Sunday, 21 December 2014

Christmas Comfort and Joy: What I Want, What I Read, What I Eat

Having finally recovered from the recovery period of recovering from finishing work, I thought a bookish Christmas post was in order.

What I Read:
Since finally finished the last hard slog of work, my time has mostly been spent eating panettone, drinking mulled wine and reading my Christmas books in a painfully hot bath every night. I read the same three books every Christmas, plus a few alternates as back-up which change annually, and this gives me the same lovely feeling as repeats of the Christmas episodes of Only Fools and Horses, Porridge and The Royle Family (done, done and done). Certain films, television shows and books are a must every year, and rather than getting bored of them I enjoy them more and more each year as the tradition gets stronger.

The three I always read are 'The Hogfather' by Terry Pratchett, 'Hercule Poirot's Christmas' by Agatha Christie and 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens - in that order, ending with the Dickens on Christmas eve in bed (always following the last and favourite Christmas film - White Christmas). I find that 'The Hofather' gets me into the Christmas spirit the quickest as it is so funny, and the Dickens is the most traditional, so leaves me with the warmest feeling on Christmas morning. I adore the festive period, but get very stressed around Christmas as I am not hugely social and worry a lot about everything coming together, so I feel that these routines and traditions keep me grounded and happy, and remind me of how lovely Christmas should really be (first world problems - I am so highly strung!)

Monday, 8 December 2014

Author Spotlight: Scarlett Thomas

One of my all time, top 5, favourite authors is Scarlett Thomas. You may not have heard of her, or you may be rolling your eyes at this assumption (she is that kind of author - loved or unheard of), but really most people I mention her to are completely nonplussed. Thomas is however not a niche or unknown author, and has released a fair number of amazing (or at least original and interesting) books, particularly considering how few non-obsessive binge readers (laymen/noobs/normos) have actually heard of her.

We, as a reader collective, don't really know much about Thomas due to her unfair lack of fame as an author, and, as with actors, I think this is for the best. What we do know is that she teachers Creative Writing at the University of Kent, was releasing a good book a year and now releases a fantastic book once every 3-5 years, and prizes authenticity and originality as an author - what else would I need to know?

As with my Haruki Murakami author spotlight, I will wax lyrical/rant and rave about the author's books in chronological order, in the hope that someone will love them as much as me.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Audiobook Un-Review: "Matilda" by Roald Dahl

I like a little snitching escapism while I work and, as I work mostly from home, I can listen to whatever I want, thank you very much. Like everyone else who was a child in late 1980's/early 1990's, I have OF COURSE read every Roald Dahl book, and had already decided to spend my free monthly Audible credit on one of his works due to unexplained sudden onset nostalgia (USON).

The sole reason I chose 'Matilda' over any other delicious Dahl delight was because Kate Winslet was the narrator and, as she is perfectly phizz-whizzing in everything else, I had no doubt she would read it most rambunctiously. 'Matilda' was also always the Dahl book I warmed to the most on first read, as I was an odd, bookish sort of child myself, and I find that my favourite books are always the ones in which I can jumbly goggler myself as the protagonist.

For those of you who haven't read the book, go and read it immediately, you are never too old for Roald Dahl, or, even better, listen to this whoopsy-wiffling audiobook, because Kate Winslet is more talented and lovely than your inner monologue, I promise. The book itself, for the uninitiated, is about a bright young girl who loves to read, and takes pleasure from learning and looking after herself, despite her awful family and scary school. More importantly, it is about individuality, thoughtfulness, breaking free, and being a good person. Even more importantly, while authentically covering these themes and conveying these emotions, the book has a lovely, dark, scrungy, filthomeness to it, that all kids love, and all adults seem to forget about. No health and safety here thank you, we are too busy splatch-winkle squilching our superiors and being frothbuggling with our friends to care.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Un-Review: "Not That Kind of Girl" by Lena Dunham. Also, I AM A FEMINIST.

