Springtime Reading

As much as I miss youth work, no longer working late nights means I’ve had more time for reading books. Which is good because my ‘to read’ pile was starting to do a leaning tower of Pisa. In fact, a couple of months ago I got woken up in the middle of the night by an almighty crash…the sound of that leaning tower of books collapsing to the floor.

It’s rare that I don’t have a book in my handbag, and of course it means that people see the books you are currently reading and tell you about others they believe you’re going to love. So that’s made a few trips walking past Waterstone’s (who am I kidding, I can’t walk past) result in some dents to my bank account.

So what have I been reading in the lead up to summer?

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The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell – this book caught my eye when I was in the shop for some reason or another in March and knowing that World Penguin Day was coming up in April, how could I not purchase this tale? It was a delightful story of how Tom was walking on a beach during school holidays when he saw 100s of penguins washed up on the shores due to an oil slick. One miraculously had survived and followed Tom back to his apartment…and a friendship between man and penguin was born, and the tales continued as the penguin went to the boarding school where Tom worked. The only disappointment is that there are no pictures of said penguin.

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Bittersweet by Shauna Niequest – My friend bought me this book as a gift for a birthday or Christmas and it shows how high my to read pile is that it’s taken me this long to get around to reading it. Shauna writes beautifully and honestly. Although it’s written from a very middle class white privileged perspective, there are such great nuggets of wisdom and real life doesn’t care how much privilege you have. There’s tales of friendship, death, loss, struggle and it’s just real. You will likely cry while reading. This book caused me to text my friend several times while reading it.

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The Little Breton Bistro by Nina George – I can’t remember which book I was buying, but while I was buying it I spotted this book. I utterly loved Nina’s book The Little Paris Bookshop and still dream of wandering into a Literary Apothecary. So this book well and truly jumped the queue. It took me a while to get into it, as it began with the main character attempting suicide. I started reading it during a difficult week, so that wasn’t the best thing to be reading and was put off wondering if I should continue. However, I’m glad I did. In the end, I was left on a sunny Saturday afternoon close to the end of the book aware that a few friends were on their way round and me yelling out loud at the book (and hoping friends might be late so it would give me time to finish it, because I was ready to give full on BK ranty lectures to certain characters folks if they didn’t get their acts together). Luckily my friends DID run later than expected and all ended well. Phew.

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No. More. Plastic. by Martin Dorey – This is a short book with lots of brief to the point information about how we can all make a difference to reduce our plastic consumption and encourage others (like big industry) to do the same. As someone who has been a long time supporter of Surfers Against Sewage and really fed up of seeing plastic nurdles, crisp packets, lollipop sticks/cotton buds on our beaches (even the ‘clean’ ones) I’m challenged because I can make some lazy choices on the plastic front at the same time as being smug about my better choices (like I’ve long been taken my own shopping bags, and I never bag my fruit and veg…). But I use loads of cottonbuds. I don’t do enough to campaign for change. I use plastic toothbrushes. I buy stuff that’s got the worst kind of plastic packaging because it’s yummy. There was also a lot of stuff I wasn’t aware of, and it had loads of little tips that all of us can do to help make a little bit of difference to a big problem. So buy a copy, get inspired and let’s reduce our plastic!

And yes, I’ve bought my Book Festival tickets! I’m looking forward this year to seeing Ian Rankin, Alexander McCall Smith, Maggie O’Farrell, Laura Bates and going to some intriguing debates and workshops. This year all my events will be in the evenings and weekends so I hope that I manage to sort my workload so I don’t miss anything from staying back to get tasks finished. 🙂

What have you been reading lately?

 

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Quote of the Week: The Power of Books and their Readers

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Some terrible things are happening this week. I, and many others around the world, have watched some pretty incredible things being said on social media by two very racist, bigoted men residing in the USA. I won’t name them, because you may know who they are, and I fear that giving them more attention is the opposite of what is needed. But when someone says that a man like John Lewis is “all talk and no action” or that “all Rosa Parks did was refuse to sit at the back of the bus” it’s pretty mind boggling for those of us who…like…read. And know a little history.

The sad thing is these men are using their keyboards on their devices to try and rewrite history with their propaganda. I wonder what books they read as children and adults. Did they read at all?

For sure the people I come across in everyday life who are very narrow minded seem to be into censoring what they and others consume in terms of art. It can’t have the wrong language. It features people who look like them. Who live in the same (or a similar) country as them. It enforces a particular belief system. They consider anything that portrays anything else dangerous.

Ever since going to South Africa, I have become overwhelmed with the frustration of the single stories. I’m fed up that when I walk into a book shop all I find in the picture book section is white blonde/brunette children from traditional families. I know that other stories exist, but you have to go off the beaten track to find them. The same goes for the other sections of bookstores. The majority of the books on my shelves are written by caucasian westerners from English speaking countries. I have a book by an Iraqi woman, a book by a Black South African, books by a Nigerian woman, a book by an Asian-Australian and a couple of books by Scandinavians. It’s not that there is anything wrong with the books that I have, it’s just that they lack diversity and a true reflection of all the stories to be heard in the world. How can I possibly start to understand other cultures unless I either travel and spend time with strangers who are native to that land or read about the stories of their experiences?

And so I’m challenging myself to find and read books written by women and men of varying cultures, ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations. I hope that over time our cinemas, libraries, bookshops, museums, theatres, art galleries start to reflect all the stories of the world. All the history.

Because I agree with Nina. From there we learn compassion. We start to gain understanding. And from there we see things said by bigots, bullies and fascists and recognise their propaganda for what it is. And we get angry. We love. And we take action to make this world a better, more peaceful, complex place.

