Summertime Reading…

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The Colours of all the Cattle by Alexander McCall Smith – early summer is always the time when the latest paperback edition of the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series comes out. If you are looking for a lighthearted read to bring you some joy and encouragement, I will always recommend these wonderful books. No one brings me more solace in literature than the quiet, thoughtful, assertive ‘traditionally built’, Mma Ramotswe. I love that we are seeing the growth of Charlie in this book, and a little more of Mr Polopetsi.

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The Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett – I bought this a few years ago as part of those ‘Buy One Get One Half Price’ deals at Waterstone’s. It’s small size make it the perfect book to have in your handbag just in case you get stuck waiting for a bus, train or friend that is running late. Essentially it’s a series of journal entries throughout the years recounting the author’s experiences of having a fairly eccentric but very characterful woman living in a van parked outside his house (and eventually in his garden). I have to say that it felt like quite a lazy printing of her story and although interesting, I would be rushing to recommend it as a ‘must-read’.

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Mother Ship by Francesca Segal – However, this is a must read. I heard about this book through the charity Bliss, as the author is going to be speaking at one of their conferences later in the year. Having had several friends experience life on a neonatal unit (not to mention a family member many years ago) and my university studies on maternity care, I found this a fascinating, heart wrenching read. It is written, honestly and beautifully.

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – Why this book wasn’t taught at school I don’t know. Did I miss that day in Higher English? I had bought copies years ago when it was the Our Shared Shelf book of the month, but never got round to reading it. There isn’t a plotline in this book that isn’t describing a parallel of real history or present day political landscapes. I think particularly with the USA taking away rights for LGBTQ+ and women’s reproductive health though, not to mention families who promote unqualified midwives and eating with disposable cutlery, and then this week our British PM doing some unconstitutional like politics… it’s a good time to read this book. And be inspired to take some action like Offred’s Mum and Moira advised.

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Mama’s Boy by Dustin Lance Black – There’s a reason why that man won an Oscar for scriptwriting. Lance’s memoir telling his Mum’s story of surviving and defying all odds after contracting polio as a toddler, domestic abuse and trying to deal with realising he was gay after being taught in the Mormon church that gay people were evil and going to hell is a must read. Not just for the inspiration of overcoming odds in his Mum’s story and his own journey but for how stories bring humanity into debates. One of my favourite passages in the book is him describing his Mum visiting him at his student apartment and meeting his diverse group of friends who did not realise his Mum held Conservative opinions and how their honesty and openness with her built a bridge. In a time where we spend time polarising people and writing off anyone who is flawed in their viewpoint rather than trying to find common ground, it’s an important read. I really hope it can be made into a film one day.

 

What I read last Autumn

You know that thing where you dream and do something in your head…but actually you haven’t done it in real life? It happened to me last week. I came home from a Girlguiding meeting. It was -5 degrees out so I was freezing when I got in, and just jumped fully clothed into my bed and wrapped myself in blankets to warm up. Only problem is I fell asleep…and I dreamed that I got out of my bed, took off my uniform, put on my pyjamas and climbed back into bed. At 2 a.m. I woke up…and slowly realised that I wasn’t in my pyjamas. I was still wearing my Girlguiding uniform.

Anyway, I thought I’d written this post MONTHS ago. Turns out…I hadn’t. I had uploaded the pictures of the books and that was all I had done. Forgive me blog readers…for now I’ve got to remember the content of these books 2-5 months later. Doh!

