Wednesday, 20 May 2015

My holiday: Places I went, people I met, books I bought.

Last week I finally ventured up north to York, a city I've been intending to visit ever since my sister went with her then-boyfriend and told me how much she liked it. I booked myself into a nice bed and breakfast about a mile or so out of the city centre, and spent my first couple of days being a proper tourist. I visited the Minster (where, unlike in Sunday's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, the statues were very still and well-behaved) the Castle museum, and took a bus tour around the city. The lady before me in the queue very kindly gave me a token for a free tour bus ticket, for which I was very grateful!

 York is a lovely city, although it took me a while to find my way around. It's full of history and narrow lanes, with so many little independent shops and cafes. Particular highlights were the Minster Gate bookshop, which had so many interconnected rooms of second-hand and discounted books. My best friend and I have a theory that these sorts of second-hand bookshops are connected by some sort of "L-Space," and if you take a wrong turning you might end up in another bookshop in a faraway town. It was that sort of bookshop. I also fell head-over-heels in love with the Little Apple Bookshop, which is only small, but packed full of interesting things, quirky books, funny and geeky gifts, postcards and badges and more. The staff were really friendly. Laura, there was a lot of Moomin merchandise there - in fact, there was a lot of Moomin stuff all over York!

My favourite cafe was called Lucky Days, which made the most delicious butterscotch toffee cake, and had an unusual loyalty scheme: you can have your own mug and personalised hook on the wall, and with your loyalty card, if you roll a six, your cake costs only £1. I was rather sad to admit I was only in town for a couple of days, so wouldn't be able to take them up on the offer, but what a lovely idea!

Of course I bought a few books in York, but I kept it down to three, so that I could go mad when I met up with Ellie and Hanna. From the Minster Gate bookshop, I bought Jo Walton's What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton, a very appropriate book after the rereadathon, as it is all about Walton's rereading of classic science fiction and fantasy books. From the Travelling Man comic book store I bought Through The Woods by Emily Carroll: a collection of sinister fairy tales in graphic novel format, and from the Little Apple bookshop, I came away with The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, which is what it says on the cover: one- or two-sentence stories, illustrated, that make you stop and think. A lot of them are poetry as much as story.

On the Saturday, I took the train over to Chesterfield to meet up with Ellie and Hanna and, of course, hit the bookshops and everywhere else that sold books. I'd met Ellie before, a couple of years ago, when she had her shop in Bakewell, but it was great to have her on the other side of the counter going quite mad with the book-buying. I am in awe! Hanna, too, is lovely and so much fun to go shopping with. I've met a few bloggers this year for the first time, and they're exactly the same in person as you'd expect after getting to know them through their blogs and other online places (in other words - awesome people!)

Picture nicked from Hanna's Instagram as I left my camera behind
and forgot to charge my phone the night before. Silly Katie.
We started off in the charity shops, thinking how frustrating it is when you find something awesome for a pound or two when you've just bought it full price. Ellie suggested Robin Ince's Bad Book Club, and Hanna recommended HhhH, which I've seen about the place, and read her and Charlotte's reviews, but had never got around to picking up for myself. Hanna rectified that!

We found a bookstall in the market, which, as well as selling the usual second-hand paperbacks, also had some books so new and in good condition that they couldn't possibly be used copies. Stephen King's Mr Mercedes was only £2.50. 2.50!!! I had been resisting this since its paperback release - only about a month ago - as I've already got three unread Stephen Kings, and had even ignored the various half-price offers I'd seen on it, but £2.50 was too ridiculous. So of course I bought it. Hanna also handed me The Vintage Girl by Hester Browne, which was my train read back to the Isle of Wight - a really cosy, feel-good novel, a romance but not overly mushy, with people and settings that feel real and homey.

We took various cake breaks in town, and I introduced Ellie to the CEX store, which she had never been into before. That is where I tend to get most of my box sets from nowadays: they sell second-hand DVDs as well as cameras and other technical stuff, and if I don't know if I'm going to like a film or series but want to check it out, CEX is the place to go! And I came out with three seasons of The IT Crowd as well as the new film Pride which Den of Geek has been raving about.

We ended up at the Waterstone's store, where I bought myself a new copy of Good Omens in the fancy new hardback edition. I also picked up Tigerman by Nick Harkaway, which I remembered someone fangirling about online when it was new. With my "read three, buy two" rule for 2015, that left one more book to choose, but there were so many possibilities I couldn't decide. Should I go for the next Geek Girl book, or a thriller, such as Disclaimer? Or maybe some non-fiction, or one of the book club choices? In the end I decided to go for The Peripheral by William Gibson, which Hanna drew my attention to with a comparison to Ready Player One, which I loved.

