Monday, 27 October 2014

The Reading List: Woolf


In the last couple of months I seem to have developed quite the obsession with Virginia Woolf. It's not a particularly new obsession - I explained more about it here - but it always used to be a quiet buzz in the background, whereas now it's pretty hard to ignore. The most recent trigger for my fervent Woolf-loving was Alexandra Harris's excellent biography-cum-introduction, Virginia Woolf. It was fascinating learning more about Woolf as a person and her mindset during the writing of each new work.

Almost immediately upon finishing Harris's book I started perusing my shelves looking for my next Woolf-related read. As there is so much choice, I have limited myself to the following list as a starting point:

Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee
I've owned this for years, but have always been too intimidated by its size. Now I have Harris's introduction under my belt, I think this will be an easier challenge.

The Voyage Out 
I started this in sixth form and think it is about time I finished it.

The Common Reader
I've read the odd essay from this collection and I'm really eager to read it in its entirety.

Another one that has been languishing on my shelves for an abominably long time. Harris's descriptions of Woolf's writing process for this novel make it sound like a particularly lively read.

A Writer's Diary
Susan Hill made me buy this collection of Woolf's thoughts on being a writer.  I think it will be fascinating to have a behind the scenes look at her thoughts.

Eventually I would like to be able to get through Woolf's entire body of work, though I think it may take some time (she is an author who often gives me a book hangover).

How about you, are you a fan of Woolf? 


Sunday, 12 October 2014

New In

This weekend I felt a particular need for some bibliotherapy. My sister just so happens to work a stones throw away from Waterstones Piccadilly and, as I was meeting her for her break, I proposed we meet there and delight in the bookish wonders together. I don't go to Waterstones Piccadilly much as I tend to hang out around Charing Cross Road and spend all my pennies in Foyles, so it made a nice change to get happily lost in a different bookshop. And, of course, I felt much better after buying three books I've had my eye on for some time.

He Wants by Alison Moore

After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry

New Grub Street by George Gissing

My sister bought The Quick and To Rise Again at a Decent Hour.

Three cheers for bibliotherapy! Have you read any of these?


Thursday, 9 October 2014

Recently Read

My reading has slowed down quite a bit recently. I think I only finished one or two books in the whole month of September, and one of those was cutting it a bit fine on the 30th. I've been reading, but in a very promiscuous way (the towering pile of books I'm half way through is getting threateningly high). I wouldn't say I'm in a slump, more than I don't feel like finishing books at the moment as being half way through can be so very exciting. There's nothing better than not knowing what's coming, sometimes.

For the past week and a bit I've been fighting off a nasty cold/virus so I have spent quite a lot of time feeling sorry for myself wrapped in a blanket with tea and a book. When I've not been napping or re-discovering my love of watching films/TV, I've been reading. I've also been attempting to run which, as I now know, is not a good idea when you're actually pretty poorly.

Anyway, I've read some corkers recently, many of which were hyped books that have thankfully lived up to the hype.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion Almost every review of this I have read has waxed lyrical about The Rosie Project's feel good effect. I agree with every single one. Although sometimes the narrative grated on me, I loved the characters and thought the ending was charming.

The Dinner by Herman Koch My sister read this before me and recommended it (not that I needed the extra nudge). I love an untrustworthy narrator, and it was done so well here.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich I found this to be a very sad read, but the narrators voice and the slow (yet perfectly pacey) revelations made it a compelling read.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett I'm still working my way through this excellent collection of essays. I fell in love with Patchett's non-fiction style when I read her essay 'The Bookshop Strikes Back' (which is included in this collection). She is witty, thoughtful, and warm.

The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane I picked this up at my favourite second hand store on Charing Cross Road and read it straight away. It was haunting, beautifully written and surprisingly emotive. I would really recommend this one.

A Life of One's Own by Ilana Simons This is a strange book, a kind of self-help based on the life and philosophies of Virginia Woolf. The author addresses the fact that perhaps Woolf isn't the best person for a self-help book to be based on, but she manages to make it work. There is less of Woolf in there than I'd like, but it was still an interesting read.

Have you read any good books lately?


Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Feel the Fear

Pretty much everyday for as long as I can remember my Mum has been telling me to feel the fear and do it anyway. It is usually exactly what I need to hear to give me the confidence to do something, go somewhere or speak to someone.

I've always been the anxious kid, the one who's face tells their every emotion (yes, thank you bright red cheeks), and their every fear. I've been told I'm 'scared of life', 'scared of my own shadow' and that people are amazed I can actually walk out of the door. I shrug it off and say yes, I'm phobic and yes, it stops me doing a lot of things. But then whenever I am able to do something, go somewhere or speak to someone I'm always struck by such a huge sense of achievement. If I can do that, even feeling like this, I can do anything.

I've mentioned before that, for the last few years, I've not been making New Years Resolutions apart from one, which has been keeping me going since about 2011. It was New Years Eve 2013, as I stood under the Eiffel Tower, having agreed to go to Paris to meet new people and try new things, that I realised that my yearly resolution has been working. Just saying yes, agreeing to do things without thinking of the 'what ifs', had changed the way I did things. Essentially, it meant I did do things.

Remembering to feel the fear and do it anyway is a big part of being able to say yes, oui, si, da, ja. I was terrified when I decided to move to London, and almost hysterical when the moving day actually came around, but I channelled that fear into something useful. Now, over a year later, I know that moving was the best thing I could have done. Granted it's not been all smooth sailing and I still have days where my bed seems a better option than facing the wide world, but I don't think I would have such an enthusiasm for life if it wasn't for that fear hiding in the corners of my mind. Fear makes me appreciative, it makes me stronger and keeps me going.

I have a few tips I rely on when the inevitable fear overload day comes around which I thought I'd share as I'm pretty certain I'm not the only one who struggles with excessive fear.

Breathe Deep It may sound obvious, but I've been known to forget to breathe properly and end up in all sorts of awkward hyperventilation situations (there's never a paper bag when you need one). When I start to panic/ freak out/ worry I can always feel it in my stomach. Those pesky butterflies are not always the signifier of good things. Even before my stomach has completed its first flip, I've whisked myself off to a quiet spot to focus on taking a deep breathe, inhaling deeply through my nose and back out through my mouth. Focusing on the mechanics of it can be a pretty useful distraction.

Memorise I know a few poems/songs off by heart and I find reciting the words either in my head or under my breathe can help bring me back to the moment. Panic at the Disco's 'There's a good reason these tables are numbered honey. You just haven't thought of it yet' got me through my GCSE exams. Sitting in a hall, in silence, surrounded by a entire school year of students was never my idea of a good time. Happily, I was in a Panic at the Disco phase and could sing most of their songs in my head. Crisis averted! I also know a few poems by William Blake and Invictus by William Ernest Henley is a good one for encouraging courage and strength.

Analyse Instead of trying to ignore the situation and what is making me feel scared, I sometimes find it useful to analyse the situation. If I can discern what the trigger is then I can either work on it, or know to avoid it in the future. I know from experience that going into cafes or restaurants I've never been to before scares me silly because I hate not knowing how things work and always worry that I'm doing something wrong and making a massive social mistake. By knowing that I can take steps to address the fear before it hits. I would still much rather go into a Starbucks than an independent cafe when I'm alone, but I try new places with other people first so I can feel more comfortable if I decide to go it alone.

Shrug It Off and Start Again Even with the greatest will and the best coping mechanisms in the world, it doesn't always mean the fear dissipates. There are times when I know I have to give up and remove myself from situations before I really get into panic mode, but that's okay and it's important to know it's okay. When that happens it's important not to dwell on it or let it drag you down. I have lists of everything I have achieved, from the small things (asking a sales assistant for help in a shop) to the big things (eating in a restaurant by myself). Referring to these lists and remembering that I can do it gives that little boost of confidence to know that I can try again on another day.

Sometimes it does feel like I'm scared of life, but I'm a firm believer in taking things one day at a time and remembering that fear is necessary and, if channelled correctly, can be beneficial.

Thanks to Susan Jeffers for writing 'Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway' which inspired my Mum and me in turn.

How about you, do you have any tips for coping with the things that scare you?

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