Sunday, 30 November 2014

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #4

Waiting for NFG
1// Watching this documentary about happiness This documentary was some serious food for thought and put a lot of things in perspective for me. I'd really recommend a watch.

2// Bookish discussions in the staff room I had a lovely chat with one of the clinical team this week about books and the pleasures of reading. She was telling me that her mother still sees reading as the sort of activity you indulge in after 6pm and not before. As someone who indulges in reading at any time of the day or night I found this discussion really enlightening.

3// Cocktails with my parents My parents were in London again this week for a concert so my sister and I met them for a cheeky pre-show cocktail and dinner. There's nothing like a cocktail to perk the week up.

4// New Found Glory On Friday I went to The Forum in Kentish Town to see one of my all time favourite bands. I've been seeing NFG live for something like 10 years (I think I first saw them when I was 14) and I've actually lost count of how many times I've seen them. It was such a good show and the perfect way to re-live my teens.

5// Body confidence I'd be the first person to say that I really dislike the way I look. I could write a list as long as my arm of the things I don't like, but it occurred to me in the gym yesterday that I actually love my body because of how strong it is. I may not have the best figure or be the smallest in the room, but my body is undeniably powerful. I'm so quick to disregard the small things when I should really celebrate them. Last weekend, for example, I woke up and ran 9 miles. Given that I'm in physio for a dodgy hip and that I've not run more than 4 miles since September, I think thats quite a big deal. So from now on I'm going to forget about the outside and celebrate what's inside: strength.

What made you happy this week?


Saturday, 29 November 2014

Your turn...

Afternoon all! I'm interrupting my usual schedule today because I want to ask you all a few questions. Now that I'm getting back into the swing of things a bit I've been thinking a lot about what sort of posts I write for this tiny corner of the interwebz. I have a head full of ideas and a notebook full of half-planned posts, but before I go ahead and fully expose you all to the further ramblings of my mind, I wanted to hand the baton over and find out what you actually want to read here.

I did some very technical things with Survey Monkey to create this beaut. So, if you have a mo, I would love it if you could answer these few questions and let me know what you like to read and what you'd like to read more of on Lit Nerd.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Thanks so much and happy Saturday!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Books That Made Me

A little while ago Waterstones started collecting stories from people about the book(s) that made them. Whether it shaped them as a person, gave them the courage to change their career, or made them passionate about feminism, cultural difference etc. I have really enjoyed reading these stories and I spent ages trying to think about which one book I could say transformed my life in one way or another. But I came up empty. There are so many books which, at different points in my life, have changed me and made me a better, stronger person, that it becomes hard to actually pinpoint the 'one'. In a moment of introspection, it finally occurred to me that the book that transformed my life is the book the made me a reader, and that there are actually two such books. So here's my story.

Heidi by Joanna Spyri

Heidi was written in 1880 by Swiss author Joanna Spyri. It is a hugely well-known and well-loved children's story and I can truly vouch for its value. It wasn't until a couple of years ago when my sister and I took a trip to Switzerland that I even remembered reading it (hey, I've read many many books since then). I'm so pleased to have restored it to its rightful place in my memory.

I read Heidi when I was in primary school. I have memories of reading it with one of my teachers as an individual reading project of sorts. The whys and wherefores otherwise escape me, but I have a quite vivid memory of coming across the word 'quench' and asking what it meant. I was directed to a dictionary, and I can still remember exactly what the word means (many words elude me even after I've looked them up and tried to remember) and that I learnt it at that moment.

Perhaps it was having that secret knowledge that I knew a 'grown-up' word that none of my friends knew which first sparked my passion for reading. Even now it is still the words that fascinate me as much as the story and the characterisation.

I have two beautiful editions of Heidi. The Puffin paperback I read and a lovely illustrated hardback edition given to me by a family member. I can pretty much trace my love of bookish aesthetics to this point.

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

As you can tell from my very battered copy, this was my absolute favourite book when I was young. I still love it now and even have it in my iBooks for those moments when I need a nostalgic blast from the past.

The Velveteen Rabbit is a short story about a toy rabbit who is transformed into a real rabbit by the love of his owner. It is full of talking animals (so that's where my obsession started - from here to The Wind in the Willows), and various life lessons about love, friendship and bravery. I think it is a book that can be enjoyed at any age as it truly is a beautiful read.

I was always a serious bunny lover as a kid and even made up a fantasy land full of anthropomorphised bunnies which I used as characters in stories (ah, the childish imagination). I suspect this story started me off.

I have considered myself a reader for as long as I can remember. I fit all those bookish child stereotypes to an absolute t, but I seem to have failed to give credit where it's due. I didn't become a reader overnight, it wasn't something that was just there - it was sparked by two wonderful children's books. I was lucky to grow up in a household where books were important, but I think it still takes a particular story to really make you a reader. That's where these two come in. I do wonder how my life would have panned out without books - would I still have such an overactive imagination, or such a desire to learn new things, to travel and explore? I'm not sure, but I can safely say that Heidi and The Velveteen Rabbit both had a huge effect on my life. I may never have written stories about bunnies without reading Williams's story and if I'd never written those stories, maybe I would never have realised how much joy writing brings me. It's a huge case of 'what ifs' but I'm still going to say it's all down to these two books.

