Sunday, 26 June 2016

Sunday Sundries: Independent Bookshop Week and Other Admin

Howdie doo, bloggerinos! It's Sunday and I have barely used a real word yet, so this is a promising start to proceedings...

Anyway. This week's Sunday Sundries is essentially brought to you by Bex, because pretty much all the things I'm going to talk about have to do with her. All this on top of the fact that I didn't even write a Sunday post last week BECAUSE she trapped me and made me go book shopping with her all day Saturday and it was AWFUL (read: the best). You just can't trust people you meet on the internet, let me tell you.
Bex (obviously) is hosting a Middlemarch readalong starting this week and running alllll the way into August. My recent readalong form is not great (I totally bailed on The Monk, for various reasons including how terrible it was) but I have been trying to read Middlemarch for quite a long time now, without much success, and dammit I want to read it! Basically what I'm trying to say is, you should join us because reading together is fun and also George Eliot is great, so I have high hopes for this! Also I am mainly writing this here because I keep forgetting it is a thing I have said I will do, so yeah.

I finally took part in the Ninja Book Swap again (which is run by, y'know, Bex) and this time round it was a Persephone Swap and daaaaamn their books are nice. I can never quite tell if I do or don't like the minimalist feel of their grey covers- I think aesthetically I do but it also makes me believe the stories inside are going to be boring, which is not at all the case- but daaaamn their books are nice. Also nice was the beautiful wrapping as my swappee ordered mine directly from the shop, and I am annoyed I didn't take a photo of it but I was leaving the house and was too excited not to open it straight away, so shoot me. Anyway! If you take a look at my sidebar, you'll see I'm already reading the book I received (Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon) and it is already excellent. Again what I'm trying to say is, you should totally do the Ninja Book Swap, it is awesome!

This week has been Independent Bookshop Week, something that Bex and I unintentionally/intentionally celebrated last week by going to ALL THE BOOKSHOPS (or, ok, like 4 or 5?), most of which are indies. I can't say that I pay all that much attention to whether a bookshop is part of a corporation or just its own thing, because my brain short circuits and just goes BOOOOOOOOOOOOOKS whenever I see one, but obviously indie shops in a general sense are great and also I should definitely not buy books from amazon (and really, I hardly ever do).

As part of IBW, Bex tagged me and others in a thing, and since it's basically a book questionnaire and we all know I LOVE those, Imma do the thing.

Here is the thing:

What book(s) are currently in your bag?
My sidebar pretty much tells you all the books I'm currently reading, and of those Letters to my Fanny is the one that actually goes in my bag because it's only little. Unfortunately, it's also my least favourite of the books I'm reading at the moment and I'm pretty much at the hate reading stage at the moment. Poooop. All the others are GREAT though, so there's that.

What's the last great book you read?
I am having a bumper reading period at the moment, and I literally feel like everything I'm reading at the moment is the best thing ever. I LOVE feeling like this and it makes me feel so excited about reading all the things. Rather than 'all the books', though, I think I'm going to say A Game of Thrones is the last great book I read, purely for the fact that I couldn't stop reading it even when I really needed to, like to go to work and stuff. It's pretty good stuff.

What book have you gifted the most?
I feel like I don't really give books as presents because I like them, but more because the person wants them because, you know, lack of ego and stuff. However, the book I have made most people read is Ready Player One, and as a result of that, my copy is basically never in my house (it's currently with my work friend, I'm sure she is taking good care of it).

What's your favourite independent bookshop?
Oooooh. Ooh. I want to say Forbidden Planet even though Bex won't let me because they have, like, 5 shops or something (not exactly Waterstones, is it?!) and it's not necessarily true. I also do love Persephone because it's a teeny and adorable shop and I would work there SO HARD, but it also maybe lacks variety a little bit for it to be my favourite. My current favourites, then, are the London Review Bookshop, which I am a bit in love with because it feels like every book they have is something I want to read, as opposed to having a lot of filler like other bookshops (the unsaid thing- bestsellers. They don't really give a crap about bestsellers). My other favourite is The Open Book in Richmond, firstly because it's near my house so I can go there a lot, and just because... it has a wall of books and it's wonderful and I can hardly cope with it!
Also I forgot Hatchards, although I believe that's owned by Waterstones now so maybe it's better that I did. But it's still awesome.