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Ask Me His Name by Elle Wright – I’ve followed Elle’s blog for a while after a few friends starting tagging me in her instagram posts. I think because I work to find help for families whose babies are born needing neonatal care like Teddy was, coupled with the fact that Elle’s favourite place is Constantine Bay (also my favourite place in Cornwall) my friends thought I would be interested in what she was posting. They were right! Before I worked for the charity I work with now, I worked in a pregnancy centre that did a lot of work with women and men who were struggling after pregnancy loss. Historically how we dealt with baby loss was to pretend it never happened, and I think we are still dealing with the legacy of that. Elle’s honest account of trying to get pregnant, experiencing pregnancy, giving birth, being a neonatal parent and then a bereaved parent is something I hope lots of people read. If only to know that saying something is better than avoiding or saying nothing. I can’t tell you how many times I have had parents tell me how much it has hurt them when friends and family have cut them out of their lives because they are not sure what to say when their baby has died.  Everyone will be different, but I think Elle’s book will help so many people support bereaved parents better. And remember that just because their child isn’t with them, does not make them less of a parent.

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Auggie & Me by R.J. Palacio – This summer, I based a lot of my ‘thought for the day’ breakfast moments at surf camp on R.J. Palacio’s book, Wonder. Wonder tells the story of Auggie Pullman’s first year in a school from a few characters’ perspectives (including Auggie’s). This book tells stories from 3 more characters in the book to give a bigger insight to why they acted the way they did. It’s a wonderfully accurate portrayal of the life of those ‘tween years’ in terms of the friendship politics of school. It also gives nuance to characters you may automatically have just hated in the original book and helped you to empathise better.

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In The Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende – I saw this book on the buy one get one half price section of Waterstone’s and had a memory of someone telling me how amazing Isabel Allende is as a writer. I really feel that growing up in Scotland, we are not suscepted to enough writers of colour, so it has been something I’m actively trying to rectify! I began reading this book one rainy day and immediately got caught up in the characters and the story. I utterly loved it.

It wasn’t until one night I was re-watching an episode of Jane The Virgin on netflix that I realised the person who had been telling me about Isabel Allende was Jane Villanueva. Who is Jane Villanueva? The main character on Jane The Virgin. Isabel Allende even has a cameo on one of the Season 4 episodes.

Jane Villanueva has great taste it turns out. Thanks Jane The Virgin writers!

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Life’s Too Short, Don’t Wait To Dance by Valorie Kondos Field – Ever since Miss Val started her blog, I’d hope she would write a book. Then she told us that’s exactly what she was doing. I had to wait a few weeks for it to be published in the UK, but one day I went down to get some lunch to hear a satisfying THUNK as a parcel got pushed through the door. It was publication day, and my pre-ordered copy had arrived. You don’t need to be a gymnastics fan to get something out this book. I think it’s a fantastic tale of mentoring and making good choices to find the joy in life. Even if I don’t agree with Miss Val on every single little thing, I find her hugely inspiring and a fantastic role model for women. She talks about her journey to becoming the head coach of UCLA, her experiences of coaching student athletes as they try to find who they are as people and her experience of being diagnosed and going through treatment for breast cancer. So many of her mantra’s are ones I share with people and try to live by. Read it (I’ll even lend you my copy!)

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Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald by J.K. Rowling (screenplay) – After a lot of overtime working on a fundraising event, I treated myself to a copy of this book and going to see this film the day after it was all over. I won’t lie, the main thing I LOVE about this book is simply gorgeous cover. The details in the illustrations that tie in with the story, the teal, the gold…oh, I how I love a good book cover. I thoroughly enjoyed the next episode in this film series, even if elements were very upsetting. My friend’s 8 year old and I had A LOT to talk about after the film and since about our theories of how the story will continue (and what the unknown backstories could be).

BK’s Book Pouch: What I’ve finished reading…

At the start of the year, I was reading lots but then I lost my energy. In the last week though, I’ve felt able to pick up a book and focus on it and I’m now trying to catch up on the reading challenge I set for myself this year. I’ve finished a couple of books that I’d been trying to read for a while, and hopefully close to finishing a third.

