Monday, 31 December 2018

Farewell 2018

2018 has been a hugely stressful year with politics and democracy around the world in crisis. I hope you’ve found a way through the madness and that 2019 will bring less division and that the progress that has been made for equality continues to grow. 

Book haul from Hay Literature festival, almost all read
For some positivity, this has been my most prolific blogging year. Thank you readers regular and occasional for coming along for the ride. For the first time I‘ve also kept a book log so I can look back and see what I’ve read this year, something I should really do for theatre and exhibition visits too. My to-be-read pile may not have shrunk this year but I have got better at reading books when I get them. There’s still a whole library’s worth waiting to be read though, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Taking part in FutureLearn’s How to Read a Novel course (twice) really opened my eyes to more contemporary works of fiction. It’s a brilliant course for both readers and writers and if they run it again with the next wave of James Tait Black shortlist books I’ll be signing up once more.

An unexpected highlight of the reading year
Some book highlights of the year include The Sport of Kings, The Lesser Bohemians, Notes on a Nervous Planet, and The Price of Belonging (blog post due on Wednesday). They are varied but all made me think and feel and enriched my life. There were also a few that I expected to love but didn’t as much as I’d anticipated. Middlemarch looked promising in its early chapters but I found the strange, strong-willed Dorothea became disappointing in her transformation into a meek, subservient wife. Rebecca, although interesting and one I’d happily discuss for hours, has a narrator that became tiresome in her naivety and moaning. Despite not being quite what I'd expected I’m glad I read them.

Non-fiction also made a re-appearance in my reading and is something I intend to carry on into the new year. I also hope to read more Margaret Atwood, any recommendations gratefully received (I’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake and watched Alias Grace so want to wait a while before reading it). What are you looking forward to reading in 2019?

Whistler, Canada
As for travel, Canada feels so long ago it’s hard to believe I was there this year. Whistler was a definite highlight. The snow and cold were more extreme than I’d previously experienced and the Airbnb would have made the perfect place for a writing retreat. Closer to home I thoroughly enjoyed spending more time in Wales and exploring the beauty of the Pembrokeshire Coast. And then there was Paris and the day trip to Auvers-sur-Oise which would happily have extended to a long weekend. We have some ambitious travel aims for this year which we’ll hopefully find a way to fund. My to-visit list is becoming almost as long as my to-read list. Where will you be exploring in 2019?

As with every year there has been successes and failures, stress and joy, and I expect the new year dawning will hold its own rollercoaster. My hopes for us all are to stay happy, loved, and creative, and to make the most of this beautiful life we’ve been given. Be the change you want to see.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception, Claudia Hammond

Hammond’s accessible pop-psychology book forces the reader to think about time differently. We’ve all experienced the sensation that time goes faster when we’re having fun and slows down when bored but this book will have you questioning how you visualise time, what external factors help us to estimate the passage of time, and how you’d react in some of the experiments detailed. It’s an excellent combination of anecdotal evidence and summaries of psychological experiments carried out over the years. At times a tad repetitive it will nonetheless have you pondering questions you’ve never thought of before.

There’s tales of couples becoming engaged on a first date, researchers living in isolation in a dark cave for months to see how well they can still estimate time, and those who try so hard to document their entire lives that you can’t help but think they’re missing out on really living. One recurring question is why does time seem to speed up as we age. Hammond dispels some common theories and demonstrates how it is a combination of factors. She talks of the reminiscence bump, usually in our late teens and early twenties when we are forming our identities. The memories from this period are strongest, meaning they are able to reinforce that identity. The creation of new memories makes time feel fast while you're living it but when we look back feels far more expansive. The more routine our lives become the quicker it seems to pass in retrospect as we have less defining moments.

A thoroughly fascinating book that’s easy to read and even comes with a self-help section of sorts in the final chapters offering advice on how to adjust your approach to time to feel as though you’ve lived a full life and not fall into the common misconception that you’ll have more time in the future.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Book Survey 2018

Jamie over at The Perpetual Page-Turner hosts an annual end of year book survey for fellow book bloggers. I decided to take part this year, for more bookish love check out the other blogs linked on her site. What have been your reading highlights of 2018?

**2018 READING STATS**
Number Of Books You Read:
 34
Number of Re-Reads:
 0 (part of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in French, so it doesn’t feel like a re-read)
Genre You Read The Most From: Classics (not really a genre, I know)
1. Best Book You Read In 2018
Notes on a Nervous Planet, Matt Haig
2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?
Middlemarch, George Eliot
 3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?  
The Professor, Charlotte Brontë (in a good way)
 4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read
 The Price of Belonging, Naomi Landy
 5. Best series you started in 2018? 
 The Book of Dust, Philip Pullman
 6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2018?
 C. E. Morgan
7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?
The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham
  8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?
 White Tears, Hari Kunzru
 9. Book You Read In 2018 That You Would Be MOST Likely To Re-Read Next Year?
 A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2018?
Melmoth, Sarah Perry
11. Most memorable character of 2018?
 Sylvie, The Price of Belonging
 12. Most beautifully written book read in 2018?
 The Professor, Charlotte Brontë
13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2018?
 Time Warped, Claudia Hammond
 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2018 to finally read? 
 Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
 15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2018?

