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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.

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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

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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 Being On Holiday (Belatedly)

20121117-224129.jpg I’ve been on holiday. Literally (for a short time over the summer) but also metaphorically (from blogging). I didn’t go away anywhere very exciting, or particularly relaxing (I have children so much of my life is essentially the same with different scenery), but I have given myself a break.

I’m supposed to be blogging every month, reflecting on my reading theme. As you’ll have noticed by now, it’s been a while and I’ve heard a few self-imposed deadlines whizzing past.

Nevermind; back on track for the final few months of 2013. To be honest this ‘holiday’ has been refreshing. I extended June’s Sci-Fi theme into half of July so I could finish The Passage.  I have paused my reading of  The Game of Thrones for so long I think I should now admit to having given up on it, for this year at least (a shame, I know; I may regret the decision). I then challenged myself to take only my Kindle on a short trip to London, intending to read Wolf Hall and that alone (see blog post ‘On Not Packing Books’ in July ). That I managed, but over a longer period of time than I’d expected, with other books in between.Jubilee 2012 184

A holiday from themed reading  has been invigorating. I could read whatever I fancied, just like ‘the old days’, not exercising my critical faculties at all. (I couldn’t read when ever I fancied, those ‘pesky children’ had to be entertained, educated, fed and watered, but I had the evenings and a few long car journeys.) Unfortunately, I didn’t read anything particularly ‘high brow’ – Wolf Hall notwithstanding. I’ve returned to a few comfort reads (Joanna Trollope’s latest The Soldier’s Wife and a couple more of Mary Balogh’s Bedwyn series) in addition to a few titles I’ve been putting off because they don’t fit into a theme: the Hunger Games trilogy, Tigers in Red Weather, Good Omens, Separate Lives.  It’s been fun to jump and skip about around time, setting, style and theme. The ‘holiday’ feeling has been difficult to shake off. I tried to be good and get into the ‘back to school’ mood by posting On Iris Murdoch (in anticipation). I fully intended to read at least one of her novels and one biography. imageI failed. Both Bruno’s Dream and The Sea, The Sea are woefully, pitifully read. I have started both, attaining about 10% progress. I also started A.N. Wilson’s respectful but unorthodox biography/memoir of Murdoch but am only up to page 52. Both the novels are refreshingly different to what I was expecting with eccentric, troubled male protagonists with tangled personal lives. I may continue to read their stories as they provide a refreshing change both from what I have read before of Murdoch’s novels and my recent fayre. But onwards, onto the next thematic challenge; merging October into November to avoid deadline anxiety with multiple family birthdays getting ‘in the way’ of my reading. Perhaps this holiday from a theme has exposed my intellectual pretence. I am a book tart, a bibliophilic magpie, a will-o-the-book-wisp. imageAm I the only one?

 

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On not reading enough

It’s December, Advent, time for preparing…

Very little time for reading.

I had hoped December would see me reading Dickens; ending his centenary year with one of his major novels.

Alas!

Instead I’ve been writing lists, shopping, wrapping, hiding, baking, making cards, posting….

Now the dust is starting to settle, I realise most of the month’s gone by with precious little reading and only a few days left to squeeze another book in.

I miss it.

I long for the time to luxuriate in the thrill, adventure and anticipation of a new book; the chance to travel through time, space, others’ heads from my living room. With a cup of tea as my trusty companion.

The less I read, the more I want to.

And so, time to log off, get into my warm pyjamas, and delve into some Dickens.

But where to start….?

 
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Posted by on 21/12/2012 in End of month review

 

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Out of This World: Of the imagination and other planets.

September was my self-imposed science fiction and fantasy reading month. As ever, I aimed for more than I achieved and still had ‘hangovers’ from the previous month to finish.

I am not usually a keen reader of sci-fi, so asked around for suggestions to supplement the meagre selection in my home library. From cyberpunk to high concept near future thrillers, I was rather at sea.

I began my quest on familiar ground: Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. I’d read some of his Welsh legends series in my early teens but didn’t remember enjoying them overly much. They improved with age! The Weirdstone adventure was thrilling; the mention of cagouls, bicycles, bottles of lemonade made Colin and Susan’s escapes from the hounds of Morrigan all the more chilling and dangerous. The underground scenes were particularly haunting. The setting of Alderley Edge, where now the ‘Cheshire set’ and WAGs live, provided a nice contrast to the world of dark magic and elves alongside ordinary life.                     The Owl Service continued the chilling theme, drawing further on the Mabinogion stories. Another terrifying story of children battling against forces of darkness; the familiar -this time a hidden tea service decorated with owls- transformed into a magic-infused dark world.

I enjoyed the equally thrilling HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds. As an Edwardian science-inspired thrilling adventure story, this ticked all my boxes of bemused narrator, period detail, speculative science and a focus on the human impact of an invasion. The study of the destruction of our comfortable way of life, prompting questions of how would one cope, is intriguing; an idea I am often drawn to (knowing I would be useless in a crisis). The Martians and their machines remain terrifying and the plucky British spirit shines through. My favourite quote is, ‘ I was walking through the roads to clear my brain. And suddenly – fire, earthquake, death!’

Moving on from Martian invasion, I looked at Iain M. Banks’ Consider Phlebas to see how the space exploration, human vs alien conflict had been continued. I confess, I didn’t progress very far. I was stuck with the Changer on the spaceship, not caring much about him, his fate, the Culture, and Earth thousands of years in the future. I may return to Banks’ Culture series, but had many other worlds to explore…

Also unsucessful was my dip into the mind of Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle which I was recommended in particular. I reserved it from the library and made a start. But I stalled and didn’t return, distracted by Martian adventures instead. Perhaps his was a voice which didn’t fit with my mood this month; a lone American amongst the voices of British sci-fi? I’ve enjoyed his short stories in the past; perhaps I needed the short, sharp fix instead.

Through happenstance, this month’s choice for our library reading group was Erin Mortgenstern’s The Night Circus. I loved this romantic magical fantasy, clearly imagining myself wantering through the black and white striped tents in the darkness, inbibing the smells, sounds and sights of this most amazing spectacle. Dark figures lingered in the shadows; lovers were torn apart then bound together; mechanical books were part of magical clocks; trains were luxurious but menacing. A beautiful fantasy read.

I ran out of time to begin George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series; I did not continue Stephen King’s Under the Dome. Douglas Copeland remained unread and William Gibson’s classic Neuromancer has not yet been found by my local library. Although I dipped into a book of steampunk romances, I haven’t given the genre enough time to sing me its Victorian mechanical siren’s song to make me fall in love.

My ‘hangover’ books this month -those I’ll continue reading into October – are: Snow by Adam Roberts and The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula le Guin. Both are ‘high-concept sci-fi’; one set on a familiar earth, the other on an alien planet with familiar but different inhabitants. I’m enjoying them so much, I’ll continue to adventure on the planet Winter with the androgynous inhabitants and explore what our world is like, how we might cope, and why it will not stop snowing.

As I reflect on this month’s reading, I realise that I prefer concept sci-fi: how far can the author go with a ‘what if…?’ idea. What would happen to our world if it didn’t stop snowing, or if Martians invaded? How would we as individuals cope? Who would turn on whom first? And how long can one survive on tinned food?

In the past I’ve enjoyed the work of John Wyndham and John Christopher, masters of the speculative sci-fi. I particularly recommend The Death of Grass: John Christopher’s short novel exploring to a dramatic conclusion what might happen if, well, grass died. The thought of dropping atomic bombs onto Leeds and London to free up precious resources is a chilling one.

As I’ve found throughout this year’s reading experiment, I’m merely scratching the surface of the monthly genres; I’m reading only a fraction of what I intend to and end each theme with a continually expanding list of books to follow up.

What else did I miss out this month?

 
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Posted by on 02/10/2012 in End of month review

 

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End of April, end of history (month).

As previously mentioned, this year I’m attempting my first ever monthly themed read. I’m not used to disciplining myself, or keeping to a reading deadline, so although I’ve relished the process of selecting a large pile of books from my shelves and local library, I’ve been reaching the month’s end with a frustratingly small number actually read. I give in to distractions, reading group books, and am always greedy for more books than I can make time to read.

This month I’ve time-travelled between 1920s Paris to York in the 1560s; New York in 1938 to London’s East End in the 1880s; London during the Suffragist’s struggle to the ton in Regency London,  learning much about characters, feuds, passions and romance both real and entirely imaginary.

So, what I actually read this month was:

The Rules of Civility – Amor Towles Although centered around a trio of Katy (narrator), Eve and the alluring and enigmatic Tinker Grey, the relationships spiral outwards as character’s fates take them up or down. Evocative of time and place, his is an interesting debut novel. As slick, glamorous and ephemeral as the jazz age in New York this story is set, I was left wondering what was the novel’s central message.

The Paris Wife – Paula McLaine (April’s choice for my reading group)  I know very little about Hemingway, having only read ‘The Old Man and the Sea’, thinking he’s a man’s writer. I was wrong. This fictionalisation of his first marriage to Hadley Richardson opens in Chicago 1920. The slightly naive and gauche Hadley meets the charismatic, handsome, young ‘Wem’ through mutual friends. Both young, Wem is only 20 although Hadley a little older, he’s the centre of his social circle; Hadley is on the edge. It is eventually Wem’s gregarious nature which undoes their marriage. Moving between Paris, Spain, Austria and Chicago, notorious characters from the literary Jazz Age make cameos such as Fitzgerald and Stein.  The couple’s joy together, particularly once their son ‘Bumby’ joins them, is poignant knowing their marriage will fall apart through Hemingway’s inability to remain faithful. Based on the couple’s intimate letters, this novel so effectively captures Hadley’s voice and their loving relationship.I quick online search added an extra dimension as I found photographs of the young Hemingway and Hadley: handsome devil! The Sun Also Rises is now added to my ever-increasing ‘to read’ list.

Minerva, and The Taming of Annabelle – MC Beaton – The first two stories about the 6 Armitage sisters. Recently repackaged to build upon Beaton’s success with Hamish McBeth, Agatha Rasin and The Travelling Matchmaker series. These are light, very enjoyable Regency romances; perfect escapism and easy to flick through a few pages surreptitiously. I’m going to enjoy reading the rest of the series (bought at a bargain price).

Fifty Shades of Grey – EL James  I’m going public: I confess! I read this year’s most talked about book based on an interview on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. I wouldn’t usually be attracted to a BDSM romance (in fact I’m still not entirely sure what it stands for; lots of rule-driven, complicated, sex of the bondage variety it seems), but enjoyed this as another escapist, easy to read, disposable novel. The sex became over the top; after a while I started to tune out, reading more for the relationship development than the ‘action’. That’s my main hesitation about the romance/erotic genre; I prefer sex in novels to be understated rather than overplayed. But now I have to read the rest of the trilogy to follow the story to its conclusion. I fear it will begin to be repetitive and tiresome  but I’m learning some things along the way(!)

Half of the Human Race – Anthony Quin Another novel with romance at its heart, this centred on the lives of Constance, a suffragist and frustrated surgeon, and William, a county cricketer trying to prove his mettle. An expansive novel, I grew very fond of Connie but frustrated with William. I stayed up until 1am finishing this story; sign of a good read! One of Specsaver’s Channel 4 Book Club choices.

As I’m not used to a reading deadline, as we start May, I’m still reading:

The White Queen – Phillipa Gregory This, the first part of The Cousins’ War trilogy, explores the lives of the women at the heart of the struggle for kingship between the houses of York and Lancaster. I thought I knew something about the Wars of the Roses through history studies at A level, but there’s so much I knew nothing about. At heart, it’s another love story (an inadvertent theme this month) with more slaughter and peril than usual. Very enjoyable. I have the other two lined up, alongside some supplementary reading for more historical context.

The Somnambulist – Essie Fox Only just started this story of gothic Victorian mystery. Seems promising, taking a picture by John Millais as inspiration, and it has a gorgeous cover! I love a bit of Victorian gothic.

The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England – Ian Mortimer A remnant from March’s non-fiction attempt which reads so well, it’s a great accompaniment to anything set in the medieval period.

And I didn’t have enough time to give justice to the magisterial Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel   I’ve managed the first few chapters, settling me into the feel of it, having listened to the first couple of cds of the audiobook. It’s on my Kindle (perfect for reading such a large novel) but I’ve been dipping into it rather than giving it a concentrated effort. One for my (virtual) ‘keep reading’ pile.

And now onto May: classic British detective fiction. Hoping to find some -as yet- unknown gems. Christie, Sayers, Allingham are the obvious starting points.  Any suggestions?

 

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