Caitlin Moran and Lena Dunham

Following this Woman's Hour episode I finally got around to reading 'Not That Kind of Girl' by Lena Dunham (in one sitting, over 4 hours), and following me reading this article on Lena Dunham (and Caitlin Moran to a lesser extent) I am writing this review (I am using that term loosely).

I brought Lena Dunham's book on the back of how much I loved 'How to Be a Woman' by Caitlin Moran, so it does make sense that the world links them together so consistently. I have to admit that, in a way, I do both love and hate both of these women (which is fine, complicated feelings are better than a non-committal shrug). I find them both brash and smug and loud, and I believe in real life the pair of them would cause me a lot of eye rolls, HOWEVER, I like that they exist, because when I try to think of women who are portrayed/portray themselves as anything other than lovely or nice, I have a real mental block. I want these women to exist, to piss me and everyone else off, and I wish it wasn't such a big deal for a woman to be a bit too loud or a bit too honest or a bit too 'big for their boots'. In the world of tat like the LAD Bible, I am glad the (sometimes) irritating female equivalent is so eloquent, brave and honest. Remember everyone - a woman is not a whinger just because she complains, and finding someone's personality traits irritating is not the same as being irritated by their existence in your life/field of vision.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

All Hallow's Read. My Autumnal Reading Materials.

Inspired by the tradition (which I have only just discovered) of 'All Hallow's Read', the Neil Gaiman promoted idea of giving someone the gift of a scary book for Halloween, I am going to share my Halloween reads, and the bookish gifts I will be giving.

I already give books as gifts to all my nearest and dearest every Christmas, whether they like it or not (often with something else more showy!), and very much like the idea of sharing my obsession and giving my family a gift that I know is good for them (even if they don't know it yet), on Halloween too. I actually don't have that many people to buy gifts for at Christmas (discounting secret Santa nonsense) and plan on only harassing my parents with a Halloween book for 'All Hallow's Read'. The more opportunities to spread the book love, and offer some solace for the soul (in the form of bookish medicine) the better.

Firstly, my own selfish bookish needs.
As it is half term where I am, and I am gloriously free for 9 days, I have decided to take part in a self imposed reading challenge for Halloween week. I am not usually such a nerd for this particular holiday, but I think I have Christmas hysteria already, and am placing my excitement wherever there is space. I am actually relatively excited about the combined forces of extra books/spookiness/chocolate/freedom and a good old challenge.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Cookbook Love & Food Porn

I love books, I love cooking, I love cookbooks. My obsession with cookbooks, and food in general, has gained momentum since I jumped onto the Pinterest bandwagon, and I am now prone to flooding my profile with food porn pictures (rather than the fiction I am equally addicted to). I assume that as you read this, whatever the date, my Pinterest sidebar is at least half food pictures.

Gratuitous Food Porn - blackberry shortcake
I have added some gratuitous food porn pictures here for you to peruse, maybe from now on a mouth watering food shot should be included at every page break? 

My Pinterest food porn binges relate to how I am feeling, and fall into one of two categories accordingly; bright, fresh, healthy food OR.....cake. I actually find that when my cake craving level is pushing maximum density, a good cake porn tagging binge can help release a bit of pressure until the craving passes. Likewise, checking out the vibrant, unrealistically gorgeous-looking healthy food porn can make me feel miraculously cleansed, and gives a (false) sense of wellness. The things we do for a flat stomach (anything but burpees). 

I like to pin a chef/cookbook that I am particularly partial to, and then crazily pin lots of their yummy recipe pictures (and some others I find along the way), at least this way everything relates back to books again - very much my bag. I have an extensive collection of cookbooks in real life, so it is all an offshoot of my obsessions. 

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Un-Review: "As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning" by Laurie Lee

'As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning' is the second part of an autobiographical trilogy by the author Laurie Lee. I ended up reading this book first because I had designated it as my holiday read, and I didn't want the experience tainted by the pure unadulterated, routine-laden English-ness of our flat/lives. This was the correct decision because, as I sit thinking about the book, I can see the beach, feel the salt spay, and can't escape the heat. I had better take of this cardigan and put my cuppa down for a sec.

