would you sum up The Book-lover's Alphabet?
I suppose it's a bit personal and idiosyncratic - as well as fun (I hope!). My opinions tend to come through in the way I write the information: for example, I'm passionate about libraries and the recent closure and ill-funding of our wonderful public libraries system makes me furious. This definitely comes through in some of the entries! But perhaps this helps to make it more than a bland book of information about booky things. But we'll have to wait for readers' responses ...
Anything else in the pipeline?
I have a novel coming out initially as an e-book early next year, called Perfectly Fine .... It's a kind of love story, but based on a woman turning fifty. And I'm working on a couple of quite different things, but we'll draw a veil over those for the moment.
Heather Reyes is an Ambassador for the cause of reading real books and buying them in real bookshops. Her informational book about books will remind you (if you need reminding) of the pleasures of reading, the delight in happenstance when you find just the book you want in a well-stocked bookshop, the wonder of stepping into another life courtesy of the author. Add to this some background information on the books you read and buy make this, dare I say it, the ideal book to keep by any bibliophile’s loo.Like for Like ReadingThe Novel Cure: An A to Z of Literary Remedies, Susan ElderkinRobin Ince's Bad Book Club: One Man's Quest to Uncover the Books that Taste Forgot, Robin Ince A 'Piece of Passion' from the author... Why are books and reading so important to me? I don't come from a particularly literary family, but the discovery, in youth of how books can take you into different worlds, educate your feelings and your understanding of people very different from yourself and, in a sense, give you lots of lives, not just condemn you to your own, necessarily restricted one, has made me a passionate advocate of reading. It led me to teach literature for twenty years before moving into editing and more serious writing (I was already beginning to get published during my teaching years). It was Russian literature that first got me seriously 'hooked on books' (I write about how this happened in An Everywhere), and I still sometimes go back to it to re-experience that initial excitement. I've recently re-read War and Peace - and it's even better than I remembered it. Or maybe the years have given me more to bring to it. Or maybe, having done battle with the novel form myself, I realise just what a stupendous achievement that book is. Everyone should read it!
June 2009 Book of the Month. Whether you are visiting or simply want to read interesting literature about one of the greatest cities in the world pick up a city-lit guide and be transported away. Let Will Self take you in to the mind of a London cabby or experience a shopping trip on Oxford Street with Virginia Woolf, Dostoyevsky takes a stroll down the Haymarket and Joseph Conrad takes a look at the Thames. See London as you have never seen it before with the help of some truly great writers.