Girl Gotta Read

Here’s a newsflash…I like books.

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I once read somewhere that book lovers never go to bed alone and well I’m that. I read books in pretty much every stereotypical place, including in bed and I’ve woken up with a book is on the pillow on more than one occasion (‘oh God, 50 Shades of Grey, we didn’t…?’) But at the same time another reason why I never go to bed alone is because my room is packed full of books. It’s only now when I’m (tying) to have a clear out that I’m beginning to realise quite how many feature in my life. Call it a bit of soul searching, because I don’t care if you’re Mr Rockefeller or if you saved fifty refugees from a burning missionary school, if you don’t have time for literature then this ain’t gonna work out.

Think I’m being a bit over the top? Well here are all the types/places I keep my books. Bear in mind as well that these are just the ones in my bedroom.

 

Alice’s Books

I have a pile of unread books…

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…And a pile of recently read books

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(Before you ask I do a little bit of yoga which subsequently means I’m now super flexible. I used to do more but I have reason to believe it contributed to stuffing up my knee eighteen months ago but that’s a story for another day.)

I store books on my window shelves which is great because it means I don’t need to open/close my Venetian blinds when I get up every morning (I call them my ‘modesty books’)

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(That’s right, I own four Blue Peter badges but that’s a story for another day.)

I have intellectual reads

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I possess old book buyer catalogues (in case I ever needed more coffee table material)

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I own a box of old books

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I have books on the waitlist for more permanent accommodation

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I also have a few Alice books (aka photo albums) with glossy memories I value more than pixels. One of the best friend presents I ever got was the album titled ’21 Things I Love About Alice Bennett’ (left).

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And do not get me started on notebooks

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Good news though, I’ve recently purchased an oak bookcase so now I can purchase and store even more books! (I kid, I really need to clear a lot of these out and move the rest to the book case – except my modesty books.)

Looking to take my conversation engagement from 0 to 60? Give me a book and tell me why my life is poorer without it.

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Every Book has a Million Stories

You know that feeling when you walk out the door without a book?

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Nicole Scherzinger does, it’s probably why her and Lewis Hamilton aren’t together anymore.

“Nicky, did you remember to pack War and Peace?”

“Urm…”

“Oh for Christ’s sake Nicole, you had one job to do, one! What am I supposed to read now? Thomas Hardy?”

(That’s totally what caused their countless break ups and getting back togethers. I mean what else could a pop star and racing car driver possibly talk about?)

It’s no secret I like a good book. I like the escapism they provide, the ability to make you conjure an image in the mind that can vary incredibly from person to person. It’s a testament to the human mind that we can read a bunch of random symbols on a page and turn it into pure emotion. It’s equally a testament to incredibly skilled writers that the reader can be taken on a journey and laugh, cry or even be deceived by the story before them and yet, despite the abuse, the reader carries on to find themselves begging for more when the tale is complete. I refer to this feeling as a ‘book hangover’, when you finish a novel but feel empty inside. Unable to come to terms with the end of a good book.

My recent read, Gone Girl, was one recent example of a book hangover. Without spoiling the book and/or film (NB I have not seen the film yet, but am quite sure it’s terrible vs the book – they always are), Gone Girl is a gripping thriller involving the disappearance of Amy Elliot Dunne. A whodunit with countless twists and turns. A book worthy of anyone’s time.

That said, I think a sizeable chunk of my present book hangover can be attributed to all the locations I read this one particular novel. Now I likes my tea and coffee and I likes my intellectual style. For as long as I can remember I’ve dreamt of being sat in a stylish coffee shop and a handsome male swooping in and saying ‘Orwell, nice. What do you think of the book so far?’ instead of ‘is this seat taken?’ which is what I usually get. Hopelessly romantic ambitions aside, a good coffee shop with the right music and buzz is the best place the read a book. Fact.

One wash out weekend I basically went from coffee shop to coffee shop to read my book. (‘Oh look, its stopped raining’ *goes outside* ‘ah damn, its started again. Oh no, I’ll have to find another coffee shop to read in. The horror!’) What started as a one ‘look at me, I’m so intellectual!’ Instagram post turned into a mini series, a documentary of all the locations I read this one book. Aside from the plot of the novel itself, I now look back on these carefully posed photographs and think of the stories behind the locations. Those mini tales of no consequence or interest that form the back bone of daily human interaction.

Below are these said photos, complete with a slight description of the location. In taking and stylising these photos I learnt a bit about my tastes, how I like to relax and also that Gone Girl looks great in every filter. Show off.

Enjoy.