Do you have a book that made you a reader?


Monday, 24 November 2014

Recently (ish) Read #2

After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry A while back Serpent's Tail had an article about the naming of novels on their website and it told the story of how Perry's debut novel came to be titled After Me Comes the Flood. It was a really intriguing read that made me want to pick up the novel immediately. I think I heaved a massive sigh when I finished the novel, almost like I'd been bottling up a ridiculous amount of emotion. It was a brilliant read, but I think it'll need a revisit to truly get what's simmering below the surface.

He Wants by Alison Moore I think Moore is one of my favourite contemporary authors and He Wants just goes to show why. She writes fascinatingly real characters whose need for something (anything) is achingly palpable from the novel's pages. I found He Wants to be really quite sad but, like Perry's novel, I think it will benefit from a second look.

Virginia Woolf by Alexandra Harris I spoke about this biography in my Woolf Reading List but I'll say again that it is a brilliant introduction to Woolf's life and works and gives you just enough information to leave you wanting more. Which is where Hermione Lee's significantly meatier biography comes in.

> Insert a very long time without finishing anything here <

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness Oh, Patrick. You've done it again. My sister practically forced the second part of the Chaos Walking trilogy into my hands after I bemoaned my present inability to finish anything. I spoke about my new reading habit recently in a very lighthearted tone before I realised that actually there was something slightly off about my not finishing books. Anyway, Patrick came to the rescue and I read The Ask and the Answer in a few turbulent and emotional sittings. I cried in Pret a Manger - just saying. Now I'm on a mission to buy the final novel in the same edition that I have for one and two, but it's proving harder than I anticipated.

The Yellow World by Albert Espinosa I read this in a single train journey from London to Taunton. I have a few issues with it but my goodness it was powerful. I'll be dedicating an entire post to this one shortly.

What have you enjoyed reading recently?


Sunday, 23 November 2014

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #3

1// Electra On Thursday Liv and I went to see Electra at the Old Vic. I've been obsessed with Greek Tragedy since secondary school and even did a speech from Electra to audition for A Level drama (nailed it). I love a bit of revenge drama and dodgy familial relationships. Kristin Scott Thomas was absolutely incredible and managed to bring such a good mix of sarcasm, insanity, grief and anger to the role.

2// Home Cooked Dinner Liv treated us both to a slap up meal on Tuesday night complete with restaurant style presentation. It was so tasty.

3// Making Soup I'm a little obsessed with making soup at the moment for my lunch at work. This week it was lentil, tomato and sweet potato. It was so scrumptious I managed to burn my tongue every day in my haste to eat it all.

4// Talking to New People On Wednesday I went to the Centenary News offices and met a lovely person interning there. We had a chat about WW1 and books - the best kind of chat.

5// Somerset I'm currently at home in Somerset spending some quality time with my parents and the bestie. There has been a chilli con carne, an evening sat in front of the fire and two very satisfying runs. Also, my bestie has a new puppy so you can only imagine the snuggles.

6// Patrick Ness I've been in a significant reading slump recently (I've not finished a book in around six weeks), so my sister suggested reading the second part of the Chaos Walking Trilogy. Wow, she was not wrong. I devoured that beast and I'd be lying if said there weren't a few tears shed. Time to buy the third part, though I'm sure we'll fight over who gets to read it first!

What made you happy this week?


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Reading Wish List

Over the last few months there have been a number of new releases I've been thoroughly intrigued by.  These five top the list:

- The Paying Guests by Sarah Walters
- The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
- The American Lover by Rose Tremain
- Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz
- Christmas Truce: The Western Front December 1914 by Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton

In my frequent bookshop jaunts I think I gravitate most often to these five. I'm a serial picker-uper. By which I of course mean that I walk around picking books up, give them a quick grope, maybe a cheeky sniff (I can never resist that new book smell), and then put them back. The above selection have been violated in this way more times than I should probably admit.

On a less violating note - I've been meaning to ask you all for some recommendations. I'm in the mood for some essay collections of the same ilk as Patchett's This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. Bookish would be nice, but so would more general life essays. I've been eying up the Keegan book for that very reason, but I'm always open to other suggestions. I've heard Joan Didion is a notable essayist and Nora Ephron - any thoughts??

How about you, what's on the top of your wish list?


Monday, 17 November 2014

Review: The End of Innocence by Allegra Jordan

The End of Innocence
Allegra Jordan
August 2014

This review was first published on Centenary News.

