My blog’s name in TBR books

As a way of easing myself back in after a blogging hiatus, I recently spotted this meme and thought it sounded like a fun way to waste  productively spend some enjoyable time poking around on my TBR shelves, which I don’t spend a lot of time looking at these days since (wasting some different time) making my TBR jar. The meme originated on Fictionophile but I spotted it on both Stuck in a Book and A Life in Books.

Turns out having two ‘U’s in your blog name is tricky. And ‘R’s are hard. Who knew? Plus I wasn’t sure whether you could cheat with titles that started with ‘The’ by jumping to the next word in the title (e.g. ‘The Signature of All Things’ or ‘Signature of All Things, The’). Then I decided I was overthinking it and in the end I only had to cheat once anyway.

Poking around on bookshelves is so great.

Here’s what I came up with, although it’s worth noting that some categories had multiple options and I overthought those too.

Molly Keane, Loving and Giving – I loved Good Behaviour and picked this up ages ago to read more of Keane’s work. How brilliantly grotesque is that cover art? Based on that, I’m expecting more delicious darkness from this one.

Maggie O’Farrell, Instructions for a Heatwave – I just read I Am, I Am, I Am, of which more later because it is brilliant but hard and I’m still digesting and shaking it off somewhat. And after finishing, it occurred to me that, oddly, it was the first of O’Farrell’s books I’d read. So this is next on the list.

Vera Brittain, Testament of Friendship – Testament of Youth is still one of the most beautifully written, affecting books I’ve ever read and I bought this copy so I could make sure that at some point in my reading life I’d read all that Vera Brittain had to say. This book is about Brittain’s friendship with the writer Winifred Holtby (see below).

Artemis Cooper, Elizabeth Jane Howard: A Dangerous Innocence – I love EJH so much and have quite a few of her books rattling around the shelves. This was a gift and then I made the mistake of putting it in the TBR jar when I really want to read it right now so I might cheat and bump it up the list. From what I understand of EJH, she had a very interesting life indeed. Plus we know from this gem of a book that she had a famous collection of jewellery comprised of mostly ancient gold. I still love that detail so much.

Max O’Rell, Rambles in Womanland – Oh would you look at this glory of a book. It’s a real favourite of mine and although I haven’t yet read it all the way through, I have picked it up and read passages at random. Firstly in the wonderful Wantage secondhand bookshop where I bought it to make sure that O’Rell wasn’t of the ‘Women! Know your place!’ school (spoiler – he isn’t) and then each time I pick it up or spot it from a distance.

Plus it has this wonderful inscription inside, which I’m still trying to decode (Bristol Church Congress??) and which contains a story all of its own. Note that the book was also published in 1903:

Josceline Dimbleby, A Profound Secret – I bought this secondhand, not long after reading a couple of history-slash-memoir books about family secrets and catching the bug.

Winifred Holtby, South Riding – I’ve had this far too long without reading it. This is a gorgeous copy too, found in a charity bookshop in Wallingford, near where I used to live. I’ve heard so many wonderful things about this book and now that I’ve dug it out, I feel it too may need promoting from bottom of TBR jar to the basket by the side of my bed where my imminent reads get to hang out.

Mary Wesley, An Imaginative Experience – It could have been this one or A Sensible Life, which is also lurking on the TBR shelves. Mary Wesley is one of many female writers of the period 1930-2000 which I unofficially collect, so there are also a lot of her books kicking around these parts. I find her writing style to be ‘no nonsense’ in a refreshing, perceptive, palate-clearing way.

Carol Shields, Unless – This looks hard going and I’ve shied away from the subject matter a little since my daughter was born. I’ve read a lot of Shields and I’m sure it’s brilliant but it might need to wait a year or two, or ten, until I feel braced and ready to tackle it. Alternatively, I’ll keep defaulting to my new favourite category of book – Books I one day want to read with my daughter. Just yesterday we bought a copy of Bedknobs and Broomsticks from a charity bookshop. She seemed super excited about it for all of 25 seconds, but then she is two and a half so anything over 8 seconds is a definite win.

Joyce Grenfell, Requests the Pleasure – I can’t remember how old I was when I first read some of Grenfell’s comedy monologues but I really wasn’t very old. I think my mum might have put me onto them. This is one of two memoirs that Grenfell wrote – the other, In Pleasant Places, is also on the TBR shelf – and I’m really excited to read them. Bet they’re great.

Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum – *cheat klaxon* *cheat klaxon* So two books beginning with ‘U’ defeated me. In this category, therefore, you get ‘Umberto’. I’ve only ever read The Name of the Rose and, as you can see, the New York Times says this is ‘deeper and richer’. The only problem with Eco is that he is so deep and rich and clever (in a thrilling rather than a smarty-pants way) that I feel I should be operating with maximum neurons before reading and I’m really not at the moment, thanks to a combination of 2/3 parenting, 2/3 working etc. (you do the maths) and so I fear he’ll have to wait a bit longer.

Jess Richards, Snake Ropes – I don’t know anything about this book. Nothing. It is a complete mystery to me. I can’t remember where I bought/acquired it. I haven’t heard of the author before. I couldn’t tell you what it’s about (although if I wasn’t feeling so lazy I could walk across the living room and read the back cover copy, of course). Interestingly, only now that I’m looking closely at the cover image do I see those faint, super-imposed, mysterious sea creatures lurking under the water.  Which immediately makes me more intrigued about it than I was two minutes ago. Anyone else heard of this one?

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books I can’t believe I read

Top Ten Tuesday was originally created by The – sadly no more – Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted over on Jana’s That Artsy Reader Girl. If you like books and lists, it’s a no brainer…

This week’s topic is – Books I can’t believe I read.

And here they are.

  1. Dostoyevsky The Brothers Karamazov  To say I found this book a bit of a slog would be an understatement. I’ve really enjoyed some of the Russian literature I’ve read in the past but my goodness this one was just an endless, endless undertaking. Because it pains me to leave books unfinished, I ploughed on. I even tried to get round my completist issues by ‘accidentally’ leaving it on a train but a kind lady returned it to me. The whole experience taught me a valuable lesson about being able to walk away from a book I’m not enjoying so as to make space in my life for all of those I might. I felt zero sense of achievement on finishing it and swore I’d never read-for-the-sake-of-it again.
  2. Roz Kaveney Reading the Vampire Slayer Yup – scholarly essays on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was great! Not something I’d ever have imagined picking up but I borrowed it from a friend (and super fan) and was glad I did.
  3. Thomas Harris Red Dragon  I don’t normally do well with graphic descriptions of truly hideous crimes but somehow I read this. I probably won’t repeat the experience.
  4. Laura Vanderkam 168 hours: You have more time than you think  I was genuinely surprised to find that I read this a few years back; I just can’t remember doing so. Clearly it was a fantastic use of the 168 hours that I had that week, because I appear to have implemented approximately none of the advice it contained. I suspect some of my time issues stem from reading books about how to stop procrastinating instead of, oh I don’t know, actually not procrastinating in the first place.
  5. Margaret Atwood Oryx and Crake – If gruesome murdery stuff leaves me a bit unsettled, books about the apocalypse TERrify me. I suspect I only persevered with this because it was Atwood. But, cleverness aside, I really didn’t enjoy it at all.
  6. Angela Huth The Englishwoman’s Wardrobe: Twenty-five Englishwomen talk about their clothes – This is one of those books that you buy in order to leaf through the pictures really, but I actually read every word. And I’m so glad I did. It’s an unintentionally hilarious insight into the role of clothes in the average woman’s life back in the 80s and I would recommend it to anyone with a passing interest in getting dressed.
  7. Darryn Lyons Mr Paparazzi: my life as the world’s most outrageous celebrity photographer Darryn Lyons is not one of my favourite humans, she says tactfully, and yet somehow I read his book (because it turns out that no matter how much I might try to pretend otherwise, the lure of gossip is sometimes too strong to resist).
  8. Anon Belle du Jour I was curious. And I really didn’t want to watch the TV adaptation.
  9. Diehl and Donnelly Eat Thy Neighbour My husband, who is otherwise a warm, friendly, very unscary type of person, has a weird fascination with serial killers and likes to read about them or watch TV documentaries about them. Apart from this leaving our respective Netflix recommendations looking hilariously different, it also means that the odd ‘book I would never have picked up myself’ is floating around the house. I read this back in 2008 and it’s about serial killers who also eat their victims, which is…cheery. I must have been in a particularly dark place…
  10. Sophie Hannah The Orphan Choir If murdery stuff and the apocalypse don’t entirely finish me off, then the one thing guaranteed to find me leaving lights on at night is child ghosts. Child ghosts are just beyond terrifying so I either read this book because I didn’t know it was about child ghosts or I read it despite this at a time when I was feeling particularly brave. If it was the latter, I likely horribly regretted it as soon as it got dark.

Reading in 2018

I like to take my time with new year resolutions. I quite enjoy the ponderousness of this time of year, thinking about where I’d like to be and what I might be doing in 12 months. Given how incredibly dark the last few mornings have been, it’s rather nice to be focusing on hopeful thoughts about all the things I might achieve (before I roll over and hit snooze and vow to do better tomorrow!)

On the subject of blogging and books, I have definite thoughts. I read in a very loose, impulsive, mood-driven way last year. It was lovely and clearly exactly what I needed, but I feel like recently I’ve been craving some structure. I’ve also stopped challenging myself with books and feel like I might be a little stuck in the comfort-zone. Squishy and reliable it may be, but I can’t shake the nagging voice that keeps reminding me of the rewards there are if you crawl out from under the duvet once in a while.

At the beginning of last year, after the move, I wanted to ‘read my own damn books’. I didn’t  get very far with that and I suspect when the gongs went on 31 Dec 2017, my TBR was longer than ever. On the plus side, I DID fulfil my goal of streamlining. In fact, I went a bit bonkers for streamlining, giving away boxes of books, cutting down my TBR and facing up to what was actually sharing my home. There are still a lot of unread books but they are now sorted, catalogued and on a shelf, leaving me feeling like we’ve all been reacquainted and they’re not going to languish in boxes and dimly-lit corners this year. Plus I made the TBR jar – woop!

So, this year I’m going to choose my books by rotating through the following categories to avoid settling into a rut or letting myself be too ruled by whim:

  • TBR jar
  • On impulse / wild card
  • Recently published (i.e. 2018)
  • Favourite author back catalogues

In addition, I’d love to accomplish the following:

  • Post twice a week – I’ve really enjoyed getting the blog back on track and engaging more meaningfully with all the other lovely blogs I’ve followed for years.
  • Clear the pile of books that seems to permanently loom at my bedside – and not put it back almost immediately afterwards.
  • Take part in some more blogging/reading ‘events’ – perhaps a virtual book tour, or something like the fab #TheDarkIsReading twitter readalong.
  • Write a guest post – I’ve long nurtured the goal of writing a review for Shiny New Books. Maybe this will be the year.

Hoping 2018 is going to bring you all lots of excellent books. Let’s get started.

In which I am sucked in by covers

I’ve long known about my type(s) when it comes to men (hello unwashed-looking, bearded musicians and toned but not beefcakey men with celtic colouring, i.e. dark hair and lighter eyes). But I’m also starting to see a pattern in the books I pick based on ‘looks’ alone.

A recent trip to the library produced these entirely impulsive picks:

Look how pretty they are.

That eye peeking through the keyhole on The Silent Companions belongs to an entire lady lurking menacingly in the end papers. And she is menacing, make no mistake. I’m about 50 pages from finishing it and it’s definitely one of those late night reads where you must go to the toilet before you start reading or you’ll be trapped in bed by the thought of the thing that will grab your ankles if you get out again. I’ll come back to it when it’s done….

But seeing these two lined up next to my bed made me painfully aware how susceptible I am to a certain type of cover. Let’s look in more detail at other books I’ve gathered after I was suckered by a cover.

Four of these books are wonderful, and the other two (The Wonder, The Snow Child) may well also be wonderful and I’ll find out once I’ve read them.

But let’s break it down, shall we?

Clearly, if you want to sell me a book, there are certain key elements you need to include on the cover. Silhouetted figures. That one was a surprise. Bonus points if they’re reading a book. Some kind of leafy vine. Check. A smattering of fauna. Metallic accents. Don’t introduce too many colours. If in doubt, go with blue.

And wow. I’ve just noticed this. Start the title with ‘The…’. Ha.

Thing is, there are just a bazillion beautiful, clever covers out there, and so many great books that are also works of art. This just seems to be my particular hook when I’m browsing with intent.

Anyone else with a type?!

Abibliophobia – it’s real

Abibliophobia – the fear of running out of reading material…

Some overwhelming evidence has been accumulating recently suggesting that I might….might…have a bit of a problem.

First, back in July, my husband took this picture of my bedside table.

I get why this is bad, obviously. First off, it was really difficult to get into the wardrobe. And it’s a terrible way to store books because if you decide you want to read one of the ones near the bottom, it’s such a faff trying to get it out without getting trapped under the resulting landslide.

If my arm was twisted really hard, I sort of knew it was a sign of a larger issue but truth was I really needed all of those books and anyway at least 5 were library books and therefore one day going back to live somewhere else.

Since we moved in just over a year ago, a lot of slow-burn doing up and DIY has been going on. As a result, I never did completely sort out my books as I promised I would in the move. I mean, I got rid of a few while packing but if I’m honest it was half-hearted at best. So when I recently found myself with a lighter working week and a recently decorated and still largely empty room available, I decided to put all my books in one place and tackle them once and for all.

This is what happened.

Those boxes are full by the way. It’s not like the books in front of them are the books that came out of them. I can’t even get everything in one shot. And I think I took the pictures before I was completely finished and ran out of floor space. I didn’t count them but a conservative estimate based on the average number of books in a box/pile put me somewhere in the region of 600-700. Eeesh.

Being realistic, I’ll never stop acquiring books. But I’m glad I’m doing this (yup, still going. It looks better but there’s a way to go). Lessons I have learned include:

  • You don’t need to keep every book you read. Just the ones that you think you might read again, or those that are sentimental or ‘speak’ to you in some way. (I appreciate how that last point sounds but anyone who loves and regularly acquires books will know that there are some books that just belong in your library but you can’t always explain why.)
  • You should really keep unread books together so you can see on a regular basis just how many there are.
  • Knowing how many unread books you have at home is an excellent moderator when you’re out and about and get the urge to ‘acquire’.
  • I have some REALLY GOOD BOOKS that are sort of lost on my shelves and I’m very excited about reading them.
  • I feel much more in control of my books when they’re vaguely organised (now by category, although definitely not alphabetically or by colour – urgh).
  • I love books.
  • A lot.

There’s a box in the hall that’s almost full of books to give away and I reckon I have another box in me. I also know that I won’t keep all the unread books once they’re read, so there will be more shelf-clearing to come. And I feel really positive about how I’ll make decisions on which books to buy and most importantly keep in the years to come. Now I don’t just have books, I have a library.

And I definitely don’t have a problem.

Right?

Finding inspiration in words and pictures

I feel like I’ve been adopting a slightly scattergun approach to reading recently but it’s been fun and unexpected. I did go on to re-read Margaret Forster’s biography of Daphne Du Maurier as I sort of thought I might when I was last here, and I’m still reading Oriel Malet’s collection of letters from Menabilly in Portrait of a Friendship. But in the meantime I discovered some unspent money in my Amazon account (a bit like the happy heart skip you get when you find a tenner in a bag you haven’t used for a while) and of course this little lapse of memory meant that it was bonus money and therefore could immediately be spent on books. By and about Daphne Du Maurier in keeping with my current bent.

However, while they were winging their way my-wards, I found I couldn’t quite commit to anything else and, since collections of letters are often best dipped into rather than ploughed through, I picked up a couple of books that have been in my house for donkeys years but which I’ve never considered actually ‘reading’. They are: National Geographic’s The Photographers by Leah Bendavid-Val and Phaidon’s The Photo Book. My husband is the photographer/image man (by passion and by trade) and although an arresting image will make me stop and look, just like everybody else, I’ve never really studied photos or thought very much about them as pieces of art, composition or, indeed, narrative.

Words are still very much my thing – after a sometimes perfunctory glance at the image, my eye was always pulled to the lengthy captions to find out more – but I’ve been so interested by what’s happened to my perspective in the last few days of being immersed in this avalanche of images.

One of my great obsessions, in both reading and writing, is the way in which everyday things can be completely changed in an instant. Sometimes that’s whimsical or fantastical, which explains my love for books about magic, magic realism and stories like Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which have the power to transform the mundane into the exotic. Other times it’s the touch of tragedy, where the shock of a life-altering event casts a transfiguring film over things that yesterday were so workaday as to be almost invisible.

Some years ago, I found out over the phone that one of the people I am closest to was potentially very, very ill. I don’t remember much about that phone call and I remember almost nothing else about what I did that day, but not long after I took a shower and I remember every single thing about that shower. It was an action that I performed thousands of times but this time it was as if someone took my shower and pulled it into another dimension. Like showering on Mars. Or inside someone else’s body. It was such a strange and alien experience despite taking place in a familiar room in my own flat. With a bit of distance, I think that’s fascinating. It’s entirely about a subtle shift in perspective and it’s something that I like exploring in the written word (alongside many other people who I think have done it just brilliantly).

And that – thank you for bearing with me – is what the photos have been doing for me over and over again. I think it was necessary to look at a few hundred for that to start happening. Unless it’s a particularly powerful and timely image, it’s a rare event when one picture can just stop you in your tracks. But after a few days of looking and reading, and sometimes looking again and again when an image resonated, I’ve started looking at the world around me a little differently. There’s so much unspoken story in the pictures, whether it’s what’s happening in the photo itself, the extra layers added by the context given in the caption, or the glimpses of what the photographer’s experience and commitment might look like on the other side of the lens.

About 50 photos in, I started making little scribbly notes and squirrelling away ideas. And I feel all fired up to explore some of them.

I am by no means the first person to discover that pictures can be inspirational, and I feel almost silly for writing it down as if it was some kind of revelation. But I think my personal lesson learned is that one of the reasons I love books so much, alongside my love for the shape and sound of language itself, is my passion for stories. And I could do with a reminder now and then that there’s more than one place to look for them.

[If you click on the pictures, which are credited to the National Geographic, the link will take you to their best pictures of 2016.]

There’s a bit more space in my local library

When questioned by my husband about the new book stalagmites on the living room floor, I’m going to claim they’re a kind of public service. After all, there’s no way the library would manage to fit in all the books if I didn’t help them out.

Sometimes it’s fun to see them all together as a snapshot of where my reading mind is currently at. This little formation represents the combined fruits of about three trips and indicates that I’m still fairly evenly split between fiction and non-fiction with a leaning towards books about books and writers, stories by people with quite different lives to mine, and a smattering of history.

I’ve also spotted this year that I tend to choose books (both fiction and non-fiction) with a largely unconscious bias towards women writers. I can’t say I’m that all that bothered, more interested. Most of the men on my ‘read’ list this year crop up in particular genres too (I re-read some Dahl and Morpurgo earlier in the year, and reached book 7 in Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mysteries). I might have a browse through my TBR list too. I’d quite like to see whether the bias comes through there as well… [Update: it sort of does. Oops.]

Anyway, on to the books.

Recent late-night adventures with Daddy Love aside, I’m not afraid to tackle darker topics and I’ve been meaning to read Primo Levi for just ages. Jennifer Teege’s book My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me was a recent find and is a good example of my preference for reading history via the perspective of individuals with a particular connection to the events in question (in this case, Teege is the granddaughter of Amon Goeth who needs, and perhaps deserves, little introduction).

There’s a Christie, because there’s always a Christie. I’d kind of like to have read them all one day.

Gods Behaving Badly sounds like fun and I can see how much I remember about my Greek myths. I’m looking forward to Euphoria because I’ve heard good things in the blogosphere. And Pym’s autobiography via letters and diary entries sounds like a perfect read.

 

David Lodge’s Lives in Writing [not pictured as accidentally pushed under the coffee table, sorry David] features Graham Greene, Kingsley Amis, Muriel Spark, Alan Bennett and H G Wells, amongst others.

And just to round it off, there’s Georgian England, witches and some fairly committed messing around in boats.

Now, which one first??

p.s. If, like me, you looked again at the pictures and noticed that Gods Behaving Badly is the wrong way round and is the ONLY ONE, and you were bothered by it, let’s be friends?