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Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher – This has been on my ‘I better check out’ list for a while as some of the young women I work with through Girlguiding had mentioned this book to me a few times as one that had really made them think. They recently started a library of books to share, and this was one of the first books they requested for the shelf. Of course then the netflix series based on the book aired during the Easter Holidays, and I was more than slightly concerned about what I watched. So the girls allowed me to borrow a copy and I was relieved to find it a lot less dramatic and more realistic than the TV series. (The TV series has added A LOT of extra stories). Mental health is one of the biggest taboos and issues facing young people I work with today, and I don’t think any book, film or TV show will portray issues perfectly, but hopefully these forms of art can help bring taboo subjects into the open and discuss them in a way that leads to people being more aware and better supported.

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Happy Mum Happy Baby by Giovanna Fletcher – A strange one to be on my list as I’m not a parent, but lots of my friends are and I’ve spent a lot of years of my life supporting women through pregnancy, pregnancy loss and parenting. I’ve followed Giovanna Fletcher, her husband, Tom’s and his sister Carrie’s vlogs on YouTube for a while. I really enjoyed the read, and appreciated the honesty and oversharing! I’m sure it’s a book that will encourage lots of parents and I’d love to see a similar book written by a Dad.

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The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking – I was slightly dubious about the tables full of ‘hygge’ books I’d seen in the bookshops, especially with the following of people posting about their ‘hygge’ on instagram and facebook all.the.time… I was concerned about the cultural appropriation, how authentic the books claiming to be experts on this thing called ‘hygge’, and what the Danish thought ‘hygge’ was (because if I’m to believe Sandi Toksvig, who is actually Danish, it just means going round to someone’s house and drinking wine and chilling out). However, a certain blogger convinced me to try it out, and I trust her book recommendations. I also appreciated that the book was written by someone who was Danish and lived in Denmark as opposed to someone who had visited Denmark a few times! I still think his idea of living hygge on a ‘budget’ shows the privileged position he talks from, but it was an interesting read and echoed some of my beliefs about community.

Is there anything you’ve been reading recently that you’ve enjoyed?

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.

What I’m currently reading: New Year edition

I love that in the last few weeks people have been messaging me on this blog, facebook and even instagram about books! With the end of the Christmas upon us today (Happy Three Kings Day by the way) and work looking to get less next week, I’m now starting to wrap those final presents* and feel like maybe I can be a human being again. Rather than this weird robot that battles public transport, works with lots of people who like to bring in their children to buy stuff when they are ill, battles more public transport and sleeps as her main defence of public transport/snotty and possibly been puking children germs.

That means…ooh! Books! And we all know that I’ve already added to more to my ‘To Read’ pile than I’ve taken off it. Leading up to Christmas I read the Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them screenplay, The Christmasaurus by Tom Fletcher and just before Hogmanay I managed to finish The Girl Who Saved Christmas by Matt Haig.

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The Little Old Lady Who Broke All The Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg – This book was a gift from my lovely friend Kathy (my friends Kathy and Vicky always seem to know exactly what books and food I will like. They both have a special gift for gifting!). And it says a lot about my book pile that this was from TWO Christmases ago. I love it so far and it’s made me giggle out loud. It focuses on Martha who is living in a very corruptly run old aged pensioner care home in Sweden, and her rallying her friends to rebel against the people who run it to escape and have a more enjoyable life. I fear that there’s a lot of similarities between myself and Martha, so um…let’s hope for the sake of others that I don’t grow too old! ha ha!

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Library Cat: The Observations of a Thinking Cat by Alex Howard – Poor Library Cat. He was being read, and then got bumped for books I was trying to read before I met their authors at the Edinburgh Book Festival last summer. Then he got bumped again at Christmas time so I could get through some new Christmas books in preparation for my Christmas BookPouch post! So I really need to knuckle down and finish this. The book was written by a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh as a creative pondering of what the cat who lived in the university library thought of all the conversations and sightings around the university campus at George Square. The chapters are quite short so it’s a lovely light read and (apparently too) easy to put down and pick back up again. Sadly Library Cat went missing about the same time this book was published. Really miss him as my friends who were at Edinburgh would always report to me when they caught sight of him in the library.