What has been your favourite book recommended by a bookseller (or a fellow booktuber/book blogger)?
I feel like it's weird that I can't really think of any specific examples of blogger recommended books, but really it's because almost all of the books I've read since starting blogging have been recommended by others. And since obviously all books are my favourites, all other bloggers are also my favourite recommenders. I feel like whoever raved about Ready Player One should probably get a special mention, and since that was basically ALL OF US, nice work everyone (Oh wait, so Ready Player One is the answer, I guess?)

What's your favourite Indie bookshop memory?
I mean, it wasn't really that long ago, but the London Bookshop Crawl is pretty much my favourite indie bookshop memory to date- so many bloggers, so many bookshops I'd never been to before, and just so much joy and books.

What do bookshops mean to you? Why do you love them?
When I was very little, I don't remember really going to bookshops much, just the library. As I got older, I'd go to Waterstones sometimes but would mostly buy my books from charity shops because, dammit, I'm on a budget, and also my college was located in a town with about 7 charity shops and no actual bookshops (although it does now have a charity bookshop!) It's only in recent times I've become a real bookshop fiend, and it's something that's become inextricably linked with meeting friends (from the internet and irl) and having a wonderful time and sharing and recommending the books we love the most. Honestly, I love doing things alone and I love shopping alone, but I'm starting to feel a little bit lost when I bookshop alone because how am I meant to do it without 500 recommendations flying at me at all times? Bookshops are friendship forming, really. And they're great.

What are the books that made you? Which books have most influenced or affected you?
Come on now. Don't be silly. We can't even talk about this because I am basically composite of all the (good) books I've ever read. I do find though, when I go back to them, that so many of my beliefs align with books I read when I was about 16-18 (so, To Kill A Mockingbird and how you should treat people, The Grapes of Wrath and the drawbacks of 'progress', Flowers for Algernon and ethics... etc etc) and I still maintain that Memoirs of a Geisha is the most vivid book I've ever read, to the extent that I half believe I've already been to Japan, to be honest. Is that influential? Maybe not, but it definitely affected me.

But seriously, all the books.

What book is currently at the top of your TBR pile?
Oh! I actually do have a pile, if you'll recall! I guess in a totally technical sense, Middlemarch is the top of the pile cause its the book I'm going to start next, but in I am maybe the most excited about The Diary of a Teenage Girl. But realistically, the book most at the top of my TBR pile is the third Game of Thrones book because can I get enough of them? No I cannot.

Annnnd thank you for that Bex, that took much longer than expected as such things always do, and now I'm tired. I think you've all heard quite enough of me for this week, so go! Enjoy your lives, and I hope summer is proper where you are, and not merely theoretical as it kind of is here, in weather as well as politics.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Devouring Stephen King: The Dark Tower VII- The Dark Tower

There are no words for how happy I am to be done with The Dark Tower books in my Stephen King reading journey. This isn't because they are bad books- on the contrary, they're some of my favourites- but simply because they have taken SO long. I envisioned reading all three of the final books in the summer of 2014, before starting the Shakespeareathon that engulfed my whole life, but it didn't happen, and I consequently felt like I was always in the middle of a Dark Tower book, mainly because I was. Their lack of portability and complex storylines did not make for easy reading, and having blown through all seven in a month when I first read them, reading them spread out over what turned out to be almost FIVE YEARS was a really different experience.

Because it had taken me so long to read all seven of the books, I expected my reaction to this, the final book, to be completely different to the last time I read it. Reading all seven books consecutively whilst also being unemployed had led to an excessive (and probably unhealthy) attachment to all the characters, and I can remember being destroyed numerous times throughout this last one. I thought I'd be ok this time because of the passage of time (... or something) but, in fact, I was very not ok. It was a relief, in a lot of ways, to realise that I did still love these characters, in spite of being frustrated with how long the books were taking to finish, and that I could still get emotional about... certain events in this book that I'm definitely not going to elaborate on.

The Dark Tower just works. As a final novel in a series, it is perfect, and its perfection begins with the reunion of Roland and his team of gunslingers within the first 100 or so pages of the book. If it took too long for any kind of event at all to happen in Song of Susannah, then The Dark Tower makes up for this completely. This book moves between events, locations, and even worlds (oh yes) at breakneck speed, barely giving the reader time to process, and it's fantastic. It's pretty much everything I want all of the series to be, and probably the reason I idealise the rest of the Dark Tower books- I remember them all being as good as the last one, and the last one is (probably) the best.