Also, to clarify, when I say 'holiday read' I am not lumping the novel in with the swathes of generic seasonal fiction, but rather identifying the book as a means to improve your holiday. Yes, a holiday is mainly about the experience itself but, in those moments of relaxation, when a lot of us inevitably reach for reading material, it is books like this that that spring you to life and find the adventurer hidden within. When I think of the holiday where I read this book, I think of the way the book made me feel as I sat on the beach first, before any actual holiday events, that's how good it is.

The novel basically documents the authors trip across England and Spain in the late 1930's. Our protagonist leaves home with nothing but a few coins, a violin and a sense of naive freedom, with the aim of seeing the real world and avoiding his version of the real world (a job as a clerk - you can't blame him). If I were a man this book would make me yearn for simpler times such as this however, inevitably, I would have been one of the poor sods he left behind crying. Sigh.

The book is beautiful, and so painfully well written that it is hard to compare it to anything else. I am English and do sometimes yearn for this escapism and adventure into other cultures (though invariably yearn for home), so the story probably speaks to that part of me - but don't we all have this part of us? Assuming the book will touch the same part of your soul as it does mine, you will absolutely not find a better written version of this coming of age story anywhere. I don't know how Laurie Lee achieved it, but the novel somehow reads as idealistic, romantic and naive but gritty, authentic and cutting - all at the same time.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Author Spotlight: Haruki Murakami

Finding the new Haruki Murakami book, 'Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage', waiting on the doorstep on my return from holiday has inspired me to write my first Author Spotlight post. Hopefully there will be more to come should I feel equally as inspired. I have actually been too busy reading the book to write this post until now, attempting to savour the novel rather than binge read the hell out of it (very much against my nature when it comes to Murakami).

I thought the best way to assess the Murakami situation was to highlight all of his books and write a mini 'un-review' for the ones I have read. I am so glad I have yet to read my way through his back catalogue, as my Amazon wish list would be so lacking without them sitting there. Again, they are there to be savoured not binged through. I suppose one day seeing them all on my bookshelf will also be a pretty nice feeling.

In chronological order:
Hear the Wind Sing/Pinball, 1973 - Two books you say? His two first books to be exact, published in 1979 and 1980 respectively, and the start of what was to become the 'Trilogy of the Rat'. These two books are out of publication and difficult to find in Japanese let alone English, with translated texts currently on eBay for hundreds of pounds! Apparently Murakami isn't hugely proud of his early attempts at writing, and we are unlikely to see the reappearance of these books any time soon. I might hunt for pdf versions online one day for posterity, but reading them this way wouldn't give me the pleasure of a 'proper' book. 'A Wild Sheep Chase' completes the 'Trilogy of the Rat' (with the book 'Dance, Dance, Dance' included in the series to a lesser extent), and is considered Murakami's first real novel.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

What I Want To Read (that isn't already on my TBR shelf).

As seen in this post, my 'to be read' bookshelves are already relatively excessive and ever increasing. I am not a hoarder or overly materialistic in any other way - I am just obsessed with books. We all have our vices. I decided to pool my messy Amazon wish list into a few nice neat little piles here, and possible even prioritise (hahaha - failure guaranteed).

List 1: Pre-ordered books/Coming Soon -
'The Paying Guests' by Sarah Waters - I have read 'Fingersmith', but little else by Waters, and this books appearance on my list is mainly due to word of mouth and the promising premise.

'The World of Ice and Fire' by George R. R. Martin et al - I am full on obsessed with this series. Fantasy is rarely this well written, and the whole world and every character in it utterly enthralling. I am also lying in wait for the release of 'The Winds of Winter' by George R. R. Martin, the next book in the series proper, though no release date has been set so, I wont hold my breath. The release dates are as unpredictable as the books themselves and Oh Lord, I can't wait.

'Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage' by Haruki Murakami - Murakami is one of my favourite authors, and is certainly the author that makes the most appearances on my bookshelf. I have yet to read a book of his that has not been completely original in every way. This will also be the first book of his I have pre-ordered and waited for, as his back catalogue has easily been sustaining me until this point. This new book has been compared to his masterpiece 'Norwegian Wood', so it's fair to say I am pretty excited.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Twitter Reading Inspiration

I am/have been attempting to take part in a few 'challenges' on twitter recently in the hope of both gaining and inspiring reading over the summer months. I love reading in the sun but work does inevitably drag you down in these lazy months and it can be difficult. As with exercise, you always feel so much better once you have 'broken the seal' and dived straight in (the internet is telling me that 'dived' is used correctly here but it really doesn't look right does it?).

My daunting but wonderful 'to read' shelves. Soon to be diminished (and immediately replaced).

Un-Review: "The Silkworm" by Robert Galbraith

This is the second detective/crime novel to feature Cormoran Strike as the protagonist, and is written by Robert Galbraith/J. K. Rowling.

First of all, I love detective fiction. Poirot, Marple, Rebus, Agatha Raisin, Charlie Parker, Evadne Mount - I have burned my way through the lot (near enough). Detective fiction can be, and usually is, relatively formulaic, but I often find this comforting. I also rarely guess the killer/bad guy as I just allow myself to enjoy the ride for what it is, and these Cormoran Strike novels are no exception.

For me, there is something about the way J. K. Rowling writes, whether it be for children or adults, that is so personal. I have read all of her books and every single character, big or small, has depth and realism. I feel like she cares about her characters as if they were real people, with stories to tell that we just don't get to hear about in the short novel. This quality cannot be taught or faked and I think it is a rare thing indeed.

It is for both of these reasons that I was super supremo excited about this book being released. I genuinely thought we would not be getting a second Cormoran Strike novel, as J. K. Rowling obviously writes only for fun nowadays, what with her being a billionaire and such. She must like the characters as much as me. You cant buy good taste!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Audio Book Un-Review: "Northern Lights" by Philip Pullman

As I have said before, I do love a good audio book, particularly when I am working. The aim of the game is escapism, whilst still keeping approximately 25% of my brain on my work.

I decided to work my way through His Dark Materials in audio form because, like most people my age, I binged my way through the books in high school and have huge amounts of affection and nostalgia for the series. The fact that the audio book is effectively a re-read means that I can afford to only keep one eye open (metaphorically), but could also lead to disappointment in the cold light of day/adulthood.

Do I need to give a synopsis? I am nothing if not current, so surely everyone has read this already? Surely? If not, go and read it for God's sake, it's a modern classic, the new black (where black is The Chronicles of Narnia with a bit of sex thrown in).

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Un-Review: "PopCo" by Scarlett Thomas

In the absence of any real inspiration from the books I have read recently, and as my blog is so new to the world, I decided that I fancied 'reviewing' a favourite of mine.

It is difficult to explain why I adore Scarlett Thomas' books so much, though as I read one of them (any one of them), I have the overwhelming feeling that this is THE book I would write if I could. It is a very personal, emotional feeling which I hope everyone can feel when reading the books of at least one author.

I chose 'PopCo' to review, rather than any of her other novels, as the protagonist is the most like myself than in any other. I definitely get the feeling that in Scarlett Thomas' early works, particularly the Lily Pascale series, the protagonist is portrayed idealistically, and how I would want to be, rather than as a version of how I really am. I can only assume this is the same for the author, as her confidence as a person and author increased and she strayed away from idealistic characters and genre fiction.
'PopCo' and 'The End of Mr. Y', my favourites, fall somewhere in between genre fiction and pure literature. Original, thought provoking, fantastical stories, backed up by authentic, memorable prose - perfect.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Un-Review: "A Wild Sheep Chase" by Haruki Murakami

"Sheep hurt my father, and through my father, sheep have also hurt me".

Surreal. Surreal is the only word that quite fits the bill when describing 'A Wild Sheep Chase'. I have read a lot of Murakami, and am slowly working my way through his back catalogue, in no particular order. Murakami is certainly one of 'my authors', one of a small group of authors whose work just speaks to me, for better or for worse (Scarlett Thomas and Neil Gaiman are also in the gang), so any review will be a little biased. Author's obviously put a little of themselves in every book they write, and I assume these author's have a bit of them that matches a bit of me (this does make sense I assure you).