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Talking As Fast As I can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls by Lauren Graham – my lovely sister got me this for Christmas, which is great as it was sold out for a while in December. Really it should be close to the bottom of the pile to get in the proper queue, but I don’t think I can wait to read this. I love Lauren Graham, and I’ve loved both Gilmore Girls and was working my way through Parenthood (as it stopped showing on free TV here in the UK after the ?first? season) before Christmas madness hit. I have a good collection of autobiographies, and I think the reason I love ‘old fashioned blogging’ is because I just like to hear people’s stories and about their lives. So it’s one I plan to start reading tomorrow on my day off.

Oh, and because people have asked…it wasn’t me who left a copy of Murder At Christmas on a bus for a stranger to pick up. My friend from high school tagged me in facebook post about it saying ‘This sounds like something you would do’. Truth is…yes, I have anonymously sent books to people before. And  I have left things at bus stops and cafes for people to ‘find’ before. I just find it fun. There is a great charity in Edinburgh called Streetreads** that I would love to get involved with (at the moment I’ve not been able to due to other commitments) that provides a library service to the homeless in our city. My Senior Section girls also love reading and last year started a sort of feminist library of DVDs and books to share. So if there are any people wanting to give books…

 

*yes, Christmas presents. I’m a procrastinator, and I hate wrapping presents. I’m now trying to find the ones I bought for friends I’ve not yet seen to exchange gifts that are still to be wrapped. Just about all my friends can testify to my terrible habit of forgetting to take presents with me/post cards and presents even though I’ll have bought them sometimes months in advance because I’ll have seen something I think they’d like and got it in preparation for Christmas/a birthday.

** As a wee thought, I do believe Streetreads may still be looking for people to give short book reviews (i.e. a short synopsis of a book and what they liked about it), I think to give readers choosing books a better idea of what each books is about. If you go to the website, there’s an e-mail address you can contact. Maybe you could donate a book and put a short 200 word review in with it they can use?

And of course…please do feel free to share what you are currently reading, or perhaps what you have just finished reading in the comments. 🙂

The one where I confess I’m indoctrinating my friends kids…

…because it’s true. I really am.

Those who don’t share my faith beliefs may think I’m about to confess to forcing them to read the bible, go to church, Sunday school, bible camp!

Nope.

It’s in a different way. I’m encouraging them into becoming fully fledged bookworms.

Granted, I’m not around them as much as their parents and teachers. So you know, my influence is fairly minimal. But yesterday I was thinking about my two awesome godsons – the eldest of which will be NINE (yes, I’m freaking out about that) next year. The other will turn 1. Elastaboy loves a book, and though it’s tough to tell at 4 months old, it seems the Grand Duke is heading in the same direction.

"Don't let them buy anything" said their Mum. "Ummm....books don't count right?" said I.

A day out so their Mum could pack for surf camp in 2014 without ‘help’ from their youngest son (out of shot climbing on a wall). “Don’t let them buy anything” said their Mum. “Ummm….books don’t count right?” said I. (You can’t go through life without having read Charlotte’s Web in my opinion).

One of my favourite things to do with all my friends kids is read with them. It is by far my favourite part of babysitting getting to do the storytime part of the bedtime routine. I did this with my little sister who I also created stories for, and my little brother, who was so good at memorising every.single.word of his favourite books he would correct you if you didn’t get those bedtime stories word perfect. Then I had about a 10 year gap before I really got to do it again, and that was for Miss Sweetroot. It’s no secret that I was overjoyed when she fell in love with the books of Jacqueline Wilson – my favourite author as a kid. Through Miss Sweetroot I fell back in love with Children’s Literature, and took no shame in borrowing her books after she’d finished them. Because quite frankly I wanted to find out how they ended (this is the problem of only doing some bedtime routines – you miss bits of the story!). Every time I visited Elastaboy and Mr Teapot they would drag out books for me to read. And pretty much every Christmas and Birthday my friends’ kids get a book from me. As I mentioned the other week, I read to my newest godson (the Duke) and as he sat peacefully and didn’t cry I’m going to take that as a good sign.

