Tag Archives: challenge

New Year: New Challenge

No more themes.
No more book buying!
Yes, in an attempt to halt the flow of books cascading through our house, I have vowed not to buy any more books for the whole of 2014. I intend to ‘watch less, read more’.

I'm trying to avoid too much of this...

I’m trying to avoid too much of this…

The ‘no book buying rules’ in full:
1) I shall not buy books for myself for the whole year;
2) I can (if necessary) buy books for others or my children (they cannot have birthdays or Christmas without new books!);
3) I can swap books;
4) There is no limit to the number of books I give away;
5) I can exchange books at Barter Books in Alnwick, as long as I do not pay for them with cash;
6) I cannot download titles I have to pay for;
7) I could download free classics if I don’t already have a paper copy (up for debate);
8) I can receive books as gifts;
9) I can order or reserve books from my local library;
10) There is no limit to the number of books I borrow from my local library.

By the way, as you’ll probably have gathered from the monthly photos of my home library, there is no concern that I will run out of reading material. My bookcases are overflowing, there are books in every room of the house; my Kindle(s) are packed with over 900 books and our local library is excellent.

I anticipate the first few weeks, even months to be difficult. Even the past few days have been tricky. I have been challenged when shopping or late-night browsing. I have disabled my Amazon account and have not gone into my local charity shops in the hope of keeping away from temptation.

However, I hope our finances are improved, my addiction is lessened, and some of those toppling towers of books are out of the house over the coming months.
I am also hoping that by ‘going public’ with my addiction, I will be supported in my resolution.

Do you ‘suffer’ with book-buying-compulsions? Do you seek the thrill of a new (second hand) book? Do you listen to/watch book-related programmes with pen in hand to jot down titles to then order online? Do you love the anticipation of a fresh book joining others on your shelves?
Do you feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of unread paper on your shelves? Do you just not know how to start reducing the number you buy? Do you not know where to start reading?
Do all your efforts at reducing the number you have end up in a half-hearted ‘prune’ of a few tens but with the discovery of more great reads you’d forgotten you had?
Do you have unintentional duplicate copies of novels you’ve not even read?
Welcome to Book-Addicts Anonymous!

The only difficulty now is just what to read?!

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Posted by on 05/01/2014 in Book-ish things, Life, Reading space


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A Victorian End of Year Review (of sorts)

ImageVaultHandler_aspxAnd so, the end of 2013 has passed… and so has my two-year themed reading challenge. It’s been such fun choosing a monthly theme then piling up the appropriate books with fevered anticipation. And then posting gratuitous pictures of my personal library. The total of books read thematically has been less than impressive, as seen on my Good Reads list.

Organising my reading thematically has given me focus, made me take books off my shelves (even if they’re just been piled up and reshelved after a couple of months), and challenged me to discover new authors and genres.

However, it has sometimes been restrictive and the blogging element of the experiment has fallen by the wayside a little. I haven’t reflected on the themes deeply enough, perhaps because the reading in the end hasn’t been so focused. I’m still distracted by all the books I haven’t read, and all the books which keep piling up in our house.

So October’s theme, which melded into November and (oops!) into December, was Victoriana. I loved the anticipation of this and found some delicious looking books on my shelves (see previous post). The few novels I managed to read were successfully atmospheric and (perhaps) overly dramatic. Some were set in brothels with suitable emphasis on sexual proclivities (The Crimson Petal and the White in particular; not too gratuitous but with an engaging narrative style. And stonking good plot). There was swirling fog, gorgeous dresses, and grisly murders (at times). They all seemed to be hefty tomes with complicated plots and lots of sex. Perhaps it’s an attempt to redress the balance of our mis-conception that the Victorians repressed everything. (see Matthew Sweet’s Inventing the Victorians to redress the balance)

Reading contemporary novels set in the Victorian era has been an interesting contrast to the style and content of the ‘real’ Victorian novels I’ve already read.  Some of the Victoriana was almost a self-conscious parody, seeking to recapture the thrills of a Victorian ‘sensationalist novel’ but failing. I’d rather read Wilkie Collins or Mary Braddon, thanks.