The End of Innocence is part-romance, part-social debate. Set in Harvard during 1914 onwards it focuses on the growing relationship between Helen, a Bostonian, and Wils, a German noble, as they study. When the war intervenes on their relationship the novel starts to explore the complexities of national identity and how it can often be in conflict with personal identity. Ultimately the novel is a striking study of relationships in war and, as it draws to its conclusion, it asks us to question how we should memorialise the fallen soldiers on both sides of the conflict.
The relationship between Wils and Helen is an excellent device to explore how war made enemies of friends. The characters themselves are relatively unremarkable, but their lives are choreographed with skill by the author so that they soon come to represent something larger. From the very beginning of the novel the anti-German feeling amongst many Harvard students and professors is palpable and very clearly simmering violently below the surface. One professor, Copeland, becomes a neutral voice of reason throughout. He does not choose sides and he recognises that war is something that is happening to his students. Copeland's voice reverberates whenever Helen and Wils face difficulties reminding the reader that there are a variety of voices in war.
Arguably the most absorbing element of the novel is introduced towards the end when the idea of remembering both German and American losses on the same memorial becomes part of the debate. Jordan was inspired to include this controversial argument by the true story of the construction of Harvard's Memorial Church. The struggle to represent both nationalities on the memorial becomes Helen's struggle and the obstacles she faces are captivatingly imagined.
The End of Innocence is a successful piece of historical fiction which paints a particularly detailed picture of the period it focuses on. Though the war is it's main focus, all manner of other issues are woven into the story including: female education, women's rights and voting, academic culture, contraception, and racial hatred. Given that the years preceding and following the conflict were almost as tumultuous as the war years themselves, the level of detail included in the novel creates a wonderful depth. 
Even though the title of the novel veers dangerously close to being a cliche, this is an engaging and compelling novel that I would recommend based solely on the exploration of a subject not often examined: how we memorialise the fallen on both sides of the conflict. 

Is this a novel you would be interested to read?


Sunday, 16 November 2014

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #2

1// Family time both of my parents were in London on separate occasions this week for work so I managed to see my Dad for dinner and my Mum for wine. I feel so grateful to have such a supportive family.

2// Evenings runs As my hip is slowly strengthening I'm finding my love for running is returning. On Wednesday evening I did the best run I've had in ages - it's hard to argue with those endorphins.

3// Post-run showers A post-run shower in the summer is generally cold and lasts about five minutes, but a post-run shower in the winter is boiling hot and lasts about fifteen minutes. I love stepping out of the shower looking like a half-boiled lobster.

4// Benedict Cumberbatch Ever since the sad news of Benedict's impending nuptials hit the front pages I've been drowning my sorrows in his back catalogue. This week I've watched a couple of Sherlock episodes and Starter for 10. I've also been to see The Imitation Game (amazing, fascinating and really very emotive) and have my eye on Parade's End next.

5// Lazy Saturdays Rather than forcing my spark to return I've been spending a lot of time resting, moving slowly and doing only the things that I know will make me happy. This Saturday was a day for running, cleaning, reading and thinking. With various coffee accompaniments.

What made you happy this week?


Thursday, 13 November 2014

Reading differently

A few weeks ago if you had asked me how easily I give up on books I'd have said that I am a dedicated reader and once I've started, that's it, I'm not stopping. Fast forward to today and I'm considering giving up on (at my last count) my third book in a row. Why the change? Well, that's a jolly good question.

As an individual of a bookish persuasion I inevitably have this urge to read all the books, gather all the knowledge and feel all the fictional (and non-fictional) emotions. It's a thing and I've long been used to it. Something clicked for me recently that made me realise that reading all the books is more or less an impossibility and all I can do is make a pretty good stab at it. But in making a good stab at it, I may have some false moves that have to be put aside in order to move on.

In the last few weeks there have been a number of false moves. I started Uncle Silas by Sheridan Le Fanu in Halloween week and gave up approximately sixty pages in when it occurred to me that Wilkie does it better (Wilkie does everything better). Then I started Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck and made it all the way to 100 pages before realising that I couldn't give two shakes about the characters or the story or the narrative style. Now I'm about forty pages in to Grace McClean's much anticipated second novel and feeling so very uninterested.

Perhaps this is one of those situations when 'it's not you, it's me' actually rings true and I am having some random life crisis where no book is ever good enough. Nevertheless, after much inner debate and turmoil over the state of my mental health, I've come to the conclusion that maybe those books are just not what I need right now and that is okay.

Putting books aside without reaching the end always fills me with such guilt, particularly if I have paid full price for it (thank goodness for second hand stores). I'm confessing this new habit of mine to you in an attempt to rid myself of that guilt. In doing so I have realised that what I should really feel guilty about is wasting time on mediocre books when there are hundreds of new books published every year on top of the thousands of books already published or out of print, not to mention the entirety of Woolf and Wilkie's back catalogue.

From now on I'm going to be taking a similar attitude to reading that I take to life: there is too much to experience to waste time on mediocrity.

And then maybe, hopefully, among all those DNF's and abandoned reads I'll find a true corker of a novel that will make it all worthwhile.

How about you - do you abandon mediocre reads?

© Lit Nerd. All rights reserved.
Blogger Templates by pipdig