The one when I wish I had my own literary apothecary…

Today I finished reading The Little Paris Bookshop. What an incredible piece of literature, how uplifting and not at all surprised that the author gave a wee shout out to Harold Fry in her acknowledgements.

The last few days as I’ve been bored, fed up and just tired of being fed up and terrified that the best years of my life finished at 23 and it’s just going to continue to be this – reflecting on the friendships I used to have, the travelling I once did, the life I used to blog about. Reading the book made me think that actually, I’m most tired of trying to please people and be like everybody else.

My friends are forever saying that they wish I could catch a break, or wondering how I didn’t end up on drink, drugs or hanging from a tree. My whole life has often felt like one long fight, and one wise woman told me that I needed to stop fighting and let others have my back.

During this month as I spend my days wearing one of my three yellow tops (it was only two, thankfully the Myers clan sent me a fantastic t-shirt which I am today wearing proudly, so I’m less likely to be wearing stinky unwashed clothes!) or creatively coming up with ways to sneak in some yellow or gold when I’m working at my paid and unpaid jobs which require uniform, I’m thinking of all the people whose lives have ended prematurely because of cancer. Today, one of my friends, a wonderful woman who is the epitomy of what it means to be an encourager is in hospital isolation and is getting her stem cell transplant in the hope that it will rid her body of cancer once and for all. There are days when I wish I could swap places, because I have survivors guilt. How come these amazing people who do amazing things didn’t get to continue a life here on earth, and I’m still here?

It needs to be for more than just living every day being miserable and purposeless.

It’s two years since I stopped working in the field of non-profit management. I really miss it – not the crappy pay, but the people and the purpose. I honestly don’t know what I’d have done the last two years without having Girlguiding in my life to fill a little of that void. I guess I’m just someone who has to be giving…because I feel like without giving my life is completely worthless. And giving my time to captialism makes me feel icky inside.

There are so many things I’d like to do but at this point do not see a way for any of them to happen. Mostly at the moment I wish with all my heart for a job that enables me to have a car and travel again.

I miss my friends.

But also, I hate not being able to be there for the important stuff.

I want to be able to drive after work to do the barefoot beach cleans, and deliver books to people with no access, I want to go to support fundraisers and rally for childhood cancer research funding. I want to be able to go over to Italy and just wander continental Europe to be inspired to write and perhaps as a side note turn up on a beach in a Burkini to make a point.

I also want to know that I can travel to watch friends get married, or hop in my car and drive to keep a friend company if she ends up having to have emergency dialysis treatment for days on end. I want to go snuggle my friend’s newborn baby. I want to throw my friend the birthday party that I missed.

I don’t want to be sitting at my computer screen angry at people who (seem to) have better lives than me, who are getting to eat meals with the people that I love spending time with as I sit alone choosing between cooking a proper meal or being able to afford to buy a yellow cardigan in a sale. I don’t want to be grouchy with the friend who turned down work because they couldn’t be bothered because last year I chose working over losing a day’s pay to go to a party…and it ended up that I missed out on meeting my friends’ baby before he died a few weeks later as a result. But those are the decisions you have to make when you are on zero hour contracts.

Bottom line is that I’m tempted to one day just leave it all behind like Monsieur Perdu did. Mind you I don’t have a boat full of books to exchange for food so it might be an issue. But either way, I want something to change.

I’m in need of the sunshine, sea, books and an awesome Italian cook…! 🙂

What I’m Currently Reading – July edition

As I mentioned, I finally finished Americanah last month. It was such an amazing read, I was both glad I’d saved it and mad at myself for leaving so long to delve into it’s pages. At the recommendation of friends, I started Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me? – but of course, I can’t read one book at a time. IMG_7065

Girl Up by Laura Bates – A non fiction book, written by the author of the book Everyday Sexism and founder of the Everyday Sexism campaign. Her style of writing in this book reminds me a little of the pastor, Rob Bell who wrote Velvet Elvis. The decision to bump this recent purchase up the pile is because I’ve booked tickets to see Laura Bates at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August. Laura talks a lot about the gender specific language we use, and how patriarchy has helped belittle women through everyday language words and phrases – hence the title ‘Girl Up’ (as opposed to ‘man up’). It’s very frank, with explicit language in places but extremely thought provoking.

Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George – I stumbled across this book on a table in Waterstones a few months ago on one of my ‘oh, I’ll just pop in because I’m early for work/there’s still a while until the next bus’ wanderings. I opened up and read a few pages and fell in love with the idea of the Literary Apothecary, books being medicine. I recommended it to a few friends before I’d even read it myself, and my lovely friend Dani messaged me to thank me for the recommendation and how much she had been in need of the book. Convicted, I knew I needed to read it pronto as I’ve still not admitted to her that I haven’t read it through completely myself yet! (Dani often gets sent pictures of books I spy in Waterstones and other bookshops – our friendship was founded on a mutual love of books and children’s literature while we studied and roomed together in Germany).

Library Cat by Alex Howard – Library Cat is all about the University of Edinburgh’s most well known resident, the library cat and his library adventures. The library cat wandered in a few years ago, and didn’t seem to have a home. Eventually the library adopted him – he even had his own library ID card! I never saw him in the times I’ve gone to study there (I get access as a postgraduate student to most university libraries in the UK) but my friend Lindsay, who is an undergraduate student at Edinburgh, has seen him a few times and always sent me a text whenever she saw him around. Sadly, a week before this book got published he went missing and his whereabouts are still unknown.