Of course I've been coy about the content, because LIKE I'm going to ruin an entire book series for you by telling you the ending! I will say that upon first reading, I was truly surprised by it (hence my avoiding spoilers now!) and maybe a little mad, but I see now that, really, it's the only fitting ending. Or, at the very least, I can't imagine a better one. I really have very few criticisms for this book, because although sometimes devastating, it also feels true and right.

And with that, my return to the Dark Tower is over. That I am both a little sad and pretty relieved doesn't surprise me, because damn I love these books, but DAMN that took so long. And that's not just the practically two years (!) it took to read the last three books, but the practically (I'll say it again) FIVE years (!!!) it took to read all seven. I'm so excited to finally read something else by King that I'm already halfway through The Colorado Kid (it's very portable) and I'm especially excited that there's another Dark Tower book waiting for me in the not-too-distant future. I didn't have the promise of more tales of Roland's ka-tet the last time I finished this book, but I'm very glad I have one to look forward to now.

But, for the moment, I'm moving on to A Game of Thrones. Wish me luck..?

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Sunday Sundries: The Joy Of New

This week, I got a brand new iPhone. I realise that this isn't really a groundbreaking event, and we all get new iPhones every two years (those of us who suckle at Apple's human rights violating-y teat, anyway), but getting and setting up this new phone got me to thinking about some things that it really only seems right to share here (because literally no one else would care).

I was pretty excited about my new phone because, in spite of what I just said, I had waited three years for this instead of two, due to a lack of funds and general ok-ness with my old phone the last time I was due an upgrade. Last week, events conspired and I found myself live-chatting with an O2 worker on a Friday night (wild!) getting a good upgrade deal and ordering my brand new phone.* I got the phone on Monday, and after trying and failing to restore my phone from iCloud three times, I got to thinking.

Why restore? Here I was, with this brand new phone, excited by the sheer feel of it, and here I was about to make it literally exactly the same as the phone I already had, just longer and sleeker and with awesome fingerprint technology. I wondered how many people just unthinkingly do this, without taking the opportunity to start afresh, leave behind the apps that weren't useful to their lives anymore, and start using their phones in a new, more mindful way.

So that's what I decided to do. It wasn't exactly a noble decision, considering the trouble I was having restoring anyway, but I'm pretty sure with a little perseverance, I could have made the backup work. Instead, I started with a blank slate (blank apart from the 5,000 compulsory apps Apple now have, of course) and thought about what I really needed at my fingertips, and what was pretty unnecessary to my life. I got to have the best of both worlds, since iCloud is pretty magic, so I got to import my photos and my contacts without laboriously adding them manually (although I would fully promote that, if only to weed out all the terrible boys in one's phone *shifty eyes*), and then it was up to me.

My strategy was this- to download the apps that I use to stay in touch with people (Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, social media-y things), the ones that improve my life admin (mobile banking, Bloglovin, Nike Running) and the ones that actually cost me real money (looking at you, Busuu and Yoga Studio). I left off things like pinterest, which I barely looked at but which sent me THE MOST notifications, and specific shopping apps, except for amazon because I use it pretty often because I just can't help myself. I figured that, if I need to buy something and it's easier to do it through an app, then I can just download and remove the app at basically the same time, and I've done that once already, with the etsy app.

It has honestly already made a huge different to how cluttered my brain feels when I look at my phone, and actively thinking about what I use my phone for and how much I use it. If you're doubting how much of a difference any of this can really make, then I point to the fact that I have left behind the online dating app from my old phone, a change which probably won't last but which has forced me to think about what I've been using it for, as well as how much I've been using it. It's a break from the exhausting process of small-talking with 20 losers before finding the one guy who's actually worth talking to (before, of course, he turns out to be a loser too).

Frankly, for now, I'm enjoying the quiet.

The internet is all about minimising and mindfulness at the moment, and choosing not to make my new phone a carbon copy of my old one has allowed me to practice both. I feel like I look at my phone less and get fewer notifications (which is honestly a good thing for me) and it's so much easier to find the things I really need, because at the moment, I don't have any that I don't. I'm fully aware that through the lifespan of a phone, I'm going to eventually add apps that I don't really need, and that things are likely to get cluttered again, but I'm glad I took the opportunity to fully start afresh, and hope that it's taught me to reduce and minimise, and just hold on to what is truly necessary. In all areas of life, not just in my phone.

*Just as an aside, you know when people say that you have to go direct to the service provider to get the best deal? THAT IS LITERALLY TRUE. Never ever accept the price that's on the website or whatever, trust me.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Sunday Sundries: #20booksofsummer and other bits and bobs

Bonjourno, good Sunday greetings and welcome! It has just become really really hot here so I'm typing this in my underwear (calm down) in my bedroom and honestly, I'm still sweating a bit because I had the audacity to go outside earlier.

