February ’17 Wrap-Up

Books Bought:

  • The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell
  • The Ashes of London – Andrew Taylor
  • How to be Both – Ali Smith
  • White Teeth – Zadie Smith
  • On Beauty – Zadie Smith

 

Books Read:

  • The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell
  • The Ashes of London – Andrew Taylor
  • Ballet Shoes – Noel Streatfeild
  • 1984 – George Orwell

 

This month was a bit of a slow burner, with a few deadlines hovering at the start of the month meaning two weeks passed by with hardly any reading at all. It’s one of the main reasons why, unusually, I read a children’s book, a memoir, and a piece of historical fiction, rather than my usual mix of fantasy and literary fiction.

In terms of buying books, The Year of Living Danishly and The Ashes of London were books I bought specifically to try and force my way out of a reading slump, so unlike the majority of my other purchases which are slung unceremoniously onto my growing TBR, I ended up reading straight away. The other three I picked up at a sale in a charity shop, where I managed to get the three of them for £2. After everything I’ve heard over the last few months about Zadie’s Swing Time and Ali’s Autumn, I took the opportunity to get my hands on some of their backlist titles before I spend money on their new releases, which in the UK are only available in hardback.

 

Reviews:

The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell     4/5

The Ashes of London – Andrew Taylor    3/5

Ballet Shoes – Noel Streatfeild    4/5    (coming soon)

1984 – George Orwell    4/5    (coming soon)

January ’17 Wrap-Up

Books Bought:

  • The No Spend Year – Michelle McGagh
  • Unf*ck Your Habitat – Rachel Hoffman
  • The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Books Read:

  • The Wangs vs. The World – Jade Chang
  • The Museum of Me – Emma Lewis
  • The No Spend Year – Michelle McGagh
  • The Rest of Us Just Live Here – Patrick Ness
  • The Good Immigrant – Various
  • When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

The year started off strong, with me blasting through three books in as many days at the start of January. But like any reading marathon, it wasn’t set to last – I had a 72 hour open exam at the end of the first week, and with university, societies, and work every weekend kicking back in, I landed right back in a reading slump. I really struggled to get through any other books, having to physically force myself to sit and read (which probably meant I didn’t enjoy very many of the books as much as I would have, either). That being said I’ve definitely found some new favourites already in 2017! May possibly have to re-read them when I’m in a better mood, though.

The Wangs vs. The World is a novel about the fall of Charles Wang, self made cosmetics millionaire turned bankrupt father during the 2008 economic crash. Packing himself, his morally dubious second wife, insta-famous daughter, and wannabe stand-up comic son into a tiny vintage car, they travel across the country to visit the oldest sibling, a failed contemporary artist hiding out in upstate New York, and from there attempt to reclaim forgotten family land from the Chinese communist government. This book was essentially Little Miss Sunshine but amped all the way up – there was a lot more tragedy, introspection, and detestable characters than I was expecting, but Jade Chang’s writing lands you your own place in this crazy, dysfunctional family.

The Museum of Me is actually a children’s picture book, all about the different kinds of museums that you can visit, and how your own belongings and interests create a ‘Museum of Me’. Simple but adorable art style, and a great message about why children should be getting excited about museums, it was a nice quick read to put me in a better mood.

The No Spend Year is a book, following up from a string of Guardian articles, about a woman who spends no money other than on absolute essentials (food, household bills, rent) for 12 months. No meals out, no haircuts, no new clothes, and no transport other than her bike and her own two feet. The book was brutally honest about what worked for her and what didn’t, tips for entertaining yourself for free, and how she (slightly illegally) managed to go on holiday for free – minus the cost of one portion of chips. A great book with practical tips on how to spend less but still live well, and something that I’ve kept thinking about long after I put the book down.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here was my first ever Patrick Ness book, and one that’s been on my TBR for well over a year. I was really excited about the concept – a group of teenagers attempting to live a normal life while the ‘chosen ones’ run around and get the high school blown up – but I felt as though it fell a bit short. It was great having main characters with mental illnesses and a POC love interest, but I didn’t feel as though the characters or personal conflicts were particularly exciting. After reading a few other reviews apparently many people thought the same, and Ness’s other books far outstrip this one, so I’ll be picking up something else by him in the near future.