There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy. - A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2018?
Longest – Middlemarch, George Eliot - 838 pages
Shortest – A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway - 126 pages               
 17. Book That Shocked You The Most
White Tears, Hari Kunzru (eye opening) 
1     18. New favorite book blog/Bookstagram/Youtube channel you discovered in 2018?

 19. Favorite post you wrote in 2018? 
The ProfessorCharlotte Brontë
 20. Best bookish event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events,  etc.)?
Hay Literature Festival – highlight being Margaret Atwood
4     21. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2018?
How to Read A Novel course on FutureLearn. Brilliant for both readers and writers and got me reading books I wouldn’t have otherwise have picked up.
2   22.  Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year?
Keeping up with posting while ill.
23. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?
24. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?
25. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?
Shakespeare and Company in Paris. Not exactly a hidden treasure but nonetheless a booklovers haven.
26.  Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?

To read books as I buy them rather than just building up an ever-increasing to be read pile. Mostly successful, but the pile hasn’t got any smaller.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Melmoth, Sarah Perry

Using Charles Maturin’s 1820 novel Melmoth the Wanderer as inspiration, Perry brings us a modern gothic that forces us to ponder guilt and responsibility. Transforming the wretched wanderer into a woman forced to walk the Earth with bleeding feet as punishment for denying the risen Christ, Perry adds a religious dynamic to the tale. Taking her cue from Maturin, stories are folded into stories as we witness people at their most desperate. Karel Pražan in modern day Prague is haunted by the idea that Melmoth is watching, ever alert for the ripple of her black robes in the shadow. He tries to shake off the superstition, laughing about it with his wife Thea but repeated references to empty chairs left waiting for Melmotka and bloody footprints slowly fading blurs the line between fiction and reality.

Helen Franklin, friend of Karel’s, an unassuming woman hellbent on a self-imposed penitence for the actions of her youth reads through the evidence and testimonials and becomes entangled in the web of misery that surrounds it. Josef Hoffmann’s confession of his role in the Holocaust is the starting block, showing Perry isn’t likely to shy away from the atrocities of history. The juxtaposition of destruction on such a large scale compared to Karel’s betrayal of his recently disabled wife demonstrates that life’s horrors and soul destroying guilt come in many forms. It also lends a relatable humanity to the narrative as we see each character wrestle with their consciences, intermingled so that the reader is in an almost constant state of heightened emotion.

Each tale is heartwrenching but the constant hopping around in the narrative interrupts the flow and lessens the impact as you’re forced to reacquaint yourself with the different time periods and locations. Full of intriguing characters that scream out for more page time, this is a disorienting novel with moments of beautiful prose.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Our House, Louise Candlish

When Fi Lawson returns from a romantic holiday she finds a stranger moving into her home claiming to have bought it. With Fi’s husband missing and uncontactable and her children not at school the nightmarish scenario continues to escalate. This unusual premise is slowly dissected through transcripts of Fi’s appearance on popular podcast The Victim and her husband Bram’s lengthy confessional suicide document.

Fi and Bram separate after his infidelity is discovered but attempt a living arrangement whereby they both have time in their flat each week in the hope of minimizing any upset to their sons. Bram’s document reveals how Fi’s understanding gave him the opportunity to carry out fraud as we see his lies build until he is backed into a corner. Reading both accounts side by side we see Fi’s innocent naivety with each step, and yet can we trust either of them as narrators? Fi’s story is for public consumption and she admits that she has lied about two things in it. Bram is allegedly in a wretched state of mind, or is it a ploy to enable him to vanish without facing the repercussions of his actions?

Bram behaves badly throughout the novel, he cheats and lies, and it is this that causes his, and as a result Fi’s, downfall.  He is frustrating at times, desperately trying to extricate himself from the misery that unfolds when he could make it go away in an instant if he owned up to his actions. Nonetheless, it is his blackmailers that bear the brunt of ill will and some sympathy is afforded Bram in his desperation. At moments Fi’s predicament pulls on the heartstrings as you feel the hopelessness of it all. We watch as the betrayal grows, sometimes forgetting that she is entirely oblivious to all the events leading to it.

The story itself just about holds on to believability until the end where it becomes just a bit too far-fetched. An entertaining, at times gripping novel that leaves a lot of loose ends to ponder.