In other words, SUMMER! I've been waiting for you so long and finally you're here, and I love you even if all you've brought me is some sweat and all the sneezes in the world (Seriously. I've been scaring small children on the bus today.)

ANYWAY. It is summer and I have been alerted to the fact that there exists in the world a blog... thing (I don't want to call it an event because it sort of isn't. Challenge, maybe?) that, if we're boiling it down to its essential points, basically just involves making a big ole pile of books, and I think we all know how much I love doing that!

Real information- it's a thing, it runs from June 1st-September 5th, and you pick 20 books that you're going to read this summer. BOOM sorted here's a big pile of books coming atcha:
IT IS A RIDICULOUS PILE OF BOOKS AND I LOVE IT. I can't even describe how tall it is, but at the moment it seems structurally sound, and it is staying on my table of stuff. So there, sensible side of my brain!

Shall we talk about the books though? I've tried to put in a good selection of non-fiction, classics, authors I love, and a couple of comics, and hopefully it'll be enough of a pile to keep me interested through all the long long months of looking at it. I really want to read all of them right now, so hopefully that feel will continue!

So here it is, from the top to the bottom:

Lisey's Story, Cell, The Colorado Kid by Stephen King- Remember my 26 before 27 list where I said I wanted to try and read all the Stephen King this year? Well, I'm still on the same book as when I wrote that, BUT I'm finally making headway with it and this summer seems like a good time to READ SOME MORE! These are thankfully more portable than the last Dark Tower book so I should race through them in no time, and yassssss!

A Game of Thrones by George R R Martin- Also after finishing The Dark Tower, I've promised myself I can finally start reading A Game of Thrones because can I handle more than one fantasy book series at a time? I cannot.

The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson- Any time of year is a good time to read Bill Bryson, to be honest.

Miss Buncle's Book by D E Stevenson- My first Persephone purchase! Since I've signed up for the Persephone Ninja Book Swap AND have plans to visit the shop with Bex soon, I feel like I should probably actually read one of the books and not just ooh at how exciting they are.

The Collected Stories by T Coraghessan Boyle- I have only ever read The Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle but I loooooved it, and I've had this book of his short stories for a long time. Gotta read them, and short stories are just so great, let's be honest.

Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski- The only things I really know about Bukowski is that I should read him and also he wrote this poem that's basically my favourite poem (more about which in another blog post, at some point). With this in mind, I'm going to read Ham on Rye. Boom.

Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin- Sometimes a person just starts collecting autobiographies of people they like, and then they never read them. By a person I obviously mean myself, and this is an attempt at, y'know, reading one of them.

The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami- It's Murakami sooooo... Yeah.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson- Every summer I say I'm going to read The Summer Book, and every summer I fail. I may fail again this summer. Let's see.

Torch by Cheryl Strayed- I would probably read anything Cheryl Strayed writes, but I've been avoiding this because I think it is about mother death and I bought it maybe weeks before my first nan died. But, I think I'll be ok, and Strayed's writing deserves my attention.

Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov- Fun story- after I read Reading Lolita in Tehran, I bought Invitation to a Beheading because Nafisi made it sound awesome. A couple of days later I realised I already had it on my shelves and this is the story of how I officially own too many books. THE POINT is that I'm going to read it, still because Nafisi made it sound awesome.

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall- Hey, wasn't this on the last pile I made? Sure, but I still wanna read it, on those rough days when running feels like the worst (which is actually all the days at the moment. Uhhhhh).

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert- I feel like I've been supposed to read Madame Bovary for a long time but I never have. Now is my time! (I have actually read a couple of chapters of this already, and I like it! What I'm saying is, I will probably actually read it).

Middlemarch by George Eliot- Bex is doing a readalong of this this summer and as I have tried and failed to read it by myself a couple of times, I'm hoping the camaraderie of it will see me through! Join us, why dontcha?

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy- I reckon the odds of me actually finishing War and Peace this summer are slim to none, but I can maybe start it? Maybe? Maybe.

In Defence of Food by Michael Pollan- If we will all recall, I bloody loved The Omnivore's Dilemma, so I'm expecting good things from this one, too. Pollen few.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl by Phoebe Gloeckner- I was DYING to read this when I bought it on the Bookshop Crawl, but I felt too naughty to read it straight away because I'm insane. Four months, though, seems like sufficient time to have owned a book before reading it, right? Right.

