Thursday, 28 February 2013

What I've Been Reading



If you've been reading this blog for a while you'll know I adore books. You may have gleaned this through the knowledge that I'm a big fan of Beatrix Potter, that I've featured my six hundred strong book collection, or that I mention children's books quite a lot. The thing is, while I talk about books a fair bit, I don't actually blog about the actual reading of them. Odd, eh?

Well, I've decided to remedy this with a new monthly feature where I share with you the books I have been reading. Not just stacking up on my groaning bookshelves, but actually reading. I'm hoping that it will be a trap for myself, too, as I don't make enough time to read these days. So here goes, the following constitutes my reading matter since Christmas:

The Bought New


Bird Brain ~ Guy Kennaway


This was an impulse buy - part of the good old Waterstones 3 for 2. The very jolly chap who served me gave a hearty chuckle when I went to pay, saying this was 'quite definitely' on his own reading list for Christmas. I always imagine bookshop staff to be connoisseurs of the paper world, so this gave a little validation to my impulsive ways. 

I wasn't disappointed. It's an odd story, all about a  grumpy, none-too-nice aristocrat called Basil 'Banger' Peyton-Crumbe. He is proud to have shot over forty-one thousand birds in his shooting career, but dies in a shooting accident practically on page one...and is reincarnated as a pheasant. What follows is a very humorous sort of murder mystery, mostly told through one confused and frightened pompous pheasant and his ex-pet dogs. 

This book was like a cross between Roald Dahl's Danny, the Champion of the World and PG Wodehouse, so I was one happy reader. I'm really glad I gave into my impulses and bought this book, and it made a nice light read, too.

The Borrowed


The Art of Non-Conformity ~ Chris Guillebeau


I have been following Chris Guillebeau on Twitter for a while now, and was curious about his life philosophy, especially for one so young. Essentially he believes is escaping the rat race, making a living through unconventional means, and helping others in the process. He is also on a mission to visit every country in the world. Having spent some time reading his blog I then spotted this book at my local library, so I knew I had to find out more. (I also liked the typography on the cover. Yes, I am that easily drawn in). 

I wouldn't really call this a self-help book*. It's more of a case of Guillebeau dancing around in front of his reader shouting, 'Yes! There is more to life! No! You don't have to do what society expects you to in order to be successful! It's a book full of ideas and pokes to re-assess what you want out of life, rather than a guide to doing it, but then a book can't tell you what to do in your personal circumstances, can it? I'd recommend this if you're after some inspiration and motivation, some reassurance that there is another way to live your life and earn money, but don't expect a step by step to actually doing it. I have his other book The $100 Startup waiting to be read too.


Slim for Life ~ Jason Vale


Now, this is a book which turned up in the internal post at work, loaned to me by a colleague. It had a post-it slapped on the front which read, 'this is not a hint that you need to lose weight. It's because you kept going on about reducing the sugar in your diet!!!' Ahem, yes well, it could be said that I have been 'harping on' about sugar a lot lately. I was a little dubious about this book simply because the title put me off and I was worried it would be one of those ' The government is evil. They are pumping us all full of chemicals and brainwashing us and we're all going to die!' sorts of books. For all I know the food industry is evil, but I don't want to be all depressed over my evening (now nonsugared) cuppa either!

So...it is one of those 'the government is trying to kill us' books. And I do now suspect that many of the foods we have been told - or have told ourselves - are good for us for decades now, are in fact terrible for our health. Like many, I've had worries about processed foods for some time. What I don't like is that this book made me incensed and angry, and confused about the reality of the food we eat. Instead I'd like to calmly take these ideas on board, then start making small changes like perhaps growing more of my own veg and eating less processed food, as well as accepting that I can't control the content of everything food I come across. This book is written from a point of view - just one point of view - and although it argues for the reader's health and liberation from the unhealthy concepts around what we eat, it's in danger of being as brainwashing and scaremongering as the food industry Vale hates so much. 

That said, it admits all this on the back cover. It states that this book exposes the sugar and food industry, and the true nature of drug-like food and drinks. If I don't like it, maybe I shouldn't read it. And did it make me change my ways with sugar? Yes. So it must have done some good. 


The Thrifted


Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell ~ Susanna Clarke



This is a title which has been swimming around since 2004. If you haven't read it, you've quite possibly heard of it. I had heard of it, knew it involved magicians and Yorkshire, and knew it had to go on my list. I bagged this copy for 70p in a charity shop, and was doubly smug at the knowledge that it will also make an excellent doorstop. 