With my seven books, (or ten, if you include the ones from York) I was actually the most restrained person in the group. Apparently we got some strange looks in the cafe when we piled up our purchases on the table! Still, ten extra books were quite enough to try to pack into my suitcase for coming home to the Isle of Wight.

Monday, 4 May 2015



What I've been re-reading:

I kicked off this week's re-readathon by finishing off The Lord of the Rings, which I've had on the go since the beginning of the year. The idea was that I would read one chapter before bed each night, and also one in the morning on my days off work. However, I would get sidetracked by my other reading, or watching DVDs in the evening instead, so I'd left Frodo and Sam wandering around Mordor for about a month. I always seem to read the last few chapters all in one go, once the Ring has been destroyed, and thus it was today. I saw the celebrations in Gondor before work, and the journey back to the Shire and beyond this evening, although I did not read all the appendices this time.

Thoughts on today's reading:

It struck me how anticlimactic the "Scouring of the Shire" scenes are, after the epic adventures, battles and hardships our heroes had experienced throughout the book; how relatively easy it was for them to overthrow the bullies who had taken over the Shire. Even Saruman is a petty villain at the end. It goes to show how sheltered the hobbits were in the Shire, and how helpless, and how much Frodo, Sam, Pippin and Merry grew in the year or so they had been away. But though the destruction is fairly minor compared with the horrors of Rohan, Gondor and Mordor, it hurts more because it is home.

What else I've been up to:

I worked a short shift this afternoon - though it was so quiet that it did not feel short at the time. It was a bank holiday - where was everyone? I also did some ironing and tidying at home, and spent some time filling in pages of my Ready, Set, Novel! and 642 Things To Write About workbooks. Now I'm going to put on a couple of episodes of Battlestar Galactica before bed. I watched the initial miniseries in February, and took just over a week to watch the first two full-length seasons. Things are looking very grim indeed on New Caprica...


Today was a day off, so after doing some laundry and cleaning my room, I buried myself in Alan Moore's masterpiece Watchmen. Even though it's a graphic novel, it is far from being "light" reading; to get the full benefit, you have to pay attention to the details in the pictures as much as the words, and so it will take just as long to read as any other 400-page novel. On my second reading I was able to pick up on a lot more clues and symbolism hidden in plain sight - such as Rorschach's other identity, right there from the very first page - and subtle foreshadowing, as well as paying attention to the writing; the way that one scene ties in with the next. Last time around, I didn't really pay much attention to the pirate story, being more interested in the main plot, but today I read the "Tales of the Black Freighter" story observing how each panel of narration from the comic-within-the-comic has close parallels with whatever else is going on around the reader.


Today's reading

I was at work today, so haven't done a huge amount of reading, but I began The Universe Versus Alex Woods during my lunch break. The character of Alex was just as lovable as I'd remembered, but where, on my first reading, I felt that he came across as very young for seventeen, today, starting the book (which begins at the end of the story) and knowing how Alex got to the point where we first meet him, I recognised that actually he shows great maturity and calmness in an extraordinary situation.

When I got home, I finished Watchmen and, even knowing what was coming, still felt the full impact of the villain's shocking revelation: (spoilers)
"Do you seriously think I'd explain my master-stroke if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its outcome?
"I did it thirty-five minutes ago."

Rereadathon challenge

Bex asks:
Do you have a book that you read over and over (or one that you collect multiple copies of)? Why do you read it so much? What is it that keeps you coming back to it?
My friends and regular readers will know which book I've selected here! I've written many times about my love of L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables. My parents bought me a hardback containing the first two Anne books when I was eight years old, and it was love at first sight. I believe Anne Shirley was the first fictional character I encountered who not only felt like a real person, but who felt like a real person like me. I was drawn to Anne because, like me, she was chatty, scatty, accident-prone and had a vivid imagination. As a little girl, I loved reading about the scrapes she got into, and as a teenager I grew to identify with the bittersweet nature of change. But ultimately I return to Anne as a comfort read; her optimistic outlook restores faith in humanity when I'm feeling jaded, without being as cloying as, say, Pollyanna, or as moralistic as What Katy Did. Avonlea and its residents feel like a timeless safe place, a retreat from a cynical world, with people I know so well that it comes as a surprise to discover some of them only appear in one or two books, and as supporting characters at that. When winter turns to spring, and daffodils start to appear; when I see blossom on the trees: that is when I feel closest to Anne.