It is a bizarre, wistful detective story set in a version of Japan that is not quite real, but is the Japan we recognise from all of Murakami's novels. His books have probably ruined any future visits to Japan for me, I have unreal expectations of the country's otherworldliness.

You wouldn't believe me if I told you what the book is about, and doing this in any great detail would spoil the ride for you. From around page 200, at the end of every chapter I had to put the book down for a second and stare into the distance in order to re-assess the situation. In brief:  a disillusioned, aimless man with an infirm cat, and a girl whose ears have supernatural qualities, go on 'A Wild Sheep Chase' in order to clear up some copyright issues at his company - so far, so relatively normal right? Wrong, shit gets real, in the form of a missing acquaintance called 'The Rat' and his sketch of a mystical sheep, a sheep that people in high places are looking for, a sheep that has the power to make them, or break them. I know right?

The oddly original story is written so vividly by Murakami, with the tone changing a number of times throughout the book; from detective story, to adventure fantasy, to sinister thriller. I also find that, like all of Murakami's novels, the translation really adds to the text, and the same story written by an English speaker would be worlds apart from what we end up reading. The flow of the novel is perfect, unusual, but perfect.

Apparently this is the third book in a (sort of) trilogy, following on from 'Hear the Wind Sing' and 'Pinball, 1973'. However, these are the first two novels he wrote, and are extremely difficult/expensive to get hold of anywhere outside Japan. I am currently investigating the situation.

Read this book if: you are a world weary soul, you want to travel the world but also stay safe and warm, you want (or consider yourself to be) a kooky girl, you feel misunderstood, you like to be surprised, you like the simple plot devices of genre fiction but yearn for more, you need shocking out of any sort of inertia.

Friday, 30 May 2014

A List of Books to Make You Feel......Something.


The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas
I have read reviews of this book and apparently it is a little 'marmite' for some peoples taste. I can't imagine anyone who genuinely loves literature and is interested in science, nature, fantasy, adventure, escapism and realism being written about in an original way, wouldn't take a lot away from this book. Mostly, I think the author just speaks to my soul, as I have loved everything she has written. It is like reading my own diary, in a world where my life is extremely interesting. 

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Hay Festival 2014: Overview and review #2

Day 1 of our little jaunt to Hay Festival was packed to the rafters, to the point where we didn't have time for food (I love the food court at Hay as well, big loss for the day), so we planned day the to be a bit (lot) more leisurely. We ate double the amount of food needed for a human body, had a wander into town and did a bit of reading (the soggy grass and piles of mud did detract from this).

Flowers on sale in a relatively rain free Hay on Wye
Day 2

Broadcasting House - BBC Radio 4
The 8.30am start for this event seemed painful at first, especially as we were staying in a B&B 40 minutes away from site, however it turned out to a blessing in disguise. We were early enough to beat the crowds to a decent parking spot in town, a leisurely breakfast pastry with the Sunday papers, and a really chilled out event.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Hay Festival 2014 - Overview and Review #1

This is the second year we have braved the rain and mud for the love of literature, to attend the Hay Festival, although, as him indoors in a Geography Teacher, we attempted a 50/50 split between literary/topical events. 

Slightly sodden book sculpture at Hay

Day 1

Ian Goldin - Is the Planet full?
The event took a standard lecture format, with Goldin pacing the stage whilst talking through the overall ideas of his book (Is the Planet full?), which primarily focus on the political and economic issues the world faces relating to population density. Although the book is written solely by Goldin, the ideas within are based on the combined efforts of a group of academic experts at Oxford University, aiming to answer the 'big questions' about the planet and its problems. Despite the relatively dry subject matter and basic lecture format, Goldin did manage to come across as informative without seeming overly rehearsed.