Miss Sweetroot, now a high school student has developed the same tendencies of being found to be reading way past her bedtime, and having a constant stack of unread books because she buys more than she has time to read. Can’t think where she’s learned those bad habits from, but I fear calling her out on this would be hypocritical. Last few times I’ve seen Elastaboy, he’s opened up the book I’ve given him and completely ignored well…everyone…as he immediately started reading it. Last time I saw him in October, he got told off by his Dad for reading a book while we were sitting in a restaurant. I used to do exactly the same thing when I went shopping with my Mum – I would end up doing things like finding a spot underneath a rack of clothes or some other random corner where I could cosy up and just start reading. She also had to curtail my book buying for holidays because we

1) couldn’t afford all the books I could get through in a 2 week holiday

2) needed space in our luggage for clean clothes and beach towels.

And I’m pretty sure when I was his age, I probably got bored halfway through the meal and pulled out a book too, and hoped that by sitting at the end of a table no one would notice that I’d checked out of the grown up’s conversations.

So beware if you let your child communicate with me. They just may need a bigger bookshelf soon…

🙂

 

 

BK’s BookPouch: The Tsundoku Issue

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My friend tagged me in a facebook post this morning while I was at work, explaining the word ‘Tsundoku’, which is according to a facebook page, the Japanese word for “leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other unread books”.

I’ll have to ask Kamsin if this really is Japanese or just made up for the banter of facebook, but either way, I need this word in my life. I love buying books, and am forever buying more than I have time to read. I’m also bad for ‘saving’ books (because there are those I know as soon as I read them, I won’t want them to end – Alexander McCall Smith’s Ladies Detective Agency novels come under this category, so the book he gifted to me last August will likely not be read until an appropriately summery day off). And I’m terrible for seeing books on one of my ‘the bus isn’t here yet, so I’ll just pop in to Waterstone’s for a wee wander…’ trips and then read the newer book and bump the book I bought a few weeks before.

I don’t want to be that woman who has books on her shelf that she hasn’t read, so in March I took ALL  my unread books of my bookshelf and put them in a pile in the middle of my bedroom floor to deliberately annoy myself so I would read them. Preferably before I buy any more books.

In the spirit of honesty that I like to keep on this blog, I can tell you I have already failed on this front because I bought a book today that I spotted on one of those ‘the bus isn’t here yet, so I’ll just pop in to Waterstone’s for a wee wander…’ trips I mentioned. It is not good for my bank balance (though great for my loyalty card one) that I discovered Waterstone’s ‘click and collect’ scheme. In my defence, the book was on sale, so it made financial sense to buy it now and add it to my Tsundoku.

I can however, triumphantly tell you that the upside to some drier weather, fewer shifts at work this month and my masters research being halted as I await for all the paperwork needed for ethical approval…is that I finished two books in the last week. That means, there is space for two more books from the Tsundoku pile to move to the space between my pillow and bedside drawers used for my ‘currently reading pile’. (I wonder if there is a Japanese word for ‘Pile of books you have started reading and not finished yet, commonly found in your various handbags’).

I loved Caitlin Moran’s How To Build A Woman – I was nervous about reading about her views on pornography and abortion because I agree with her on so many things, I didn’t want to be angry with what she said. But actually as it turned out, I think we agree on more than I realised, and her thoughts and opinions really made me think about these issues in a different way. I also found Matt Haig’s Reasons To Stay Alive hugely encouraging – although it simultaneously made me feel like a complete failure because Matt seems to have used his struggle and turned it into something amazing. I’ve yet to accomplish anything! And I’m loving Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. I can’t believe I waited this long to read it, but again, I love it so much that I’m glad I saved it!

So what two books pictured above should I start reading? My instagram friends seem to have voted for Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me to be one of them (and if it’s short essay style like her other book was, that would work very well). But I’ve still to choose a second book…

What do you think it should be?