I have three copies of Anne of Green Gables: the original large hardback, the 100th Anniversary paperback - for my handbag - and a spare, second-hand paperback that doesn't matter so much if it gets damaged. Three seems a sensible number - any more, and I'd have to start collecting in earnest and buy all the copies! Also pictured: the entire series, the colouring book, the journal, an exercise book and matching pens, the address book, the VHS of the 1985 adaptation (abridged) and the DVD (full-length.) Not pictured: a poster which was sent by Sarah as part of my Ninja Book Swap parcel, and the 1970s BBC Anne of Avonlea, which is not nearly as good as the 1985 Anne, but fills in the gaps in the story omitted from The Sequel, which I do not own. Apologies for the blurry picture.

Thursday and Friday

Yesterday was Election day in the UK, and after work, and after I'd voted, I hid myself away in my room, ignoring the world. I shut down my computer and switched off the internet connections on my phone, because I can only handle a certain amount of politics before I feel angry, depressed and disgusted. While waiting for it all to be over, I read a bit more of Alex Woods, which I finished off around lunchtime today. It's my dad's birthday, and we had fish and chips. I've been off work today - now it's a quieter time of the year there are not a lot of overtime hours available. Alex Woods was just as funny, heartwarming and philosophical as I remembered. I've now moved onto When God Was A Rabbit, which I had forgotten a lot about. Judging from the first few chapters, it is considerably darker than I recall. I'd thought of it as a cosy, quirky family saga, but there's quite a lot of angst beneath the poetic narration! 

Although I enjoyed Sarah Wiman's When God Was A Rabbit on my second reading, I found it, oddly, slow-going in the first half, and simultaneously quite busy. Often I enjoy the scene-setting childhood chapters of a family story as much or more than the main plot, but I found myself growing a bit impatient. The second half held my attention better, but the tone shifted awkwardly from overwhelming tragedy to lucky but unlikely coincidence. Sometimes it felt a bit contrived. However, the novel shone in its depiction of the events of September 11th, 2001, the terror, confusion and incomprehension of the unprecedented terrorist attacks on New York City. 
Saturday and Sunday

If you work in retail, and agree to work weekends, you can't expect ever to be taken off that shift! So it was quite a luxury for me to only work a half-day yesterday. I spent the morning reading To Kill a Mockingbird, one of those books that demands to be read every couple of years or so. In the evening, I had the house to myself, so I watched the film of Watchmen. That is definitely a story that improves with every reading and/or viewing. I had seen the film before, but a long time ago, and before I read the book. My initial judgement was that it was okay, with a very memorable opening sequence: a montage of scenes from twentieth-century history, in a world where superheroes were real, set to Bob Dylan's "The Times, They Are A-Changin'." I think the film is best watched after reading the book at least twice, when you know the story well enough to appreciate all the little details of world-building, and how faithfully they have recreated the book, frame by frame. I felt that the ending was a little weaker than the rest of the film, possibly because it's changed from the book. Admittedly, on my first reading - after seeing the film - I thought the book's ending was weird, over the top and unnecessarily complicated. On my second reading, I realised that was entirely the point, and that the clues were spread throughout the novel, leading up to the shocking finale. Admittedly, to recreate that well for film, you'd probably end up with a movie at least three hours long - I believe there is an extended cut that length already. As it happened, I was astonished when we reached the final act, already. It was two and a half hours, long, but it didn't feel it. Usually I lose concentration at about the 90-minute mark of any film, but this time Watchmen sustained my interest throughout.

This morning I had a mild case of anxiety out of the blue, and with no discernable cause, so I took myself, my book (To Kill A Mockingbird) and a cup of tea off to the park before lunch. I initially planned to try to finish the book today, but I think it is a novel to take one's time over, not to rush, so instead I shall take it into the Bout of Books readathon next week. This is one of my favourite book-blogging events, but this week I'm going to participate only through Twitter and possibly the occasional Instagram post. I'm on holiday (hurrah!) and going up to York for a few days at the end of the week. I've never been to York before - can anyone recommend anything that I must see or do while I'm up there? On Saturday, I'll also be going over to Chesterfield to meet up with Ellie and Hanna (and, naturally, do some book shopping!)

Stats for the Rereadathon:

Books read from: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - J. R. R. Tolkien
Watchmen - Alan Moore
The Universe Versus Alex Woods - Gavin Extence
When God Was A Rabbit - Sarah Winman
To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Pages read: 1380
Favourite reread: Watchmen
Favourite quote: From Watchmen:
Laurie: "But... if me, my birth, if that's a thermodynamic miracle... I mean, you could say that about anybody in the world!"
Jon/Dr Manhattan: "Yes. Anybody in the world. 