The Good Immigrant is a collection of essays by a range of British BAME writers and comedians about what it means to be a first or second generation immigrant in the UK today. With all of the conversations about race in the current media revolving around America and Black Lives Matter, it was great to get an insight on how minorities feel about my own country, as white Brits tend to have the self-congratulatory habit of saying ‘Well at least we’re not America!’. Insightful and varied, it reminded me about how much further we have left to go, and how as a white ally I must help to raise the voices of minorities, not speak over them with my own interpretation.

When Breath Becomes Air is one you have probably all heard of – a memoir of a neurosurgeon with a masters in literature who is diagnosed with aggressive lung cancer. A short but heartbreaking book, the author discusses how his relationship with patients changed, how his priorities were altered, and how literature helped him through such a difficult time. The author died before the publication of this book, and the final chapter is written by his wife.

Which books did you kick off the new year with?

November ’16 Wrap Up

Books Bought

  • The Masked City, Genevieve Cogman
  • Songs, Robert Burns
  • Angela Carters Book of Fairy Tales, Angela Carter
  • Poems for Life, Various Authors

 

Books Read

  • The Hag Seed, Margaret Atwood
  • Yes Please, Amy Poehler

 

It’s been a pretty quiet month, reading and buying-wise – most of this month has been spend desperately scribbling sub-par essays, Christmas shopping and sorting our trip up to Edinburgh (photos and possibly a bookshop tour to come?) so I’m feeling a little behind. Although, as I type this I’m a good way through Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, which I think I’ll finish just too late to include in this wrap-up.

As for the books I’ve bought, I have imposed somewhat of a flexible buying ban on myself for the time being. I’m finding it far too easy to clutter up my bookshelves with exciting new releases, even though I have far too many unread books that at one point were themselves very exciting, then I get stressed because I don’t know what to read, and then I read nothing at all. A perfect circle of uselessness. That being said, I do have explanations for the books I bought, I swear.

The Masked City is the sequel to a book I already own, The Invisible Library, which I am very excited to read and is at the top of my 2017 TBR. I found the second book in a charity shop for only £2, and knowing that I had the first book lined up my friend convinced me that I was saving money in the long run, given that I fully intended to read it. Poems for Life, which I bought from the same charity shop, was entirely my own doing, on the other hand – it’s a beautiful forrest green clothbound collection of poetry, split into life events to which they’re most relevant. Not only is it just a gorgeous anthology to have on my shelf, but it was only £3 (*insert Say No To This lyrics here*).

Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales was also a defendable purchase; Matt and I had our first weekend away together in Edinburgh, and, true to form I spent the majority of it scouting out independent bookshops. The first of which was Transreal Fiction, a shop that specialises in sci-fi and fantasy titles, and when I saw this book poking out of one of the shelves I knew this was a god chance to buy it. I’ve been lusting after it in Waterstones for years, but this way I’ve supported an indie bookseller and gotten a great momento. Right?

Robbie Burns book of Songs was another buy from Edinburgh, an absolute bargain found in a secondhand bookshop. It’s a very old edition – it doesn’t actually have a date or edition on it, just the publishing house, so I may do some investigating – and for all the stereotyping it’s going to be something that always reminds me of our trip up to Scotland. It’s also a handy reference for remembering the words to Auld Lang Syne when I’m drunk at New Years.

Finally, on to the books I’ve actually finished this month: Yes Please was a little disappointing, so I won’t dwell on it for too long, but ultimately it wasn’t that funny or interesting to me, and considering I love Amy Poehler and it had been strongly recommended to me by various people it just fell a little flat. Sorry, Amy.

The Hag Seed, on the other hand, was absolutely incredible. This was Margaret Atwood’s retelling of The Tempest for the Hogarth Shakespeare series, which I was lucky enough to get a signed copy of when I went to her talk about the inspirations for the book. It’s about a disgraced theatre director who now works in a prison, getting convicts to perform Shakespeare and getting them to fully engage with the literature and the themes. Not only does The Tempest itself appear multiple times in its original form as a play within this book, but the narrative itself holds parallels, references, and themes with the source material too. It’s funny and dark and elegantly composed, and completely makes up for my otherwise barren month of reading.

What have you all read this month that you’ve enjoyed? And which books have you been buying? Let me know down in the comments!

London Bookshop Haul

 

I had the amazing opportunity to travel down to London for five days this month, and spent the majority of it haunting some highly recommended indie bookshops. After spending a genuinely ridiculous amount of money on books (although not as much as it could have been – student discount and second hand shops go a long way for saving the wallet) I ended up bringing home 9 books squashed between my Converse in my suitcase.