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Work, Swindon. I started and read a lot of Gone Girl in the break out space at work. This particular day I was in a good mood because I’d used a £2.50 Benugo voucher and the space was empty enough for me to take a picture without many people seeing. This area of the office houses a lot of meetings and discussions, I often hear fragments of interesting conversations causing me to lose my place mid paragraph. I wonder what people think of me reading in such a corporate environment. This is also the only photo which didn’t have a filter applied.

 

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Coffee #1, Swindon. This is my favourite coffee shop in Swindon. Upstairs it has a lot of space and never feels busy, perfect for reading and writing. Just out of shot (North West) a young couple were smooching on the sofa and spent the whole time I was there very much loved up, opposite (far right) a date was taking place and straight in front of me (where the Barista is) an older couple were reading the papers. To see three different relationship stages in a small area was charming.

 

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Caffé Nero, Bath Spa. I’d just arrived in the city on a Sunday morning and it was raining hard and steady. It was around 10:30am and none of the shops were open so I headed to a favourite haunt. The only seat available upstairs was a large sofa so I reluctantly took that. 30 minutes later an older man came and claimed another sofa that had been freed up and took possession of all the surrounding chairs for a upcoming group. Two friends, also awaiting a party, scrambled to get seats together around a table for two. A lady who’d sat in the corner eventually left and I claimed her armchair. The two friends turned around, having moved a number of seats, and saw my large, vacant, sofa. I apologised and invited them to claim my old space, which they readily grabbed. The older party discussed walking and the changing layout of Bath, the younger chatted about dating and studies. An interesting mix.

 

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Waterstones, Bath Spa. On the same day as the above photo, I dived into a bookshop to avoid the rain and happily discovered this place on the first floor. The area had largely been taken up by groups of young men with sci-fi t-shirts and beards, playing fantasy board games with excitement. I wondered if this was something they did regularly here and how they found a location with enough space to accommodate them for lengthy periods. It made me think that their gaming and my reading made us actually quite similar in that regard.

 

Reading at home
Home, Swindon. I’d just got back in from a two day Excel training course and felt shattered due to an information overload. I put on my oversized hoodie and felt relieved to have the option to read something which didn’t contain formulas.

 

Wine Bar Reading
Harbour, Bristol. I’d always wanted to go into a wine bar by myself, to defy the British stereotype that ‘it is ok for a man to hang out in a bar alone, but for a woman it’s weird.’ I’d never had the courage to do it, especially somewhere I didn’t know. I’d spent the day hanging out in Bristol with a friend and felt really good about life. Having missed my train I had some time to kill, so I ventured down to the harbour. Deciding it was now or never, I went into a bar (not my first choice, but everywhere was packed) and sat on a window ledge stool, between a large party of students and a first date-in-progress. I read my book for about 20 minutes before heading off. I felt so empowered that, on a Saturday night in a busy bar in a city I barely knew, I’d been able to do that. It wasn’t necessarily the action itself, but knowing I could perform the action by myself. I walked out with my head high and the eyes of numerous men on my back (including the man on his date).

 

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Home (bed), Swindon. By this stage I only had forty pages left to go so was thinking ahead to my next read. I was in bed, blinking off the sleep dust from my eyes and lolling around the duvet covers. On each of my bedside tables are piles of books, I had to carefully pull novels out of each tower to avoid the entire stack falling over. I placed a selection to my right, pulled the covers up and finished reading Gone Girl. Once I closed the orange cover I sighed, made myself a tea, and quickly disregarded a number of my earlier shortlist selection. A Clockwork Orange felt too challenging to deal with whist suffering from a book hangover. I couldn’t make a finial decision, but left it at TBC between a F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, or a children’s classic that I’d never have considered reading had I not spotted it in a charity shop.

 

 

Every book has a million stories.

Catherine Mayer on Equality, Red Heads and the Manifesto She Wants You to Steal

“Crossing the stage, Catherine Mayer strikes a formidable figure as she throws down her bag and proclaims, “will there be rock?!””

Check out my review on Catherine Mayer here:  Catherine Mayer on Equality, Red Heads and the Manifesto She Wants You to Steal

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Five Minute Review: Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

One classic novel, five modern minutes to write up its review…

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy is a novel which depicts the relaxed pace of life in the countryside of 19th century England. It essentially tells the tale of three men from different backgrounds fighting for the love of one woman. You come to dislike them all to more or lesser degrees. Bathsheba (yes, that is her name) is a character with little warmth to her personality and, like all urban dwellers of the period, treats her rural tenants like dirt on her shoe. There’s Gabriel Oak, a hapless shepherd which following disaster finds himself working for the rich and snobbish Bathsheba. To say Oak is obsessed with Bathsheba would be a vast understatement. It’s no plot spoiler to say he proposes to Bathsheba and gets turned down within the first couple of chapters (keen much?). Then you’ve got the more maturely aged farmer Boldwood who, after receiving a wicked joke Valentine’s card, becomes infatuated with our female lead. Finally there’s Sergeant Troy, a passing army figure and notorious womaniser. Guess which one Bathsheba takes a shine to?