I really enjoyed this book. It was a really good, absorbing yarn full of mysterious dark houses, wintry adventures and mystery, magic and nineteenth-century history. It made me want a weekend in York and to listen to legends in front of the fire. I also thought Clarke's writing was spellbinding. Neil Gaiman liked it and so did I. 



A Taste of the Country ~ Jimmy Doherty


Another charity shop steal in autumn last year. The week I got this I had brought home a large bag full of wild garlic and another of field mushrooms. My thoughts were turning to bonfires, homecooked hearty meals and harvesting, and a quick flick through this book by the best friend of Jamie Oliver promised ideas for foodie blog posts and simple recipe ideas for all year round.

Yes, it is a recipe book, but I do like the concept of cooking with thrifted and homegrown ingredients, something many of us are interested in since food prices soared. I'd like to cook with more seasonal ingredients, and I'm not a fan of complicated cookery, so this gave me some good ideas. There are sections on gathering, growing, pickling and preserving, cooking on an open fire, and even smoking foods, which I found interesting. If nothing else, if you dream of a country smallholding like me, and simple meals by the fire in good company (and some sloe gin) you'll like the lifestyle that this book represents. 

The Audiobook


Is It Just Me? ~ Miranda Hart


I'm a member of Audible, so for £8 per month (though they often have offers of £3.99 for the first three months) I get one audiobook. Seeing as buying audiobooks full price can leave little change out of fifty squid at times, I like this service a lot. I download my book to my iPhone, and listen while doing housework, driving, exercising, etc., and it's a good way to listen to long or heavy-going books which I would like to read but know I will never make the time to sit down and pay my full attention to.

That said... there was no way on earth that this month's audiobook could be called a heavy-going book! I have wanted Is It Just Me? since it came out, then decided it would be fun to listen to Miranda Hart reading her book to me. You know, like a few hours of her sitcom to listen to while cleaning out the guinea pig and hoovering the dog. Perfection.

I really, really enjoyed it. Listening to this cheered me up after a long day. I laughed out loud. I nodded in recognition, then frightened myself that I could identify quite so well with Miranda's social awkwardness, quirks and her chapter on the relationship between a woman and her dog (yes, I celebrate my dog's birthday too). The book is not an autobiography, but more of a dialogue between grown up Miranda and her eighteen year-old self 'Little M' on various big life subjects like technology, working life, relationships and... family Christmas.  My only gripe with this book - and maybe this was more apparent in the audio version - was that Little M is presented as eighteen, yet she's a gawky, naive public school girl filled with questions about kissing boys, an obsession with Jason Donovan and excelling at lacrosse. The idea of Little M driving, drinking alcohol or being at university seems a long way off in this book, which I found a little unbelievable, and think she would have been better off being presented as fourteen. Nonetheless I loved this book and reckon it's a read for anyone wanting a giggle and some reassurance that life can be a baffling and awkward experience for us all. I really found the last chapter very moving. 



I hope you enjoyed this first romp through my recent reading matter. I am under no illusions that the list will be as long next month, but then Easter isn't far away, so I am hoping for some more relaxation time.

Have you read any corkers of the paper variety lately?







*If we might clear up the whole thing many people seem to have with self-help books while I'm here. I like self-help books, that is to say I like some self-help books. I have learned and continue to learn a lot from them, they help me take a different perspective on my own life, and through that shift in attitudes about myself and my surroundings they have enabled me to go ahead and make positive changes. What I really dislike is the term 'self-help books' and all the connotations of desperation, human weakness and the stampede for perfection that come with the label. It makes me think of Bridget Jones on New Year's Day. It's like a hangover term from the 1990's.  I will continue to use the term 'self-help' because then we all know what sort of book - or guide - I'm talking about in this series. There are a lot of truly abominable self-help books out there, like those that encourage us to go on fad diets, or 'fake it 'til you make it', but I have no problem with the concept of a book which aims to facilitate an intelligent person to make positive changes in their own life. After all, a book can't make you do anything! One of the reasons I love to read is that both fiction and non-fiction allow me to experience the world through the eyes of others, to learn how other people perceive situations both familiar and alien to myself. I'd have to meet and get to know a lot of people to get the same results without the help of books. 