Note: these are not all of the bookshops I visited during my trip, just the ones where I purchased something. If anyone is interested in hearing about the other places I visited in London, let me know!

2016-06-21 09.25.01.jpg

Foyles, ft. an inexplicable Red Bandit. 

Foyles

On my first day travelling into London, I knew Foyles was the first place I wanted to hit; I’ve been every time I’ve visited the city, and love getting lost in the four floors of books and stationary. The YA section is particularly vast – I’ve honestly never seen so much space dedicated to children’s and teenage literature. After viewing several of their recommended books, however, I did ultimately decide on a new release I’ve been desperate to read for months: Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler, a modern retelling of The Taming of the Shrew, part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series. The cover is completely stunning, and I’m so excited to eventually pick up the other novels in this series, too.

2016-06-25 07.33.09

 

Any Amount of Books

This was the second bookshop I browsed, only about a minutes walk from Foyles. Specialising in rare and first edition books, this incredible used bookshop had a literal bargain basement. Although even the rare volumes they stock are competitively priced, the basement had books at scandalously low prices. Here, I found Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence, deciding to buy it after accidentally opening it on a passage about the value of an education in art. I also picked up a non-fiction book, The Fall of the Roman Empire by Michael Grant. These books were only £3 each, which made me feel a lot less guilty about buying two books in one place.

Just as I was about to pay, I saw the corner of a book sticking out of a huge stack by the staircase, getting ready to be moved downstairs. After (very carefully) extracting it from the pile, I realised it was the same book I’d coveted at the V&A book sale years before – only this time, it was also £3. Not only did I manage to grab a complete steal of a deal, but this book covers most of the history that is essential to my undergrad dissertation research! So, with an extremely heavy bag and aching shoulder, I ended up leaving with three books.

2016-06-25 07.32.42.jpg

 

Persephone Books

This was a bookshop I’d intended to visit many times, but had never quite managed to make it out towards Bloomsbury: a bookshop that publishes their own books, the titles all from out of print or underappreciated female authors. All of their main titles all have the same beautiful grey covers, with the end papers chosen from patterns (from knitting, to fabric, to wallpaper) from a time period relevant to the novel itself. What’s more is each title also comes with a free matching bookmark, making this a haven for obsessive book collectors like myself who are determined for everything to match.

2016-06-25 07.34.31.jpg

Due to the nature of the shop it meant that I found so many titles that sounded incredible that I otherwise would never have heard of, and managed to pick up a catalogue and order form so that I could buy more at a later date without ever leaving the North East. Persephone was by far my favourite shop that I visited during this trip, and it was made all the more special by the lovely conversation about female authors I had with the girl who worked there. I ended up weakening and purchasing two books; one I found myself, The Far Cry by Emma Smith, and one under the strong recommendation of the two women from behind their desks as I browsed, Mariana by Monica Dickens.

2016-06-25 07.33.31.jpg

 

Gay’s the Word

About a ten minute walk (if you don’t get lost, like I did) away from Persephone Books is the LGBT bookshop Gay’s the Word. Although small in size this bookshop packs in a huge number of books, organised by age range, and then by the sexuality it follows the most closely. I especially loved the children’s and YA sections near the front of the store, as it was so lovely to see the number of novels aimed at young people that demonstrated support and acceptance. They even have a small secondhand section, meaning that there’s something for all ages and budgets within the store. I ended up buying The Baby by Lisa Drakeford, which I then proceeded to read in one sitting in the nearby Brunswick Square Gardens. I also bought a postcard with the store’s logo on, which I’m planning to save in some scrapbook pages dedicated to this trip.

2016-06-25 07.35.09.jpg

 

Daunt Books

After reading about this bookshop in Jen Campbell’s The Bookshop Book, I ended up dragging a friend of mine through the pouring rain and a half mile walk to find it. Daunt has three branches across London – I visited the one near Notting Hill Gate – and although stocks a huge range of books, it specialises mainly in travel writing. What I really loved was that the travel writing was organised by country rather than writer, meaning I could really take the time to not only choose which countries I wanted to read about, but the specific angle or time period too. Picked from the India and Japan sections respectively, I bought Slowly Down the Ganges by Eric Newby, and The Japanese Chronicles by Nicolas Bouvier. I also decided to splurge and buy one of their iconic green canvas bags, which I cannot wait to start using when I go back to university this autumn – most probably for transporting library books.

 

2016-06-25 07.36.29.jpg

 

What are some of your favourite independent bookshops? Let me know down in the comments!