People often get doe eyed with the English rural landscapes depicted in this novel, but I don’t see it. To me this novel depicted country folk as a backwards breed who spend all their time rambling on and on about nothing at all. One of the few times I felt sympathy for Oak was when he was trying to get urgent help but had to contend with a bunch of idiotic drunkards in a pub. Who is going to give you money for booze if your mistress is dead Mr. Poorgrass, WHO?

Like a lot of literature from this period of writing, footnotes take dominance across most pages and the copy had religious and general ‘thing’ references which I imagine very few people would be able to understand two centuries later. I started off trying to read all the footnotes but quickly gave up when I found I was spending more time reading footnotes than I was when I was at university. Unfortunately it meant that supposedly hilarious jokes and witty comments made absolutely no sense.

If you’re a fan of Austen you’ll like this but Stephen King obsessives keep well away.

Five Minute Review: The Food of Love by Anthony Capella

Ergh, do I have to spend five minutes on this? Ok, fine.

The Food of Love by Anthony Capella is a rom-com novel, based in and around the streets of Rome, Italy. The plot follows the story of two Italian men who work in the restaurant industry, as they fight for the love of one woman (what’s new there?) The more attractive of the two, self-styled player Tommaso, woos the fair American student, Laura, first by convincing her of his extraordinary culinary skills. The catch? He cannot cook to save his life. However his roommate, the less attractive and uncharismatic chef Bruno, can. Secondary catch, he too is in love with Laura (dun, dun, duuun). So instead of confessing his love what does he do? He helps his player friend by teaching him culinary skills to charm the fair lady, thus becoming the ultimate wing man/gooseberry. Unsurprisingly as the lie gets bigger so too does the (supposedly) hilarious consequences.

As my sister noted when I told her the synopsis, The Food of Love story is basically an Italian version of the Disney film Ratatouille. If you liked that story, but wanted something with more sex, swearing and over sexualisation of mushrooms then you’ll probably enjoy this. *

I should have known that this book would not be an Austen or Orwell when I picked it up in a charity shop for 50p (on sale). At the time I needed a light read as a rest bite from more serious subject matter. No guesses for where my copy will be swiftly going back to in the next week.

*FYI rats and bestiality do not feature in this novel, at least the author didn’t stoop to that level.

Five Minute Review: Empire of The Sun by JG Ballard

Five minutes to write a review on a recent read. Here we go:

Empire of The Sun by JG Ballard is a semi-autobiographical novel set in Shanghai (China) during the Japanese occupation of the 1940s.

The novel and centres itself Jim, a young boy born and raised in the Western ex-pat district of the city. Setting the scene on the eve of the Pearl Harbour bombings, what follows is a dramatic series of events resulting in Jim’s separation from his family and the experiences faced by the pre-teen as he fends for himself in Shanghai and in a series of labour camps. Despite all the horrors unfurling around him, Jim maintains an eerie calmness throughout, which is perhaps more disturbing at points than the war crimes themselves. The bright light of an atomic bomb takes the plot down a somewhat more dystopian route as the Japanese soldiers flee and the Western survivors and Chinese communists fight over what little remains. Ultimately Jim comes out of the War alive but a markedly changed person from the little boy we’re introduced to at the start.

Ballard’s novel is by no means an easy read. As the plot progressed I found myself increasingly frustrated by Jim’s naivety towards the growingly desperate situation, especially when it opened him up for other prisoners to take advantage. I am prepared to accept though that if I was a 11 year old in a work camp I might have adopted a similar coping mechanism. Regardless of this Empire of The Sun paints a fair reflection of the often overlooked period of Japanese occupation in China and the work camps. When so much has been written about World War Two in the West it was refreshing to read something with an Eastern focus.

Nablopomo Day 15: A Short Extract From that Book I’m Writing

A (very much) first draft from that novel I’m trying to write in the little free time I have.

In this segment, our narrator, executive Chantelle, is having a conversation with her superior, manager Sye. Manager Sye has come to view Chantelle’s stock/team as part of a routine inspection, after reports from a colleague that our protagonist is a sympathiser of ‘masses’ (a lower, slave-type, class of person).

We enter this segment mid-way through their dialogue.

“You know, executive, there are not many of your kind. Female I mean.”

“No sir, there are not.”

“Do you know why that is?”

“Because, unlike most women of our class, I am not privileged enough to bleed for The Cause in the same way they do. A previous manager decided that I’d be more fitted to monitoring masses rather than producing leaders.”

“And how did that make you feel?”

“Feel sir?”

“Emotionally. How did you feel when your manager said you were not fit for purpose? Must have been tough.”

I could feel my manager’s eyes on me. He was observing; looking, waiting, maybe even hoping I’d slip up. Nowadays even the slightest twitch can condemn someone to the South. I carried on looking out towards my team, focusing my attention on a particular mass toiling in the dirt.    

“I cannot really remember how I felt. A lot has come to pass since that decision was made, and I have grown in many ways since. I have come to respect the department which my former manager recommended me for. In truth sir he did me a great honour by casting me off.”

In the corner of my eye I saw my manager raising his eyebrows.

“Oh really?”

I kept my focus on the mass. “Yes sir. Here I can fulfil my duty to The Cause. I monitor and control a team of masses, they grow and harvest the food, I give the food to managers and they distribute it out, a portion going to the breeders. In the old days I believe that is what they used to call feminism.” I turned to face my senior, “I bleed more than the breeders do anyway” I smirked.

My manager looked over at the toiling masses, “I had heard about your labouring efforts. It’s impressive to see an executive prepared to assist where necessary, just as long as they maintain their distance.” It was a veiled warning.

“I bleed in other ways too sir.”

I rolled up the sleeve on my right arm, revealing my various cuts and scratches. The sight shocked him, I wondered if he was going to faint. In absence of comment I explained myself.

“This is my atonement for what I lack. With every score I bleed for The Cause. Some days it hurts more than others, it depends how deep I go. This one,” I pointed to a prominent scar on my wrist, “this was one of my first ones. As you can see, none of the others incurred since look as bad. I am a quick learner sir. If my combined efforts do not make me a supporter of The Cause then question my loyalty now.”

My manager nodded. Any doubt for my loyalty had left him as much as his voice had left his throat. I rolled my sleeve down. I do not like to boast of what I do, it is nothing of note compared to what the other females endure. I know, I’ve seen it.

After a short pause my manager regained his composure, “I’ve been thinking about all the hard work and effort you’ve invested into your duties and I think it’s time you were given more authority. It’s clear you’re good at what you do, your masses are well trained and your assistant is one of the most loyal I’ve ever seen.”

“Hard work sir. Hard work and duty.” I replied.

“Yes, yes, I’m sure,” he said, flapping his hand in the air. “Anyway, there may be an opening coming up in one of the Townships, management I’m told. Nice lodgings, increased rations, a respectable position within society. A role that certainly wouldn’t involve dealing with grubby masses like these on a daily basis,” he wrinkled up his nose. “I think you, executive, would be perfect for this position and that’s why I’m going to nominate you for the role with my full support.”

Now it was my turn to be shocked. “Me sir? Why not nominate yourself? You’re already a manager at ground level, wouldn’t you be the better candidate?”

My manager laughed, “oh no, I couldn’t possibly fulfil the role to the standard it demands. I know what those Townships are like. Besides, my best interests lie here.”

When manager Sye says ‘best interests’ he means his best fuckable ones. It’s the same for all ground level managers. They gorge themselves on the poor quality meat freely available, leaving the executives to deal with the mess they leave behind.

“You are most kind” I said.

“Don’t get too excited executive. I need to tell those above you’re ready and to do that I need to know you can handle any challenge. That’s why I’m putting some Fallens into your team to monitor for a couple of weeks.”

“I thought Fallens were sent South to the toxic zones?”

“Not these ones. One is the daughter of a senior executive, another acted out a minor crime. Muttered thanks to Bamanga in a public place or something. Just see they’re treated like one of the masses and return them back with nothing but a revitalised love for The Cause. Do that and I’ll see you moved to the Township.”

I bowed, “thank you for this opportunity manager” I said, as is custom.

“The Cause thanks you too,” he said distractedly. “Now, if you don’t mind I have to see to executive Wayne. He’s apparently been having trouble managing his stock and, as his manager, it’s up to me to investigate the situation further. Until later.” He nodded at me and then started walking towards a group of Wayne’s masses.

“Glory to The Cause sir!” I cried out after him.

“Glory to The Cause executive Chantelle!” My manager cheerfully cried back, “glory to The Cause.”