I would recommend anyone to try a year, or a few months, reading within a certain theme; whether a particular author, setting, genre, subject matter. I have discovered some gems and authors I wouldn’t have otherwise have tried. Get out of your comfort zone and look in a different part of your local bookshop or library.


And so as I look ahead into 2014, I’m resolving to ‘watch less, read more.’ I have many books piled up waiting to be read and am looking forward to a year’s ‘free reading’, returning to my old habits of reading different books, whatever takes my fancy…
…. but with the twist that I cannot buy any more books for myself for the whole year.

Now, that’s an idea for a year’s worth of blog posts…


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On Victoriana


Inspired by my son’s school topic this half term, I am choosing to read a selection of Victorian inspired modern fiction. I’ve read a good selection of the ‘real’ thing although there are always gaps to fill. However, I have chosen to read modern writers’ interpretations of Victorian literature. Even within this selection I am aware there is a potential range of style: some may almost be pastiches, others add alternative voices to the established canon, some look at a familiar subject from an unfamiliar angle. Most of them would probably be viewed as scandalous if published during the reign of ‘ Victoriana’!

I’m forward to fog and furs,  crinoline, corsets and the Crimea; a selection of mystery, romance, murder, history and great costume descriptions.

Of course, the stack of books shown is another gratuitous shot of books from my shelves; there’s enough material there to last about six months. I hope I can make some progress.

Enough of this: time to read!

(not shown: collected works of Sarah Waters and Scarlett Thomas, and whatever I can find loaded on my Kindle)


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On Iris Murdoch (in Anticipation)

A collection of Iris Murdoch

A collection of Iris Murdoch

A new month, the start of a new school year, another gratuitous picture of my library.

After the Summer off (more of that later) I am returning to my self-imposed reading theme, hoping to get the literary grey cells going with a good dose of Iris Murdoch.

As you can see, I have a(n almost) complete collection of her novels (copies of Flight From The Enchanter, The Bell and Iris are mysteriously missing; particularly odd as I know I’ve read them. That will bother me all night…).

But I don’t think I really ‘get’ Murdoch. She’s a novelist who writes about ideas, about people who talk about philosophy, stringing events together to make a point, rather than a great novelist with a well-honed style.

Or at least that’s my recollection of Murdoch’s work.

I am prepared to be challenged.

But where should I start?


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On Anticipation

My ambitious pile of reading for March's Nordic Noir theme.

My ambitious pile of reading for March’s Nordic Noir theme.

Too many books?!
This pile represents my bookshelf gleanings for March’s ‘Nordic Noir’ theme. Yes, I know the month’s almost finished, but I wanted to record my ambitious hopes for the month’s reading before the moment had passed. My Kindle’s poised on the top as I have almost ten other appropriate books on it.

A few of these titles are from our local library; some recommended by an enthusiastic librarian, others just leapt off the shelves at me. Those that I own are likely to be joining the ever-increasing pile of books awaiting their new home in Barter Books; just need to read them first.

I haven’t read much of this pile, and am aware that we’re in the last week of the month, but I am enjoying having about five of them currently on the go. Once I log off, I’m off to my reading group to discuss ‘The 100-Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out of the Window and Disappeared’; not quite Nordic Noir but set in the right geographical area with a crime driving the plot. Admittedly (and rather shamefully) I’m only about half way through it and haven’t warmed to the central centenarian ‘hero’. I shall persevere with this ‘Forrest Gump’ style novel. It’s quirky, unusual and has been getting rave reviews. Let’s see how tonight’s discussion progresses.

More musings on my foray into ‘Nordic Noir’ at the end of the month; as long as I can find some more time to get stuck into this pile…


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On a Holy Hijab Day

Why was a Chaplain’s wife wearing a hijab on a Thursday in the middle of Lent? Well, I blame my friend who co-ordinates Northumbria University’s Discover Islam Week; she’d been encouraging me to experience an aspect of Islam first-hand for months and this was the first time I’d been available.