Things I Want, But Don't Need, When I Read #1

My first 'other' blog post begins and, as well all know, the first step to recovering from being a stationary whore, is to admit that you are a stationary whore. So yeah, I covet pointless lovely things, mainly stationary. 

In this case (and I am not in denial) the stationary actually is not pointless. It's a desk planner from Seeso Graphics that has only so far been is use for a week, but has been invaluable. I do feel slightly like writing 'SORT LIFE OUT' in huge letters across the delicate top page, but the exercise of planning out the week has been really helpful. The daily boxes are the perfect size and beat a dairy for me, as a diary can be (accidentally on purpose) forgotten about. 

Short and sweet. Not sponsored in any way, shape or form. Lovely. 

Audio Book Un-Review: "Coraline" by Neil Gaiman.

Another day, another Neil Gaiman audio book un-review. I do listen to audio books by other authors, as will be proven in the next post, but for now, "Coraline".

Unlike "The Ocean at the End of the Lane", I couldn't find this book read by Neil himself but, I saw Dawn French's name and thought that was pretty safe hands nonetheless. Dawn French's reading is warm, comforting and expressive, as we (Brits) would expect, and this is both a positive and a negative. On the one hand, the warm familiar voice adds an extra layer of discomfort to the most sinister passages of the text, however it also adds a slightly 'Jackanory' quality to other parts, which is difficult to shake off. The curse of a celebrity voice isn't anything new - will they ever learn? *shakes a first in the general direction of DreamWorks*. 

The choice of Dawn French makes sense as I suppose I do have to concede that this is a children's book, albeit a hugely disturbing one. I have also read the 'real' book and it really doesn't read like a children's book at all, more like an odd little short story, so this is probably why the choice of narrator was, for me, a little jarring. 

Audio Book Un-review: "The Ocean at the End of the Lane" by Neil Gaiman

I have read this book in paper form but thought the audio book deserved a mention, as I only finished listening to it yesterday. I use Audible to download audio books and listen straight from my desktop whilst I work. I work from home a lot and find I can concentrate on both my work and a good book at the same time without being too distracted. 

I always try to download audio books read by the author where possible, as they are far superior in my opinion. Nobody understands the text quite like the author themselves and I find that you get the most soul from their readings. Neil Gaiman does indeed read my version of this audio book and , particularly as the book is apparently semi-autobiographical, he reads it perfectly. Gaiman reads the book as if he is a man half-remembering the events from his past, and still manages to 'do the voices' skilfully and subtly. Despite the fantastical elements of the story, it does not read like a fantasy novel at all, more a series of odd events, barely believed by the protagonist himself, happening in an otherwise 'normal' world. 

The Blog That Lived

At least ten minutes of thought have gone in to the starting of this blog. I have ideas well above my station of what I would like the blog to be but, for now at least, I am going to talk about books. I don't plan to write reviews, more how books I read make me think and feel, in the hope that it will inspire like-minded people to do the same. Nobody talks abut their books in quite the same way as they talk about their record collection yet my books, and the way I read them, certainly evoke the same depth of feeling more commonly associated with music. I'm thinking it will be part journal, part review, part blog. All will become clear, don't panic. 

Un-review: "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath

My favourite book as my first review? That was my plan, but it is impossible to pick a favourite book. I have read so many, and how can you compare "The Bell Jar" to "The End of Mr. Y" or "Northanger Abbey"? They are all perfect in their own way and make me feel like having a ten day nap every time I re-read them - in a good way. 

Today my favourite book is "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath, for so many reasons. We all know about the darkness in the authors life, so we know as we sit down to read the book that is 'all about depression', but when I first read the book as a 14 year old I had no pre-conceptions and read the book as if it were written just for me, which for all intents and purposes it was (and still is). Like the protagonist Esther Greenwood, I want to go everywhere and see everything but am gripped by a sense inertia and boredom at the world and everyone in it. I want to enjoy the whimsy in life and be surrounded by fantastic people, but find myself refusing to leave the house or answer the phone. Sylvia Plath and her original, authentic prose express my ramblings perfectly in a paragraph, one of the finest paragraphs you will ever read: