Monday, 12 February 2018

Monday Mundries: The London Bookshop Crawl

The London Bookshop Crawl, to the uninitiated, is that beautiful time, once a year in February, where book lovers descend upon London to BUY ALL THE BOOKS (and meet people and usually eat cake, but mainly, you know, BUY ALL THE BOOKS). This is, without a doubt, my favourite event to have come from the internet, and it doesn't hurt that it's organised by my dearest Bex which not only means I get to be super proud of everything she does (which is A LOT) but also means that I get to spend a whole damn weekend with her (and also the lovely Katie) which is GREAT!

The Bookshop Crawl this year was bigger than ever before, with about a bajillion bookshops taking part over the Friday-Sunday long weekend. There were also more events than ever before- a Notting Hill tour and author event on Friday that I had to miss because of work, guided groups on Saturday morning, and a book swap brunch (that I skipped) and British Library tour on Sunday. SO MANY THINGS, so much enjoyment. I love that it's so free and easy, so if you don't want to do anything structured, you can still do your own meandering tour and benefit from all the discounts, goodie bags, and various other treats that Bex secured for lucky lucky book lovers.

I, of course, wanted to do some structured things, because I'm really in this for the friendship thing (and the books. THE BOOKS!). Bex was leading a group around Kew and Richmond in the morning which, conveniently, was the nearest group to my flat, and it was really nice not having to be in central super early cause that would have involved getting up eeeeven earlier on a Saturday. After getting lost trying to find the meeting place, we (I took my boyfriend cause why not) met with the group and proceeded to frolic around the Kew and Richmond area which was FAB.

I have no pictures of this because why would I, a blogger, think to document anything. Ahem.

Anyway. We went to a couple of bookshops in Kew- The Kew Bookshop and Lloyds of Kew, and then went onto Richmond to the sweetest children's bookshop with the best goody bags, and The Open Book, which had the other best goody bags. After a lunch pitstop, Bex, Katie and I, plus assorted men folks, went on up to London so that we could take advantage of the Forbidden Planet goody bags, plus pay a quick visit to Oxfam Bloomsbury and the London Review Bookshop. PHEW.

And, I mean, just look at them. Look. At. Them.
I love them all dearly, and I haven't even read any yet. Special mentions for finally buying Bitch Planet 2, and A Wrinkle in Time, which I really want to read before the movie comes out. Also yes I managed to find three persephone books, only one of which was full price *winning smile*.

And that was Saturday.

Sunday, before I was at all ready, I was back in London for the British Library rare books tour. This I *did* take photos of, because it was basically the biggest highlight of my life. Our tour guide, James, was awesome, and took us on a really thorough tour of the library, and OMG it's so cool, you guys. We started with a history of the building itself (it had to be put in a really specific place to avoid, like, 4 tube lines), and then had the amazing fortune of being allowed into the reading room because it was a Sunday, when the room is closed to the public.

What an eyesore.
 Just horrible.
Obviously I'm now desperate to become a member and just work in the British Library because I can... and those chairs cost £500 each, by the way, just to make sure that people working there are comfy.

Sigh. So dreamy. 

Pretty strict rules though:
I mean, honestly the reading room is basically everything to me, but there were other parts of the tour, I guess. We also had a look at the King's library, which is the centrepiece of the library and is literally the collection of King George III, who, it seems, was practically the only literary King. 
It's awesome looking, but it's also a working part of the library, and if someone orders a book for perusal, it's possible it may be stored in the King's Library. Our tour guide told us that, although (practically) no one is allowed inside, they're looking to make it a part of tours in the future, and I really really hope they do!

Oh yeah, also we saw a giant book:
That is the world's biggest book. You're welcome. 

We finished the tour by looking at some of the Treasures of the British Library. This was a pleasant surprise for me, cause I have been into the collection before, but of course it was better with an expert telling us all about select pieces. The Treasures exhibition, by the way, is free to the public and open like all the time so yeah, you should go to that. Jane Austen's handwriting is in there, plus, you know, the Magna Carta and stuff so that's pretty cool.

After the British Library, Bex, Katie and I, plus paramours and children were by ourselves again, to finish out the weekend. After a quick pitstop for cake, we walked over to Word on the Water, which was my absolute favourite bookshop from last year (which I never blogged about...) and which is, as the name may suggest, a bookshop on a boat. I love it- I didn't buy any books, but I still love it there. We finally- FINALLY- went to a pub Shakespeare drank at for dinner, and then it was time to go home, so tired, but so happy.

And that was the London Bookshop Crawl of 2018! I always have a wonderful time, and this one was no different. I'm excited for the summer one (it's in Canterbury this year), time permitting, and even though I had basically no downtime this weekend, it was still very well spent.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Devouring Books: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Are you easily offended? Anthony Bourdain sees you, and he doesn't give a shit. Kitchen Confidential is part memoir, part behind-the-scenes look at the restaurant industry, and a whole lot of brilliant. Bourdain seems like a natural writer, which I would imagine is reasonably rare in a chef, so he seems uniquely poised to deliver such a good book, and boy does he deliver.

I'll start by saying this- Bourdain seems like kind of a dickhead. He yells at his staff, he was a total idiot when he was young, he's just not a super nice human. He even says this about vegetarians: "vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food." (Don't even ask about vegans, he refers to them as the "Hezbollah-like splinter faction" of vegetarians because he is mean and this book is sort of old). The fact that he's kind of a dickhead though kind of doesn't matter, mainly because he acknowledges it himself (self-awareness is fab) but also because THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD.

I've been trying to pinpoint exactly why it's so good, and I think there are quite a few different elements that combine to, honestly, a near perfect book. There is, of course, the excellent writing, which creates the perfect tone, but that's not all. Each chapter of the book is kind of like a little essay- some are quite straightforward autobiography, whereas some contain invaluable advice, like how not to open a restaurant, and how not to eat at restaurants (never have seafood on Mondays! Who knew?!) Bourdain even managed to make me completely stressed out by describing a day in his life as head chef of Les Halles- does he get to rest? Not even a little.

My very most favourite part of the book though comes towards the end. Having been very essentialist throughout the book, Bourdain then tells the tale of a different chef, equally if not more successful than him, who, for example, doesn't have a loud, hectic kitchen, doesn't sort-of abuse his staff to get results, and who took a failing restaurant and turned it around (something Bourdain basically says is impossible). What I really like about this is that Bourdain is smart enough and big enough to say- I know what I've said so far, and I've made it sound like it's the only way, but actually it's only one way and I appreciate that. I think it takes a ton of insight and intelligence to realise that your way of life is not the only one.

Also there's a chapter about Japan and Japanese food, so SOLD.

To summarise- Kitchen Confidential is excellent. It's 18 years old, so you've probably read it already, so if you'd like a backstage look at restaurants, want to read about mouthwatering food, or just want to read a really really good memoir, then you should definitely read this.


Sunday, 4 February 2018

Sunday Sundries: Writing Prompts

Happy Sunday, everyone! This weekend I have been technically unemployed, so I of course spent Saturday doing basically nothing which was exactly what I needed. Today I'm taking my sister to the History of Magic exhibition at the British Library (you know, the Harry Potter one) and to get her first Doughnut Time doughnut, before starting new work tomorrow. Scary, but I'm also quite looking forward just to starting now? So yes, that. 

Today's Sunday Sundries has an actual theme today, can you imagine?! I have been going on all month (basically on here only) about how myself and Frances have been sending each other writing prompts, and as there have been many (one) calls for the prompts themselves, I'm going to give them to you, in all their glory. Do with them what you will- if you want a writing prompt a day for March, then feel free to use these, and if not then here are 31 random things that I have written about in the last month.

Note: I can't speak for Frances, but most if not all of my prompts (15 of them) came from 642 Things to Write, which I got from Waterstones like 2 Christmases ago and finally used!

1. Your hair, features and skin are gradually disappearing. What do you see when you look in the mirror?

2. You are looking down through the skylight as chefs prepare dinner for your ex-fiance's wedding.

3. A King stands in front of his court and demands that his own daughter be executed. What events lead to this point?

4. He hadn't seen her since the day they left high school.

5. There children are sitting on a log near a steam. One of them looks at the sky and says...

6. Pick a dictator and write about an imaginary morning or day of his life, focusing on the banalities (digestion, sleep, oral hygiene etc)

7. Tell a story about one of your parents.

8. The first time you had sex.

9. Write a meet cute.

10. Everyone was laughing, except you.

11. Work out your Tory name (your grandmother's first name, the first road you lived in, your first headteacher's surname) and write about the morning routine/thoughts etc of the Tory person you have just named.

12. It's 2100 and the world is running out of fresh water. Describe a typical day.

13. Write a fan fiction drabble about a celebrity crush of your choice.

14. Pick your most cherished political view and convincingly argue the other side.

15. School closed early that day, and the children came home crying.

16. Five things you wish you'd asked your grandmother or grandfather.

17. Who's dancing and why are they tapping their toes?

18. Your character is swimming in a lake, not wearing her glasses. She squints at a shape coming toward her in the water. What does she think she sees?

19. 'One last time', she whispered to herself.

20. You are a 13 year old. Write a letter to your boyfriend.

21. The face stared out at me; wide-eyed and hollow cheeked and instantly unforgettable.

22. Write 2 descriptions of yourself for an online dating service. First be the kind of girl who'd be taken home to meet the mother. Then try a hot, sexy version.

23. Write about a time you felt out of place, awkward and uncomfortable.

24. That time you peed your pants.

25. Invent your own superhero.

26. A strange girl who hides herself under layers and layers of clothing.

27. Write an anonymous letter to a stranger detailing the things you've learned about life.

28. Describe your home as if you are an alien who has never seen an earth home before.

29. They thought I'd forget. But I remembered. Everything. 

30. Write a short story in which you are a villain.

31. The moon was full and close and red. The moon was awake. The moon was hungry.

I found, as you may expect, that some of these worked for me better than others, and sometimes ones that I expected to work well for me didn't at all- or I just didn't have time to write as fully as I wanted to because of, you know, life. Overall though, just doing something creative with my time felt really good, and doing something every day really has normalised it to a point where I mostly think 'when am I going to write today?' which I really love. Frances and I have decided to do weekly prompts on Mondays this month, so we have more time to focus on writing some longer things, and I'll probably share those prompts with you in another Sunday Sundries post because I'm just that creative!

I hope you all have wonderful weeks, and let me know if you decide to try any of these writing prompts!

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Things I Read in January

Happy February! Is it just me, or did January feel like the longest month in recorded history? Like honestly, I could swear it was about 3 months long, and I normally don't even hate January THAT much. As I have been doing writing prompts all month (more about which in my Sunday Sundries post) I was curious about what would happen to my reading, and the answer turned out to be, not that much, really. I whizzed through 8 books, wrote lots of things, and somehow managed to have (a bit of) a social life too! Guess how much tv I watched, it is not much.

Anyway, the books!
Great mathematical minds amongst us will note that this is a photo of 7 books rather than 8, and that is because I borrowed another book from the guy at work who lends me books and gave it back as soon as possible. Fun story, huh?

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay- Discovering my adoration for Roxane Gay in December meant I finally pulled my finger out and read Bad Feminist in January. It's pretty great! A lot of dissection of pop culture and book reviews and basically Roxane Gay's view on the world which is exactly the one I wanted at the time of reading. These are very good essays, you should read them, I will allow you.

Harry Potter: The Character Vault by Jody Revenson- This is the book I borrowed- another coffee table style book from the Studio Tour. I actually enjoyed it less than the locations one, mainly because it wasn't so much about the characters as the clothes they wore, which I guess is fine because, you know, films, but also, I AM VERY INVESTED IN THESE CHARACTERS. Basically I'm good with the face that I didn't spend what I'm sure is an ungodly amount of money on this book at the Studio Tour the end.

Shrill by Lindy West- I didn't know too much about Lindy West before I bought this (I think I kind of combine her and Mallory Ortberg in my brain which is... quite inaccurate) but I did know that she wrote that amazing takedown of Love Actually that is the best thing in the world. Now that I've read this, I'm pretty sure that I am Lindy West, because it feels like everything she says about her experience of the world, I have experienced too. This obviously biased me towards being very very into this book, so I have no objective thoughts about it- I related, you might not, but Lindy West is pretty good at writing so you might want to give this a go.

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King- My first post-challenge King! In usual me style, I'm going to write about this, I just haven't gotten around to it yet, but I really enjoyed it, even though I don't really think it's feminist in the ways it thinks it is. It's complicated and I'm not sure I can go into it without spoilers so it might be interesting how much of a mess THAT review is...

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly- Hey, I actually did review this! If reviews are a little TL;DR for you, then basically this is an awesome book celebrating the achievements of black women (and men, a little) that are barely even acknowledged by anyone else which is obviously ridic. Also it's better than the film, yes I am calling it.

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf- I feel like everyone has been reading this comic book of late, and omg you guys. It's pretty good. Backderf actually went to high school with Jeffrey Dahmer (which was probably, weirdly, pretty good for his career) and this is a sensitive look at the origins of a serial killer, some of the warning signs, his relationships with other people and lots of other fascinating things. You may or may not want to read the Wikipedia page about Jeffrey Dahmer afterwards, it depends if you want to sleep soundly ever again...

Dear Life by Alice Munro- Alice Munro, in case you didn't know, is a short story writer, and the uncomfortable truth about this book is that I enjoyed it a lot as I read it, but now, basically 3 days after I finished it, I pretty much can't remember any of the stories from it. But I enjoyed it as I read it! Isn't that enough?! It is for me.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain- This book is FABULOUS and I'm definitely going to review it so I'm going to save my energy for that. But it's FUCKING FABULOUS and you should have read it already, I can't believe you haven't.

To summarise- I read a FUCKTON of non-fiction this month. I think this was helped by Sleeping Beauties being so giant, in that I didn't want to read any other fiction alongside it, and it took a good half of the month to read. It is, though, the only sustained piece of fiction I've read this year, and I need to step it up with the stories, to be honest (I'm already on it, don't worry). My pick for this month's Monthly Motif (link in the sidebar) might help, too:
Postcards by Annie Proulx. The prompt for February is 'one word titles' (seriously I love how open the monthly challenges are) and I have surprisingly few, and this is one of the few Annie Proulx books I haven't read so yeah, those are my very exciting reasons for choosing this. If it is terrible, I reserve my right to change my mind and read something else, as always.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Devouring Books: Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly


I went to see Hidden Figures when it came out last year, because I'm not stupid, and I was charmed by how dramatic they made maths (I love maths) and, of course, pleased that the stories we never get to hear, those of black women, were finally being told. As soon as I realised it was a book I wanted to read it, because did I want more dramatic maths in my life? Of course I did!

Unsurprisingly, the books has way less drama, but in many ways it's more interesting than the film. It reflects their actual lives in ways the film does not always, and makes it clear that their work lives at NASA were just that, work, and not their whole lives. There is also a lot less bothering with white people in the book, which is absolutely a plus- the movie has Kevin Costner being all annoyed with separate bathrooms, and Kirsten Dunst being a bitch, whereas the book has no mention of anything like this which makes me side-eye pretty hard at the movie, if I'm honest.

Hidden Figures, rather, combines and intersects the lives of black women working at NASA at a time where, just outside the Virginian HQ of the organisation, they weren't seen as fit to mix with white people. Their children weren't allowed to go to the same schools as the white children, they weren't allowed to sit with the white people on buses, you get the idea. This book is really great at pointing out the discrepancy, and as it has a wider range than the movie, it also takes a look at, for example, black men starting work as engineers at NASA and being fucked with by prejudiced white men, something which the women, being somewhat below the contempt of the (white) men, didn't have to deal with. They were disadvantaged in other ways, of course, but it was interesting to see an extra level of horrible things that people had to deal with because of, you know, something as obviously integral and important as skin colour (eye roll to death).

These women, though. Damn. So much smarter than I could hope to be, and amazing at maths, it's both uplifting to realise that they got to be a part of space travel (and, before that, developing planes) and depressing to realise that, for all that they achieved, there were probably millions of bright and talented girls who just didn't get the chance to use their intellects in such a way. For that matter, there are women who worked for NASA who still didn't get to achieve their full potential, by being excluded from being engineers and by never being acknowledged in reports, even though they did a lot of important calculations to make sure that things worked. If you really think about it, the fact that these women are only acknowledged now, 50 years after their work, says a lot and makes Hidden Figures really the perfect title for the book. I'm glad we have Lee Shetterly to show them to us.

On the whole though, this book is quite uplifting because yay excellent women achieving things! If it made me angry, it also made me happy because look at all the amazing things women can do, and just imagine what else we could do. I'll bet it's a lot.  

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Sunday Sundries

Am I... Becoming a lifestyle blogger? Or am I just too lazy to write things about books now? Either one could be true, but it's Sunday, I'm here, let's talk about my week!

Let's see. Tuesday was, as mentioned last week, was my boyfriend's birthday, and I managed to see him for a couple of hours, within which TWO KINDS of cake (pan and red velvet) were consumed and cards were opened, and then I sadly went to work and basically saw him again on Thursday night because yeah this is our life. In the meantime, though, I made yet another cake so basically I've been very healthy this week...

And then yesterday we had a wander round London- our initial goal was to get free doughnuts from our most favourite doughnut place (they were opening in a new location) but we left late and the queue was psychotic, so instead we went to get burgers and wander round Camden and generally enjoy the crowds and cold weather and drizzle and haha I hate going anywhere in the winter, and London on weekends so what even were we doing?

Oh, that's right. Doughnuts.

Paid for, but worth it.

Apart from eating all the food... I went to a couple of films after work this week because I'm really trying to make the most of my limitless membership while there are actual good films out (Oscar season, ya dig?). I'm thinking I'm going to do a monthly round up of films at some point here (which I've said before, but I am properly keeping track now and it's going to be good!) but let's just say that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was really moving but not as good as I wanted it to be, and The Post was honestly one of the dullest movies I've seen, and if Meryl Streep wasn't there, it would be hugely missable, to be honest. Fortunately, Meryl makes everything better, but STILL.

Work is still slooooowly coming to its inevitable conclusion (I can't wait until next week when I can tell you it's all over!) but this week wasn't so bad- Thursday the system we use was down so I couldn't do anything (wink) and Friday I was off anyway, so just had the first half of the week to struggle through. I also went to my new department's weekly meeting on Wednesday (they invited me... I didn't just creepily show up...) and many many things were said which went over my head, which gave me about a 10 minute crisis of confidence (I don't know anything! But I know things in my current job! Change is scary!) until I realised that it still seems like it's going to be better than my current job because, well, everything is. So I think I'm going to be ok. We shall see, I guess.

And that is about everything that's happened to me all week. Pretty average, I know, except for that damn doughnut. This week is all about getting through and doing as much as I can to tie up loose ends from current job, and possibly another cinema trip because, you know, fun stuff! I hope you all have excellent weeks, and tell me the things you're doing! I care!

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Sunday Sundries

*Tries to be cool about making it back here for another Sunday post*
Aw yeah, look at me go.

Let's see, how was my week. I started it off feeling weirdly extra-tired and slightly headache-y, which developed into a fully blown migraine by Wednesday, so I had to leave work early and essentially lay down until, well, Saturday, so that was not very fun. I am feeling better now, which is good, but it was still not a fun way to spend half a week!

On the plus side, my blog birthday was this week, and it made me feel all good and smiley about blogging again. It was also my cousin's birthday yesterday, so today I got to hang out with my family, which ALSO made me feel all good and smiley, so yay for people! In other selfish-people-born-in-January news, it's my boyfriend's birthday this week, and because he's working lates and I'm working, you know, daytime hours, I'll get to see him for a grand total of about an hour in the morning, so I'm taking Friday off (his weekends are also Fridays and Saturdays, SIGH) to hang out with him cause, you know, birthdays are important!

Because I have nothing really to talk about, let's do the thing with the things I'm doing now, yeah? Good.

I Have Been...

Writing:
I did miss one day of writing prompts this week because, you know, migraine, but I did manage to catch up by doing two yesterday, which made me feel full of achievement and joy and stuff. I'm still really enjoying pushing myself to write every day, and finding little pockets of time to fit it in- obviously some days I'm more engaged than others, but that's true for everything, every day.

Reading:
I definitely read more this week than someone with a migraine should, but what can you do, I can't fight these disturbing instincts I have. I finished Sleeping Beauties and Hidden Figures this week, and this morning I was reading The Little Book of Hygge, which did itself feel very Hygge as I was tucked up in bed at the same time.

Listening:
I have, in recent months, upped the number of podcasts I actively listen to from one (The Babysitters Club Club) to THREE (My Dad Wrote A Porno and Thirst Aid Kit) and I am really loving them. I'm still really just creeping my way through them because (I tell myself) I have no time to listen to podcasts but they are fab. My Dad Wrote A Porno (in case you didn't know) is literally a son and his friends reading their way through his dad's terrible terrible porn novels, and Thirst Aid Kit is the excellent Bim Adewunmi and Nichole Perkins and they talk about desire and pop culture and basically about men they fancy in a really fun and smart way. I can't recommend it enough, to be honest.

Watching:
I went to see Coco yesterday and it was so excellent and moving and I cried like a baby for the last 10 minutes or so which is how I knew I was watching a Pixar film. I am keeping a list of all the films I watch this year, you know, for funsies, so I might do blog posts about that, but the chances are also good that I won't. I am also currently watching Gilmore Girls because, you know, default mode.

Looking:
Since I just secured a new job, I feel like I'm not really looking for anything right now, but am just feeling generally contented in my life and whatnot. It's a nice feeling to just be floating along for now, since this year seems like it's going to be kiiiind of manic.

Learning:
Having just read Hidden Figures I've been learning a lot about the US space programme, and it has made me feel like I should probably read more non-fiction about things I don't really know anything about because learning new things is fun and good. Basically.

Feeling:
I'm still feeling a bit sleepy and ugh from being off work this past week, but I'm hoping that jumping back into it tomorrow will make/force me to feel better!

Anticipating:
3 weekends in a row in London, the bookshop crawl, and THE BLOODY END OF MY JOB. 4 weeks has never felt so long, I swear.

Wishing: 
For spring to hurry up and get here, and for the ability to pull my finger out to get a holiday booked with my fella. We will sort it!

Loving:
Spending time with my family and any and all bonus extra time I get to spend with my boyfriend. People are cool, hey?

Wasn't that very exciting and enlightening?! I am going to the movies twice this week because Oscar season = taking advantage of my Odeon Limitless membership, and with my day off on Friday, I don't think it's going to be so bad (she says). I hope you all have fabulous weeks, my little pretties.