The challenge was to wear a head covering for a whole day. I didn’t have to use anything out of the ordinary; with a bit of enthusiastic wrapping and a few safety pins, I was able to use my favourite purple pashmina with an additional scarf underneath to cover my fringe and pinned up hair.

hijab2Amabel Craig ‏@BookWorm78 7 Mar

Half-hearted attempt at covering hair; can you tell I’m nervous? #hijabday #musttryharder

I was nervous. I admit, I kept my diary as clear as possible and was relieved that both children were at school that day. I avoided the morning school run for once and sheltered indoors for most of the morning. To work up to the challenge, I spent some of the morning reading a selection of pamphlets and dipping into the Quran (in English!), developing on my, frankly, school level knowledge of the Islamic faith.

I wanted to take the experiment seriously. Therefore, I wore a scarf whenever outside the house and avoided pork and alcohol for the day.  Although not entirely necessary, I felt I was representing someone else’s deeply-held religious beliefs and did not want to dishonour them while wearing such an obvious sign of their Islamic faith.

I was apprehensive throughout the morning, getting gradually more nervous as the time to leave the security of home got closer. Interestingly, I put on more make up than usual; perhaps I wanted to create a mask for myself. Although I don’t put that much importance on my hair (it’s often covered by a hat) I wanted to be proud of what was on display. I also dressed conservatively; wearing a long skirt rather than trousers; dressed as I often would for church rather than a weekday low key day at home.

As I walked down our local high street to the post office and hairdressers, I didn’t feel as confident as usual; I found myself avoiding people’s eyes. The fact that we live in an area of Gateshead in which Jewish, Muslim and (non-)Christians live side-by-side did not prevent me from feeling unusually self-conscious.

The irony of having a cut and blow dry on a day I was covering my hair wasn’t lost on me. I had more topics than usual to talk to my hairdresser about; the fact that we want to overcompensate with make up, talking, smiling when our hair is covered or not there (she’d once had her head shaved for charity) gave me more food for thought.

When I faced the afternoon school run, I was slightly relieved that the weather was so cold; I entered the playground so wrapped up that my fully covered head wasn’t too noticeable. It was also World Book Day so the children were in their pyjamas for the day (encouraging bedtime reading), so a Christian mum dressed as a Muslim for the day perhaps wasn’t too noticeable.

I noted with interest that I felt i had to explain why I was wearing a headscarf whenever I caught someone’s eye. ‘It’s only for today! I haven’t converted!’ I felt as though I had to justify my behaviour; perhaps I was justifying the experiment to myself, reassuring myself as I explained.

My son’s after-school swimming lesson was the most difficult situation. I had hoped to join the other parental spectators and have a chat without drawing attention to myself. However, not only did my son fall over at school, hurting his hip so we were late arriving, he fell over again in the changing room so had to have an ice pack administered at the side of the pool before gingerly joining in half the lesson – guess who was by his side throughout, in full view of all the spectators, sweating under two scarves and a coat to (mistakenly) lessen the impact of my head covering.

Despite this, and the increasing sense of feeling hot, bothered and closely observed, I found myself keeping my temper in check more than usual as the children got changed slowly, ran around the changing rooms and pestered me for snacks. Perhaps because wearing a head covering represented someone else’s deeply held religious beliefs, I was acting as an advocate; I didn’t want Islam to get a bad reputation by losing my temper. It’s not always so obvious which parents are Christians when it comes to herding tired, grumpy children…

I was certainly relived to take the scarves off when at home; not only did I feel hot and stifled, but it had limited my peripheral vision while driving.

‘Mummy, take it off. You look scary’ was the reaction of my four year old daughter. Although, fickle as she is, she was asking me to put it back on again a few hours later.

I travelled to the evening’s event at NorthumbriaUniversity on the Metro, bundled up against the weather, and feeling very self-aware again. I avoided other travellers’ eyes more than usual. I was relieved to join my Muslim ‘sisters’ for an upper room discussion about modesty. I certainly enjoyed the hospitality of vegetable curry, Quality Street and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Most sisters were Muslim although a few Northumbrian Uni students and a couple of other friends of the very-persuasive Marium had also worn a headscarf for part of the day.

The atmosphere reminded me of student Christian Union events; the enthusiasm, passion, zeal and conviction of the discussion leaders brought life and vibrancy to the experience. I added more pamphlets (‘tracts’) to my expanding collection but resisted the temptation to correct a few misinterpretations of Christian belief and practice.

To my surprise, I found this day a significant and moving experience to reflect upon for the rest of Lent.

Choices we make in life, of what to wear, how to speak to our children, how we deal with stressful situations, and so on, reflect our deeply held beliefs and values. I usually dress modestly and believe along with St Francis that we should ‘preach the gospel at all times, using words when necessary’. My Christian faith underpins my moral standards and I have the greatest respect for others who hold similarly deeply held beliefs.

There is much to admire in Islam: strength of family ties, the five pillars giving structure to daily behaviour and attitudes, the commitment to prayer and study, the desire to serve a living God, amongst other things. However,  there is also much to dialogue with; discussions I continue with my Muslim friend, particularly about the character and meaning of Jesus and the definition of a sacred text

If anything, my all too brief study of the basics of Islam over the past week or so has reaffirmed my faith in Jesus, as reflected in Christian orthodoxy.

I believe in Christ who was ‘crucified, died and was buried; He descended to the dead; On the third day he rose again and ascended into heaven’. I will happily reaffirm my baptismal vows this Easter Sunday: ‘I believe and trust in Christ’. The incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection are central to my faith as is the personal relationship with God and the redemption through Christ, not works or obligations.

I enjoyed the hospitality and friendship offered by ‘Team Mohammad’ and will continue to read, learn and dialogue in more depth, but can reaffirm that I am firmly in ‘Team Jesus’.


Amabel Craig has lived in Gateshead with her two children and husband, Arts Chaplain and Team Vicar, for the past eight years and holds a Masters degree in Theology from Durham University.


Posted by on 21/03/2013 in Uncategorized


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On Not Reading But Writing

I’ve been spending more of my free time writing and performing than usual this month.
Admittedly, that’s not a very long time in measurable terms, but it has made me think in terms of a word-producer rather than merely a word-consumer. It’s as though I’ve broken through the fourth wall and am looking at the inner workings of the art form.

I’m not claiming that my few words thrown onto the page are necessarily any good, that I’m ever going to be the next ‘Big Thing’, or even that more than a few people will hear or read my words; but I have been encouraged to keep throwing those words down, challenging myself to express and experiment, to find my written voice.

The discipline of a fortnightly writers’ group has been instrumental in this experimentation, as have been a few sessions with a group of amazingly talented and inspirational performance poets. I have been involved with two performance events in the past week – one in a church, the other in a gallery – and produced pieces specifically for these events. Hearing one’s words performed by actors in a splendid setting is transformative; both for one’s words and for one’s view of oneself as a writer.
I AM a writer!

Most of the pieces have been poetry but I enjoyed the challenge of writing a prose piece, creating a character based on an artwork. The resultant piece – read by an experienced actor in front of the Victorian painting- owed much to my formative teens obsessed with the Bronte family and was probably not wholly original, but I relished the time to create and explore a moment in someone’s life, a person who only exists in my own head.

Detail of a reworking of this picture ( in London's V&A) was on the front cover of my copy of Agnes Grey; inspiration for a piece performed at Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, where this picture hangs.

The Poor Teacher by Richard Redgrave (1849) Detail of a reworking of this picture (in London’s V&A) was on the front cover of my copy of Agnes Grey; inspiration for my piece performed at Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, where this picture hangs.

And so, I continue to find brief moments to write, enjoying the challenge of wringing out the words to express something, I also continue in my reading quest: themed and reflective, (self-)directed and disciplined.
Now, excuse me, I have another Regency romantic hero to fall in love with…


Posted by on 18/02/2013 in Uncategorized


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