But the world is so full of people, so crowded with these miracles that they become commonplace and we forget...

I forget.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

April in Books/Rereadathon

April in Books

I didn't write one of these monthly recaps in March, in which I read an extraordinary number of books, exceeding my usual 8-10 books in a month. I worked my way down my entire to-read pile for March, except for one unfinished book which went back to the library, and more besides, including several Discworld rereads after the death of Terry Pratchett.

So I began April with high hopes and a towering to-read pile. Unfortunately, due to a monster migraine which lasted ten days, I got very few books read in the first part of the month, and most of my library pile was returned unread. (They'll still be there if I decide I want to read them after all in the future.)

Saplings - Noel Streatfeild
The Bookman's Tale - Charlie Lovett (returned to library unread)
Y - Majorie Celona (returned to library unread)
Reasons She Goes To The Woods - Deborah Kay Davies (returned to library unread)
White Is For Witching - Helen Oyeyemi (in progress, to be finished today)
The House At Seas's End - Elly Griffiths
Terra's World - Mitch Benn
Lock In - John Scalzi
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage - Haruki Murakami

Not Pictured:

Geek Girl - Holly Smale
Gravity - Tess Gerritsen
Love Alters - Edited by Emma Donoghue
A Slip of the Keyboard - Terry Pratchett

Additional books read in April:

Geek Girl: Model Misfit - Holly Smale
Dexter's Final Cut - Jeff Lindsay
Needful Things - Stephen King

So, although April did not come close to matching March's bookish madness (in which I read 13 full-length books, 3 Penguin minis and about 200 pages of another) I still came away with a very respectable 9 books, and over 3000 pages! 

For May, I have not set myself a full to-read pile, although I do really want to read Lock In and Colorless Tzukuru Tazaki, two books I bought in hardback/trade paperback when they were new last year and which have been sitting on my shelf ever since. Do you ever look forward to a book so much that you put off reading it because it might not be the right moment to appreciate it fully? That's me with those two.


Starting from tomorrow, I'll be taking part in the Rereadathon hosted by the lovely Bex at An Armchair By The Sea, taking a week out from shrinking the to-read pile in order to revisit old favourites, or books I've read once and loved, but not got around to reading again. I've given myself a shortlist, but am not expecting to read more than three or four books on the pile.

To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee. An all-time favourite. I've read it a few times, and it is one of those books everyone needs to read. It is as important as it has ever been, and with Harper Lee's second (first? It was written before Mockingbird) novel being released in the near future, the time seems right to reacquaint myself with the Finch family.

Before I Fall - Lauren Oliver. One of the first books I reviewed on this blog that was not a children's classic. I found this book quite by chance in Foyles when it was first published, and wrote about it a while before it set the internet buzzing. I recommended it to everyone, and intended to revisit it regularly, but haven't picked it up since. Let's see if it lives up to its first impressions on a second reading.

When God Was A Rabbit - Sarah Winman. A quirky book about a family. I remember loving it, but have forgotten a lot of the details. 

The Universe Versus Alex Woods - Gavin Extence. One of those books that changed the way I look at the world. Sadness and humour side-by-side, which is a strange, unsettling combination but very reflective of life, don't you think?

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - J. R. R. Tolkien. I've been rereading this since the beginning of the year, but keep getting sidetracked by other books. I've left Frodo and Sam wandering in Mordor for about a month, probably ought to rescue them, poor souls! So near, and yet so far. I'll either finish the whole thing tomorrow morning, or read a chapter a night, perhaps one each morning.

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth - Chris Hadfield. I bought this for my friend for Christmas a couple of years ago, and borrowed it from her. Recently I found it in The Works for £5 (hardback) and would like to reread: it's a fascinating insight into what it takes to be one of the world's leading astronauts, and life in space, but also comes with many lessons that can be applied to us ordinary mortals with our feet on the ground.

The Martian - Andy Weir. One of last year's favourites; it took a while to get started but ended up a nailbiting, edge-of-your-seat (and often humorous) thriller as you accompany stranded astronaut Mark Watney through the ups and downs in his mission to survive on Mars long enough to catch the next shuttle home, against all the odds.

Watchmen - Alan Moore.  A closer look at what life might really be like if superheroes were real. What sort of people would choose that lifestyle, and should they be trusted with the responsibility? Much more than a simple comic book; Watchmen is a dark masterpiece.
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