V For Vendetta by Alan Moore- And finally. I need more Moore (ha) in my life and I own V for Vendetta for unknown reasons so I shall read it with my eyes and brain this summer. *Nods*

I'm so sorry, this is like the longest post ever and I didn't even mean it to be. To summarise- I am going to read some books this summer and it will maybe be these ones but also it might not be now I am going to stop verbal diarrhoea-ing like some ineloquent bastard and get on with my life.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Things I Read In May

May was a pretty good month for reading. Considering the amount of time I spent with books, I probably could have finished more, but I find that non-fiction usually takes longer to read, but it is also usually completely worth it. I also read a good chunk of the final Dark Tower book so hopefully I'll get that OUT OF MY LIFE in June (I love it but it has taken soooooo long) and essentially, my general battle cry is YAY READING YOU ARE GREAT.

Here's what I read though:

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
You'll forgive me if I cried a little more than usual during this first reading of To Kill A Mockingbird after Harper Lee's death. I'm sure I don't really have to review it (mainly because I already did, here) because we all get the gist, but the emotional resonance for me, this time, was turned up to 11. I'm still really sad that this really is it, and there are no hidden vaults containing maybe 20 Harper Lee novels, but one perfect one really is enough for a person in a lifetime, I reckon. RIP, Harper Lee, and thank you so much for Atticus.

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Astonishingly I have already reviewed this, and in the same month I read it! Unbelievable effort there, I think we can all agree.

Nine Stories by JD Salinger
Having read Nine Stories, I've been thinking about JD Salinger a lot, and I've decided that his stories can almost universally be categorised, and/or dismissed, under the hashtag #richpeopleproblems. To dismiss them because of this alone, however, would be a mistake, not least because Salinger's writing is so good, and real, and honest, that it doesn't really matter that his stories are all about problems that rich people are having, because they start feeling like problems that anyone could have. Each of the Nine Stories are more or less tales of loss, of eccentric characters and difficult situations and just, in general, life. My dislike of The Catcher in the Rye still stands, but fades into the background over just how much I love Salinger's short stories, and I wholly recommend and Holden-haters to try Salinger's short stories, just to see. You might just be pleasantly surprised.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Unbelievably, I have also reviewed this already. I know, I know, I take a bow. If reviews are a bit TL:DR for you though, here are some keywords: feminism, literary criticism, memoir, Iran, history, revolution, AWESOME. The last one is the most important.

Landing by Emma Donoghue
I liked Landing so much that it probably deserves a full review, but the chances of me actually getting around to that seem slim so let's talk about it here a little. Landing is about a chance meeting on an aeroplane, that leads to a long distance relationship, that leads to love. It's also about grief, about stubbornness, about the difficulty about combining two lives when you don't really know about their day-to-day business, and about the incredible gamble that being in love, any kind of love, always involves. Considering the premise, this book could easily have veered into the territory of chick-lit, but considering that the characters in love are both women (lesbians are NEVER covered in chick-lit) and Emma Donoghue is a consistently good writer that never ever ever lets me down, it offers a lot more than just romance, it offers just a little slice of life. It's definitely one of my favourite novels of the year so far, which makes sense because, I'll say it again, it's Emma Donoghue. She's honestly the best.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Reluctant Fundamentalist, but I don't have much to say about it. It's slightly surprising to me that it's taught in American Colleges (I remember there being some furore about it a little while ago basically based on its title and oh my GOD can someone please teach censors how to read so they can stop being mad at books that are smarter than them) because although I whizzed through this in a few days, I don't have much to say about it in a critical sense. The story is told in a first person monologue, as a street trader in Pakistan tells an American businessman about his time in America, both before and immediately after 9/11, but it's much more subtle than that description would suggest. Although Changez (the speaker) experiences discrimination after the 9/11 of the book, it serves as a subtle backdrop to his story about loving a woman who is unreachable, and working through what's best to do with his life after graduation, which is actually a universal tale. The ending is perhaps the most interesting, especially in a critical sense, but I'm obviously not going to talk about it with you... Unless you've read this too and we'll talk about it in code in the comments. Critically interesting or not, this remains a very good read, and definitely worth your time, even if it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. 

BOOM, May! I kind of smashed it in the reading stakes, and there were even a couple more books I could have finished, had I wanted to permanently injure my back carrying around giant books (I didn't). Let's see what June has to offer.