20 comments:

  1. Ooh Anna! The Art of Non-Conformity definitely appeals ... as does Slim for life (if only!) and I just love Miranda Hart ... is it her reading it? Excellent selection, my dear!

    Love Claire xx

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    1. It is indeed Miranda reading it, I enjoyed it even more for that reason! x

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  2. I've only read one book out of the collection you've talked about, which is Miranda Hart's (as you might know!) I definitely think I missed out by not having the audio book, though there were a lot of moments I had to really try not to burst out laughing on my quiet train rides! Unfortunately I didn't really like the conversations with Little M, I just don't think they added much to the book. I will definitely read more Hart books in the future though! Xx

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    1. I had a few out loud giggle moments too! I know what you mean about Little M - she was quite squawky on the audio version! x

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  3. Jonathan Strange!! What a brilliant book that is, total doorstop and a nightmare to read on the go but still great! 70p is a definite bargain; that is a hell of a lot of book for your money

    Jem xXx

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    1. It was brilliant! I'd say I'd love to read it again but at that size I may be kidding myself... x

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  4. I like the look of that second book, I quite like anything that is a bit different! Gets you thinking! I'm just finishing Jeanette wintersons autobiography, Why be Happy When You Can Be Normal? Fascinating insight to her very difficult childhood, I love the way she's written it, might now go onto some of her fiction. Thanks for sharing! :) x

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    1. I enjoyed Jeanette Winterson's work when I was at uni, she really did have a horrific upbringing, didn't she. x

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  5. I loved Jonathan Strange, it's a great book. Did you know the BBC are doing an adaptation of it?

    I've been wanting Miranda's book for a while. Now I really like the idea of having her read it. I might have to join Audible.

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    1. Oooh I didn't know that! Exciting, thanks for letting me know! x

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  6. I did try and leave a comment earlier but it seems to have disappeared! I have been meaning to read Jonathan Strange for ages and you've convinced me to make it my next book!

    Great post, I love seeing what other people are reading x

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    1. You'll like it, it's a proper bedtime story! x

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  7. thanks for sharing ur reads...i love miranda,what a legend! i like to occaisionally share with my blog readers what im borrowing from the library in celebration of books,libraries and community!i look forward to the next time u share wot you've been up to (literary speaking!) mezz.

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    1. Oh I do love a good library! Mine doesn't often get new reads but I have discovered some old gems and the staff are lovely. x

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  8. I remember reading Johnathan Strange when it came out, I was very lucky back then as could grab a book from work (I worked in a library) as soon as it came out :) I remember loving it, can't read as much nowadays, but I have to say I liked what you had to say about self help books. I have read a few myself mainly ones sent to me or suggested by other people and one thing I have found is than if it doesnt fit in with your values or core beliefs don't bother with it. Don't let someone else's way of life or opinion influence you if it doesnt sit right with you. I am usually very polite when someone suggests or sends me a book that I know I won't agree with but I have to say it does make me wonder how people percive me sometimes!! hee

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    1. I completely agree Hannah - sometimes books don't line up with my values or perception, and sometimes it's just an element of the book I don't agree with - religious influences, for example, then I try to put that to one side and see if the core advice is still sound. I suppose even if I don't agree with the book's argument it allows me to look at life from someone else's viewpoint. x

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  9. What a diverse group of books there, thanks for sharing and reviewing them. I love Miranda Hart and can imagine that her book would make a very entertaining audiobook indeed.

    Thanks so much for your twitter help re my sewing dilemmas - I had a wonderful response and some truly fantastic suggestions, tips and recommendations. :-) Yay to the blogging community! Have a great weekend.

    Gillian x

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    1. Ah the blogging community strikes again! Hope you've got some great ideas for using your fabric now. x

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  10. What a great group of reads - that farmhouse cookbook sounds especially interesting (I've always, always loved reading cookbooks, pouring over the author's thoughts on the recipes and the how-tos of the dishes themselves with great interest and intensity).

    Thank you deeply for your immensely kind comment and get well wishes on my month in review post, sweet Anna. (It's a joy to follow you on Instagram!)

    Big hugs & happiest weekend wishes,
    ♥ Jessica

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  11. This is such a lovely idea. I love reading but don't manage to find much time for it, so I want to know that I'm embarking on a book that I'll actually enjoy and want to stick with (I don't like giving up on books so it can take me months to finish them sometimes). And recommendations are great for this! Thank you.
    Jones x

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